PARISIANISM FOR BEGINNERS: THE LAURENCE REMILA COLUMN:
HOW TO KIDNAP MAURICE G. DANTEC (AND GET HIM TO BUY THE DRINKS)
"Théolier is teasing Luis de Miranda, who's about to bring out an essay, Ego Trip, which talks of artists without "oeuvres", about something or other when the news comes through. There's a party just around the corner, chez Gallimard."
By Laurence Rémila
COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Maurice G. Dantec describes himself as a "French-born writer who's chosen exile" (in Quebec, Canada). His novels are a mouthy mix of Sci-Fi, série noire and theological-metaphysical-geopolitical considerations. Basically, he seems to be the only major French author to have read Pynchon. (Yours Truly has read MOST of the two tomes of his mammoth "metaphysical journal", a third of his La Sirène Rouge and sixty pages -- so far -- of his latest epic, Villa Vortex.) (What we call a FAN, then.)
Thierry Théolier describes himself as an "artiste sans oeuvres" (c'mon, your French isn't that bad! And if it is, tough; I'm not translating.) His varied scams are often chronicled in Parisian monthlies, weeklies and the odd radio show. When he's interviewed, he hides his face beneath a woolly hat or else pulls the collar of his black leather jacket right up to here. And whenever one of his schemes does particularly well, he destroys it. Afterwards, he'll explain: "I thought, I better not do this. And so, of course, I went and did it."
This is the story of the night the two met, one Friday at the end of March 2003.
Early evening, aht-guru Théolier and various members of the Syndicat du Hype (SDH) are milling around the 14/16 gallery, rue de Verneuil. The SDH, I should perhaps explain, is an 800-strong list of people encouraged to share, via e-mail, any invites they have to launch parties, vernissages and the like with fellow SDH'ers. The noble aim of the venture, founded by Théolier, could be summarised as "Champagne for the masses."
The crowd is thinning, the champagne is absent and the fanboys are crowding round Chloe Delaume (writer with a fine bob last seen worn by Swedish girls in London NW1, circa Britpop). Théolier, meanwhile, is teasing Luis de Miranda, who's about to bring out an essay, Ego Trip, which talks of artists without "oeuvres", about something or other when the news comes through. There's a party just around the corner, chez Gallimard.
The time it takes to down a glass of red wine, a dozen or so "Syndicalistes" are racing to the publisher's legendary rue Sébastien-Bottin headquarters two streets away. Once its gates are crashed, the ragged new entrants, including Théolier and Yours Truly, sure look out of place. It takes us a while to figure out just why: this isn't just some get-together for sundry house writers and media contacts (if it had been, we'd have spotted a familiar face or two), but a party for the publisher's DUTCH WRITERS (The horror, the horror; I know, I know), as it's the country of honour at this year's Salon du Livre. What this means is a parade of besuited, well-groomed men, who all seem very tall, talking to lavishly done-up women. The atmosphere is more "an evening at the ambassador's" than "past-it writers on the piss". And the SDH'ers, almost all of whom are wearing ropey tee-shirts, jeans and leather jackets, stand out just a mite.
All of a sudden, a commotion. A group of "Syndicalistes" have formed a circle around a man in black (cap, leather jacket, shirt and tie all the same colour); Maurice G. Dantec has been spotted. Some of them ask the author detailed questions about his first books, others tell him they've started on his latest (the imposing, 800-page plus Villa Vortex), and others still make out they're not impressed and hurl jokey insults his way. He takes it all in his stride, seemingly pleased to have run into this gaggle of misfits at his venerable publishers. Thanks to this encounter, the Gallimard middle management and their Dutch guests presume that the rowdy dozen, some of whom are more than a little DRUNK, are not just bold freeloaders but bona-fide "friends of Dantec".
As the party starts emptying, Dantec agrees, enthusiastically, to Théolier's suggestion of following the SDH to a pokey Belleville dive, Aux bons amis. The group splits in two: Dantec and a few others are to go there by car, while the rest of us take the metro. On the way, it's decided to "find Dantec a fan". The reasoning: the author is in France once in a blue moon; surely one of his fans would appreciate the chance of going for a beer with him. So, into La Hune (the Saint Germain bookshop open 'til midnight) we go. We ask whether anyone there is a fan of the writer (remember: we've been drinking since seven). Are greeted by a flurry of timid "Nos". We do the same thing in the metro. Once more, we're blanked.
Aux Bons Amis is a non-descript bar-stroke-restaurant that stays open all night certain weekends. When it does so, its back room is transformed into a makeshift club, and a swarm of the capital's night-flies with nowhere else to go make their way there. We take over a table near the bar, and drink.
What was said next is of little import (and remembering it would be too much effort when you consider what 3AM Magazine pays for this column); that it was said, and in these conditions, is what made the evening special. Sure, Théolier introduced Dantec to all of East Paris' unmoneyed hipsters (read: tattooed girls looking for drugs and dirty-haired men looking for tattooed girls looking for drugs…). Sure, Dantec spoke of the war, which had just started (I think the gist of it was that he was pro the intervention but anti-Bush), of certain authors he was particularly fond of... Sure, Yours Truly remembers absolutely NOTHING of exactly what was said and is trying to make up for the fact with this absurd paragraph.
As the evening drew on, it was salutary seeing the immense goodwill the author was met with, given that he's often described as "controversial" or accused of being a fascist. (A ludicrous accusation seemingly based on the fact that he's Christian and in favour of a strong United Nations.) Men and women would come up and introduce themselves, tell him how much they liked one of his books. Each time, his response would be that of a shy kid, glad of the teacher's praise; a mixture of genuine humility and understandable contentment.
Saturday morning, daylight. Four of us are still around for a coffee in the legendary Le Zorba café on the Faubourg du Temple: the Bons Amis DJ, Julien, who digs out a half-read copy of Villa Vortex from his bag and has to be prompted to get it signed, Yours Truly, Thiérry Théolier and, of course, Maurice G. Dantec. When the two hug heartily, it signals that the evening has come to an end. Buenos Noches.
Laurence Rémila has been living in Paris for six years. A freelance journalist, he writes for sundry serious titles he won't list here, as well as The Idler and French monthly Technikart.