Paris: The Cortazar Route, pt. 1

So I went to Paris.

As I sit here with my cup of coffee, I can’t help but think that the Cortazar route was one of the best travel ideas that I’ve had. It allowed me to see Paris from a whole different perspective and to enjoy some city corners that are frequented by the French, not only by tourists. I don’t intend to bore you with one long and tedious post, so I’ll divide the route and write about a few places. There’ll be more posts, but they will be considerably shorter. But, for now, as William Wordsworth would say: to begin, begin.

His last residence

Address: 4 rue Martel, 74010. (District 10)

In 1979, Cortázar decided he wanted a bigger apartment than the one he shared with his wife Carol. He found his ideal flat in the rue Martel. The only problem was that he didn’t have enough money to buy it. His good friend, poet Saul Yurkievich, had a solution: why not sell the original manuscript of his novel Hopscotch? Cortázar, being himself, didn’t think anyone would want to buy “those papers.” Nowadays, Princeton University guards them, and with that money, he was able to buy the apartment that he shared with his second wife, Carol Dunlop, the last years of both their lives.

Here lived Julio Cortázar (1914-1984), Argentinian writer, nationalized French, author of Hopscotch.

Galerie Vivienne

Address: 6 rue Vivienne, 75002 (District 2).

Those who have read the short story El otro cielo (The Other Sky. Also, I couldn’t find any English translations) have probably heard about the Vivienne Gallery. It’s an old, small passage with just a handful of stores and an almost forgotten coffee shop.

In a letter to Paco Porrúa, Cortázar wrote:

La Galerie Vivienne, por ejemplo, está tal cual [Lautréamont] pudo conocerla en 1870. No han tocado nada, tiene sus estucos de mal gusto, sus librerías de viejo cubiertas de moho, sus vagos zaguanes donde empiezan escaleras cuyo final es imprevisible, y en todo caso negro y siempre un poco aterrador.

Which roughly means:

The Galerie Vivienne, for example, is just as [Lautréamont] knew it back in 1870. They haven’t touched anything. It still has bad taste in its stuccoes; its old libraries are still covered in mould, and it still has its indistinct hallways, where the stairs have an unpredictable ending, which is black and always somewhat scary.

My friends and I probably found it just as Cortázar knew it. The entrance was so dark, we almost missed it. The wooden beams had their fair amount of fossilized spider webs, and the spaces where the stores used to be are so covered in dust, that I’m quite sure that no one goes inside for fear of death by sudden, uncontrollable allergy.

Louvre Museum

Address: Musée du Louvre, 75001 (District 1).

Julio Cortázar received a permanent pass for the Louvre in 1951. He probably didn’t want to waste such a great opportunity, so he decided to visit the museum every afternoon for the next two years. He went to every gallery and every room, and he observed carefully every single piece.

I must confess, when I first read that he had dedicated practically two years of his life to a single museum, I though the man must have exaggerated… and then I went inside.

Being inside the Louvre is being somewhere else in time. Not only the objects are different; everything changes from one room to another. Inside the Louvre, you don’t go into another room; you go into another era.

Sometimes we would bump into a group of students sitting on the floor listening to their teacher, who would be reading a history book. Sometimes we bumped into people sitting on a bench, drawing in a notebook what they saw. Either way, it was great.

Talking about opportunities, there were two senior citizens sitting in the center of a room. They were carefully sketching one of the paintings. I could have let them concentrate and I could have kept walking, but I didn’t. I walked up to them and in my best French (which is not too different from my worst) asked them if I could take a picture. Not only did they say yes, but they also asked me to take a picture with their phones. They spent the next few seconds trying hard not to laugh and telling each other to ‘look professional’.

My heavy accent proved to be a plus for the Spanish-speaking French. I only had to say three words, and they immediately recognized that French was definitely not my forte, and since they weren’t going to let me continue butchering their language, they put their not-so-great Spanish into practice.

Some halls had big mirrors that covered the whole walls and, since the selfie is strong among tourists, there were people all over the place taking pictures of themselves. I would never approve of stopping traffic just to take a mirror selfie, obviously.

So we went to a bigger, emptier place to take the obligatory mirror-hallway-selfie.