“He’d asked what i was planning to do with my future, and i’d answered,”Write.”
That activity struck him as “squaring the circle”-the exact phrase he’d used. Indeed, writing is done with words, whereas he was after silence. A photograph can express silence. But words? That he would have found interesting: managing to create silence with words. He had burst out laughing.”
“Danube. When daylight lasts until 10 p.m. because of the time change, and the traffic noise has died down, I have the illusion that all I’d need do is return to those faraway neighborhoods to find the people I’ve lost, who had never left: Hameau du Danube, the Poterne des Peupliers, or Rue du Bois-des-Caures. Colette is leaning against the front door of a private townhouse, hands in the pockets of her raincoat. Every time I look at that picture, it hurts. It’s like in the morning when you try to recall your dream from the night before, but all that’s left are scraps that dissolve before you can put them together. I knew that woman in another life and I’m doing my best to remember. Maybe someday I’ll manage to break through that layer of silence and amnesia.”
“And once again, mountain slopes of an eternal whiteness beneath the sun, the narrow streets and deserted squares of the South of France, several photos all with the same caption: Paris in July—my birth month, when the city seemed abandoned. But Jansen, in order to fight against the impression of emptiness and neglect, had tried to capture an entirely rural aspect of Paris: curtains of trees, canal, cobblestones in the shade of plane trees, the clock tower of SaintGermain de Charonne, the steps on Rue des Cascades . . . He was seeking a lost innocence and settings made for enjoyment and ease, but where one could never be happy again. He thought a photographer was nothing, that he should blend into the surroundings and become invisible, the better to work and capture—as he said—natural light. One shouldn’t even hear the click of the Rolleiflex. He would have liked to conceal his camera. The death of his friend Robert Capa could in fact be explained, as he saw it, by this desire, the giddiness of blending into the surroundings once and for all.”
“That evening, we had walked by his hotel and continued on toward the Carrefour Montparnasse. He no longer knew which man he was. He told me that after a certain number of years, we accept a truth that we’ve intuited but kept hidden from ourselves, out of carelessness or cowardice: a brother, a double died in our stead on an unknown date and in an unknown place, and his shadow ends up merging with us.”
“Andrée K. had been part of a gang, like us, but on a different street. That woman who so intimidated my brother and me, with her bangs, her freckles, her green eyes, her cigarettes and mysterious phone calls, now suddenly seemed more like us. Roger Vincent and Little Hélène also seemed to be very familiar with that “Rue Lauriston gang.” Subsequently, I again overheard the name in their conversation and I became used to the sound of it. A few years later, I heard it in the mouth of my father, but I didn’t know that “the Rue Lauriston gang” would haunt me for such a long time.”
“Yes, someone got my father out of the “hole,” to use the expression he’d employed one evening when I was fifteen, when I was alone with him and he’d strayed very close to confiding a few things. I felt, that evening, that he would have liked to hand me down his experience of the murky and painful episodes in his life, but that he couldn’t find the words. Was it Pagnon or someone else? I needed answers to my questions. What possible connection could there have been between that man and my father? A chance encounter before the war? In the period when I lived in Square de Graisivaudan, I tried to elucidate the mystery by attempting to track down Pagnon. I had gotten authorization to consult the old archives. He was born in Paris, in the tenth arrondissement, between République and the Canal SaintMartin. My father had also spent his childhood in the tenth arrondissement, but a bit farther over, near the Cité d’Hauteville. Had they met in school? In 1932, Pagnon had received a light sentence from the court of Mont-de-Marsan for “operating a gambling parlor.” Between 1937 and 1939, he had worked in a garage in the seventeenth arrondissement. He had known a certain Henri, a sales representative for Simca automobiles, who lived near the Porte des Lilas, and someone named Edmond Delehaye, a foreman at the Savary auto repair in Aubervilliers. The three men got together often; all three worked with cars. The war came, and the Occupation. Henri started a black market operation. Edmond Delehaye acted as his secretary, and Pagnon as driver. They set up shop in a private hotel on Rue Lauriston, near Place de l’Etoile, with a few other unsavory individuals. Those hoods—to use my father’s expression—slowly got sucked into the system: from black marketeering, they’d moved into doing the police’s dirty work for the Germans.”
“A little past the Quai d’Austerlitz, near the Pont de Bercy, do the warehouses known as the Magasins Généraux still exist? In the winter of ’43, my father had been interned in that annex of the Drancy transit camp. One evening, someone came and had him released: was it Eddy Pagnon, who was then part of what they later called the Rue Lauriston gang? Too many coincidences make me think so: Sylviane, Fat Lucien . . . I tried to find the garage where Pagnon worked before the war and, among the new scraps of information that I’ve managed to gather on him, there is this: arrested by the Germans in November 1941 for having double-crossed them in a black market affair involving raincoats. Detained at La Santé. Freed by Chamberlin, alias “Henri.” Goes to work for him on Rue Lauriston. Leaves the Rue Lauriston gang three months before the Liberation. Retires to Barbizon with his mistress, the marquise d’A. He owned a racehorse and an automobile. Gets himself a job as driver of a truck transporting wines from Bordeaux to Paris.”
Notice the photo of the true character “Chamberlin, alias “Henri” mentioned he was a member of the Rue Lauriston gang that existed on Rue Luariston
“The snow that turns into mud on the sidewalks, the railings around the Cluny thermal baths where unlicensed street hawkers had their stalls, the bare trees, all those tones of gray and black that I still recall put me in mind of Violette Nozière. She used to meet her dates in a hotel on Rue Victor-Cousin, near the Sorbonne, and at the Palais du Café on Boulevard Saint-Michel.
Violette was a pale-skinned brunette whom the tabloids of the time compared to a venomous flower and whom they nicknamed the “poison girl.” She struck up acquaintances at the Palais du Café with ersatz students wearing jackets that were too tight at the waist and tortoiseshell glasses. She convinced them she was expecting a large inheritance and promised them the moon: exotic trips, a Bugatti . . . She had probably crossed paths on the boulevard with the T. couple, who had just moved into their small apartment on Rue des FossésSaint-Jacques.”
This Viollete Nozière is a true character from past, a movie was made about her life.
Also a book
“I sat at a sidewalk table of one of the cafés facing the Charléty stadium. I constructed all the hypotheses concerning Philippe de Pacheco, whose face I didn’t even know. I took notes. Without fully realizing it, I began writing my first book. It was neither a vocation nor a particular gift that pushed me to write, but quite simply the enigma posed by a man I had no chance of finding again, and by all those questions that would never have an answer.
Behind me, the jukebox was playing an Italian song. The stench of burned tires floated in the air. A girl was walking under the leaves of the trees along Boulevard Jourdan. Her blond bangs, cheekbones, and green dress were the only note of freshness on that early August afternoon. Why bother chasing ghosts and trying to solve insoluble mysteries, when life was there, in all its simplicity, beneath the sun?”