On April 8, 2010, SCRC hosted a dramatic reading of a selection of letters from our collections. The event was planned and emceed by Abigail Wheetley, and we thank everyone who was able to attend. For those who were unable to attend, and for those who would like to revisit something they heard that evening, we will be posting transcriptions of the letters and introductions to them over the next few weeks.
We continue this series with a letter from Henry Miller to Anais Nin.
An American in Paris
Henry Miller Anais Nin collection 46
In this letter Henry Valentine Miller writes a lengthy account of two days in Paris to his friend Anais Nin. His most renowned works are Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, and Black Spring. He also wrote travel memoirs and essays of literary criticism and analysis. Here we get to follow him through the drunken confusion of an arrival in Paris.
Thursday 1.00 A.M.
Have had about six hours’ sleep in the last two days. I begin somewhere either yesterday or day before, sitting in the ante room of a physician’s office at eight o’clock in the morning. Expect a long examination—for my working card—but instead am asked to take off my shirt and be vaccinated; thirty francs, and voila, I’m en regle. At ten o’clock M. King is waiting with this Ford downstairs at the Hotel Central. We are going to Suresnes for some beds, etc. It’s a wonderful day, and though the house locked at Suresnes, we are not deterred. First, M. King drives me up to a villa that he was to won, on the street called Reu de L’Hippodrome, I believe. We start for Marly le Roi, where there is a cabin in the woods with two divans. In order to take a short cut M. King drives through the woods itself, on the soft greensward. The car bucks like a bronco and we shout and sing as we knock down the underbrush. Then we come to a gate at the edge of the woods; the gate is locked, but M. King, who can accomplish everything, has a big key for the gate. There stands the little shack—no windows, but the roof is tar-papered. We pile the beds and mattresses and a folding table and three chairs on the automobile and start back. M. King is only loaning us the divans. He prizes the mattresses even more, though they have big holes in them, because of sentimental reasons. The wool was sheared from sheep who grazed on the plains of Armenia, where M. King comes from.
We arrive at the apartment in the late afternoon, after paying all and sundry, and find that the bath tub is not connected. The place has not been cleaned. A few doors need to be settled on their hinges. The chandeliers are not there. O.K. With M.King’s car we go back to the Rue du Faubourg Street. Honore and search his possessions for electric wiring equipment, tools, plates, glasses etc. Fine. We haven’t stopped off anywhere for a drink. While M. King mounts the step ladder and tries out the connections, Fred and I fall asleep—sound asleep. It is dark now. When I hold the candle to Fred’s face to shake him I see something crawling over his face. I wake him up and he complains of being bitten, shows me the welts on his arm and cheek. We call M. King. This is important. Examine the mattresses and divans—a few live ones crawling sluggishly over the things. Then we get busy and inspect. Hold the candle to the walls. Marvelous! The walls are alive! Big ones, egg-layers, nests, nits, cocoons, spider webs, dead ones, comatose ones, active ones…We take matches and burn them alive. But it is hard work—they are coming too fast. M. King pulls me away—“You’ve killed enough for one afternoon,” he says. We go down in the cellar and turn on the water. Tell the concierge, who is a new concierge and like a child. She says it’s terrible. We agree. Then we move all our luggage into one room and flee. M. King is worried about his Armenian wool mattresses. They were in the family a long time—the sheep used to graze right near his home, at the foot of Ararat.
At Levallois-Perret we stop off for a casse-croute. Here is where Moravagine went after he had explored the mouth fo the Orinoco, or was it before. I have always wanted to look up on the men of Lavallois-Perret. Fine. We order cold pork and plenty of potato salad. We eat it, and wash it down with the rarest vin blank ordinaire I have ever tasted. M. King knows about wines too. He confirms my judgment. We order camembert and Gorgonzola and a little Brie for Fred. Fred is upset about the bed bugs. But the wine. We consume several bottles, and then we order coffee and Cointreau. It’s just a little snack before going to work. A casse croute.
After work I walk home with Joe. He is going to put me up for the night. We get to the Oasis and we have another little snack, a plat du jour with a glass of beer. I am very tired and aching to lie down. But while we are eating we are just through really, a young woman comes in and greets me. I recognize her. “Oh, my dear sir, you are so kind, in must be Heaven that has sent you to me. May I sit down? May I order something hot?” I give Joe a big horse wink and order an epaule de veau avec pommes nouvelles for the girl. This is something hot—for four francs! Yes, she has the same story to tell me. She cannot go back to her room until she pays a little money down. Just a few francs, say twenty or thirty. She says she is Irish—Nell O’Connor, but she was born in Latvia and talks like a Greek. If you question her closely (Which I have several times) you discover that she is nearly Irish. Anyway, Joe is listening with a big smile. He has never heard her line before. And while she eats she whispers in my ear. I tell her no. So she orders some cake and a cup of tea. When I go to pay I haven’t enough money. Joe pays. Then we stand on the corner outside the Rotonde and try to shake her off. She’s begging Joe for twenty francs. She has never sold herself, you understand. She knows now that I can’t give her anything so she concentrates on Joe. But Joe says he’s married. Suddenly a man without a coat or hat comes up, his lips all slavered. He says he has had fever for five days. He shakes my hand warmly. “You’re a gentleman!” It is the waiter fro the Bar Dominique—he remembers me because I am always so polite to him. He is very sensitive to-night. So he insists on going to the Dome Bar and buying me something. I don’t want to go but I want to get rid of the girl. So we go—but first I tell him only on condition that it is one drink, no more. At the bar he won’t let me order coffee—I must have something good. We order and then he begins telling Joe what a fine guy I am—that I’m better than any woman, etc. the girl talks Russian to him. It seems to be near five o’clock—they’re closing up soon. Just then a burly fellow with a brief case puts his head in between me and the girl who is chewing my ear off about her hotel bill. He looks at the strangely, then at the girl. He insults her. I smile a little, but he stands there and grows more insulting. My blood is growing cold. I wonder how long it’s going to last. Suddenly he moves off, and then suddenly he turns again, near the door and hurls a few more words in her direction. This gets me. I go up and give him a terrific shove, smashing him against the door. I know my face is white, my lips are twitching. I yell at him. I tell him to shut up. And the funny thing is he shuts up. He opens his mouth but he can’t get a word out. He is dumbfounded, and I even more than he. I get so wrought up because he refuses to come to blows that I run out of the place. I don’t know where to hide my rage. And as I turn the corner the Russian is after me. And behind him is the garcon demanding his money. The Russian turns on him savagely and tells him he’ll be back in five minutes. The garcon is going to call the gendearmes. I don’t know what to say. I grab the Russian by the arm and lift his head up. “What’s the matter, are you ill?” “No,” he says, and apologizes piteously. “I haven’t enough money. Lend me fifteen francs and call for me at the Bar tomorrow.” Joe pays again, but I get the thanks. I have the warm heart. That licks Joe completely. “Damn these Russians,” he says “They’re yellow dogs.” This gentleman stuff! D’accord!
So we’re too excited to go to bed. We walk around for a half hour and dawn comes up. Then we go to Joe’s room and while I snore he sits up and reads. And during the night I accidentally twine my legs around his, thinking it’s a woman. That makes Joe nervous.
Only a few hours of sleep and Fred is knocking at the door. Bang, like a cold douche, up and out. Back to Clichy and remove some of our belongings. A few semi-conscious ones lying around here and there. Flick ‘em off nonchalantly. Look for a hotel. Then I step into a booth and telephone Louvecinne but you are not there. Around nine o’clock every time the phone rings I think it may be you.
So I’m at the Cronstadt and you have the telephone number. I will be here at the office in the afternoon. If you don’t find me at the hotel try this joint—editorial room. I want you to see the Cronstadt. Probably won’t get back to Clichy until the end of the week. I don’t think the vaccination took. My arm has not swelled up. All I have is a little fever, but that may be from the excitement. In the morning I will take a bath and disinfect myself. I’m dog tired. We locked the gate at Marly all right. T-night M. King was wearing a tuxedo. Did you know that to-day was St. Patrick’s day? Erin Go Bragh!