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Part 13 Chapter 1

When the cold weather set in the princess disappeared. It was getting uncomfortable with just a little coal stove in the studio; the bedroom was like an icebox and the kitchen was hardly any better. There was just a little space around the stove where it was actually warm. So Macha had found herself a sculptor who was castrated. She told us about him before she left. After a few days she tried coming back to us, but Fillmore wouldn't hear of it. She complained that the sculptor kept her awake all night kissing her. And then there was no hot water for her douches. But finally she decided that it was just as well she didn't come back. "I won't have that candlestick next to me any more," she said. "Always that candlestick… it made me nervous. If you had only been a fairy I would have stayed with you…"


With Macha gone our evenings took on a different character. Often we sat by the fire drinking hot toddies and discussing the life back there in the States. We talked about it as if we never expected to go back there again. Fillmore had a map of New York City which he had tacked on the wall; we used to spend whole evenings discussing the relative virtues of Paris and New York. And inevitably there always crept into our discussions the figure of Whitman, that one lone figure which America has produced in the course of her brief life. In Whitman the whole American scene comes to life, her past and her future, her birth and her death. Whatever there is of value in America Whitman has expressed, and there is nothing more to be said. The future belongs to the machine, to the robots. He was the Poet of the Body and the Soul, Whitman. The first and the last poet. He is almost undecipherable today, a monument covered with rude hieroglyphs for which there is no key. It seems strange almost to mention his name over here. There is no equivalent in the languages of Europe for the spirit which he immortalized. Europe is saturated with art and her soil is full of dead bones and her museums are bursting with plundered treasures, but what Europe has never had is a free, healthy spirit, what you might call a MAN. Goethe was the nearest approach, but Goethe was a stuffed shirt, by comparison. Goethe was a respectable citizen, a pedant, a bore, a universal spirit, but stamped with the German trade mark, with the double eagle. The serenity of Goethe, the calm, Olympian attitude, is nothing more than the drowsy stupor of a German burgeois deity. Goethe is an end of something, Whitman is a beginning.


After a discussion of this sort I would sometimes put on my things and go for a walk, bundled up in a sweater, a spring overcoat of Fillmore's and a cape over that. A foul, damp cold against which there is no protection except a strong spirit. They say America is a country of extremes, and it is true that the thermometer registers degrees of cold which are practically unheard of here; but the cold of a Paris winter is a cold unknown to America, it is psychological, an inner as well as an outer cold. If it never freezes here it never thaws either. Just as the people protect themselves against the invasion of their privacy, by their high walls, their bolts and shutters, their growling, evil tongued, slatternly concierges, so they have learned to protect themselves against the cold and heat of a bracing, vigorous climate. They have fortified themselves: protection is the keyword. Protection and security. In order that they may rot in comfort. On a damp winter's night it is not necessary to look at the map to discover the latitude of Paris. It is a northern city, an outpost erected over a swamp filled in with skulls and bones. Along the boulevards there is a cold electrical imitation of heat. Tout Va Bien in ultraviolet rays that make the clients of the Dupont chain cafés look like gangrened cadavers. Tout Va Bien! That's the motto that nourishes the forlorn beggars who walk up and down all night under the drizzle of the violet rays. Wherever there are lights there is a little heat. One gets warm from watching the fat, secure bastards down their grogs, their steaming black coffees. Where the lights are there are people on the sidewalks, jostling one another, giving off a little animal heat through their dirty underwear and their foul, cursing breaths. Maybe for a stretch of eight or ten blocks there is a semblance of gaiety, and then it tumbles back into night, dismal, foul, black night like frozen fat in a soup tureen. Blocks and blocks of jagged tenements, every window closed tight, every shopfront barred and bolted. Miles and miles of stone prisons without the faintest glow of warmth; the dogs and the cats are all inside with the canary buds. The cockroaches and the bedbugs too are safely incarcerated. Tout Va Bien. If you haven't a sou why just take a few old newspapers and make yourself a bed on the steps of a cathedral. The doors are well bolted and there will be no draughts to disturb you. Better still is to sleep outside the Metro doors; there you will have company. Look at them on a rainy night, lying there stiff as mattresses – men, women, lice, all huddled together and protected by the newspapers against spittle and the vermin that walks without legs. Look at them under the bridges or under the market sheds. How vile they look in comparison with the clean, bright vegetables stacked up like jewels. Even the dead horses and the cows and sheep hanging from the greasy hooks look more inviting. At least we will eat these tomorrow and even the intestines will serve a purpose. But these filthy beggars lying in the rain, what purpose do they serve? What good can they do us? They make us bleed for five minutes, that's all.


Oh, well, these are night thoughts produced by walking in the rain after two thousand years of Christianity. At least now the birds are well provided for, and the cats and dogs. Every time I pass the concierge's window and catch the full icy impact of her glance I have an insane desire to throttle all the birds in creation. At the bottom of every frozen heart there is a drop or two of love – just enough to feed the birds.


Still I can't get it out of my mind what a discrepancy there is between ideas and living. A permanent dislocation, though we try to cover the two with a bright awning. And it won't go. Ideas have to be wedded to action; if there is no sex, no vitality in them, there is no action. Ideas cannot exist alone in the vacuum of the mind. Ideas are related to living: liver............

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