Saturday, November 10, 2007

Return To Paris, 1959

In the book called Henry Miller, Happy Rock (2002), Brassaï gives us an account of Miller's return to France in 1959 after a six year absense. The publisher of this book, University of Chicago Press, provides an excerpt of this account on their website. Here's the first quarter:

Sunday, April 19, 1959
Six years have gone by. Miller and his family have just arrived in Paris. And this morning, I am going to see them again at their home on rue Campagne-Première. A flurry of letters preceded this journey. All his friends were alerted. A month ago, Henry told me: "Yes, everything is arranged: passports, visas, tickets. All I need to do now is relax. Working feverishly to finish rereading Nexus before I go!"

As for Eve, she announced their return with this exclamation of joy, in capital letters: "WE ARE COMING BACK TO FRANCE!" And she added: "I say COME BACK because that's what this journey means to me. In Henry's mind, it's just one more trip. So there you have it!" And she ended her letter: "I want my children to have a real sense for what it is to live in France, and not only to be passing through" (letter to Brassaï, January 28, 1959).

When I arrive at the studio in Montparnasse, Henry exclaims: "What a pleasure to see you again. Most of the friends and acquaintances I saw in Paris are faring well. But just think if you lived in the United States! There, at forty you're prematurely old, used up."

Brassaï: How was your trip?

Henry Miller: It's the first time I've flown in a jet. San Francisco-New York: five hours and forty-five minutes. It's fantastic! Nine thousand meters up and not a bump. I felt like I was living in the future, the future that is becoming our present.

Brassaï: What do you think of Paris? Has it changed in six years?

Miller: So many cars in the street! It's astounding! People think New York's a frenetic city. But it's really Paris! The traffic is even heavier here and the police wave their arms to get people to go even faster. When I have to cross a street, I start to shake. I fear for me and my children. Fortunately, French cuisine hasn't changed, it still lives up to its reputation. But the odd thing is, I've lost my passion for Paris. I've changed. I don't like big cities anymore and I'm looking forward to being in the country. It's different for Eve! She loves Paris and wants to know it better. She'll stay here while I visit the Scandinavian countries with my children.

Continuing reading about his plans for this trip, his attachment to Big Sur, and Henry's tour of Paris with his children. Most of this account is written as dialogue, with Brassai as the interviewer.

With return tickets booked for August 20th, Henry had many things he wanted to do in Europe before heading back to Big Sur. One of these was to visit Lawrence Durrell and his family. In a letter to Durrell on March 8, 1959, Henry wrote: "Yes, all's set--passports, visa, tickets. All I need to do is relax. Working feverishly to finish re-write of Nexus before leaving (Just had letter from Franchette. He's using the text I wrote expressly). Think we have a place in Paris -- at a hundred (dollars) a month." Henry mentions the return ticket for August 20th, but is open to the idea of re-settling there if it appeals to his kids, Val and Tony. "But there's their mother to reckon with. And I am not quitting Big Sur for good -- not yet. It's a real haven." (MacNiven, Ian S. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. Faber and Faber, London: 1988, pp. 341, 342).

Yellow text above ©2002 Excerpted from pages 19-32 of Henry Miller, Happy Rock by Brassaï, translated by Jane Marie Todd and published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2002 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved.