Saturday, May 31, 2008

Le Sel de la Semaine, Montreal, 1969

Le Sel de la Semaine ("salt of the week") was a TV program on the French service of the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), called Television de Radio-Canada. The program aired 95 episodes [ref.] from 1965-1970, and followed a simple format: distinguished guests were interviewed by biochemist-turned-TV-host, Fernand Seguin. Henry Miller was one such distinguished guest in 1969.

In a letter to his wife Hoki, dated June 6, 1969, Henry wrote that he was leaving his home in California on June 24th or 25th, and would be in Montreal, then London, then in Paris by July 1st for the filming of Tropic Of Cancer [1]. The Montreal plans appear to have been postponed, as a letter to Lawrence Durrell locates him in Montreal on September 3, 1969 (he had just seen the film adaptation of Durrell's Justine) [2].

Montreal was the headquarters for Radio-Canada; I'm guessing that the Sel del la Semaine interview was his reason for visiting. The episode was produced by Pierre Castonguay and hosted, as always, by Fernand Seguin. 77-year old Henry conducted the entire interview in French, with only the occassional call for a translation lifeline. This interview had been available for sale through Radio-Canada, but seems currently unavailable. However, the entire episode has been posted on-line at YouTube. I've embedded Part 1 below.


SUMMARY OF PART ONE
Please note that my French skills are adequate enough that I can translate Henry's interview and provide this summary, but should not be depended upon for accuracy. If you need to quote something, I suggest you find the timecode and translate his words yourself.

[1:05] Host Fernand Seguin [at left] opens by asking, "Why did you leave America, and why did you return?" Henry states that it was impossible for him to live there, where he felt despair and without hope. But Spain was actually his original destination (although he wouldn't see that country for another 20 years). He refers to June as "Mona, in the books," and credits her with inspiring him to leave: "It was a day in February. It was snowing. I was sad. As I stood in front of a window, she said, 'Why don't you go to Europe? I said, 'Great, but how?' She said, 'I'll find the means.' I was surprised, but said, 'If you find it, I'll go.' She gave me enough for boat passage ..."

[2:30] Henry says that he returned to America because of the war. The American Consulate would not let him go anywhere but his native land. "I asked, why not let me go to Buenos Aires or Brazil." He didn't want to return to America. But they voided his passport [Henry makes X strokes with his hand] and that's how he came to return.

[3:05] Henry mentions that he doesn't decide things; he leaves that up to fate or destiny; when the right moment presents itself, he acts.

[3:55] Henry discusses his feelings about America (i.e. he sees its lifestyle as destructive), but admits that he's content enough at present time to not be preoccupied by it. He's well-situated, likes his home, plays ping-pong, has a chauffeur. [UPDATE July 17/08: Thank you Daniel and your native French ear for pointing out that Henry says "une piscine chauffée" which means "heated pool" and does not refer to a "chauffeur."] "I don't live in 'America' in my life. I live in my house with a few visiting freinds and that satisfies me." [5:35] "I've made peace with my compatriots."

[5:15] Henry: "It's difficult for me to make decisions"

[6:08] Henry mentions the pgymies as an example of a society that has been living a simple, contented life for thousands of years: why change?

[7:00] Henry describes himself as a wannabe writer as a young man: "I had very strong doubts about my own abilities. I had no confidence, as a writer or a genius [thinker?] or whatever. I dreamed throughout my youth about becoming a writer, but maybe I placed the life or spirit of The Writer too high. That's why I was always below. Also, I didn't exhibit a great talent as young man. I tried two, three times to write, but it didn't go well. So I said, 'See, I'm not a writer.'"

[8:00] Henry describes the Paris effect: "It was another world, one of culture, you could say. A world with a sensuality too. In all ways, it was another face for me. It stiumulated me, inspired me."

[8:40] Henry: "I had already written three books [by the time I arrived in Paris], and I'm glad these books haven't been published. But in Paris I discovered my proper voice." He also mentions that he had been close to suicide.

[9:37] Henry explains that he managed to survive in Paris through the charity of others. "I asked like a beggar" ... "I asked for aid, and I gave aid ... I don't agree with Shakespeare when he said, 'Neither a lender nor a borrower be.' I think you need to be both."

You can view the remaining five parts of this 60-minute interview on YouTube. I may translate these remaining parts when I get a chance.

__________________________________________________
[1] Howard, Joyce (ed.) 1986. Letters by Henry Millert to Hoki Tokuda Miller. New York: Freundlich Books; p. 151; [2] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). 1989. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, p. 434.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Eric said...

What a great clip. Too bad my French is terrible. It's great to hear that heavy Brooklyn accent in the French, though.

12:29 pm  
Anonymous Pierre from Montreal said...

Hi RC!
Very interesting post on « Le Sel de la Semaine »!
I’m intrigued by this sentence :
« The Montreal plans appear to have been postponed, as a letter to Lawrence Durrell locates him in Montreal on September 3, 1969 (he had just seen the film adaptation of Durrell's Justine). »

I saw the TV program in September 1969 and I was enthralled, as Miller spoke fluently in French for an hour and, since I had discovered Miller only a few months before, when I bought «Tropic of Cancer » in a second-hand bookstore in Montreal, it was a double epiphany.

Speaking of double feature, I saw Henry twice during that year. First on June 24, the St. Jean-Baptiste Day, during a riot in front of the Ritz Calrton Hotel, when the statue of John-the-Baptist, the patron saint of Québec was decapitated by young nationalists (a terribly violent manifestation). Standing on the northern side of Sherbrooke Street West, I could see Miller with his secretary, Gérald Robitaille, watching this grisly scene from their window. The « Montreal Gazette » reported that event (mentioning Miller at the Ritz) the following day.

Why was Henry there in June ? I have no idea. Maybe he was already preparing the forthcoming TV program with Gérald Robitaille (with whom he saw the movie « Justine » in early September ; I was there that evening by accident, as you know, and I then saw Henry for the second time). Personally, I think Robitaille himself organized Miller’s appearance at the « Sel de la Semaine ». He was still Miller’s official secretary and the prospective author of « Le père Miller »… Was this in a way Robitaille’s willful publicity for his future book?

Anyway, this is past history, but what a wonderful year 1969 was (and I was only 22 years old!)!

Take care, RC!

9:34 pm  
Anonymous Eric said...

Wow - thanks for sharing that great story, Pierre.

9:44 pm  
Blogger RC said...

Thanks both for taking the time to comment. And thanks Pierre; that is a great story. I guess we may consider yours an eyewitness testimony that he DID go to Montreal in June, as planned, and then return on his way back from Europe.

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