Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quest For 18 Villa Seurat

In September 2003, I visited Paris for the first time. It goes without saying that I sought out a few Henry Miller landmarks. It was a sunny Thursday morning when I set out to find 18 Villa Seurat, the location of so much Miller myth and merry making. Miller lived at this address from 1934 to 1939. [My own photo of the house is above].

The Villa Seurat street--in the 14th arrondisement--is tiny and easy to miss. I did a few circles in the neighbourhood trying to find it. Once I hit the rue des Artistes, I thought for sure Villa Seurat would be nearby. After a while, I even thought that, perhaps, Villa Seurat had been renamed the appropriate "rue des Artistes" (besides Miller, artiists like Dali and Soutine have also lived there). I took a rest and scrutinized the circle I'd made on my internet-printed map. I cross-referenced with the map in my Paris travel book, but it hadn't even bothered to include Villa Seurat.

Finally, my eyes halted at the Villa Seurat street sign. I must have smiled -- it was an exciting moment. [my photograph of the entrance to rue Villa Seurat from rue de la Tombe Issoire is below]. #18 stands out like a white bone on muddy ground. I have to admit, it wasn't what I was expecting. It looked too nouveau, too modern for the romantic conceptions I had in my head of Henry Miller's important Paris address. I even doubted that I had the right place. I think I expected something older, more ornate, more classically Parisian.

Once I finally decided that this was indeed the destination of my pilgrimage, I let it all sink in. All of the fragments of images from Miller's works and life became vivid in my mind's eye; at least as tangible as very convincing ghosts. Miller walked through this space of air, I thought to myself (come on, you've had one of these petty personal moments too, admit it). I was especially transfixed by the cobblestoned street, imagining Miller and Nin on a night stroll, hand in hand; Miller coming home with a drunken stagger; Miller and Durrell pausing to debate on the street (so intense was the line of dialogue that one could not walk and think at the same time).

I stood in front of #18, looking up at the windows. I wasn't bold enough to knock on the door ("C'est qui? Un autre maudit touriste!"). In fact, I half-expected an irate Frenchman with a pitchfork to drive me away from their quiet little lane (which is clearly marked as "private.") I stole away maybe 15 minutes in total, in silent contemplation, then finally retreated past the rows of Citrons and explored the rest of the quaint neighbourhood.

Read the entry on Villa Seurat, which includes its location on a map and a tour of other Miller spots in the neighbourhood.

Read Cecily Mackworth's account of 18 Villa Seurat.

If anyone else has made this visit, please feel free to add your anecdote in my Comments section.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've made that visit myself many times. I lived in Paris for a couple of years and would swing by the Villa Seurat now and then to stir up a little sense of personal connection to Miller.

Interestingly, during WWII the Gestapo (or police authorities acting on their command) made a similar visit to the Villa Seurat. They were looking for Chaim Soutine, presumably in order to send the "degenerate" Jewish artist to a concentration camp. The police were unable to find Soutine as he was in hiding outside of Paris at the time (Miller had left France a few years before). However, they did manage to turn up several of Miller's letters and manuscripts that had been left behind and which mention Soutine by name. The letters were included in the police report, the text of which can be found here (in French):

Page from book on Soutine

If you head back to Paris sometime, you might try stopping by Jim Haynes' place for Sunday dinner. He lives just around the corner from the Villa Seurat on rue de la Tombe d'Issoire and has an open dinner party every Sunday night (just call a day or so ahead to let him know you're coming). Jim met Miller at some point and has published an Hommage to Henry Miller, which I believe you've linked to before. There is always a friendly and interesting mix of people at his dinners. Here's some more links and info about Jim's thing:

Info on attending Jim's dinners
Jim Haynes

1:18 am  
Blogger RC said...

Thanks for the info, Kreg. As for Jim Haynes, his dinners do sound intersting; I'd like to make it to one of them sometime.

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