Fernando Sdrigotti: Not Edition One

“The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.”

Chris Marker, Sans Soleil


Bill Evans by David Redfern, 1965 (Getty Images). Source: londonjazznews.com

Perhaps it is a matter of starting with black leader, if it can be done against the pecuniary concerns of printers and the aesthetic concerns of editors. Would it work? For here I face a problem of a different order. I am not trying to capture an image of happiness anyway. And yet the black might help with something else. Who knows. What I will try to do is after all pretty much the same thing that Sandor Krasna attempts in Sans Soleil. To write about things that might seem random to the reader/viewer—strange, wanton connections and trajectories that nevertheless relate to  personal history. Krasna, the fictional cameraman in Marker’s film, hides behind images to reflect on memory, his memories. I am going to hide behind a jazz album.

I am not writing about Paris Concert Edition One in order to trace an arbitrary history. Why Bill Evans’ album, then? I could blame the fact that Paris is a marked city for any Argentine writer, a city embedded in an aspirational aura; something akin to joining a club (cue Cortázar, Saer, Borges at times). I could blame my previous life as a musician, my years studying jazz: years of longing for a vanishing point, a way to get out from Rosario, the provincial town were I was born. Days of longing for something global—I thought I’d make a claim to something global through music. Or I could blame the fact that I later lived briefly in Paris, I managed to tick that box before I was expelled by my own restlessness, but not before I managed to take enough notes—enough for several books, several clichés. But I am not writing about Edition One simply because I need to start somewhere, either. I could have started anywhere.

The cover. A photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson, black and white: the westernmost edge of the Square du Vert Galant, of the Île de la Cité, photographed from the Pont des Arts before it was covered in lovelocks, that most abominable display of our fear of dying alone. A strange Parisian corner, visible in every map, this slither of earth drifting into the Seine.

For many years I thought it was in the Square du Vert Galant that Julio Cortázar’s “Las babas del diablo” takes place. This story about the power of images could have very well been the basis of a Chris Marker film. It doesn’t take place there—it takes place in a square on another island: the Square Louis Aragón, in the Île Saint-Louis, not far. In any case, Cortázar’s story narrates the misadventures of a Franco-Chilean photographer who happens to snap a disturbing incident. His camera captures a woman with a young boy in what appears to be a forbidden, and very likely illegal, romantic moment—it later turns out it could have been a kidnap attempt. The story is about much more than that and I don’t recall exactly by what twist of plot Michel finds himself swallowed by the photograph whilst developing the films. But I do recall that “Las babas del diablo” was then taken up by Michelangelo Antonioni, filtered through London, and turned into Blow Up. Few films manage to capture the essence of London better than Blow Up. Blow Up has nothing to do with Edition One, to the best of my knowledge, any more than the Cortázar story.

The same can be said of The Passenger, also by Antonioni, and of Maria Schneider, who played the female lead in the film and was later to play Marlon Brando’s partner in Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. There is a very famous scene of buggery with butter in Last Tango in Paris—this scene also has nothing to do with Bill Evans’ album. But apparently it angered the French at the time of the film’s release, not because the film is undoubtedly misogynist and Bertolucci literally destroyed Schneider’s career before it had even begun, but because butter was expensive at the time. Gato Barbieri, from my hometown, composed and played the film’s soundtrack. I wonder what he makes of Bill Evans’ album.

Speaking of Last Tango in Paris it would be irrelevant to mention Maria’s fiancée in the film, a rather moronic filmmaker played by Jean-Pierre Leaud. It would  also be irrelevant to mention Jean Eustache’s La maman et la putain, where Leaud plays the male lead. And it would be irrelevant to write about the failure of the 68’ers, one of the central themes of the film, if not for the fact that, thinking of May 68, it is impossible not to think of Guy Debord. For if one thinks of Debord it is possible to jump back to the Square du Vert Galant, the Parisian spot where his ashes were scattered in 1994.

Neither Cartier-Bresson nor the photographer in Cortázar’s story captured this moment. Cartier-Bresson wasn’t around when Debord’s ashes were scattered over the Seine, from that westernmost corner visible in his picture of the Square du Vert Galant. And Michel, the Franco-Chilean photographer of Cortázar’s story, had already been swallowed by his own image of another square, many years before.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, "Square du vert galant et du pont neuf, ile de la cité, Paris". Source: mutualart.com

Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Square du vert galant et du pont neuf, ile de la cité, Paris”. Source: mutualart.com

In order not to write about Edition One, I should also write about two Spanish bohemians I met upon my arrival to the city of syphilitic poets. Paris before Sarkozy; not the 60s, but many beautiful freeloaders were still able to live there on rather generous benefits. Neva and Ana: writers without the writing, hanging around painters without the painting, filmmakers without the filming, bohemians without the intellect—most of them anyway.

I met them in a bar called Rendezvous des Amis in Montmartre and I don’t remember any more how I ended up sharing a tiny studio flat on Rue St Maur, Belleville, with them. I guess it had to be done. Part of living the cliché of the Argentine writer in Paris was to make sure I would surround myself with slightly deluded folk living fantasies (cue Cortázar’s overrated novel, Rayuela). Neva and Anna would spend their days stoned or working in a nearby café. Stoned and working and stoned and writing—trying to write. For me, those days which have nothing to do with Edition One were about walking around on my own, burning my savings, being immersed in a language I couldn’t understand, sitting in bars and taking down notes that made very little sense.

Another thing Edition One is not about: terrorism. Neither terrorism back then nor about terrorism today, when I am trying not to write about this album. Not about realising that one of the cafés attacked on November 13, 2015 was the place where Ana and Neva used to work, that had they not left Paris for their native Spain back in the mid 2000s both of them could’ve been dead. And I could’ve been dead, too. Because I used to spend a lot of time sitting at this terrace, trying to figure out what I was doing then and there and which one of them I wanted to fuck, drinking free coffee and the occasional glass of wine. I was full of concerns about my future, none of them being killed by an AK-powered halfwit.

In the end I didn’t fuck anyone. I just moved to London.

Edition One isn’t about a church either. A church in Easter, 1978. A church in Rosario. A packed church. The usual assembly of old and young, pious and sinful listening to the sermon. At first nobody bothers to turn around to look when the doors open and Jesus walks in. They only pay attention once the laments prove too much for the rudimentary speakers. Shocked faces, tears, screams. The priest tries to keep things cool but he fails to contain some of the men who once they get over their shock jump on Jesus. Jesus is soon overpowered, tackled and brought to the ground. The cross he was carrying moments earlier falls loudly to the floor. Some of the disciples, incognito amidst the congregation, jump to Jesus’ aid and manage to stop an otherwise certain lynching. The police come to save the day and all the pranksters get arrested. This is how it came to me in the mid 90s—yes, it sounds unlikely. But regardless of the veracity of these events, these pranksters would come to be known as Cucaño, Rosario’s only avant garde, one of our few claims to something global, beyond football and cocaine. Even if few know about them.

Cucaño have nothing to do with Edition One, either. Or perhaps they have something… because of another church, back in Easter 1950, in Paris. That day the mass is also progressing normally. Notre Dame, a short walk away from the Square du Vert Galant. The cathedral is packed with the usual crew—they smell a bit rancid and a bit like Chanel No. 5. The mass is still delivered in Latin and the priest is renowned as a talented Latinist, or so say some of the attendants, who can’t make sense of a single word being said. But they do understand the words that halfway through the ritual are uttered by a young man named Michel Mourre. They understand these words because they are spoken in French. Mourre announces the death of god:

Aujourd’hui, jour de Pâques en l’Année sainte,

Ici, dans l’insigne Basilique de Notre-Dame de Paris,

J’accuse l’Église Catholique Universelle du détournement

mortel de nos forces vives en faveur d’un ciel vide;

J’accuse l’Église Catholique d’escroquerie;

J’accuse l’Église Catholique d’infecter le monde de sa morale mortuaire,

d’être le chancre de l’Occident décomposé.

En vérité je vous le dis: Dieu est mort.

Nous vomissons la fadeur agonisante de vos prières,

car vos prières ont grassement fumé les champs de bataille de notre Europe.

Allez dans le désert tragique et exaltant d’une terre où Dieu est mort

et brassez à nouveau cette terre de vos mains nues,

de vos mains d’orgueil,

de vos mains sans prière.

Aujourd’hui, jour de Pâques en l’Année sainte,

Ici, dans l’insigne Basilique de Notre-Dame de France,

nous clamons la mort du Christ-Dieu pour qu’enfin vive l’Homme.

Chaos ensues in Paris, just like it will 27 years later in a faraway, humid city in South America. Some try to lynch Mourre and his posse of Leftbankers. The police intervene, one of the culprits gets his face slashed by one of the sword-wielding guards, and this moment in time becomes The Notre-Dame Affair. This is perhaps the most notorious “intervention” by a rather irritating group of paleo-hipsters known as the Lettrists, the fathers of what would come to be know some years later as the Situationist International, of which Guy Debord was the most famous member. See what I mean? We have gone full circle without even starting to draw a circle. Paris in 1950—the same city. Rosario, 1978—a year before Bill Evans’ concert. As you can see, I am forcing together places and times while not writing about Edition One. It is the story of my life.

It is a story of trying to make sense of wanton trajectories, dates, names, events. Perhaps my problem as a writer is how to make these lines intelligible to the reader. Perhaps Edition One is an excuse, a vessel to escape from the usual markers of Argentineannes. To bring other histories to the fore, to have a claim on some form of global individuality, if possible. To show the world that everyone has a claim to a global cultural history—or that no one does, because everything is a right fucking mess we must all navigate whichever way we can.

In my favourite scene in La maman et la putain, this film that has nothing to do with Edition One, Bernardette Lafont smokes a cigarette whilst listening to Edith Piaf sing “Les amants de Paris”. She’s resting against a wall, filmed with a static camera, smoking the whole fag while Piaf’s LP spins at the back.

I first saw this scene, this film, in a multiplex cinema in Rosario, back in 2000. The film was being screened for the first time in Argentina, after being banned back at the time of its original release, 1973. La maman et la putain is 3.5 hours long, shot in black and white, with direct sound, no incidental music, and a lot of French aloofness and silent smoking, enough to irritate the typical multiplex audience to death. The screening started with a packed theatre; by the time of this scene, 3 hours and 20 minutes into the film, there were only two people left in the room, this other guy and me. This other guy is Gustavo Postiglione, a filmmaker, probably the best filmmaker to come out of Rosario. I never asked him what he thinks of Edition One nor do any of his films feature Bill Evans’ music. Or buggery with butter. Although in one of his films, Días de mayo (May Days) he tries to make Rosario look like Paris.

I had yet to visit Paris for the first time, in 2000. And I can’t remember now whether I had already listened to Edition One. But I remember the drive home after the show, a short drive through unremarkable suburban roads, with houses that all looked the same, pretty much like anywhere else in the world, but with shanty towns all around. It was one of the last times in my life that I drove a car: I had a minor accident a couple of blocks before reaching my house. Nothing serious, nobody got killed or injured; I just hit the kerb when I took a wrong turn. But I never raised the money to pay for the repairs.

Just over a year later the whole country came crashing to the ground and I had to come up with Plan B. I ended up in Dublin, washing plates for a living. Some time later I moved to Paris. Some time later I moved to London. My attempts to attain something global through music got a reality check at some point inbetween locations. I stopped my love affair with music. And I made the terrible mistake of starting to write, somewhere between Dublin and Paris, probably in an airport lounge. Sometimes I wish I had stayed in Paris. Other times I wish I had studied medicine or something equally profitable. None of this has anything to do with Edition One.

Not speaking about Edition One, there is a moment during “Noel’s Theme” when someone in the audience coughs. The cough is not terribly audible but is audible nevertheless, particularly when you listen to the record through headphones. I would write about this cough, should I ever want to write about Edition One.

I have always wondered about it, about the person coughing it: is she or he aware that her or his cough has been captured for posterity, eternalised in one of the most beautiful records ever made? Many times I have wondered—and I am wondering as I write these words—whether this person is still alive. Were I to write about Edition One I would definitely begin with this cough. I have before now tried to link this cough with other ideas, but it never worked. Perhaps I will never write about Edition One. Or maybe I will. Maybe I won’t even need black leader. I can only hope. One can only ever hope.

Fernando Sdrigotti lives in London and tweets @f_sd.