I bump into Henry just outside Belleville’s Metro. He is already there when I arrive. He has a large blue umbrella with white dots — there’s something written on it but I can’t read it. I find his umbrella funny. He laughs at my transparent umbrella, or about the “Victoria’s Secret” written on it. We don’t shake hands or say anything. He starts walking and I follow him.After more or less two or three blocks under the rain it occurs to me that I don’t know where we’re heading.
“Where are we going?” I shout.
“Neva’s,” he shouts back and I feel that’s all the information I need to know. I mean, I should probably ask who Neva is, but I feel Henry is being cryptic so that I will ask him who Neva is so that he can play mysterious so that he can feel a bit better about himself, somehow more in control, less pathetic, powerless and useless. So I just keep on walking, confident that in due time I’ll find out what’s going on, what this is about, who this Neva is. But more importantly, confident that it won’t really matter, that soon I’ll be boarding the Eurostar back to London.
The driver announced that Hainault was the last station. The car was empty save for him and a foreign-looking bloke sitting at the other end. It had taken him ages to make it that far all the way from East Putney. Transport is a bitch on Sundays — engineering works, limited service, delays, replacement buses. He was quite late, at least half an hour. He stood up with the bag hanging from his shoulders, and waited by the doors until the train stopped.
He had never been in Hainault before and it sounded exotic to him. He got his mobile phone out and shot a picture of the station sign. He walked towards the exit and realised the other guy was still sitting inside the carriage. Perhaps he hadn’t understood the driver’s message; he himself had found it pretty hard to figure out: bad speakers plus accented English. Henry walked towards the train and knocked on the window.
“It’s the last station,” he said.
“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
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.