If the nineteen hundreds were an open playbook, you could find him–-along with thousands of other kids born on May 30, 1950–-squarely in the centerfold, or perhaps, more accurately, the gatefold of the twentieth century.
Time passes. He grows up and finishes but does not graduate from high school in spring, 1968. That summer while his comrades anticipate disrupting the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, this Soixanthuitard flies off to Europe on a solo bicycle trip he’s planned and saved up for since first tasting Paris three years before at the age of fifteen.
While sitting on a bench in the Tuilleries in the shadow of a statue almost entirely covered in red paint he reads reports in the International Herald Tribune on the rioting and presidential nominations of Hubert H. Humphrey and J. Pigasus Pig. On the boulevards nearby, workers lay down asphalt where the surface had recently been pavés, stones which, unlike the huge Belgian blocks used in New York, fit into the insurgent palm as though they were made for it.
Sous les pavés, la plage.
Across the city, on walls and bridge parapets, many of the slogans remain as if painted the night before: Plus je fais l’amour, plus j’ai envie de faire la révolution. Plus je fais la révolution, plus j’ai envie de faire l’amour. Though the graffiti’d injunction N’allez pas en Grèce cette été! Restez à la Sorbonne! has not yet been scrubbed off, the breath of the May uprising feels entirely exhaled. In one of our traveler’s park bench daydreams, clouds of teargas, having dispersed in the Quartier Latin, now recondense over Lincoln Park.
For two weeks he wanders where his feet carry him, returning in the evening to a garret room in the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire that looks out onto an airshaft. Had his window faced the Seine, he might have awoken at dawn to see the river’s surface smooth as glass, reflecting the Louvre’s façade, until the passage of the first barge refracted the mirror into a thousand ripples.
The accompanying drawings of Notre-Dame, the flatboat, and the self-portrait were taken from the journal-cum-sketchbook of his Paris sojourn. The young woman jetant un pavé, and the little man digging up the remaining stones, were both done shortly after he returned to the States – respectively from a photo in ParisMatch, and from memory. All were made with a .000 Rapidograph, the ever-flowing pensword of his teens.
Twenty years later, the Soixanthuitard has largely shifted his energies from visual art to writing, which he does in black covered, red-spined Chinese school notebooks, using a Waterman fountain pen and purple ink. He also begins studying Spanish – a language ubiquitous in the New York of his juventud, but of which, as an adult, he still knew practically nothing.
¡Luna Si, Yanqui No! the short prose piece reproduced here, dates from 1990 when he was forty. It was published in Conjunctions the following year.
In 2001, he returns to Paris with his wife and daughter. They stay for one night in a room at the Quai Voltaire that does face the river, and from whose tiny balcony one may glimpse the Pont des Artes. In ten years he will see both Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning and Vigo’s L’Atalante. Five years later, a young friend lends him her copy of Violette Leduc’s La Femme au petit renard.
Comes 2018 and the Soixanthuitard, now aged sixty-eight, internally inhabits both New York and Paris, where his mother was born in 1909. Though he doesn’t think about the year ’68 very often, the sense-memories of his eighteenth summer have drawn together to form the pivot around which his life’s work turns.