Readings — From the October 2012 issue
- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
In June 1983, Calle found an address book on the street in Paris and photocopied the contents before returning it to its owner, Pierre D. She then began to contact people listed inside, asking to meet with them to discuss the book’s owner. She published accounts of her ongoing meetings in the newspaper Libération in August and September 1983. After Pierre D. threatened to sue, Calle agreed not to republish the work until after his death. The first full English-language version of The Address Book, including Calle’s accompanying photographs, is now out from Siglio. Translated from the French.
I chose his name at random. I could not tell you why. He invites me to his place and offers me a whiskey. I reveal the identity of the owner of the address book. He barely knows him.
“I’m not an intimate friend of his, and that’s what embarrasses me the most. I can tell you about his looks. What’s very striking about him is that his eyes are hidden behind his glasses. He looks like he is not looking. He wears very conspicuous glasses. Bad eyesight, definitely. Physically, he looks like he walked out of a Marx Brothers’ movie. I see his body, the way he walks—kind of clumsy, nearsighted. These are things I really like. He’s warm and shy, an unusual combination. A constant stream of words, and yet total reserve . . . He must be in his forties . . . Has a salt-and-pepper mustache . . . He’s a friendly person, intelligent and pretty detached from the world . . . A good sense of humor . . . He would be a cool Marx Brother, a dispassionate clown. I’m sure he is fascinated by Woody Allen. But he would be a flat Woody Allen, with no pizzazz. It’s hard to think of what more to say.”
Thierry L. has no idea where they met or when . . . It was probably seven or eight years ago at an American university in Paris. Thierry L. was teaching classes in the film theory department. He thinks Pierre was an instructor there at the same time. He also remembers an article on King Kong that Pierre had published in a film magazine. I ask him for more details. He answers, “As I said, I don’t know him very well.” And yet he speaks of Pierre with such a tender tone in his voice.
She invites me to her place. I tell her that Pierre D. is the owner of the address book.
Yes, she knows him. He is a scriptwriter. She had gone to see him upon the recommendation of a mutual friend to have him read a script and to ask his opinion. The following year, she had asked him to play a small part in a film she was making: the part of a building manager, an old reactionary man. “Why did she choose him?” I asked. “He has a face that can do anything.” She realized later that even on film he could never be a bad guy. Pierre had also helped Myriam V. write the script. In the final scene, an old lady falls down the stairs and breaks her leg. If Pierre had not modified the script, the film would have had her die.
“Pierre is above all a brilliant intellectual who doesn’t show off. Modest. Always dressed in the Barbès style, with big collars on his shirts and trousers that are wide at the bottoms. The way he chooses to dress has nothing to do with what’s going on in his head . . . ” She guesses that it is intentional. The first time he came to her place, he forgot his umbrella. No, she does not think he did it on purpose. She says he twists his mouth when he speaks, that he likes women in fishnet stockings and garter belts. She was surprised at how conventional his fantasies were.
Myriam V. tells me the armchair I’m sitting in is the one where Pierre liked to sit and smoke his cigar.
I call him in Boulogne-sur-Mer. I introduce myself and ask him if he would be willing to talk to me about the man whose address book I found. He reacts violently: “I’ll have no part in this! It’s an outrage! Tell me his name! Tell me his name right now! I want to warn him!” He yells. I hang up. Why did that man refuse to understand me, to listen to me? I can’t take his refusal. I should have explained to him that I don’t want to hurt Pierre. Suddenly I am afraid of what I am doing. Pangs of conscience. But I must continue. I will beg his friends to talk to me.
She lives with Charles C. Like Charles, she tells me that Pierre stops by their apartment when he comes to see his father, who lives on the second floor. “He’s an odd character. Full of possibilities that never get realized. He has lots of ideas on all kinds of subjects. He asks people’s opinions about them because he seems constantly in need of advice, and then he doesn’t follow through.” She adds, “He’s a little boy.” Anne recalls when Pierre spent several days at Gordes with them. During the night, she and Charles heard a disturbing noise. They woke Pierre to ask if he had noticed anything strange. He was very angry about being awakened in the middle of the night. He was absolutely furious, even offensive. No, Anne does not know whether he was wearing pajamas or not, but she was sure he did not sleep in the nude, despite the heat.
Other impressions of Pierre? “He loves food. He always finishes everything on his plate. It’s not a question of hunger—just a quirk of behavior. Another thing that is typical Pierre: If he meets with you or has dinner with you, he calls you the next day to thank you, to say how nice it was. When he arrives at someone’s home, he behaves apologetically. For the first thirty seconds, you feel he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He performs an almost obsequious little ritual: ‘Excuse me, are you sure I’m not disturbing you?’ When he leaves a message on your answering machine, it’s always very confused. He’s not good at condensing ideas. He has to call back several times.”
I ask Anne if there are any objects belonging to Pierre in her home. No. For ten years, a painting he had done hung on their wall. It was very abstract, in brown and russet tones; he had lent it to them, and they returned it. Recently, Pierre left a fancy ballpoint pen, but he has since picked it up. He had also made some coffee liqueur for them, but they finished it. Before I leave, Anne and Charles show me the windows of Pierre’s father’s apartment, which you can see from their terrace. The metal shutter is closed; he is in the country. In the entryway of the building, I slide my hand into the mailbox and note that the mail is piling up.