If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
—Ernest Hemingway to a friend,1950
9 Ford Madox Ford and the Devil’s Disciple
The Closerie des Lilas was the nearest good cafe when we lived in the flat over thesawmill at 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, and it was one of the best cafes in Paris. Itwas warm inside in the winter, and in the spring and fall it was very fine outside with thetables under the shade of the trees on the side where the statue of Marshal Ney was, andthe square, regular tables under the big awnings along the boulevard. Two of the waiterswere our good friends. People from the Dome and the Rotonde never came to the Lilas.There was no one there they knew, and no one would have stared at them if they came. Inthose days many people went to the cafes at the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasseand the Boulevard Raspail to be seen publicly and in a way such places anticipated thecolumnists as the daily substitutes for immortality.The Closerie des Lilas had once been a cafe where poets met more or less regularly and the last principal poet had been Paul Fort whom I had never read. But the only poet Iever saw there was Blaise Cendrars, with his broken boxer’s face and his pinned-upempty sleeve, rolling a cigarette with his one good hand. He was a good companion untilhe drank too much and, at that time, when he was lying, he was more interesting thanmany men telling a story truly. But he was the only poet who came to the Lilas then and Ionly saw him there once. Most of the clients were elderly bearded men in well-wornclothes who came with their wives or their mistresses and wore or did not wear thin redLegion of Honour ribbons in their lapels. We thought of them all hopefully as scientistsor savants and they sat almost as long over an aperitif as the men in shabbier clothes whosat with their wives or mistresses over a cafe crème and wore the purple ribbon of thePalms of the Academy, which had nothing to do with the French Academy, and meant,we thought, that they were professors or instructors.
These people made it a comfortable cafe since they were all interested in each other and in their drinks or coffees, or infusions, and in the papers and periodicals which werefastened to rods, and no one was on exhibition.
There were other people too who lived in the quarter and came to the Lilas, and someof them wore Croix de Guerre ribbons in their lapels and others also had the yellow andgreen of the Medaille Militaire, and I watched how well they were overcoming thehandicap of the loss of limbs, and saw the quality of their artificial eyes and the degree of skill with which their faces had been reconstructed. There was always an almostiridescent shiny cast about the considerably reconstructed face, rather like that of a well- packed ski run, and we respected these clients more than we did the
or the professors, although the latter might well have done their military service too withoutexperiencing mutilation.In those days we did not trust anyone who had not been in the war, but we did notcompletely trust anyone, and there was a strong feeling that Cendrars might well be alittle less flashy about his vanished arm. I was glad he had been in the Lilas early in theafternoon before the regular clients had arrived.On this evening I was sitting at a table outside of the Lilas watching the light changeon the trees and the buildings and the passage of the great slow horses of the outer boulevards. The door of the cafe opened behind me and to my right, and a man came outand walked to my table.
Oh here you are,’ he said.It was Ford Madox Ford, as he called himself then, and he was breathing heavilythrough a heavy, stained moustache and holding himself as upright as an ambulatory,well-clothed, up-ended hogshead.’May I sit with you?’ he asked, sitting down, and his eyes which were a washed-out blue under colourless lids and eyebrows looked out at the boulevard.
‘I spent good years of my life that those beasts should be slaughtered humanely,’ hesaid.’You told me,’ I said.’I don’t think so.”I’m quite sure.”Very odd. I’ve never told anyone in my life.”Will you have a drink?’
The waiter stood there and Ford told him he would have a Chambery Cassis. Thewaiter, who was tall and thin and bald on the top of his head with hair slicked over andwho wore a heavy old-style dragoon moustache, repeated the order.’
No. Make it a fine a l’eau,’
‘A. fine a l’eau for Monsieur,’ the waiter confirmed the order.
I had always avoided looking at Ford when I could and I always held my breathwhen I was near him in a closed room, but this was the open air and the fallen leaves blew along the sidewalks from my side of the table past his, so I took a good look at him,repented, and looked across the boulevard. The light was changed again and I had missedthe change. I took a drink to see if his coming had fouled it, but it still tasted good.
‘You’re very glum,’ he said.
‘No.”Yes you are. You need to get out more. I stopped by to ask you to the little eveningswe’re giving in that amusing Bal Musette near the Place Contrescarpe on the rue Cardinal Lemoine.
‘I lived above it for two years before you come to Paris this last time.”
How odd. Are you sure?”Yes,’ I said.
‘I’m sure. The man who owned it had a taxi and when I had to get a plane he’d take me out to the field, and we’d stop at the zinc bar of the Bal and drink aglass of white wine in the dark before we’d start for the airfield.
”I’ve never cared for flying,’ Ford said. ‘You and your wife plan to come to the BalMusette Saturday night. It’s quite gay. I’ll draw you a map so you can find it. I stumbledon it quite by chance.
”It’s under 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine,’ I said. ‘I lived on the third floor.’
‘There’s no number,’ Ford said. ‘But you’ll be able to find it if you can find the PlaceContrescarpe.’I took another long drink. The waiter had brought Ford’s drink and Ford wascorrecting him. ‘It wasn’t a brandy and soda,’ he said helpfully but severely. ‘I ordered aChambery vermouth and Cassis.”It’s all right, Jean,’ I said. ‘I’ll take the/w. Bring Monsieur what he orders now.”What I ordered,’ corrected Ford.At that moment a rather gaunt man wearing a cape passed on the sidewalk. He waswith a tall woman and he glanced at our table and then away and went on his way downthe boulevard.’Did you see me cut him?’ Ford said.
‘Did you see me cut him?”No. Who did you cut?’ ‘Belloc,’ Ford said.
‘No. Who did you cut?’ ‘Belloc,’ Ford said.
‘Did I cut him!’ ‘I didn’t see it,’ I said.’ Why did you cut him?’ ‘For every good reason in the world,’ Ford said. ‘Did I cut him though!
‘He was thoroughly and completely happy. I had never seen Belloc and I did not believe he had seen us. He looked like a man who had been thinking of something and had glanced at the table almost automatically. I felt badly that Ford had been rude to him, as, being a young man who was commencing his education, I had a high regard for hi mas an older writer. This is not understandable now but in those days it was a common occurrence. I thought it would have been pleasant if Belloc had stopped at the table and I might have met him. The afternoon had been spoiled by seeing Ford but I thought Belloc might have made it better. ‘What are you drinking brandy for?’ Ford asked me. ‘Don’t you know it’s fatal for a young writer to start drinking brandy?
‘I don’t drink it very often,’ I said. I was trying to remember what Ezra Pound hadtold me about Ford, that I must never be rude to him, that I must remember that he only lied when he was very tired, that he was really a good writer and that he had been through very bad domestic troubles. I tried hard to think of these things but the heavy, wheezing, ignoble presence of Ford himself, only touching-distance away, made it difficult. But I tried. ‘Tell me why one cuts people,’ I asked. Until then I had thought it was something only done in novels by Ouida. I had never been able to read a novel by Ouida, not even at some skiing place in Switzerland where reading matter had run out when the wet south wind had come and there were only the left-behind Tauchnitz editions of before the war. But I was sure, by some sixth sense, that people cut one another in her novels.
‘A gentleman,’ Ford explained, ‘will always cut a cad.
‘I took a quick drink of brandy. ‘Would he cut a bounder?’
I asked.’It would be impossible for a gentleman to know a bounder.”
Then you can only cut someone you have known on terms of equality?’
I pursued.’Naturally.”How would one ever meet a cad?”
You might not know it, or the fellow could have become a cad.”What is a cad?’
I asked. ‘Isn’t he someone that one has to thrash within an inch of hislife?
”Not necessarily,’ Ford said.’Is Ezra a gentleman?’
I asked.’Of course not,’ Ford said.
‘He’s an American.”Can’t an American be a gentleman?’
Terhaps John Quinn,’ Ford explained. ‘Certain of your ambassadors.”
Myron T. Herrick?
Was Henry James a gentleman?
Are you a gentleman?
”Naturally. I have held His Majesty’s commission.”
It’s very complicated,’ I said. ‘Am I a gentleman?
”Absolutely not,’ Ford said.
‘Then why are you drinking with me?’
‘I’m drinking with you as a promising young writer. As a fellow writer, in fact.
”Good of you,’ I said.
‘You might be considered a gentleman in Italy,’ Ford said magnanimously.
‘But I’m not a cad?
”Of course not, dear boy. Who ever said such a thing?
”I might become one,’ I said sadly. ‘Drinking brandy and all. That was what did for Lord Harry Hotspur in Trollope. Tell me, was Trollope a gentleman?
”Of course not.”You’re sure?
”There might be two opinions. But not in mine.”
Was Fielding? He was a judge.
Of course not.”John Donne?”He was a parson.”It’s fascinating,’ I said.’I’m glad you’re interested,’ Ford said. ‘I’ll have a brandy and water with you before Igo.’After Ford left it was dark and I walked over to the
and bought a
the final edition of the afternoon racing paper with the results at Auteuil, and theline on the next day’s meeting at Enghien. The waiter Emile, who had replaced Jean onduty, came to the table to see the results of the last race at Auteuil. A great friend of minewho rarely came to the Lilas came over to the table and sat down, and just then as myfriend was ordering a drink from Emile the gaunt man in the cape with the tall woman passed us on the sidewalk. His glance drifted towards the table and then away.’That’s Hilaire Belloc,’ I said to my friend. ‘Ford was here this afternoon and cut himdead.”Don’t be a silly ass,’ my friend said. ‘That’s Aleister Crowley, the diabolist. He’ssupposed to be the wickedest man in the world.”Sorry,’ I said.
For reasons sufficient to the writer, many places, people, observations and impressions have been left out of this book. Some were secrets and some were known by every one and everyone has written about them and will doubtless write more.There is no mention of the Stade Anastasie where the boxers served as waiters at the tables set out under the trees and the ring was in the garden. Nor of training with Larry Gains, nor the great twenty-round fights at the Cirque d’Hiver. Nor of such good friends as Charlie Sweeny, Bill Bird and Mike Strater, nor of Andre Masson and Miro. There is no mention of our voyages to the Black Forest or of our one-day explorations of the forests that we loved around Paris. It would be fine if all these were in this book but we will have to do without them for now. If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.
San Francisco de Paula, Cuba 1960
1 A Good Cafe on the Place St-Michel
2Miss Stein Instructs
3’Une Generation Perdue”
4Shakespeare and Company
5People of the Seine
6A False Spring
7The End of an Avocation
8Hunger Was Good Discipline
9Ford Madox Ford and the Devil’s Disciple
10Birth of a New School
11With Pascin at the Dome
12Ezra Pound and His Bel Esprit
13A Strange Enough Ending
14The Man Who Was Marked for Death
15Evan Shipman at the Lilas
16An Agent of Evil
18Hawks Do Not Share
19A Matter of Measurements
20There Is Never Any End to Paris