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from Ingrid Caven: A Novel

Jean-Jacques Schuhl

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It did sound like saucepans. But such a racket was simply not possible in the peaceful shelter of the Hotel Scribe in Paris, whose building once was occupied by the very private Jockey Club, where anything that drew attention drew a blackball, and before that, by the Lumière brothers for the first movie show in history, back in 1895, the train coming into the station at La Ciotat, a silent, almost religious occasion, an audience rather select and a bit nervous, all they could hear was the subtle purring of the projector, which sent out the hypnotic ray of light, carrying such magical, terrifying images.

His Eminence’s car had just left her in front of the hotel, she’d entered with the porter following, been welcomed with some ceremony by the manager, the suite had been reserved by the House of Saint Laurent, even His Eminence in person, and at the top of the steps going to the service elevator, one of the suitcases, the cardboard one with green and white squares, much too full, suddenly fell open: staff and a few guests raised their eyes, as frozen as the audience must have been looking at the train on the movie screen, to see a whole kitchenful of saucepans tumbling down the stairs, a metal fanfare, saucepans of every size, forks knives spoons which seemed to come out of nowhere, still-life objects suddenly animated and hunting in a pack.



She’s here to play the part of a queen, M. Saint Laurent has put the suite at her disposal, which makes her the protégé of a man who is synonymous with perfect elegance, and yet she’s an anxious housewife who has brought all her cooking equipment – you never know, it might come in useful – to make this grand entrance into Paris and an even grander hotel deluxe. All at once, it’s slapstick, some American comedy like the Gold Diggers: poor little provincial goose, trying her luck in the big city, hard times in some boarding house off Washington Square, a loving romance, auditions, torn between the cute leading man and the old producer – does she want a Daddy, Broadway triumph, her name up in neon lights, her young leading pigeon gone home sadly to Idaho. He has the last word, the first night: ‘For every heart that breaks in Idaho, there’s a new light on Broadway.’

She doesn’t know what to do – explain, apologise, help pick up maybe a couple of forks and a saucepan. Should she laugh? She laughs. She thinks of her father: during the war, a young naval officer on the Baltic, cycling on the road, he hears the air raid sirens, jumps off his bike, crouches in the ditch, and sticks a saucepan on his head which, he realises after a bit, won’t do him much good since it has no bottom. He’s more like some little corporal from the French army in full retreat. Fernandel in La Vache et le Prisonnier, Casrette in La Grande Illusion, than a proper Oberleutnant in the great Kriegsmarine; but then he did love Pigalle, Josephine Baker, the Moulin Rouge. And canoeing on the Loire.

It wasn’t the sight of the saucepans, it was the noise they made that seemed so unholy, such a vulgar noise for a singer and such a seedy noise, too, as though her whole past was dragging behind her, and above all the sound was so entirely out of place, nothing at all to do with the luxurious and old-style setting – carpets, wall hangings, such well trained staff: the hotel was like a ventriloquist’s dummy, letting out a cry that didn’t belong to it, something irritating, agonising, making the brain falter. Maybe Ingrid also remembered Sundays at home, her mother cooking in the kitchen with a clatter of pans that mixed with the Liszt, ‘Hungarian Rhapsody,’ that her father used to play over and over in the next-door drawing room. That, too was in her mind, making it tilt like a pinball machine. A saucepan bumped up against one of the metal bars on the stairs, and came to rest, dumb.


1. He described Marlene in Islands in the Stream:

He saw the car pull up and the doorman opened the rear door, his cap in his hand, and she got out. It was her. No one else got out of a car that way, practically and easily and beautifully and at the same time as though she were doing the street a great favour when she stepped on it. Everyone had tried to look like her for many years and some came quite close. But when you saw her, all the people who looked like her were only imitations. She was in uniform now and she smiled at the doorman and asked him a question and he answered happily and nodded his head and she started across the sidewalk and into the bar.


2. Marlene and Hem … did they? didn’t they? Or as people said for the longest time: ‘Have they?’ That’s the question everybody asks … a woman and a man entering a restaurant, especially if they’re ill assorted … a good little game, a fine game better yet with sacred monsters …



There’s a photograph of Marlene Dietrich, which she once gave to Hemingway (1): She’s all legs, sitting, like in those famous shots for the Blackglama furs, her head is down, so all you can see is the line of nose, mouth, chin: enough to identify her at once like a logo, a Chinese pictogram, a coat of arms, and, alongside those long, bare famous legs that were insured for $5 million at Lloyds, she’s written: ‘I cook, too.’ Were they lovers, friends, loving friends? The old story keeps the crowds agog: the writer and the actress, or the singer, D’Annunzio and la Duse, Miller and Monroe, Romain Gary and Jean Seberg, Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange, Phillip ‘Portnoy’ Roth and Claire ‘Limelight’ Bloom, the marriage of word and flesh, intriguing, puzzling, riotous.

Dietrich learned the violin as a child, a little Prussian soldier playing the violin, maybe that’s what seduced old man Hemingway, the masculine side, she hunched her shoulders a bit, chest down, but she could still look from underneath, her mouth ironic: champion! Brave and mannerly! I was forgetting the cigarette held between three fingers, the way any man in the street does, the little common touch, but dressed dead chic with that Prussian sexiness. (2)

Hemingway? Maybe, if it comes down to it, the picture wasn’t dedicated to him at all but to one of her other men – Erich Maria Remarque, or Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin? Jean Gabin, perhaps? Or to Mercedes d’Acosta, that exotic lesbian? Or just to some nameless fan? Doesn’t matter, it’s all ancient history, the young woman with the saucepan is also a chain smoker, but she uses a common black plastic cigarette holder, Denicotea, only twenty-five francs from your neighbourhood tobacconist.








  She’s still laughing in the elevator and when, with the manager going ahead, she enters her suite, she’s amazed by what she sees: white lilies, on the night table, on the desk, the vanity, in the bathroom, in the entrance hall, everywhere white lilies. Yves paid tribute to his queen with a suite in white. After saucepans, lilies, after the hausfrau, the vamp. Pans and lilies – a good title if one day she wrote her memoirs; Eva Gabor, sister of the more famous Zsa Zsa, called her book Orchids and Salami.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, could be one of those surprising productions of her friend Werner Schröter whose nickname – but why on earth? – was ‘The Baron’: Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, The Death of Maria Malibran ... she was bound to arrive in Paris under this particular sign, because, truth to tell, her real range of mind is more from lilies to saucepans, if you see what I mean, just as at the end of some exquisitely turned sentence – like this one – you need a break, but even the break is still too exquisite, those lovely rhetorical cadences I never quite escape. On stage with a flourish of her hand followed by a broken wrist, a back kick in the air that was a wink at flamenco, she knew just how to break up all that virtuosity, that panache, to do it neatly and dryly, to cut things short, never to make them too rich, yes, that was it, heading for the world of lilies and orchids, then turning back abruptly to saucepans and salami. Lupe Velez was engaged to Johnny Weismuller, but she fell out with Tarzan, wanted to kill herself, but looking lovely, image before everything, even when dying, hours and hours of fixing her makeup and her hair. She had no luck at all, pills and booze upset her guts and so it was that they found her, in her loveliest frock, immaculately styled, powdered, bejewelled, virtually embalmed, but stifled on her own vomit with her head down the toilet. That’s the art of breaking a mood, a right-angle turn of mood, art upside down, the leftovers restored, and anyway a kitchen utensil is always handy: John Cage wrote a concerto for mincer and beater.

Every three days, Yves had the flowers changed and renewed, she was a bit like La dame aux Camélias, all the more because of her asthma, her old allergies. He designed costumes for her, and she stifled among the lilies. The Eagle Has Two Heads: nineteenth century, an anarchist in Bavaria, the phone rings. Naturally, it’s Munich. ‘Hello, Ingrid,’ it’s Fassbinder, the sweet little boy’s voice that escapes from the body he doesn’t much like, he’d have liked to be a buxom blonde with skin like a peach, his friends call him Mary, sometimes Miss Mary. ‘The Baader gang, they’ve hijacked a plane full of passengers, they’re going to blow it up, it’s at Mogadishu.’ The voice comes to her room, creeps through the white, white lilies of the Hotel Scribe.

And with that one little sentence, the whole world of Siegfried, of bad conscience, of Sehnsucht and the future blues, of the Children of the Third Reich, all that enters like some thunderclap in an opera into the sheltered universe of the great couturier, the distant jolts and tremors of history now present in this toxic, luxuriously languid world, terrorist brutes among the white lilies. Mogadishu! She is playing a queen in Jean Cocteau, Yves Saint Laurent is making the royal robes and she’s stifling, cigarette smoke, cocaine, alcohol, among the lilies. Everything is confused: she’s playing a theatrical queen whose in love with a terrorist wanted by the cops. That is the subject of The Eagle and the terrorist has the strangest likeness to the dead king. She came to Paris to get away from the disorderly past of Germany, its aftermath, its ghosts, and straight away it all caught up with her in this room. She’d hardly got there, and already life was imitating art. She remembers Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, they used to go to the same places, cafés for students and actors. In 1968, she put aside her music and she attacked the Springer building after the attempt on the life of Red Rudi, she met Baader and Meinhof several times and it all almost turned out badly.

Nothing scared her on the stage. Life was something else. Down on the street a black BMW is parked in the rain. Inside, in the passenger seat, Fassbinder with dark glasses and the collar of his leather jacket turned up. He holds his cigarette cupped in his hand, a clandestine smoke, just like Bogart used to do, then he brings the cigarette to his mouth and draws on it sharply, determined, defiant, like Bette Davis. With each gesture he was him and then her, Bogart and Bette: He’d picked out the two most fabulous smokers in Hollywood. He tries to do everything ‘like in the movies.’ ‘Every emotion I have, I learned in the movies,’ he once said. This evening, out of nerves, his moves are speeded up like a movie at eighteen frames a second. After checking, glance to the right, glance to the left, that nobody is following her, Ingrid enters the Mendes Bar, a nightspot open during the day. Everything was half-dark, silent, and nobody was there except the barman wiping glasses. She went to the back, where the Wurlitzer stood, the records all hanging in a fan, ready to play: Rio das Mortes. Elvis, Du bist anders als alle anderen, you’re so different from all the rest, the song Rainer always put on when they were there. Then she went to the bar:


Below, in the car, Fassbinder was fretting and sweating: Every morning he and Ingrid found the same message under the windscreen wipers of the BMW: ‘Attention. Urgent. We want to see you. Will call tomorrow, 8 o’clock, to set a date. Advise you to be there. Don’t mention this to anyone.’ Obviously, it wasn’t signed. It had been going on for a week. Rainer said: ‘We’ll go away. We’ll go to Greece.’ He was afraid. When they got back, it all started up again, the bits of paper on the car. There was talk of money but, no, ‘We want to see Rainer.’ It was the Baader-Meinhof gang, in hiding. Fassbinder didn’t want to meet them. He was afraid he’d be kidnapped. Ingrid had suggested she should go in his place. She was less well known, which made her less vulnerable.

She was finishing her whisky. The man came over, came out of the toilets. He went to the door, nodding to show she should follow him, and she did. It was the messenger. He was in an overcoat, medium height; he seemed, somehow, how should I say? wiped out ... A body, but nobody there ... They reached the street.

‘Where’s Rainer? Why isn’t he with you?’
‘Where’s Ulrike?’

Ulrike? Most of all, she remembered the woman’s voice, a deft, lively voice, fine and nicely turned. Did she still have that voice, preserved in formaldehyde, now she was deep in a secret world with its own leaden language? A voice is shaped by life, by thought, surely?

The others? She saw them in the old days, the old nights, on the Shwabing circuit, bars, restaurants, little movie houses: Türkendolch, Bungalow, Simple, Chez Margot – Gudrun Ensslin, the minister’s daughter, silent and Garboesque, and Baader on his feet, quite still, leaning on the piano, always close to the entrance or rather the exit, as if, years too early, he was getting ready to run.

‘Where is Rainer? Ulrike wants to see him.’

He wore thin glasses, he had a colourless, tired, and worn down voice, a maniac who’s depressed: or some versatile masochist who’d have loved to do real wrong. She wore her trenchcoat like armour. She was afraid, and yet nothing seemed quite real, she was in some thriller, some B movie, in the Barbara Stanwyck part. In some true film noir.

‘Tell me what you want from Rainer. Is it money?’
‘We said already. We don’t want money.’
‘Then what?’
‘We want a meeting.’

He opened the top part of his overcoat: from an inside pocket, sticking out, the long silver needle of a hypodermic.

‘See? I could stick you and kidnap you here and now. Yes, you.’

He closed up his coat. That little gadget, misplaced in an overcoat, barely seen, just for a second changed everything, made it bizarre and alarming, and she was suddenly very afraid.

‘It’s from a script,’ she thought, ‘some bloody script!’

And she set off running on her too-high heels. The messenger disappeared. She found the car, got behind the steering wheel and took off. That night, they didn’t go home to sleep; they went to a hotel. In the morning, they took jeans, a toothbrush, and grabbed the plane for New York, they often made their minds up just like that, and they never again mentioned what happened.


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© Éditions Gallimard 2000, 2002. Translation from the French © 2004 Michael Pye. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books.
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