‘Paris Vagabond,’ by Jean-Paul Clébert

08WHITE1-master768Edmund White at The New York Times:

Clébert writes of a place where you bought three Gauloises out of a pack, where beggars who’d been lucky stood their mates for a round and sang old ballads, then gathered a few butts “by way of provision for the night.” He visits the huts along the Seine where the ­corpses of suicides are fished out of the river. And he spends time in pitiful flea markets like the ones I saw in Montreuil in the ’90s, where vendors sell “unmatched pairs of boots, ragged jackets and trousers, garments at a hundred francs, surplus pieces of leather, printed papers much stained but still readable . . . bundles of postcards, bits of scrap metal, bags of bent and rusty nails, broken or defective concierge’s knickknacks, and so on. Unmatched, stained, bent, rusty, broken, defective — just like these poor devils, their ­faces plaster masks of ­no-more-hope.” Clébert is a master of the long, cascading list-­sentence, trippingly rendered into English by Donald Nicholson-Smith. His descriptions are mirrored by (not illustrated by) the bleak photographs of Patrice ­Molinard.

A connoisseur of chaos, Clébert is the poet of the lumpenproletariat and of a forgotten city: “Between the two ­bridges, mainly on the Left Bank, one’s sense of smell is overstimulated by a succession of odors, as follows (read slowly): cheese, very violent, then, by turns, gas welding, fresh periwinkles and new rust.” He has a very precise ­sensorium.

Luc Sante, who has written the informative introduction to this volume, has recently offered his own look at the city, “The Other Paris,” a brilliantly researched narrative that ­touches on everything from the Paris Commune to dime novels. Here he tells us that Clébert’s book was inspired by Henry Miller and Blaise ­Cendrars.

more here.