Monday, October 18, 2010
TUESDAY BRINGS TROUBLE
Holidaying with Words and Images.
ADAM: Don't you know I'm having a tough time keeping my hands off you?
(REGGIE reacts in surprise.)
ADAM: Oh, you should see your face.
REGGIE: What about it?
ADAM: It's lovely.
(REGGIE pushes her plate away.)
ADAM: What's the matter?
REGGIE: I'm not hungry any more -- isn't it glorious?
The scene is from the 1963 mystery/thriller, Charade. Adam is Cary Grant, and Reggie is Audrey Hepburn. They are on a Bateau Mouche, an excursion boat that is also a floating restaurant, gliding down the Seine at night. It’s a great romantic moment in a great film.
Not odd that a mystery writer on holiday in France, and whose first full day in Paris was spent on a version of a Bateau Mouche, a Batobus motoring down the Seine from the Jardin des Plantes in the Latin Quarter, to La Tour Eiffel, would link some of the passing scenery to films seen, or books read.
Our apartment was in the Latin Quarter, an easy walk to the Jardin des Plantes, and only a few streets away from la rue Moufftard, with its restaurants and bistros, packed on any given night with tourists, and students from the Sorbonne. It’s also the street where Hemingway hung out in the 1920s, sipping drinks, waiting for cheques from the Toronto Star, and writing always.
The elevator that took us to our third floor apartment also evoked thoughts of Charade. It was a tiny cubicle, just large enough for two people who know each other very well. The alternative route was a narrow spiral staircase, steep going up, tricky to navigate going down. And each time the elevator door opened, I had a vision of another scene from Charade, where one of the lesser bad guys has his throat cut by the senior baddie, played by Walter Matthau.
I packed books for the trip, of course, including two novels by Ross Macdonald, who has long been one of my favourite writers in the mystery genre. While my opinions of Macdonald’s books have changed since I first read them in the 1970s – the linkages between the many characters in his stories seem too complicated now, even a bit contrived – I am still dazzled by the quality of his writing and his insights into human nature.
Could any mystery writer who visits Paris not visit the Catacombs? This writer did. The tour covers some 2 km, and can take more than an hour. They are located in old mines that run for hundreds of kilometres under the city. They are in fact an ossuary, and contain the bones of some 6 million people. Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but well worth a visit.
Once back in the sunshine, we walked to number 17 rue Campagne-Première in Montparnasse, where Suzanne’s cousin, the artist Paul Vanier Beaulieu, lived from 1938 until July 1940, when he was interned by the Nazis, finally being released in August 1944.
And there we found another movie connection. Enjoying a superb lunch at a café-cum-teashop just down the street from number 17, we discovered we were at the location for the closing scene in the 1960 Godard film, Breathless - À bout de souffle – a crime flick starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Not far from where we sat, the Belmondo character, Michel, was shot by the police, and there he drew his final filmic breath.
After Paris came Aix-en-Provence. Defying the will of the unions, who chose the day of our departure to hold a strike, we caught an early train and were whisked south through the gorgeous French countryside at speeds of up to 250 km/hour. Aix is quite another world; with its brightly coloured stucco buildings and narrow alleyways, one can easily imagine oneself being in Morocco.
Our last day in Provence, we booked a tour to Arles and Les Baux. As we walked through the 90 A.D. Roman Amphitheatre at Arles, I had the feeling I’d seen it before. I had. There’s a long sequence in the 1998 Robert De Niro thriller Ronin, shot inside the Amphitheatre: violence, gunfire, bodies all over the landscape. Appropriate to the location, I suppose. The ancient Romans, after all, gloried in slaughter.
And now I am back in Ottawa, struggling to get out of holiday mode, and wanting to get some work done. That will happen soon enough. The line edit of my third Inspector Stride novel, Death of a Lesser Man, will soon arrive, and then I will be hard at it.
Thomas Rendell Curran was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His novels are set in the post-war, pre-Confederation Newfoundland of the late 1940’s. His protagonist is Inspector Eric Stride of the Newfoundland Constabulary. (The designation Royal was added to the Constabulary’s title in 1979.) The first, Undertow, was short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award from Crime Writers of Canada. The second is Rossiter. And the third Eric Stride novel is on its way.