Inspired by Albert Camus' lecture, "Create Dangerously", and combining memoir and essay, Danticat tells the stories of artists, including herself, who create despite, or because of, the horrors that drove them from their homelands and that continue to haunt them.
Reflections on the Guillotine(Extended essay, 1957)
Neither Victims Nor Executioners (1946)
Caligula (performed 1945, written 1938)
Requiem for a Nun (1956)
The Misunderstanding (1944)
The State of Siege (1948)
The Just Assassins (1949)
ALBERT CAMUS and HIS WORKS
Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondavi, French Algeria.
In London I obtained work at Waitrose grocer's in Gloucester Road, slicing bacon - would I never escape that bacon? Ronnie brought his mother to my bedsitter and in honour of this Liverpudlian reunion I cooked on the single ring a pan of Scouse (like Irish stew, you throw in the lot and braise). just before they left, Rita showed up.
"Have you heard?" she said. "Joey was dancing and his back went."
He was in St Bartholomew's Hospital. At last, unable to restrain myself, I went over one evening. His parents were coming out of the room so I hung back until they'd left. Joey looked grey and thin and had broken out in spots. He was covered with sweat. All his vigour had gone.
"What the hell are you doing here? My parents might have seen you. I don't want any visits, understand? Now get out!"
His embarrassment over me was understandable. More distressing was his loss of confidence in himself. He was going through an emotional crisis because he believed his back would never fully mend. I sent him notes and left it at that.
A Windmill girl asked me if I'd like to occupy her flat while she spent Christmas with her family in Dorking and then went on tour. We lived like gypsies then, throwing things into a suitcase at the drop of a hat. So much so that for a long time I deliberately didn't acquire more than one suitcaseful of possessions.
What a gloomy basement it turned out to be, livened up only by a coal fire which I kept on the roar. Not long after moving in, I had a late-night visitor. It was Clare Cork.
"I'm sorry, I'm terribly ill," she said. She was panting, fainting, the sweat pouring off her.
"My God, come in."
The problem was pregnancy, thanks to the Italian waiter. In fact she was on the verge of labour.
"Quickly, lie down, get into my bed, I'll call an ambulance."
"No! I can handle this. No ambulances."
"But, Clare, I've got no idea what to do!"
"Look, it's O.K., false alarm, please, I'd like some tea..."
While I was in the kitchen there was a scream and I dashed back. Clare was looking ghastly. "It's hurting," she said. "They wouldn't understand in Ireland, for months I've been trying to abort it. I think I've done something to myself. Can you look to see if I'm all right?"
As I examined her, she burst. The bed filled up with blood and water and the baby's head began to emerge.
"I don't care what you say, I'm going to get an ambulance."
"No, darlin', it's too late, I need your help here. Now go and boil as much water as you can."
Hot water. The number one priority in every film you ever saw. My first birth! And at Christmas too. It was turning out to be an occasion after all. The kitchen rang with pans. The water took an eternity to boil. I unearthed some fresh towels and steamed back in to assist. Clare was lying exhausted on the bed.
"You've done it! Is it a boy or a girl?"
She looked at me from under her lids and said, "It's neither."
"What do you mean it's neither? Let's have a look."
But that wasn't possible. Clare had wrapped it up in lots and lots of newspaper and thrown it on the fire. just like that. She said it died a few minutes after birth, but I wasn't so sure. Clare wouldn't let me touch the fire. She sat beside it for two days, obsessively poking the ashes, then she left for Ireland, relieved that her ordeal was over, and that she could now face her mother as a good Catholic.
Without explaining why, I said to Little Gloria, "I've got to get out of Olympia, it's driving me nuts." Actually I was having nightmares and daytime horrors about the burnt baby. He said there was a room going where he lived.
7 Nevern Square. The basement and the ground floor were inhabited by a Polish family who acted as caretakers. They would have ignored an atomic bomb so long as it paid the rent. Which was a blessing because from the first floor upwards it was bedlam. Prostitutes, transvestites, drug addicts, petty crooks, and their guests, a non-stop party, doors banging, music blasting, lights on, twenty-four hours a day.
Little Gloria, with pin eyes either side of an enormous rotting nose and no mouth at all, had come a long way since the Pierhead. At night he donned a shift, a stole and a wig and went out on the bash. He was tiny and I'm sure this helped - short people get away with drag more easily than tall people. He was also a kleptomaniac and his room was an Aladdin's cave of glittering trash hoisted from Woolworth's. Little Gloria invited you in for coffee and then gave it to you out of one of your own cups. The form was: don't bother to say anything, just pick up your own bits and pieces on the way out. Hoisting (shop-lifting) and kiting (a spending spree with a stolen cheque-book) were his two stand-bys when trade was thin on the pavement.
My room was towards the top of the house and underneath it, "making ends meet, darlink", was Sheherazade, a towering Titian redhead from the North, a lesbian and a harlot. Most of the women prostitutes were blatant men-haters. Yet, no, she was not so much a lesbian as prodigiously kinky. You name it, Sheherazade loved it. However, her predilection was for sado-masochism. With boots, leather and whips, she ran a prosperous business out of her severely furnished bedsitter. Apart from height, Sheherazade's most conspicuous asset was the bulk of her breasts, strapped up in a brassière like a black-leather hammock to render them more victimising. They were magnificent, even better than Lana Turner's in . On duty she added a pair of black-leather briefs with apertures let into them front and back and decorated with curlicues of metal studs, Prince Charming boots (seven-inch stiletto heels) reaching to her strong upper thighs, and round her wrists and neck coils of chain cut to the correct length by a man in the hardware department of Harrods, himself a suppliant. A true exhibitionist, Sherry often patrolled the streets attired thus, with a trench coat over the top to prevent arrest.
Once she called me in as I was walking downstairs. A client was with her.
"Look at that!" she said. "I mean, Toni [I'd lately rechristened myself], just look at it! What garbage we've got in today. Doesn't it make you want to spew all over it? Disgusting little worm! It's fit for nothing but the shit pit!"
The man's eyes were paralysed with fear. He was lying naked on his back on the bed. A leather thong had been tied fast round his flame-red testicles. This thong was looped over the old-fashioned light bracket in the centre of the ceiling and pulled tight by the weight of a heavy flat-iron hanging in mid-air from the other end. Every so often, mouthing cruelties and curses, slapping her thigh with a riding crop, Sherry strode up to the flat-iron and gave it a yank.
"There! Serves it right for being such a pile of bile! Go on, love, you give it a yank."
"I don't like to, Sherry."
"No? Do you want to whip him then? Is that what you want to do? Go on, give him one. Give him several. Give him the bloody lot, the stinking heap of fishheads!"
Sherry was marching up and down with a blood-curdling sneer on her face. I didn't know whether to laugh or run away.
"No? Well, watch." She struck him smartly across the testicles with her crop and a charge of ecstasy rippled through his body.
'I was only on my way out to buy some Jaffa Cakes,' I mumbled.
'Don't fret, darlink,' she said by way of an aside. 'He has to lie like that for an hour or more before he gets the inspiration. Then I give him one good tug, he comes, and pays me fifty quid. Sometimes it takes hours and hours. I tell you, it's no cinch this work, but it makes ends meet.'
To me Sheherazade had passed on to the Higher Wisdom. She was so at home in strange waters. We always knew when she'd had a good day because that splendid red head appeared in the doorway, announcing in the vaguely Central European accent she affected, 'I've got an itsy bitsy bottle of bevvy.' From behind her back she would produce a magnum of champagne. Nothing about Sherry was small.
On my floor lived Pussy and Ernestine, both waiters and apart from myself the only inhabitants in bona fide employment. Pussy was so named because he had the face of a Persian cat, the features all squashed into the centre by two large round cheeks. Ernestine was an alcoholic who eventually drank himself to death. Next to them was Jicky, who named himself after the scent by Guerlain. He had a Garbo fixation and his room was improvised from packing-cases in the Scandinavian style. He would sit in it and say, 'Yes, sweetheart, today I'm suicidal, I think I must kill myself.' In the end he did of course. Jicky was very beautiful, in the cold hard way that a plate can be beautiful, and affected dead-white . To everyone's disgust he insisted on storing it in the communal fridge. With Jicky everything had to be cold, even his pots of paint.
Our resident junkie was Dawn Roberts, much older than the rest of us, about forty. Dawn was a bony little blonde, actressy, with a slash of red lipstick for a mouth and blue skin. No one knew where her money came from but she was a close friend of the famous Society drug addict Brenda Dean Paul. Brenda was always being arrested on charges of possession. She was the daughter of Sir Aubrey Dean Paul and his Polish wife, the pianist Lady Irène. Looking like Veronica Lake in dark glasses, Brenda made one feel that her life was all tragedy. In 1959 she was found dead in her flat just before her fiftieth birthday.
Dawn was very far gone in the needle game, jabbing herself in the bottom several times a day; not bothering to lift up her skirt and slip down her panties, she simply jabbed it in through the worsted. On one occasion, a boy called Hilary stood to inherit quite a few thousand pounds if he married. For a fee, Sheherazade came to the rescue and we all filed off to the Kensington Register Office. Dawn was a witness. Half-way through the ceremony she took a syringe out of her black suede handbag and stuck it into her bottom. It was the middle of winter, she was in thick tweeds, so it took a bit of muscle. The registrar looked up, blinked, and carried on. He can't have missed it. Presumably he couldn't believe the evidence of his senses.
As a safeguard against incapacity, Dawn taught everyone in the house how to do it for her. Heat up the drug in a spoon over a burner, pull it up into the syringe, and so on. When drunk, in bits and pieces, or first thing most mornings, she was unable to supply enough will-power and co-ordination to her limbs to fix herself.
The most glamorous of the drag queens by far was Tallulah, so called because he modelled his voice on Miss Bankhead's. His big blue eyes, high cheekbones and mouthful of white teeth set in a jaw of granite gave him immediate distinction. While the rest of us were talking it was Tallulah's pleasure to flick his tongue in and out over scarlet lips so gummed with gloss you could see your face in them, and then slowly draw the lips back like stage curtains to expose the brilliant teeth. These would be held on view from ear to ear for as long as it was necessary to fill the room with white light, a glorious phenomenon on a dull winter's day. In addition to the smile, there was the walk, an effortless glide which conveyed the impression that he was moving forward on ball-bearings.
Tallulah's dilemma was that in drag he looked like a man and out of it, like a woman. He was especially fond of black men - 'goolies' as they were called. Oh, they all loved the goolies whose constant presence in the house was indicated by the aroma of hashish on the staircase. Black women also came on occasions. One went by the name of Vernon. She had short curly hair dyed pink and always laughed instead of speaking. I took this for confidence at the time but now realise that it must have been tremendous insecurity.
I never knew what I'd find on returning from Waitrose. We didn't lock our doors, were constantly rushing in and out of each other's rooms. Someone would say, 'We're all going to Jicky's for coffee, are you coming?' Jicky was only across the landing but we'd make an outing of it. Anyone might be in there - Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland. They were extraordinarily gifted mimics.
Usually after work I went to Tallulah's room, which was the most comfortable as well as the most bilious. He'd draped tangerine and shocking-pink chiffon over the lights, covered the bed with leopardette scatter cushions, congeries of lace frothed at the windows picked out with velvet bows, hundreds of bottles of scent and cosmetics, a plastic Jesus that lit up from inside, coloured stills from the film musicals on the wall, frilly frocks which gave you migraine, and wigs on the window-sill: a style known as 'Hollywoochie'. Tallulah would be at his dressing-table practising The Smile, whose only drawback was laugh lines which he attempted to defeat with endless face-packs.
'Perhaps I should forget the smile and go po like Jicky.'
'You mustn't, Tallulah.'
'You're right, honey - it's my glory - but in the wrong light I look as though I've been garotted - this new Leichner's bona on the eke - what do you think? - and you haven't mentioned the ria - navy blue is really me, isn't it.' But after a few hours he would decide that really navy blue wasn't him after all and the following day his hair would have changed to grass green or lemon.
The slang was known as 'parliare' and seems to have been linked with Italian, from the days when travelling players came over from Italy. For example:
Albert Camus Essays Online Read maddenim. Text version. Structor's Manual. Accompany. Dden. Ploring Literature. Cond Edition. Ank Madden. NY Westchester Community.
return to religion online. Mus, God, and Process Thought. James Goss. Mes Goss, whose area of interest is religion and literature, is Associate Professor of. Albert Camus Essays Online