Q: And do you know some other cities in Europe, in the world?
A: Oh, yea. I mean the other cities I know, I know Paris to some
extent. I always, but I've never lived there long enough to become
intimately acquainted with Paris. And I knew Emil Cioran, the
Romanian-born philosopher who was very much a citizen of la Rive
Gauche, and he said one time, I asked him whether he would like to
come to America and give a talk and he said absolutely not. And I
said why Cioran? And he said because I am a provincial. And he meant
he was an inhabitant of his street in Paris.
A: Yes, he lived in a small apartment and he lived modestly. I
visited him about 5 or 6 times. We had dinners and walks and we
wrote letters to each other. He was a very, very tonic man. It was
wonderful to be with him.
He was so depressing that he was tonic. I mean he had this sort of
an uncompromising view of life as series of disasters, and that, for
some reason, makes me happy. In his world there were cosmic
accidents, huge ontological mistakes, but there was a great vitality
to his diagnosis. He burst with health. He told you that everything
was dying but he told it to you in such a vital way, with such a
sense of humor, that you felt absolutely buoyed by it.
A: No he made the most of it. He loved women too.
He liked to give that impression and he wrote about it but he
conducted long flirtations first through the mail and he told a lot
of funny stories about it. And it was great sitting with him in the
café because his eye would just wander down the street all the time.
He was then in his seventies but he was a very vigorous man. He took
long walks along the Seine and he was extremely conservative in his
political view, which was not very fashionable in the 70s. It wasn't
a fashionable conservatism either you know because there was that
very element of fronde in everything he did. One time I twisted my
ankle because I tried my son's skateboard in Paris. I was staying on
the 10th floor of this building and I had an appointment to see
Cioran, but couldn't walk. He said, that's fine, I'll come to you.
And he walked up to the 10th floor, the elevator wasn't working, and
when he got there he told stories to my child. My son was then 6
years old and he just talked to him the whole time and he told him
stories in English. He was quite a wonderful character.
It wasn't a joke. He considered himself a citizen of the Quartier,
that was his province and he just didn't want to go anywhere else.
Of course there is a degree of pride in it, this is one neighborhood
everybody in the world goes to. So the mountain always comes to
Mohammed in this neighborhood but you know it's typically funny
because Cioran really loved these streets. He didn't like going
anywhere and that was that. And when I first called him he didn't
want to talk to me. I started talking to him in Romanian and he said
I don't speak that barbaric language.
A: and I said, I'm sorry. He said where are you from? And I said
Sibiu and he's from Sibiu, so he said oh well, that's different. And
then he told me; there are only two cities in the world, Sibiu and
Paris. He really believed that. He had established his centre of the
world. So yea I know Paris a bit but you know, I know Rome. I lived
a year in Rome.
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