1. Henry Miller Clears His Throat

from I’m no more of an idiot  than anyone else

'n'est ce pas?'

I’ve decided to write a little book in French.  I was encouraged to do this by Miss Sylvie Crossman, who is currently writing a thesis about me and my work.  She left here a few hours ago.  We agreed that I should keep all my grammatical faults, my errors, my bad punctation and my spelling mistakes.  At least, that’s what I’ll do if any publisher finds this project to their taste, n’est-ce pas? (You will see, dear reader, that throughout this book I’m going to repeat ‘n’est-ce pas’ as often I say in English ‘don’t you know?’  I’ve no idea where this bad habit comes from.  I hate it, but what can you do?)

I hope my readers don’t expect anything brilliant from me, especially in French.  My objective, if there is any, will be to make you smile from time to time.  These days I feel as old as Bouvard or Pecuchet (whereas in reality I’m older. I can ignore that.) I’m not yet ausgespielt.

I told you I spoke at length with Sylvie Crossman.  She’s quite the chatterbox, but not unpleasantly so. I’d like to say that our conversation was ‘fierce’, despite the fact that this is completely the wrong word.  When she closed the door behind her she left me feeling vertiginous.  Why, I ask myself, can’t I find American women who talk like this?  You French people know, I’m sure you do, that we Americans, men and women alike, are afflicted with a kind of mutism that can only express itself brutishly.  In one of his charming old-fashioned books Paul Morand suggested that Americans can always be identified in a public place by the loud voices  shouting ‘I,I,I’. He says that in comparison the French ‘je’ is so much more discreet, quieter and more modest.  That’s only too true.

However, we notice things too.  Wherever two or three groups gather in public any conversation in French overwhelms all others. In spite of their whispering ‘je’, the French make their presence felt – because they’re good talkers, and I’m not sure whether that counts as a compliment.  Nor do I care.

All I know is this – that my fellow Americans don’t know how to conduct a decent conversation.  Whereas every French person almost without exception is an expert; a master of the art.  Truly, speaking for myself, I prefer to listen to a good conversation between two French people than a Mozart sonata.

Mozart!  Now there’s someone who pisses me off!