Monday, January 06, 2014

News from Lumaire

ON THE WAY BACK from our Christmas holiday in Portland I finally got in touch with Charles Lumaire, who I've known until now only through occasional correspondence. (Snail-mail: he steadily refuses modern technology.)

For a few months, since returning from France last July, I've been toying with the idea of publishing his series of translations of short narratives written in French by the elusive Jean Coqt, apparently a Franco-American who settled in Grenoble or its environs sometime after the end of World War II — perhaps a veteran of that war; I'm not sure.

(One of the attractions of the Coqt-Lumaire project in fact is the obscurity of Coqt, whose improbable surname raises suspicion that he may be nothing more than an invention of the almost equally elusive Lumaire.)

I enjoyed conversation with Lumaire, a slightly goofy, complacent fellow, perhaps sixty years old, a bachelor who lives with his nervous, intelligent white poodle. I can't explain the affinity I felt for him: we have nothing in common beyond our first names and our fondness for the writing of Gertrude Stein.

We spent a couple of hours over a glass of wine in a pleasant little sandwich-shop in Eugene, and he sent me off with a sample of his own writing — apparently excerpted from an adventure yarn he's working at, called, tentatively, Near Peru.

It's very different from the two installments he's given me of his Coqt translation, which I hope to publish either here or elsewhere in this new year.

Should we take Lumaire's writing seriously? Dunno. It makes me think of Abish, though he reaches, more likely, toward the Mathews model. In any case, here he goes:

"ONCE," TONY SAID, "nine guys flew back from Cuba; then they were here: Scot, Dane, Finn, five wops, Zulu.

"They knew hope; they knew fear more. They said many fell. Wops have seen many fall: snow, rain, sand, bogs."

Alps were hard ― sere, Scot said. Finn took more time with that:

"Were Alps ever hard! Most boys find home flat, calm, snug. Alps seem like Mars."

Dark Zulu, brow knit, fell into rage.

"Puny guys! Girl!" (Howl.)

"Look here: when Girl naps, boys swim away, fast. Then lope back home over sand." Eyes shut, Zulu adds: "Also, wops stay back with girl."

"Let's stop over here." Tony said. "When they come with boys, we'll bark like dogs. What goes with tuna?"

"Buns," Dane said. "Warm herb teas," Finn adds.

"Thin been soop," said Zulu.

(That calm, cool, easy frog Jean Coqt isn't with them, lest the next day's pale moon fade dead away.)

.  .  .  .

Look, Finn! What evil gale wind blew that foul ship upon that hard dark rock? Warn Tony! Fast! Yell, Finn!

Tony sees. "Haul away, Zulu! Hard port! Left, fool! Left side, hard! Haul away!"

.  .  .  .

Whew. What next?

Day's work over, cold moon rose over pale blue seas. Soft wind blew: then, dead calm. Zulu naps. Won't wops wake with waxy wine, when warm? Wink, Jean Coqt, thou cold, cool, cozy frog! They need your calm mind here!

Further from Lunaire here, perhaps, as he deigns to send it to me…

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