Freitag, 27. April 2018

The Last Days of James Baldwin’s House in the South of France / Magdalena J. Zaborowska in: LitHub April 27, 2018

After my first sighting of Chez Baldwin in 2000, I traveled to other places important to the writer—from the streets of Harlem and Greenwich Village to Paris, to Istanbul, Ankara, and Bodrum—and met many people who knew him and shared living spaces with him, and who all confirmed his paradoxical need for a frantic nomadic lifestyle on the one hand, and, on the other, his fervent desire to establish a stable domestic routine in multiple locations. Intrigued by his late-life turn to domesticity as well as the increasing focus of his works on families, female characters, and black queer home life that are prominent in Just above My Head and The Welcome Table, I returned to Chez Baldwin in June 2014. By that time I had published a book on the writer’s Turkish decade and numerous articles about various aspects of his works.
I was not prepared for what I saw in place of the house that had been full of furniture, books, papers, photographs, and art when I first saw and photographed it. Now, I confronted an empty, disintegrating structure, virtually open to the elements, filling with vegetation and wildlife that had crept inside over the walls and windows. The back patio in front of the study, where Baldwin liked to take reading breaks at a round table under an umbrella, along with the brick and stone pathways through the garden were so overgrown with unchecked weeds that the crumbling structure of the house seemed to float on top of tall tan grasses swaying in the breeze. Full of sharp little burrs, this grassy expanse tugged at one’s shoes, attached its tiny hooks to fabric and straps, and scratched one’s skin as if attempting to deter movement. An occasional orange tree hung with bright fruit flashed amid the tangled greenery and dried branches, as if to recall the harmony between natural bounty and human husbandry that once existed here.

Outside the writer’s study, 2014. Photo by Magdalena J. Zaborowska.
The writer’s study, on the ground floor in the back, where Georges Braque had once painted, and which Baldwin called his “torture chamber,” had broken shutters and windows, one missing glass entirely, and seemed especially exposed and pitiful. When I visited the house for the first time in 2000, the study had been rented out to pay for the upkeep of the house, and so I was only able to photograph its well-kept exterior. Now the interior not only was wide open to view but also nearly blended together with the landscape, the boundaries between wall and garden nearly erased, and the writer’s room had become a cavern that sported a fireplace filled with dry leaves. It seemed terribly significant that the very space that used to house the writer’s creative labors was the most porous and open to the elements, the most vulnerable and deserted. There were traces of transient visitors, or laborers sent by the owner, some of whom left plastic bottles and food wrappers scattered on the floor. The trash mingled with leaves, twigs, dead bugs, and rodent droppings, creating mysterious organic/plastic designs on the stone mosaic floor. ... [mehr]

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