And I walked to 23rd Street and 8th Avenue, to see if the Automat where (as told in Just Kids) Allen Ginsberg once bought a sandwich for Patty Smith, thinking she was a boy, still exists.
This was about twelve months ago in Paris, at about this same time of the year.
I went into a supermarket, around noon, and in the most mundane surrounding, my eyes were suddenly attracted by an unusual, while somehow familiar silhouette.
A very tall, white haired and bearded man, wearing a green turtleneck, slightly worn khakis, and carrying a cool tote bag, was walking down the alley, giving a gentle but slightly amused stare at everything that came his way. A benevolent giant, or a Dutch hippie, who reminded me somebody: John Baldessari, the great conceptual artist! Could it be him?
I had met him 17 years ago in NY. He had a show then in a galery in Soho, and I had shaked his hand, after he signed a small poster printed on tracing paper.
Although it was a bit surprising to see him in this dull Paris supermarket, it could be because of the forthcoming Basel Art fair, about to open in Switzerland a few days latter. It wasn’t illogical that he would have made a quick stop to Paris on his way to say hello to his dealers, or even to discuss a major retrospective at Beaubourg.
Mr. Baldessari… ? I hesitated to greet him among the other customers.
In the same way an insignificant black-and-white photograph on which is added a pale blue or yellow dot becomes a Baldessari, I contemplated how the whole supermarket had been turned into a Baldessari by the simple presence of the famous L.A. artist in its insignificant alley.
I wondered how many people had recognized him. While debating on whether keeping a discreet distance to respect his incognito, or approaching him to confess my admiration, I saw him strolling away with one or two whisky bottles in his tote bag, followed by a pigeon, in the direction of the Luxembourg garden.
I was delighted the whole day by this poetic vision, although already saddened by the prospect of never seeing him again, and having wasted the chance of a great encounter.
Nonetheless, two days after, on a sultry evening, I saw the man again. He was swaying on the boulevard, dragging his tote bag, his pants half unbutonned and covered with dirt, with a somewhat demented and defiant look on his face.
As if to add insult to my delusion, Art Basel was aproaching its end, and the bum who could then onwards commonly be seen in various states of decay, had become a fixture of the area.