Satori in Paris and Pic
Two Novelsby Jack Kerouac
Satori in Paris and Pic, two of Jack Kerouac’s last novels, showcase the remarkable range and versatility of his mature talent.
Satori in Paris and Pic, two of Jack Kerouac’s last novels, showcase the remarkable range and versatility of his mature talent. Satori in Paris is a rollicking autobiographical account of Kerouac’s search for his heritage in France, and lands the author in his familiar milieu of seedy bars and all-night conversations. Pic is Kerouac’s final novel and one of his most unusual. Narrated by ten-year-old Pictorial Review Jackson in a North Carolina vernacular, the novel charts the adventures of Pic and his brother Slim as they travel from the rural South to Harlem in the 1940s.
Satori in Paris
SOMEWHERE DURING MY TEN DAYS IN PARIS (AND Brittany) I received an illumination of some kind that seems to’ve changed me again, towards what I suppose’ll be my pattern for another seven years or more: in effect, a satori: the Japanese word for “sudden illumination,” “sudden awakening” or simply “kick in the eye.” –Whatever, something did happen and in my first reveries after the trip and I’m back home regrouping all the confused rich events of those ten days, it seems the satori was handed to me by a taxi driver named Raymond Baillet, other times I think it might’ve been my paranoiac fear in the foggy streets of Brest Brittany at 3 A.M., other times I think it was Monsieur Casteljaloux and his dazzlingly beautiful secretary (a Bretonne with blue-black hair, green eyes, separated front teeth just right in eatable lips, white wool knit sweater, with gold bracelets and perfume) or the waiter who told me “Paris est pourri” (Paris is rotten) or the performance of Mozart’s Requiem in old church of St. Germain des Pr’s with elated violinists swinging their elbows with joy because so many distinguished people had shown up crowding the pews and special chairs (and outside it’s misting) or, in Heaven’s name, what? The straight tree lanes of Tuileries Gardens? Or the roaring sway of the bridge over the booming holiday Seine which I crossed holding on to my hat knowing it was not the bridge (the makeshift one at Quai des Tuileries) but I myself swaying from too much cognac and nerves and no sleep and jet airliner all the way from Florida twelve hours with airport anxieties, or bars, or anguishes, intervening?
As in an earlier autobiographical book I’ll use my real name here, full name in this case, Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac, because this story is about my search for this name in France, and I’m not afraid of giving the real name of Raymond Baillet to public scrutiny because all I have to say about him, in connection with the fact he may be the cause of my satori in Paris, is that he was polite, kind, efficient, hip, aloof and many other things and mainly just a cabdriver who happened to drive me to Orly airfield on my way back home from France: and sure he wont be in trouble because of that–And besides probably never will see his name in print because there are so many books being published these days in America and in France nobody has time to keep up with all of them, and if told by someone that his name appears in an American “novel” he’ll probably never find out where to buy it in Paris, if it’s ever translated at all, and if he does find it, it wont hurt him to read that he, Raymond Baillet, is a great gentleman and cabdriver who happened to impress an American during a fare ride to the airport.
BUT AS I SAY I DONT KNOW HOW I GOT THAT SATORI and the only thing to do is start at the beginning and maybe I’ll find out right at the pivot of the story and go rejoicing to the end of it, the tale that’s told for no other reason but companionship, which is another (and my favorite) definition of literature, the tale that’s told for companionship and to teach something religious, of religious reverence, about real life, in this real world which literature should (and here does) reflect.
In other words, and after this I’ll shut up, made-up stories and romances about what would happen IF are for children and adult cretins who are afraid to read themselves in a book just as they might be afraid to look in the mirror when they’re sick or injured or hungover or insane.
THIS BOOK’ll SAY, IN EFFECT, HAVE PITY ON US all, and dont get mad at me for writing at all.
I live in Florida. Arriving over Paris suburbs in the big Air France jetliner I noticed how green the northern countryside is in the summer, because of winter snows that have melted right into that butterslug meadow. Greener than any palmetto country could ever be, and especially in June before August (Ao’t) has withered it all away. The plane touched down without a Georgia hitch. Here I’m referring to that planeload of prominent respectable Atlantans who were all loaded with gifts around 1962 and heading back to Atlanta when the liner shot itself into a farm and everybody died, it never left the ground and half of Atlanta was depleted and all the gifts were strewn and burned all over Orly, a great Christian tragedy not the fault of the French government at all since the pilots and steward’s crew were all French citizens.
The plane touched down just right and here we were in Paris on a gray cold morning in June.
In the airport bus an American expatriate was calmly and joyfully smoking his pipe and talking to his buddy just arrived on another plane probably from Madrid or something. In my own plane I had not talked to the tired American painter girl because she fell asleep over Nova Scotia in the lonesome cold after the exhaustion of New York City and having to buy a million drinks for the people who were babysitting there for her–no business of mine anyhow. She’d wondered at Idlewild if I was going to look up my old flame in Paris:– no. (I really shoulda.)
For I was the loneliest man in Paris if that’s possible. It was 6 A.M. and raining and I took the airport bus into the city, to near Les Invalides, then a taxi in the rain and I asked the driver where Napoleon was entombed because I knew it was someplace around there, not that it matters, but after a period of what I thought to be surly silence he finally pointed and said “l”” (there).
I was all hot to go see the Sainte Chapelle where St. Louis, King Louis IX of France, had installed a piece of the True Cross. I never even made it except ten days later zipping by in Raymond Baillet’s cab and he mentioned it. I was also all hot to see St. Louis de France church on the island of St. Louis in the Seine River, because that’s the name of the church of my baptism in Lowell, Massachusetts. Well I finally got there and sat with hat in hand watching guys in red coats blow long trumpets at the altar, to organ upstairs, beautiful Medieval cansos or cantatas to make Handel’s mouth water, and all of a sudden a woman with kids and husband comes by and lays twenty centimes (4″) in my poor tortured misunderstood hat (which I was holding upsidedown in awe), to teach them caritas, or loving charity, which I accepted so’s not to embarrass her teacherly instincts, or the kids, and my mother said back home in Florida “Why didnt you then put the twenty centimes in the poor box” which I forgot. It wasnt enough to wonder about and besides the very first thing I did in Paris after I cleaned up in my hotel room (with a big round wall in it, welling the chimney I guess) was give a franc (20″) to a French woman beggar with pimples, saying “Un franc pour la Fran”aise” (A franc for the Frenchwoman) and later I gave a franc to a man beggar in St.-Germain to whom I then yelled: “Vieux voyou!” (Old hoodlum!) and he laughed and said: “What?–Hood-lumT” I said “Yes, you cant fool an old French Canadian” and I wonder today if that hurt him because what I really wanted to say was “Guenigiou” (ragpicker) but “voyou” came out.
Guenigiou it is.
(Ragpicker should be spelled “guenillou,” but that’s not the way it comes out in 300-year-old French which was preserved intact in Quebec and still understood in the streets of Paris not to mention the hay barns of the North.)
Coming down the steps of that magnificent huge church of La Madelaine was a dignified old bum in a full brown robe and gray beard, neither a Greek nor a Patriarch, just probably an old member of the Syriac Church; either that or a Surrealist on a larky kick? Na.
1. ME AND GRANDPA
AIn’t NEVER NOBODY LOVED ME like I love myself, cept my mother and she’s dead. (My grandpa, he’s so old he can remember a hunnerd years back but what happened last week and the day before, he don’t know.) My pa gone away so long ago ain’t nobody remember what his face like. My brother, ever’ Sunday afternoon in his new suit in front of the house, out on that old road, and grandpa and me just set on the porch rockin and talkin, but my brother paid it no mind and one day he was gone and ain’t never been back.
Grandpa, when we was alone, said he’d ten’ the pigs and I go mend the fence yonder, and said, “I seed the Lawd come thu that fence a hunnerd years ago and He shall come again.” My Aunt Gastonia come by buttin and puffin said that it was all right, she believed it too, she’d seen the Lord more times than they could ever count, and hallelujahed and hallelujahed, said “While’s all this the Gospel word and true, little Pictorial Review Jackson” (that’s me) ‘must go to school to learn and read and write,” and grandpa looked at her plum in the eye like if”n to spit tobacco juice in it, and answered, “Thass awright wif me,” jess like that, “but that ain’t the Lawd’s school he’s goin” to and he shall never mend his fences.”
So I went to school, and came on home from school the afternoon after it and seed nobody would ever know where I come from, if what they called it was North Carolina. It didn’t feel like no North Carolina to me. They said I was the darkest, blackest boy ever come to that school. I always knowed that, cause I seen white boys come by my house, and I seed pink boys, and I seed blue boys, and I seed green boys, and I seed orange boys, then black, but never seed one so black as me.
Well, I gave this no never mind, and “joyed myself and made some purty pies when I was awful little till I seed it rully did smell awful bad; and all that, and grandpa a-grinnin from the porch, and smokin his old green pipe. One day two white boys came by seed me and said I was verily black as nigger chiles go. Well, I said that I knowed that in-deedy. They said they seed I was too small for what they was about, which I now forget, and I said it was a mighty fine frog peekin from his hand. He said it was no frog, but a TOAD, and said TOAD like to make me jump a hunnerd miles high, he said it so plain and loud, and they skedaddled over the hill back of my grandpa’s property. So I knew they was a North Carolina, and they was a toad, and I dreamed of it ‘at night.
On the crossroads Mr. Dunaston let me and old hound dog sit on the steps of his store ever” blessed evenin and I heard the purty singin on the radio just as plain, and just as good, and learned me two, th”ee, seben songs and sing them. Here come Mr. Otis one time in his big old au-to, bought me two bottles Dr. Pepper, en I took one home to grandpa: he said Mr. Otis was a mighty fine man and he knowed his pappy and his pappy’s pappy clear back a hunnerd years, and they was good folks. Well, I knowed that: and we ‘greed, and ‘greed Dr. Pepper allus did make a spankin’ good fizzle for folkses’ moufs. Y’all can tell how I ‘joyed myself then.
Well here’s all where it was laid out. My grandpa’s house, it was all lean-down and “bout to break, made of sawed planks sawed when they was new from the woods and here they was all wore out like poor dead stumplewood and heavin out in the middle. The roof was like to slip offen its hinges and fall on my grandpa’s head. He make it no mind and set there, rockin. The inside of the house was clean like a ear of old dry corn, and jess as crinkly and dead and good for me barefoot as y”all seed if you tried it. Grandpa and me sleep in the big old tinkle-bed and gots room all over, it’s so big. Hound dog sleep in the door. Never did close that door till winter come. I cut the wood, grandpa light it into stove. Set there eatin peas and greens and sassmeat and here’s a BIG spoon and eat a lot till my belly’s all out–when they was a lot. Well, Aunt Gastonia, she bring us food, here, there, last week, next month. Bring us sassmeat, storebread, streak-a-lean. Grandpa grow the peas in the field, and grow the corn field by the fence, and then we fetched the pigs what we grind outen our moufs cause we no cain’t chaw it. Hound dog, eat too. House set in the middle of the field. Yonder’s the road, sand road all wore hard and pebbly, and the mules comin by and every now”n then a big au-to thrown up a fine cloud a mile high and me smellin it ever’where and sayin to myself, “Now what fo the Lawd don’t make hisself mo clean?” Then I snups out me nose, Shah! Well, over yonder is Mr. Dunaston’s store at the crossroads, and then the piney woods wif old crow set-tin ever” mornin on the branch jess cra-a-cra-a-kin, to beat hisself, and me say cra-cra-cra-cra jess like he do, and I gotsa laugh, ever’ morning, hee hee hee, it tickle me so. Then yonder th’ other way is Mr. Dunaston’s brother’s tobacco, n’a big, big house Mr. Otis live in, and Miz Bell’s house in the middler the field and Miz Bell she like to be as old as grandpa and smoke the pipe jess like he do. Well, she like me. Ever’ night ever’body sleep in this house and that house and ever’ house, and the only thing you can hear is a old owl–hooo! hooo! –out in the woods, and yek! yek! yek! all the bats, and the yowlin hound dogs, ‘n the cricket-bugs a-creekin’ in the dark. Then there’s the choo-choo out by TOWN, y’know. Only thing you can’t hear is a old spider spinnin his cobweb. I go on in the shanty and break a cobweb–after I wipe myself that old spider, he make “nother cobweb for me. Up yonder in the sky, they’s a hunnerd motion stars and here on the ground hit’s as wet, as like to’d rain. I gets me in the bed and grandpa say, “Boy, keep your big wet feet from me!” but in a little bitty while my feets is dry and I’se tucked in good. Then I see the stars thu the window n” I sleep good.
Y’all can tell how I ‘joyed myself then?
2. WHAT HAPPENED
PO GRANDPA, he never get up one mornin, and ever”body come over from Aunt Gastonia’s and said he was ’bout to die of misery. On grandpa’s pillow I laid my head down and HE tell me it ain’t so. And he yell to the Lord to git ever’body outen the house except the good hound dog. Hound dog set a-whinin’ under the bed and lick grandpa in the hand. Aunt Gastonia shoo him out. “Hound dog, shoo!” Aunt Gastonia wash my face at the pump. Aunt Gastonia, she put the rag in my ear and stop up the ear and take her finger and turn and turn till I’se ’bout to die. Well, I cry. Grandpa cry too. Aunt Gastonia’s son, he run and he run down that road and pooty soon, here come Aunt Gastonia’s son run and run back up the road and zip-zip I never seed nobody run s’fast. Then here come Mr. Otis in his big old au-to and pull up right in front of the house. Well, he was a pow”ful tall man with yaller hair, you know, and he ‘membered me, and says, “Well there, what’s to become of you, li’l boy?”
Then he take grandpa by the hand, and roll up his eyeballs, and fish in the black satchel fo a thing he listen with, and listen, and ever’body else lean close and listen, and Aunt Gastonia slap her son away, and Mr. Otis “bout to tap grandpa with one hand under th” other on grandpa’s chest, when him and grandpa gits they eyes fixed on theirselves all sow”ful and Mr. Otis stop what he doing. “Ah, old man,” Mr. Otis say to grandpa, “and how have you been?” And grandpa show his yaller teeth in a grin and he say, and he cackle, “Yonder’s the pipe, hit’s a pow’ful smokin-pipe,” and wink at Mr. Otis. Nobody know what he talk like that fo, but Mr. Otis he know and grandpa he laugh so much he jess shake like the tree when the possum climb up in it. Mr. Otis says “Where?” and grandpa point to the shelf, still a-cacklin and “joyin Mr. Otis so. Well, he sho liked Mr. Otis ever so much. Up yonder on the shelf so high I never seed it, Mr. Otis fetched a pipe they was talkin about. It was made outen corncob and it was the biggenest best pipe grandpa made. Mr. Otis, he look at it so sow’ful I never seed that man so. He say “Five years,” and that’s all he say, “case that was the last time he seed grandpa, and grandpa knowed it.
After a bit, grandpa fell asleep, and ever”body stand aroun talkin till I cain’t see how anybody can sleep, and here’s what they said. They said grandpa was mighty sick and would die for sho, and me, li”l Pic, well what was they t’do with me? Oh, it was a tar”ble lot of cryin they was doin Aunt Gastonia and her friend Miz Jones, “case they loved grandpa like I do, the son he cry too, and all the little bitty chiles that come in the door from the road t’see. Hound dog, he whined outdoor t’come in. Mr. Otis, he told ever”body t’stop worryin” their minds so, mebbe grandpa be all right soon, but he’d no fo-sure about it, so he’s gwine see about sendin grandpa to the hospital, and there he be all right. Ever’body ‘gree this is what to do and’s grateful to Mr. Otis, “case he pay with all his money t’see grandpa try to get good again. “The boy,” he say, t’Aunt Gastonia, “you sure your husband and your father see eye to eye with you ’bout keepin that boy?” and she say, “The Lord shall bring mercy unto them.” And Mr. Otis say, “Well, I don’t reckon it will be so but you take good care of him, hear, and let me know if ever’thing’s all right.” Lordy, 1 cry when I heard ever”thing and ever’body talkin so. Oh Lordy, I cry when they takes poor grandpa and carry him to the car like some old sick run-over hound dog and lay him in the back seat, and carry him off to the hospital. I cry, Aunt Gastonia she close grandpa’s door, and he never close it, never did once close it for a hunnerd years. The tar’ble fear make me sick and like to drop on the ground and dig me a hole and cry in it, n’hide, ‘case I never seen anything but this house and grandpa all my born days, and here they come draggin me away from th’ empty house and my grandpa’s done died on me and can’t help hisself dyin. Oh Lord, and I remember what he say “bout the fence and the Lord, and ’bout Mr. Otis and ’bout my big wet feet, and remember him so awful recent and him s’far gone, I cry, and shame ever’body.
This edition ©1985 by Grove Press, Inc.
Satori in Paris ©1966 by Jack Kerouac.
Pic ©1971 by the Estate of Jack Kerouac. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved.