I took special interest in graves and landmarks pertaining to outlaw artists and writers. I went to four Parisian cemeteries and the Pantheon, each twice between doing other photography. I was also able to do a little writing. And I visited many Beat Gen landmarks around Paris and found things pertaining to Rimbaud and Verlaine as well as many other famous writers. The grave of Paul Verlaine in Paris was just one of many I visited incuding Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Apollinaire and others
At the end of May, 2011, I left Paris headed by train to spend ten days in the combined towns of Charleville and Mezieres. My departure point was the "Paris est" (east) station where Rimbaud probably first arrived in Paris in September, 1871. Arthur Rimbaud was born in Charleville and that's where he is buried. When I visited Rimbaud's grave, I spent hours exploring other parts of the cemetery and was not disturbed by a single visitor. The place was serene and so unique to the town itself in the way that it spoke of the end for his journey. All over the cemetery, I observed some sort of red bugs that were quite interesting, as well as ornate crucifixes. As a boy, he sometimes walked down into the town of Mezieres to smoke and get away from home or visit a friend in the publishing business. I explored places that Rimbaud lived, walked, found inspiration and got into mischief. I snuck up to the top of a steeple where Rimbaud allegedly dropped flower pots to scare fellow churchgoers in Mezieres (His family also attended church in Charleville). I learned of this church mischief from someone in Charleville, and it reminded me that John Lennon had committed very similar mischief while living adjacent to a church as a teenager. I was informed of a little-known Charleville home where the Rimbaud family had lived briefly near the train station. While photographing it, some teenage French boys came outside, a bit angry thinking that I was spying upon them. Luckily their adult headmaster came out and translated my English to explain. It turned out that it was a drop-in center for juvenile delinquents. And so, I found coincidental humor that this old Rimbaud home had found such a new purpose.
I also visited Rimbaud's main home across from Musee Rimbaud and captured images looking out the windows. The house was empty of any visitors. I photographed various objects such as old doorknobs and a spiral staircase. I made inquiries in Charleville and wandered far beyond the usual tourist points of interest. My photography and video work was focused on capturing actual locations, mostly around beautiful waterways, structures and fortifications where Rimbaud wandered including an area that allegedly inspired his work Illuminations. Iwas not sure if the Mezieres fortification even existed in Rimbaud's time or if it was built just after he left the area. It looked ancient. I made it a primary objective to do photo and video segments that pick up on the dreams and nature that Rimbaud experienced as a boy wandering off from the restrictions of home life. I explored the river, minnows, mosses, old structures and haunts. I even spent several hours recording the "conversations" of birds before sunset, to preserve something auditory that Rimbaud would have tuned into at little known places where he walked. My longtime interest in Rimbaud was preceded by a strong interest in exploring the dream state and the world of visionaries through planned films, poems and writings of my own. Rimbaud has fueled that vision.
In the third segment of my journey, I wandered further into eastern France to meet my relatives for the very first time. It was a wonderful union that took me back into old family history. They also honored my request to take me to the birthplace of Joan of Arc where my mother had visited around 1932 as a schoolgirl and my father had visited as a soldier liberating France in 1944, through no connection to each other. (My parents first met yesrs later in America). My interest in Joan of Arc is somewhat independent of my parents and partly rooted in her visions, final experience and power over tyrants. This interest came about largely through Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith.
While visiting my relatives not far from the town of Nancy, I also caught a train alone up to Metz where I photographed the door to Verlaine's birthplace. Like many Rimbaud-Verlaine landmarks, it was serenely quiet and deserted, with no foot or car traffic. Thus you could feel or imagine some of the old vibe from their time. And I found it rather fitting that outlaw Verlaine's birthplace was right next to the old Palais de Justice. The notoriously high gothic Metz Cathedral was nearby, where I photogrphed erotic depictions of hell in relief on the exterior. To me, this represents the conflict between the church and poet rebels/intellectuals that existed in the time of Rimbaud and Verlaine and still exists today.
It is noteworthy that while doing some photography in Place Ducale in Charleville, I could have sworn that I saw a cartain American poet walking briskly through that ancient square. Although somewhat startled, I remained engaged doing dreamy video of the fountain water churning and resisted a strong urge to run up and see her face better as she vanished toward the old school or church of Rimbaud's time. Whether that was her or not, she did indeed visit Charleville later that year to commemorate Arthur Rimbaud. And she did this at that church where Rimbaud's family went on Sundays.
While visiting Charleville, I ran into a middle aged English-speaking evangelist several times, who bought me coffee in Place Ducale and spoke about God's love for me as I told him my purpose in Charleville. He expressed condemnation and hellfire for Rimbaud, who I explained, was actually an intensely spiritual person despite his youthful conflict with the church and the morals of a mundane world.
In due time, I hope to post additional photos of my Rimbaud journey once I'm settled into a better living situation. I returned from France on 8 July, 2011. I'm hoping to make additional three month journeys to France at least once every four or five years. And I hope to visit Charleville again as well.