Friday, March 9, 2012

Gauguin's Journal

23 October 1888. Have arrived at Vincent's "artists' utopia" in Arles. Yellow house, sloppy paint job. Inside, the place is a shithole and he lives like a pig. I forgot to mention that Vincent bought two beds. He made a very big deal about this, perhaps to assure me of his heterosexual intentions. I am starting to think I have made a big mistake.

24 October 1888. Trying to paint. This, of course, was the whole point in coming here. But the man will not stop talking. He does not breathe between his sentences.

25 October 1888. That crazy Dutchman in the straw hat is starting to irritate me. This morning I was, as the peasants say, taking a shit. Then Vincent appeared – standing in the doorway like a bad dream. All at once, he started talking about color. (Color is apparently spiritual, this had never occurred to me!) At certain times, I, too, enjoy discussions of color. But not when I am taking a shit. I shared this line of reasoning. But Vincent was above such earthly concerns. He just kept talking and talking despite my many protests and rude noises.

26 October 1888.
Vincent, for no reason at all, dragged a lopsided, badly made rattan-and-wicker chair out of his bedroom to the center of the living room. Don't touch it, he said. So I didn't.

27 October 1888. Vincent has been staring at his shitty chair for three hours. Not even trying to sketch it. Just looking at it like in a state of ecstasy like it's the Virgin Mary with a bag of candy. The chair. Do you see it, Paul? Yes, I told him. I see the chair.
It's a fucking chair, OK?
But at least he has stopped talking.

30 October 1888. Today, I sat on Vincent's ridiculous straw hat. He left it in that idiotic chair with no right angles and I did what is normal with a chair, which is to sit down on it. I immediately pulled the wretched thing from where it had lodged and did my best to straighten it out. I prayed to any celestial entity who cared about such matters that the madman does not notice.
Do I put the fucking hat back on the chair or not?

2 November 1888. Vincent claims his hat smells like ass. Do I know anything about this?

19 November 1888. Vincent stayed up all night painting. So, I stayed up all night not sleeping. I could hear him, like a rat in the next room, nibbling away. In the morning, his hands were shaking, eyes red. I asked to see his painting. Oh no, I destroyed it. It was a mistake. 
But perhaps we could take a pilgrimage to a museum. And see the work of the masters.
That would show him how to do it right.
Could we go?

20 November 1988. Vincent keeps begging to go to some museum. "One of these days" fails to shut him up. Could we go? Could we go? He wants to know where, he wants to know when.
You go. I'm not stopping you.
But he wants to go with me.

4 December 1888. Vincent, at last, has had his way. We made our holy pilgrimage to some museum in Montpelier (The Musée Fabre, I think.) We burst through the doors. God, how I detest museums. Museums are where old paintings go to die. But Vincent was so excited in that place, running around like a small dog who smelled a piece of cheese. Look, Paul! Look! Courbet! Delacroix! Blah-blah-blah! All of a sudden, his happiness died. His blue eyes filled with anger -- and looking at me. Now what have I done? What's wrong? You know what's wrong. No, I ... You don't feel my joy, Paul. You don't feel my joy. Why not? Then he answered his own question. Because you're arrogant, that's why. We're not equals Paul, are we? You sneer at Courbet, how could you not sneer at me? I clapped my hands and congratulated Vincent on his mind-reading ability. He instantly stopped raving and began sulking like a woman. Forget it. Let's just go, you've ruined it. So we left. The guard gave us one last ugly look on our way out through the big doors.
But the irony is apparent, hmm? He had read my mind. Vincent is not my equal, of course. He gets excited about things. But he's a lousy painter. I regret to say this, but lunatic excitement is not the same thing as talent. His composition stinks. He paints like he talks. Everything is important, which means nothing is important.

13 December 1888. I want to go home.

15 December 1888. Today, the crazy Dutchman wants to talk about art. The light of the soul expresses itself blah-blah-blah. His mouth moved, spitting out words. The words are filled with boredom as eclairs are stuffed with cream.
What's your theory, Paul? You know my theory. What's yours?
I told him, politely, that I didn't wish to discuss theory. He punched the wall and shouted. I want to talk about art! I informed him that, given a choice, I preferred a discussion about a dead dog in the road to a discussion of art. This did not calm his nerves.

19 December 1888. For the love of God. I think I am stuck in a bad novel. Some horrible allegory by Victor Hugo perhaps.

20 December 1888. Bad dream last night. A country church, the stained glass windows tell the story of Saint Somebody. So, I walk from one to the next.
The final window is a crucifixion scene—Vincent on the cross in his ridiculous straw hat. Down below him, I am gloating with hammer and nails.
I wake up, heart pounding. But this is bullshit. 
If you nail yourself to the cross, that doesn't make you Jesus Christ. If you suffer for bad art, that doesn't make it good.

20 December 1888. Today, Vincent accused me of wanting to "desert him." Now why would I want to do that? A need of sleep, perhaps? The ability to take a shit in private? The fear of being stabbed through the heart in the middle of the night? A hatred of his endless chatter? I looked into those eyes. I denied any desire to head for the hills in the face of his lunacy. Another revelation came. Shit. That's what women do. Analyze everything to death then bring it back to life and kill it again. What's the point of living with some guy in a stupid yellow house if he's busting your balls to the same extent as your ex-wife?

21 December 1888. If I had a sou to my name I would vanish like whatever it is that vanishes quickly. I'm a banker with a lousy sense of money, so that's not an option.

For some reason, my razor appears to be missing.

22 December 1888. Today, I had almost crossed the Place Victor Hugo. I heard familiar footsteps behind me, turned. Vincent was rushing toward me, open razor in hand. “Oh!” he said. “I have found your razor!” I gave him an ugly look and he ran home.

23 December 1888. I had a beautiful dream for a change. I don't remember what, palm trees perhaps. As always, the crazy Dutchman woke me up in the middle of the night and it all flew out from my head. "What do you want?" is the question I ask. Vincent informed me that there is a prostitute he has fallen in love with. The redhead? No, a different prostitute. Why are you telling me this? Because Vincent believed that it was the will of God that they should marry. I told him that God had a twisted sense of humor and he screamed at me. I need you to take me seriously! What can I do to impress her? To show her the depth of my feelings? I thought for a minute. Then I told him, "I don't know. Cut off your ear, perhaps." My way of saying, "Fuck you," of course. I expected the Dutchman to be angry. But he looked at me as if I was a philosopher in a white robe with a long beard -- as if I had made a completely serious suggestion and dropped a pearl of wisdom in his thick hands. Then he ran out of the room. He would never do it of course. Even so, I couldn't get back to sleep.

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