Monday, December 25, 2006

In the summer of 1954, with money from a Sewanee Fellowship, James, 31, Maxine, 28, and Chris, not quite three, went to Europe. They landed in England, where they picked up a Hillman Minx convertible, then traveled to Dunkirk, down to Paris, and to the Cote d’Azur. In Cap d’Antibes, they rented a ramshackle villa called Galidou, on the hill below the lighthouse. They took occasional trips to Cannes, to get mail from the American Express office there, and up into the mountains to a small ski resort at Valberg.
In the spring they drove to Italy. What follow, in a separate posting, are photographs taken with a Kodak "Brownie" on that trip, and excerpts from a rambling conversation between James and Chris in Columbia, S.C., on December 29, 1996, a few weeks before James died.

All the photographs can be enlarged by clicking on them. - C.D.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Europe, 1954-1955

(c) All text and photos Christopher Dickey
Partial transcript, James Dickey and Christopher Dickey, talking about their family and their travels, on December 29, 1996.
JAMES DICKEY: … I remember that time in '54 when we were in Cambridge because I played the best tennis I ever played on their courts. I played with …an Australian. And all of them could play tennis. I eked out a narrow victory. I played way over my head. I remember those Peter House courts as being where I had my finest hour on the courts. But I loved walking around there. It's beautiful isn't it, Cambridge?
CHRIS DICKEY: It is beautiful, absolutely.
JAMES: … Yeah, we went there. We were there in England, round and about London looking at the museums and so on. We didn't travel much out from London on that trip. …
CHRIS: The first time we went over on the Queen Elizabeth and came back on the United States.
JAMES: And I won the ping-pong tournament. I still have the trophy.
CHRIS: On the Elizabeth or on the United States?
JAMES: On the Elizabeth, on the Elizabeth. The United States was a smaller steamer and everybody really did get sick. Me included. Oh I got so sick.
CHRIS: I remember the Elizabeth vaguely. I don't remember the United States really at all.
JAMES: Yeah, oh I got so sick. I remember the movie that I went to see on the United States was The Blackboard Jungle.
CHRIS: Oh yeah?
JAMES: And everybody was throwing up in the theater.
CHRIS: Jesus.
JAMES: Me included. Oh it was terrible. And ah, so we came back on that and then went to Florida. See I had been writing letters all the time we had been in Europe to try to get a job, teaching job, when we came back. And ah, so Andrew took me on.
CHRIS: You left Rice with no prospect of going back to Rice?
JAMES: No I didn't get along with the head there at all. … My salary at Rice was twenty seven twenty. I don't mean twenty seven thousand. I mean two thousand seven hundred and twenty and nothing in the summer time.
CHRIS: God how did we live on that? We lived in faculty housing.
JAMES: Yeah and your mother worked for, as a receptionist for a hillbilly radio station, KNUZ. Radio ranch. They were very fond of her there. She did a good job. We had that money. … I can remember calling up and hearing a spritely voice, "KNUZ Radio Ranch. Can we help you?" We struggled, man I tell you. We finally acquired a television set. … I remember before we got the TV set. Rice won the conference and they were going to play in the Cotton Bowl against the Univesity of Alabama. We all wanted to see the game. So the poverty stricken faculty came up with a pool and we rented a hotel room downtown with a television set. We all went down to watch the game. Which we won. So those were our conditions there. I had a five dollar allowance a week from the family to buy a book. And I still have some of the books that I bought down there. It was very carefully calculated. That was my big high point of the week. But I was writing away. ….
CHRIS: I remember Valberg.
JAMES: Way up in the mountains. That was a scary ass place.
CHRIS: That used to scare the shit out of me those drives up to Valberg.
JAMES: Amen. I saw a chamois standing on one of those crags. I thought it was a statue or something. But he turned around and ran off. I thought that is a real ---. It's out of that sort of Valberg landscape that I got a great deal of To the White Sea from.
CHRIS: Oh yeah?
JAMES: Driving up in there. That real rugged type country. Well who wouldn't be scared. … We drove her up there in our little bitty --
CHRIS: Hillman Minx.
JAMES: Hillman Minx, yeah. But, when you got up there it was a charming place, wasn't it? … It is so remote. [Used to go to a restaurant called La Baroque?] … It was sort of on the way up toward Valeberg. That is where they had those birds that shot to death with sand. You know so they wouldn't hurt the meat. We went up there a few times. That was quite a restaurant. That is the kind of thing you go to Europe for.
CHRIS: Yeah, there is less and less of it really.
JAMES: Yeah that is true.
CHRIS: Everything is better known.
JAMES: It's all going.
CHRIS: It is all being globalized and homogenized.
JAMES: It is all going. And we are all going to end up in that great Rexall in the sky. That is our heaven.
CHRIS: Eckerd's.
JAMES: Yeah, that is our heaven.
CHRIS: Yeah, shit. So … let's go back to the first trip. First trip we landed, didn't we land in Southhampton the first time?
JAMES: Yeah, we did.
JAMES: Yeah.
CHRIS: And then we went Dunkirk, then I don't know where we went. I guess Dunkirk to Paris.
JAMES: Paris.
CHRIS: And then and then I don't know. The logistics of that trip I made when I was three. I remember endless telephone poles. Because I would lie down and try and sleep in the back of the Hillman Minx. You'd make a little place for me. And I would be looking out the window and all I would see would be telephone poles going by. Seemed like long, long drives. Probably some of them were I think.
JAMES: Yeah. I was fascinated by every detail though. I had never been such a place before in my life. The only time I had been overseas was in the Army. This was certainly different from that. So when we got down to the Cote d'Azur, we looked around at various places. …
CHRIS: Wait. Backtrack. When we were in London did you go to, did you look up anybody in London?
JAMES: [David] Dowler.
CHRIS: Dowler. And did you, did you meet T.S. Elliot?
JAMES: Yeah, I met him. …
CHRIS: In '54?
JAMES: Dowler knew somebody who knew him.
CHRIS: Did you have a conversation with him?
JAMES: Very short. … Spender also. I had had some correspondence with and he knew him. And I had, did some things with him on his magazine Encounter. I believe did some light editing and so on. He didn't publish anything of mine. So we went from there …So we got down there [to the Riviera] and we were casting around down the South of France. What is the place that made so famous of Brigitte Bardot?
CHRIS: St. Tropez.
JAMES: We went to St. Tropez where it was very nice, but crowded. And I remember we went out on the docks where there were a lot of boats, sail boats, and some people invited us to come aboard and have a sandwich, all very friendly people. So we thought about there, but we couldn't find a place there. So we went on down the coast to Antibes. It seemed a nice little village. And we found a real estate guy there that rented us Galidou. And we talked briefly to the proprietess of Galidou who had that big overgrown front yard. I said, "Serpents, des serpents ici?" She said, "Pas de serpents." That was a great relief to me. NO snakes. So we live there with a very -- that was a pleasant part of life at Galidou. We had three or four glorious weeks. We would go down to the beach, to Plage La Garoupe, which was made by Gerald Murphy who was Fitzgerald's great friend.
CHRIS: We would go out on the pedalos.
JAMES: Yeah he is the one who made that beach.
JAMES: Go out on the pedalos and had a nice time. I wrote a lot there. And you had Tuffy to play with. A little caniche dog. … And you and I would get up on that upstairs porch and play soccer.
CHRIS: Yeah and you would hide, you would hide chocolate money for me. When I would come and look at it then you would jump out of the bushes and scare the shit out of me.
JAMES: Yeah, as I say, those were great days. We have some pictures of you and bringing the ice up for the ice box.
CHRIS: Have you been through all those pictures that I brought in?
JAMES: No, no there is too many of them. But we have got them. That is the heritage…. Maxine was wonderful. She was so adaptable. It was just a glory to behold. She could go anywhere in any country, she would not know a word of the language and she would have, by the afternoon she would have everything organized. She had the people down at the marché so, so close, so much in her favor that they would give os to the chien. Give the dogs free bones. It was kind of funny I was trying to learn the language to read the writer and to get conversant with the literary part of it. And I would read and so on with the dictionary. And she would go down and learn it on the practical side among the people in the markets and the stores and so on. And we would come back at the end of the day and compare notes. I would say, "How much French did you learn today?" She said, "Well not very much really, but I think I, down at the marche I think I learned something I think is going to be a lot of help to our family financial picture, a phrase." I said, "What is this magical phrase?" She said, "Trop cher." I said, "I think that will work."…
CHRIS: There was a cafe we used to go down to--
JAMES: Le Glacier. And we had a favorite waiter there. … Do you remember Picasso? … He was very nice to us. He was especially taken with you. … He sketched you. And I thought he was going to give it to us. He said [shakes his head].
CHRIS: Is that a true?
JAMES: Yeah, yeah sure it is. He, we have Picasso pieces here.
CHRIS: Yeah, yeah. Yeah I think we went to the Glacier the afternoon we were back in Antibes [in 1962] and it -- it was cold--
JAMES: Oh so miserable. And the bookstore that I loved so much, Monsieur Aldon, was closed and he was gone and nobody knew where he had gone.… When we got down to and got established at Galidou [in 1954] I would go over to Mr. Aldon's and talk for hours. And a man came in with his family and bought a book from him and talked to the librarian or whatever the book store guy, Aldon, for awhile and about the purchases he was making, some of the books. And he went away. I said to Mr. Aldon, "Picasso." And he said something to the equivalent, yes we have some Picasso here some prints and so on. I said, "No, no c'est Picasso lui-meme." "Picasso lui-meme, mon Dieu il a acheté un livre de cuisine!" So that happened. He bought a cook book. And that, what is it, Gilot? That girl, woman--
CHRIS: Francoise Gilot.
JAMES: Was in attendance also. I never did talk to her, but I saw a lot of her.
CHRIS: Yeah it's all these famous pictures that you see now with all the Picasso revivals of Francoise Gilot and two children, Paloma and the brother.
JAMES: Yeah she was very much, and Claude who was one of his older children. He … Now him I remember very little except that he was much taken with you and very, he was a very good guy just to stand there to listen to you. He couldn't speak any English and I didn't speak very much French. But he, I had the impression of Picasso as being very intent on what was being said and on the person he was talking to. I mean he wasn't making any show of himself at all. He was just -- he would be right with you and wasn't going to interrupt you or anything. It was very courteous. About the other side of his life I don't know anything except what everybody else knows…
CHRIS: But we are bouncing back and forth between '54 and '62. '54 we went down to Antibes and we were in Valberg and all that . And then we struck out. …