Walk on through to the other side – Paris 3 July

I was sitting in a café near the Deux Maggot and having a coffee. There was an older man, who could have been in his early seventies or more, it was difficult to tell with the thick web of beard and scraggly grey hair, and had on sunglasses. He sat in the corner, wearing a dark blue wool thread bare jacket, he was smoking and the waiter brought him over a short whiskey and a cup of coffee. This of course is the most ordinary of things in Paris. I moved just a little bit closer not to intrude on the man and I quickly began to sketch him. He looked like he had a life time of enjoying his booze and cigarettes. He opened a black leather bound notebook and began quickly writing. Then he drank his whiskey and coffee. He looked out to the street and seemed as if he was watching each and every aspect of the scene in front of him. Not in an idle way, but in a way that seemed to capture each person around him.

After I finished the drawing I looked at it for the longest of time and realize that it was familiar. It was the face of somebody that I knew very well but I couldn’t place. I put the drawing aside as I usually do and see how the drawing would look at a few days. It is interesting with the drawing what is revealed with the rubber eraser. I started to clean up the drawing and taking away the thick beard. What emerged was the younger man. As more of the younger man appeared, I then took off the beard. I was a bit shocked by what I saw. It looked like the rock singer Jim Morrison. This is absurd because he died in 1971. It was well documented and all the official papers were filled out in Paris. I put the drawing on my mirror and made minor changes to it over the next few days. And now with the anniversary of his death in July photos were appearing in Paris Match and around the city.

I was in Paris for work and bit of vacation. So I had enough time to wander around the neighborhood by the 11th arrondissement. I would catch glimpses of this guy, but he would be wearing a fedora, dark glasses, and always with a cigarette in hand. I began to follow him a little bit and drew some wonderful sketches over the next week. Of course at a respectable distance and not so that anyone could see me drawing. For, at least I thought so.

I was near the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and drawing the grave of Oscar Wilde and I went over to the gravesite of Jim Morrison on my way out. I was surprised to see this same old man coming in just as the cemetery was closing by 530. He waved to the guard and they nodded. He seemed like they knew him. Again I kept a respectful distance but I was curious as to who he was. He had white peonies in a small bouquet. In the street that you would normally go for the grave of Jim Morrison, he stepped behind from the other side, and in the shadows placed the flowers of Morrison’s grave. No one paid attention to him because they were either playing guitars or doing selfless. Very few people pay attention to what’s going on around them. He stepped forward place the white peonies on the grave and then stepped back into the shadows. He paused for a moment and then vanished.

I don’t believe in ghosts or conspiracy theories, but this was getting a little weird.  Yet, in the next few days, by the Iron Foundry art center I saw the same man, I took a few photos, and then began to follow him at a distance.  And as I sat down waiting for the metro in San Germaine the old man sat next to me and said in English, “Kid, why are you following me? It’s creepy. You make me feel like I’m in a ghost story.”

            “”I’m sorry, you had reminded me of somebody. And I was curious

            “Kid, curiosity killed the cat! But whomever you’re looking for I ain’t him. So, stop following me.”

“I’m sorry, sir. It’s that you look like Jim…”

“Stop! That’s why I have a beard and look like I do, I’m trying to get away from creeps like you. I’m a graphic designer and I was not, nor ever was Jim Morrison, but it’s odd that you and a few others think so.  Yes, I knew Jim. He came to Paris in June of 71, we worked on his poetry and graphics, and I enjoyed him when he wasn’t too high. But the truth is, he’s dead. A tragedy that someone with so much promise and ability should die at 27. So kid, stop following me.”

            I stopped and looked at his face some two feet in front of me, those bright brown eyes, and yes… he was the spitting image of Jim Morrison, if I peeled away the years, the thick grey beard and hair.”

            “Kid, remember, walk on through to the other side.”

            “Huh?

            He pointed to the exit sign.

 

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