Walking through Paris in the (imagined) aftermath of a pandemic, I had the uncanny feelings of déjà vu, that things had disappeared and been replaced, leaving behind a residue of scented melancholy. The gap between then and now ignited a play of imagination, of desire. I had the sense that a great poet had walked this terrain before….voilà Baudelaire!
Baudelaire, delicate but so durably modern, was a visionary of things shadowy, emotionally complex and fugitive, errant. He was a vagabond in the city he inhabited, an internal exile as he moved roughly every two years due to poor finances. An exhibition, “Baudelaire, la Modernité Mélancolique” at Bibliothèque Nationale lists some 20 of his addresses all over the city. More trenchant, he retained memory of Paris as it was cut asunder by Baron Haussmann and remade for a new world. The poet was brilliant at giving presence to things absent. He created images that were less precise rendering than color of a memory.
Baudelaire sang. One of the youthful letters in the show, he complained to his mother when she erased his primacy in favor of her new husband. The calligraphy of “à moi, à moi” — what about me! — soars with doubled underlining and accents graves that fly like the crescendo of musical notations. The emotion is real, the emotion is all.