Monday, December 27, 2010

100% Blaise Cendrars

One armed poet adventurer. World traveler. Novelist. Essayist. Playwright. Hero of the French Foreign Legion. Early independent film maker. Raconteur and friend to all.
  Blaise Cendrars was a world famous and yet enigmatic writer who blazed across the globe in the first half of the 20th Century. He would make up stories about himself until those stories became true.  He would forever influence the world of letters and inspire some of the century's greatest artists. He would laugh, brawl, drink, talk and travel over much of the planet.
   He was born in Switzerland as Frédéric Louis Sauser on September 1, 1887,  but he rose from the embers of a bourgeoisie  existence to take on a fiery new name and live a life of adventure and creativity.  He once commented "writing is being burned alive, but it also means being reborn from the ashes".   The man who would christened himself Blaise Cendrars personified living life as art and art as life.
  A yearning for a bigger, wilder world would lead a young Cendrars to mythologize himself and to claim things that are unverifiable and unlikely.  At the start of his career Cendrars would, in the off-hand manner of a true story teller, claim that he'd been raised by a gypsy governess or that he'd earned his living shoveling coal on a Chinese railroad, statements for which there is no proof.  These self-made myths would become the psychological training ground for the new persona and true adventures that would outstrip anything he'd ever imagined.   Cendrars would later comment  "No I'm not an extraordinary writer, I'm an extraordinary daydreamer. I exceed all of my fantasies- even that of writing."
   Cendrars would choose France as his spiritual home even if he never stayed there for very long.
This is where he would  befriend and inspire some of the greatest artists and creative minds of the 20th Century. He and Guillaume Apollinaire  would create Modernist poetry together, he'd drink with Erik Satie and Modigliani would paint his portrait.

   Cendrar's creativity and vision were always uniquely his own and frequently semi-autobiographical.  His "Prose of the Transsiberian and the Little Jehanne of France" describing one of his journeys was formatted on a long folded paper and accompanied by paintings by Sonia Delaunay-Terk.  Cendrars termed this the "first simultaneous poem".
  When World War I broke out Cendrars and the Italian writer Ricciotto Canudo put out a call to battle to inspire the ex-patriot writers and artists living in France to defend their adopted country.  Cendrars himself would join the French Foreign Legion and fight on the front lines until September 1915 when  his right arm was blown off at the battle of Champagne.  He would later write about his war time experiences in his  works "The Severed Hand" and "The Astonished Man". 
  Undeterred by his injuries Cendrars dubbed himself "the left handed poet" and he would continue to write, create and travel. He would embark on journeys to Africa, Central and South America and the South Seas.  He would author a set of novels chronicling the globe spanning adventures of the rich eccentric Dan Yack.  He would create the perverse anti-hero "Moravagine" who would lay bare  the cruelties of the human animal.  He would become one of the first independent film makers and he would author  journalism on such diverse topics as the early American movie  industry in his collection of essays entitled "Hollywood" or the history of levitation in his work "A Parcel of Sky". 
   Amongst this hectic and boisterous life Cendrars would always embrace the people and the world around him.  He would swap stories with South American peasants and flirt with Hollywood starlets.  He would drink and argue and laugh with poets and priests, mechanics and prostitutes, women and men of all descriptions.  His true tales of travel and realistic depictions of life all over the globe served as precursor to the works of Hemingway. Henry Miller would state that Cendrars' work was "...written in blood but blood saturated with starlight".
   Blaise Cendrars was a man of brilliant creativity and prodigious talent but his greatest work was a life fully lived.
   "...the truth is few enough people know how to live and the few that accept life as it is are still more rare."
                                                                                                      -Blaise Cendrars

Friday, November 5, 2010

A History in Hints and Traces

   Recently WikiLeaks made public an American government report that details the unauthorized internet wide release of algorithms for a Chinese missile system thereby making them obsolete. The report insinuates that this act was perpetrated by a mysterious, dark haired woman known only as Mademoiselle.   That there is a core member of the 100% Club with that code name and that her whereabouts during those events are unknown- which is entirely coincidental, probably- has once again piqued the interest of The Powers that Be into the Club's membership and activities.

  And yet it seems that the official interest may once again go unsatisfied. One reason for this is that the club is an organization that isn't especially organized.  There seems to be little impetus for carefully filed reports when the next adventure or project is right around the corner. What else is to be expected from a group of people who are essentially individualists and who often live at a somewhat hectic pace? 
   Even so it's not that the information on the club's past is entirely lost it's merely that it is scattered far and wide. There are clues and stories to be found for the diligent researcher. Here for example are some hints and traces of the Club's past and activities:

   Once while I was on the hunt in northern Spain I located a cache of documents hidden under the floor boards of a hotel in Basque Biscay. The papers and drawings (which have strangely disappeared from my files) connect the 100% Club to a notorious  headcrime in which over one night all of the McDonald restaurants in Madrid, Spain were fitted with holographic projectors so that instead of the Gold Arches passersby would see Dali's Corpus Hypercubus on Crucificixion.

   It's reported that a bar room wall in Caldwell, Idaho bears the graffito "% Club" one hundred times. The artist and possible import of this message is currently unknown.
  Club member codename Lady relates that she once had the necessity to wrestle a man who had the message "tnecreP 001 nahT sseL" tattooed across his chest.  This incident is merely a part of a longer exploit but it must be said that Lady rarely ignores an opportunity to display her skills at Jiu Jitsu or her abundance of true grit.  Once the fellow was subdued she forced him to admit that he had received the mark as a warning, one that was to be made fresh every time he looked in the mirror.   
   And what are we to make of this excerpt from "Burning up Burning Down" (1958) by Beat poet Whitman Gold
  "Spinning world hot-rod speed demon
   Big Bearded sons gone strange

   Long legged, wild daughters paint the hills
   Dig Agartha , Drink Atlantis,
   Big world, lovers, losers, finders,
   Anointed. 100 Percent or nothing"

    As you see researching the activities of the 100% Club requires a certain vision and can be as much an adventure as the escapades of the members themselves.  Fitting the pieces together can be both evocative and enlightening and lead one to discover the possibilities and romance of a life lived 100%.