One youthful love, one war and one selfish society

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One youthful love, one war and one selfish society
One youthful love, one war and one selfish society

Frédéric Begbede, the most charming rebel of modern French literature, returns with “ Una&Salinger”, a powerful semi-fictional novel about the youthful infatuation of Una O'Neill and hermit writer Jerry Salinger.

The book takes us to the post-war years to meet Una, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the great American playwright Eugene O'Neill and the future last wife of Charlie Chaplin, and the author of the unforgettable novel The Savior in the Rye, Jerry Salinger. then 23 years old. Begbede recreates delicately, with affection and respect the thrills of this unblossomed love, weaving into his narrative names such as Truman Capote, Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. In Una & Salinger you'll find chilling pages about the carnage of World War II and the impact it had on more than one notable artist. Of course, the author does not fail to throw a bridge from the story of Una and Salinger to the relationship with his companion Lara, who is so similar to the main character!

Frédéric Begbede studies political science in Paris, has a degree in marketing, practices his profession in a famous advertising agency, works as a publicist and TV reporter. His literary exploits are many and distinguished by an elegantly unceremonious style, scathing irony, provocative analyzes of contemporary society and eccentric assessments. Writers who have influenced his artistic sensibility include Michel Welbeck, Brett Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. Among his most famous works are the novels "Love Lasts Three Years", "Windows on the World", "A French Novel", which won the "Rynodo" prize, and, of course, "6.66 euros', filmed in 2007 under the direction of Jan Koonen.



In the spring of 1980, regulars at Paly Park in New York witnessed a rather unusual scene. Around three o'clock, a long black limousine pulled up in front of the kindergarten. The driver opened the door to a passenger in her sixties, wearing a white suit and sunglasses, who slowly got out of the car. The lady remained motionless for a moment, fumbling nervously with her pearl necklace as if she were transferring the beads of a rosary, then headed for the left corner of the park. The woman, clearly we althy, slowly approached the wall of water to the bushes and took out of her handbag several pieces of broken china. Then her behavior became quite strange. He knelt down on the ground and began quickly digging at the dirt with his long mane. A man eating a hotdog nearby wondered why this bum was rummaging through the beds instead of looking for food in the dumpster across the square. He didn't pay attention immediately, but it seemed to him that the sixty-year-old woman was burying the broken china in a hole, over which she was piling up dirt with her hands, standing on all fours under the vertical garden, like a child in a sandbox. The alfresco diners were even more stunned when the rich woman stood up, her hands covered in mud, and climbed into the Cadillac with dignity. Despite the black glasses, her face could be read with satisfaction at a job well done. She looked like one of those eccentrics one sometimes sees on the streets of New York, especially after barbiturates were allowed. The chauffeur closed the door, walked around the car, got behind the wheel, and the long limousine drove silently toward Fifth Avenue.

IN THE BEGINNING OF 2010 I realized that I was no longer seeing my peers. I was surrounded by people twenty or thirty years younger than me. My girlfriend was born the year I got married for the first time. Where did those of my generation go? They had begun to disappear gradually, most absorbed in work and their children; one day they had simply stopped leaving their offices or their homes. Because I often changed my address and phone number, my old friends could no longer contact me; now and then one of them died; I couldn't help but think that the two events were no wonder connected (when I was no longer seen, life stopped). And it is possible that the lack of peers around me has another explanation - it is possible that I was running away from my reflection. Forty-year-old women scared me with their neuroses, the same as mine - envy of youth, hardened hearts, intractable complexes, fear that no one would or no longer wanted to have sex with them. As for the men of my age, they would ruminate to the point of reminiscing about old parties, drinking, eating, growing fat and bald, constantly complaining about their wives or their celibacy. In the middle of life, people talked only about money, especially writers.

I had become a true gerontophobe. I invented a new kind of apartheid - I felt good only with creatures I could father. The company of young men forced me to conform to them in my dress, to adapt my language and culture to theirs. It kept me on my toes, it electrified me, it brought back my smile. Instead of a greeting, I had to slide my palm over the palm of my young interlocutor, then slam my fist into his, and finally tap my chest on the left. A simple handshake would betray the generation gap. I also had to avoid old-fashioned jokes, such as not saying "I'm flabbergasted like Gerard d'Abboville" ("Who's that?"). When I met classmates, I couldn't recognize them. I quickly faked it, smiling politely – my fellow recruits were definitely too old for me. I carefully avoided family dinners. All bourgeois duties terrified me, especially gatherings of forty-year-olds in black-painted apartments and scented candles. I did not approve of the people who knew me, just that they knew me. I didn't like them knowing who I was. I wanted to regain my virginity at the age of forty-five. I visited only new bars for shaggy kids, polished and plastic-lined discotheques with memoryless toilets, trendy restaurants that my former friends would learn about two or three years later, leafing through Madame Figaro. Sometimes I would pick up a young girl, who would finally explain with a tender look that her mother had been to her first ball with me. My only concession to old age: I didn't use Twitter. I couldn't understand why I had to send sentences to strangers when I could compile them into a book.

I admit that my refusal to socialize with people my own age was a refusal to age. I was confusing the cult of youth with youth. In every wrinkle on the faces of our loved ones, we see our own approaching death. I honestly believed that by associating only with young people who talked about Robert Pattinson more than Robert Redford, I would have lived longer. That was pure autoracism. One can pretend to be Dorian Gray and not hide a sinister portrait in the ceiling - it is enough to grow a beard so that one can no longer see one's face in the mirror, from time to time pretend to be a DJ with one's 45 rpm records, yes wears T-shirts baggy enough not to show his bulging stomach, doesn't wear reading glasses (as if holding the book at arm's length rejuvenates himself), wears American Apparel anthracite tracksuits with white piping, poses for pictures in the windows of Cupples, dancing with underage surfers at Blue Cargo in Ilbaritz and being hungover every day.

In the early 10s of the 21st century, I had become a specialist in Rihanna's biography. Realize how alarming the situation was.

Three years before, in a coffee shop in Hanover, New Hampshire, I had come across a photograph of a lovely deceased woman.

The young woman's name is Una O'Neill: note the "Jean Tierney" style hairdo (the locks on one side, the exposed forehead), the gleaming teeth and the protruding carotid artery, which expresses her faith in life. The fact that such a girl lived is encouraging. This dark-haired infanta with drawn eyebrows fills her lungs with fresh air and clearly believes that anything is possible. Moreover, her childhood… She was two years old when her father left her mother to live in Europe with a new wife; then Una sends him heartbreaking cards: "Daddy, I love you so much, don't forget me!". He doesn't see her until eight years later.

In 1940, Una O'Neill is in love with my favorite writer.

I discovered this photo when J. D. Salinger had three years left to live. I had gone with Jean-Marie Perrier to shoot a documentary about him in Cornish, New Hampshire. The idea was as senseless as it was banal – visiting the world's greatest misanthrope writer had become something of a tourist excursion for thousands of fans. The author of "The Savior in the Rye" had moved in 1953 to a farm in the middle of the New England forest. He hadn't published anything since 1965, the year I was born. He did not give any interviews, refused any photos and contact with the outside world. And I represented the outside world that would invade his personal space with an HD camera. Why? Without realizing it at the time, my attraction to this old man had something to do with my growing distaste for people my own age. Like me, Salinger liked much younger girls. All his novels or short stories gave the floor to children or young people. They symbolized lost innocence, misunderstood purity; all adults were ugly, dull, boring, unappealing, stuck in their material well-being. In his best stories, he used childish dialogues to express his abhorrence of materialism. From 1951 onwards, The Savior in the Rye sold 120 million copies worldwide. This short novel tells the story of an expelled boy who hangs around Central Park and wonders where the ducks go when the lake freezes over in the winter. His concept may be childish, certainly flawed and possibly dangerous, but Salinger created the ideology to which I found myself a willing victim. He is the author who best defined the modern world - a world divided into two camps. On one side are the serious people, the good students in ties, the old bourgeois who go to work, marry a mediocre housewife, play golf, read economic articles, accept the capitalist system as it is. "Those who only know how to tell how much gas their idiot cars waste a hundred miles away.'' And on the other side are the immature youths, the sad high school freshmen, the all-night dancing rebels and the deranged who wander the woods wondering about the ducks in Central Park, talk to tramps or nuns, fall in love with sixteen-year-old girls, never work and remain free, poor, lonely, dirty and miserable. In short, the eternal rebels who believed they were challenging the consumerist model, but in reality drove Western countries into debt for the last sixty years and helped sell off billions of dollars worth of consumer goods (records, novels, movies, TV shows) after the 1940s. soap operas, clothes, women's magazines, videos, chewing gum, cigarettes, open cars, soft and alcoholic drinks, drugs - all products launched by arrogant "mainstream" marginals). I felt the need to confront the founder of the infantile fantasy that the developed world dreams of. Salinger is the writer who made people loathe old age.

We rented a pickup truck to climb the green hills. We arrived at the Corniche on a glorious spring morning, Thursday 31st May 2007 at 11.30am. The sky was blue, but the sun was icy. The cold suns are of no use, it is a real fraud to talk of spring in this temperature, a stone's throw from Quebec. Salinger's address could easily be found on the Internet - since they invented the jeepney, no one can hide on this planet anymore. Now I will give you the address that for sixty years was the most secret in the world. There is an old covered bridge over the Connecticut River in Cornish. When you cross it, coming from the neighboring village of Windsor, you feel like you are Clint Eastwood in "The Bridges of Madison". You turn left onto Wilson Road and drive a few hundred yards to a small gray flagstone cemetery that remains on your right behind a low white painted fence. You continue to the right on Platt Road, which climbs the hill past a bushy, moss-covered cemetery. If you're traveling at night, now you'll feel like you're in Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Salinger's dig takes courage; many aspiring reporters have given up approaching the tall thickets. Somewhere Bernanos talked about "liquid silence" - before May 31, 2007 I did not understand the meaning of this expression. In the pickup were the director Jean-Marie Perrier, the producer Guillaume Rapneau and I – all three of us very worried. Moreover, Jean-Marie was no novice: he had participated, for example, in the American tour of the "Rolling Stones" in 1972, which was by no means a walk in the park. Now he was looking at me in horror, as if he was about to say, "That stupid idea was yours, kid, so stop liquefying."

The road narrowed and wound in grassy ruts in the middle of a forest of tall pines, old birches, ancient maples and oaks. Light filtered through the dark leaf. Under the tangled branches of this sepulchral forest, even in broad daylight, one had the feeling that it was midnight. Entering a forest is a magical ritual - crossing forests is present in all fairy tales, in German romantic literature, as well as in W alt Disney films. The sun twinkled through the trees-day, night, day, night; the light appeared and disappeared like a solar message in morse code.

“Go back. Stop. Run while you still can. Stop. Mayday, mayday.' Romantic forests can turn into sinister locales, as in the "Blair Curse", or the Hürtgen Forest - the green hell in the winter of 1944-1945. I knew I wouldn't have the courage. I would never have dared disturb the man to whom I owed my love of literature, the American writer who embodied tenderness and rebellion. My mother raised me well, I have become too shy. After about a kilometer under the leaves, on the right side the view is slightly unobstructed. The light suddenly returned, as if God had turned on a giant spotlight. There was something like a meadow or a meadow or a field - how would I know, I grew up in a city. The road to the house of J. D. Salinger is on Lang Road, first turning on the right. It climbs past a red-painted barn. I can even give you his phone number: 603-675-5244 (revealed by one of his biographers). That's where I didn't get out of the car, that's where I was shaking with fear, that's where I lost all dignity. I imagined the elderly Salinger (then eighty-eight years old) on the back porch of the house, by a pile of logs, pensive, in a rocking chair, with his cats sharpening their claws on old cushions… The farm was situated on a hilltop, the view must have been magnificent, embracing the river and the white houses scattered over the meadows. Brown birds darted across the sky, and the icy sun lit up the trees on the blue Ascutney mountain opposite. The air was saturated with the scent of komuniga, which took over the entire lawn - I specifically inquired about the name of the golden flowers that were found everywhere in the area. Juniper fringed the verdant hill like the one in the Saar that, at eight years old, I used to love to go down among the sheep, smearing manure on my New Men trousers. The place was infinitely peaceful… like a panoramic view of the New World. No human creature had the right to disturb such peace.

– Come on, Fred – said Guillaume Rapnault, – we wouldn't go all this way to get back!

– I… No… I didn't think that… (I had suddenly started expressing myself like Patrick Modiano.) Still… we're not paparazzi…

– Of course we are, fool, you work at Voasi! Don't you realize? If it opens for us, we will make a sensational shot, even if the door slams in front of us, the shot will be everywhere!

– But… Salinger is over eighty years old, completely deaf, and a World War II veteran, he must be armed…

– Well, you could have told us that earlier.

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