Dreaming in French


Arts & Culture

Saint Cyprien

On the rare occasions when Georges Alain is asked to list his occupation, he simply writes, “Dilettante.” Years ago, he was more comfortable describing his occupation as “surrealist,” but for as long as I’ve known him, more than twenty years, he has stuck with “dilettante.”

In that time, he has published books of his poetry, exhibited paintings and sculptures, produced albums of Madagascan guitar music, designed wine labels for a vineyard near his home in Saint Cyprien, in southwest France, and set up a small and cheerfully primitive recording studio in an old, abandoned schoolhouse outside of Belves.

Some years ago, when I wanted to record in the studio, he offered to let me work there for free if I agreed to dream only in French for the week preceding and the week following the sessions. The contract he presented me was very formal, fourteen pages long, and required multiple signatures.

“What about the week of the sessions?” I asked before signing.

“I don’t want to interfere with your process,” he shrugged. “Though, if you wish…”

It should be no surprise that Georges Alain’s endeavors have gained him more friends than money, although he received a remarkable number of donations when, in 1999, he waged a brief campaign to have coq au vin declared France’s national bird.

In early July, Georges Alain suffered a stroke, the result of elevated blood pressure and, perhaps, an over familiarity with the national bird of his choice. He fell into a coma, and as the days went by, the situation grew more unsettling and hopes for his recovery grew dim.

A few days ago, after being unconscious for more than two weeks, he opened his eyes. He was in a hospital in Limoges surrounded by family and friends. There were tubes everywhere, heart monitors, trays with knives and needles, tanks with oxygen. Something on the wall beeped every thirty seconds. The lights were too bright. His left side was paralyzed, and he could not speak. Nothing made sense.

As the situation became clearer, he looked around the room and motioned for a pen and paper. Slowly, laboriously, he wrote out one sentence that put everything into perspective.

“Je suis.”

Brian Cullman is a writer and musician living in New York City.