This is the second installment of Nothomb’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
Photograph by Catherine Cabrol.
In the evening we are invited to a huge turn-of-the-century building, with something of the Phalanstère to it, entirely inhabited by artists. This is the Westbeth Center for the Arts, the largest artist’s community in the world, and it is where tonight’s “Literary Safari” is supposed to take place. The name of the event disturbs me: are they going to hunt writers with guns? The organizers reassure me: writers will be chosen by artist-inhabitants of the Phalanstère and invited into their apartments to read from one of their books. My host is Dorothy, former actress of avant-garde theater, eighty-six years old, a tiny, skinny woman of exceptional vivacity and intelligence. The audience and I are invited into her strange apartment with a sinusoidal ceiling, a moving museum of the past. They suggest that I read for fifteen minutes from my most recent novel to appear in English, Hygiene and the Assasin. There is nowhere to hide: American audiences love hearing an author read her work. So I throw myself into it, reading first in French, without sparkle, and then in English. This last exercise proves to be a considerable challenge. The mixture of emotion and effort is so intense that, literally, I liquefy: I perspire so much that I see enormous drops of sweat falling on my text. It’s very annoying. After fifteen minutes have passed, I am nothing but a puddle. The audience, very friendly, asks me questions. With reluctance, I leave Dorothy, who lays all the flowers in her apartment in my arms: I have the impression of being a diva.