A walk with John is a stroll with a chatty old chum who has an encyclopaedic recall of a vast array of cinematic, literary, historic and Francophillian events, but is also an irresistible gossip.
While an author of 35+ books, including a series on movie directors (my favourite is Kubrick), he is also a notorious book collector and houses 10,000 books in a double garage (or an apartment according to an alternate source). First editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn and Black Spring and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, amongst his treasures.
We barely take a step before he is informing us of how the different types of cobblestones under your feet relate to the eras in Paris’ history.
Past a wooden framed shop – ah yes – its a Directoire era shopfront – a four year period between 1795 and 1799.
Through a passage and into a courtyard where we discuss daily life circa 1720, corralling the horses, servants way up on the pokey top floor.
Down a dark alley and he is pointing up to an obscure plaque that signifies the place of the invention of the guillotine. It was for humane reasons of course, hacking at your neck with an axe was messy and damned unreliable. However an unfortunate side effect was that spectator numbers plummeted.
Any question posed to him on our observation walk could lead on a lovely tangent embellished with historic figures or events.
We pause for coffee in his favourite café.
Then anecdotes flow. And they are quality.
About the time he and Sam Peckinpah’s wife..
Then a unique gift from a hypnotist…
Or when he interviewed Frederico Fellini…
And did you know David Stratton…
And his apartment building once sheltered Ernest Hemingway where he….
Three hours and lunch at his place flew past.
Such a passion for words – and an absolute treasure.