Beach fills the air in St Malo. But L’Omnibus is two doors from a McDonald’s and a strange supermarket, miles from the water. We were there for the Route du Rock festival, whose winter session is designed to introduce people to new music. (The summer session is for established rockers and rollers like Sonic Youth.) We were last to play, at 1:30 a.m., which led me to believe that the room would be full for our set. Headliners, wow, I thought. We are important rockers/rollers, people like our band, etc. But au contraire—the room was busting at the seams for the Archie Bronson outfit, viva la brawn-rock. Pretty good, though. By the time we got on stage ten minutes early the bitch had sprung a leak: the rafter seats were vacant, great fissures from which only misery and loneliness would spring forth grew on the floor, a tot and an elderly man slumbered in the corner, the latter snoring loudly. But we were well received, all things considered, by the audience that as it turned out had been mostly outside smoking cigarettes between sets.
Most notable among the Route du Rock revues was a two-piece called John and Jehn, who made the stage slippery, unsafe even, in a performance that amounted to the realization of Eros’ wet dream. John is magazine gaunt and his forearms filled with diagrammatic tattoos and Jehn is a moonfaced French beauty with a nouvelle vague coiffure. Allure! Patrick had to go to the bathroom and splash cold water on his face at least once during their set. I had to take a nap afterwards. So it is said Beckett first wrote in French and then translated himself to English to avoid the clichés of modern language, but there is a certain sense in which strangers to a language are more sensitive to its conventions. Such was the case with John and Jehn—their titles always sounded familiar, “Sonny Boy,” “Black Train,” “Johnny.” I couldn’t hear the words, but the whole thing was sultry and LA, 1956, Chinatown, the dame died in tommygun crossfire, private dick tails you from the motel lot and you were due home an hour ago. Jehn searched their van for a C harmonica for Patrick to borrow but could not find it, but that was okay. We loved them anyway. (www.myspace.com/johnjehn)
We stayed in a hotel in some historical district, a museum-city for tourists. Imposing walls on the beach suggested that perhaps it was a naval base. Saint-Malo during the Middle Ages was a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance River, controlling not only the estuary but the open sea beyond. The promontory fort of Aleth, south of the modern centre in what is now the Saint-Servan district, commanded approaches to the Rance even before the Romans, but modern Saint-Malo traces its origins to a monastic settlement founded by Saint Aaron and Saint Brendan early in the 6th century. Its name is derived from a man said to have been a follower of Brendan, Saint Malo. (I stole the last three sentences from wikipedia.) Sand dusted catamarans lay near the water. Beaucoup de creperies, cobblestones, etc. The vermicular grey alleys were such that I would not have minded having some petty crime perpetrated against me; par exemple, if a waif tried to steal the baguette that protruded from my paper sack of groceries and in doing so busted open the bag, I could but smile to myself as the lad made off with my bread, tripping on the busted soles of his shoes, my pears rolling across the cobblestones, my jar of preserve shattered near the curb. Had we been there longer I would have liked to know something about our environs, but alas, the road beckoned and here were are on our way out of France driving to a train (!) upon which our van shall go and be delivered to England. Imagine that.