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Camus - Early Encounters (Part I)

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  • Mary Jo
    Albert Camus loved the straight forward humor of his city which mixed sex and death: The favorite joke of Algiers morticians when their hearses are empty is
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2004
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      Albert Camus loved the straight forward humor of his city which mixed
      sex and death: "The favorite joke of Algiers' morticians when their
      hearses are empty is to pass pretty girls in the street and
      holler, `You want a ride, sweetie?' There seems to be a symbol there,
      even if it's an unfortunate one." He loved the local Arabic slang and
      accents and made obscene gestures referring to his `catz'. Camus was
      a regular guy, a stylish dude (some would say dandy) and most
      definitely a ladies' man. Even before he chose Simone Hie as his sexy
      companion, he captivated the young women. He had many close male
      friends, but often his arrogance and irritability put off
      acquaintances. And although he could easily despise someone, he once
      wrote of "the pleasure one finds in relations with men, the subtle
      giving or asking for light, a complicity between cigarette
      Freemasons." He and his buddies visited the `Lower Depths, a bistro
      in the sailors' quarter favored by whores and pimps. The bar was
      decorated with a full-sized guillotine and a skeleton with a bouncing
      phallus hidden by an old sheet. The place was run by a dwarf named
      Coco, who blessed his clients by waving a dildo in the air like a
      bishops' mitre, to the amusement of Camus, who sat among dockworkers
      smoking hashish. The young men would talk about books and sing
      obscene words to popular melodies.'

      Years earlier, when Albert was 17 he wasn't able to finish his first
      year of high school, because he contracted TB. He was diagnosed in
      December, but he began coughing fits, spitting blood and delirious
      fevers as early as August. The one `benefit' he had being a war
      orphan was that he could get free medical treatment, such as it was.
      Long before antibiotics were developed for pulmonary tuberculosis,
      the treatment was to force air into the pleurum, collapsing his
      affected right lung. It was believed the lesions could heal quicker
      this way. The collapse treatment would be given every week or two,
      and X-rays taken until improvement was seen. In `35 when he and
      Simone had traveled to the Balearic Islands and then back along the
      North African coast, his left lung became infected; but he initially
      attributed it to the `flu' or black-water fever. His TB would be the
      sole reason he couldn't obtain his certificate for advanced teaching
      (philosophy). Despite his doctors giving him a wonderful
      prognosis, `considered cured, no relapse to be feared', the Surgeon
      General of Algeria wouldn't medically certify Camus 'to avoid paying
      pensions to invalids.' With teaching gone as a career possibility, he
      would take many diverse jobs, including substitute teaching, all
      marking time until he would become an established writer. His writing
      career essentially began when he became a journalist.

      Camus had to give up many of the outdoor activities he so enjoyed,
      swimming, camping, soccer, attending boxing matches, or most things
      that required strength and good aerobic health. Sometimes he'd even
      be too weak to travel, socialize, or work with any intensity. He was
      often unemployed and took anything he could find just to get by. He
      made no money giving speeches for the communists and none in his
      theatre productions. He continued to write essays and began a novel
      while desperately trying to find his own voice, his own style which
      proved immensely frustrating for him. He knew he had the passion for
      his writing but was striving to edit out an excess of self-analysis
      and sentimentality and hone the journalistic style of prose for which
      he would eventually become famous. He was striving for an honesty and
      a giving of proper eloquence to the absurd. In late `33 he already
      knew it would be years before he could even begin. "I've given myself
      four years to write the works I want, because my illness will not
      allow me more than that ... When we're twenty we think we have
      rights, but I am more and more convinced that we only have duties."
      He warned his friend Freminville about "the facility that spoils the
      finest works ... I am so weary and broken ... I feel myself getting
      old, at twenty ... I know very well that I am suffering, and living
      fully. I know that the sublime cannot do with the tragic." Camus was
      going through "days of bitterness and unbelief . . . We are all
      striving to mask with prepared language our desperate search for an
      unadorned and simple truth, that our condition is hopeless ... What
      saves us during our worst suffering is the sense of being abandoned
      and alon ...Our abandonment braces and exalts us while we are
      endlessly sad. Happiness is often no more than the sense of pity
      about our own misery." After his break with Simone, "At least it was
      good to have had a great love, an unhappy passion in one's life." His
      life was about to change dramatically.

      While he continued to see and express the absurd, he plunged headlong
      into a frenzy of activism which expressed itself mainly through his
      brief encounter with communism, political and philosophical theatre,
      and most importantly journalism. It was during his experience writing
      for Algerian newspapers that he wielded the power of the pen. He took
      on just about every social evil, often becoming personally involved
      in court cases. His compassion for the outcast and victimized was
      undoubtedly related to his own childhood; but I get the impression
      that as he matured, he didn't feel sorry for himself at all. His
      bravery in attacking social ills was well established before he left
      for Paris. His joir de vivre and his vociferous journalism often
      gained the attention of unwanted critics. Eventually, Algeria shut
      down the leftist press.

      Returning to Algiers in `35 and without Simone, he had met two women
      from Oran who became lifelong friends. Marguerite Dobrenn and Jeanne
      Sicard were an inseparable couple, and Albert didn't have to waste
      time trying to seduce them. He likened them to daughters and always
      enjoyed their company. Another friend , Jeanne Terracini would later
      marry, yet she and Camus remained friends. In `36 after his ill-fated
      European vacation, he eventually ended up in living with Marguerite
      and Jeanne and their new friend, Christiane Galindo. He was
      commissioned by the couple to find Christiane a job, which he did
      even though he couldn't find one for himself. In the Fichu House,
      along with the four of them, were Camus' pets: Kirk, a dog; Cali, a
      red cat; and Gula, a black cat. The couple (Marguerite and Jeanne)
      were members of the communist intellectual circle for a short time
      with Camus. Along with Christiane, the two women also participated in
      his theater group, Theatre du Travail. Most of these friends,
      including Terracini and her Italian husband, would end up in Paris
      together. In `37 he and Christiane became lovers in `in a long and
      tender relationship'. She was beautiful and generous, and unlike
      Simone, had a healthy personality. Later she would marry Julio
      Davila, her brother's friend, but Camus would continue to visit and
      correspond with her for many years. Christiane's brother Pierre
      became one of Camus' best friends. Albert's dream was for the four of
      them to buy a farm together in Algeria. He not only gathered lovers,
      he gathered lifetime friends. It seems that his conviction against
      marriage would only take him so far. In a few years he would marry
      again.

      Mary Jo
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