Wrapping things up…

Hi there. This blog has been mostly dormant for a long time, as I’ve moved my day-to-day blogging output over to tumblr. I have less time/inclination these days to write at length, so tumblr’s format fits better with how I’ve been blogging about books and book collecting. I started this blog about eight years ago as a place to write about my interest in earning extra income flipping books, which is something I never do anymore. Fairly early on, I wrote a long essay about my favorite artist, Luigi Serafini, and that post has become the flagship feature of the blog ever since. I get almost all of my traffic from people finding that page, and it has become one of the primary sources of information in English on Serafini’s work – especially to those looking to collect his books. Unfortunately, it’s now years out of date, and Serafini’s profile has increased considerably in the US in the years since I wrote it. As a result, I plan to do a significant rewrite at some point, but I have a number of other projects I need to finish first.

As a result, this post will probably be the last new update on this blog, at least for a long time. I don’t plan to take the blog down (except for maybe removing some older posts that no longer provide information that is useful to anyone due to my inexperience when I wrote them), so if you’ve used it as a source of information in the past, it isn’t going anywhere. I don’t foresee a mass outpouring of grief over this decision, given that I get around 20 hits a day on average, but if you did read the blog regularly, just know that it makes me incredibly gratified that anyone cares at all about what I have to say.

By way of conclusion, I thought it would be a nice way to come full circle if I wrote about my very eventful trip to Paris this past winter in order to attend a booksigning by Serafini himself. After all, a big focus of the blog was my quest to meet him someday, although this seemed like an incredibly remote possibility. I’d see reports of him popping up in Canada, but it always seemed like a random occurrence, and I realized that I was just going to have to bite the bullet and go to Europe to meet him. Still, it isn’t as if he hangs out in Rome with a sign inviting curious American fans to come sit down and ask him a bunch of questions.

That all changed last November, when I got an email from the largely defunct Serafini email list (which you can still sign up for on LuigiSerafini.com) announcing a signing at the Monte en L’Air bookstore in Paris. I waffled a lot about planning a trip to Europe on three weeks notice, but the simple fact was that this was my favorite artist doing a booksigning in my favorite city in the world at my favorite bookstore in the world on my birthday. I started furiously selling books on eBay to raise money for the trip, and I flew from San Francisco to New York to Oslo and then to Paris in order to save money. Forty hours of travel each way for four days in Paris! I was jetlagged for a month afterward, but it didn’t matter, because the trip turned out better than I ever could have imagined.

Evite_Codex (1)

The travel was a drag (I don’t recommend a six hour layover in Oslo after flying all night from New York), but I woke up the next morning (nearly two days after I left) feeling refreshed, because I absolutley love Paris. The signing wasn’t for a couple days, but I had lined up some appointments with other artists I wanted to meet, and there’s literally nothing I’d rather do on a vacation than wander aimlessly around Paris.

The day of the signing, I had spent most of the afternoon with Pierre Clement, an incredible artist in his own right and someone whose work I have begun to collect in earnest. After a wonderful lunch with Pierre and his wife Michèle, I had to hoof it over to Monte en L’air to get there in time for the signing. It was a beautful Paris evening – cold and rainy, as if I’d want it any other way. After all my hurrying, I got to the signing a few minutes early, before most of the crowd had arrived. I walked in and saw Serafini milling around and talking to a couple other people, and it struck me that I was finally going to meet him after all these years. In my “Worlds of Serafini” essay, I even have a section about what question I would ask him if I ever met him in person – and believe me that this was not a pragmatic question, but rather a hypothetical on par with how I’d manage my millions of dollars if I won the lottery.

I mustered up all my courage and approached him to let him know that I had traveled all the way from San Francisco for the signing and that it was a great pleasure to meet him. He was perfectly polite, and he even said my name sounded familiar – maybe he had read my essay after all? I had tried a bunch of times in the past to get him a copy of it, sending it to gallerists in Italy who promised to pass it along to him without ever following through. But just the idea that my name rang a bell for him was pretty cool.

The presentation included a moderator as well as two scholars from the University of Paris who interviewed Serafini and read short essays about his work. At one point, the conversation turned to how his work has been received differently in different places around the world, and it came up that the sense of mystery around Serafini is more pronounced in the US than anywhere else in the world. In fact, it was even rumored for a long time over here that Serafini wasn’t a real person, and that the true author of the Codex was shrouded in secrecy. Much to my shock, Serafini then pointed at me (standing all the way in the back) and said, “Why don’t we have Jordan come up and say a few words? He’s Amercian, so he can surely speak to this question!” Now, I do speak French, but it’s halting, error-strewn French. And I haven’t spoken French in front of a room full of 50-100 literate French people since, well, ever.

With my stomach in my throat, I went up to the front and took the mic to answer some questions and speak a little bit about how I discovered the Codex. My story about finding it sitting on the front desk at a hotel in rural Ecuador is a good one, and I was retroactively glad that I found out about it in such a cool way, rather than just reading about it on the internet! It just goes to show you – travel the world, since you never know what you’ll find.

The hardest question to answer was the first one, asked by the moderator: “And who are you?” I try to keep a pretty low profile, and it was tough to justify why I was suddenly standing up in front of this room full of people. But I mentioned Chance Press, and being able to say that I was a publisher of sorts gave me some credibility in this forum, and I even got a chance to make some jokes about wondering what I’d say if I ever met Serafini and then not being able to think of any questions now that I was standing right in front of him. You can see a recap that aired on French TV here (I’m the painfully obviously Amercan guy about halfway through the video).

I finished my impromptu interview and receded into the background to wait for the signing. I had no idea how the signing would go – I brought my first edition of the Codex as well as my copy of the Pulcinellopedia Piccola to be signed, but I didn’t know if I would even get the opportunity to get signatures in any books I didn’t buy directly from the bookstore. It turned otu that Serafini was generous with his signatures, writing lengthy dedications in Serafinian script in addition to his signature. The fact that this was his first booksigning in Paris might have also encouraged him to take good care of his fans. It made for quite a wait in line, though (not that anyone was complaining). I finally got up to the front, and he said, “Wait, you’re coming out to dinner with us, right?” “… Uhh…, well…, if you’re inviting me!” “Yes, yes, come to dinner with us, and I’ll sign your books there!” I graciously accepted, trying to play it as cool as I could before texting Justine “FUCKING LUIGI FUCKING SERAFINI JUST FUCKING INVITED ME TO FUCKING DINNER WITH HIM!” (Apologies to anyone who thought I was refined enough not to use repeated f-bombs for effect in texts to my wife.)

After a while (time I used to browse the seemingly endless selection of amazing books at Monte en L’Air), the signing wrapped up, and it was time to head to dinner. I was seated at the end of a long table next to the owner of the bookstore and Rizzoli’s French distributor, and much as I tried to keep up, I quickly got lost in the conversation. Dinner was a lively affair though, and I eventually had the pleasure of meeting some of Serafini’s close friends as well as a good long while talking with Serafini himself. Oh, and I met Claude Levi-Strauss’s widow – that’s the kind of night this was. When I let it slip that it was my birthday, all hell broke loose, and the whole table sang Happy Birthday to me as I blushed uncontrollably.

Finally, as the dinner wound down, Serafini came over and signed my two books, writing a very elegant inscription in my copy of the Codex and adding an original drawing to my copy of the Pulcinellopedia. Seeing him freehand a drawing of the Pulcinella character 30 years after the book was published was pretty amazing. I’ve spent the better part of the last decade enthralled by his art, so seeing it come forth directly from his pen was a thing to behold.

Given this experience, it felt like a good time to close up this blog, at least in its current form. I’ve spent hours upon hours ruminating on the man and his work, and finally meeting him provided some closure to all the open-ended questions I had been kicking around. Oh, and in case you were wondering: no, the text of the Codex cannot be translated. So, even if you get to meet Serafini in person like I did, his work won’t lose any of the mystery that makes it so special.

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2 Responses to “Wrapping things up…”


  1. 1 Geoff Coupe April 20, 2015 at 12:44 am

    Thank you for your blog, and this particular tale. Congratulations on your good fortune!

  2. 2 Emily September 29, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Your posts on Serafini have been fascinating reading. I’ve actually managed to get the Kafka book with Serafini’s illustrations (which I learned about through this blog), through Interlibrary Loan. If you haven’t seen it already, one of Serafini’s Kafka illustrations can be seen in this post:
    http://www.rarebooksdigest.com/2012/08/20/the-inspiration-of-franz-kafka/
    His other illustrations are much the same in style and content, blueprint-like sketches of the colony’s execution machine. Very different from the style of the Codex, but I think there is a similar fascination with elaborate machines.


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