By Barry Miles
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Extra info for The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs & Corso in Paris, 1957-1963
There was a romantic view of medieval roofs and chimneys of the rue Git-le-Coeur, and five buildings down, at the end of the street, they could see the Seine with the row of booksellers along the quai and, in the middle of the river, on the Ile de la Cité, the solid towers of the Palais de Justice. A large gray bird “with rat’s eyes” stared in at them from the eaves. The poets were finally in a Paris artist’s garret. The bed had two mattresses, piled one atop the other, and it sagged in the middle.
The cheap rent and permissive atmosphere fostered a climate of freedom and creativity unfettered by financial concerns. As non–French speakers, they had no involvement with French culture and the issues of the day, nor were they restricted by rules with which the French lived, simply because they were ignorant of them. As Jean-Jacques Lebel put it, “They were on an island, isolated in this magic little paradise full of rats and bad smells. ” The Beat Hotel offered the freedom to be idle or to work with passionate intensity, to while away the day in cafés or to talk through the night.
In Paris Gregory quickly found where the writers and artists liked to meet and introduced himself. He met both Marlon Brando and Jean Genet this way. He and Genet had both been in jail as adolescents and had enough in common to develop a rapport, albeit a stormy one based largely on trading insults: Gregory would accuse Genet and the French in general of decadence and Genet would expiate his dislike of Americans and their inability to speak French. Genet enjoyed the friendly banter well enough to arrange for Gregory to stay in a friend’s apartment for the summer, but when the friend returned he found that Gregory had painted pictures on the living room walls and threw” him out.