I began serious research on Paris Red in 2005. But my interest in Victorine Meurent and my connection to the material began much earlier.
In 1986, I had a conversation with a friend about Olympia. He was studying art history, and we fell into talking about the painting one day in the dining room of 338 9th Street, a house in Brooklyn I shared with four other people. Sun streamed in the windows as he and I talked. I won’t say how exactly, but a tiny part of that conversation made it into Paris Red.
In 1983, I saw Olympia at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris:
Those are two important pieces of the puzzle. But to get to the real heart of how Paris Red began, I have to go back to Dorsoduro in Venice. Yes, I have to go to Venice, not Paris, because fiction is like that, at least for me. I borrow anything I need for the sake of the story.
So it’s still 1983. My friend Lina and I spend hours walking in the city with a man we meet on the street. A Venetian. We talk and laugh and tease, the three of us. The teasing quickly becomes serious.
There’s a kiss on the street.
I know exactly who I was at that time because of the photos Lina took. She snapped the picture of me drawing at the top of this post, as well as this shot:
The night Lina took this photo, she and I had been out walking with the man. When we got back to our room, I said to her, Take my picture. I feel beautiful.
Paris, 1862 and Venice, 1983. Victorine and me. It might not make sense until you read the book, but that was where Paris Red started. That’s how the whole thing began.