Our Man in Golders Green

Even now, when I see the red  No.82 Metroline bus to North Finchley from Victoria station, my heart lurches a little, and I want to jump on to it  once again, and take that magical 10 mile journey to Martin’s home.

I feel a Betjemanesque joy at the marvels to be seen en route : Lord’s Cricket Ground, the Francis Holland school; the tube stations – St.John’s Wood and Finchley Road. And then my destination : the Refectory pub in Golders Green, where white-suited Martin, is normally sitting outside ( weather-permitting), writing in his Moleskine notebook, and drinking a glass of white wine, while waiting for me to arrive.

Martin is always very punctual. I must’nt be late.

Here is a man straight out of ‘Greeneland’; reminiscent of the foreign correspondent, Fowler, in The Quiet American, or Charles Fortnum, in  The Honarary Consul.( In fact, when Martin told me that he never drank water, I recalled Fortnum making the same remark to Plarr, and I wondered if this was a delightful literary ‘in-joke’ on Martin’s part)!

But to label Martin as a Graham Greene-ish ‘anti-hero’ would be so wrong. So one dimensional. These are just playful ‘nuances’.because Martin is a warmer, kinder and more authentic man

He is also immensely attractive and charismatic; and I was utterly beguiled by him from our first meeting.

An enchantment had begun.

Celine pt.5

The meeting eventually took place in Meudon. Bob then wrote a piece about it, which was published in the legendary ‘Evergreen Review’, founded by the late Barnet Lee ‘Barney Fosset ( 1922-2012).

The article can be accessed from the ‘Evergreen Review’ archives – made available on their website in October 2013. I presume that the ;ER’ must have sole copyright of Bob’s work.

However, here are some tantalizing extracts:

C: I am almost 67 – in May I shall be 67…to do this torture.the hardest job in the world’.

Gallimard, his publisher, had just published his latest book, North.

BS: ‘There is a great deal of interest in you In America’

C: ‘What interest? Who is interested? People are interested in Marlene Dietrich and insurance – that’s all’.

N.B.  The US- based ‘Evergreen Review’ existed between 1957-73. In its time it published work by Camus,Ferlinghetti, Beckett, Edward Albee,Brecht, Borges, Bukowski, Nabokov, Burroughs et al,

Celine pt.4

Bob’s sole intention ,while he remained in Paris, however, was to accept Celine’s invitation and  to visit him at his house in Meudon.  But this required courage.

After all, Bob was a Jewish boy from New Jersey; and he was about to interview a virulent and rabid anti-semite.

He was not the only one to be attracted and dazzled by Celine’s remarkable and revolutionary prose style,

Both Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs had made the journey to talk to Celine in his Paris flat before him. He was to be much admired by many American writers in the future.


(Errata: the year Robert Stromberg travelled to Meudon to interview Celine  was early in  1961, not 1962, as written earlier). Celine died later that year), so the interview that he gave to Bob was one of the last ). Also, Bob was born in 1923, so he was 38 when he and Celine met). Apologies for these errors.

Tracking down Louis- Ferdinand  Destouches ( aka ‘Celine’) wasn’t easy, but Bob had been an investigative journalist on WWD, and later for Reuter’s news agency in London; during his peripatetic life ,and  the introductory letter that he sent Celine  must have impressed the writer.

The fact that Bob was American, too, may have been in his favour.

A time and date was arranged, and Bob then travelled to Meudon, ‘on the fringe’ of Paris, as Bob wrote. There, Celine lived with his  wife, Lucette Almanzor, who owned  the house (  three-storey nineteenth century made of wood and mortar),  and about half-a-dozen dogs ‘as near as I could count’.

But before he left for the meeting, Bob read as much by Celine and about the man as he could.  He read ‘Death on the Installment Plan’, which he  admired almost as much as much as ‘Voyage au bout de la Nuit’, and learned as much as he could about the reputation of the man. None of it good.

Meanwhile, he was in Paris for the first time in his life. Walking  the streets taken by Joyce, Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings – and Hemingway, who, conincidentally, was also to die in 1961,  He felt an affinity for the bars and haunts that so many fellow Americans writers had visited before him.  And, of course, he visited Sylvia Beach’s iconic bookshop ‘Shakespeare and Company’ in the rue de l’Odeon.   ‘Mme Shakespeare’, as Hemingway called Sylvia Beach  provided  a haven/salon//mail drop service for a large coterie of writers here at ‘The Quarter’ – a  salon that rivalled, but never surpassed the other great gathering place for writers and painters: Gertude Stein’s magnificent salon-studio in the rue de Fleurus

The Man who met Celine

It is said that when Bob Stromberg came to live in ‘The Village’, that is Greenwich Village, New York, that he had just been sacked as a journalist on ‘ Women’s Wear Daily’, and that he was now planning to become a full-time writer.

Whether or not this was the case, I am not sure. But, he was thirty; it was 1960, and ‘The Village’ was the perfect place to hang out and listen to jazz. Or to become ‘a bum, a loser,a has-been,a schmuck’, as his old man was always calling him.

One thing we do know for certain, is that he lived across the street from the painter, Edward Hopper. We know this because Bob wrote detailed accounts in his diaries from 1960-62 about the comings and goings of Hopper, who was tall, slightly-stooped, and liked to buy his fresh fruit and vegetables from the market stalls every day.

I like to think that Bob may’ve seen that other great ‘Bob’ of the time – Dylan, or Zimmerman by birth, playing in one of the local bars at night.

I do not know if he did, for sure, but I can picture him dressed in a black, roll-necked sweater, being hip and living the existential life of a youngish beaknik.