Friday, March 11, 2022

"Je t’embrasse sur le cœur" ~ the 129th anniversary of the "Cher petit Biqui" letter

One of two portraits
of Suzanne Valadon
by Erik Satie

Today is the 129th anniversary of the only known surviving love letter from Erik Satie to Suzanne Valadon.

This is significant to me personally, since Satie's relationship with Valadon is the inspiration for my play LE CHAT NOIR.

Satie wrote many letters and postcards, one of which got him sued, and images of them can be seen online. There is one currently available for sale for $5,000 and I admit I am tempted to buy it.

But the only online image of the Satie letter from March 11, 1893 is on somebody's Tumblr account. And it's only part of the letter and the image cuts off part of his signature.

The reason that this letter is so special is because it was written during their 6-month long affair, and because it survives. After Satie's death, his friends entered his apartment, and in addition to absolute squalor, found a number of letters (nobody seems to know exactly how many) written to Valadon, but never mailed. Satie's brother took them to Valadon, and she burned them all. 

I'm not the only one fascinated by this. In 2013 the BBC ran a program created by British media personality Alistair McGowan called The unsent love letters of Erik Satie.

It's pretty good except for the inevitable inaccuracies, like McGowan claims Valadon was 25 during the affair, but she was 27. 

McGowan has also written two dramatic works about Satie, Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear and more recently Erik Satie's Faction.

A composer, Elena Kats-Chernin, wrote a series of piano pieces called UNSENT LOVE LETTERS

The surviving Satie letter in the original French:
Cher petit Biqui            
Impossiblede rester sans penser à tout            
ton être ; tu es en moi toute entière ; partout            
je ne vois que tes yeux            
exquis, tes mains douces            
et tes petits pieds d’enfant.            
Toi tu es heureuse ; ce n’est pasma pauvre pensée qui ridera ton front transparent ;            
non plus que l’ennui de ne point me voir.            
Pour moi il n’y a que la glacialesolitude qui met du vide dans la tête            
et de la tristesse plein le cœur.            
N’oublie pas que ton pauvre amiespère te voir au moins à un de ces trois rendez-vous :             
1° Ce soir à 9 heures moins le quart de chez moi            
2° Demain matin encore chez moi            
3° Demain soir chez Devé (Maison Olivier) 
J’ajoute, Biqui chéri, que je ne me mettrainullement en furie si tu ne peux venir à ces rendez-vous ;            
maintenant je suis devenu terriblement raisonnable ;            
et malgré            
le grand bonheur que j’ai à te voirje commence à comprendre que tu ne peux point toujours            
faire ce que tu veux.Tu vois, petit Biqui, qu’il y a commencement à tout.             
Je t’embrasse sur le cœur.  
Erik Satie


Dear little Biqui
Impossible to stay without thinking of everything
your being; you are in me completely; everywhere
I only see your eyes
exquisite, your soft hands
and your little child's feet.
You are happy; it is not my poor thought that will wrinkle your transparent brow;
no more than the boredom of not seeing me.
For me there is only the icy loneliness that puts emptiness in the head
and sadness fills the heart. 
Don't forget that your poor friend hopes to see you on at least one of these three dates:
1° Tonight at a quarter to 9 from home
2° Tomorrow morning still at my house
3° Tomorrow evening at Devé's (Maison Olivier) 
I would add, dear Biqui, that I will not get angry at all if you cannot come to these appointments;
now I have become terribly reasonable;
and despite
the great happiness that I have to see you I begin to understand that you cannot always do what you want. You see, little Biqui, that there is a beginning to everything. 
I kiss you on the heart. 
Erik Satie

The image I found, online, of this letter, starts in the middle, with "don't forget that your poor friend" - "n'oublie pas que ton pauvre ami..."

The letter is read aloud, lightly edited and almost complete, in my play.

Friday, March 04, 2022

No, Erik Satie did not only eat white foods(!!!)

When you research the life of Erik Satie you will inevitably find many people claiming, in all sincerity, that Erik Satie only ate white foods. 

With radio documentaries and a BBC Prom on the composer to his name, comedian and actor Alistair McGowan is fast becoming the go-to man for all things Satie. He's accepted seeing reflections between the musician's eccentricities – this was the composer who notoriously ate only white food, had identical suits for every day of the week, and wrote 'pieces in the form of a pear' – and his own status as a bit of an outsider in the world of showbiz.

I regret to admit I took the claim at face value myself, before I started to do my own research.

The white food claim is based on an essay that Satie wrote for the February 1913 issue of La Revue Musicale S. I. M.  And since a digitized version of the issue is available online, here is exactly what the article looked like on the printed page.

Satie wrote a series of articles for this publication, grouped under the title "Memoires d'un amnesiac."

Even without translation it's pretty clear that means "memoires of an amnesiac" which of course is a deliberately absurdist title. This particular installment is entitled "The day of a musician."

And the translation is:

The artist must regulate his life.

Here is the precise schedule of my daily acts:

My get up: at 7:18 am; inspired: from 10:23 a.m. to 11:47 a.m. I have lunch at 12:11 p.m. and leave the table at 12:14 p.m.

Salutary horseback riding, in the back of my park: from 1:19 p.m. to 2:53 p.m. Other inspiration: from 3:12 p.m. to 4:07 p.m.

Various occupations (fencing, reflections, immobility, visits, contemplation, dexterity, swimming, etc.): from 4:21 p.m. to 6:47 p.m.

Dinner is served at 7:16 p.m. and finished at 7:20 p.m. Come symphonic readings, aloud: from 8:09 p.m. to 9:59 p.m.

My bedtime is regularly at 10:37 p.m. Weekly, waking up with a start at 3:19 a.m. (Tuesday).

I only eat white foods: eggs, sugar, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water; fruit molds, rice, turnips; camphorated blood sausage, pasta, (white) cheese, cotton salad and certain fish (skinless).

I boil my wine, which I drink cold with fuchsia juice. I have a good appetite; but I never talk while eating, for fear of choking.

I breathe carefully (little at a time). I dance very rarely. As I walk, I hold my ribs and stare behind me.

Looking very serious, if I laugh, it's without doing it on purpose. I apologize always and with affability.

I sleep with one eye open; my sleep is very hard. My bed is round, pierced with a hole for the passage of the head. Every hour, a servant takes my temperature and gives me another one.

For a long time, I have subscribed to a fashion journal. I wear a white cap, white stockings and a white vest.

My doctor always told me to smoke. He adds to his advice: — Smoke, my friend: otherwise, someone else will smoke in your place.

This is clearly meant to be extremely silly and nobody could possibly take this seriously. Also, Satie claims he has a horse, and a park, and a servant. The same people who credulously repeat Satie's alleged eating habits never mention those things. Because if you know even the basics of Satie's life, you know he was poor his entire adult life except on rare brief occasions. 

We know what Satie really ate - whatever he could get, preferably at a dinner party given by one of his wealthy friends. 

And yet in spite of all the information available for free online, people keep claiming Satie ate only white foods:
  • He ate only white food, lived alone, and owned seven identical grey velvet suits which he wore every day of his life.
This one is from the allegedly journalistically respectable Guardian(!):
  • The stories of his peculiarity are legion. The one-man religious sect he established in Montmartre in the 1890s. The crazy titles of his piano pieces. The purchase of seven identical, grey velvet corduroy suits which he proceeded to wear, with no variation, for 10 years. His claim that he only ever ate food that was white.
I guess they figure, "well if he gave crazy titles to some of his piano pieces, he's capable of anything, so why bother doing any research?"

I've even seen one biographer invent a conversation in which Satie confides his alleged eating habits to Valadon. Biography and journalism are professions full of the lazy, the careless and shameless bullshit artists.