Searching for someone called Francois Raymond on the outskirts of Paris is probably a little like looking for a specific John Smith in London. Who is Francois Raymond? The one I’m looking for exhibited a series of six photographs of my mother Julia Callan-Thompson as part of an exhibition entitled Exposition Tamrauc at the Maison de Jeunes et de la Culture (Paris) in October 1967. I have two prints of just one of these photographs, and rubber stamped on the back of one of them is an address: Francois Raymond, 37 Rue Gambetta, Puteaux (Seine). I’d like to acquire copies of all the photographs Raymond took of my mother, which is why I’ve been attempting to track him down…
Virtually every town in France seems to have a street named after the nineteenth-century French politician Leon Gambetta – so the fact that someone with a name as common as Raymond’s should have an address on one such street seemed psychogeographically apt to me. There is another Rue Gambetta in the neighbouring commune of Suresnes, which is a ten minute walk from the street of that name in Puteaux.
On my first visit to Puteaux I approached Run Gambetta via La Defense, the Paris business district. Two thirds of this high-rise office development is situated within the Putueax municipality, although parts also encroach upon Nanterre and Courbevoie. As a consequence, Puteaux is one of the richest municipalities not just in France, but the whole of Europe. Initially I was a little confused by the lay-out of La Defense but I managed to walk out of it and along to Rue Gambetta without wasting too much time. Raymond’s street was a mix of old and new dwellings, with a monstrous vista of La Defense. The view towards Paris must have been very different in 1967 when Raymond took the pictures he exhibited of my mother.
37 Rue Gambetta turned out to be an apartment block. The outside had been refaced and the balconies replaced relatively recently, but close examination of the structure, the garages behind it, and in particular the doors, led me to the conclusion it had probably been built in the 1950s. It seems safe to conclude that Raymond had lived and/or worked in this building around 40 years before my visit to it. I examined the buzzers to the flats but none of these were labeled with the name Raymond. Next I tried stopping people on the street outside the building but no one knew of a Francois Raymond who had lived there.
I went back to Puteax a couple of days later, approaching it on foot via the bridge over the Seine. This time I went first via Boulevard Richard Wallace (presumably the street is named after the illegitimate son of the Marquess of Hertford, a 19th century ‘philantropist’ and art collector), to Rue Gambetta in Suresnes, since I wished to compare it with the Puteaux street of that name. This second Rue Gambetta looked a little less well-heeled than the one in Puteaux, and was considerably less ambient. Both lie in municipalities that are densely populated by European standards. This second trip to Puteaux seemed to take me no further in my quest for Francois Raymond and his lost pictures of my mother than my previous one. However, rather than walking back to La Defense, I decided to take the suburban train there from Puteaux.
Approaching the train station I clocked a couple of pissheads who were weaving so erratically on the pavement that I decided to let them get a little ahead of me as we all approached the escalators up to the platform. The drunks looked like a working class couple in their late-sixties, and they were pretty hefty too. As they reached the escalator, the woman – who’d gone ahead – placed a foot not on the first or second steps which were closest to her and still flat, but the third step that was rising; having done this, she quickly brought her other foot up onto the escalator and placed it beside the right one. The man attempted to do the same thing and lost his balance, grabbing hold of the woman as he did so.
I run forward and caught both the man and the woman. If I hadn’t the man would have certainly bashed his head on the metal stairs and this might have resulted in a nasty injury or even worse. The pair of them were heavy and behaved like a dead weight. I thought the woman would pull herself upright, and then that the man would do the same. When this didn’t happen, another passerby took the woman’s hand to help her, but it seemed she was too drunk to stand up. I held this fat and heavy couple up until we reached the top of the escalator, where the woman rolled awkwardly off the stairs and the man managed to get himself upright.
The first thing the man did was check that none of the multiple bottles of wine in the plastic bag he’d been carrying had been smashed, and amazingly they were all in one piece. I rescued one of the woman’s shoes which had come off, another passerby returned the other. I hoped that once the woman had her shoes on she would get up, but she was too dazed. By this time a small crowd were trying to help the couple, particularly the woman. Since neither of them were able to understand my English and odd words of French, I decided to leave them in the hands of the native speakers who’d come to their assistance after me.
As I made my way towards a train, the man shouted ‘merci’ at me. My impression was that neither he nor the woman were fully aware of what had happened, but he at least knew I’d caught them both as they were falling. Once I was on the train and speeding toward the centre of Paris, I realised I should have asked the man if he was or knew Francois Raymond. Obviously it is unlikely he was Raymond, although I guess he was about the same age as the man I was looking for, and if he’d lived in Puteaux most of his life he may have known him… This chance encounter on an escalator seems as close as I’m going to get to the elusive Monsieur Raymond for the time being. That said, he can’t be any more elusive than my mother, who changed her name by deed poll in the early sixties and then rarely used her full legal name; more than one person has told me they’ve never heard of Julia Callan-Thompson, but upon being told other names she went by and given contextual information to place her, they realise she was indeed somebody they knew way back when!
BTW: several sequences in my short In The Street Today were shot in Puteaux; towards the end of it the actual escalators on which I prevented the drunks from falling are featured, and the decorative night lights earlier in the video are situated right beside them. The soundtrack to the film is a looped recording I made of this particular set of Puteaux escalators (there is another set of identical escalators, not featured in my film, a little nearer Rue Gambetta).
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!
Comment by fi on 2009-11-11 08:49:05 +0000
Comment by Dave Kelso-Mitchell on 2009-11-11 12:45:40 +0000
Comment by raymond anderson on 2009-11-11 14:35:58 +0000
the exclamation mark in your hands becomes something else…
Comment by Tim on 2009-11-11 14:51:05 +0000
Very funny post. Glad to see the clochards haven’t entirely been cleared out of Paris. One thing I missed when I was back a couple of years ago – central Paris so incredibly sanitized (except for the metro).
Last time I was there in the late 80’s, it was much more grubby and attractive place.
Comment by anne p on 2009-11-11 19:05:41 +0000
will ahve a read and will get back to you!
Comment by Weitz & Luxenberg on 2009-11-11 20:24:54 +0000
“You’re falling onto a piece of metal at an uncontrolled speed. You’ll smash your head open.”
It’s simple. You tell me your problem, I’ll try to get you an answer.
Comment by Zen Mater K on 2009-11-11 23:59:55 +0000
This put the 70s punk tune “Escalator Hater” by Raped in my mind… and now I can’t stop it running around my brain!
Comment by Paul Conneally on 2009-11-12 01:08:03 +0000
Escalators to be made safe after Home saves the day:
Comment by Scott MacLeod on 2009-11-12 01:26:49 +0000
Someday a young Frenchman named Paul will wander the streets of Hackney looking for a blogger named Stuart Holmes who saved his pregnant mother from falling onto trains tracks. It was his father who’d pushed her. This Holmes fellow, described as sixty-ish, overweight with soft curly blond hair, was said to have fought the pusher to a bloody draw on… Read More the platform, allowing the pregnant woman to flee and give birth to Paul. Paul won’t find Mr. Holmes but will by his mere presence inadvertently discourage a pickpocket from heisting a Mrs. Percy’s wallet, thus averting a chain of events that would have eventually resulted in the collapse of an interstellar bank fraud scheme. Tant pis.
Comment by Raymond Anderson on 2009-11-12 01:37:43 +0000
and they say storytelling is dead?
Comment by Paul Conneally on 2009-11-12 01:42:55 +0000
Stewart – the modern escalator (stepped) has big links to Paris and the 1900 exposition… wish you’d had the video going… it needs reconstructing…
Escalator = Scala Elevator
The escalator as we know it was designed by Charles Seeberger in 1897, who created the name ‘escalator’ from the word ‘scala’, which is Latin for steps and the word ‘elevator’, which had already been invented. … Read More
Charles Seeberger, together with the Otis Elevator Company produced the first commercial escalator in 1899 at the Otis factory in Yonkers, N.Y. The Seeberger-Otis wooden escalator won first prize at the Paris 1900 Exposition Universelle in France. Jesse Reno’s Coney Island ride success briefly made Jesse Reno into “the” escalator designer and he founded the Reno Electric Stairways and Conveyors company in 1902.
Charles Seeberger sold his patent rights for the escalator to the Otis Elevator Company in 1910, who also bought Jesse Reno’s escalator patent in 1911. Otis then came to dominate escalator production, and combined and improved the various designs of escalators.
Comment by The Real Tessie on 2009-11-12 02:16:04 +0000
Putain is French for whore, so surely Puteaux translates as Whoresville… you can’t fool me buster, so now you’re really gonna catch it when you get home!
Comment by fi on 2009-11-12 04:09:22 +0000
You are certainly getting your moneys worth out of your trip to Paris sweet!
Comment by Bob Dobbs on 2009-11-12 09:23:53 +0000
Repent, quit your job, slack off!
Comment by Faurobert on 2009-12-06 15:03:15 +0000
I knew very well Francois Raymond that belongs to the groupe Tamrauc. He is dead a long time ago, may be 30 years. He was young when he died. You can find some details about him and Tamrauc on my web site. I could find adresses of his family if you need something.