“Dear Paul Bowles”

by

06/04/2006

181 Sullivan Street, NY, NY 10012

Neighborhood: West Village

MOROCCAN LETTERS

Phase 1: The Seduction

Jane Bowles liked to call her husband, Paul, a spider. The spider is a dry creature, and she was referring to the spider’s thirst to lure its prey into his net and drain their fluids. She herself suffered that fate.

Bowles met Alfred Chester at a dinner party in New York in the winter of ‘62-’63, and she set out to attract him to Tangier. Brilliant and self-willed like Jane Bowles, Alfred Chester was free in a way a reserved WASP like Bowles could only wonder at. And perhaps Bowles, in an unproductive period during the difficult years coping with his wife’s breakdowns, thought Chester could help him break out of his shell.

On his part, Chester was fascinated by the famous writer, author of “Pages From Cold Point,” which had held our generation in thrall when it appeared in a New Directions Annual in 1950. When Bowles dangled Morocco before him, with all its exotic attractions, Chester was tempted, but almost immediately fled to Mexico with his lover Extro. The correspondence with Bowles, who had returned to Morocco, reveals the ambivalence of Chester’s feelings about Bowles, for he immediately sensed the danger of putting himself in the power of the older writer.

But Chester, who had gained sudden prominence on the New York literary scene as a critic, was even more frightened of what his success would mean to his creative life. Much as he was afraid of any net Bowles might be weaving for him, he saw himself being devoured by the literary scene before he had “arrived” as a fiction writer. Morocco offered an inexpensive escape, the possibilities of a less-complicated sex life, and an oriental culture congenial to his nature.

The letters begin in Veracruz, where Chester is full of complaints, especially about his hippie boyfriend, whom he uses as an excuse for not coming directly to Tangier. One can sense, in the unpublished other half of the correspondence, Bowles’ first urging Chester to come, then offering him his house, and even unheard of for tight-fisted Bowles, money. –Edward Field

To Paul Bowles Jan. 31, 1963, Veracruz, Mexico

Dear Paul:

I began a letter to you soon after you left [New York for Morocco], and am glad now I didn’t finish it. I was pretty obsessed [with Extro] at the time, which is the reason you now find me writing from Veracruz instead of Tangier, and succumbed to his idea of immediate departure. I don’t like it here. It is hot and humid like New York in August. We spent two weeks driving up and down the coast (he has to be near the water for fishing) from Tuzpan to the Yucatan looking for the kind of thing you find on the Mediterranean, an old cheap house. But nothing, so we came back to Veracruz and have taken this rather repulsive bungalow over from a couple of beatniks who look like Jesus Christ and sound like drugstore cowboys – “Been out on de fuckin street all night lookin to make a score” or “to score,” whatever is the right fuckin grammar. It is a little moderny tootsy house attached on both sides to identical structures. They called us maricones in the little Zocalo last night. Generally ideal. All I want to do now is write like mad and make enough money to get to Morocco before it gets much hotter. Though, as I said to Extro (who is mad for the weather), even if the heat is unendurable we have our love to keep us cold, which will give you an idea of how things are going.

My Burroughs review has brought in a gigantic correspondence, including requests from Horizon and the American Scholar to write for them. I’m saying yes to everybody for the money. And I’m going to finish my idiotic novel real fast, not only for the money, but also so as not to have to pay attention to the balmy tropics and my handsome lover, both of which (whom) irritate the shit out of me. I’ve asked Commentary to send you tear sheets of the reviews I’ve done for them, not only because I want you to read them, but because I’m applying for a Guggenheim to do a book of essays and would like you to be one of references. If it is okay with you.

I don’t know when was the last time you were in Mexico. I was here in 1950, just before I went to Europe. It is different, and I like it even less than I did the first time. I found only one place that I really like and that’s a town up in the mountains halfway between here and Tuxpan. The air and light were like Ibiza, and the people had a dignity that no one but the poorest, furthest out peasants have here. I suppose you know Veracuz, to which:Ugh!

We’ve been living and screwing in and around the car now for nearly a month, and our bodies have brought endless festivities to hungry mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and other nameless, winged or unwinged things. I am scabby and itchy and bloody and cranky.

I hope you’ll write to me, and more I hope we see each other soon again.

– Greetings from Alfred

To Paul Bowles March 19, 1963 – 181 Sullivan St., NYC

Je suis de retour et tout seul! Sic transit gloria Extri. We broke up in Veracuz and I left before anyone could change his mind and drove back to New York in four days. Oh it is good to be home. I am a little lonely and spent the day painting the bedroom to get all signs of love affair off the walls. I’ve nailed his panties to the wall like a trophy, but not in the bedroom. Eh bien, on recommence. If I get my Gug or some other money I’ll come to Tangier. meanwhile, I’ve returned to New York and find myself if not famous, heavily sought after. Publishers are chasing me. I’m having lunch with Epstein of Random and Haydn of Atheneum this week. But have had special delivery letters and pleas from Knopf, Harpers, and discovered that a story of mine has been included in Faber’s anthology of American stories with illustrious names like Capote, K.A. Porter, Saul Bellow, Jean Stafford, etc. Which reminds me. I stopped in at the 8th St. Bookstore yesterday and lo and behold you and I linked in the Transatlantic Review , to my great joy. If you correspond with McCrindle you probably knew about this. As I don’t, I don’t even rate a complimentary copy….Next day. Bob Silvers is in the hospital with a mysterious disease that has a name but no explanation: sarcoid. Susan [Sontag] and I are going up to see him this afternoon. You will remember them both (and me) from that evening at Ann Morrisett’s…I am envious of Marc Schleiffer being sent all over the place. Lasky of Encounter wrote and asked me to write something for them and I said (this was in Veracruz), Why don’t you send me to Cuba?, and then I never heard from him again. Also I asked him for money. It is a bad habit I have of always needing money, and worse of letting editors know I do. I think they think it makes me undesirable…I didn’t like Veracruz much. The week of carnival it was a little more interesting because good-looking people descended like gods and also a lot of rich fat Germans who kept giving Extro the eye and getting me nervous. The pot was very strong and I kept falling asleep every time I smoked it, so it seemed pointless. The last time I fell asleep on it, when I awoke mon amour avait disparu. If I’d stayed another day I could have eaten magic mushrooms, but my grief had killed my appetite. Yes, the cantinas are dull as hell, and the people are not nice. The faggots are just like faggots everywhere, dreary. Mostly I was with beatniks, whom I have learned to loathe, for any number of reasons, but mainly because they are backbiting little bitches. Never mind their Christ uniforms, they all seem to be closet queens are were full of little envies and jealousies about my menage. It was disgusting. I accused one of trying to play the other woman and he nearly strangled on my directness. Ca se fait pas! They are like a bunch of Victorian ladies with all their elaborate conventions of what is and isn’t done. Ugh! Are you going to get the Formentor prize or something? That would be nice…I’ve just done an article on Albee; it’s called ‘A Woolf in Chic Clothing’ . Comes out first of April in Commentary, and if you would be interested I’ll send it.

My Miller thing in Partisan has been a great success, Phillips tells me (everyone has been telling him so at cocktail parties), and he asked for anything for the next issue. I’m trying to sell him on a gorgeous story about two men called ‘From the Phoenix to the Unnamable Impossibly Beautiful Wild Bird’. But he will be afraid of it without doubt. I’m also booked for articles on Salinger and Genet, and a review of Rechy whom I deplore. Before I retire from contemporary criticism I want to do an essay on Durrell who is wonderful even if he is fake. I’ll review something of yours for the Tribune and make it sell a million copies. And also Edward’s poems. But the sad thing about all this is that I really can’t write a novel. I’ve been working on one, as you know, and it bores me. Such a long thing to do, and I just don’t believe in such long things. Stories yes. Or plays yes yes. But all these publishers get on my back and scream about novels…I just interrupted this letter to read the chapter I wrote in Veracruz and it isn’t bad. Perhaps I will go back to it now…Did you see Auden’s things on Wilde in the New Yorker ? Very daring. They seem to have gone mad what with Baldwin’s thing and now this. I’m trying to read those Eichman pieces but they are so dreary…It is so strange how full my life gets whenever I am at my emptiest like now. I don’t want to live alone ever again. I did it for three years, except for this or that week, and these past five months with Extro, and it is intolerable, but I want someone nice who doesn’t need pampering; and can look after my apartment and me and the dogs. Like a servant one screws. The kind of mate men used to have before the opposite sex disappeared with the suffragette movement. Also I think I want a son…Our first days in Veracruz we stayed in a hotel called the Campoamor. Isn’t that your street? We got ticks, crabs and everything else. Susan is here. So I close with affectionate greetings.

– Alfred.

To Paul Bowles April 2, 1963 – 181 Sullivan St, NY

Dear Paul:

In the same post as yours was a letter from the Gug saying no, so that is that, or anyway for the moment since Jason Epstein has apparently fallen in love with me and thinks I am next on the literary hit parade. I’m trying to induce him to give me a three-book contract and it is more likely than unlikely at the moment. It would be for the stories, this novel (whatever and if it turns out to be) and a collection of literary criticism. It is pretty clear that I’m in a pretty strong position nowadays. Phillips of Partisan invited me to a small party of made-its the other night, and everyone including Robert Lowell said, Oh I’ve heard so much about you. Phillips has also asked me to do a regular theater chronicle for Partisan , squeezing into Mary McCarthy’s old girdle (which I don’t really need, having lost twenty pounds in Veracuz), and I’ve agreed at least for one issue because he is sending me tickets to all the plays and that will be fun. If my agent can clear a thousand for me on the Random House deal – which may be difficult considering the amount of broken and unpaid contacts I am notorious for having behind me – I shall come to Tangier. Hooray! It is pretty clear that I can earn reasonable money for these reviews. Enough to keep myself on in any case…It took three weeks to miss Extro and then I did something awful, I mean both missed him and did something awful. I wrote and asked him to come back. I don’t know whether he will or not. It will depend on whether he has missed me enough to have forgotten that every day for five or six months he hated himself for having succumbed to his homosexuality. I hate living alone and I am really hopeless at finding people unless they throw themselves at me which is rare. Actually I’m not living alone. Irene [Fornes] is here most of the time, but it isn’t the same…I had a gigantic fight with Susan over a piece of chicken the other day and all the TRUTH came out. I have hated her for four years. Susan is going to be terribly famous very soon because Roger Strauss, her publisher, is mad about her and is going to make a big thing of her very boring novel…I don’ think Chutzpa is characteristic of beatniks so much as of younger people in general nowadays. Oddly enough, the beats are rather frightened of me usually, maybe because I am so much of a bum myself and am so obviously disapproving of them. We took a couple down from Mexico City to Veracruz in the car and I said not a word for most of the whole eight hours, partly because my stomach was sick but mainly because my heart was sick of them. The dominant one who looked like a pudgy Jesus Christ used the word “fuckin” to modify nearly every one of his phrases and nouns. Finally I asked him why he did it, and while he was dazed by the fact that I evidently didn’t find this very homme revolte, I added that it was a very rah-rah American boy thing to do. He was utterly humiliated and said he seldom used the word but had smoked too much pot that morning and it brought it on. I usually just accuse them of being middle class when they start getting clever. They are too dumb to question, and it annihilates them. If any of them ever challenge me on why I call them middle class, I don’t know what I’ll say. But I’m a quick thinker…I would answer that letter you got with a postcard saying: Sorry, but I love another. I don’t understand what he means by luxuriousness – sex? money? – of your living, and that bit about congruence of those (who?) who have…A man was murdered around the corner on Bleeker St. the other day. He owned the cafe Raffio and I knew him vaguely because he used to transport Canadian beatniks over the border during Extro’s regime chez moi, and I suspected him of drug traffic, and was not surprised to learn he was shot dead in the street. But it turned out an old Italian man who spoke no English murdered him because he had dispossessed him from his little apartment in order to enlarge the coffee shop. The street looked like a Hollywood movie for an hour or so, with the body lying in front of the liquor store and barricades and police reporters everywhere…Someone told me that Girodias has reissued my pornographic novel [Chariot of Flesh] and hasn’t paid me a cent or told me about it the wretch…Oh no, I have an unsolicited compliment for you from a friend who read The Sheltering Sky not too long ago, but suddenly I don’t feel like quoting it because I myself hate compliments for old work…I have been living on Demaxils and doing with little sleep and less food for a week while writing a review of Natalie Sarraute’s essays. I put her down like mad for justifying dullness. I sent it off today and though I am on the verge of collapse, the machine is still running and I simply can’t just rest or go for a walk in the park or see a movie or such. Spring, my friends have been telling me over the telephone, has arrived. A week ago at that, and I still have my sweaters on, the heaters burning and the windows shut. The buildings inspector has just arrived with my landlord as two of my ceilings collapsed. They’ve just gone up on the roof and will be duly shocked and horrified by all the dogshit. Ah yes. Ah yes. You say nothing of your friend. J’espere que tout va bien quand meme…I’ll send the New Yorker tear sheets on to you separately. A Life Full of Holes is such a beautiful title, and so exact. greetings and all good things to you.

– Alfred

To Paul Bowles April 8, 1963 – 181 Sullivan St., NYC

Paul –

Random will do my stories. Huge advance? Hooray.

-XXX, Alfred

To Paul Bowles May 17, 1963 – 181 Sullivan St., NYC

Dear Paul:

I’ve spent most of the morning licking my chops over my review of Rechy’s book which appeared yesterday in the New York Review. Licking my chops because everyone is now changing their minds about Rechy. Deliciously idiotic, the whole thing. But it’s a very funny piece and I’m sending it you separately with the Auden which I obviously never got around to mailing. I’m not sending the Eichmann pieces. I don’t know why. I just took them out of the envelope they’ve been in for weeks and I hate them.

I’m living off the reviews. But I’ve now retired for the next six months so I can write my novel begun last summer and now called Zavier (sic) because of a recent addition and subtraction in my life. I’m getting above 2000 from Random. In addition Girodias has brought out a new edition of my pornographic novel and promised my agent some money soon, so things look good for my travels, though God knows when that will be. I spent a month waiting for definite word, but have given up waiting for it, and am writing to you to say I don’t know what my plans are. I’m going up to a friend’s [Jean-Claude van Itallie] house in northern Massachusetts next week; it’s only five or six hours from here, but vastly deserted country, Charlemont, and there’ll be no one in the house but me. I’m a little scared but I want to get out of New York and I suppose friends will visit. I can have it as long as I want, more or less, and I’ll stay until I can afford to go elsewhere. Would it be mad to go to Tangier in the middle of the summer?

L’affaire Extro est fini depuis des semaines. Je lui ai ecrit de rentrer et il m’a telephone toute de suite pour me dire qu’il voulait bien. Why am I writing this with sudden pudeur in French? He wanted me to drive up and meet him the other side of the [Canadian] frontier since he’s a deportee, but the day was left open. He called three days later and said he didn’t want to come, did, didn’t, did, didn’t, would come by himself, would, wouldn’t. We ended up screaming at each other. And that was that. So I’m lonely again. And life is always especially difficult without Edward [Field]. He too is having a terrible time running around Europe and being bored. He got a huge Guggenheim grant, but all he wants to do is come back. The Grove Press is doing nothing about his book. I’ve tried organizing some reviews but haven’t got really far. I’m doing one myself for the Tribune and May Swenson I expect will write something somewhere. But it’s hopeless. I’ve ordered some copies and will send you one as soon as they come…Roger Strauss has fallen in love with Susan, so they will make a big thing of her book in the fall. He is apparently arranging with Show to serialize the novel and he got a story of hers in Harper’s Bazaar. C’est tellement literaire, etre belle femme, n’est-ce pas? Comme tu vois, je suis un grand moralist puisque je ne suis pas belle femme…I’m going to be thirty-five in September, meaning the end of my fifth seven-year cycle, and beginning of my eighth. I can feel the great changes inside me and am hopeful. I’m not so much at the mercy of my passions (but of course I’ve got nothing to be passionate about just now) and I feel stronger, tougher, and believe I can start producing a great deal. I want to be gigantically famous, and soon, and rich and soon. I’ve wanted this ever since I was twenty-two…I think I told you Partisan made me their theatre critic and I’ve been going to three or four plays for the last month, very exhausting. But I haven’t a thing to say. I enjoyed Beyond the Fringe. Did you see that? Very funny. And Six Characters is being done beautifully at the Martinique, but the play seems a little old-fashioned, all that illusion and reality talk. Mother Courage was badly acted by Anne Bancroft, but the play came through.

I’m giving Harriet driving lessons, so we drove up to Garrison, new York, last Sunday, a lovely summer day (it’s at last gotten warmish), and visited the Graymore Monastery. Very titillating. We had along with us an old delice of mine who’s a Jewish convert and works at the Catholic Worker and a friend, a renegade Catholic. Doubly, triply titillating. I bought a St. Jude medal (he’s Patron of the Impossible) which I now wear around my neck hung on a nylon fishing line. Very sexy. It’s amazing isn’t it how sexy religion (organized) is. Makes one think there must be something to the devil, after all.

Are you in the country? Is it hot? Everyone seems to be going to Tangier. As you said, like Eight Street. It sounds very glamorous you and Jane and Libby Holman and the maid and Taxi Tarzan. I am feeling very unglamorous, me and my dogs.

Are you Gemini? I would think you were. Bien des choses at toi et aux tiens. Affecteusement.

– Alfred

To Paul Bowles May 25, 1963 – 181 Sullivan St., NYC

Dear Paul,

I sent you a letter either the same day as the tear sheets or the day before, and obviously it never arrived, and I am a little disturbed because I talked of matters personal. Perhaps it has since come? Of Morocco I said this, that my contracts hadn’t came. But my agent now swears that Epstein swears I will have them soon, which will mean money within the next couple of weeks, which means I can book, if there are bookings, for something in June. Your new place [in Arcila] sounds delicious, and I am grateful for invitation to stay, but since I will be coming with dogs, maybe better get me a place nearby, any old thing will do for awhile. I presume that Asilah is the same as Arcila which is the only thing I can find on my map that sounds reasonably like. I think I will be glad to go. I feel a little eaten up by the literary scene and don’t want to be the Mary McCarthy of the Sixties. I do want to be a writer again…yes, I know you didn’t get a prize, but the Formentor is really so lousy that it is just as well, if not better. Did you ever sell film rights to Sheltering Sky? Two people at Columbia Pictures think it natural for the movies and are apparently bringing it up at a conference next week. A result of two coincidences, the second of which pushed hard enough to feel that if they buy it I merit dinner with champagne. Imagine, though, Hollywood mucking up that novel! I told them who your agents were…I said in my other letter that I was going to Massachusetts until my money came, but if it will be here soon enough, I suppose I won’t go there. As for Mme X. ( I am being discreet) I also told you that I had written her to come home, and in the course of two phone conversations everything fell to pieces. So c’est fini…I’m doing weight lifting to sublimate my physical impulses. I went up to Harlem last night with friends for the first time in two years and felt despised. Did you see Jimmy Baldwin’s face on the cover of Time?…We are having a cold but beautiful May, like a Raman February. The stars are operating a rebours pour tout le monde, et la solitude nous entoure. I am working on my novel, if it will turn into a novel. So far, it is an autobiography.

As I approach the great age of thirty-five I occurs to me that it is vulgar and unnatural of me to concern myself as extensively as I do with romance. I should in reality have children old enough to marry, and yet I myself am not. I want to go on having, as a man, what belongs to boys, and I am hurt and feel cheated that I can’t. I could, of course, if I were willing to teach, which I am not; I mean, if I were willing to convey my ocean of experience to the sponges gasping on the beach. The great thing about Extro was that he rejected me as a writer, as a thinker and left me with nothing to offer but myself which made me feel whole again. Myself, and the people around me, have nothing to teach but unlearning. As you will have guessed, these thoughts come out of an encounter. It was too boring to pretend I had anything to offer. Enthusiasm is gone, and there is no love. I guess no one over twenty-one ever feels he is wanted for the right reasons. Maybe I can have myself a little Arab wife in Morocco? I suppose it’s just time I cut out of new York. I’ve run it dry, or it has me. I hope my next letter to have more specific details of my departure.

Come ce sera bien de te revoir.

– Alfred

To Paul Bowles June 5, 1963 – 181 Sullivan St., NYC

Dear Paul:

Two other aerogrammes destroyed because of information superseded. As things stand now, I will have to fly if I want to get here before September. All boats are booked except in first class throughout the summer, especially the cheap cargoes. My problems are, or worries are, financial in part; not altogether, but the others are fairly unworthy of mention. Actually, given my advances plus other expected monies, given my debts plus air passage, I’ll be left with about 500 when I get there, though Girodias has sworn to my agent he will send her this month the 600 he promised for the new edition of my dirty novel. I’m not going to Massachusetts. I am, however, going briefly to Canada. I’ll give you one guess why. We’re going on a short holiday together to Quebec – for a week or ten days. It isn’t reconciliation. For one thing he’s committed himself again to that lousy coffee shop he used to own, which he now writes is “cool” and “sophisticated” (he believes in Shavian spelling), and wants me to see. I’ve agreed to come provided we go camping. I’m to be there on the 12th. But I’ll have put my deposit down on the plane before leaving. To tell the truth, I think it’s simply a matter of his having a hungry asshole and having to do a big show about being straight in Ottawa. Tu vas me pardonner ma vulgarite.

In any case it adds up to my leaving at the end of June or the first week of July. So, if the plane doesn’t crash, which I fully expect it to, I’ll see you before Sidi Kacem. In fact I should have a date before posting this.

Thursday. Bob Silvers has a special travel agent who may be able to get me on the Queen Frederika sailing 2 July. Of course I am an ass. It will be cheaper to fly, but I really can’t bear it. I’ve flown three times. But if I can’t get on a ship I’ll fly the last week in June. More later.

Later. As of right now, I’ll be sailing on the Jerusalem, Zim Line. Can you imagine? Sails the 21st of June to Gibraltar. I think 8 or 10 days. I can get on the constitution on the 1st of July but there seems no point in waiting. The only thing I’d wait for would be the Queen Frederika on the 2nd of July, just for the fun of it. (The Israelis are so straight; though I lived with one for nine years.) But the QF seems absolutely impenetrable. So you can be reasonably sure I’ll be ferrying over from Gibraltar about the 1st of July. I’m madly excited. Furiously. Really. Wildly. I can hardly believe I really want to go that much. I’ve decided not to meet Extro in fact lest he talk me into waiting for the off-season so I can take him.

This is all possible by the way because my agent has decided to give me the Random House money before their check comes. The contracts are signed. They forgot to send the voucher down or whatever.

Thanks for your offer. I don’t need it. Bless you. I bless you. I don’t think I would have the strength to crawl out without a bit of tugging.

I’ll write you next week with further details, if any.

-Alfred

Paul Bowles June 9, 1963 – 181 Sullivan St., NYC

Dear Paul:

Only a note. Sailing on Jerusalem 21 June to Gibraltar. Presumably landing 29 June. Ferry over regularly I presume. I understand the food is kosher. Mama’s got me back at last.

I went to court yesterday with my landlord who is trying to get me out on grounds I live with Susan Sontag. Since I was planning to give up the apartment anyway, the only reason I went was hoping or a financial settlement. And there was. He bought me out for 700, so je suis, ou serai, richissime. Everyone is madly envious of my apartment. Imagine. The lawyer said, how can you give up such a marvelous place? I said, how could you have divorced your lovely wife. Even if I hate Morocco, je me suis debarasse enfin be ce bureau be emerdement. I have a great feeling of freedom. Also the decision not to meet X has made me feel free though I am seized with guilt and grief every time I start to fall asleep and every morning when I awake.

Anyway, I’ve agreed to be out 17 June at 2 p.m. and will move down the street for four days. Dogs go to kennel till sailing time. If you should for any reason write me after the 15th, write me c/o Dennis Selby, 240 Sullivan St.

Oh I am thrilled to pieces. I’ve bought two pairs of shoes, two shirts, a powder blue linen jacket. I’m having a party on the roof tomorrow early evening. A sunset party. Bloody Marys. Just close friends to scavenge away my belongings. Most of which I got from them in the first place.

Even the dogs are excited. Terrified. They lurk in corners and growl, the way they always do when I pull the suitcases down. Columbina always thinks I’m going to desert her on Salamis at last. I suppose a rabies certificate and good health certificate are good enough for Morocco. They are for all other countries. But I can’t find out here because there is no Moroccan consul or Chamber of Commerce and the lines don’t know. Please find me some old house nearby. Take anything because whatever it is I won’t be satisfied. I never am unless I’ve found it myself. So no point troubling about it. Or if you are too lazy, don’t bother.

I hate parting with my car. I’m selling it to Harriet for a C.

Can I bring you or Jane or anyone anything? A kosher salami maybe? I’m bringing my Bible in Hebrew and hope they won’t confiscate it from me. But I’m burning my tallis and tfillim. It will be wonderful to see you.

– Alfred

To: Edward Field in Paris 10 June, 1962 – 181 Sullivan St., NYC

Mon Adorable:

I’m sailing on the Jerusalem, Zim Lines on the 21st of June and arrive in Gibraltar on the 29th I think with baggage and dogs. I’ve given up my apartment, back to landlord for $700 settlement. Paul is expecting me in Tangiers, or rather at Asilah (he even offered me the passage money). Please come with me; we can take a house together in Asilah which sounds marvelous and untouristy except that [William] Burroughs will be there for the summer, but no one else but us chickens.

There’s so much news I don’t where to begin. I wrote asking Extro to meet me. He agreed. It was to be on the 5th. I couldn’t make it, and wrote saying I’d meet him on the 12th, and he’s agreed to that too. Which is the day after tomorrow. Then I decided I didn’t want to meet him because I decided to go to Tangiers and I thought I might be tempted to ask him to come with me and I don’t feel like spending another 300 bucks for another lousy love affair. Then your letter came this morning, and I know you think I should have him, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t make it this week because I’ve got to be out of the apartment on the 17th, and have to have all the furniture out, which leaves me about three days to see him in. Anyway I’ve now sent a telegram to him asking him to call me tomorrow and I don’t know what to say. But obviously I am ready to make do without him.

Off to editorial lunch now. More later.

Later. I’m depressed because I had a party yesterday and I learned today that I did the following things but don’t remember: bit Muriel’s finger nearly to the bone, smacked Jay, bit Dennis Galvin’s upper arm SO hard he’s been in pain ever since, smashed Walter’s precious tea cups, tried to jerk off Jerry Rothlein, threw a Bloody Mary at Dennis Selby then threw him on the floor and later tried three times to push him out the window, insulted Cade’s horrible new flame (don’t mind about this), put my hand on the cunt of a girl named Sally, squeezed lime juice in everyone’s eyes, bit Jerry Rothlein, and others I can’t think of now. After the party Walter, Marty Tucker (it was a great reunion as you see), and Cade’s boyfriend went and had an orgy. I picked up a gorgeous Puerto Rican.

I am also little depressed about Extro.

Next morning. Early. I can’t sleep I’m so hysterical. I was really hoping Extro would conk out on our rendezvous. I don’t know what to say on the phone and I’m feeling nauseated. I wish you were here to say something sweet and warm I’d drop everything or anyway change my booking until later when two can go as cheaply as one. (My berth cost $300.) I don’t think I’m really deeply queer anymore. I think you’re the only man I don’t hate, and I even hate you a little but only when I think that you’ve bolstered my ego at the expense of the truth sometimes. But anyway you’re the only man that I love too, so it doesn’t matter. I almost went mad last evening. Somehow I thought he would forget we were supposed to meet and then I could hate him. But there was a letter yesterday dated 3 a.m. on his birthday (yours too, happy birthday) to let me know.

Much later. I’ve just come back from the animal hospital with Harriet and her cat who is overdue. But Harriet miscalculated. She (H) looks like she’s got a watermelon under her skirt.

Extro called several hours ago. I said: I can’t come. I’m going to Tangiers next week. If you want to come here for a visit, you’re welcome. So he said he’d borrow the money and be here tomorrow. He isn’t happy, I could tell, and he wants me back. He’s calling again at two a.m. to tell me at what time he arrives (he may leave tonight), so if Lory doesn’t talk him out of it between now and two a.m., he’ll be here tomorrow. I’m just going to play it by ear. I’m drunk now, so it’s easy to say I want him.

So probably I’ll see you on the 29th, unless a miracle happens.

Love and kisses to you and Neil, A.

(enc. review from Tribune of “Stand Up, Friend, with Me,” by Edward Field)

To Edward Field June 17, 1963 – 181 Sullivan St., NYC

My last hours on Sullivan St. Nothing left anywhere but a pair of suitcases, one bookcase (for Muriel) and a single straight chair (for Harriet). I have to be out by two p.m. I am very sad, sadder still because Extro went back last night. Four days and three nights together. We went to Easthamptom for Saturday and Sunday. I guess I love him. And I guess also he wants to come back. What am I to say when he says to me that I was bad for him because he was living my life and none of his own. How many times have I heard that complaint before? Even recently from Denis Selby. I told Extro if he were a writer it wouldn’t matter and he agreed. The upshot was that we agreed to try again. I told him to come to Morocco in September. I don’t know why I didn’t ask him to come with me now, right away. Partly out of pride because everyone here thought I surely would. Partly for his pride – even more so for his pride – so that he could go back to his friends without having given up at my whistling.

He said you were right about the airplane ticket.

Also I didn’t ask him to come now because I thought I ought to give myself a chance. I don’t know if this is true.

Anyhow I’m feeling sad as hell because I love having him around and I love looking at him and I love touching him. He looked more beautiful than he ever had before. His face is sharper and he is plumper. (Still skinny, really.)_ And he has had no one more or less in Ottowa. He was terribly hungry for sex. I don’t understand it. And he admitted a boy and a girl up in Ottowa are mad for him. I guess he does want a man really, me.

So I’m sailing Friday. I’d rather have gone back to Canada with him and waited until we could have passage together. But I guess a man has to act like a man. He was surprised at the end when I told him I has missed him and would go on missing him. He said he thought people my age were mainly out of the circle. I said Paul Bowles had told me it happened at forty.

And you are thirty-nine.

He’s the only really nice thing that’s happened to me four lousy years in this country. I’m sitting here burning the bed linen with the lousy tears running down my face.

I hope like mad you’ll both be there at Gibraltar on the 29th. I wish you were here right now so you could hug me and kiss me on the forehead.

Your review came out yesterday but I forgot to buy it. But I’ll bring it to you.

I kiss you both.

Love from Alfred

Later. Feeling better about leaving the apartment. Feeling good about going to Morocco. Feeling happily anxious and hopeful that Extro is in my future.

To: Harriet Sohmers (Zwerling) July (?) 12(?), 1963 Postcard from Asilah , Morocco

Love it here. Am already married. Big funny thing. Paul dreary and unmiserable. My boy is called Driss, 20, captain of fishing boat, does everything for me. It worked with the girl [on the ship], and she fell in love, but I guess it isn’t for me. I am happy. I am happy. The town in beautiful. the weather is gorgeous. It is cheap. I’ve nothing more to say on a postcard, sauf que je t’aime at que tu me manque, et je veux que tu vienne. Write xxx, A.

To Edward Field July 11, 1963 – B.P. 14, Asilah, Morocco.

Edward dyeli – My Edward

I’m here in my ratty little house surrounded by flies and dogs and noises from the street. And I’m tired because I bought a straw mattress to sleep on and it is hard. Driss is all aches and pains from it. I think I’m married to him, but I’m not sure. And I’m too tired and lazy to think about it. There is one other boy who is courting me, El Hajmi (or something like that) who is gorgeous but unbelievably boring. He banged on the door for hours last night while D. and I were fucking and I think D. has gone off to beat the shit out of him. I feel like Carmen.

It is a relief to be out of Paul’s clutches. I felt more and more like a prisoner, especially because he made all sorts of shenanigans so that I couldn’t be alone with D. He is an old queen vintage Edwin Denby and I think that his brain has melted from kif. I haven’t been smoking much. Driss brought some mazhoun (hash fudge) the other night and I got higher than ever before. Dreams and hallucinations. Paranoia for a moment when I thought it was poison and that he’d fed it to me to make me paralyzed and impotent. Paul really wants to own me; he is so used to owning people and things here. He keeps saying “they” about the Moroccans even when he means “he.” Like, Larbi, [houseman of Bowles] says something and Paul delivers a comment on “they” to me. He is incapable of a conversation. To tell the truth I loathe him. When he says “they” I always feel like vomiting and also when he says anything or when I get a whiff of his sweat or see his flesh. It repels me. He seems so unclean compared to the Moslems. Driss, like Larbi, washes himself five times a day. He is lovely in bed; all the hair on his body is shaved. “They” all do that according to Paul. And you are wrong, “they” have big cocks like the Algerians. We seem to make love more or less continually and he is sensual like a cat and affectionate and won’t let me out of his arms all night. It is lovely except he wants to do all the fucking, but I think he will come around because I know he likes it and probably just wants to tell people he fucks me. I took him to Tangiers last night, just to get away from Paul really. It was our fist time out. And he walked me past every cafe crowd of boys in Asilah before going to the bus, pushing me around and strutting with his thumbs in his belt, swaggering I mean. ( It was ridiculous because he is a pussycat when we’re alone and he just dreams.) I felt he was informing the competition that they’d better keep out or off. He brags about being a great drinker etc., but he felt sick on one sip of martini last night and ordered a coke for himself. He is really just a baby, twenty years old. But he’s captain of his fishing boat, and was a carpenter’s apprentice for ten years. It is so nice. He holds my hand in the street and keeps his thigh against mine when we sit together. I’m not paying him in case you’re interested. He wants to move in on a permanent basis in two weeks when the fishing season ends and keep house for me. Paul says “they” feel like Moslem women when they go to live with a foreigner. They expect to be taken care of completely, and in exchange they take care of you completely. It seems to be true, so far. Shopping in Asilah is lot cheaper when I go with Driss than when I go with Larbi.

I love Larbi. I love him. Now that I’ve told him I am a Jew (and also circumcised) he isn’t so worried about me and thinks I can probably take care of myself. Before that he thought I was a helpless imbecile like Paul. Oh, mon dieu, que j’ai des histoires a te raconter! About Phedre and everything.

We sat with Ted Joans last night and met the Newseek reporter. He is doing a story on Tangiers. I was out when the Esquire photographer came to Paul’s the other day.

Night. If I wasn’t sure if I was married this morning, there is no doubt in my mind anymore nor for that matter in the minds of anyone in town. My house is suddenly furnished and Driss is bringing over a double bed tomorrow as a present. El Hajmi it now appears is working for Driss. In any case, he is back and forth on errands. Driss is cooking supper. We’ve just spent a couple of hours at the beach cafe when he showed me off again and made it clear to everyone that we were sleeping together.

I’m really in a state of shock. He is working out a budget for us at $100 a month. Even Arthur never got me this married this fast or thoroughly. I feel by tomorrow he’ll have me wearing a laundry bag and a veil across my face. He says that he knows that one day I will be able to afford radios and tape recorders like Paul and a big house and he is content to wait.

I know I’m going to wake up any minute and find it all a dream. In the middle of the room is a tea tray with a pot of mint and three glasses (El Hajmi is invited to dinner) and a little disgusting plastic sugar bowl which delights Driss.

Paul is stunned more than I am, I think. He admitted the Moroccans hate going to bed with him and he has to pay more and more to keep them. Can this be true? He said he hadn’t spent a whole night with one in thirty years.

El Hajmi is back. He looks like a movie star version of Julie Perlmutter, only sexy. But boring. D. has announced dinner.

Love to you both, from your captured (and delighted)

-Alfred

Next morning. Friday.

I’m so fascinated with my new life that I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be. So I’ve opened the envelope to continue the letter.

I am home alone. Driss will be on his boat until four. He didn’t sleep here because of the fucking and the mattress; I mean he got up late yesterday and missed his boat. Anyway he gave me a lecture in French (so El Hajmi wouldn’t understand) – and you would be surprised at how much he could say with his twenty or thirty word vocabulary. The point of the lecture was that I mustn’t appear in public with other boys because then people would talk about me the way they do about the Englishman (who by the way is running a bordello right here in that big house of is). Only with him.

El Hajmi is supposed (D.’s orders) to come and take me and Columbine to the vet’s this morning, but I’m going to leave before he comes because I’m beginning to have the feeling that I can’t do anything for myself. I’ll soon be a dried out old Dr. Schweitzer like Paul. (You were right about him. He never gets fucked.) Columbine bit a little girl the other day. Quite badly, but I don’t blame her a bit. The kids bothered the dogs every minute. Police came very apologetically. The neighborhood (the whole medina according to Paul) was in an uproar and they wanted to ask the government to throw all the Nisranes (Nazarenes) out of Asilah: me, Paul, the Englishman, and two French queens who teach school. But the police assured me it was all right and just to bring my papers to the medico. That was four days ago, but I haven’t been able to find the medico, though Larbi took me there the first time.

I don’t feel at all like I’m having a love affair. I’m just married which is what I wanted and I’m glad. I can’t remember Extro. I can’t remember anyone really. Even you are a little vague. Maybe Driss fed me a donkey’s ear. Larbi has warned me against black magic.

Later still. There’s something odd about the tone of this letter. It doesn’t sound like there’s any me in it. There isn’t any me now but I don’t mind. A little I do. There is no one thing around to establish my past. Even the dogs seem vague to me. I dreamt Skoura was hit by a car and was bleeding to death in my arms; she was growing grayer but no blood was evident. I woke up thinking I am no one. I am with Dris (he spells it with one s) and Hajmi (he spells it this way) and Asilah. Then I thought of all the people in New York looking at each other and being inane and telling each other who they were.

I am not happy or exalted. My cup runneth over and all I can do is sit and look at it. I obviously have to get to work if I intend to support my wife. He promised me a good table this evening.

He came by for an hour in his fishing clothes to see how I was doing and wanting to cook lunch for me. He says he will find a big house with a kitchen and a toilet for the same amount money more or less, though not on the sea. I said all right because with the two of us here and the dogs we can hardly move around.

Poor Paul. He is pathetic.

Larbi says love affairs between Christians and Moslems are wars, but he doesn’t doubt I can win this one since I’m a Jew. It is like my idea of a love affair I guess. The power struggle and all. perhaps Larbi means I will end up Dris’ slave rather than he mine. Though I am, of course, since I do just what he says and I’ve become almost helpless without him. I couldn’t buy Nescafe and light the stove this morning but had to go to a cafe, and a few days ago I bought cloth for sheets and had it cut and sewn all by myself because Larbi was so useless. He’s useless because Paul is full of money and Labri never takes the trouble to haggle. I don’t think he cheats. But it is a fact that on large sums the merchant pays ten percent to the person who brings the client. On the way back from Tangiers in the cab the other night Dris gave me his ten percent of the fare.

I think he is a good boy. I hadn’t thought of this before. I didn’t trust him at all, mainly because of Paul. But then I hadn’t entrusted with anything much yet.

Do you want to come back? I will get Dris to find you a good house or is you could live with us, one great huge house. I wouldn’t even mind if you each took a turn with him. Now I think of it, I wonder why I don’t mind. He’d mind if I did. I think he is probably used to being thrown over. It’s so nice not to have to worry for a change. When he isn’t around I feel almost as good as when he is around. I mean about him. I mean there doesn’t seem to be anything to suffer about.

Will you come back?

– Love Alfred

I know about a dozen words in Moghrebi and can conjugate “to have” – andi, andel, andu, etc.

Next morning. Saturday

Paul brought your letter back from Tangiers. He says he never knew anyone who dared throw himself into Moroccan life as fast as I have. Have I done this?

I asked Dris if it was possible he could be as good as he seemed and he said he was. He asked me to be faithful and said he would be.

I’m going to cook supper tonight and attempt to recover my wits today. Already I made tea for myself this morning.

Paul and Larbi don’t sleep together. They used to for a little while years ago. Will you ask Gail if she will display some of Larbi’s jewelry? His book is being published in France.

What are you going to do in ridiculous Paris. Dris brought me two pieces of mahzoun as a present yesterday. I wish I could send you one (enough for two so you could have lovely dreams about me.)

I could easily be very happy now, and could love Dris except I am afraid out of pride I think.

Note on envelope: Will you save this letter? It occurs to me I might want to remember what I first felt like. And I can’t keep a journal. – xxx.

Yes you are right. P. doesn’t write anymore.

EPILOGUE

Almost immediately after this engagement with Paradise, problems arise, and the letters during the next two and a half years relate in detail Chester’s stormy love affair with Dris, the ins and outs of his relations with Paul and Jane, his involvement with Moroccan life as well as with the hippy/beatnik expatriate community. Especially fascinating are his reports of unBowles-like behavior, as the reserved Paul experimented, briefly, with throwing Chester-like tantrums.

It was the high point of Alfred Chester’s life. But, perhaps as a result of heavy drug use, Chester suffered several crackups, became increasingly unstable, especially after a visit by the newly-famous Susan Sontag, and was expelled by the Moroccan government in December 1965. From then on his life was madness, wandering from country to country looking for a home, and in 1971, he met his death in Jerusalem, where he tried to settle down.

The complete sequence of Moroccan letters will be published by Black Sparrow Press, but perhaps not while Paul Bowles is still alive.

-Edward Field

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