Eight years ago, in an old copy of Paris Soir dated 31 December 1941, a heading on page three caught my eye: “From Day to Day”.* Below this, I read:
Missing, a young girl, Dora Bruder, age 15, height 1.55m, oval-shaped face, grey-brown eyes, grey sports jacket, maroon pullover, navy-blue skirt and hat, brown gym shoes. Address all information to M. and Mme Bruder, 41 Boulevard Ornano, Paris.
I had long been familiar with the area around the Boulevard Ornano. As a child, I would accompany my mother to the Saint-Ouen flea markets. We would get off the bus either at the Porte de Clignancourt or, occasionally, outside the 18th arrondissement Town Hall. Always, it was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
In winter, on the tree-shaded pavement outside Clignancourt barracks, the fat photographer with the round spectacles and a lumpy nose who offered “souvenir snaps” would set up his tripod amid the stream of passers-by. In summer, he stationed himself on the broadwalk at Deauville, outside the Bar du Soleil. There, he found plenty of customers. But here, at the Porte de Clignancourt, people seemed not to wish to be photographed. His overcoat was shabby and he had a hole in one shoe.
I remember the Boulevard Ornano and the Boulevard Barbes one sunny afternoon in May 1958, deserted. A knot of riot police at each crossroads because of the Algerian situation.
I was in the neighbourhood in the winter of 1965. I had a girlfriend who lived in the Rue Championnet, Ornano 49-20.
Already, by that time, the Sunday stream of passers-by outside the barracks must have swept away the fat photographer, though I never went back to check. What were they used for, those barracks?** I was told they were occupied by colonial troops.
January 1965. Dusk comes at around six o’clock to the crossroads of the Boulevard Ornano and the Rue Championnet. I was non-existent, I blended into that twilight, into those streets.
The last café at the top of Boulevard Ornano on the right was called the “Verse Toujours”.*** There was another, on the left, at the corner of the Boulevard Ney, with a jukebox. The Ornano-Championnet crossroads had a chemist and a couple of cafés, the one on the corner of the Rue Duhesme being the older of the two.
The time I’ve spent, waiting in those cafés … First thing in the morning, when it was still dark. Early in the evening, at dusk. Later on, at closing time …
That Sunday evening, an old black sports car – it looked to me like a Jaguar – was parked outside the nursery school on the Rue Championnet. It bore a sign on the rear: Disabled Ex-Serviceman. The presence of such a car in this neighbourhood surprised me. I tried to imagine what its owner might look like.
After nine o’clock, the boulevard was deserted. I could still see lights at the mouth of Simplon métro station and, almost opposite, in the foyer of the Cinéma Ornano 43. I had never really noticed the building next to the cinema, no. 41, even though I had been passing it for months, for years. From 1965 to 1968. Address all information to M. and Mme Bruder, 41 Boulevard Ornano, Paris.
* “D’hier à aujourd’hui“.
** During the Occupation of Paris, Clignancourt barracks housed French volunteers serving in the Waffen SS. See David Pryce-Jones, Paris in the Third Reich. London:Collins, 1981.
*** “Keep Pouring”
Excerpt from Dora Bruder, by Patrick Modiano, translated by Joanna Kilmartin.
In UK published under the titleThe Search Warrant
© 1999 by the Regents of the University of California Press.
Adapted from: “Patrick Modiano – Prose”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 14 Jan 2015. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2014/modiano-prose-en.html>