Discovering my truth in a one room South Georgia library

They tore it down, the Colonial fan light window, and the two painted, white brick chimneys, and all, and replaced it with something that looks like a house trailer.

Driving into the mountains north of Nice was an effort to squeeze the maximum options and opportunity from the rental car. I drove towards what I thought was the set for a movie I’d recently seen -- a place where the doves turn pink and golden in the setting sun. The diminutive car could hardly squeak through the turns of the cobblestoned Medieval streets.

In the Sixties, I hadn’t yet learned that Saint Paul de Vence was the village one of my adolescent heros had chosen for his self-exile.

James Baldwin wrote a book, astonishing for the mid 1950s, with a homosexual protagonist and plot line. Giovanni’s Room was first published in 1956 when I was in high school. It appeared on the shelf of our one room public library in a nowhere sort of place, conservative, racist, homophobic South Georgia. Recently processed and varnished, it cracked newly when I opened the cover. And for a sixteen year old, searching for a wider world, and some explanations of who I was becoming, it could not have been more important than the Rosetta Stone.

"David, a young American man whose girlfriend has gone off to Spain to contemplate marriage, is left alone in Paris and begins an affair with an Italian man, Giovanni. The entire story is narrated by David during "the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life," when Giovanni will be executed."

It firmly placed Paris and Provence in my psyche as the object of my quest, an important stopover on the way to self realisation. It took only seven years, from the first reading of James Baldwin’s book, at sixteen, to actually finding myself in the old Paris market, Les Halles, at 2 in the morning, eating onion soup at Au Pied de Cochon, directly across the street from the butcher markets where Giovanni, the Italian immigrant, had worked.

In 1965, I was living and working in The Hague, a five hour train trip to the north.

Les Halles doesn’t exist anymore. A few years ago I went in search of it. Today it’s all paved and park-like and the mid-19th Century iron buildings have disappeared. I felt defrauded.