Posted by Alla Efimova on Monday April 22 2013
By Lisa Wurtele
Not all those who have spent time with Rachel Marker have connected with her through the portal of the physical exhibition at The Magnes. Rachel has also had a deep impact on those who have entered her world by crossing time and place.
The letters shared below were sent from several continents and written by hand by a mysterious correspondent, “John.” In them, John expressed gratitude that Rachel Marker “took us to places we never would have visited otherwise, from Montparnasse, to an old art supply store that artists from the Impressionists to Yves Klein frequented,…to a large flea market on the outskirts of Paris.” They allow us a peek into the ongoing exchange of letters between Rachel Marker and John.
In his February 10th letter to Rachel Marker, John writes:
“One of the defining events of your life was the war. One of the defining events of mine was the great plague that reached its crescendo when I was a young man living in New York.”
Rachel Marker responds that the Mute Players–a group of “mute” actors she first met in Prague in the mid-1920s, who in 1940 wartime Paris began to perform her “Letters to the Dead” ceremonies to take place over the next one hundred years in cemeteries around the world–are in Paris again, planning a ceremony about French gay culture and “the great plague” of AIDS in the city’s Père Lachaise Cemetery. (There one can visit the graves of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and a number of prominent gay writers, filmmakers, performers, and activists who died of AIDS.) Rachel Marker dreams that the Mute Players invite John and his partner to participate “in whatever way you want.”
In his March 24th letter to Rachel Marker, John (writing from Paris) tells her that “Today here in Paris there was a large demonstration on the Champs Élysées against a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption. The demonstration became violent, and the police used tear gas against the demonstrators. The news inspired me to reread some of your letters—the apprehension you felt after you got news of Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass, in 1938; the sense of foreboding you felt as the Nazis approached Paris in 1940. As you were awaiting the Nazis’ approach, you stayed up all night to write Letters to the Dead. Do you still remember that night?
You once asked, ‘How does one write during a war or in its aftermath?’ Thinking about events in Poland and here in Paris, I think I would ask instead, How does one not?”
A few days later in Paris, John receives a letter, slipped under his door, from the Mute Players telling him that they had left him a wooden box on the grave of Charles Baudelaire in the Montparnasse cemetery to take unopened to the Père Lachaise cemetery, and place it on Proust’s grave.
In his March 31 letter to her, John describes the contents of this box to Rachel Marker. “At noon we opened the Mute Players’ box on the tomb of Marcel Proust in Père Lachaise”: (more…)