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Burroughs Archives - St. Stephen's University

Kerouac Followed Me from San Francisco to Paris

By | 2016, Europe, Uncategorized | No Comments

original-on-the-road-manuscript
Original On The Road Manuscript

The overarching (somewhat extracurricular) theme of my Europe trip was flirting with modern art; looking for meaning in the deconstructed chaos that is the abstract. Upon arriving in Paris, I saw a poster in the subway for a “Beat Generation” exhibit at the Pompidou. I was bewildered to see the names of my beatnik heroes (Ginsburg, Burroughs, Cassady, and Kerouac) in Paris. I felt the sensation of an “Oh! What a small world!” chance run-in with a good friend in a foreign city. I had spent the better part of the previous six months learning about these hedonistic hipsters and their rebellion against the status quo. My eyes drooled.

Inside the front entrance of this, the largest modern art museum in Europe, I stood at a juncture. I savored each salivating option. To my left was the Beat Generation. Straight ahead was Paul Klee. To my right was the permanent collection. My sober feet led my muddy mind lefty-Lucy. I wore the goofy grin of a giddy, grade school girl.

As I approached the entrance, I walked alongside a timeline that mapped out famous events that shaped the Beat Generation. I floated through the decades and I confidently plopped my own story down in the blank space that succeeded the sixties. The dimly lit room was plastered with rhythmic, postmodern poetry. Kerouac’s mellow-cello voice could be heard narrating ‘an evening in the beatnik life’ video that played for an audience of one, cross-legged Chinese boy not ten years old. Confusing deconstructionist paintings (that I admittedly hated) hung as an ode to insanity and irrationality. Figures lacked form to inform the norm of the golden morn yet to adorn the savage reborn.
The crème-de-la-crème, however, was the centerpiece of the exhibit. All 120 feet of Kerouac’s original On The Road scroll was stretched out in a glass case. At its boot was a crude map that Kerouac drew 60 years ago of the hitchhiking journey that birthed his most famous work. As I looked down at that map, I compared our routes and experiences. I felt more connected to my favorite dirty drunk drifter than ever before. Buddha Jack breathed a bumbling beat to me in his regular bohemian fashion. He whispered, “The empty sky is a foreign country. All of life is my witness,” and I whispered back, “I harvest my dreams from the field of stars. You taught me how.”

1947-48-drawing-by-kerouac-that-shows-his-hitchhiking-route
1947-48 drawing by Kerouac that shows his hitchhiking route