The last page of Patti Smith's book M Train ends with a picture. It’s the only pic in the book that does not give us words to make sense of it. The pic is of the Wow Café, Point Loma Pier, California. The picture seems deliberately placed to create not only an ambiguous ending but a game of tag where Patti seemed to say you’re it to anyone who will listen.
I just happened to be visiting San Diego and minutes from this final picture. I just happened to be listening.
M Train traverses dream, literary/artistic pilgrimage, and psychogeography (our impulse to wonder and wander). We get to follow Patti down roads that lead to Kahlo, Plath, Brecht and Murakami (who she speaks of so endearingly as a living writer with the actual possibility of connecting outside of graveyards and historic sites). She talks of these art and literary sites as portals and seems to have an insatiable drive to be where her art-hero’s lived and died.
I will also go to great lengths to find these portals. My own habit is to bring the right book to the right place. So, here I sit at the Wow Café in Ocean Beach on the Point Loma Pier where M Train ended with M Train in hand.
My own literary pilgrimages are many, starting with the Bronte Sisters home on the moors and advancing all over the globe through (just to name a few) Plath, Kahlo, Hugo, Wilde, Rilke, Rodin, and Claudel.
Patti Smith says she is singularly driven to get my shot when she arrives onto a scene of sacred importance. She says, Spanish Pilgrims travel on Camino de Santiago from monastery to monastery collecting small medals to attach to their rosary as proof of their steps. I have stacks of Polaroid’s, each marking my own, that I sometimes spread out like tarots or baseball cars of an imagined celestial team.
Is it that we want to mark our territory? Claim that we were there too? Leave our DNA literally where someone we have revered last resided? Why was I driven to climb that final path up to the grave of D.H. Lawrence in the mountains of Taos, New Mexico as if everything depended on it? While there I read the notebook/log of the many other pilgrims who had done the same thing. They left words. At Sylvia Plath’s grave Patti said they left pens. She said while there she had the uncontrollable urge to urinate.
While at the Rodin Library Archives in Paris I saw the letters that Rilke wrote to Rodin. These pen and ink tattoos represented the bend in time where Rilke and I touched the same thing at once. The coffee stain on the that handwritten letter was the portal Smith speaks of by which, with a little imagination, we are transported into a psycho-spiritual link that renders time irrelevant.
While in the archives my girlfriend at the time and I got to see a box full of personal notebooks in which Rodin sketched and mused. Hundreds. All different. All beautiful. All full. They were so precious that we could only check out one at a time. We decided to place a single hair (one from each of us) in one of the notebooks, leaving a proverbial bread crumb trail of DNA that would lead us back to this place without getting lost. This is how a pilgrimage site is born.
It might be said that this pastime with our dead, art-hero's is queer, strange. Our impulse is alive though in spite of this when we save the last chapter of the Rodin biography to read at his grave in Meudon under the blooming magnolia trees next to the over friendly cats.
This desire becomes more than an impulse but a mineral that is assimilated and proven to be essential, nutritious.
Above I've left my own pics of the café as an homage to Patti Smith's own impulses, my own impulses and the impulses of all the other pilgrims out there. You know who you are.