13 September 2016

The Mojave Phone Booth and the Pont du Garigliano

Bear with me regarding the two above images. My attention was drawn this weekend to an article in the newspaper Libération on the writer Jean-Paul Dubois, whose novel La Sucession was incidentally included in the first selection (along with fifteen other novels) for the Prix Goncourt. The article mentions the 'Hitchcockian character' Selma Chantz, who appeared in Dubois's novel Accommodements raisonnables (2008), which is also the name used by the person who picked up the phone in the Mojave phone booth when Dubois called its number. He'd heard about the phone booth from the Los Angeles Times and was so intrigued that he not only called the number but travelled over 6000 miles to visit the phone booth and answer the phone himself. He made a highly memorable story out of it for the magazine the Nouvel Observateur.

Google 'Mojave phone booth' and you get different stories about the date of its installation in the middle of the desert, miles from any proper road, and even the reason for its being installed there in the first place. It seems, though, that it was there because there was a volcanic cinder mine there. Over the years a myth grew up around it, and the phone booth became almost a place of pilgrimage for any tourists of the weird to answer it's widely distributed number. It was dismantled in May 2000, the same year that Dubois visited it, because of ecological concern. (I refuse to believe any sites saying that it was re-instated in 2013.)

On then, to the two images above. The artist Sophie Calle was inspired by the story of the Mojave phone booth in 2006, and Frank Gehry was responsible for the construction of the huge kind of flower-like object called Le Téléphone, in the middle of the Pont du Garigliano in Paris, with a one-way telephone that Sophie Calle herself used to call and talk to anyone passing on the bridge who happened to pick up the phone. I was aware that graffiti had plagued the installation, that the telephone had been stolen, but not that the whole installation had been removed in 2012. The two protruding objects are in the middle of the bridge must be all that remains of Le Téléphone. Sad.

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