George Perec’s dream #3: The Quest for California


The Quest for California

I am with P. and someone else in California. We search for something—what?—for a long time, in vain.
Regardless of your mode of transport, you have to pay a tax to get out of a room in San Francisco.
Will I take an airplane? A train? A car?

There is a desert surrounding San Francisco. Beware of forest fires. For many years, people came by sea (Chinese).
At the top of a hill on the outskirts of town, there is a sort of advertising column with a switch and an electrical wire attached by a very crude splice. Anxiety: it would take almost nothing to set the whole brush on fire.

I take the train. After the long trip across the desert, I am to arrive in Lyons, then somewhere else (Bordeaux? Marseilles? Paris? Not far from Lyons, in any case).
I am alone in a bunk. It seems like we’ve just departed, but the train arrives in Lyons.
I call P., who is in the next compartment. She comes to join me, walking on the steps outside the wagon. Now we are 4 in my compartment: P., me, and two of her girlfriends. The three women undress simultaneously, lifting their blouses over their heads, and wind up on the bunk under the same sheet. They all still have their underwear on. For my part, I’m completely naked; I bunch my underwear and socks into a ball and slide it under a fold in the bed.
I make love to the three women, one after the other.
I notice then that I’m on some sort of wide pedestal and that everyone in the wagon can see us. Not far from us, four men are sitting around a table; they look a bit like gangsters.

Slowly, the train crosses the town of Coursons. I’m surprised: if we’ve passed Lyons, this can’t be Coursons, and yet it is Coursons: P. recognizes it well, me less so, having been there only once. Then the light bulb goes off: it’s Coursons in the Nièvre (and I add: “You don’t know …”), not Coursons in the Yonne.

On a sloping street you can see a sign indicating: Paris (or Marseilles) 4 (a digit in the tens place); a bit later, the confusion (is it 40 … or 49) clears: it’s 41.

Georges Perec, La Boutique Obscure, translated by Daniel Levin Becker, Melville House 2013