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The Love Issue

The Love Portfolio: Darryl Pinckney + James Fenton

The Love Portfolio: Darryl Pinckney + James Fenton

When two writers were introduced by Susan Sontag, it was the start of a story that’s still unfolding. 

Photography byRoger Erickson. James Fenton (left) and Darryl Pinckney.

Darryl Pinckney, Author and Essayist: James and I met in Berlin in 1990--Susan Sontag introduced us at the Paris Bar. She was so generous and interesting and fun, and when she was in your life she was really in your life. We met almost every night at the same table for dinner, and one evening she said, "I can't have dinner with you because I'm having dinner with James Fenton." The next evening, she said nothing about her meeting with James, and then suddenly she said, "You know what he did? He read a newspaper." Later, I found out that he was just trying to oblige Susan to talk to a young Filipino photographer he was traveling with who worshipped her. Anyway, as we were eating, she said, "There he is." I looked behind me and to my right, and saw his osprey eyes and hairy hands. The next night we met for dinner again, at a party at a table, and I figured something was up because when he said goodnight, he kissed my neck. Then we saw each other the following evening, again at the Paris Bar, and again at a similarly long table of happy people, but this time he slowly moved down the table in my direction as people departed until he was directly across from me. Susan finally took off, and we were alone. He left for Prague the next morning and then phoned every day. And then he asked me to meet him in Paris, and I did.

James Fenton, Poet and Journalist: It was quite clear from the word "go" that we'd hit it off, and so we made that the basis of our lives together. I don't remember kissing him on the neck, but it sounds like a very appropriate thing to do--I'm glad I did! We met up in Paris shortly after, and that was it, really. Somebody once said to me that if you're not sure whether you are in love or not, then you're not, and I would go along with that. Love feels like a kind of certainty.

Pinckney: James is very English. Some of his snacks make me think of 1950s austerity Britain, and my heart breaks: Marmite on crackers that you can't imagine wanting to taste. And sometimes, when I've been away and come back, he's had things that he can't have around me, like game and oxtail and offal--English things. And you think of these sad heaters that you have to put these heavy coins in that you see in black-and-white films--that gray dampness. And then the stoicism is just maddening.

Fenton: I don't eat a lot of Marmite! Darryl thinks it's weird to eat cheese. He has a very special take on truth. The only thing that recommends cheese to him is if it's completely processed, as in cheeseburger cheese. But if it's a cheese of merit, he hates it, and soft cheese is particularly horrible to him.

Pinckney: You don't get psychodrama from James, which is also very English, but he has a very faithful and reassuring presence. He takes in knowledge all the time and doesn't forget anything he's read. Now that we're both beginning to lose our hearing, there's a lot of "What did you say?" But we never argue. I have displays of bad character, but we don't argue, because he's always right. That's very annoying. Also, I've not used a dictionary in 26 years--I just ask him. This is life in James-land. We're the luckiest people alive.

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