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Alchemists and Alchemists and Alchemists.

In October 2020 between bouts of UK lockdown I fled to Sofia, Bulgaria, and rented an apartment from a friend in which to hammer out the novel that had been simmering over the previous five years to the point of overspilling into obsessional insomnia. I imposed a 2000-words-a-day minimum output on myself and kept to it, with relative ease, given the material had been coalescing and the form revealing itself for some time. A significant portion of the narrative occurs in Paris at the old stone house built in 1403 and once owned by the alchemist Nicolas Flamel. It remains the oldest stone house in Paris and is now a restaurant – Auberge Nicolas Flamel (which just this year deservingly received its first Michelin star – I duly congratulated the head chef upon a recent visit). The Paris sequence takes in alchemy, Templar lore (Jacques De Molay – last surviving Templar grand master - was burnt at the stake in 1312 a mere amble away on the green isthmus that runs under Pont Neuf), gastronomy, Princess Diana's death, CERN and sundry other esoterica.

I made it my concern to dine at Auberge Nicolas Flamel upon completion of the novel. In September 2021 this opportunity availed itself and I found myself ferrying solo from Newhaven to Dieppe, relishing the inverse parabola of signal blackout that occurs around half an hour into the journey and extends until half an hour before arrival into the significantly more welcoming France-side port. In that downtime the sluiced and broiling cascades of my mind asserted a reminder that Chilean-French polymath and modern mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky resides in Paris. What could he be up to this very afternoon? I idled. I pulled into Dieppe refreshed at having been deprived phone signal for three hours to be collected by my would-be ex-MI6 handler in their tiny red Corsa, and we scooted across Normandy towards Paris, excitedly eager to meet my friend Tim for lunch at Flamel's, having already explained that the building featured prominently in my novel.

Flash-forward to a dizzying volley of dialogue and five perfectly balanced courses of improbably good cuisine; the three of us ecstatically sated by the perfect combination of food and company, and I casually raised my having idly considered the whereabouts of Alejandro Jodorowsky on this bright and humid afternoon. The chef asked how the food was and in between gushing like a recently deflowered schoolgirl on crack I mentioned to him that my novel took place partially but not insubstantially inside this very building, at which point, flattered, he offered to show us the two floors usually out of bounds to diners: both were laid out exactly as my mind's eye had rendered them in prose.

So what of Jodo? Tim, a perennially pragmatic trickster-type urged me to check his Instagram. No sooner had I opened the app than the profile of Jodorowksy's wife Pascal Montadon-Jodorowsky flashed up at the top of my feed with a post extending an invitation to the private view of her new exhibition of collaborative works with Alejandro which was to begin at 3pm. A glance at our phones affirmed it was 2pm. A glance at the ravaged debris on our table inferred that our business with Flamel's would be done in half an hour. A further glance at Google maps informed us that the gallery was half an hour away. So far, indelibly perfect.

I then remembered I'd once messaged Brontis Jodorowsky - one of Alejandro's actor sons, first seen in El Topo (1970) - on Instagram, having watched the then most recent Fantastic Beasts film in which he portrays Nicolas Flamel, to say: bravo at their having cast an alchemist as an alchemist to which he responded with good grace and humour.

Obviously we collectively decided – or tacitly reconciled – that this was all written and that we must attend, so after genuflecting once more to the kitchen staff we reversed feudally out of the alchemist's house, crossed The Seine (being sure to hail Jacques De Molay as we did so) and made our way to the tiny gallery.

I wonder if he'll be there I said to Tim, my heart starting to race at the still-spurious possibility. Instantly upon crossing the threshold – there he did sit at 92 years of age: not only was he very much present – he was apparently giving one-on-one counsel to guests of the private view as around ten of his and Pascal's beautiful co-creations hung like the Tarot on the gallery walls.

My Australian friend Mark Carey, whose poetic, evocative and viscerally intelligent songs I'm listening to as I write this, put it very well in asking if Jodorowksy in person “had the extended presence for which his known” when I told him immediately afterwards about the encounter. The answer was and is very much YES. Hesitating to lasso myself to the queue like the aspirant I am, we took in the art – beautiful in its essence and form and truly collaborative.

One image in particular drew me in, depicting Alejandro mirthfully playing with a son of his that died in the early nineties. Moved to tears by the purity of the sentiment – father and son united happily in an afterlife after the latter's time here was prematurely curtailed by tragedy, I took to the internet to investigate the circumstances. Learning that he'd been claimed by a drug overdose, my spine began to tremble in blue sympathy and instantly at that point my phone rang from an unrecognised number. After failing to decipher the half-croaked answerphone message I stepped outside to phone the number back: it was my ex- who'd wound it up in hospital having overdosed on amphetamines. As empathetically and gently as I could I explained that, being in Paris, I couldn't do anything nor, while I care, am I professionally equipped to help out in such a situation. Phone went dead. (He's subsequently taken measures to improve his well-being, though I don't know to what end as we rarely speak) .

Completely choked up by these tiered synchronicities I loped back in - yoked by rocks of agitation and incredulity - to find myself directly facing Jodorowsky. He stared at, into, through, and past me, seemingly both scanning and massaging my spirit, his “presence extending” as he did so, and I felt balmed, held and propped up in my stupour. It was as though he'd projected light between my cells where the essence resides, at once anchoring and elevating me. Who's to say he did or he didn't. This was my subjective experience. The time span for which we held this exchange of currents remains unknown to me as it was like being sifted into a suspended realm and then returned post-scan. The whole sequence of events, from discovering the alchemist's stone house in 2019, writing about it in my novel in 2020, boarding the ferry to dine there in 2021, and all that subsequently manifested in the gallery has evidently become scripture in my own, weird mythos. Until now it was too raw to transcribe, but having taken to seeking refuge (from people/heat/humidity/my own apoplectic professional stress) in the Caucasus mountains to read Jodorowksy's works on Psychomagic and metagenealogy I felt compelled to note it down.

Wait until you hear the one about vertigo, Azeri sandstorms and mystic rings...


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