Carlos De Maldonado-Bostock was identified as a “bohemian” in the credits of the documentary film Nico Icon (1995), directed by Susanne Ofteringer. A friend of the German-born model, singer, Velvet Underground member, solo recording artist and icon, Carlos was a familiar figure on the streets of Paris, walking his pet (yes) wolf. Gary Lippman encountered him one day, recognized him from the film, and then got to know him over the next few years. He recounts his friendship with this very strange, haunted man and his wolf

One cold evening during the winter of 1997, I was strolling through the streets of the Marais neighborhood of Paris when a strange old man walked past me with a German shepherd on a long rope. I call this man “old” because he had a bushy snow-white beard, but in fact he may have been in his late 50’s, my own age now. I call the man “strange” because he wore a camouflage jacket along with a torn brown-suede vest and a wide-brimmed fedora hat with a giant feather sticking from it—a bizarre fashion combination. And I call the man’s loping dog a German shepherd because that’s what it looked like to my untrained eye.

Carlos De Maldonado-Bostock and his wolf Quito in Nico Icon (1995), directed by Susanne Ofteringer. Screenshot.

As he went past, the man nodded his head at me in a formal manner, and as I nodded in return, I realized that I’d encountered him and his canine companion before. Not in “reality” but in Nico Icon, a film I’d watched in the previous year.  Having long been a fan of Nico, the glamorous, tragic, and deeply expressive German musical artist, I’d gone to see the film, a documentary about her life as soon as it was released.

Before Nico moved to New York City with her toddler son in the mid-Sixties and took her place in Andy Warhol’s cultural galaxy; before she’d joined up with Lou Reed and John Cale and Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker to sing with The Velvet Underground; before she’d launched her fascinating solo career, accompanying herself on harmonium; before her love affairs with other superstars and her drug hang-ups and her early death in Ibiza in ’88—before all of this, Nico had survived a difficult childhood in post-war Germany and then worked as a top fashion model in Italy and France.

Nico Icon amply covers these early years via film footage and interviews with Nico’s people. During its France segment, director Susanne Ofteringer’s camera follows a camouflage-and-fedora-wearing man one evening as he walks his dog through the Marais and speaks, in voiceover, about his connection to Nico in mid-century Paris.

“She was tall, she was lovely…She was imposing,” the man states in a plummy upper-crust English accent. “In the Sixties there were not a lot of Nicos. And she picked me up!  We were eating in a brasserie…I was at a table, rather elegant, and we spoke and this is how our friendship happened.”

The man, whom the film identified as “CARLOS DE MALDONADO-BOSTOCK: BOHEMIAN,” made a distinct impression on me when I watched Nico Icon“Bohemian?” I thought. And how!  But given this guy’s accent, a better description for him would be “bohemian aristocrat.” And now, a year later, this Carlos and his pet had just walked off a movie screen and into my path on the very same spot in Paris where the director had filmed him with her camera. Out of a dream and into waking life, I mused while watching Carlos and dog disappear around a corner.

Carlos and his wolf open this segment from Nico Icon, directed by Susanne Ofteringer:

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At this time, the winter of ’97, I was living in a small room in a small hotel in the Marais, just off the Place des Vosges, and trying to write a novel that I would only finish and publish two decades later. When I wasn’t writing, I was gallivanting around the city with a colorful circle of young expatriates. This circle included a Dutch photographer, a Russian radio journalist, a Moroccan qi gong enthusiast, a French stylist who later became a nun, a Maltese-American cancer researcher, a Spanish painter, a Bulgarian medical student, a Swedish tech whiz, a German academic, two Czech models, and a Finnish fisherman who said he wanted to open a brothel. He told us of his plan at our favorite bar, the closest thing we had to a headquarters, which was a dive near the Bastille called “Leche Vin,” or “Lick Wine.” All the walls of Leche Vin were filled with religious icons, but the bathrooms were papered from floor to ceiling with smutty images scissored from porno magazines.

As I said: “colorful.”

And because these expats of Leche Vin were accepting and fun, I was only too glad to hang out with them as their token “unpublished American novelist.”  What’s more, I had fallen in love with one of their number, a lovely blue-haired Norwegian fashion designer. Like the rest of us, Ingunn had found her way to Paris in her youth and made her home there. At a party one night, where we all wore wigs for the goofiness of it and a group of dreadlocked boys played bongo drums (one of them later became a famous French actor), Ingunn and I shared a bottle of Portugese absinthe. From that night on, we went steady.  But Ingunn wasn’t with me when I crossed paths again with Carlos de Moldonado-Bostock.


“She was tall, she was lovely…She was imposing,” the man states in a plummy upper-crust English accent.  “In the Sixties there were not a lot of Nicos.  And she picked me up!  We were eating in a brasserie…I was at a table, rather elegant, and we spoke and this is how our friendship happened.”


The time was dusk, a few weeks after my first glimpse of him, and I was waiting in line to pay for my double expresso at a take-out cafe near my hotel when in through the door walked that man and that dog.

“Mind if I pet her?” I asked with a smile.

“Of course I don’t mind,” said Carlos in the upmarket English-accented voice I remembered from Nico Icon.

The first thing I noticed when I kneeled beside the dog was the thick rope that Carlos used instead of a leash.  (This reminded me of a paragraph in Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s book Please Kill Me—the paragraph where Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton describes his first visit to New York with his band’s vocalist, the future Nico boyfriend Iggy Pop. According to Asheton, “Iggy took STP for the first time. He didn’t know it was a three-day trip, so guess who got to watch him? Me. I tied a rope around his waist and led him around town…When I wanted to go to sleep, I tied the rope that was around his waist to my wrist, so every time he moved it would wake me up.”)

The next thing I noticed, as I rubbed the shoulder of Carlos’s dog, was how odd her fur felt to the touch: harsh and bristly. I’d never felt dog-fur like this.  Looking up at Carlos, I asked, “What breed is she?”

Which set off an unexpected little explosion.

“ ‘Dog?’ ” he boomed in mild outrage. “What do you mean by ‘dog?’  Dear boy, I’ll have you know that Quito here is a wolf.”

“A wolf? You mean a dog-wolf mix?”

“Mix? What mix? Quito is one of only three purebred domesticated wolves licensed to live in central Paris.”

For a moment I pondered this, examining Quito’s yellowish eyes. True, this canine seemed different from any dog I’d ever gotten near. Then again, a wolf?  Licensed to live in Paris? Was this guy for real?

I decided to take his word for it.

####

After we spoke for awhile in the cafe—I mentioned that I’d seen him in Nico Icon—Carlos invited me back to his home for a drink. I remember how surprised I felt on entering this “home” that Carlos and Quito shared. Located in a building only two hundred feet from my hotel, their apartment was a single room more cramped than most people’s toilet. There was a tiny cot for Carlos to sleep on, piss-yellow walls with peeling paint and rough wooden boards nailed to them, bits of metal poking out of these boards, and a low battered table on which rested all of Carlos’s possessions.

Cluttered, squalid, messy yet not dirty—the room appeared just as it had during the Carlos segment of Nico Icon. Once more, I had the feeling that I’d entered into the world of that movie, “out of a dream and into waking life,” and now I was seated on Carlos’s bed right where the filmmaker must have sat while she interviewed him.

Even more notable was something the film had failed to show. The place where the wolf Quito slept was nothing but a big jagged hole in the wall, one that someone had evidently knocked open with a sledgehammer. As soon as we walked into Carlos’s room (the first time I went there as well as all the other times), Quito instantly leaped onto Carlos’s cot and from there into the hole, where the wolf lay down in that narrow space, filling it entirely.  And she would not emerge until it was the next time for her walk. But you could reach through the hole and stroke Quito’s ears, which she obviously liked, because whenever you stopped rubbing them, her snout would emerge from the hole to prod your hand into rubbing her ears some more.

Another thing I remember from my first visit chez Carlos: a large yellowed photo of Adolf Hitler glued to one wall. Torn from a newspaper, this photo showed der Fuhrer giving a flower to a child. It had a prominent place among the other clippings that Carlos had plastered all over his room, along with plenty of black Magic Marker’ed graffiti.

Feeling disturbed by the Hitler photo, I asked the obvious question.

“Hitler is on my wall,” replied Carlos, not at all defensive, “because he was a fascinating man. As you can see, there are many fascinating people’s faces displayed here. I have always been drawn to such people. Now, mind you, dear boy, I am in no way a follower of Hitler’s. I despise the beast. Please understand me. But I do like this photograph.”

Such an explanation didn’t sound too, um, kosher to me, but I decided for the moment to reserve judgment. Like Carlos, I’ve always been drawn to fascinating people, and he himself qualified. So I grudgingly gave him a one-free-Hitler-photo pass. As with his wolf’s possibly questionable wolf-ness, I made the choice to take Carlos’s word for it. But, I vowed, as soon as he starts quoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or any shit like that, I’m out of here, and fast.

Fortunately, I never heard Carlos say anything racist or homophobic or anti-Semitic, so I didn’t have to vamos. Occasional hints of misogyny did pass his lips, and he was a card-carrying misanthrope, for sure, spouting frequent negativity about politicians, bureaucrats, the bourgeois class, Parisians of all stripes, humanity in general and Alain Delon in particular. (Delon was the asshole French actor who’d fathered Nico’s only child and then abandoned them both.) There was something faintly sinister about Carlos, maybe even some madness bubbling beneath his high-born manner. But he was intelligent company, a generous host, and he never uttered or did anything that made me want to bolt and run. So I began joining Carlos and Quito on their walks, or stopping by their tiny room to have a drink.

Whenever I visited, Carlos would be wearing his favorite red-checked lumberjack shirt (he wore the same thing in Nico Icon), and right off he would light a cigarette and pour each of us a glass of whiskey. I’d stop at one glass; he didn’t stop at all. And the more he drank, the livelier a talker Carlos became, emphasizing his bitter opinions by gesturing wildly with his beefy hands, shrugging his shoulders, shaking his head, widening his eyes, indulging in melodramatic pauses, making clucking sounds with his mouth, and cursing passionately in English, French and, once in a blue moon, Spanish.

Occasionally, Carlos told me of his blue-blooded family, with an Ecuadorean father and British mother (or was it the other way around?), his boarding school education in England, and his early adulthood as a bon vivant in Fifties-and-Sixties Paris, haunting the cafes of Saint Germain-des-Pres. As I listened, I tried to picture Carlos in evening clothes, clean-shaven and handsome.  Had he guessed back then at the reduced circumstances he would land in by the Nineties?

Occasionally, too, Carlos would speak about the Nico he’d known and her “detached elegance,” echoing for me the view of her that he’d conveyed in Nico Icon.  In that film, he’d said, “She didn’t hate people, she was incapable of hating people, but she didn’t like people. She was alone, alone, and she was scared to death of herself and everybody.” Over time, I wondered whether this insight about Nico didn’t partly apply (whether he knew it or not) to Carlos himself.

During the four years I knew the man and his wolf, Paris had a sometimes chaotic atmosphere. While you never saw any guns, the city was uneasy from terrorist attacks, and there was a sense that danger could erupt at any moment—even in the well-to-do neighborhood where I lived. Late one night when I returned home alone through empty, silent streets, a man with a knife started chasing me on foot, intent, I assume, on robbery.

Months later, I found myself running after a thief who’d seized a woman’s handbag in a Metro stop. It was an automatic reaction, my going after him, but as soon as I’d cornered the thief in a tunnel, he pulled out a switchblade and waved it around, bluntly reversing the power dynamic. Ah, now I understand why I’m not meant to be a hero, I thought as I spun around and hot-footed it away. But once again I found myself being chased by a man with a knife. And on both occasions I wished that Quito was by my side to protect me.

Another night, I was leaving a café near my hotel when I accidentally stepped on the front paw of a sleeping bulldog. I hadn’t noticed him on the dusty floor.  Waking up with a yelp, the bulldog lunged forward and bit my ankle, breaking the skin there. Not only did it hurt like hell, but the dog’s owner started cursing me for injuring his pet. He wouldn’t accept my apology, either, so “Shut up,” I snarled at him, “or I’ll go get my friend’s wolf and then we’ll see what’s what.”  (Which was the equivalent, I realize now, of a gun-nut saying, “Next time you see me I’ll have my AK-47 along.”)


Carlos would speak about the Nico he’d known and her “detached elegance,” echoing for me the view of her that he’d conveyed in Nico Icon.  In that film, he’d said, “She didn’t hate people, she was incapable of hating people, but she didn’t like people.  She was alone, alone, and she was scared to death of herself and everybody.”


Then there was the day when I was walking near Carlos’s apartment building and came upon a curious sight. Parked right in the middle of a narrow street and blocking all traffic was a Rolls Royce with its driver’s door wide open. Next to the Rolls, two men were arguing loudly. My French wasn’t good enough to discern what their beef was about, yet you couldn’t have selected more mismatched antagonists. One of the men looked wealthy, dressed in a smart three-piece suit complete with pocket square and spectacles that hung from a gold chain around his neck, while the other man, who wore a shredded T-shirt and even more shredded blue jeans, looked shaggy and unkempt. As the argument turned violent, with the unkempt man goading the posh man into throwing the first punch and then responding with a flurry of his own blows, I hypothesized about what must have caused the problem: class warfare. As he sauntered past the Rolls Royce, I figured, the unkempt man must have spat on it, or otherwise showed disrespect, and so the wealthy man stopped the car and jumped out and confronted him for the insult.

Makes sense, right?

Yet I was wrong. Once the fistfight ended, with both men’s noses bloodied, the posh man staggered over to the sidewalk while the unkempt man climbed into the Rolls—apparently it was his Rolls—and drove away.

“No, stop!” I shouted as he sped off. My belief was that I’d just witnessed a case of Grand Theft Auto, Paris style. After a moment, though, I reminded myself of the old adage about judging books by their covers. And when I told this story to Carlos, he agreed with me that the unkempt man must have been a rock star or some other kind of privileged guy who liked to ride around in fancy cars while wearing decidedly un-fancy clothes. Another “bohemian aristocrat,” perhaps?

“People,” Carlos muttered, forming an invisible pistol with his hand, pointing it at his head, and pulling the trigger. “Crazy, all of them. It’s not just the French.  Bastards everywhere. Don’t let them trouble you, dear boy. We’ll outlast them.”

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By the dawn of the new millennium, my Norwegian fashion designer girlfriend Ingunn and I had broken up. But the two of us remained great friends, and now we had a child together, a boy named Gabriel. Having moved back to New York, I decided to travel to Paris every five or six weeks to see my son and his mother and my other friends there, including Carlos. During each visit, I’d ring Carlos’s landline—despite how ramshackle his digs were, he did have a working phone—and then I’d stop by his room and join him and Quito for their walks around my old neighborhood.

At one point while Ingunn was still my girlfriend, I had introduced her to Carlos.  She petted Quito, who licked her arm, and Carlos was perfectly cordial with her.  But now that I had an infant, I felt a bit hesitant about letting Carlos interact with him. The energy around my bushy-bearded friend, his vibe, just seemed too dark, too negative, too off-kilter, for me to feel comfortable exposing it to a child. My child. (That Hitler photo continued to trouble me.) Besides, Carlos was such a cynic that he probably thought me a fool for procreating (how bourgeois of me, how predictable), although he never said so.

When Gabriel gets older, I told myself, I’ll introduce him to Carlos.

As it turned out, we didn’t have that time to spare.

One day in the spring of 2001, I was back in Paris and dropped by Carlos’s room, where I found him ill in bed. Not hungover—ill. He said he felt too weak to go outside. Then, brushing away my questions about what ailed him (“It’s just a bad grippe, not to worry”) and turning down my offer to shop for whatever he needed, Carlos said, “If you would like to help me, dear boy, would you mind terribly taking Quito for a walk?”

“Are you sure?” I said.

“Of course I’m sure.”

For her part, Quito appeared content to have me as her Carlos-substitute for the day. (The wolf’s need to get outside was probably strong enough for her to trust anyone at the end of her rope.) Even though I was sorry for Carlos, I felt honored that he trusted me enough to walk Quito by myself. Honored, and excited.

Check me out, world, I thought as I pushed open the door to Carlos’s building and let Quito tug me into the afternoon sunshine, I’m taking a wolf for a walk in Paris! And to any pedestrians who gave me a quizzical look (What breed of dog is that? they must have been wondering), I smiled a smug smile, answering them silently, It’s a wolf, okay? You might think you’re cool with your poodles and such, but I’ve got a wolf and you don’t.

Soon, however, some worries began to assail me. The first worry, which popped into my head when I noticed how powerfully Quito was straining at her rope, pulling me along with greater force than I’d expected, was as follows: What if she gets away from me somehow and runs off forever? Or gets hit by a car?  Carlos will never forgive me…And with good reason!

Worry Two was more self-focused. Presenting itself as Quito dragged me near a parked police car with a gendarme inside it, this worry was: What if the cop here busts me for walking a wolf without a license? Sure, I can explain it’s not mine—“This is a borrowed wolf, Officer, I’m doing a good deed for the owner”—but does Carlos really have a wolf-license, as he claims? What if he doesn’t and I wind up in a French prison? Are they as bad as Turkish prisons?

Worry Three was the most lacerating of them. It arrived once Quito dragged me behind her into the park at Place des Vosges. This lovely place was filled with springtime revelers, tourists and locals alike. Peace reigned there. Zero irate bulldogs, zero class warriors, zero thieves with knives. Yet because the wolf with me seemed hellbent on getting at a group of children who were playing in a sandbox, I thought, What if Quito, reverting to her wolfish nature, breaks free of my control and mauls these kids?  Slashes a few of them apart before that gendarme from Worry Two shoots Quito and then arrests me?  I can already write the headline in the local papers: “UNPUBLISHED AMERICAN NOVELIST UNLEASHES WOLF WHICH MASSACRES FRENCH CHILDREN.”  Then I’ll never get out of prison here, and Carlos won’t forgive me, either!

In the end, Reader, I did what you would have done. I took a deep breath or two, I mastered my worries, I held on tight to Quito’s rope, I sometimes yanked hard on it, I said her name sharply whenever needed, and had myself a good walk with her. I’d decided to have fun, and did. No wolf ran away, no American was arrested, and no children were slaughtered, although a few of them got their arms licked by the pink tongue of my companion. And when Quito and I arrived back at her home, the wolf leaped over ailing Carlos on his cot, taking her place in the hollow wall, and Carlos looked at me with rheumy eyes and said, “I thank you.”

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Spring, summer, autumn, winter: that’s the deal. But then spring comes around again. Alas, not for Carlos in 2001. During my following few visits to Paris, I saw him once or twice and spoke to him by phone, but he seemed weaker and weaker, and still wouldn’t reveal to me what his illness was. (The friend of Carlos who eventually told me of his death said the cause had been cancer). And the saddest talk he and I ever had with Carlos was in October, when I phoned him and Carlos said, “Quito ran away.”

“What? Why?”

“Who can say, dear boy?”

Now he was alone. I wanted to inquire why and how Quito had left him, but I opted not to. Probably too painful for Carlos to dwell on. Was there something here I was missing? Had Carlos, knowing he was dying, given Quito away? Or abandoned her? Maybe Quito just got fed up with living in such close quarters and did run off. At any rate, I never asked about Quito again. As in the past, I just took Carlos at his word.

Winter came on.  I made a plan to be in Paris at Christmastime and booked a room at my old Marais hotel. Once I arrived there in mid-December, though, I was suffering from an illness of my own, a heinous flu, so I didn’t feel well enough to leave my room, or to see my son, for that entire stay. Reading Bulgakov’s biography of Moliere and watching the TV news about Al Queda’s so-called “shoe bomber,” I sweated out my fever. When Nico’s song “The Fairest Of The Seasons” came up on my iPod, I thought of Carlos, whom I knew was only two hundred feet away. I considered phoning him—we could commiserate about feeling physically lousy—but I didn’t feel like speaking, so I told myself that I’d see him the next time I came to town.

There was no next time.

And now that twenty years have passed and I’m the same age Carlos was when I knew him, or close enough, I find my memory has started to weaken. So many things I’ve done and things I’ve known have vanished from my mind, or at least grown blurry there. Stuff about Carlos, for instance. What profession had he practiced, if any? How had he acquired Quito? When had he moved to the Marais? Although he must have confided these facts, they’re gone now, all gone.  Still, I have one afternoon that only death or dementia can rob from me: the spring afternoon at the dawn of this millennium when I took a wolf for a walk in Paris. And this wolf was a wolf, yes, and this wolf was my friend, and so was the man who lived with the wolf—the bohemian aristocrat named Carlos de Maldonado-Bostock.

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Thanks to Vera Szombathelyi, always, for her insights and suggestions.

Dedicated to Ingunn, Nathalie, Kees, Alyosha, Txiki, Dounia, Derrick, Milada, Tereza, Martin, Kai, Erik, Tracey, Jenni—and to Ondine and Gabou.

http://www.pleasekillme.com

MORE FROM PKM:

NICO: THERE SHE GOES AGAIN, A MEDITATION ON DEATH, BEAUTY AND ARTISTRY

NICO REDISCOVERED

JOHN CALE : THE MIDWIFE OF PUNK ROCK

MOE TUCKER: ON THE VELVET UNDERGROUND

STERLING SPEAKS! STERLING MORRISON’S LAST INTERVIEW WITH LEGS MCNEIL, 1995

 
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