Daniel and I were very close friends for more than thirteen years, the last years of his life. We met in Sicily, and spent time together in San Francisco, Paris, Tokyo and elsewhere, but most significantly in Zurich and Flims, Switzerland, his home places. Together we conceived the story for what was to be Toru Takemitsu’s opera, Madrugada, for which I wrote the libretto (following Takemitsu’s death, the opera was completed by Ichiro Nodaira); and, most important, Daniel and I collaborated on the film he was unable to complete, Portovero, for which I wrote the screenplay at the Hotel Schweizerhof in Flims.
I like le chat qui pense very much, and I’m certain that Daniel would have, too. Hs drew the cat of the title for me at my house in California, and it became a kind of signature of his. Daniel probably liked to give the impression that he was a wise old thoughtful cat, but he was a shit-stirrer; he was Swiss, so he liked things orderly and he was constant in his habits, but he also could not abide a status quo. His best reaction to a quiescent state of affairs was with humor—he had a great sense of humor—and, at his worst, he invented reasons to turn over the table and shout or walk out of the room in a fury. Later, of course, he was quietly thrilled by his bad behavior. I would have liked to have seen more of both Daniel’s nutty and diabolical sides in this film.
My nickname for him was The Generalissimo, and he called me The Colonel. I gave him a lot of shit; I wouldn’t let him stomp on me the way he was used to doing to his friends and cohorts in Switzerland, and many of them thanked me for it. We loved each other. I wrote the poem (below) the day before Daniel died, and it was published in La Nouvelle Revue Française two years later.
Barry Gifford is a novelist, poet and playwright whose works include Wild at Heart and Perdita Durango (both adapted for the screen), and Wyoming, The Stars Above Veracruz, Back in America, Jack’s Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac, and Do the Blind Dream?