The Tragic Story of Charles Duchaussois
“A Flash strikes with the fury of lightning combined with the intensive greatness of an orgasm”
Flash is a poignant true life story that will leave a very strong, lasting impression. Duchaussois wanted to live life to its fullest but got derailed by a series of unfortunate circumstances. Another way of putting it would be that, as an extremist, he placed himself in perilous situations that can easily tip-off the balance of Fate from excellent to disastrous.
The place to be in the years that followed 1967 Summer of Love was Kathmandu. It was considered back then to be the Mecca by the most adventurous hippies, beatniks and freaks. What Jack Kerouac had started with ”On the Road” had become more than just a way of life and was now a statement, a set of moral values for anyone thirsty for love, life and thrills, putting the concepts of LIBERTY and LOVE above everything else. And when I carefully chose these two main ideas, the concept of LOVE and LIBERTY, I want you to picture them in every possible way, combining both and adding sex and drugs to the equation. That being said, Duchaussois never considered himself a hippie but rather an adventurer but he definitely was guided by the same ”call of the wild”. Furthermore, he always tried to live according to a certain code that definitely shared some common values with the one the hippies who crossed his path were living by. Unfortunately, at some point, ideals became a luxury he couldn’t afford anymore. There was no code, no values, no concept other than every man for himself.
It all started with a piece of a German shrapnel that hit him and took away half of his sight. Being one-eyed left him feeling angry towards a system that wouldn’t even allow him to own a driving permit, no matter how successful you are at the exam. I guess it was then that his ego took over and from then on, Duchaussois starts a life on the fringes of society and he somehow lands in Lebanon where he’s involved in an important network, smuggling and trafficking arms and weapons of all sorts that will ultimately allow him to buy a huge amount of hashish that can be sold back home in France for a huge turnout. He starts to work for a small producer that will teach him everything he needs to know on how to make his own hashish and manages to keep the other bigger drug lords at bay, thanks to the weapons he’s trafficking. Everything would have turned out as planned but the French guy makes a huge mistake and learns that in Lebanon the words LOVE and LIBERTY don’t fit well together especially when you’re banging your boss’ young beloved daughter!!! Luckily he manages to cross the border to Turkey, thus avoiding the wrath of the outraged father. It’s now 1969, Duchaussois has reached Istanbul.
It’s there that he is introduced to a little hippie community where everyone smokes but more importantly he learns that sharing is a standard key value and he is truly impressed to see how well he is treated and that they survive pretty well living by their standards, plus money or not, he gets to smoke everyday. They also invite him to an island where they can do whatever they want, legal or not, without having to worry about the authorities. On this island he witnesses a young girl overdosing and is quite shocked by the lack of emotion amongst the group. She is given a short ceremony and her body is dumped in the water. It’s also in Istanbul that he manages to put up a sting that will allow him to go on with his trip. Unfortunately, as he flees the city, pursuing his trip, a terrible car accident leaves him unscathed, but two of his best friends are killed while another one is in such bad condition that he barely survives and his unable to carry on, leaving him no choice but to carry on the journey by himself as he decides to head for Kuwait. Life is easy there but after 3 weeks of non stop partying he decides to head for a mystic and much coveted destination: India.
On his way to India, our French traveller encounters for the first time a desperate addict who needs such big quantities of drugs that the only way out for him is death. The plan of this unfortunate soul is to head out for the mountain, making sure he has enough drug to administer himself the ultimate fix that will bring him a certain death. On the other hand, he understands the need for drugs of the Eastern civilisations as he encounters such harsh conditions when crossing the desert, observing that only drugs can get you through, helping your body to withstand the heat and the thirst. It’s a very hard trip. The Hippie Trail became easier and easier to travel but when Duchaussois made it, it certainly wasn’t well-organized.
Once in India, still rich from his Istanbul con and remembering the hippie ways, Duchaussois is paying for everyone and soon finds himself in the center of a small group. It’s in India that Charles will discover the pleasures of opium. Of course, being who he is, he gets hooked and his habit grows very fast. Since he’s still paying for everyone, he can see that the money will become a problem soon. He finds himself a very good job, earning fifty times more than the average pay as an actor in the ever-growing Bollywood film industry but it’s still not enough…
One of Mumbai religious sect, the Parsis, following the Iranian Zoroastrian tradition, have a very particular way of putting their deceased to rest. The Zoroastrian tradition considers a dead body to be unclean. Specifically, the corpse demon was believed to rush into the body and contaminate everything it came into contact with hence the Vendidad (an ecclesiastical code “given against the demons”) has rules for disposing of the dead as safely as possible. To preclude the pollution of earth or fire, the bodies of the dead are placed atop a tower and so exposed to the sun and to scavenging birds. Thus putrefaction with all its concomitant evils is most effectively prevented. In Parsi Zoroastrian tradition, exposure of the dead is also considered to be an individual’s final act of charity, providing the birds with what would otherwise be destroyed. Back then, their cult was very secret and sacred and these Towers of Silence are highly protected by barbwire, wolf traps, ferocious dogs and fanatic armed guards that will not hesitate to shoot anyone that dares to cross this protected zone around the sacred Towers. No one apart the Parsi priests in charge has ever seen inside those towers but a reporter wants the scoop and offers Charles big money to go in and take some pictures. A deal is made. Charles manages to avoid all the traps and dangers on his way in and gets inside, throws up a few times, takes the pictures and escapes death once again on his way back as he’s shot at and pursued by the dogs. He’s done it!! There’s only one slight problem, the reporter, unknowing of India’s ways had bought his films in Bombay. Ninety percent of the time the films that you buy in Bombay are way past their expiry date. These were four years overdue. There is no image on those films. Nothing. All of this for nothing. Duchaussois still manages to get enough money to fulfill all his needs by selling various drugs but he meets a girl that he falls in love with and she’s heading to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, drugs and the hippies.
When he gets to Katmandu, the city is already the capital of hippies. All drugs are legal and there are even certain hotels who are entirely free for hippies from around the world, like the Kovalis. It’s a crazy world where everything goes. It’s now so popular that certain tourists and journalists are going there to document and/or take pictures of the hippie life that’s going on. Charles has managed to stay away from hard drugs so far, but Duchaussois is caught up in an overpowering downward spiral. To get out of it, he decides to take a last trip to the Himalayas to kill himself with a lethal dose of a combination of drugs. In the mountains, he sees a level of poverty that he has never seen before and starts dressing the wounds of the villagers. Reduced to skin and bones, his clothes in tatters, he wanders, ready to die. In a twist of fate, a friend comes to rescue him and brings him back to Katmandu. He soon realizes that this so-called friend tracked him down only so that he could continue to pay his bills. Alone and delirious, he is eventually sent back to France by the French mental-health authorities, where he enters a rehab clinic. He recorded the tale of his adventure on 18 magnetic tapes and sent it to Fayard publishing house in December 1970. With the tapes came a simple note: “ I’m a drug addict. Just got out of detox, recorded this. If interested let me know. If not, Salutations.” Signed : Charles Duchaussois.
An original and compelling memoir, Flash exposes the adventures of a survivor, a chameleon torn between good and bad, between his medical sessions in Himalayan villages and his petty robberies and drug addictions. His trip was groundbreaking from a geographical perspective but Duchaussois takes us on a mystic trip within ourselves, from luxury to survival, never-resting too long and it’s interesting to note that the author never sees himslef as a hippie. He doesn’t have the look, the same political views, has no artistic talent. He’s not even a talented writer. His book is written in a rather sober style. Halfway between a writer and a reporter, offering the reader not only a look at his exploits but also his challenges Duchaussois is a witness to many cultures within a certain era during which many went ”On the Road”, looking for themselves and their place in this world, using all possible ways. This psychedelic novel gives us a clear and sometimes crazy insider’s look at hippie wave of the 60s. Flash ou Le Grand Voyage certainly is a page turner, once you start to read it you just can’t stop and I sincerely admire Charles Duchaussois and I certainly wish life would have granted him a happy ending but after “Flash”, he struggles with drug addiction, helped by Jocelyne, a French woman he met in Kathmandu. Charles and Jocelyne don’t escape from the world of drugs, working odd jobs, raiding Parisian pharmacies, going insane and then to detox. At the beginning of 1971, they moved to Switzerland. 3 November 1971, their son Krishna-Romain was born. The name was in honor of a servant Charles had in Kathmandu and a friend of Charles who settled in Kuwait. At the beginning of 1972, Charles wants to travel again, but Jocelyne wants a stable life to raise Krishna-Romain.
Charles remarried in 1974 to Christiane, and had a baby girl: V. They separated in 1977. At the end of 1978, tragedy struck, Charles was imprisoned for homicide. Divorced in 1983, he met Fernanda and remarried for the third time in the Paris region. They divorced in 1986.
Charles Duchaussois died of lung cancer 27 February 1991 at the hospital Saint-Michel in Paris, the funeral director recognized him and let him be entombed in the Valenton intermunicipal cemetery. He rests in an unmarked grave with two brothers at his side.
Flash has recently been turned into a graphic novel, the first part of it anyways and we’re all still waiting for the second part that will hopefully be available soon, so if you are looking for a page turner this summer, Flash ou le Grand Voyage by Charles Duchaussois definitely represents a cult text that tells one of the most incredible true story I have ever heard. Well worth your time.