Monday, December 21, 2009

Window Licking

a new tradition?

Two years ago, we spent our first Christmas together in Paris. We didn't get a tree or make a turkey... didn't even exchange gifts. In fact, I can't remember what we did on Christmas eve or day. Truth is, it didn't feel much like Christmas at all, but at some point we did discover the spectacle of store windows at les grands magasins--the two major department stores near Opera Garnier. (Remember that video?)

Now around the time that I lost the drive to sell, sell, sell furniture, I also seem to have lost the urge to shop. I can list a dozen arguments against it under almost any circumstance, all designed to put my starving poet's mind at ease for her failure at all things capitalist consumer. And department stores are the worst offenders on my anti-shopping list. But these stores, these urban landscapes of fashion and class seem to come almost all undone around the holidays.

And I do love me some window shopping, or "window licking" from the French lèche les vitrines. The windows are so heavily animated that I rarely even notice the products they are probably trying to sell. Of course I suspect them of being very subversive, as are ads in any other medium, but I so enjoy the displays and the people watching that I can't be bothered to put my finger on any of the ways I should be offended... at least not exactly. In other words, I am somehow able to put my cynical, critical habits aside in favor of a sort of suspension of disbelief.

This year, I wanted to spend my last night in town wandering the boulevard, so after burgers and Bud at Hard Rock Cafe, we walked... sleeting rain and whipping wind be damned! Really, it wasn't that bad. See for yourself. The passing storm picked up just as we crossed the street between the two giant stores. The "first" video is posted here, just for you my dear readers. An expat_chats exclusive world premier ;)

And if you want to see the "second" one, go to my You Tube channel.

Marry Kissmas, y'all ;)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Passing Through

A Happy Landing in Long Beach

So here I am in sunny California. Jet lag still has me up early and the mornings are gorgeous out my second floor windows. Yesterday, I even vacuumed the wood blinds, something I usually don't do until just before I leave again. Next stop: The kitchen!

Besides housework, I've been doing a lot of reading in the week since I arrived. I received two chapbooks in the mail while I was away--winners of the contests I lost last year. One is VERY good--Bar Napkin Sonnets by Moira Egan who lives in Italy and is a FAR more accomplished poet than I. It's published by The Ledge Press and you should probably buy it.

I also read two short story collections and am working my way through (the poetry, for starters) Pushcart Prize XXXIV, because, well I HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR A PUSHCART PRIZE! Yes. It's true. And I'm just sorta reveling in the old cliché that it's an honor just to be nominated, because by the looks of things, I won't be getting in there any time soon ;) and April will come soon enough and all of my secret hopes will be dashed to the rocks. But it IS an honor just to be nominated.

Funny thing is, the poem that was nominated--by Cider Press Review, btw--was one of the easiest poems I've ever written. It was my last semester of grad school. My thesis had been turned in and the last of my student loans had been spent. We had just finished reading James Tate's Memoir of the Hawk with Suzanne Greenberg in our Directed Reading seminar. I wasn't even sure I liked it, but SO under the influence was I that I wrote a little response, more off-the-cuff than anything I had ever been willing to call finished. I read it in class.

Truth is, I never thought much of it after that... Not even when Cecilia Woloch picked it out of my manuscript last summer--along with a couple others--and told me she thought they would like it at Cider Press... Not really even when it got accepted and published in their volume 10 earlier this year.

It's called "Free Refills," and while I can remember certain influences for the poem's subject matter, I have never felt that this poem was my own. I was channeling James Tate, much the way I was channeling Alan Ginsberg when I wrote "Wail"--the one anthologized in Not a Muse from Haven Books. It looks like I'll be reading a lot more again.

So I skimmed through Memoir of the Hawk... just to be sure that I hadn't ripped anything off or done some slant discredit to his good name, and I noticed some similarities and some differences. Nothing alarming. Just enough to help me reclaim the poem, which got me to thinking: What the heck is this poem about? As I wrote it, it felt so automatic. The language is plain. One thought led to the next without complications or contemplation. I let my imagination play in the surreal fashion that I had just read in Tate's little scenarios.

But it wasn't until just this morning, not until I started writing this blog entry, that I realized what this poem is about. What this blog is about. What, quite possibly, my whole life is about. Passing through. We are always all just passing through. Life takes such strange twists and turns that we never know when a state of being will be over, irreversibly over. Birth control fails. Friendships fail. Uncles and grandmas and nephews die. Jobs dry up and we move away, some of us farther and further than others. New homes. New loves. New visions of life. And then a blue seahorse rides off into the desert with an old woman on its back. Or maybe it isn't the desert after all. In any case, nothing is the same.

I may have just found the title of my new chapbook manuscript... and the confidence to try, try again ;)

Thanks for reading. And thanks to Caron Andregg, Ruth Foley, and Robert Wynne at Cider Press Review, and Cecilia Woloch... and James Tate and Suzanne Greenberg. I hear an acceptance speech in the makings!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sleepless in Paris...

The honeymoon is over... at least for tonight.

12:42 a.m. and some blow hard on some late-night talk show is ranting about how only one of every two French people knows the words to the national anthem, Le Marseillaise. Is this such a bad thing? Have you heard the words? (Click here, and scroll down for the translation.) They're only slightly more gruesome than our bright rockets and bombs bursting in air shedding glorious light on our self-righteous flag.

He can't fall asleep without the T.V. He can't fall asleep with the T.V. So for the first time in my life I am seriously considering an eye mask and ear plugs. Every time one of us rolls over, the remote controls click together or just end up underneath me. Even after he drifts off, he'll wake up. And if I've turned off the T.V. he'll turn it back on. I suppose the upside of this is that I end up dreaming in French. If only it weren't such ridiculous crap all the time. From disputes about how national pride is on the decline to jingles and theme songs that inspire what can't quite be called nightmares. Always men. Mental masturbation all hours of the day. The French love their political debates. Apparently, so does my partner.

The flash of the changing channels, silent but unnerving. The most humane thing he watches is reruns of Fresh Prince. It's dubbed in French, of course, so at least I don't get sucked too far into the story. The thread of the theme song is more than annoying, but I guess it's better than his last favorite: space documentaries... black holes and big bangs, the inevitable self-destruction of Mother Earth. "In West Philadelphia, born and raised... Yo, homes! To Bel Air!"

Counting down the days until I go back to Cali... the sun, the kitties, my bed all to myself. No T.V. in the bedroom. (Who am I kidding?! A bedroom!!!) And downstairs on my twelve-year-old Sony, only digital T.V... not even worth turning on most of the time. Ahhhh....

But tonight, I'll sing myself to sleep in my head... some classic Charles Aznavour, I think:

Emmenez-moi au bout de la terre
Emmenez-moi au pays des merveilles
Il me semble que la misère
Serait moins pénible au soleil...

For my non French speaking friends, a sad little translation:

Take me to the end of the earth
Take me to wonderlands
It seems to me that misery
Would be less painful in the sun.

I wonder how many French people know the words to THAT song...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Members Only

WICE--The Women's Institute of Continuing Education.

That's what it started out as back in the day when so many corporate wives were here with their husbands... 1979, I think. And the demographics haven't really changed all that much, but they don't ever use the full name any more.

The year I was introduced to the organization, the idea of "World Institute of Continuing Education" was proposed--by a non-WICE member, but who can say if that's the reason it hasn't caught on... yet? It was 2007 and I was weeks away from graduating with my MFA, so as a graduation present, my parents paid for me to participate in Cecilia Woloch's Paris Poetry Workshop: 5 days of workshops and readings in the City of Light with which I had already had a long love affair... In which I had been carrying on a long distance love affair since living t/here for six months in 2005.

So now, here I am, two years later still, "working" in the unpaid sense for that organization over which we only glossed that week. Dependant on the unemployed status of many of its volunteers, WICE is a non-profit organization that offers courses in everything from wine tasting to German. Literature, studio arts, museum tours and walks in various arrondisements, parks and cemeteries, and of course, Creative Writing. This is the reason I joined WICE last year... I took a course called Writing From Dreams with Sandy Florian. I wrote a few poems, none of which I thought very highly at the time, and I made a few friends--the best side effect of every single workshop I've ever attended. I served as a poetry editor for their literary magazine... and will again this year.

I also tried to get involved as a volunteer but found that so many of the desirable assignments were snatched up by veteran volunteers. I once stood around all Sunday morning at the orientation for their annual Paris Writers Workshop... and met a participant... from Long Beach... who had graduated from my MFA just a couple of years before me! But apart from that, I never found my place at WICE, exactly.

Then late last summer, I went to the launch for the literary magazine, Upstairs at Duroc, where Barbara Beck, the editor, announced that WICE was looking for a new Creative Writing Program Director. I jumped at the opening, emailing Barbara, then the then President, and anyone else I knew of to ask for advice and information. This was the summer of change at WICE. Downsizing and relocation had turned everything on end. A few months of run-around and I gave up. Not the post for me, I said to myself.

Then the email came. WICE was ready for me. The program had been dead for a year and they were ready to jump start it again. Inquiries were coming in about writing classes from prospective students and instructors alike, and with fall on the way it was time to get someone on the job. They gave me a few weeks and the contact info for a favorite WICE instructor, and I was to schedule the first course. I guess they figured I should start out slow and easy, but when the first class sold out weeks before the open house, it was clear there needed to be more on the program.

I have been working at a work-a-holic's pace for the past couple of months and have managed to start up four creative writing options, including a second session of the sold out course and a third course to begin in November. I don't get to teach them because I don't have working papers. Argh! But to connect with the students for which I design the courses, I decided to create a Writers' Drop-in/happy hour... On Thursday evenings, guess where... Au Chien qui Fume, of course! A casual, non-committal forum for those who are unable or not quite ready to join WICE and/or enroll in courses. You see, only WICE members can enroll in the courses we offer, and membership costs 50 euros a year--30 for full time students with valid I.D. For people with time--and money--this poses little or no problem. I haven't renewed my membership since it lapsed this spring. After all, there were no writing classes.

And now that I'm working so hard for them--for free--I am reluctant to cough up the 50 euros. It's not that I don't have it. My partner has been more than generous and supportive, especially where my writing is concerned, but we agree that it seems unfair--like life--that I should have to pay to belong to the organization for which I work so hard, so wholeheartedly, for so many hours a week. Instead, I sit in on the occasional workshop, as my title permits, and feel the energy: so many interesting people, so much good material and discussion. I really wanted to participate, but ultimately--and after a call to my level headed, business minded dad--I have decided not to enroll or even join.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind ;)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

No Reason, No Recourse

The rare blog entry from LA

It's my last day in So Cal, AGAIN, and all I want to do is blog and read blogs. I have a million errands to run, tons of people I didn't get to spend nearly enough time with, and all I want to do is linger in my little apartment with the kitties and my books and try to say something that matters... after six weeks of sunny CA.

This visit, I applied for an artist's visa, which would have allowed me not only to stay in Paris for longer stretches at a time, but also to work in conjunction with a proposed "project." So I gathered my strength and put together a proposal and the necessary multitude of triplicated documents required with the application, five passport photos, and the 150 US dollars it costs just to submit said application, and about the time I had recovered from the sunburn I got in the 3 hours I spent outside waiting, the phone call came: I was denied my carte de sejour and told that the reason was unknown and there is no phone number to call for further information as they are too busy to answer one.

At least I was a good citizen and served my jury duty. I was on call all week for the first week of August, rejoicing every night when I heard that I would not need to report the next day... until Thursday. I got the dreaded Friday duty. It really wasn't bad. I dodged the first and only call of the day--a murder trial expected to last 8 days, according to reports in the elevator at the lunch break. Two hours of wandering around downtown Long Beach was then followed by another hour of sitting--on the 6th floor terrace with a view of the harbor--chatting with my two jury duty pals and soaking up some sun.

I wish I could remember that woman's name. She was a riot! We were released early, one by one, and given our green proof-of-service slips. I was called before she was and I gave her two French cheek kisses. She thought that was really cute. Then I headed quickly out, not looking back. By the way, French authorities are urging people to forgo the catchy kisses. No more bisoux in France for fear of Swine Flu. La Grippe Porcine. The dreaded H1N1. Can you imagine?

I spent a lot of time with my family, adorable and germ-ridden as they may be ;) They are my favorite subjects--in videos, writing, conversation, and dreams. My new (and only) niece is like a fallen star from a strange and unimagined heaven. And I love the reason to watch that Blue's Clues! I brought her a French bikini. At her daycare, the kids must all wear hats to play outside. This is perhaps the cutest damn thing I've ever seen. A day in the life of Hailey Grace would make a superb little video...

Speaking of videos, the silver lining in being denied my visa was that in shaping my application, I actually harnessed my projects and decided to launch a poetry video site that I've been contemplating for many months now. awaywithwords I wanted to set these videos apart from most of the ones I've created so far because these are more honestly collaborative. I meet so many talented writers and artists that I wanted to capture even a fraction of what I hear and put it together with things I've seen. Sometimes the correspondences are uncanny. I especially like how my personal life invariably seeps into the finished product.

I like art that is a bit sublime: Beaudelaire, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Pink Martini. I haven't really thought of this "like" in relation to my own writing. I remember I want to read Kant, Jane Austen, and more Jeanette Winterson. What to pack this time? What to abandon until December? It's so much easier to go than it is to leave. And even as I write that, I see that it's a lie. Going takes courage, hunger, and passion. It isn't always clear that it's the right thing to do. Surely, it isn't always the right thing to do.

But I'm leaving, and I can't wait to get back. I'm going back to my tourist life, to my Filou and my man. Maybe to a new apartment. And there is a dangling job possibility like the proverbial carrot, luring me back to the City of Light--no S, please. Writing workshops and fall, the most sublime season of all. Once it sets in, there is no reason, no recourse.

The street sweeper passes down one street then the next here in Long Beach. I mentally confirm that I parked on the right side of the street last night. Seafood enchiladas leftover in the fridge. Silver left to polish. Laundry. My little yard and the coolest day since I decided to stay. I'm gong to go soak it all in.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bastille Day

It's the people that you meet...

I'm still awed and amazed by this city sometimes. It happens by chance... an intersection of time, place, and people. It happens often, actually.

Last night I ended up at a Bastille Day celebration in Montmartre where I met JoJo from China who was flirting with her gorgeous German colleague--they work for a Swedish company--and Ingrid from Sweden but living in the northeastern US somewhere but I forget where, and her sons Daniel and Niels--ages 13 and 8--who like the Arc de Triomphe best, so far. Georges, the sometimes driver of Le Petit Train de Montmartre--the tram-like train that winds and whirs around that mountain--his Portuguese wife and their handsome young son. (I am old ;) Anna from Michigan. Florence from Paris--he's pretty sure she's Algerian. Yes, he came. It took some convincing but he ended up venturing out with me and my gal pal Theresa--from the LBC. Hehe.

All this after an afternoon spent lunching at Le Relais Gascon and girl-talking at Theresa's "Lola Studio" with Paris rooftops and blue sky out her window. We even had Ellen Fujioka for those precious hours! But when she left us, early evening, Theresa and I went for rum and fromage off the rue Lepic before deciding how our Bastille Day evening would be spent, all the while spending it. Her rental agent had invited her to a party further up the hill... at her 7th floor apartment over looking the whole of the city.

And do you know? I didn't take one picture. Sorry! It happens, especially when so many others are taking pictures. There was a guy with a ponytail and a super professional video camera who finished the evening by playing and singing "Halleluja" on the white upright piano in the mirrored dining area. This was after the fireworks so he had our full attention and got a flattering applause when he finished, which made me feel kinda bad for the guy who had been playing for most of the night--a less sexy character who didn't sing. We stood by the nuts on the clear glass table. A toddler with white blond locks of curls hit his head at least twice near the graciously angled corner. I didn't say anything to either one of them then. What do you say at moments like that?

Speaking of fireworks, the Eiffel Tower--clearly visible from the four french-doored terraces--stood ready to the south. JoJo and Theresa took those pictures where you hold it in the palm of your hand, and the sun went down to the west in its customary blazing glory, Monday morning passing in California. Once the fireworks began, the sky looked more like sea than air, high clouds like foam in moonlight. A cool breeze carried the smoke quickly and predictably to the northeast as everything always blows. I thought of the dust and paper casings from some 15,000 explosions--most ending up in the Seine, Johnny Hallyday--the French Bruce Springsteen--crooning to the million-or-so people trampling the grass that rests all year across the Champ de Mars, so that as I stood at that threshold--so close to the clouds with that plastic flute of Veuve Clicquot--I felt lucky. Even the piano player stopped... soft voices, the occasional ooh or ah--especially when the Tour sparkled with all her usual panache--and the delayed sound of light being made, flames thrown and burned brightly out.

When it was over, we clapped and clung to the few distant and lingering displays outside the city. George and his wife seemed to know which outlying cities these might be. I was happy just to be able to point out to Daniel and Niels the Arc de Triomphe rising like a stage in-the-round and lit-up above the darkening rooftops. Inside, though we tried to regain our earlier conversations, other guests had arrived and the champagne had stopped flowing. Guests took turns at the piano. Daniel and Niels sat next to Ingrid on one of the white leather sofas while she exchanged phone numbers with Anna. Others gathered around the generous remains of nuts, chips, sliced sausage, olives, cherries, and at the center--a gorgeous tray of middle-eastern pastries which went quickly, marking the last movements of the evening.

The table base of giant glass blocks was lined with books, stacks and rows of them, red hardbacks with script and impressionistic painting on the covers wrapped in plastic. One sat open on the table, an illustrated account of one woman's love affair with that mountain and its people... Paris Montmartre avec amour written by the hostess, Theresa's rental agent, Eva Leandre. The images--Cezanne-like studies of the locals--had been framed to cover the two walls not windowed or mirrored in that well-lit space. The artist, an old friend of Ms. Leandre's, Jean-Marc Gueroux was also in attendance. As we said our goodbyes and gave out cheek kisses, Ms. Leandre said I should stop by any time.

We got home after midnight and I finally walked the Filou at around 2. Two guys drove up and asked the way to the Marais ;) An Asian woman was dragged by the arm in halfhearted protest into the Hotel Chatelet by a uniformed officer. A couple argues by their car. Filou grumbled and growled at a group of young drunk guys trotting up his tree-lined avenue, their arms around each other's shoulders. The night seemed darker than usual despite the large half-moon at Saint Jacques' back. Maybe I still had fireworks in my eyes.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reporting from...


A little rain shower just moved quickly through and we're ready for Sunday, part two.

We did a lot of shopping today, gifts mostly... a few for me and many for people in our other cities. The daytime sky is not as poetic as the Parisian one, but the night sky is sublime... so I'm on a blue kick. Got a Lapis Lazuli ring at the Sunday flea market. And a clutch purse, but that's brown, orange and red floral print upholstery fabric... with tiny pink flowers on one side, too. With a little luck, we'll catch a canal tour this evening. Hope the clouds clear.

All of my web browsers are slowly switching to Dutch, so I'm going to get back to real life. I posted a few photos here... stay tuned for the video(s).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Shakin' Loose

At last!

I knew there was a good reason I was sleepless tonight. Just finished chatting with my little sis, my favorite sister... though she hasn't been my favorite for months now, not since she told me she was going to see Depeche Mode in August at the Hollywood Bowl--coolest of all LA venues--with SOMEONE ELSE! But now he can't go, so I'm in! I do hope Dave Gahan wears his leather pants!

And that's not all that's super cool tonight. I've finally begun my stint as, get this, the Creative Writing Program Director for WICE--a continuing education institute here in Paris--and our first course is all but on the books for this fall. This responsibility is the main reason why I didn't go home last month, but I'll make good use of my time since I also have a great lead on a job a language school. Thank you, Ellen Fujioka--my little go getter friend! I might have to go see her psychic while I'm in Long Beach.

I'll also be sitting in for David Barnes at The Other Writers' Group at Shakespeare & Co on July 11th and 18th. Come if you can... five copies of a work in progress, or just listen to the fine writing that others bring in. We can always use fresh eyes and ears.

Other great things that have happened in recent months: This spring I had the honor of working with Cecilia Woloch again to organize her Paris Poetry Workshop--click to see the video I made. Cecilia has such a great group of friends and poets every year. The themes of place, image, and collaboration always make for a very rewarding experience, so if you ever need a(nother) reason to come to Paris, I can highly recommend this week-long workshop. This year we also did photography with Jennifer Huxta, the Montparnasse Cemetery with Heather Hartley, a day in the country with Jeffrey Green--read French Spirits!--and an afternoon of collage poetry with Jen K. Dick. We finished up the week with a participants' reading at S&C, then dinner--Au Chien Qui Fume, where else?! The highlight of my week was reading my recently anthologized tribute to Alan Ginsberg's "Howl"--it's called "Wail"--at a reading we organized at Berkeley Books. There was thunderous applause and the owner of the bookstore complimented me on my bravery... They didn't put me in the "Woman as Freedom Figter" section for nothing! I left him a copy to read and/or sell, but if you can't stop in there, buy it here! The anthology is called Not a Muse, a global anthology of post-feminist poetry published by Haven Books in Hong Kong.

Then... I had my 39th birthday. He took me on a dinner cruise on the Bateaux Mouches--not even overrated. Can't believe it's taken us four years to finally do it! He even muscled us up to a table at the front of the boat, which made for a lovely video ;) Miles Davis' Blue In Green made the perfect soundtrack, even the title, given the colors of that evening. The clouds cleared when night fell, and then it was over.

But not my birthday! It went on all weekend long 'cause he took me to Amsterdam the next day. We just showed up at the train station and boarded the next train, wandered around town for two hours looking for a hotel that would allow Filou to stay, too. Then I got sick. Boooo... So, we're going back tomorrow/today. Seriously, does it get any better?! Ok. Depeche Mode at The Hollywood Bowl is pretty damn good.

Oh yeah, and this week Filou turned two. Of course we had a little party... and two of my MFA gal pals came! Thank you, Filou, for the great excuse to open up the Old El Paso Burrito Kit. He even got to lick his Raspberry Charlotte birthday cake. Oh yeah, and I made a video to celebrate his first two years. See it here.

I guess that just about catches you all up. 5am... time to go take my bath and head for Gare du Nord. See you soon!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Moon on Monday

Or rather, Tuesday morning

The night before last, my insomnia was further complicated by the most jarring nightmare(s) I can remember. My growing frustrations with our small, top-floor apartment were clearly the inspiration behind the heart stopping energy of the dreams that forced me awake at 4:30... after only one REM cycle of sleep. Rustic charm aside, the sloping roof lines, wood beams, and dormer windows are bad Feng Shui, clearly--all that enclosure and weight, the angles, the sag of the ancient walls and ceilings. The drawers of our dresser have to be wedged closed or they slide open toward the decline of the floors, clothes exposed. Don't get me started on the terrible stairs.

But the dream was, as most dreams are, a mix of lives and epochs--past and present colliding in illogic--faces that are, according to some psychoanalysts, all representations only of the dreamer's self. I tried after each startled waking to go back to sleep only to fall back into the dream, until finally, too afraid to keep trying, I got up, turned on my favorite lamp, and wrote it all down... or at least as much as I could lasso in words:

Way, way, way too scary in my head to go back to sleep. What the hell? Not quite this apartment, not this town. And my old neighbor Paula lives across the hall. She and her friend are feeling it, too--strange and scary energy. Each time we try to light a lamp, it blows, until eventually there are none left to light. Even the communal corridor is reduced to a darkened spiral. The friend asks me if I noticed the spots on the carpet. "No. I mean, just now, yes, but they weren't there before." Large, bird-shit white spots that come into focus and fade with our mounting fear.

When we run outside--to find a hotel and some solitude--there are a few kids, maybe ten to sixteen-years old, throwing things at my windows. Rocks? We sort of chase them off but end up back inside. The TV works. (I can't remember the images.)

We call the landlord, [our real-life Italian slumlord,] because we smell, not smoke exactly, but something like it... something almost electrical. He's annoyed and dismissive, reminds us that last time he came there was nothing. The apartment is our responsibility. We can't talk sense to him and hang up. There are cats. One of mine is black and freaking out. I guess I don't have another, but Paula has at least four--mostly black and one white--that chase and swirl in and out the front door, up and down the stairs after mine. When I gather her up she scratches and claws but I don't let her go, close the door on the others.

We all climb into bed together and begin to feel things in there with us, but see nothing. Something lifts me into the air against the ceiling. I can't scream. I can't even talk. I am struck dumb. My mind spins like a vortex has opened.

Throughout the dream I am dialing and dialing, speed-dialing M on my cell phone, but I never reach him. There is an interference, the intangible energy that fucks with us. It keeps cutting the connection short of any response.

When I turned out the light, I stood at the window watching the Seine. Usually smooth as glass at such hours, its surface looked more like TV snow in olive green--agitated, confused, spots of calm beaten back by the glitter and shimmy that hadn't even sense enough to run west toward the sea. I wrote one last paragraph in the moonless dark:

If I re-enter this dream I will fight. We will not think ourselves crazy for all that we feel. We are among the living with loved ones, each other, all present in the darkest night. We will summon our dead if we must. We will take back the night until it is no longer dark, for we, too, are forces of nature.

Ps) Then, blaming the universe, I slept until nine, nightmare free.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Grace Bernice Allen 1913-2003

Oh... I am soooo way behind on my blogging. So much to tell you. But today I am thinking of my grandma--my dad's mom--because it's her birthday. That also means that the six-year anniversary of her death is sometime in the next week or so. I make it a point not to remember that date, but it's hard to forget that she seemed to wait until just after her birthday to give in to the thick forgetting that had been taking her slowly from us for years. Had she just turned 90? For some reason, I was thinking she was 93.

Last year, my uncle did the same, gave in to his cancer right around this time of year. Again, I don't remember, or want to remember, the date. It's strange to miss someone you didn't see but once a year or so, but it happens. My uncle was my grandma's sweet boy. They both died in Havasu City, Arizona, which I guess is as good a place to die as anywhere. But this is a blog about her birthday.

Every year I forget exactly which day is my grandma's birthday because two of my best friends from Jr. high/high school have birthdays on the other two days between the 20th and the 22nd... I don't talk to them anymore either, but they're not dead, at least not that I know of. I miss them, but not like I miss my grandma. I'm pretty sure today is her day. In fact, I'm positive. (Called my dad anyway, just to be sure. He still carries these dates in his wallet.)

I like to think she's watching over me, watching me live this sublime life in a country she never dreamed about. At least I don't think she did. I don't think she ever traveled outside of the U.S. Maybe on a cruise, the one she took with my grandpa... not my grandpa, her husband who died when I was two. No, a couple of years later she started hangin' out with my other grandpa, my mom's dad. (Alhambra was a very close community ;) He would come over to her house and we would sit around the kitchen table "working the puzzle" as she called it. She loved that word scramble puzzle in the paper, I don't know which paper. Now, the kitchen table is in my back yard in Long Beach rusting in the mild weather. Her tea cups are in my bookshelf. I miss my stuff.

Mostly, I miss her, a lot. I guess I always will. The missing doesn't even seem to evolve, at least not since getting over the initial shock of her physical absence. I want to climb into her hospital bed again, smell her old skin, feel its crepe under my fingers. Better yet, I want to climb into her bed in Alhambra, keep her warm, listen to her snoring. I want to go to Newberry's with her, then Bob's Big Boy for spaghetti and chili and a hot fudge sunday.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday Morning Walk

Our quartier...

Before he leaves for work, we go out "en famille" to our local boulangerie. He has fresh-squeezed orange juice and only a bite of his croissant. They aren't quite as light and flaky since the place changed hands a few months ago, and today they are slightly over cooked. Even Filou leaves the crispy crust on the sidewalk, eats only the buttery bites I tear off the top for him. The foam on my cappuccino is creamy and dense like I like it. When I ask for a second sugar, the blond sever pulls one from the pocket in her apron. She speaks English, but not to me.

The Labrador who sits every morning in front of the restaurant across the narrow street from the boulangerie leaves a big dump in the gutter two doors down, wipes his derriere on the pavement, and comes running to "greet" Filou before he has a chance to piss on the Lab's lamppost. Filou doesn't like dogs, swings wide across the sidewalk, pretending to ignore them until he can't anymore, wraps his leash around my legs or those of passers by as he scurries to escape... then sniffs the air in their wakes, watches them being led away.

Lots of suits and briefcases hurry to and from Les Halles, chatting into cell phones about their whereabouts, when they'll arrive, their rendezvous. (How do you make that word plural?) I wipe the orange-juice mustache from my man's bristly lip and leave him at the entrance to the RER, watch as he slips into the flow of people moving down the escalator and into the labyrinth of stores not yet open. We--Filou and I--cross the exterior patios all freshly washed of the night's piss and everything else. The carousel is empty. The mirrored arches reflect the sky in fragments.

A dad in day-off jeans and a tee shirt rumpled like his hair holds his little girl as they kiss Mommy goodbye at the entrance to the Metro on Rue Rambuteau. Maybe he doesn't have a job. A tanned man in pinstripes asks me the way to the Rue du Louvre and I show him, hoping I'm not mistaken. I am, but only a little. (It doesn't run parallel to Rue du Rivoli but intersects it just past the Bourse de Commerce.) At least now he's headed in the right direction. He's carrying nothing.

I pick up a parcel at the post office at Place Sainte Opportune. The sign on the door says no dogs--a symbol with a red circle and a line through it--but the receptionist is happy to see my cutie, lets me come in anyway... "a votre service," she says respectfully whenever anyone thanks her. It takes the clerk a few minutes to track down my box. His neatly pressed dress shirt and slacks are eggplant and khaki, respectively.

The street sweepers in grass green synthetics, heavy black boots, and neon vests, run water from municipal spouts in the gutters then brush the cigarette butts into the sewers with their brooms. The plastic bristles, all bent and frayed at the ends, match the vests--a pleasing ensemble with the trash cans dotting the curbs. Filou jumps over the little streams like a show horse.

The slight woman who works for her brother-in-law at the creperie just downstairs from our apartment smokes a cigarette at the threshold of the tabac on the Quai de la Megisserie. Her hair used to be so thin that I wonder if maybe she had cancer. This morning, it's pulled back and she's smiley and bright. She isn't always.

There's no school on Wednesdays, which means I won't hear the recess ruckus out my kitchen window today from the primary school around the corner. I often think I'll go to Tuileries and sit and watch the child's play--their chase on the dirt paths, their sail boats floating in the fountain. I never have, at least not on a Wednesday.

By noon, protesters arrive at the Hotel de Ville chanting along with the drum and the guy with the megaphone. I can't see them for the new-green leaves on the trees. Later, hopefully, music will float from the windows at the back of the Theatre du Chatelet... Piano, some stringed instruments, and a woman's operatic voice in curling notes tempered by the passing cars, delivery trucks with plants-a-plenty for the local vendors, not-too-distant sirens at intervals just long enough for me to regather my thoughts and spill them here, in pieces.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Put the Moms in Charge!

He IS a feminist! Hooray!

Yesterday, Obama held one of his in-but mostly-famous town hall meetings with a group of 100 students in Istanbul, Turkey. The last question had something to do with Israeli-Palestinian relations and burried in his long winded response was this little pearl: "If we just put the mothers in charge, things would get resolved." Not surprisingly, this feminist concept was couched in the supposedly feminine language of qualifiers: "Sometimes, maybe, I think, etc," but clear away all that mealy mouth crap and you've got what I think is a very progressive ideal that applies to A LOT more than Israel and Palestine.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Finally! April in Paris!

A few weeks ago, we discovered a great little market near our apartment. We've only lived here for a year and a half, after all ;) As with most things, it was just a question of being in the right place at the right time. Until now, we've gone to the Saturday marchee in the Marais or on Sundays we would take the metro to Bastille or even La Motte Piquet, our old haunt. Now, we just walk across the trellised garden at Les Halles. Someone was picking the tulips last night... can't really blame them.

Les Halles is a series of glass walls--a sort of shopping mall--which wraps around a park with grassy areas and smaller gardens like this little beauty with topiary elephants to welcome you...

... Closed today, it seems to be one of a couple of tiny water parks that make up the larger garden. And there in the background is Saint Eustache, an impressive touch of Gothic at the northwest corner of this oldest marketplace in Paris.

Though we made a vow--just last night--to eat at home more often, I insisted on a cafe creme before we started down the block-long row of canopies to choose our fruits and vegetables for the week. I don't have a coffee habit, but I do love the French version, especially when the weather's nice enough to sit outside... a perfect spot to sit and watch the shoppers come...

The back of the church is sooty and neglected compared to the rest, which is currently being renovated... like so much of this city, all the time.

We bought fresh butter, eggs and Camembert, plus strawberries, tangerines, avocados, bananas, kiwis, tomatoes, and a gorgeous salad mix.

... and I bought a little bag of these tiny Easter eggs, which I'm eating right now!

The shell is familiar, but the inside is like nothing I've ever tasted before--crystalized sugar with a tiny, liquid pool in the center. Each color has its own flavor. Once in a great while, some color tastes of licorice... I haven't yet figured out which one, but it's a bit out of place with all the fruity goodness of the others.

They match the colors in the garden that we saw on our walk home... so many bulbs popping up in all the flower beds, all the flowering trees in bloom. Ahhhhh, April in Paris. There really is nothing like it, but we'll have to wear our scarves for a couple more weeks... the French saying goes something like "Wear more than a string in spring," except they say April instead of spring because in French it rhymes with string.

This picture is my favorite one in a long time... of course with all the videos I've been making I haven't had much time for photographs. I think they make the blog so much more entertaining. What do you think?

This tree is already loosing its flowers... It must be related to the Magnolia.

It won't be long before people are shedding their winter layers, too.

The dome beyond the trees...

That's the Chamber of Commerce. But who cares?! Look at the trees! Some haven't even sprung their first leaves yet?! Isn't it divine, the way the sun slants through the branches... all the greens and pinks and the robin's egg blue of the sky?! This afternoon, if the sun doesn't disappear into clouds, the grass will be covered with picnic'ers with wine and cheese... and children kicking soccer balls and chasing each other around... the trees. But at the moment--it's 4:00 now--the clouds seem to be winning. Truth be told, I wouldn't mind a little rain.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Fling Videos

In case you missed my You Tube posts.

It's Tuesday again and Agnes, our housekeeper has just arrived, so before I head out to Au Chien qui Fume, I thought I'd take just a minute to let you know what I've been up to these past few blogless weeks. You didn't think I was sitting around at home, did you?

No... well, yes and no. I'm happily addicted to iMovie, which you wouldn't know unless you're tuned into my YouTube channel. When you go there, be sure to take a look at my "Favorites," too. I just found a couple Def Poetry clips that are not to be missed. And of course you saw my previous posts for my sister's birthday and The Other Writers' Group, right? Since then, I've made three more videos...

The first was in celebration of my dear friends' civil union in New Zealand. I still say it's a crying shame that they can't do this in the United States... they would be so much closer that way. Instead, I had to catch up with their wedded bliss on line... which is fine only because that is exactly how they met... so many years ago. Being film aficionados,they bumped into each other over movie chat and have not stopped watching since, so I was happy and proud to be asked to share in their special day in this special way. See the video here: Civil Union. It's a departure from my usual style only because of compatibility issues in our file exchange. Congratulations, Shaun and Eric! Let me know when you have photos and videos posted from the ceremony and reception.

Almost three weeks ago now, my sweetie and I spent a glorious pre-spring day in our favorite romantic spot, The Champs de Mars. This is where we had our first kiss ;) The Eiffel Tower is as captivating as ever, and our little Filou had so much fun meeting people and running away from the other dogs. I didn't make the video until this past weekend, and he figures prominently. He's going to see Bertrand for a hair cut today after we have lunch. His face is just sooo furry!

And last week, my friend Hillary was in town visiting her charming daughter Sophie who is currently a writer in residence at Shakespeare & Company. We had breakfast and dinner together on Thursday and in between, I took a long wander through one of my favorite places: Pere Lachaise.

I've been thinking a lot about collaboration lately because I'm working with Cecilia Woloch helping her organize her annual Paris Poetry Workshop, and collaboration is the overarching concept this year. We have some fantastic afternoon workshops scheduled with great local poets, and the participants' list is shaping up to be as international as ever. I'm planning on making a video of the week, but you'll have to wait for that.

Because I don't really have great audio capabilities, I set my clips to music. Though I never know in advance which song I'll use--it depends on how the footage feels once I upload it and begin to cut and paste--I'm always amazed at how obvious the musical choice is once I find it. Then I edit the video to fit the song, placing transitions and sometimes definitive moments at specific places in the song. Sometimes this even happens effortlessly. I'm sure this violates all sorts of copyright laws, but if YouTube is any indication, the "owners" don't seem to mind... unless they're drawing up the lawsuits as we speak! I prefer to think of it as artistic exchange. Music is the soundtrack to our lives, after all. And Lord knows I'm not making ANY money for MY efforts ;) I think of it as scrapbooking in the new millenium.

So that should keep you busy for a little while. I can't wait until my friend Ellise gets back from her trip "home" to Dallas. We're planning to whip up a little cooking video to promote her blog Cowgirl Chef and her corresponding cooking classes. They are a hoot if you're looking for an intimate take on American life in this crazy city. She is sooo much fun.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Flashmob Follow-Up

the first videos... since I was busy reading!

In case you didn't read my post on the Flashmob last month... A Religious Experience:

This was the first video account I found posted... it shows much of what I mentioned in my post:

I THINK this one is my favorite... so far... or it was... until they erased my comment!!!

This one has French narration... the intro is especially good, even if you don't speak French!


The Other Writers' Group

Since grad school, the only routine I've had is the one that's wrapped around his Monday though Friday work schedule. Fortunately--and unfortunately--he makes enough money to comfortably support the both of us... mostly fortunately since I still don't have the legal right to work in this country! Damn it. But recently, I've become a bit obsessed with finding my own routines even though I've never been a routine kinda gal. And as much as I am enjoying my Tuesdays Au Chien Qui Fume--in fact, my gal pal Alexa is meeting me there tomorrow--one excursion a week hardly seems enough to keep me sufficiently occupied in the 40+ hours a week I have to kill without him.

But there is another weekly activity that I have participated in on-and-off for four years now... This isn't the first time I've written about The Other Writers' Group at Shakespeare & Company, and it certainly won't be the last. But maybe this time is more official than the others. David Barnes began organizing the weekly workshop in 2005, and that is when I stumbled upon it. I was working on my French minor as an undergraduate and had seen a flyer posted on the store's bulletin board. Not much has changed since then. David's keen eye--and ears--continue to facilitate a friendly and savvy environment for English writers from all over the world... some who are only passing through and others who have lived in the city for years.

Here's how it works: Every Saturday evening from 5-7, as many as twenty-five and as few as three-to-five writers and readers meet in the upstairs library at the historic landmark across the Seine from Notre Dame. Some bring copies of their works in process but many don't. Listening and comments are encouraged either way. And let me tell you, you'd be hard pressed to find a more consistently good place to do so. I am constantly amazed at and grateful for the wealth of quality writing and readers that passes through those doors.

One of the most unique things about David's workshop IS those doors... revolving ones if you like. The ever changing faces and voices in the group--due to the changing seasons, vacations, the economy, and so many other fascinating factors--bring equally varied and enlightening works to discuss and critical commentary to rival any I've heard. I don't always take something to read, and there isn't always time to read everything everyone brings, but it isn't ALL about that. There is community at work, and a welcoming one at that.

If you aren't going to be in Paris on a Saturday for a while, maybe you want to check out the video I made after this week's meeting. And thanks for reading... and watching!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Saint Colette

open letter to my sister on her 29th birthday

Dear Brooke,

Did you know that in this very Catholic country, every single day is named for a saint, this one for Saint Colette. She died on this day in 1447 after devoting her life to reforming the "Poor Clares," a group of poverty stricken and apparently wayward nuns who founded Palm Sunday in 1212. I guess they weren't poor enough for Sainte Colette's liking because--according to Wikipedia--she prescribed more "extreme poverty," bare feet, "the observance of perpetual fast, and abstinence" in an attempt to purify their poor souls.

I, of course, prefer a more modern Colette and so am celebrating this day in her honor and yours. She has a lot to say about women and aging... if you haven't cracked her book of short stories yet ;) Thus begins your thirtieth year and an altogether different decade than the last. You're going out in quite a blaze of glory... a gorgeous new baby and a happy home, a career that promises all of the things our parents always wanted for us, and a persistent beauty fanned by your kindness and grace. I wish you all the self assurance and adventure that these older and wiser years can bring.

I've just come from a long walk all over town... to some of the places we visited when you were here in '05, places I know you love: Along the Seine to the Ile St. Louis, Notre Dame, then back west to Tuileries and the Louvre. There were a few magic moments, as usual... like when a nun came speeding though the swinging park gate at Notre Dame at ten to eight, pushing it open with her front bicycle tire, and when the gardener at Tuileries mistook me for a Russian then wanted to chat with me about movies stars when he found out I was from California, and when a woman found a wedding band at my feet as I was headed for the Pont des Arts and offered it to me for good luck... she tried to insist, but I told her to keep it, that I was never getting married. Then three other women in the next block tried the same scam on me... same exact gold band... probably not even real! Ok, so that wasn't magic after all! Unfortunately these are not the things I caught on film today.

I sure wish you were here now, or that I were there. Instead, this little video will have to do.

I'm thinking of you and hoping you, too, have a wonderful day. Thank you for being my reason...


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tuesdays III

Au Chien Qui Fume, again

Correction... this is not a chain. Apparently, there are others in town, but they are not related. This is reassuring. I thought the food was too good to be chain made.

Had the fish soup again yesterday... yummy as ever. But everything everyone orders always looks good! Usually it's fish, or shellfish, often a large, ice packed platter of it like this one on display in front of the restaurant.

Yes, complete with a reflection of me, Chatelet, and a tiny slice of sky.

It wasn't a very exciting day but it is nice to be known. I read my Pariscope and contemplated the movies again, but didn't go again even though again, Filou didn't go with me. His eye infection is finally looking a lot better, so I didn't want to drag him around this dirty town all afternoon. Next week, Filou... next week. And maybe Alexa will come with us... if the universities are still on strike, which seems likely.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tuesdays II

back to Au Chien Qui Fume this week...

... expecting to be disappointed, especially because I wasn't really all that hungry for fish soup. Of course they have lots of other yummies on the menu, but they do soupe de poisson so well... so I went and I ordered it, all in the name of routine.

The waiter who served me last week didn't take my order, but he did end up bringing my bowl from the kitchen and greeted me with a friendly reconnaissance that surprised us both. I mentioned that the joint was jumpin' and he said the evenings especially have been very busy lately. I suspect the change of pace that I noticed was due mostly to the fact that I had arrived earlier than last week. I had to sit at a floating table for two in the middle of the restaurant. The bar man was lining up saucers with doilies and meringues for after lunch coffees and the fish monger was serving himself a pastis. I couldn't make out any of the conversations around me as they bounced around the room in buoyant warble.

But there was one table that caught my attention... two older gentlemen shared a rather large fish and a half bottle of wine before ordering desert. The one with the short, clean cut hair had a fruit bowl and the other, who was facing me, ordered a slab of cream and custard... maybe lemon. The latter must have mentioned me to the former because he turned to look at me. He tried to see what I was reading--California Quarterly's latest volume--before turning back to his brother, twin brother--I knew it as soon as he turned around. Then he got up and took his coat and hat from the maitre'd and waited by the door. Meanwhile, the less pressed and polished brother caught my eye and took it as an invitation to start up a conversation with me.

The first question is always "What country are you from?" and usually, anyone friendly enough to ask it is happy to meet an American. He seemed a little tipsy, said that "love is life," and then he invited me to dinner. By now it was maybe 3:30 and his brother was standing by the door, all but tapping his foot, but the friendly one kept chatting me up. He would be back with an artist friend for dinner--someone well known, he said--and if I was there, he would be happy to invite me to join them. The idea was enchanting and, truth be told, it hung in the back of my mind as I passed the rest of the day at that small table in the middle of the room drinking Grand Marnier, reading poetry, and writing...

"These crumpled wads of wasted words won't stick. They drip between the walls and the Maitre'd with the thick moustache, and the more I waste, the smaller the words, the vaster the small, blank page... Drinking in the afternoon--la classe Americaine, he says as he works to pay my way. I want to come back again and again. Have dinner with the drunken twin and his artist friend. But can I ask that freedom of my Love, my jealous, zealous Love?"

Ok, not always something worth reading! But there it is anyway. After that, I spent almost an hour on the phone with family and friends back home. Honestly, I don't see how this can last for too many Tuesdays, but yesterday was no disappointment. Thinking I might go to the movies after lunch, I didn't take the Filou; and though I never made it to the movies, it's a good thing I left him home. He would have been clawing at the window after the first hour and a half. Maybe next week, Filou!

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Au Chien Qui Fume

On Tuesdays Agnes, our housekeeper, comes at one and spends three hours doing what has sometimes taken me days to do myself… if I even do it at all… because I hate it! Dusting, mirror and toilet cleaning, kitchen scouring and heavy duty vacuuming, the occasional ironing. Whew! What a load off. She doesn’t have a key so I usually stay home when she comes. We move around each other in the small apartment, maybe I help her stretch the sheets across the bed or gather up the dirty laundry scattered about, but the late lunch hour is perfect for café sitting, and it's got me thinking...

Every writer needs a café, right? Someplace she can go, away from the laundry and email, and the same old walls. But it has to be someplace particular. Someplace she only recognizes after a few visits but which suddenly becomes familiar… a place where she can sit and forget certain things, remember others. And because I want this to be a routine, I am writing my intentions here so as to be accountable for sticking to it.

So this past Tuesday, I let Agnes in and Filou and I went to a restaurant that I know is very dog friendly... Le Chien Qui Fume—The Smoking Dog is a chain, but the only one to which I’ve ever been is here in Châtelet. In warmer weather the patio is divine, looking out on Les Halles and its sage green trellises, and inside the ambiance is classy without being pretentious. There are pictures of celebrities hung just below the ceilings and little dog statues perched above the bench seats that line the well-partitioned spaces. All this is only part of the reason why I’ve settled on this place.

When we arrived, lunch hour was nearly over. An older woman seated near our table with a matching older man gave us the usual disapproving glances, top to bottom. He didn’t of course. The men rarely do. Plus, he was seated with his back to us. But they were already having desert and Filou settled in at my feet right away, so quiet, so well behaved that it didn’t take long for her to forget me. No sooner had my wine arrived than I found myself privy to the most beautiful conversation I have ever overheard in this beautiful city.

Maybe it was the chocolate, but her face had turned to mush and her eyes were sparkling from wells of almost tears. She was actually smiling… the sweetest smile, truly, and she reached across the table to hold what I can only hope was her husband’s hand. (She spoke with such sincerity and compassion that I thought it might have been her lover.) “When I do things for you, when I show you how much I care, I do it because I want to, not because I have to. Sure, affection is a basic human need, but it’s not about that.” I couldn’t hear his responses, but I could see that he was looking into her eyes, and even from the side of his face, I could tell that he, too, had been moved close to tears.

This is what I wrote in my little notebook: “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this manic happy. I’ve just overheard the most amazing conversation—am still hearing it, in fact. The previously snooty couple across the aisle has been having one of those tell-all talks about their love and life. I could cry… fighting back the tears. I’ll blame the Sancerre.”

So we're all nearly crying, and they were speaking French, of course, so I began writing in French but have translated it here: “Among the most beautiful moments of my whole life. At first, I didn’t want to strain to listen, but I couldn’t help myself... ‘You’ve brought me so much… I think we've succeeded at making a nice life for ourselves, and that’s no small thing.’” She went on to say that yes, they had had their difficulties, but that they had surmounted all of it to arrive at this place today.

And that’s how I chose Le Chien Qui Fume. Their soup de poisson—fish soup with croutons, aioli, and shredded cheese is the best I’ve tasted, but if you’re not careful, they’ll sell you the most expensive wine to go with it. I’ll blame the Sancerre again for what happened next. I gushed to my server about the afternoon I had passed and how I wanted to come back again and again. Then I asked him where I might find my favorite dog statue—they move them around—gauche-ly calling it “le chien qui pisse.”

I love the statue because when he sits on the deck behind the bench seat, it looks like he’s piddling on the head of whoever is sitting there, their back to him, probably completely unaware. Apparently, there is only one pissing dog in the place because the server knew exactly what I was asking for. He laughed while clearing the couple’s table and said he thought it was upstairs, even insisted on bringing it down for me in lieu of my searching.

I took my picture (for you!) and headed for the door with my Filou, and the server said “à la prochaine, alors—see you next time then!” Maybe one day when I’m famous and dead—because I would have to be both!—this place will become lovingly known as Le Chien Qui Pisse. I think it has a certain ring!

When Horses Fly

Oh my gosh. Outside, the sun is shining in a rare and absolutely cloudless way. It's falling through the windows and warming the new quilt I bought at the local shabby chic shop on Tuesday. I want to go out and just be in it, but I need to tell you some things! Yesterday, I saw a flying horse.

I often see them three at a time, not flying of course, but with Gendarmes all saddled up on top, clattering down Avenue Victoria. In fact, I just filmed a group the other day patrolling the Boulevarde du Palais. I didn't have my camera in hand for the rapturous moment, but it probably wouldn't have made much difference if I had. She was flying pretty fast.

It struck me funny that a lone officer was standing at the corner of the quai and the Pont au Change like that, looking up the Seine more than at the people bustling in all directions or the cars. It was about a quarter to noon and his whistle hung on his lips. I passed him, maybe twenty paces, before I heard the noise that signals a flying horse--The approaching sirens were nothing out of the ordinary, but the whistle, and some shouting followed by a strange absence of movement and chatter on the wide sidewalk, the interrupted flow of traffic.

Just as I turned, there she flew, limbs stretching beyond her barely touching the ground... The moment was suspended. Everything stood still as her police escorts cleared her path, and there she went up the quai towards the Hotel de Ville. I can't say where to after that. Her yellow rain coat flapped only a bit, so graceful were her strides. It must have seemed, to her, that the whole world had stopped. She had gotten loose of her Gendarme and was running. I wonder if she knew where to.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Religious Experience

or, Flashmob in Paris the 18th of February.

At my high school reunion a couple months back, an old "friend," after learning that my boyfriend is Muslim, asked me in the most judgmental way, "So what religion are YOU?" It took me a few seconds to respond, for a few reasons... And when I came up with "Literature is my religion," apparently my time to respond had run out and I was thought a heathen. Now I know it's true... at least the religion part! And I don't think S/He will hold it against me ;) This is why.

You see, I went to this Flashmob thing. I had nothing better to do, not until three anyway. So I took my favorite book off the shelf--Jeanette Winterson's Art Objects and chose which passage I wanted to read--pretty much the whole book is worthy and I could never have anticipated how very perfect her voice would be for the occasion. I had no idea what I was in store for.

When I arrived, the Place St Michel was more crowded than usual... more like a Saturday night than a Wednesday at noon. Riot police had lined up their paddy wagons, clearly preparing for the worst. Who knows what can happen when you get a bunch of readers together, right?! I had a few minutes to wait for the whistle and was hoping to run into someone I knew, but alas, I stood alone and smoked a festive clove cigarette while the people came. I wished I had invited that group of students that I passed in front of Sainte Chappelle. I wished I had brought Filou. I wished I had enough courage to walk up to the Addonizio'esque French mom and her daughter with the oh-so-French embroidered beret and to tell them, "Comme vous êtes belles !" Each with her book in hand.

And then the whistle blew. At first it got quiet and I felt self-conscious. This is what I read:

“To begin with the reader. The ordinary reader is not primarily concerned with questions of structure and style. He or she decides on a book, enjoys it or doesn’t, finishes it or doesn’t, and is, perhaps affected by it.”

Second by second the din of dissonant voices rose and within just a few lines I was crying, yes crying... happy to have worn my dark sunglasses despite the ever-present rain clouds.

“When the fiction or the poem has a powerful effect likely to be lasting, the reader feels personally attached to both the work and the writer. Everyone has their favourite books to be read and re-read. Such things become talismans and love-tokens, even personality indicators, the truly bookish will mate on the strength of a spine… The world of the book is a total world and in a total world we fall in love.”

By this time, I was no longer sure if it was the mob or the book that was making me so emotional. I assure you, I could barely hear my own voice and my mouth was trembling and falling all over the words…

“Falling for a book is not the nymph Echo falling for the sound of her own voice nor is it the boy Narcissus falling for his own reflection. Those Greek myths warn us of the dangers of recognizing no reality but our own. Art is a way into other realities, other personalities. When I let myself be affected by a book, I let into myself new customs and new desires. The book does not reproduce me, it re-defines me, pushes at my boundaries, shatters the palings that guard my heart. Strong texts work along the borders of our minds and alter what already exists. They could not do this if they merely reflected what already exists. Of course, strong texts tend to become so familiar, even to people who have never read them, that they become part of what exists, at least a distort of them does. It is very strange to read something supposedly familiar, The Gospels, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, and to find that it is quite unlike our mental version of it. Without exception, the original will be as unsettling, as edgy as it ever was, we have learned a little and sentimentalised the rest….”

I read on through tears… and simultaneous laughter! Giddy does not begin to describe it. I felt much like I did almost twenty years ago coming out from under the anesthesia used by my oral surgeon when he pulled all four of my wisdom teeth! I looked around me and others were giddy, too. Probably not crying, but I didn’t want to stop reading long enough to look so closely. Instead, I pushed through the rush.

“… I do not mean to say that any of this is conscious; mostly it is not, and therein lies a difficulty. Art is conscious and its effect on the audience is to stimulate consciousness. This is sexy…” [and at this moment, I KNOW the older gentleman next to me was listening! I began to calm down.] “… this is exciting, it is also tiring, and even those who welcome art-excitement have an ordinary human longing for sleep. Nothing wrong with that but we cannot use the book as a pillow. The comfort and the rest to be got out of art is not of the passive forgetting kind, it is inner quiet of a high order, and it follows the intensity, the excitement we feel when exposed to something new. Or does it? Only if we are prepared to stay the course, not give up and doze off, not leap from rock to rock after new thrills. Books need to be deeply read which is one reason why it is wise never to trust a paid hack.”

In the unyielding din, I found myself wondering what others were reading, if they had chosen their books as appropriately as I. In the moment, I had given up understanding exactly what I was reading. Everything related to that moment. Every word was about that moment. We were making art… many without even knowing it.

“Our unconscious attitude to art is complex. We want it and we don’t want it, often simultaneously, and at the same time as a book is working intravenously we are working to immunise ourselves against it. Our best antidote to art as a powerful force independently affecting us is to say that it is only the image of ourselves that is affecting us. The doctrine of Realism saves us from a bad attack of Otherness and it is a doctrine that has been bolstered by the late-twentieth-century vogue for literary biography; tying the writer’s life with the writer’s work so that the work becomes a diary; small, private, explainable and explained away, much as Freud tried to explain art away.”

Just as I reached the white space, the second whistle blew and the crowd gave up the joyful noise of a Flashmob well executed, myself included, hooting, hollering and clapping—the muffled clapping of hundreds of hands on the books they were holding, and then the crowd began to disperse.

I’ll post a link to the video once I find it. Or if you find it first, please send it along. I’m just left of the fountain in a red coat and camel colored hat… with dark glasses, of course. Not hard to find in a crowd of black-clad Parisians! In the meantime, here is a quickie video of a Flash-freeze mob at Trocadero.

Short story long, if you have a chance to be a part of a flashmob, do it. Just do it!