April 18 Thursday
Sampurna Chatterji, a writer in residence at the American University in Paris, lives at the Cultural Centre Irlandais. We’ve had some interesting conversations over breakfast, about how long it takes to settle into Paris in order to begin writing, about the difficulty of writing fiction while the world moves towards nationalism and fascism. She invited me to hear her read at the American University’s new digs overlooking the Seine. The weather was perfect for a long walk. I carefully chartered my journey but managed to get tangled up in the streets around Les Invalides, making me quite late.
When I finally arrived and entered the elevator to the second floor, another hurried woman entered. She, too, had gotten lost and like me was going to Sampurna’s reading. We arrived in time to hear her students read from their work before Sampurna began. She included something she was working on, an entry from her Encyclopedia of Everyday.
“Is writing like walking?
I would put in it a spoon. The sound of a spoon
moving in a thick glass beer mug
from which an old person is drinking
her unsugared milk for the day.”
An excerpt published in Paris/Atlantic, AUP’s (American University in Paris) Creative Arts Outlet
A vivid dream we were invited to enter. Mesmerizing.
The woman who accompanied me in the elevator was a friend of Sampurna’s and had been raised in Africa. She encouraged me to contact her: she would like to discuss her experience as a person of color living in France. Interesting that as I’m about to leave, I meet someone who could speak directly about the very problem I’ve been trying to explore.
To avoid further street entanglements, I walked home along the Seine. It was a clear night, the temperature in the upper sixties, quite perfect. Pedestrians walked arm in arm, leaning over walls as they gazed into the moonlit river. Restaurants and small canteens like impromptu beer gardens lined its banks. This long, almost six mile walk, reminded me of my first summer in Paris when my rag tag friends and I walked along the Seine stopping to play guitar, to read poetry at the Square du Vert-Galant, underneath the Pont Neuf.
“Ian took me to walk the banks of the Seine with Mike I, Mike II, and Martin. At the end of the Ile de la Cite- a French guitarist, Martin on the banjo, a juggler and a man in tails. Formid!” Journal Entry
April 19 Friday
As I did last year when I was about to leave, I treated myself to dinner at Bistro L’Estrapade, the small restaurant at the end of my street. A delicious meal- an amuse bouch of whipped pike, a salad with warm goat cheese and a strand of carrots, dorado with a butter sauce, quinoa and cruciferous vegetables, ending in tarte tatin and ice cream decorated with ground cherries reminding me of the cloudberries on St.Pierre and Miquelon.
Towards the end of the meal, two black couples sat at a table across from me. The women impressed me, full bodied, as big as their male companions, adorned with big jewelry and clothes that hugged their bodies. Yet, they sat demurely, their hands clasped in their laps while the men spread their elbows across the table dominating the space. A contradiction. They didn’t conceal their magnificent physical presence but acquiesced territory. Was the same true of the Les Modeles Noirs in the Musée D’Orsay’s exhibition?
Adrienne Fidelin, 1937 by Man Ray, her lover
As I lingered over coffee, I considered another contradiction, my leaving a week early. What was my sudden need to get home? Was it becoming too hard to be alone? I almost always travel on my own for a month or more and had never felt a need to depart. Was the frustration with this project too much? Had I forgotten to enjoy the daily pleasures of living in Paris? I wonder if I’ve become too focused on my work ignoring the joy of returning to my first home.
My first home in Paris, Rue Mongenot, 1907 Postcard