Paris Day 20-21

Friday April 20

Another group of days as a flaneur, this time with my daughter.  However, the day did not begin well.  We walked to her Airbnb in Les Gobelins neighborhood: it was a long walk without much charm much like the studio she had chosen.  After a disappointing tour of the kitchen and bathroom, we agreed she would pick me up at the Irish College.   From there, we would walk to Les Enfants Rouge, a restaurant in the Marais where she had made reservations.

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In between, I searched for alternative accomodations.  When she arrived, she said the walls were so thin, she could hear people turning on the water taps in the next apartment.  We looked at the possibilities and decided the best choice was my old stomping grounds,  Grand Hotel des Balcons in the Odeon.

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The day improved with an excellent meal at Les Enfants Rouge.  As we were both tired, we decided to get a cab, go directly to her Airbnb, get her bags, and back to Odeon to check in.  Malheuresment, we forgot that the code to the building was on my daughter’s phone which was charging in my room.  Back to the Irish College, back to the studio in Les Gobelins,  and then, finally, Grand Hotel des Balcons on Rue Casimir Delavigne.

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I’ve stayed in the hotel so often, walking in felt like home.   Her room was much bigger than the monk’s cell where I usually bunk.  She jumped for joy at the view, the quiet room, and spacious bathroom that would be home for the next few days.

Making my way back to the Irish College  on Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, I saw an well known restaurant, Le Polidor (seen in Woody Allen’s movie, Midnight in Paris), a small marche still open, a Moroccan and a Vietnamese restaurant.  Except for The Polidor, none were familiar even though I’ve spent many an hour on this street in the San Francisco Book Company.

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Today, we walked 11 miles and spent an hour and a half in a cab.

Saturday April 21

We both love the department store, Bon Marche on Rue de Sevres.  As soon as we entered, looking at the produce was a priority.  Although more beautiful than any other display of fruits and vegetables, this time it did seem smaller.  Now there are large sections devoted to prepared foods.

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Next, we meandered up to the top floor, our special treasure, the notions department.  We wandered through the designer clothes, my prefence being Valentino, her’s Sonia Rykel.

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We both liked a beautifully made white jacket.  Tres tres chere. And, finally, the piece de resistance, the top floor and the notions department.  In order to look at buttons, one must get a sales person who will don gloves to retrieve them from a display case. And the ribbons, c’est formidable.  We found the staircase but no notions. Where could that department be?

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Il n’exist pas.  Maintenant, a toy department, an excellent toy department, but not the notions that took one back in time where each item, not matter how small, was valued.

Downstairs, we grabbed salads to eat down the street at Square Boucicaut named after the founder of Bon Marche.  An interesting encounter between two citoyens francais took place on the bench next to us.  A woman who appeared to be homeless given the amount of gear she had with her sat quietly.   Not far from her sat a man who began to batter her with questions.  Why did she have so many bags?  Where was she going?  Why was she wearing a coat when the day was so warm?  She mumbled and sometimes answered but often turned away.  Finally, he left.  She departed soon after.  Another man noticed she had dropped a sweater which he handed to her.  She thanked him, and on her way out, tossed it in the garbage bin.

My daughter had dinner plans, so we made our way back to Odeon, stopping at her favorite stores to look at lovely clothes and beautiful shoes.

 

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Paris Day 19

April 19

The walk to the Alliance Francaise each morning fills my eyes with a palette of spring while air, fresh and sweet, embraces my skin. I must come some morning, to sit in these chairs, to read, – a little bit of heaven.

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It is time to leave Agnes to her own devices and turn towards Duras.
The street where she lived for over 50 years, Rue Saint Benoit, doesn’t resemble what she encountered every day.  Certainly, Restaurant Le Petit Saint Benoit looks more up scale than it did in photos from the 1940’s except, perhaps, the inside.

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In her memoir of WWII Paris, La Douleur or The War, Duras wrote,

“I get up and lean my head against the windowpane.  Down below is the Saint-Benoit restaurant, full up, hive of activity.  They’ve got a secret menu for those who can pay.”

The last time I passed by the restaurant, it wasn’t a “hive of activity.”  Today, I will see if I get a secret menu.

To get there from the Alliance on Blvd Raspail, I walk down Rue de Rennes, excellent for window shopping.  As I reach Blvd St. Germain, a Monoprix.  My daughter said it’s a good one, and she wasn’t wrong: even the clothes attract the eye.   C’est mieux.

By one, I’ve reached the restaurant.  Only a few outside tables are in use.

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A lively waitress seats me, gives me the menu, and when she returns, we discuss my order.  I want some grenouilles or frog’s legs.  No, she says, I can’t  order just one entree.  Can I order two, for instance, the frog’s legs with the salad d’endive?  No, I can order one from the list of entrees, the first course, and one from “the plats,” the second course.  I select risotto aux asperges for my required second course.  Then, we choose the wine.  She discourages my choice and suggests a more expensive one which she assures me is much better.

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She writes the courses down on the paper tablecloth and quickly returns with the salad d’endive. I tell her, no, I ordered the grenouilles.  She shows me she has written down the salad.  I tell her she misuderstood and I want the frog’s legs.  She acquiesces but not happily.

The sun has moved and I’m engulfed in hot air.  I ask to move.  A problem as she has to move the paper tablecloth to another table.  She does it.  Ten, fiften minutes pass, no grenouilles.  Luckily, I unwitttingly ordered an entire bottle of wine and can pass the time getting buzzed.  The owner or manager sympathized with me and apologized for the delay.

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Finally, they arrive. Pas bon. They must have been frozen, microwaved, then, deep fried. Next the risotto- very good.  As I ate I glanced across the street at 5 Rue Saint Benoit and wondered what window Duras had pressed her head against.  I watched the other diners interacting with the waitresses and noticed they were having a different experince than moi.

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They were told the menu du jour, news to me, were asked if they would like water, I had to ask for it, and were given a selection of desserts not offered to me. Perhaps this was my secret menu, the one reserved for Americans that don’t speak bien Francais.  Duras would have cheered me on: she could put up a good fight when she felt her rights were ignored.

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Paris Day 18

April 18

After my class at the Alliance Francaise, I walked over to Rue Daguerre.  It would be a last look as it was time to move on to Marguerite Duras.  I went a different route and found my way up Rue de la Gaite filled with theaters and maybe 20 creperies.  Pourquoi?

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I came upon Rue Daguerre at the very end where it butts against Avenue du Maine.  I had read there was a cinema devoted to Agnes Varda, Cine-Tamaris, close by.  At least I could get inside and see what they had to offer.  I found the right number but the building was shut tight.  As I glanced down the street, there she was, Ms. Varda, carrying her groceries.  I became so excited I hardly had time to hit my phone in time to capture her image.

To get stay close to her, I ate at the Vietnamese restaurant next to the building she had entered.  I had a beer and a good pho.

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I wasn’t ready to leave her, so I went across the street to a vegan tea cafe and sat outside with bergomot tea. The air was just the right temperature, cool but not cold, the sun warmed my feet.  Je suis content.

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Then came the doubts.

I had hoped this experiment of looking for three women artists I admired would inform, enrich, but maybe I was nothing more than a zealous fan, invasive and intrusive.  I published the photo I took of Agnes Varda on Instagram but regret my actions. To take her photo where she can expect to have it taken, in the lobby of IFC, passes muster, but snapping a photo where she expects privacy does not.  Perhaps this is why some tribes believe a photograph captures the soul.

I walked home through Cimitiere Montparnasse looking for Marguerite Duras.  I searched up and down the designated row but no success.  Am I being punished?

 

Paris Day 13-16

April 13-16

The next four days except for three hours of French at the Alliance Francaise were spent flaneuring with a friend visiting from Ireland.  Lunch took place at the Irish College in the residence’s hall: good cheese, radishes, olives, and bread.  Without plates and only one fork and knife, it was a tasty but messy affair.

She decided on a walk along Rue Mouffetard.  The day was cold and rainy calling for a stop at a cafe.  Ordinarily, my friend doesn’t smoke but Paris called her and at a tabac she purchased a pack.

As we had origianlly met in the south of France, a pastis seemed in order. I loved watching her smoke as we lingered over our Ricard’s.  Although I have never smoked, I have tried.  Seventeen years ago when I was about to go on to France for a sabbatical, I asked my husband to teach me.  For several hours, he lit up one after another but it didn’t take.  We even tried the small black cigars favored by Mme. Brenot.  No go. Yet the mystery of watching a smoker deep in its pleasure intrigues me.  For the next few days, that voyuerist pleasure was saited.

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Paris Diary  My 21st. summer

Michel and I walked all over the Latin Quarter.  We had cous cous spread out on newspapers.  He knows everyone at the restaurant.  Then to the Pantheon under an almost autumn sky.  Finally to Chausseurs on Rue Mouffetard, a tiny restaurant specializing in frites.  The waiter, a friend of Michel’s from Columbia, tells me, “You have the eyes of my country.”  I’m smitten with him, with Michel, with myself, with Paris.

Another day with the help of the painter from Toronto, we wandered up and down the narrow walkways in Belleville, stepping back to the 19th century.

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From there , we traveled to Montmartre and discovered a small bookstore where the owner engaged in lively conversations with returning customers.  One shelf was devoted to Marguerite Duras.  I found her again. I selected a small book entitled La Malade de la Mort, which I interpreted to mean that death was like an illness and seemed in keeping with the theme of this trip.  I glanced at the first page and thought I might be able to understand a good part of the novel.  The accurate translation of the title is The Malady of Death.

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Later, I began making my way through the text.  When I got to “au hasard de ton sex dresse dan la nuit,” I realized I was in for some erotica.  The name of the publishing house made me wonder if there was a connection, Les Editions de Minuit or Midnight Editions.  However, Alain Robbe-Grillet was one of it’s founders.  The book, at least as far as I got, is a rumination on the sexual relationship between a man and a woman.  Sometimes, he likes to watch her sleep.

According to her biographer Laure Adler, writing this short novel gave her great joy while she drank 6-8 litres of wine a day.  “She was 68. She no longer had a man who wanted to teach her how to love, but she could image one.”

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That night we went back to Rue Moufetard for moules frites and Sunday returned to Marche Bastille. Perhaps because it was Sunday, I couldn’t find the cheese monger with the special versions of raclette.  We settled for a creamy goat cheese and a delicious Mourir. Again, good olives from the same stand, a bunch of radishes, blood oranges, and a baguette. We took our lunch to the Seine descending from Pont D’Austerlitz.  Unable to finish our bounty, we left the bread for the pigeons.  Two men seated not far from us were astonished we didn’t eat it ourselves and when we told them the bread was for les oiseaux, they smiled in agreement.  We wondered if they wanted it for themselves. Sometimes, we can’t escape the ignorance of privalege.

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Monday, my first day at the Alliance, then a meander through the Jardin des Plantes, around the Marais, and to Place des Vosges where we came upon a tea emporium, Dammann Freres.  Along the shelves samples of tea leaves sat in small containers for sniffing: roses, bergamot, violet, a complete flower garden.   Then, coffee at Cafe Hugo.

Paris Day 12

April 12 Paris

Duke Special, a musician from Northern Ireland, played in the chapel here at the Irish College.  He has adapted several of Michael Longley’s poems.  Longley has been described along with Seamus Heaney as a poet ot the troubles and so it continues, this exploration of national trauma and, perhaps, healing.

With just a piano and his voice, he filled the space with hope, humor, loss, redemption. I barely moved during the entire concert, mesmerized, enthralled.

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Duke Special’s music and Michael Longley’s words continue to reverberate . Krista Tippet, host of the radio show and podcast, On Being, interviewed Longley in 2016 with this introduction “To dwell on beauty and normalcy- to assert the liveliness of ordinary things, precisley in the face of what is hardest and most broken in society- this has been Michael Longley’s gift to Northern Ireland….”

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One poem that is part of these adaptations is “The Ice Cream Man” which refers to an ice cream man murdered during the troubles. Longley’s daughter, who frequented the store, used her own money to buy carnations to place on the pavement.  In the poem, Longley pairs the names of flowers with the flavors of ice cream of which is daughter knew every one. The mother of the murdered man wrote to Longley: “The fact that there were 21 flavors of ice cream in the shop and you wrote 21 flowers in the poem was coincidental. I do bless you for your kind thoughts and may God bless you.” She signed it, the Ice-Cream Man’s mother…”

“The Ice Cream Man”

Rum and raisin, vanilla, butterscotch, walnut, peach:
You would rhyme off the flavors. That was before
They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road
And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.
I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren
I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,
Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,
Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,
Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,
Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.

Who will give such gifts to America?

Paris Day 9 Night

Paris April 9 con’t.

After the discussion of the troubles, some of us, the poet, the food bloger, another poet, the singer, his partner and me, ended up in the aritist’s kitchen fordinner where talk continued. Colonialism robs creativity was considered.  Did a lack of imagination plague my immigrant grandparents, uncles, aunts causing them to deny or invent thier histories?  What did thier children, grandchildren inherit?

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My grandmother claimed she was from France, from an enobled family.  Some of this was true: some was not.  Like Marguerite Duras, my grandmother grew up on a French colonised island, Saint Lucia.  Her family name, de Jorna, did have some notable characters in it’s history: a nobleman, a musketeer, a head of the milice in Martinique- his charge, keeping the slaves in order.

There are relatives in France, but the Caribbean de Jorna’s who left the Netherlands in the 1400’s, then, settled in France for 200 years, had been in Martinque and St. Lucia since the late 1600’s.

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My grandmother Germaine, Noel’s daughter

My great grand mother Noel de Jorna was described as “colored” in her death certificate. Her ethnic description was a porous secret in the family, a family of talents in music, in mathematics, in engineering, their creativity sacrificed to “fitting in,” “to not being found out.” Aunts scrubbed nieces with bleach to lighten their skin.  During the summer,  my father insisted I cover up lest my skin got any darker.

The singer mentioned identity which I guess my search is all about, maybe not identity, maybe a place in the world.  He and his partner found my project interesting to which I replied “I’m afraid it may be ridiculous.”  That got a laugh.  But their interest boosted me.  I needed it.

Paris Day Nine

April 9 Paris

After several days of sun, the rain and the cold were back.  I decided to return to Rue Daguerre.

On my way, I stopped at the Cimetiere Montparnasse: at least, I could find Agnes’ husband Jacques Demy, the director of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  He rests in a serene site in Division 9 protected by a small tree.

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Once the rain started up again, I made my way to Rue Daguerre and found a cafe that offered sanctuary, a view of the street, and is, seemingly, a hang out for locals- a man seated at the bar was reading a newspaper.

I drank my coffee and watched the street, but reckoned my vigilance would not be rewarded. Why would a 90 year old women come out at noon to walk in the rain? Why had I?

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Nevertheless, I persisted and walked up and down the street  but no discoveries. I did see two Vietnamese restaurants- a link to Marguerite Duras.  Making connections between disparate ideas, people, even places that have no relationship can be a symptom of pyschosis.  The troubled mind may be trying to make sense of a chaotic world, to find meaning as I am.

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That evening at the Irish College, Declan Long presented his book, Ghost-Haunted Land which looks at the art of Northern Ireland since the troubles.  My neurons bounced against each other in a explosion of ideas and feelings.

The art opened up deep reservoirs of empathy for the suffering that took place. A photo of Bernadette Devlin haunts me.  During the discussion afterwards, despair  over our inhumanity surfaced. One artist who had gone to art school during the troubles spoke of a tutor questioning why people were wearing black arm bands.  Dismayed at his insularity, she explained that they honored the men who had died in the hunger strikes.

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Still of Bernadette Devlin by Dublin Artist, Duncan Campbell

At first, I thought America should have such an art show, one that would help us embrace the other whether a Trump supporter, a person of color, a white person, an immigrant. But the country is so vast.  Who would be affected?  Anyone?  The discussion also touched on whether someone who isn’t from Northern Ireland can really produce art that authentically represents the situation.  It reminded of whites coopting Black art, their language, their music.

Two words bedevile me: authenticity and relevancy.  What the hell am I doing? And who cares? These questions circulate frequently. I try to remember this is an experiment, a possibility, an opening, a making, perhaps, as I follow these women, follow my younger self, live again in Paris.

 

Paris Day 6

April 6

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I had invitations for a variety of activities , but I needed some time to myself.  Decided to do wash and try a language school. I did get through to one and was advised to take the test immediately if I wanted to start next week.  I did as I was told, and, with great difficulty, took the test on my phone.  It corrected the spelling for almost every word, forcing me to begin again, and again, and again- a 30 minute test done in an hour and a half. Using my phone for everything digital such as maintaining this blog takes forever.  Using the computer in the Mediatheque means using a French keyboard, another frustration.  After those grueling experiences, the washing machine skipped the spin cycle: everything had to be rung out by hand.

I had to get out.

More chores. I went to the Monoprix on Boulevard St. Michel in search of a few glasses (one for drinking, one for flowers, one to hold pens and pencils), a soap dish, and some basic utensils. I forgot to bring my swiss army knife. Not a successful experience, certainly it isn’t anything like the Monoprix I frequented in Aix: no glasses, no soap dish, no utensils. I walked out with a bar of soap and a dried out palmier, as again, I forgot to eat lunch.

The day was saved on my way home.  Carts of sale books surrounded the front of Librairie Gilbert Joseph, a bookstore on Boulevard St. Michel.  Marguerite  Duras stared back at me.  Surely a sign.  The first in three days.  Lack of water, technical challanges, and searching language schools saboutaged 72 hours.

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Finally, I bought some glasses at a local hardware store, some wine, nuts, and a bottle opener at the local Franprix, retrieved the luque olives purchased at Marche Bastille, and sat in the Irish College’s courtyard reading my newly purchased book on Duras in French. Pas Mal.

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Paris Day 5

April 5

The painter, the poet, and I went to the market behind Bastille. Bought olives and radishes so we could have a lovely breakfast tomorrow.  The poet found a cafe that had advertisements for photo show of the Rolling Stones in the Place des Vosges which is close to where my son and his wife are staying until Monday.  The poet asked if he could take a photo of me leaning against a poster showcasing Keith Richards. I wondered if he saw age as the tie.

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Since the gallery was near by, we wandered over, but it was closed. Much time has passed since I had been to the Place des Vosges, more than seven years: I had forgotten how stunning it can be.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to get French classes at the Catholic University, only to discover the short term classes are offered only in the summer. The conversation with the clerk was in French as her colleague who could speak English wasn’t available. As soon as I used the word “voudrais” or would like, using the conditional tense, she sighed with relief. “Vous pouvez parler le francais.” You can speak French she said, but I know, pas bien.  She gave me the name of a school which I will try tomorrow, my fifth attempt at locating a place to school me in French.

My son called for restaurant suggestions known for good steak au poivre. The only one that came to mind was Balzar’s:  the last time I was there didn’t impress. We ended up at Chez Paul by Bastille.  Company good, food not so good.

I covered 12 miles today but found none of the women I’m looking for, not even myself.

 

Paris Day Three and Four

April Three and April Four

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April 3 and 4

Confusing days for me. An Irish friend said there is an expression in Gaelic that means being between two sides: it resonates.

No running water in the entire building including toilets. Merde.

Went to the Marche D’Aligre near Place de la Bastille.  Intoxicating for the eyes, the ears, the nose.   Took home radishes, blood oranges, and raclette infused with wild garlic. My mother cooked well, but the Brenots taught me a reverence for food, for flavor: Mme. Brenot’s trips to the open air markets, her perfect vinagrette, M. Brenot’s unforgettable tarte d’apricot, pairing the right wine with each course.

A typical meal might begin with a thin slice of jambon (ham), followed by haricot vertes, then, a biftek or veal in wine sauce, salad, cheese, coffee.  In Normandy, at their summer house, we ate lapin hache, that is, rabbit minced with tomatoes, olive oil, and herbs, a crab bisque, tomato salad, with du pain (bread, a baguette) to get the last of it’s juices.  Knowing how to cook in the French way brought me a good many accolades and sustained a sense of myself.  This side may be subsiding.  To be replaced by what?  Does it need replacing?

That night at the Luxembourg Cinema, I saw an Irish film, The Maze, a fictionalized account of a break out by Irish Republicans from Her Majesty’s Prison, led by the last “blanket men.”  These were IRA members, ten of whom died through a hunger strike protesting their lack of political status.

Somehow, this film’s depiction of prison sunk deep within me, feeling viscerally what it means to be imprisoned, to spend years confined, without the sympathic touch of a loved one, excluded from nature, your thoughts your only company- the deprivation, the suffering.  How does one survive?

Still no water when I woke up. I didn’t go down to breakfast, feeling too grubby, washing with bottled water.  Finally got dressed and found a cafe where I had a cafe Americano. It’s 2 in the afternoon, no running water.

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I’m trying to stay loose. It’s a beautiful day. I have real doubts about what I’m doing which is my usual reaction the first week of a long trip. This time, the feelings are exasperated as I try to explain my project to whoever inquires, given I have no idea where it will lead, if anywhere- some kind of weird examination of process, my process.  Sophie Calle followed other people.  I’m following myself.

I woke up in the middle of the night and tried to assauge feelings of doubt;

I wrote the following at three in the morning:

Explore the neighborhood, see what happens

Some possibilities: try on other’s writing style, Annie Ernaux, Sophie Calle