Return to Paris Day 16-17

April 16 Tuesday

A day spent reviewing my options.  If Capecia didn’t write the novels, she did live that life, so the depiction of Martinique could represent some similarity to my grandmother Germaine de Jorna’s experience.  In Je Suis Martiniquaise, she describes a young girl free to wander, to explore a paradise of sorts:

“On arriving at our chosen destination, we undressed and bathed in the nude, boys and girls mixed, but with no thought of wrongdoing.  In the distance, we could still hear the washer women beating their clothes against the rocks.  Our spot was filled with moss, ferns and giant palms that rose like strange birds when the wind swirled them about.”

and later as the group decides to go on an “expedition,”

“Young bamboo shoots adorned the mountain with a soft green velvet; palm trees beckoned to us, bending and undulating with the suppleness of a serpent as they danced among the giant ferns.”

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Northern Forest, Martinique

Perhaps, my grandmother had moments such as these, but maybe her life was closer to the character’s sister, Francette, sent to live with an aunt who restricted her freedom in order to be “proper.”   In Caribbean households that held themselves above the “fray,” young women often stayed indoors, sewing, reading, changing their clothes morning, afternoon, and evening to fit a social protocol.  According to my father, his mother also changed her children’s clothing three times a day.

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Germaine’s daughters

Perhaps, Germaine was cocooned behind closed doors in Saint Lucia, imprisoned as was Francette.

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Morne Coubaril Estate, Soufriere, Saint Lucia

Her sister Yia, my great aunt, imposed similar restricitions on their niece Adria who lived with her in New York.  When guests came to the apartment to visit, to play cards, Adria was hidden behind the closed door of her bedroom,  lest she betray her colonial mixed race roots.

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Adria de Jorna

Late afternoon I visited the San Francisco Book Store on Rue Monsieur Le Prince looking for Jean Rhys that other creole.  I found two books, a collection of short stories and Quartet.  On my way home I walked past Librarie du Cinema du Pantheon Cinelitterature next to Cinema du Pantheon on Rue Victor Cousin.  A bookstore specializing in film, they had original copies of Cahiers du Cinema for 10 euros and less.  I bought one from February 1964 with reviews by Godard and Truffaut and another from June 1963 with a discussion of Jean Rouch, anthropologist, filmmaker, and a founder of cinema verite.

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I finished my outing with a cafe alonge at Cafe du Nouvelle Marie.  This time I was greeted warmly and understood the necessity of an additional container of water.

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April 17 Wednesday

The restaurant Mokonuts was on the agenda.  On my way, I crossed in front a small square which last year held a statue of Rimbaud, but he’s gone, replaced with greenery as at Bastille.  As I continued on Avenue Ledru-Rollin, I noticed several books on a building’s window sill, free for the taking, one by Annie Ernaux, considered France’s memoirist extraordinaire.  Relevance is fleeting.  How could Rimbaud and Ernaux be discarded?

Mokonuts fed me well: a delicious lamb stew with fresh peas served by the charming owner who runs the front of the house.  When I commented on her excellent English, she retorted that she had better be able to speak her native tongue.  She hails from one of the outer boroughs of New York.

My way home took me to Pont Sully from where I could view the back of Notre Dame: she’s not herself, reduced and darkened.

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Return to Paris Day 15

Monday April 15

I met with Christiane Makward to discuss Mayotte Capecia at Le Brelan, a cafe on Rue Beaubourg.  On my way, I passed the Pompidou Center: it’s exterior fits this streetscape quite differently than the celebratory atmosphere exuded on the Rue Saint-Martin entrance.

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I arrived early and scanned the passersby but realized I had no idea how to recognize her.  Then, I noticed a woman standing to my right, smiling wryly, and carrying a book.

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When we found a table away from the noise in the cafe, she asked “How did you find Mayotte Capecia?”  The question surprised me since I had been “living’ with Capecia for the last two months.  It seemed obvious.  I unwound my story of exploring the black experience in Paris, in particular, those immigrants from the French West Indies.

I asked about Capecia’s life in Paris.  Professor Makward explained that Capecia worked as a cook when she first arrived.  Somehow, she met a publisher who became her lover and who encouraged her to write of her life in Martinique.  Then, Madame Makward dropped a bomb, “You know, she didn’t really write those novels?”  I said no and asked who did.  She believes the most likely culprits were her publisher and his assistants.  Moreover, much of the second novel, La Negresse Blanche was plagiarized from a diary written by a French Naval officer who had had an affair with Capecia while stationed in Martinique.  Before we parted, she gave me a copy of Mayote Capecia ou l’Alienation selon Fanon.

Her book about Capecia revealed this subterfuge: she had had access to Capecia’s sister and children as well as primary sources including the diary.  What to do?  I thought Je Suis Martiniquaise had given me a window into my grandmother’s early life in the Caribbean.

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Church of the Aussumption, Soufriere Saint Lucia where grandmother Germaine de Jorna was baptized.

Although I’d read other portraits of Saint Lucia and Martinique, this was the first that described coming of age from a woman’s perspective.  Of course, these were the same comments made by critics supporting Capecia after Frantz Fanon’s dismissal of the novels.  Was I on a fool’s errand as I had feared?

I walked home in a daze unsure how to proceed.  Each attempt seemed a dead end.  I crossed in front of Notre Dame just as the many of the tourist buses were pulling away.  Earlier thousands had waited in line in hopes of entering.

Tired and discouraged, I took refuge at La Method, a cafe close to my home, and ordered a Ricard.  A minute later, I heard a loud boom; then, green clouds filled the sky.  Other patrons and servers came out to watch as more and more clouds emerged.   Soon, helicopters circled above us.

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My phone had died, so I had no idea what had happened.  I malingered for an hour or so attempting to read Makward’s book in French.

When I got back to the Irish Cultural Center, I discovered the reason for the billowing green clouds: Notre Dame was on fire.  The first time I left for France at age 21, Notre Dame had been my go to for mass.

The day before I left for France that first time, I made sure I went to confession.  After some pointed questioning by the priest, I admitted indulging in “heavy petting” with my boyfriend.  He said I had committed a sin: I disagreed as I was in love.   How to get absolution?  Without it, I would go straight to hell should my plane go down over the Atlantic.  We compromised.  I didn’t have to agree to sinning as long as I went to mass every Sunday while living in Paris.  And each Sunday found me at Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur.

The last time I visited Notre Dame, my husband cried at its grandeur and beauty.  At the main alter a book lay open for visitors to name a loved one who had died.  I wrote my father’s name: he would have liked being remembered in the family’s “country of origin” even though our de Jorna’s left France in the late 1600’s.  Then, the cathedral would have been 400 years old and most likely known to that earlier ancestor.

My father did visit Paris once.  My mother told me he used French to get around.  His mother’s tongue came back to him.  I returned him to Paris in words, his name.

Return to Paris Day 14

Sunday, April 14

Palm Sunday.  I peeked out my window to see how the day would be celebrated.  The church goers had gathered in the courtyard to receive fresh palms.   As a child, I made crosses from dried palms.

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Instead of mass, I went to the market to buy flowers for that very window.

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When I returned, I planned my route to the Musee d’Orsay to see “Le modele noir de Gericault a Matisse” (The Black Model from Gericault to Matisse) which I had first seen at Columbia University.

I liked the route as it took me through my old neighborhood of Odeon.  After crossing Blvd. Saint Germaine to Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie, I turned onto Rue de Buci, a virtually pedestrianized narrow street filled with restaurants, Parisians. and a group of blues buskers.

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I arrived at the museum early enough to avoid long lines. The exhibit had greatly expanded from what I had seen in New York.  At first I’m was in a frenzy: there was so much to see, so many wonders: films of Harlem projected on the walls high enough so everyone can see.

And a film of Katherine Dunham, the choreographer, anthropologist, and metissage (her mother was French Canadian, her father African America) dancing Les Ballets Caribes in Paris.

 

I tried to photograph much of the text displayed on the wall but had to maneuver around other visitors. At one point I backed into a display and fell on my backside.  It was worth it.  One section entitled “Metissages Litteraires,” Mixed Race in Literature, mentioned Alexandre Dumas.  The author of The Three Musketeers was the grandson of an emancipated slave (Slavery in the French colonies wasn’t abolished until 1832.)   

My grandmother, Germaine de Jorna, nicknamed her sons after the three musketeers.

De Jorna Family

Armand de Jorna married Noeline Noel

Children

Andreid (Yia)  Germaine Everard

Zinis Family

Germaine de Jorna Married Efstadiou Zinis

Children

Andrew  Germaine  Alma  Louis  Flora  Gabriel  Stella

Louis Zinis married Mary Daly (daughter of Mary McGann)

Children

Judith  Linda  Edward

My father was Porthos, the character who wanted to make a fortune.  Since he worked from an early age in order to have his own spending money, the choice seems apt.  Did she choose this book because she knew of Dumas’ heritage.  Because she knew that another de Jorna had actually been a “mousquetaire?’

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Louis Zinis (Porthos) who liked nice cars

Also discussed was Jeanne Duval born in Haiti around 1827.  She became Baudelaire’s mistress and was an important part of the poems in Les Fleurs du mal.  One edition included Matisse’s drawing, Martiniquaise, A Martinique Woman.  An exciting coincidence, so similar to the title of Mayotte Capecia’s novel, Je Suis Martiniquaise, 

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My de Jorna relative arrived in Martinique in 1690, five years after the enactment of the Code Noir, an edict of Louis XIV that set forth the policy for the slave population and remained in effect until 1789.  In the 1700’s one of the Martinique de Jorna’s angered a King of France: he was demoted from a high level administrative position to head of the militia.  In either case, he had to be involved in controlling slaves and having slaves.  But years later, they mixed, the de Jorna’s and the slaves.  So like Dumas, I am also descended from a slave.  Nevertheless, my military writer friend is somewhat correct in assessing it’s limited effect on me.  My father didn’t wash my skin with lye in order to “whiten” me.  However, my great aunt Yia tried this method on her nieces.

Edouard Glissant, Martinique poet and philosopher,  wrote ”One of the assumptions of French culture is to assimilate people, to have them all become like a transcendent French model.”  The French Antilleans believed they were French and according to Glissant, emulated French values which meant being white forming what he called a “pseudo-elite,” that resulted in a “depersonalization” of their identity.  Consequently. being identified as African or black was an insult.  They, as my grande-tante did, wanted to get as close as possible to white, to French culture.  Every summer she sent her nieces to a relative’s farm on Long Island where they were scrubbed with a diluted lye solution to make sure their one drop wasn’t too evident.

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Germaine de Jorna’s daughters once washed with lye

When she brought her brother’s daughter and son from Saint Lucia to live with her, the nephew was banished from her household.  He couldn’t pass.  He was too dark.  He joined the Merchant Marines so the story went.  However, he spent most of his life in Manhattan never to be seen again, at least not by his family or even the sister with whom he had lived.  Her skin tone did pass.  She kept that secret all her life.

By chance, on my way home,  I passed where Richard Wright had once lived.  Fitting.

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Return to Paris Day 13

Saturday April 13

I had to have the raclette that I’d had last year which meant a trip to Marche d’Aligre.  I could go to the market and also have lunch a Mokonuts, a restaurant recommended several months ago in The New York Times.

The market is located in the 12th, that is, on the right bank: the best way to get there is to  walk through the Botanical Gardens and cross Pont d’Austerlitz.

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Since I was planning to have lunch out, I resisted much of the stalls and headed straight for Fromagerie L’Alpage located on the sidewalk along the back of the market.

The shop was full.  Eventually,  I explained to the shopkeeper, in French, that last year I had bought a raclette flavored with wild garlic from the Swiss mountains.  He seemed to understand and told me that they had none.  Then, he decided to get someone who spoke English to help me.  I asked him, “Vous n’aimez pas mon français?”  You don’t like my French?  At first he looked confused; then, he laughed.  I made a joke in French!  C’est parfait!  I did get a raclette but sans herbs and a recommended roblochon.

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Mokonuts, my next stop, is on Rue Saint Bernard off Rue Faubourg Saint Antoine.  I made a few wrong turns and when I got there, it was closed.  I decided to walk along Rue Faubourg Saint Antoine to admire the handmade Italian shoes I had passed earlier and then on to Place de la Bastille, across Pont Sully on the back of Ile Saint Louis, and meander along Rue du Cardinal Lemoine stopping for drink along the way.
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Bastille was a nightmare.  They are redesigning the square to include green areas: trying to get to the right street almost requires a map. When I did get back to my “quartier,” I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner.  I passed by La Truffiere, a Michelin named restaurant, just off Rue Mouffetard.   When I asked if I could have a reservation for tonight, I expected a “no” since it was now four o’clock in the afternoon.  And that is just what I heard.  The restaurant was fully booked.  As I turned to leave, the Maitre d’Hotel changed his mind.  He could seat me but it would have to be at seven.  That suited me: I was tired from walking over six miles and hungry from skipping lunch.
At 7, I arrived but they weren’t ready.  They sent me away for 10 minutes.  When I returned, they seated me in a back room.  I was the only diner.
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I got lots of attention from the server who brings the bread, from the sommelier who suggested the wine, from the server who brings the menu which was explained in great detail.  I had an “okay” very expensive meal, alone in the above room for most of  two hours.  An English couple, at one point, was seated not far from me but left when they discovered none of the desserts listed were available.
When the server came with my check, he apologized, telling me that the French don’t eat dinner at 7.  But it was almost 9 and there were no other diners.  I told him that if I had wanted to eat in a room alone, I could have done that at home.
Was I banished because I was a woman without a companion or because I wasn’t French?  I remember a line from Jean Rhys Good Morning Midnight.   In a restaurant in Paris, the narrator overhears a diner say to the waiter, “Qu’est-ce qu’elle fout ici, la vielle?”  What is she doing here, that old woman.  The narrator was barely 50.

Return to Paris Day 10,11,12

Wednesday April 10

At breakfast, a resident asked why I was drawn to this project.  I told him I had a keen sense of injustice especially concerning “the other” first expressed at the age of seven when my father forbid me to go to my friend’s house: she was black.  Then, I explained my personal interest, the family secret.  He didn’t buy it.  According to him, I hadn’t been affected.  Stunned, I agreed, considering my privileged life.  But no.  He’s wrong.  My father worked tirelessly to overcome his secret heritage, to fit in, to make sure I didn’t get too dark in the summer, to aggrandize his history, to be prejudiced himself as a false means of elevation.  Yes, it affected me.

I live in a country whose MO is oppression, destruction of the other: Native Americans, African Americans, any immigrant of color, any non-Christian.  The land of opportunity mostly works if you are white and male and, sometimes, if you can pass.

Since last night I had been thinking about violence committed by American police against mostly men of color.  While I was enjoying my aperitif, four French soldiers dressed in camouflage, cradling machine guns walked past me.  I asked my breakfast companion if he knew what they were doing: he writes about military matters.  He said it’s a strategy against terrorism.  Small groups of armed military pop up unexpectedly and, by their presence, deter possible attacks, a Macron strategy not entirely embraced his citoyens, (citizens).  When I was 21 living in Paris, soldiers with machine guns stood in corners on Boulevard Saint Michel.  I was told they were there to protect “us” from Algerians, yet another colonized group.

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Thursday April 11

At the end of class, I told the teacher I wouldn’t be returning.  She wondered did she speak too quickly.  I reassured her.  I rushed home, dropped off my books, and met a woman introduced to me by mutual friends.  We had a noisy and interesting lunch in the Marais at Miznon, an Israeli import.  Afterwards, we meandered along Rue de Montorgrueil, a mostly pedestrianized street in the 2nd, got a cup of coffee at L’Arbre a Cafe, sat on a wall in a small square and continued our conversation from lunch, mostly about the state of the world.

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She has a few concerns about life in Paris: people in big cars thinking they own the road, ignoring pedestrians and their safety.  I watched her take a few to task and applaud her.  She’s also concerned about the yellow vest movement.  She understands their situation but believes the destruction in Paris doesn’t make their situation better and abuses a city that is theirs to enjoy.  When we parted, she asked how I would get home.  Walking, I told her.  She directed me to go towards the Seine-her only advice.  Without any additional navigational aids, I found my way home.

Friday April 12

Nose to the grindstone.  Using the Mediatheque, the library that is part of the Irish Cultural Center, I unsuccessfully searched for the location of Mayotte Capecia’s grave and failed to locate any Caribbean groups.  I’ve written to the Christiane Makward the scholar and author of the book, Mayotte Capecia ou l’Alienation selon Fanon and asked for help. A long shot.

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