Monday February 17
Attacked by delayed jet lag. After writing a bit, I had to go to sleep. Several hours later, I roused myself. My plan was to sit in a cafe on île Saint Louis and read Paris Creole, but I couldn’t move. Finally, I decided on a chore for which my body might be capable- finding the illusive drinking glasses.
I asked one of the administrators to direct me to the housewares shop he had introduced me to last year. An inexpensive shop. Instead he sent me to one around the corner. Tres cher, very expensive. Since I had very little energy, I forked over 6 euros for 2 small glasses. Even the clerk agreed they were “chers.”
Back in my room, I was tempted to return to bed, but I knew several hours later, I’d be hungry and bored. I went to the Médiathèque, the library of the Irish Cultural Center, to do a bit of research. The “book” will include a discussion of my Irish grandmother’s immigration experience. She lived in the center of Ireland from 1893 to 1906. Uncovering primary sources about life in rural Ireland has proven difficult. I found three books all written by men but at least they cover the right period.
Then, I took myself off to the Champo cinema where I’ve been going since I was 21.
Tonight was Jean Renoir’s The Southerner with Randolph Scott. I needed an English speaking film. I didn’t have the stamina to try understanding French for two hours. In 1946, the film won the Oscar for best director and was shown at the Venice Biennale. Why I asked myself. The characters are stereotypes of poor farmers, almost caricatures, the acting is often wooden or over the top especially Beulah Bondi who plays the grandmother, and the cinematography is forgetful. Some mise-en-scenes seemed directly copied from the film Grapes of Wrath. And by God when I left the theatre, it was raining again. This time, no umbrella.
Like a bad penny, I returned to La Méthode for dinner. I ordered dessert realizing too late, it was unnecessary. With my coffee came a small piece of cake, comme d’habitude. In France, a small sweet often accompanies an order of coffee. I returned home to some reading and the jet lag reversed on me. I was up most of the night. Not one bit tired until the next morning.
Tuesday February 18
I continued to write about not writing as I‘ve been doing, then, spent the afternoon with yet another nap. And like yesterday, I forced myself to get out. This time to Luxembourg 3 off Boulevard Saint Michel for Tu Mourras a 20 Ans, You Will Be Dead When You Are 20. Using my limited French, I bought a ticket and asked in which “salle” (room) the film was being shown. Still no one attempts English with me. Is it because there are so few tourists?
The film is Sudanese, so it was subtitled in French. I understood most of what I read except when the sous-titres passed by too quickly. The film follows a young man coming of age in a small Sudanese village while living alone with his mother. It reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s 1956 film, Aparajito, in its pace, cinematography, it’s focus on a mother, even the emphasis on doors, physically and metaphorically. Quite beautiful and moving.
Where to have diner. Should I continue my “residence” at La Méthode? I could walk over to my old neighborhood, Odeon, and eat at the highly rated Le Comptoir. Yet, for all it’s casualness, it seems full of itself. Aux Délices du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant, around the corner from the Irish Cultural Center, seemed a good choice. It was closed, so I walked down Rue Mouffetard to La Crete, a Greek restaurant, and enjoyed a lamb and pasta dish redolent with cinnamon. I considered dessert. The waiter and I discussed the absence of loukimades, so I settled on a coffee.
Sunday February 17
Saturday, February 15
My first flowers: Centre Culturel Irlandais
I’ve been busy proclaiming my intention to write a book. Staying at the Irish Cultural Center in Paris often means people “want to know,” that is, what are you up to? Not only does the Center have artists in residences, it attracts fellow travelers: writers and would be writers. I explain to those who ask that I’m working on a “project.” If more is required, I describe the book I aiming to create. “It’s an exploration of my grandparent’s experience as immigrants, background history of the times, anthropological theory, and fiction.” This idea sounds ridiculous to my ears let alone theirs. But I say it none the less. As I told one of the administrators who politely inquired, “I admit to what I’m doing as a way of keeping my feet to the fire.” To another inquisitive writer, I lamented that since the book encompasses vast amounts of material, the notion of sorting through it overwhelms me. She described her approach as plowing through and seeing where it leads. I agree. What choice do I have?
I managed to avoid my nemesis, the blank page, by searching for a set of glasses: one for flowers, one for drinking, one for toothbrush and toothpaste, one for pens and pencils. But this is Paris where like stores often live side by side: book stores, furniture stores, plumbing stores, sock stores. I thought I was up to locating the street of houseware “magasins”: this is not my first foray. But after several turns around the neighborhood, no success. What to do? I knew the Monoprix on Boulevard Saint Michel didn’t have them. Been there, done that. Then, I remembered the outlet or overstock stores catty corner to the Luxembourg Gardens. I purchased two which fit the bill and was able to buy L’Official, the weekly bible of goings on in Paris, at the kiosk. Now I can avoid that blank page by perusing all that Paris has to offer.
Having walked five miles and been awake for 36 hours, I made it home, had a long nap, and, then, a very good dinner at my old stomping grounds, La Méthode.
February 14 Friday
Today, I’m starting on the long, tortured journey of writing a book that perhaps no one will read but may take years to complete. I’m terrified, scared shitless. To keep on target, I’m writing this blog, exposing to many or no one this quixotic enterprise. Quixotic indeed, as it can’t be categorized: part memoir, part fiction, part exploration of sociology, history, anthropology. gender, race. A sprinkling of French. My grandmother and her sisters insisted they hailed from France. Really they emigrated from Saint Lucia. In their determination to hide all traces of African blood, they wiped out large swaths of their history and denied the rest in order to pass, in order to be taken as white.
Can I pull it off. Who will care? Is it of any value?
Ann Patchett in her memoir, Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer, Lucy Grealy, after waitressing all day, after being divorced, and living at home once again, reveals her own doubts about writing:
I was starting to wonder if I was ready to a be a writer, not someone who won prizes, got published, and was given the time and space to work, but someone who wrote as a course of life. Maybe the salvation I would gain through work would only be emotional and intellectual. Wouldn’t that be enough, to be a waitress who found an hour or two hidden in every day to write? If Lucy was struggling to find her way under the burdens of surgery, surely I could find it in the comfort of my mother’s guest room. I made my resolve to work for the love of the work, to write for myself, but it didn’t have to last for long. She got a fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown which gave her 7 months to write with some money and an apartment.
I’m hoping for this type of resolve as unlike Patchett, I won’t be rescued.