Paris Day Five

Wednesday February 19
I spent a few hours keeping track of myself in this blog and then, went to Mokonuts for lunch.  A good 2.5 mile walk over the Seine to Bastille.  Approaching Pont Sully, I noticed a lone house at the end of Ile Saint Louis.  Was I in a Flaubert novel looking at Madame Bovary’s house or riding along the Seine in Sentimental Education?
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In order to get to Mokonuts, I had to go around Bastille to Faubourg Saint Antoine, a good street for window shopping.  As expected, Mokonuts was full.  Luckily I had grabbed the last 2 o’clock lunch reservation.  And as usual, the food was delicious.  Although I had sworn off dessert, I couldn’t resist the blood orange cake.  When I went up to pay the bill, I discussed  the changes in Manhattan with one of the owners.  Since I’ve been using French everyday, I kept switching back and forth forgetting she was from Brooklyn.  A hefty price for lunch; 46 Euros for a main course of chicken with spinach, dessert, two glasses of wine, and coffee.  Twice as much as the dinner at La Methode.  Yet, I must remember to use nasturtium leaves in salad.  Not as pretty as the edible flowers but tender and delicious.
I returned home, again in the rain, and in time for a get together arranged by one of the artist in residence which she called a “pow wow.”  A military historian gave a presentation on the books he’s authored , then the audience (only 3- 2 resident artists and me) asked him about his work and his process.  Most of the discussion revolved around Irish politics which could have been heated but differences were respected.  They told me the town of Dundalk on the border of Northern Island was called El Paso: during the troubles, members of the republican movement stayed there before going on missions in the north.
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The Dundalk Christmas Bombing by the Ulster Volunteers 1975
As he is very prolific, we were intrigued by the historian’s routine. He tried to
sideswipe the question but, finally, he relented.  He gets up very early, 6 or so,  and writes a bit before breakfast.  After breakfast, he writes until 1, has lunch, and may take a nap, then back to writing until dinner.  He does his reading in the evening.  A monk’s life. And this is almost every day.  Sunday’s he does go to mass and does a bit of socializing but mostly his nose is to the grindstone.  We talked about finding a balance while being in Paris.  Easy to just play given these environs.
Although we started at 6, it was 11 before we finished.  The conversation ranged from working to ecological grieving to captialism vs. socialism to Sinn Fein.

Paris Day Three and Four

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.

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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.

 
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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?

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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.

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What can distract me tomorrow or is it all grist for the mill?

Paris Day Two

Sunday February 17

At breakfast, one of the residents asked If I’d like to go to Mass held at the chapel every Sunday.  I considered going, having watched The Two Popes last night.  Although somewhat cliched in dialogue and structure, I liked it: the acting, the discussion between the characters, some of the cinematography especially the black and white scenes in Buenos Aires.  Mercy and forgiveness played a large part in the film.  To whom should I show mercy?  And, there was call to help the poor.  What can I do?  Perhaps the priest’s homily might have held some insight.
However, “the book” or writing here about “the book” won out.  I finished at one o’clock barely in time to meet Christiane Makward author of Mayotte Capecia which examines Capecia’s novels,  Je Suis Martiniquaise and The White Negresse. Professor Makward took me under her wing last year when I followed Capecia’s life in Paris as a transplanted creole.  The plan was to meet at Gare de L’Est (a 3 mile hike), then, walk to Canal Saint Martine for tea with her friend.
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      Viewed from Place de Petit Pont on my way to Gare de L’Est
I arrived at the stroke of three and we made our way to her friend’s apartment which faces the canal.  After introductions, he invited me to look around.  As usual, I headed straight for the book case.  I sighted a biography of Derek Walcott which he had written.
Serendipitous.  A good sign.  Here I am trying to piece together my grandmother’s life in Saint Lucia while breaking bread with someone who spent ten years writing Walcott’s biography and visiting that very island.  I learned that my great grandfather, Armand de Jorna, may have left Martinique for Saint Lucia as it offered more opportunity.  The de Jorna’s had been in Martinique for 150 years before he was born.  Maybe he decided it was time to move on.  But he ended up being a doctor, so does that scenario fit?
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Canal Saint Martine
After sharing an eclair, a tart citron and a tarte de pomme (my lunch and dinner), Christiane and I walked along the canal to her apartment to retrieve Paris Creole, a book she had purchased for me at Musee Branly.  It traces the lives of creoles born in the French West Indies and living in Paris from the 17th to the 20th century.
At her suggestion, I walked home using Rue Temple. The street has many charms and with a fine mist falling, Paris was particularly romantic.  Malheuresment, by the time I got to Notre Dame, the mist became a downpour.  When I took refuge at an oyster bar, the waiters encouraged me to join them under the heat lamps, but I was tired and wanted to get home.  Not my best idea.  Il pleut, il pleut!  My umbrella kept turning inside out: by the time I got to Rue des Irlandais (Irish Cultural Center),  I was soaked.
Once dry, I began reading Paris Creole, slowly: it’s in French.
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Some “creole” boys, ages 10 and 11, who were sent to France for an education, stayed to become lawyers and doctors, and, then, returned to the islands of their birth.  Could this have been Armand de Jorna’s journey?  Maybe I can find him in Paris, after all.
A good start, or so I thought until I tried to find the file I had begun on this infamous book of mine. Nowhere to be found.  I had written a rough draft of an introduction and hoped to work on it over the next few weeks.  But I’m empty handed and, it seems, empty headed.  I never attached the file to my email.  A Freudian slip of sorts?  Verlaine’s poem seems very apropros:
Il pleut dans mon cœur,
Comme, it pleut sur la ville.
It rains in my heart,
like it rains in the city.
Bien Sûr!

Paris, Day One

Saturday, February 15

F5E21414-6138-4CFE-9891-3426E2E46EC4                                     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.

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Finishing with an impressive cafe gourmand.
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Then, a walk home.  Pas mal.
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On My Way

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.