Day 6: Letter to a friend

Day 6: Letter to a friend

Day 6: Letter to a friend
Today was spent largely in the company of Janet Flanner—that is, perusing her book “Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939.” That period interests me greatly for a second—yes second—WW2 novel that I am working on, concurrently with the first WW2 novel and with the third and final book in the After Trilogy.

I wish there were more hours in the day to write! Especially here, where there are so many delicious streets to walk down and absorb into every angstrom of my being. It’s optimistic to think I can get a lot of pages pounded out when I am saturating myself with this city. It’s a process of enchantment and permeation, it demands its due.

Flanner’s observations over this period were originally sent to the New Yorker. They are useful as a resource for the texture of life during this era. What were people thinking about, what was daily life like, what were the concerns? Flanner has a gift for skewering the newsworthy figures of the day, and she has a lively, often elegant, way with the language. I read her and I meet a sharp mind at play. Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”—this woman could really think.

I’ve picked up “The Hollow Years” by Eugen Weber, but I doubt I will enjoy it so much. I spent some time contemplating Zola’s aggressive distaste for Carpeaux, especially his rant about “La Danse,” which Zola criticized as an offense to common decency. But the sculpture is gorgeously vital and masterfully realized. Zola should have pulled the stick out of his butt and enjoyed its energy.

It’s interesting how art has shifted; how it has strained beyond the bounds of energy into chaos. What is most distressing is how art has lost its grounding in mastery, and we are all poorer for it. Somehow the task is to bring mastery back—while retaining the richness and fullness.

You will find no salacious regrets in today’s missive. No matter what advice I may have been given about opening to eros by the Most Beautiful and Wayward Countess—who, by the way, much enjoyed meeting you, and has made several comments about you that would surely embarrass you. Were you open to hearing them from me, or I able to speak them gracefully to you. I’m afraid such matters mute me around you. Eros, indeed.

For reasons of my own I took a bus all the way out to Neuilly, enjoying the splendid weather currently gracing the City of Lights. I did not go to Place des Vosges to meet Francois.

And, as of this moment, if I go to Notre Dame tomorrow, it will NOT be because of the note slid under my door after a dinner of poulet roti and salade tomates: “URGENT, Notre Dame, tomorrow at 2:00 pm. Francois.”

Til tomorrow, and as always, with my warmest thoughts.

Day 6: Letter to a Friend

Day 5: Letter to a friend

Day 5: Letter to a friend

Day 5: Letter to a friend

So, friend, how are you doing? Do you even note my absence from our mutual city? I’m not sure you ever noticed my presence in it, so how could there be a void when I am away?

This morning I did a solid hour of yoga to make up for my excesses last night. Food, drink, and… Jean-Sven. He behaved himself at the restaurant, a Michelin-starred food utopia of hitherto undreamt of delights. You know the expression, “melts in your mouth”? Now I understand it. Only manna from God and the fare of this heavenly eatery merit the phrase!

This afternoon, after yoga and a nap, I went to the Musee D’Orsay. In addition to nurturing my soul with great art, I got to think about the social context of art. You know, the legacy publishers have become a kind of “Jury of the Academy,” rejecting anything outside their narrow definition of salable. I ought to rename Parvati Press “Press of the Rejects” after the salon the Impressionists established when they struck out on their own.

When I returned, I sat at my desk and looked at the 20 emails that had accumulated in my inbox. I heard the snick of paper sliding under my door. A folded note had been slipped through. I raced to get it. “Tomorrow, noon, Place des Vosges, Francois.” I threw open my front door but no one was anywhere! I knocked on Mme Durand’s door to ask her, but no one answered. Even when I pressed my ear to her door, the apartment was still, as if only yellow sunlight and swirling dust moved through it.

Oh, yes, last night, and penance. Jean-Sven listened to my lecture on my marital state and the requirements thereof with an implacable and beatific Scandinavian smile. I was relieved. We seemed to be on the same page. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, and with at least half my blood exchanged for alcohol of various sorts, we returned to our building.

Jean-Sven stepped back in gentlemanly fashion to let me unlock my door. I felt relieved. I turned to say good-bye and thank you for the extraordinary treat—and he stood, warm and large and solid, just a few centimeters from me.

I stopped breathing.

Jean-Sven didn’t say anything. His pupils were huge and black. He put his fingers delicately on the thin strap of my dress, the one running over my left shoulder. His large hand was warm and trembling. Then, ever so slowly, he pushed the strap down, onto my arm.

I could have, should have, stopped him.

He lowered his mouth to my shoulder and pressed his mouth into my flesh.

I still wasn’t breathing.

Jean-Sven ran his mouth up and over to the hollow of my neck.

At that point, I bolted inside.

Now one wonders how much one must confess to one’s spouse? Nothing happened, really. Nothing. And I’ve spend the day repenting for the nothing that happened.

In fact, I’ve been so sternly abstemious that I am having a pastry and wine for dinner. Would you approve? Doubtful, since you already disapproved of me quite thoroughly before I left.

Day 5: Letter to a Friend

Day 4: Letter to a friend

Day 4: Letter to a friend

Day 4: Letter to a friend
The light at this time of year stretches seductively far into the evening—even at 9:30 or 10, a honeyed lucence falls on everything—it leaves me drunk with wakefulness, my nerve endings silkily keyed up, and wrestling around on the bed, unable to sleep. Then I wake too late in the morning and scold myself for getting to work haphazardly. Unrepentant I.

Today I went to the Musee Jean Moulin, where I learned anew how important propaganda was during WW2. Now we have pedestrian advertising, but then both sides, Allies and Axis, sought to gain entrance into hearts and minds. And did you realize how many French were conscripted to work in Germany, to feed the industrial war machine?

When I returned home, Mme Durand waited at my door. Had she been inside my apartment? Weirdest feeling, like octopus tentacles writhing, that she had! Her stern face gave away nothing. She said, “I have too much pain today with my hip.”

“I used to be a healer, shall I try to help you?” I asked, holding up my hands, palms out.

She muttered something in French which I translated into a directive ordering me to keep my *!@# * hands to myself. She thrust a brown-paper-wrapped package at me. “You will take this to the Gare du Nord and deliver it to Francois at 4:00. Do not be late.” Then she bustled into her apartment and slammed the door before I could query her further. Who is Francois, and how will I find him?

I took the package inside and examined it without opening it. Darned if it wasn’t the package given to Mme Durand by the argumentative couple. To my inquisitive fingertips, it felt like a painting in an elaborately carved frame. I must confess—I took the painting to the window and checked out the tape that sealed the edges—Wanted to know if I’d be able to unwrap and rewrap. Curiosity etc. But the tape was firmly applied. I couldn’t get inside undetected, and the coy light through the paper revealed only the indistinct ridges of a frame.

Jean-Sven heard me leaving at 3:30 and rushed down to inform me that he was taking me to dinner. Angelique has a gig and she’s rehearsing today. “Wear something sexy,” he said, his blue eyes smiling.

“By sexy, you mean clean?” I clarified. I’ve been writing a lot, so I’m usually in stinky yoga togs, and throw on whatever’s at hand to go out. This is my writing space; personal grooming is, while not exactly optional, certainly pared down to a minimum.

Jean-Sven gave me a look of pure exasperation. You’d have to be half French and half Swede to look that disgusted. “A dress, one that is superbe,” he commanded. So I am glad that the Wayward Countess advised me to pack the long red silk sheath. “One never knows,” she said. Indeed.

I arrived at the Gare du Nord promptly at 4:00—you remarked once that I was extraordinarily punctual, it’s an old, bad habit of mine—I wasn’t there for two minutes when a man bumped into me. He murmured something in Hebrew and took the package. He winked and vanished into the crowd. I was left standing with my mouth agape. I hope that was Francois!

On the way home I wandered into the Luxembourg Gardens, and an exquisite, soul-ravishing Chagall show. His works were burned by Nazis and shown in their “Degenerate art” show.

Now I’m sitting at my little desk, gussied up enough to please even the most exacting Franco-Swede. I’m posting my latest missive and waiting for Jean-Sven, whom I shall remind about my marital status. You are probably entirely unaware of these notes, which come to you so fondly and so gratefully for your part in this. If you even care; you are so very well defended, and have forgotten that we are not all that way. Some of us are open. Well, til tomorrow, with my warmest thoughts.

Day 3: Letter to a friend

Day 3: Letter to a friend

I hope you are receiving these notes, and that they provoke a smile. Lord knows you seemed dour enough in our last few conversations–a smile would do you good.

This morning I was just heading out to the Musee de l’armee when a brisk knock sounded.

“I am Madame Durand, you will join me for tea,” said the neighbor, in that tone with which no one argues.

Tea consisted of a cup of overly sugared Earl Grey and questions. That is, she questioned me. I barely managed to answer one before she fired off the next. At a certain point Mme Durand seemed satisfied. She pointed at her door. “You will let yourself out, I am very old and my hip hurts,” she announced. Again, on the way out, I scrutinized the still life. I swear it is a genuine Cezanne! I will try to sneak a pix of it.

None the worse for the interrogation, I hiked to the museum to study WW1 & WW2–did you realize that De Gaulle recruited from the French African colonies for the Free French forces? Begins to make sense of the importance of the African theater, beyond natural resources, of course.

Back to writing until seven, and I was going to take myself to a brasserie around the corner for soup and people-watching when Jean-Sven knocked on the door. With him was a petite, exquisitely beautiful Asian woman, one of those flawless women you can’t believe exist outside of the nebulous world of film: all almond eyes and tiny carved features and silky skin. Her name is Veronique and she’s his girlfriend. They had wine with them and Jean-Sven claimed it was even better than the bottle from last night. He does have good taste and I figured they were people for watching, and anyway Jean-Sven was helping himself to the bottle opener and glasses before I could protest.

Jean-Sven, in case I didn’t mention, works at some kind of social media company, a start-up that he claims will supplant Facebook and Google, both together. At least he’s ambitious, right? He seems to be about forty and let slip that he’s already made a bundle on software. Veronique teaches exercise classes at a gym in the 8th arrondissement and also sings. They’re very entertaining, and Veronique gives a good shoulder massage.
I got them out just in time for my daily Skype session and reportage from my indefatigable research assistant. Tomorrow I’ll have to contrive to not be home to open the door at this time of day.
Meantime, just before leaving, I met someone I intuitively know is a friend of yours, but how do I ask–you or the other person–about that when you have been so starchy with me? You’re likely to deny it just to be contrary. I do pray that you will find your way to greater softness toward me. You know I think you are a lovely one, thorns and all.

Day 2: Letter to a friend

Day 2: Letter to a friend

Day 2: In the morning, the bright, rich light comes in, saturated with color and taste and fragrance like an old jazz tune sung by a beautiful, perfumed woman, along with the laughter and shouts of children at a nearby school.

Settling in, and already writing, after an escapade at the Monoprix and then a picnic lunch at my desk to research museums. I was just winding up, about to do an online yoga class, when a bustle arose in the hallway. I looked out my peephole; a man and woman argued with the neighbor. They handed her a brown-paper-wrapped package and left with an energy of, well, I can only call it grim determination.

The elderly lady lingered, staring down the hall after them, so I seized the opportunity to open my door. She gave me a cool glare and I murmured, “I thought I heard someone I knew…” I’m not sure she bought it because I was not-subtly focused on the still life painting on her foyer wall. I’m sure it’s a Cezanne, and not a reproduction. The solidity, the sense of order and structure; the colors of the apricots. I tried to memorize it so I could google it.

“You will come for tea tomorrow, Americaine,” she said. I was concentrating so fiercely that she had to repeat herself, then she slammed the door. What time does she want me to visit? Can I ask her about the painting? Inquiring minds want to know.

I didn’t find that particular work on-line, but there was a slew of similar paintings to be seen.

I trooped to the Louvre to see the Giotto exhibit–pure self-indulgence. Then one page at my computer. Alas, Jean-Sven stopped by with a bottle of wine, which he insisted was so delicious that I must sample it “tout de suite.” Turned out he has an excellent palate and then I had to offer him some cheese, peaches, and bread I bought at the market. We enjoyed the Chateau Neuf du Pape so much that he offered to bring down another bottle of something “tres belle” but I refused and then amiably but firmly saw him out to the hallway. I got that creepy feeling up and down my spine and I could have sworn the neighbor was watching us out her peephole! Well, you know how vivid my imagination is, having commented on it yourself, with that acerbic tone…

I remain, as ever, your devoted, and missing you quite fondly.

Til tomorrow….

Day 1: Letter to a friend

Day 1: Letter to a friend

Day 1: Letter to a friend

So, I am staying on a little street with multiple creperies, and managed to inhale a crepe with oeuf and fromage for lunch.

You’d be proud: I’m already integrating with the natives. I was lugging my suitcase up the stairs when a largish blond man offered to help. I demurred but he insisted so disarmingly that I felt obliged to please him by allowing him to hoist my bag over his broad shoulders. He introduced himself as Jean-Sven, and when I queried him about his name, he said his mother was French and his father was a Swede.

“Didn’t you scratch off the winning genetic lotto ticket,” I said. I’m not sure he got the idiom entirely, but it registered enough that he smiled all over himself. He’s my upstairs neighbor.

After Jean-Sven parked my suitcase inside my treasured sacred-writing-retreat apartment, I ushered him back out into the hall. Not to seem ungrateful to such a friendly chap, but I was eager to unpack and be, as Gertrude Stein championed, “alone with my language.”
I waved goodbye as he went into the lift and then found myself face-to-face with an open door, and the elegantly-clad elderly lady across the hall peering out fiercely, as if to memorize my face.
“Bonjour,” I said, politely.
“Americaine,” she grimaced, and slammed her door, but not before I caught a glimpse of some rather nice paintings on the wall behind her. Was that a real Cezanne? I need a closer look, but the whole look, the palette and even the frame, screamed Cezanne.

As to other notes, I notice that most of the denizens of this city of lights worship the Lung Cancer Fairy, who protects them from illness as they puff insistently on chains of cigarettes. I went for dinner at an Italian trattoria, where they almost kissed me when I answered them in Italian. Then they brought pasta with my mousse aux chocolate and tried to pretend that the rigatoni accompanied the dessert. We all laughed uproariously.

Til tomorrow, with my warmest thoughts!