epistolary fiction

Day 11: Letter to a friend
art | travel | writing

Day 11: Letter to a friend

Day 11: Letter to a friend

Lynn and I dined at a restaurant that has been in business for over 400 years.

“I haven’t eaten here in years,” Lynn confessed.

“That’s easy to do when the restaurant stays in business for centuries,” I noted.

The thing about dinner with an astrologer who is also a Jungian therapist, and an Ericksonian, is that conversation is multi-layered. It’s rich in metaphor. We discussed the praying mantis gene: Venus conjunct Pluto, those who must prey upon what they love. Sometimes consuming the other is beneficial for the love object. Sometimes it is destructive. Context is everything; what is the relationship?

“You would never want to sleep with someone who has that conjunction,” Lynn commented.

Graciously, in response to my curiosity about this part of the natal chart, she talked about the 8th house: the house of the fall (not the season, but the act of stepping away from grace), the house of hidden power, the house of mysticism and deep sexual union.

After dinner we loitered in front of Notre Dame, which is lit up only in front, and not on the sides–so those gorgeous flying buttresses were not shown off to any advantage at all. Dommage; but the socialists are saving money.

Lynn snapped an “atmospheric” photo of me. I was more interested in the facade, Le Courbusier’s “pure creation of spirit.” Alas I lacked a zoom on my phone to focus in on the figures of Adam and Eve, high up, to the right and left of the rose window. Eve holds an apple.



Day 10: Letter to a friend
art | travel | writing

Day 10: Letter to a friend

Day 10: Letter to a friend

So, friend: I hope it pleases you to hear, if you can be pleased with me, that I continue to enjoy my time here. Two fun meetings, and a close encounter of the strange kind.

At Lynn’s birthday brunch, British painter Richard B. spoke to me about his art, which ranges from oils to watercolors to lithographs; he even took a brief detour into sculpting. Today we met at The Select and spoke about the possibility of a book, to be published by Parvati Press.

You know I’m ambitious. I want to grow the Press: quality fiction and art books being two genres whose authors I’d love to add. Richard is a lovely, thoughtful man who’s been making art for decades. He has something to say about art and life and love–you know, the good stuff. He was taken aback by my forthrightness when I told him he had to write a book for my Press, and then I outlined for him how to do it.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been bossed around so thoroughly,” he said, in a genteel tone of amazement.

“You’re getting the benefit of my reinventing the wheel repeatedly,” I told him. “Try it; it works.”

“You Americans,” he said, shaking his head. “In France, we say this about you. We say, ‘Why?’ But you Americans say, ‘Why not?'” He shook his head again. “What do you think is the benefit of all that self confidence of yours?”

“I’m not self-confident about everything,” I pointed out. “Just what I’ve spent years learning, and blood, sweat, and tears making my own. Then, yes, it has benefits. It makes me willing to take risks. In America we say, ‘You can’t hit the ball if you don’t swing the bat.’ So why not?”

But I don’t think you like my willingness to take risks, do you? My willingness to follow the energy? I can’t help but wonder if that’s what put you in such a regrettably snarky mood, before I left. Regrettable for me, anyway. You seem quite comfortable with your sadism.

Anyway, of course there is no trip anywhere without encountering some handsome friend of the Wayward Countess. She had sent ahead an introduction, and I met Gaël, a sweet young soul–a fellow Leo–with the cool head of an accountant and the poignant depth of a mystic. Our conversation covered topics from real estate products in Paris offered by HSBC to the paranormal. Interestingly, Richard was also a Leo. I guess today was my day for encounters with other lions. The pride was on the move….

It would be a trifecta if Francois is a Leo. He certainly isn’t what I expected, when he made himself known to me at the Fontaine St. Michel. But more about that tomorrow.


Day 9: Letter to a friend
art | travel | writing

Day 9: Letter to a friend

Day 9: Letter to a friend

There were a host of reasons to sally forth in the direction of Shakespeare & Company after 12:00–so I went. I walked, because even an hour of yoga every day can not make up for the delicious food I encounter at every turn: chocolate, creme brûlée, chocolate, ripe apricots, cherries, sumptuous breads of all kinds, and have I mentioned the chocolate? It should be named “The city of chocolate” rather than “the city of lights.”

So I walk everywhere, which suits me anyway. No better way to let the city absorb me–like a corpuscle flowing into the river of life animating the body of this great, sultry, capricious, intense, evocative city–Paris is a grande lady, for sure. (I hope that circulatory metaphor appeals to your sensibility!) And did you know that Dickens was a great walker? Wonderful storyteller, creative genius, lousy husband–walked all through London at night. I always felt badly for his wife.

I googlemapped the way and arrived at 12:50, spent ten minutes browsing the Paris history section, to no avail. Nothing useful to my purposes. Worse yet, when I rose from my squat, I found a piece of paper in my hands.

“You’ve been followed. Be more careful.”

I walked out in front of store to see who could possibly have followed me. I trotted around on the street, saw no one suspicious, finally laid eyes on a slim man in a jean jacket disappearing into the crowds around Notre Dame.

Was that the follower? Or Francois? Was there even a follower? Or were Francois and Mme Durand playing with me? I was nettled–and still didn’t know about the Cezanne.

Since I was close to the Seine anyways, I wandered toward Pont D’Alma and the Museum of the Sewers. The sewers beneath the city are extensive and impressive. Victor Hugo wrote about them, and he’s liberally referred to on placards down there, in the depths of the earth. There’s probably a play on “bowels” but I’m too tired to make it. And it was the stinkiest tour I’ve ever taken!

Back at home, Jean-Sven and Angelique stopped by so I could congratulate Angelique on her brilliant performance at the Sunside Jazz Club. She does have a glorious alto! Which she used to great effect to comment on what she’d heard were my “delicious shoulders.” Asked me to uncover one so she could taste for herself. I laughed and took it all as a big joke. My sense of humor has gotten me out of more than one tight corner–especially when I can laugh at myself. I remember your sense of humor as quite fun–engaging–before you battened down the hatches and threw it away.


Day 8: Letter to a friend
art | travel | writing

Day 8: Letter to a friend

Day 8: Letter to a friend

Today I am most blue, missing my beloveds at home. I am following the wave of the feeling, watching it swell and spend and rise again: surfing. The thing about space alone is that it offers the opportunity for emptying out. This is not something you and I ever discussed, when you encouraged me toward this writing retreat.

There’s no good reason for such melancholy. If feelings need reasons–and you always claimed that feelings trump reason. I spent a sweet afternoon at the birthday brunch for my friend Lynn, enjoying her gourmet cooking and meeting her friends: Valerie, the documentary maker and her husband Bernard; Barbara, who will be my neighbor in August; Clara, the singer with the face of a Botticelli goddess; and Sheila, the osteopath, great-grand-daughter of a Hungarian count (the one, in fact, who saved wine!); a few others. Lovely folks, all, fun to connect with.

Naturally I made an email introduction between Sheila and our very own Wayward Austrian Countess. Consider it a nod to the Austro-Hungarian empire. They probably have cousins in common, a century ago. They probably have cousins in common now. The only people who interbreed as much as the old aristocracy are my cousins, the hill-billies. I did once tell you that there was a whole town in Arkansas where everyone is either my first cousin, second cousin, or third cousin, or all three at once, didn’t I?

When I returned, as I was unlocking my door, Mme Durand cracked hers and watched me enter my apartment. I waved but she said nothing. She was just closing her door when I stomped over and stuck my foot in.

“Madame Durand, I have to know. Is that a Cezanne?” I inquired. I wedged my shoulder in her door to open it enough so I could point.

She smiled. “Meet Francois tomorrow and he’ll tell you.” Then she shoved her door shut, pinching my arm to get me to retract it.

Sure enough, another note lay folded on my floor. “Shakespeare & Co, 1:00 pm tomorrow. Francois.” I supposed it won’t hurt to check their history of Paris section anyway.

Jean-Sven and a boisterous crew trooped down just as I was getting ready to do yoga. At some point, I have enough of surfing and emptying out: Basta! I opt for a sweaty hour of yoga, which inevitably elevates me while also evening me into peacefulness. There’s nothing like surya namaskar, pigeon, and urdva dhanurasana to lift one’s spirits. There would be far less need for psychopharmaceuticals if more people practiced yoga on a daily basis.

I promised Jean-Sven to meet them at the club for the concert, which is not until late anyway. I would like to hear Angelique, and to support her. So, yoga and poulet roti finished–a fresh slick of lipstick and I’m on my way.

Til tomorrow, then, and as always, your devoted, warmly, etc.


Day 7: Letter to a friend
art | writing

Day 7: Letter to a friend

Day 7: Letter to a friend
Some days stand out as highlights. Today was one such, thanks to a lovely dinner with M. Alain Le French Editor and his wife la belle dame Isabelle. Alain and Isabelle most graciously spoiled me with dinner at one of the famed Montparnasse eateries, with art on the walls (some of it rather nice), succulent lamb, and red wine full of sun. I would note that the baked chevre with tomate exceeded my expectations most delectably.

Even more delicious was the conversation. Cher M. Alain is a thoughtful, highly literate one, and his English is excellent. He had a lot of theories about the various social problems we chewed over, which included: the shifting generational financial profile; the next generation’s lack of understanding regarding sacrifice; racial and socioeconomic problems and the assimilation of immigrant cultures; the weight gain in the US and France (I blame high fructose corn syrup and the government spraying the civilian population with population control chemicals, he holds the disintegrating family unit responsible); and the waning of the American empire. There were, bien sûr, other topics as well.

Needless to say, it is a rich treat indeed to gorge on such intelligent discourse! And Alain and Isabelle shared some of their personal story, how they met and gently wound their way together. Of this, I shall only say: Alain is fortunate to have been given a second chance. But Isabelle didn’t fare too badly, either. Lovely men are special creatures, don’t you think? Wasn’t it you who said that men were a pitiful lot?

The rest of the day was quiet. A trip to the marché for cerise and apricots. Some reading, a load of laundry, yoga, note-taking. General holing-up and stewing-over-a-story stuff. I was not available for a trip to Notre Dame and decided to respect myself with greater truculence immediately–if not sooner. So I left a note outside on the floor, where anyone who wanted to slide paper into my apartment would have to look. The note inquired: “Why should I go to Notre Dame?”

While I was preparing a cheese plate for the arrival of my guests–Isabelle and Alain were coming by for an aperitif–Jean-Sven knocked on the front door. I kept silent. He would go away if he thought I wasn’t home.

“Traci, I know you’re in there,” Jean-Sven sang. “Traci, vite, maintenant!” He pounded.

I refused to answer.

“D’accord, be that way. But tomorrow is Angelique’s concert and we are all going, my friends and me. We will pick you up in the afternoon.”

I maintained radio silence.

“Why should you go to Notre Dame? Je pas, it’s a beautiful cathedral and that’s what all the tourists do!” he called. He waited. “You can’t hide forever. Tomorrow, then.”

I heard him tromp off, so I went to the door and peeked out the peephole. Mme Durand stood there, staring at my door as if mesmerized. Her door was open, her white hair fell out of its bun and draped down around her shoulders, and the beautiful Cezanne hung on the wall behind her, bathed in the aura of its beauty. I ran to get my cell phone to snap a pix but by the time I returned, her door was closed.

Perhaps you will see from today’s missive that your theories of thoughtful and considerate behavior apply not only to others, but to the self as well.

Day 7: Letter to a friend

Day 6: Letter to a friend
art | writing

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