Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March 14, 1:20 a.m., Paris. Paris, je t'aime.

Some notes on my neighbourhood, some discoveries I've made by walking (a lot): Souvenir shops line both sides of the boulevard de Clichy and boulevard de Rochechouart, steps from the Moulin Rouge and near metros Blanche, Pigalle, Anvers. Montmartre hides the glory (and grime) of old, of certain Belle Époque decadence--a wrought iron elaborate work here, a detailed visage of stone there... the buildings built to 5 stories or less; unstable grounds, it is said. And a certain malaise is still present in the brisk air of early March. Young Parisians do not seem to notice, but what have the young but time (the notice arrives later, with postage past due). Within a two-block radius from my rented apartment at 45 rue de Douai, surrealist writer (one of my influences) Andre Breton took residence for many years at 42 rue Fontaine--interestingly surviving as a part-time art dealer, acquiring Picasso's incredible demoiselles d'avignon (simple washer-women who worked at/near his small art studio on Montmartre), and a slew of artists and writers would use his apartment as stomping grounds. Cafe Cyrano, steps from my place and facing the circular Place de Clichy, was a local haunt of Breton's, as was Au Petit Poucet and Brasserie Wepler for Henry Miller, who wrote of taking naps in order to filter the surrealist dreams he had into Tropic of Cancer. You can also see some of this in his book Black Spring (excellent little book, as well as his thoughts on Clichy, Quiet Days in Clichy). Au Petit Poucet is only a facade, as I discovered the windows whited-out and painted over with graffiti now. Miller used to write letters to Anaïs Nin there. But the Wepler is still intact. I've walked by it several times, but it seems so manicured now, the Miller scrubbed out of it, and they sell oysters on the corner, too, under a fancy red awning. You can even get a hot waffle. Bizet’s house is also around my corner. We share the same colour of front door. The cafés were where writers used to live, their apartments often too cold to be in—I have this very sensation, now, as my own Paris apartment has but one heater and with these recent cold days I’m not content to stay for long (today I bought a sweater for 6 euros, a man-sized sweater, from a shop between two souvenir stores and a sex costumery. Henry Miller would give good conversation in exchange for good eats. Could writers these days say the same? I fear more and more writers are either frightened of various anxieties or fixated on success (which can come at a cost of authenticity, or, as I notice more and more, a snobbery that infiltrates and spoils the writing of the otherwise talented ones). So much chicanery, I witnessed it here with the very few English writers I met. Their eyes were reticent, or they were filmed by fatigue, or they were suspicious. Sometimes they would peer into me, an obligatory scan, and soon boredom would ensue when I did not choose to entertain. Perhaps I was scanning, too. I am cold in Paris. I am listening to Werther, Massenet’s masterpiece. This is my final night in a city I’ve dreamed for years, a presence with me in chambers, in hallways, in open-air skies, and in these dreams I became and became. Even the faces on museum walls reach toward and gaze inward and whisper: we have known this city; it is hard, it is soft, you will have to be tough enough, but if you are, it will reward you more than you have ever known. This is where the spirit returns in order to know itself—not more fully, no; it is where the spirit began and you have come home.


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