Saturday, September 28, 2013

For Your Consideration

Consider these words a dream of azure. Consider these words as words and nothing more than words. Consider these words ideas folded into buffalo. Consider these words folded into Buddhism. Consider. Please consider these words. These constant companions. These throats these museums these elbows these pins.
Pin. The very word makes me want to put its syllables in my breath and pin it to a sentence. Pin an image to the air and let it hang there. An image like England. An Image like Boston. An image like roots. An image like light glowing through the panels of a Tiffany lamp. The black-veined wings of an orange butterfly. The cream white petals of a day lily with a yellow style.
Consider cider. Consider cypress. Consider  Paris. Consider Gustave Flaubert. Consider the city of Paris in Febraury, 1873. Consider Gustave Flaubert sitting at a desk. Consider Gustave Flaubert writing with an implement designed for such use, a pen. A pen such as it existed in Paris in 1873. Which was probably a goose quill. The fountain pen would not emerge for another decade.
Consider a goose quill. Consider a man writing. Consider a name. Gustave Flaubert. Consider a stance. Consider an attitude. Consider the attitude of a writer writing among a class of merchants who do not care about writing. Gustave Flaubert wondered about the value of writing. Why does anyone write? “Why need one write,” he writes. “A pen, ink, and some paper, nothing more… Literature, poetry, what purpose do they serve? No one has ever known.”
Consider you. Yourself. Consider your eyes. Consider your nose. Consider your fingers and toes. Consider the weight of your body. Consider the furniture that you like. Consider the furniture that you do not like. Consider the computer. Consider the smartphone. Consider the glow of a screen. Consider the soft flutter of a page in a book. Which do you prefer? Which holds your attention best?
Consider food. Consider eggs. Consider bread. Consider strawberry jam. Consider eggs as they are stirred in a sauce pan and begin to congeal. Consider meat as it sizzles in its own juices. Consider an onion as it is diced by a knife into pieces. Consider scrubbed mussels steamed open in wine. Bread crumbs moistened with vinegar and pounded to a paste. A milieu of macaroni.
Consider your mouth. Chewing. Talking. What are the words that are coming out of it? Are they the words that you wanted to come out of it or are they words that surprised you as they came out of your mouth? Are they words that you take pride in? Or words that you wish you could pull back from the air and step on and crush like foul insects?
Consider words. Words propagating words. Words oozing words. Luminous words. Dark words. Silken words. Murderous words. Engorged words. Supple and tender words. A Picasso of words. A Pollock of words. A Vermeer of words.
Consider being. Consider existence. Consider non-being. Consider not existing. What is it to not exist? What is it to not have a nose, a mouth, a pair of legs, a pair of ears, a brain, a network of nerves, emotions, sensations, what is  it to be without these things? Is it like being air? Is it like being wind? Is it like being a noise that comes and goes? Is it like being the smell of something? Do ghosts have odors? Do ghosts inhabit words? Ghosts most certainly inhabit words.
Consider contrast. Consider ruin and paroxysm. Consider serenity and lakes. Mountain lakes. The sky and its clouds reflected in a still mountain lake. Does it make you happy? Does it make you ache? The water is cold. So cold I cannot think how cold.
Are there places that words cannot go? Consider words going where they were never intended to go. Consider your words drifting like leaves or empty potato chip bags bumping and jiggedy jagging down a street into the past. Consider the past as a place that is separate from the present. Consider the past a place like Cuba or Tasmania.
I do not think the past is a place. When I consider the past I consider it as a phenomenon that I have largely invented or recreated. A recreation. Like fishing. Like standing on the bank of a river. A river of fast moving water. And finding the deepest stillest part of the water and tossing my line and its lure out to that place in the water. And expectantly hoping that something will bite. Something terrifically alive and slippery and speckled. And I consider this life. I consider this the practice of memory. Of being in life and trying to catch something in the past. Something I missed. Something that eluded me when I experience it. And still eludes me. As everything does. As all these words combined cannot quite capture. Cannot quite keep still as I hold it in my hand and say look. Look at this thing I’ve made. This study. This effervescence. This pulse.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cathedral of Air

An imaginary cathedral is a cathedral of air. Words and air. Vaults of air. Flying buttresses and rose windows of air. What is an emotion? An emotion is a cathedral of air. It is paddling your boat with what is at hand. Paddle your boat with a shovel. Paddle your grave with a cow. The forest and rocks. A simmering thought. A thirsty bone. An old TV set full of fierce perspectives.

The golden light of dawn shouts the sky into space. Faucets are different. Faucets are particular and chrome, like the parable of a harmonica. Great shadows and great lights. I heard the door slam, yet no one came in. This happens a lot. What can I say? I live on a planet called Earth. There is no way to map an emotion, they’re too vague, too prodigal, too mercurial. What you can do is attend a bazaar of murmuring hearts. Learn the movement of thought by studying the clouds. Trapeze artists describe space with their bodies. So do insects. So do faucets. Faucets let water drop into the sink and it is wonderful to see.
Go: stand on the rocks above the lobsters. This is how cathedrals inspire a sense of the sublime. Even now my guts are singing a song of turbulence and height and how serenity and grace may be achieved in stone. There is the incident of the pretty nail to consider. Odors are too vague. And my zipper is stuck. One learns much from studying sequences, correspondences, analogies. I have seen a museum swarm with people and thought of the anthill and beehive. This morning, for example, my pain resembles a pilgrimage. The incision of dawn continues to rip the night into shreds and great equilibriums are proffered and lost, lost and regained. I ache for the essence of things.
Cause and effect are not always so easy to decipher. I cannot always identify a smell. The smell of wet clay is as spectral as summer. May our glory be in our striving to understand. Even a little glass pepper shaker can recommend a sentence of greenery and progress. I wear a leather belt not because oysters taste good but because it keeps my pants up. And because oysters taste good. Each day is a voyage whose port is a bed and whose destination is sleep. Yet words remain alive in us. Just as the oyster remains alive in its shell, so does the essence of a word sleep among convolutions and pearls. The nacreous lining of the shell is full of subtleties, like the lips of a young woman. Implication is the frosting on the cake of ambiguity.
No one really knows what true beauty is. Everybody knows what extraordinary balance the body has, but it takes a lot of inquiry to rub the mystery of life until it shines like Aladdin’s lamp, and the Flower Ladies appear in a cloud of smoke, and bump into enamel. Beauty is pleasing to the eyes but worries the heart with desire. It arrives in the rain when we least expect it. The sky is the most important landscape. Yet I’m crying on the inside. Then blue turns to gray, and try as you may, you just don’t feel good, you don’t feel alright. And you know that you must find her, find her, find her.
A parable of salt has its compensating movements, but willpower is an internal phenomenon involving five emotions and a spine. Cherubs kiss in the shrubbery. Personalities are like rattles, cylinders going up and down in declensions of stone. A sack of nails is like a sack of candy: both imitate tin. The least element of a truth evokes the truth as a whole. The taproot holds the planet in its tendrils. The black back of a snake slithers into a hole. Death is not my favorite subject. You can see a personality shine in someone’s eyes and believe you’re aboard a ship with a circus. I’ve never seen a whale do push-ups in a library. Not until now. Not until today.
The twilight blooms like a martini in a dark lounge off Interstate 84. Beauty is not distinct from the useful. It mingles with our eyes. A superior beauty resides in the effects of depth. My black running shoes, for instance, are lightly coated with the yellowish dust of the Jardin de Luxembourg. Some identities are hidden like bears hibernating in caves, but we followed the bells of Saint Sulpice back to our hotel and found elegance in a stairwell, beauty in the eye of a woman grabbing a sweaty leg, and time falling out of a clock.
Who has the patience to read a book anymore? My interior landscape is laden with snow. There is a bookstore in Paris that calls itself L’Écume des pages and evokes a comparison between the pages in books the white paper of books and the foam of the sea as it spreads its pages and volumes on the sand. People once read books with avidity and followed chimeras over clouds and hills and rocks and trees and opened prodigal doors into intricate poems delicate and urgent as surgery in an operating room with a sewing machine and an umbrella.
Noises come spilling out of the air. Meanings are sipped from a flower of words by the living ears of a zoo of forces. Consonants and vowels. Birds in a circle above the chop of waves. Daylight scattered in crumbs of time, minutes and hours and struts and streets. Attach a thought to a sentence and watch it fly like an abstract machine. There must be pain so that your spirit may pour forth thought. I once saw man pull a mockingbird out of his nipple. Some personalities walk the earth like ghosts. And some grow into sticks, a world of intangible geographies. Mouths make sounds and people wander the towns. The body is a library of sensations. You can run into glitter that way. You can find a clean surface and write in order to fully understand the art of the open air, the shadow of duty on the pommel of a saddle, the interplay of muscles involved in running or swimming, the meeting of diagonal ribs in the vault of a cathedral.
I have teased the cotton of consciousness into soft cooperation and now drip with experience in a U-haul truck of the imagination. Three forces are struggling over the road: the wind, the clouds, the sun. Sometimes the world is like that. Subtleties of sliver shout tornado! A tornado did this to me! I put the thesaurus on the table and the bulb lit up. How about that. There are degrees of light that change hour by hour, like flights of Gothic angels, or the colors in a motel curtain. I feel overwhelmed by museums. The Louvre is huge. Power is gray. The Viking sleeps in thick furs at the stern of the boat. He dreams that each word is a shape and that he will sing them in a hall. The hungry are everywhere. The sky hangs like a bridge over a slow river. I feel a powerful desire to reveal my most hidden feelings, let them sound like the flap of an awning in front of a deserted store. Walk like a spoon, dance like a fork. Speak like a knife.
The supreme aim of art is to attain nothingness. The equilibrium of volumes in the vaults of a cathedral speak to a final emptiness that is a fullness. That is a circumstance of life pressing forward until death, and death in life, where it is a momentary amber, sensitivity to another intelligence and sympathetic voice. Nothingness is the medicine that arrives in sleep. That pulls the tides. That finds meaning in anything and serenity in strife.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Vermeer of Shoes

The Louvre is overwhelming. It's gigantic. You don't know where to start. There is such an infinite number of things too look at, angels and cherubs and devils and gods. Clouds and ships and flowers and mysterious aristocratic women. Sirens contorting in marble. Chariots floating in heaven. Sad kings and happy kings. Tragic queens and haggard old women carrying burdens of children and wood. Peasants dancing. Peasants sipping soup in hovels. Bowls of fruit. Vases of flowers. Eyeballs of dead fish gazing into eternity. Everything artfully, skillfully represented. So beautifully represented that in all honesty you don't know which is the real world, the true world, or the idealized world. Are these courtiers and hunters and card players and weeping women a world doctored by an early Renaissance master, or the world seen clearly, vividly, and rendered with such skill that it is a world more real than the world it represents? Are these lute players and merchants and tables and fruit the world as it is, the world as it truly existed five hundred years ago, or the world sublimated into eternal beauty by a skilled Dutch artist using pigments crushed in a mortar? Is this eye of lapis lazuli a true blue eye or the result of aluminum silicate with sulfur?

I will tell you: I brought a camera. A small digital camera so that in some way I could preserve what my memory was sure to lose. A small digital camera so that I would not need to spend seventy to eighty dollars on a fifty pound volume of beautiful prints. Which is cool in the Louvre. You can take pictures in the Louvre. This grosses out some people, some true art lovers, I know, I'm aware of that. I get it. Taking pictures of paintings in a museum is gross. I won't do it again. I promise. But I will also tell you that what I ended up with was a lot of pictures of my shoes.

My flash kept going off. The museum officials are strict about such matters. Sans flash! Sans flash, Monsieur! Ok, dude, I get it. Sans flash. But I can't get this new fucking camera to cooperate. I had a tough time understanding all the mysterious little icons and was weak with option fatigue from clicking through menus I didn't fully grasp, if I understood them at all. I was dizzy with incomprehension. I tried to find the automatic flash function and disarm the damn thing. But I couldn't find it. Sometimes I thought I had it and then pop! another frigging flash and a museum official staring daggers at me. What was once Vermeer's Seamstress of luminous yellows and reds and greens is now a faded replica of curly hair and fingers and pale concentration.

I got the bright idea of testing for the flash by taking pictures of my shoes.  If the flash went off, it would harm nothing, and more importantly, the museum official would see that I was taking pictures of my shoes, either because I was enamored of my shoes, or because I was trying to gain control of the flash function on my camera, which would have been the correct assumption, though it would also be accurate to say that I was, indeed, enamored of my shoes, they had been the best running shoes of my running life before I retired them to the more sedate function of walking. And so what I have now are magnificent photographs of my shoes. My wonderful running shoes. My wonderful black running shoes. For the Louvre of my feet.

For whose feet are not a Louvre of bone and cartilage and elegant muscle?

 If there were a Vermeer of shoes, this is what the painting would look like: a leg of denim leading downward to a black running shoe lightly dusted with the yellowish dust on the paths of the Jardin de Luxumbourg, where I had run that morning, before entering the Louvre, and discovering what art, what skill went into the production of my shoes.

For what shoes are not a Louvre?

What shoes are not also an Orangerie of nylon, gel, and rubber? A Georges Pompidou of eyelets and nails? A Musée d'Orsay of plastic weave and leather overlay?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ha Ha Ha Ha

Hit the burn with plaster. Conceive a helter-skelter cat sweat. Roughen it with strong adjectives. The pain expands its parameter. And a bicycle pleads rain.

I manipulate the massive wash. This exemplifies a boiling nerve. My gargle smacks this pound. Send the shaken thought flap. Horses galloping through a compulsion smash.
We push our kaolin hands. Your empty block convulses bulbs. The image sparkles a mirror. It assembles by gratifying brains. An immediate crack cures trickling.
What is action ocher decorations. Arrange behavior beneath your breath. The squashed mode succeeds at wheels. Ha ha ha ha it accentuated my ocean. Ha ha ha ha it oiled the sorcery.
Ha ha ha ha it continued in fire. Ha ha ha ha it pounced the leaves. Ha ha ha ha the stilts drooled existence. Ha ha ha ha mimicry dwells in eating. Ha ha ha ha flaps boils nibbles.
It fires your sparrow propeller. Toss the paraffin to bitumen. Build the charcoal sympathetically structured. Writing flourishes in the past. Memory ignites on the face.
The asphalt explains its connectedness. It does this by segments. The highway juts this opinion. I feel it disturb Milwaukee. The spirit nominates its rivers.
Experience ruptures the abstract furniture. Experience is velvet to cake. Experience brings meaning to anxiety. Gargoyles supply the other sounds.
Touch your skin at war. You will feel ghosts dance. Proposals embedded in secret money. Green buttons murder the horizon. Bacteria feather amid the tears.
I trap the hissing emotion. It feels like Hindu algebra. Ultramarine ripples aloud like wheat. Life absorbs its flopped contraptions. The emotions bark around plums.
The stethoscope endures its hearing. I have formulas for sophistry. Grammar pinned to the air. Hospital Cubism in joyful bedlam. Tug propelled by scorching endeavor.
Incandescent bathers tickle a definition. For what for cooking principles. Ha ha ha ha flipped in a bag. Ha ha ha ha inflated by limestone money. Ha ha ha ha hurrying a chiseled light.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chardin's Pleasure

The pleasure I get from a painting by Jean-Baptiste Chardin is the pleasure in experiencing an isolated moment in time Chardin’s pleasure was so intense it overflowed in smooth strokes unraveled expanded we see a knife jutting out from under golden slices of lemon we see life we see death we see unpredictable configurations teeter and dangle we see a cat walk over a clutter of oyster shells.
Think of a fugue in E minor think of the sound of a mockingbird a bed of peonies by the railroad tracks in Grand Forks, North Dakota. There is a glory in museums but there is also glory in the shine of water if the river moves we move with the river.
My water is hot I like it that way when I shower otherwise I prefer it pounded into money.
I have a tendency to circulate to mix to mingle take for example a skate cut open revealing its vast and delicate architecture red blood blue nerves white muscles you see these creatures lying on the sand a lot and wonder how they got there did they just die a normal death a death of old age or some other sickness and then the gulls got to it and pecked it open to reveal the marvel of its organs the things that made it live and eat and move and reproduce.
I feel the sigh of electricity in cathedrals, mountains, waves. I feel the pursuit of metamorphosis is pure mint a shoal in the river in constant reformation I like making scribbles because the lines one way or another evolve a meaning evolve a meaningful form the mind cannot but help but make meaning out of the most chaotic phenomena this is how we expand by talking and not saying what we intended to say but saying something different and surprising ourselves. Character, life, emotion are ghosts of intention. An intention is anything it is like shaving in the wilderness why would you want to shave in the wilderness but you do you do it to preserve a certain sense of oneself and so it makes sense like walking into heaven with a jar of screws.
The intent is to engage oneself with the world which is to say toss yourself into it pump it up kick it out it’s natural to feel that life is but a joke yes it is but it’s funny it’s tragic and funny simultaneously and sometimes creating something is a burst of ecstasy.
Gas station at midnight bell rings the mechanic is boxing a skull.
Meaning is achieved by image: insects smashed on a windshield. This is what acceleration does it topples it collides it smashes it creates it empties the mind of disorder it is a sudden clarity iron hammered into fiction glint of a silver coin on a wrinkled palm.
Look at the bitumen yawning in its slow red fire coming out of the throat in an image a hypothesis a galaxy in the linen a rock like a bald head sunlight on a glass of water.
Near the railroad tracks that run along the south side of Chicago there is an entertaining guitarist heaving an unpredictable music into the world where it dangles a big sound wedged between words a skein of red wool an emotion hot as a sauce pan I feel like going for a walk in the snow or collapsing on a bed full of big soft pillows we lift such heavy problems in life sometimes the kinetics of it is quite real problems have a life of their own I got this idea when I was in Butte, Montana in 1889. It made me what I am today an old man with a black hat.
Hammer a float together and what you get is a play about a killing. We won’t say what the play is you just have to come to terms with it on your own if you know what I mean. Trudge through a swamp and squeeze the reptiles. Joke. Perturb. Hold onto your life with words. Build a paragraph of imperative and brilliant language just to see what it does. Oil it occasionally. When you see the density and nacreous sheen of a shell you think to yourself my word all the essence of life is there. And then you go and take a knife from the edge of the table and begin to carve a tunnel of scurrying animals which will be suitable for a shirt and the growl of a hat.
Describe a snake by pasting the flow of water to a kitchen faucet surround it with railroad tracks and celebration granite quarried in central Minnesota.
I make a line and another line follows and Colorado spruce and a bite of steak and the movement of something below moving quickly with fins and twenty or thirty pounds of bark mulch.
I plan to include more daffodils next time. A destiny is a fine thing to have but what a strange maneuver to lounge around during battle get down on your knees and squeeze the sand use a gesture like chemistry to understand yourself you are not just in the world the world is in you you are the world and there is more than one world there is also Milwaukee.
I tremble to think of it. Tremble to think of the flower squirting pollen so striking to the eye so obscure to the mind taste the invocation of spring but heed the wisdom of winter that’s what I always say the depth of aluminum is nascent in the corners of a sack and when the symbols grow delicious the exhilarating odor of poetry blossoms into an apparition a howling waterfall absurd beneath the breath a waterfall packed in a word the meaning of it dripping with nails.
A person to whom metal and stoneware are living and to whom fruit speaks will never be poor. What is existence if it sinks like an oar in the water? What is the meaning of space in the vaults of the Rocky Mountains?
Genesis, fluidity, dreams. Peony roots in a Conestoga wagon.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Shape of Yearning

Go ahead paint something I know you want to put some emphasis on muscles fingernails that ride the hand a naked algebra of blisters a woman pumping a man running.
Running has the shape of yearning it murmurs a perspective lulled by vibration swan with a basketball its life shaking with emotion the coordinates of Mallarmé’s swan are seminal to the production of eggs and candles the Vermeers at the Louvre squeeze and release you you walk away shaking a hungry tourist while outside it continues to rain and the fangs of the gargoyles snarl at the stars bleeding out of the twilight like blood from a swab of cotton.
Coffee is wonderful. Coffee is a feeling. You must drink lots of coffee in Paris. Stir cubes of sugar into the naked hope of talk wind ruffling the Seine timeless as the cry of a gull an infantry of words carrying a list of emotions keep your powder boy there is a paragraph crawling across the floor of the museum see how it slithers how those patterns fold and turn there is solace in skin exclaim the crumpled dolls give us light they cry give us light and movement.
Whispers stir the exploration of touch this includes Spain it rips the atmosphere sags on a tree branch a hand is a temple of fingers a bewildered artist lingering in the light of Paris feeling the visceral heat of a social component a sky on his lap here in the U.S. the highways stick to their business they teem with allegory but otherwise keep their secrets low to the asphalt while the clatter of cutlery in the restaurants never abandon their indications but amplify the feeling of solitude that is occasionally relieved by the colors and glow of a jukebox.
I enjoyed my life on the farm thinking grows a bone when you’re being touched by another person there is the impact of sweaty bodies to consider the brush of a hand the breath of another person cooling the moisture of your skin the heat of a barn sunlight exploding through slats of old wood rusted nails discarded guns phantoms of straw.
This is a chisel see how it shines like a slice of light my love of autumn has opium eyes gazing upward under the faucet each implication amplified by the amniotic fluid of a quiet moment as if time’s own uterus were full of combs and blossoms and increased the availability of skin a woman’s impenetrable gaze beside the canvas where the grace of cloth dreams in folds and indigo sparrows carry the wind across the spine of a river.
There is a spider building a web it urges hymns and reverence a squeeze on the arm a bicycle falling through its metal an antique subtlety deformed as a car wreck an elegy sinking in its own description never play poker with history its lips will impart distortions in a jar of opium and the Queen of Hearts will wander through her words wearing alligator earrings and a crackling idea dangling from her forehead gnarled by greed and overstimulated protoplasm.
She will produce the writhing syllables of a dead morality losing its definition in a mound of snow. She will grasp the light and break it. She will howl an insoluble vowel. She will embody our more abstract feelings and that will serve as a force to drive the calliope across the bruise of our wounded existence.
Paint is a gift. Our wrinkles are histories. The friendly concierge knocks on the door and asks if there is a problem. No, you say, tout va bien. Planets of gauze are circling your thumbs. A shadow achieves locomotion and drives across Paris culminating in snaps a tune on a phonograph.
There is a personality floating in me. It has a silver buckle. Headlights on its toes. It throws sparks and Portuguese. The glow of a brass eyelid summoned the candy of sleep. We saw Montmartre in the distance, reposing in a fog.
Sometimes a feeling will harden into words and function as a knife and cut the air with a sharp intention.
And sometimes, despite stumbling, a sentence will hop and jump through its grammar reaching a destination it never dreamed of when Greenland gleamed below and blood from a spur dropped to a sewing kit and the meaning of things was mended and the mud felt natural and the piercing fragrance of an Etruscan marriage was translated into wisdom and bells. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Things I Liked Best about Paris

Everywhere beautiful architecture. Winding cobblestone streets with the allure of ancient trysts, romantic intrigues, chimerical turns and echoes of cavaliers laughing heartily, swords clanking, mustaches trimmed with black greasy flair. Starving poets of the darkly looming industrial age slurping soup in dimly lit cafés with old wooden beams and rough stone walls. The majesty of the buildings with their wrought-iron filigreed balconies, all of it a clear implication of frivolity, gaiety, but also the supreme importance of doing a job well and with a certain élan. The numberless curiosities, eccentricities, idiosyncratic configurations, Rimbaldian Illuminations that appear out of the blue, illumine high garrets, spill through the streets in unbridled hunchback weirdnesses of piercing beauty and iridescent rags.
Fabulous bookstores with rich, alluring ideas and titles, writing written for the sake of exploration and imaginative joy not for a market or trend or profitable childhood trauma. The joy of discovering a bookstore near Rue Bonaport and Rue Jacob that taped letters to the window, Jean Paul Sartre to Wanda Kosakiewiez Juillet 27, 1939, letters by Henri Bergson, Louis Pasteur, Georges Bizet, Louix XVI in a very flamboyant hand Octobre 15, 1791, a manuscript by Alfred Jarry, 1901.
Huge kiosks of newspapers and magazines on almost every block and crossroads, people reading with great vigor, browsing book bins, talking, tasting, perusing. I didn’t see a single person sitting at table in a café or bookstore or museum gazing into a laptop or iPad. I did see a shop that specialized in fashionable smartphone covers, but very few people using cell phones at all. People were clearly more interested in what was going on around them than with anything virtual or digital. This was a great relief.
The casual ease with which it is possible to walk just about anywhere in Paris. You cannot do this in Seattle, where there is a great deal of violence, shootings, beatings, and thuggery.
Suddenness of seeing French artist César’s “The Centaur” at the corners of the Rue de Sèvres and Rue du Cherche-Midi when we were looking for an open café or brasserie on a gray Sunday afternoon in which it had rained throughout the day.
Art everywhere revered celebrated protected honored encouraged arrayed suspended sprinkled cultivated sustained.

Things I Disliked about Paris

The tourism (to which my wife and I added, I will confess) is insane. I’ve never seen so many tourists in one general location. The phenomenon, which helps drive the French economy, is having a hollowing out effect, a vulgarizing impact on what makes Paris special, which is many splendid nuances, its sense of intimacy, its phenomenal bridges and ancient mute stones. Its inexhaustible passion. Its eccentric serendipitous corners. Paris is quickly being Disney-fied, turned into a theme park. There is a mindlessness to much of it, a knee-jerk we must do that, we must go there feeling behind it all, a consumerism in hyper-drive. This became most sickeningly apparent in the Louvre, where people crowded heavily and frenziedly to get shots of the Mona Lisa and Winged Victory. The cameras raised to the Mona Lisa was just downright spooky. It was zombie art-viewing at its most extreme vulgarized imbecility.
Then there was the smoke. Tobacco consumption is still alive and well in Paris. The Parisians love to smoke. There is second-hand cigarette smoke everywhere. Paris passed a law a few years ago forbidding smoking on the inside of public venues, but it is still allowed outside on the premises of various cafés and brasseries, which are ubiquitous, and make up what is one the most identifiable features of Parisian life. Everyone seems to prefer sitting outside where they can smoke. This makes it tough for a non-smoker, unless you can get a table inside, à l’intérieur, as they say. But even then, as it sometimes happens, the windows are all broadly open so that the smoke can drift inward. Such as when we found a table à l’intérieur of La Petite Provence on Rue Pot de Fer, near Rue Mouffetard, and next door to us was a vendor of narguilés, or hookahs, called the Chicha Shop. A middle-aged man sat outside at a table right around the corner from us and smoked the shit out of a narguilé. The windows of the little café were all broadly open (it was a very hot day) and the man was within inches of us, so that occasionally smoke from his hookah would come drifting in, depending on the caprice of the breeze blowing through Rue de Pot de Fer. The man held a long golden tube to his mouth and puffed and puffed and puffed for a solid half hour. The smoke was an odd mélange of steam and tobacco. Fortunately, he left before we ordered dessert, and no one else took his place.
For those who are hoping to improve their French, you’re in for a little ego-bruising. The French are very pissy about their language. I don’t get it. All other speakers of a foreign language seem pleased when you try to speak their language. Not the Parisians. Even if you’re moderately fluent, they’ll respond to you in English, will insist on speaking English, so that you will do no further damage to their language. There were a few people I encountered, such as the concierge at our hotel, a young woman named Carol, who was very tolerant and supportive of my attempts to speak in French. When my French was tolerated, I struggled along like someone with a speech defect or has who has recently suffered a stroke, so she is to be congratulated. I struck gold on several occasions when I encountered Parisians who did not speak English. I excelled in these situations. I felt a boost of confidence, and when you’re truly trying to convey information and ideas and not merely practice French it’s amazing how quickly it comes to you.
Tipping: all the guidebooks will tell you that service is automatically tipped at approximately 15%. I believe this is true, but it’s hard to tell sometimes. There was always an ambiguity surround the practice of leaving a gratuity. At home in the U.S. or Canada, we’re in the habit of tipping generously because we both know what it’s like to work in the service sector, particularly in an expensive city like Seattle, so it’s hard leaving, say, an amount of roughly 5%. I felt much better when, at the bottom of the bill, it clearly stated “service y compris,” “tip for service included,” and there was no ambiguity. But this was not always the case. Most of the waiters and waitresses were extremely nice and liked Americans, so I wanted to be sure I expressed our appreciation. Tip too much, and you might insult someone.

Things That Surprised Me a Little

The French are eager to start up conversations about America. They have an intense curiosity about the U.S. and an idea of living here that corresponds more accurately with the prosperous U.S. of the 50s and 60s than our current age of unending war, NSA spying and unregulated Wall Street piracies. I tried several times to talk about the severe disparity between the haves and have nots, that 80% of the American people struggle with joblessness and/or near poverty, have by far the largest incarceration rate in the world, which is hardly indicative of the kind of openness and freedom they imagined, but my French is not that good, and the people were so full of eagerness to visit the U.S. I didn’t want to burst their bubble. It was easier to ride along with the fantasy and if they ever did make it to our shores, they would discover these realities for themselves.
The infrastructure of Paris  -  streets, bridges, water, garbage, etc.  -  were all great. I didn’t see a single rat or pothole. I saw very little graffiti, very few panhandlers, and only one or two homeless people. There was very little litter. This may not be the case once you get past what the Parisians call the Periphique, where the Parisian banlieues are full of drug trafficking, tenement housing and riots. I was also greatly surprised to find that the French are free of the tattoo fad. I saw maybe one or two men who’d gone overboard with their tattoos, but no women at all. It was nice seeing bare, beautiful skin on women again.

Things I Found Most Useful to Bring to Paris

My compass: this was a treasure. I bought it at REI before we left because I’d always had such a difficult time finding my sense of direction in Manhattan. The compass worked brilliantly: we could go anywhere without getting lost. We did a lot of walking, partly because it’s so pleasant to walk in Paris, and partly because the underground is a nightmare subterranean labyrinth of Escherian tunnels and cryptic instructions. Roberta had a far easier time than I did figuring out the underground. I just didn’t want to go down there at all. All the stairwells leading down had the acrid odor of piss. It was like stepping into a men’s room that hadn’t been cleaned in ten years. I generally wore my compass around my neck on a lanyard, or sometimes stuffed it into my pocket, so that it was always available, warm against my chest, endorsing the use of my legs.
The map, a Michelin pocket map which I bought at Triple A, was total shit. It had one good feature, which was to show you in an instant the rough location of all the principal tourist sites, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Pantheon, Notre Dame, Centre Georges Pompidou, Cimitére du Pére Lachaise, and so on, and the outlay of Paris’s twenty arrondissements. But apart from that, it showed only a very few streets, so that if you were searching, say, for a Metro entrance or particular street, there was a grossly inadequate listing of streets in order to situate yourself. How are you going to find Rue du Dragon or Rue du Four if it’s not marked on the map? The map only represented Paris’s largest and busiest arterials, Boulevard Saint-Michel or Boulevard Saint-Germain, but left out key streets such as Rue des Écoles or Rue Galande that were vital for finding your way around in some of the more crowded neighborhoods. I would recommend a full-scale map for Paris, one that indicates each and every street.

Most Unpleasant Experience

The rules governing the taking of photographs in the museums of Paris are equivocal, irrational, and inconsistent. You can take a photograph of almost anything in the Louvre, but no photographs whatever are allowed in the Musée d’Orsay. The most confusing is the Centre Georges Pompidou. You can take a photograph of some artwork, often by the same artist and often in the very same gallery, but not of others. The right of some artwork is an iconic depiction of a camera with a slash through it.
It happened at the Georges Pompidou. We were viewing the very large retrospective of Simon Hantaï, large canvases of textural abstraction. Almost all allowed picture taking. Several did not. Roberta had her Smartphone raised, and was about to take a picture of one of the canvases where the iconic camera with the slash through it indicated no pictures, when a middle-aged female museum official popped out of nowhere like a fury from hell and began a rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth upbraiding in French. I tried to intervene and tell her that we understood, but the intensity of her rage had fused her wires together and her shut-off mechanism was broken. She continued her blistering castigation as we slunk away. If I had imprudently said “calmez vous, Madam, calmez vous” she would have slapped me hard across the face. We were pretty shaken. We went to the cafeteria to lick our wounds and have a short meal. We viewed a few more paintings and sculptures, including Brancusi’s magnificent La Muse endormie, but our spirit was bruised and crestfallen.

Two Sweet Moments

It had been raining heavily all day on the morning that we walked to the Centre Georges Pompidou. The hotel provided us with a single large umbrella, which helped considerably. I love umbrellas; it’s like having a mobile tent. The Pompidou doesn’t open till eleven and there was already a long line. There was a group of young men and women clustered behind us in line, and another group of young French men and women in front of us. The group behind asked me in clearly understandable English though with a heavy accent if the line was strictly for the Roy Lichstentein exhibit or the museum exhibits in general. I asked the group in front in French that same question and they answered “tous les deux,” meaning ‘both.’ I conveyed this to the group behind us and asked where they were from. Russia, they said. I want to thank you, I told them, for taking Edward Snowden, to which they laughed heartily.
Clayton Eshleman calls Michel Deguy France’s greatest living poet. I would agree. I’ve been reading a lot of his work lately and find it intellectually engaging, full of bold metaphors and neologisms and etymologies, an overall intensity and intelligence that are the fruit of over fifty years of writing and editing Po&sie, one of France’s leading literary journals. Clayton urged me to call him when were in Paris, a possibility I entertained with trepidation. I had emailed Deguy and received an amiable reply, so the way was at least paved a little. I had also sent him a copy of my book of essays and prose poetry, Larynx Galaxy, and not received a reply for that, which gave me pause. The upshot is that I called him. I’d written a small script for myself which I had anticipated leaving on his voicemail. It’s rare that anyone I call actually answers their telephone. But he answered his phone promptly. I stammered my greeting in French and confessed that je parle Français avec beaucoup de mal, to which he laughed. We made plans to meet the following morning, our last full day in Paris, at Le Café de la Mairie directly across from our hotel, the Place Saint Sulpice, at eleven. Onze heures.
At about 10:45 the next morning, after a jaunt to the bureau de post to mail all of our postcards, we found a table at the Café de la Mairie. I wanted to sit outside so that I’d be sure to see Michel when he arrived. We found a table that was under some form of awning, which technically put it à l’intériur. Michel, who is 83, arrived on a bicycle, which he locked to a railing under a tree. I went to greet him and he pulled out a pack of cigarettes, which he showed me (they were Marlboroughs), and asked if he could have a cigarette. I said sure. He fired one up and as we talked I pointed to the table where Roberta sat. Mon épouse, I said, la-bas. He smoked about half the cigarette, threw it to the ground, and bid it “adieu.” Then we joined Roberta and had another round of deep rich espresso, during which he pointed to a building and said that Man Ray had lived there. I took out the two books I had purchased at the librairie Gilbert Joseph on the Boulevard Saint Michel, Comme si Comme ça and Spleen de Paris, both of which I had begun reading the night before, and asked Michel if he could sign them. Which he gladly did, emphasizing the pun in the title of Comme si Comme ça, “like that,” he said with his heavy French accent, drawing attention to the infinite possibility inherent in all interrelations.