excerpts from Paris 60
Copyright © 2010 by Harold Jaffe. All rights reserved.
3.27 Furious Goya
Jet-lagged in the City of Lights.
Having rented a flat in the premier quartier, not far from the Tuileries Gardens.
Travel-blitzed, can’t write a line.
After five bleak nights the old deaf furious witness unblocked me.
On the walls at the Petit Palais in one of the chic quartiers: Goya’s engravings: Disasters of War.
The exhibition is crowded as the métro at rush-hour.
Kultur still cuts it in Paris.
Why are those two Japanese female tourists giggling at the grotesquely tortured innocents in Disasters of War?
Maybe I know why.
And touring with a muster of Germans from Frankfurt (I see the large Mercedes coach outside), the 20-something Aryan with the shaved head and tattoos up and down his arms jerking his body while viewing his own reflection in the mutilated resistance fighters of Goya’s — soon Napoleon’s — Spain.
The tiny titan prances, poses with his hand in his jerkin.
Not so unlike the current jerk, Sarko.
Bantamweights: one from Corsica, theatrical.
The other part Juif, hyperactive.
Goya: Fighting tyranny solely for victory is opportunism.
Fighting tyranny on principle is obligation.
Technically, it is Spring in the year 2008.
Foul weather persists, raw wind, rain, hail.
3.28 La Haine
Our current ethnocidal war (Iraq not Afghanistan) is five years old and here come the memoirs, movies, wall-art, videos, techno-rap.
Every opportunist insisting I told you so.
Vietnam War redux.
Unlearned lessons, lied-about history.
Berlin Wall unwalled.
The US constructing walls to exclude Mexicans from the country that was stolen from them.
Israel walling off Palestine.
Not Vietnam-era Agent Orange.
Depleted uranium with a half-life of two million years cancering children.
Maddened Islam unleashed.
Every third face I see in Paris has in it colonized Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia.
Septuagenarian Brigitte Bardot, fierce animal lover, refuses to be photographed.
From her perch in San Tropez BB wants them out.
Keep France French and white.
The unspeakable war is five years old.
Sarko, aping Bush, orders French troops to Afghanistan.
Two fronts are better than one.
Slaughter the sand niggers — if you can find them.
If you can’t find them, slaughter them anyway.
At the same time, the Centre Pompidou has mounted an exhibition which features Arab and Israeli artists contre la guerre.
Painting, sculpture, testimony, video.
Paris is still the chieftain of style in the European theater.
When I finally leave the smooth museum corridors, I gaze across the broad square at the legendary toits de Paris.
More than two years since I saw him last, the Moroccan-French waiter in the small oyster bar near the St Paul métro stop in the Marais.
Recognize each other at once, shake hands.
After I speak friendly words he corrects my French.
Even the pissed-on ex-colonized are language pedants in Paris.
Never mind the Starbucks-McDonalds low-grade infection, Parisian cuisine is comme toujours, but expensive, and the dollar, formerly king, is not just shit, but reeks of it.
Maghreb French boys do the hip-hop thing-rhythmic walk, sideways cap, gang-banger hand-signals.
Hand-signal — the other hand strokes the mobile.
Myself, aimlessly walking, Baudelaire’s flaneur, post-millennium, sans hashish.
Sidestepping shoppers, not catching an eye, nearly everyone tonguing their mobile.
Pause at a café for a Pastis.
No more colorful Gitanes or Gauloises packets laid on the cafe table.
Unexpectedly, the French have followed the US anti-smoking route, even as the streets and highways are congested, polluted.
Ah, but the métro is still a Cartesian marvel of efficiency.
Underpaid transit workers are threatening to strike.
In solidarity with university students who now pay more for less.
The strikers will ritually take over the streets.
In this 40th anniversary, books on the student almost-revolution in May 68 are prominently displayed in the bookstore windows.
No correspondence between Soixante-huit and Sarko’s current repression.
Régis Debray, onetime revolutionary who fought with Che in Bolivia, has published his memoirs to critical acclaim.
They too are featured in bookstores.
Debray has rotated 180 degrees and now despises Che, Fidel, Mao.
Scion of a high-toned French family, Debray is proud to have finally acknowledged his birthright.
Revolution, even in this country of Communards, has devolved into a noun like “archeology” or “Social Darwinism.”
Outside the Centre Pompidou, white-faced, balanced on one leg, still as a butterfly on a temple bell.
Inside the modish museum: cutting-edge art, grand-école discourse, stylish boutiques.
Outside: immemorial mime, still as guillotine.
On the city’s margins — online, off — young revolutionaries smoke cigarettes, glare at the screen, map their comeback.
In the piss-alleys, beggar women, some with infants or small dogs, struggle to stand, shuffle to their assigned stations.
Outside the Centre Pompidou, the mime in whiteface is still as blood on the tenement walls of the ghettoized Paris suburbs.
The mixed-blood child approaches, looks up, says:
My name is Ahmad.
In the Bourse, in the political palaces,
In the corporate aircraft,
In the scented chambers,
In the suicide bomber-proof limo,
The privileged glare into each other’s contacts watching themselves watch themselves.
Walking in the student sector of the Left Bank.
The weather temporarily lifted, mild with almost-clear skies.
Still nearly every French adult wears une écharpe.
A scarf gracefully wrapped and knotted.
How many elegant ways is there to wrap and knot a scarf?
Moreover, nobody seems to wrap her/his scarf exactly like anyone else. Wrapped several times and bunched handsomely at the neck.
Wrapped once (or twice) with one end tossed over a shoulder.
Wrapped and knotted in coded sequences, inaccessible to non-Gauls.
Except that gracefully wrapped scarves go well with Gitanes and Gauloises on the café table alongside the Pastis, cloudy in its fluted glass.
Alongside the carafe of vin rouge sec.
With smoking officially interdit in restaurants and cafes, why not reserve some of the twisted scarves for nooses, intricately knotted, exclusively for those who still smoke — terrorists, North Africans, invisible street-people?
The French struck gold with the bidet, but now it’s time to move on.
Show a hetero American male a bidet and he’ll laugh or try to shit in it.
Enter a typical French café and the toilet is likely to be down among the catacombs.
Where it’s not the squatting-on-your heels contraption, miserably close to your dung and the dung of those who squatted before you, it is a toilet without a seat and likely without toilet paper.
I am a claustrophobe.
Unlike Sarko, je suis grand.
In one of the old cafes near République, I squeezed my way down into the basement toilet which was about the size of the coffin in the 1988 Dutch-French film The Vanishing.
As I was using the clownishly loud dryer to blow my hands dry, I heard a sptttt, the dryer shorted, suddenly it was black as Hades.
The space was so tight I could scarcely turn around.
Moreover I forgot where on the door the lock was, which I spasmodically felt around for with both hands.
Next I was violently shaking and kicking the door, shouting, swearing, not in English but in “American” — as the French put it.
Finally I more or less pulled myself together.
Remembered that the lock was a sliding bolt close to the top of the door.
Slid it open, bent my head, left.
Parisians make a point of being too smooth to acknowledge deviation, but the patrons turned to me questioningly as I climbed the stairs.
They had to have heard the racket I was making.
Under my breath I muttered: You’re lucky.
I could be one of those American mass murderers — in which case your Parisian asses would be escargot.
I saw Bela Lugosi as Dracula walking in the Tuileries Gardens.
It was daytime, the sun was out, he looked splenetic, distinctly out of sorts.
His head (widow’s peak, Asian eyes) was bent.
He was wearing black.
(Of course French males wear black as a rule.
Whether for reasons of style, tacit devotion, grieving, or indirect satire, has never been established).
Lugosi as Dracula was wearing black for his own immemorial reasons.
Looking hard, I thought I made out a sharpened canine.
At that moment I heard a bird sound — a raven on a dead chestnut tree clacking like a woodpecker.
It was warm, the raven could have been in courting mode.
Bela Lugosi died in 1956, and here we are eight years into the Millennium with a small hyper-ambitious man named Sarko at the helm.
Lugosi didn’t die, his morphine habit and quality time as Dracula on those Hollywood sets sucked up death and vomited it back out as life eternal.
These off-center formulations unreeled rapidly in my chest.
When I came to my senses I thought of following him.
But he was gone, disappeared into nuclear springtime.
Then I remembered the dream I had in my small bed in my small Paris flat.
Alongside someone else, unidentified, I was looking across a broad verdant landscape when suddenly it began to sink behind the horizon until it disappeared.
I turned to the human by my side and said: “It’s over at last.”