Every once in a while, not very often, I fall in love with my own punctuation. When I’m making comments on a student manuscript, maybe, I’ll come up with a brilliant, brilliant piece of punctuation. Then I say, “Do you get it?” And they’re so polite, they say, “Yes, you’ve inserted an asterisk.” “No no, but that’s everything, suddenly the whole cosmos opens up around it.” “Yes, Professor Beattie.”
just now getting around to Ann Beattie’s interview in The Paris Review's Spring 2011 issue.
So, I’m back from France. I spent my last night there with friends, drinking wine along the Seine. By the time we got back to the shop, I had two hours before I had to wake up to find my way to the airport. The goodbyes were wine-filled and groggy, as I wanted them to be. I didn’t want goodbyes filled with too much goodbye.
Before the trip, when people heard I was traveling alone, they would ask if I was scared or how come or no response at all, because I’m a girl and it’s not safe. So many people mentioned Taken, as if hoping to terrify me.
Maybe if I had traveled with someone, I would have been more studious with the sites. I would have spent more time at the Louvre, would have gone up l’Arc de Triomphe, would have eaten more meals that weren’t the 2,20 euro emmental sandwich down the street from the shop.
But, as is:
I stayed in a bookstore and made new incredible friends; I sat in front of Monet’s water lilies and stared at that furious swath of yellow; I woke early and walked along the Seine, thinking about nothing; I went with friends to Le Tennessee (a jazz bar that played more 90s cool jams than jazz), La Perle, Le P’tit Bar (old cat lady bar) and discussed Schwarzenegger, Moby-Dick, the stupid things we’ve done for love; I listened to and played piano in the piano room; I slept in the piano room.
Wine and whiskey through Montmartre on fête de la musique (“I’m at 500 alcohol!”). Lessons in what makes good coffee. Sprints through pouring down rain with wine in one hand and snacks in the other, then being locked out and B running to the neighbor restaurant to have them uncork the bottle. B reading T.S. Eliot aloud outside. Pancake breakfast (so good, S) and slow post-breakfast mimosa-full conversation. The Pompidou, d’Orsay, Rodin, Gustave-Moreau. Conversations about Chris Adrian and Francisco Goldman and Herman Melville and Bolaño and Wodehouse and Fitzgerald. Public showers. Line-dancing at a fancy fête, full of champagne, then walking 30 minutes back to the shop, singing jazz songs, drinking more champagne (E––nothing will compare to your performances that evening. So amazing.). Confessions and serious-talk. Muppet frown faces. A pagan ritual.
There’s an insulation to traveling with company, I think. Traveling alone (especially traveling alone to a bookstore full of great like-minded people who know the exact Adrian Tomine drawing you were thinking about when you brought up his name), I opened myself to the experience-est of experiences––the friends and coffee and books and relief from rainy days.
It’s good to be home now, with my shelves and kitty and bed, but I’ve never felt this sadness at leaving before, while traveling, and thank god.
“157. The part I do remember: that the blue of the sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it. As one optics journal puts it, “The color of any planetary atmosphere viewed against the black of space and illuminnated by a sunlike star will also be blue.” In which case blue is something of an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire.”—
I’ve been reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets in snatches, curled over a cafe table, rain outside. despite my many love affairs with various books––working in a bookstore for a couple hours each day does nothing for my tendency to pick up and begin without reminding myself ‘you’re in the middle of five others right now’––Bluets has won out as the book I carry with me from room to room.
87. “Great suffering, joy, exertion, is not for [woman]; her life should flow by more quietly, trivially, gently than the man’s without being essentially happier or unhappier,” wrote Schopenhauer. What women, one would like to ask, did he know? At any rate, would that it were so.
So, for the past month and a half, I’ve been living and working in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris. This is called “Tumbleweeding”. Most of us are girls; we had one guy who was a violin-playing sponsored snowboarder from Canada whose life mission was to write “poetry… like John…
this is my friend Sydney’s new tumblr. her first post is hilarious, in response to a ridiculous note and dirty towel (seriously) left by the “violin-playing sponsored snowboarder from Canada.” we’ve had many laughs over this.
a brief story about how Moby-Dick is always relevant, even in a foreign country where you don't really speak the language
so I’m staying in this bookstore in Paris. there are a handful here with me, of similar ilk—underslept, tan (!) book people who like beer.
last night after helping close, seven of us headed toward this bar, billed as “crazy cat lady bar,” which was an obvious “Let’s go now.” we headed across the river, past Notre Dame, past Bastille, down a side street, at which point I lost all sense of direction, which happens for me around ever third street corner here.
it was one of the few places open on that street. out front, a spottled gray & white “gros chat” splayed in the doorway. it barely moved when three of us stooped to pet it.
inside, the bar was small—one room with a faux tropical awning over the bartop. fake stuffed cats topped the unused taps. a framed faded black and white photo was askew on a cupboard.
the woman behind the bar had to be more than 90. her entire face was wrinkles. she moved slow and steady, at her own pace. when we ordered “six Campus” she made a face at the large number and turned to get them.
I was told that Campus is normally only served as a draft, but the woman prefers bottles, wrote to them, and now they send her bottles special. I was also told she had been working the bar for nearly 50 years.
we sat on awkward, squashed stools against the wall, a bird to our right. the conversation turned to the cat, who had moved maybe a centimeter in the last 30 minutes.
R said a name he’d name a horse if he had one; I can’t remember now what it was. B said she’d named her cat after a movie star. I said, “I named mine Ahab!”
“I met an Ishmael recently,” R said. “he didn’t say Call me Ishmael though. he said je m’appelle Ishmael.”
which I think is hilarious.
I asked what the first sentence is in the French translation. no one knew. our best guess was “Tu m’appelle Ishmael” but that didn’t seem quite right. R tapped a french man on the shoulder and asked.
the man made a face and shrugged. “The poet!” he said. “Ask the poet!” he beckoned to a tall grizzled man in a suit who was standing outside, looking down at the cat. the man repeated the question and the poet also made a face. he spoke in fast French to R. I couldn’t understand much, but he made large motions, sometimes like he was swimming underwater. he didn’t answer the question.
the conversation drifted. a minute or so later, the poet said something to the woman behind the bar. I asked R what he’d said.
“He thinks it’s weird we’re talking about Moby-Dick.”
I guess I can’t help it, even when I’m sitting in a bar (maybe the original dive) across the world, drinking a beer that was maybe one of the most satisfying.
we walked the last bit back along the Seine. the weather was warm and it seemed like everyone had brought a bottle of wine to drink beside the river.