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Excerpts from Notes from Paris: A Work in Progress, Part One

When I turned 30, I went to Paris for the first time, under circumstances far from what I'd envisioned when, sprawled across my bed as a teenager, I dreamt up a romantic vision of my adult life that included going there. But... I'd gone, and it felt like home from the moment my plane's wheels met the tarmac at Orly.  Soon after, I made a decision to put all my spare hours into writing, to see what was there. Though I had written almost every day since I was 10, I wanted to try my hand at all it's forms in a disciplined way, and set the stage to discover once and for all if it was my calling.   

 I was living in Hollywood then and ripe to leave, but it wasn't time for New York just yet. So I rented an apartment in Paris for the span that a long-stay visa would allow (6 months), and would see where life took me. By the time I arrived, unexpected developments caused me to cut that plan short. But the time I spent in Paris even now remains the best so far in a life which has been pretty spectacular to date. And I knew it while I was living it. 

The below is a very small sampling of notes I made during my stay in that apartment. More to come. 

Notes from Paris

This material is original and not to be duplicated or used in any way without the authors permission.


            It’s always been about choosing the right place for writing, as much a ritual as selecting the right pen, the right ink, the right paper.
Having just arrived from the airport, I drop my bags at my new apartment on Rue du Gravillier and take no more than a cursory scan of it before hopping the Metro at Rambuteau, changing at Chatelet, to get to the Left Bank fast. I needed to dive right in, like I might crush someone I’d desperately missed in my arms at first sight. 
A glance at my watch told me I could get a few hours in at my spot before midnight. Rather than take a seat, I stand, swaying from side to side on my toes, ready to bolt when the doors opened at Boulevard Saint-Germain. Once above ground again, my chemistry shifts. I slow as I approach Au Deux Magots. Ten steps more and CafĂ© du Flore comes into view. 
This is my favorite cafe. Most have two parts: the expected set up indoors and a sidewalk patio – which in inclement weather is wrapped in thick plastic to keep service uninterrupted. Gleaming mahogany banquettes set against mirrored walls beckon from within, but I decide to sit outside at a pair of round tables, trimmed in brass, pushed together like a number eight.  I choose the love seat positioned astride them so I face the Des Pres intersection. Brasserie Lipp's red neon letters sputter directly across the street.  
The September air is mild, without a breeze. At this hour it’s all locals, just the way I like it. French men and women in groups, who elevate social titter and cigarette smoking to an art form, fill the patio beside me.
            I brave a cafe creme.  It's late for me to drink it and expect to sleep but this is what one does here. I was going to be turned around anyway for these first few days, and had no plan to adhere to any schedule, so saw no reason to force sleep and hasten the adjustment to the time change. A waiter clad in a black vest and starched white apron reaching to his shins brings me a silver tray, balanced on his immaculate fingertips. He bows to lower it to the table and slides it in place with particular elegance. Upon it is an empty cup, with a delicate silver teaspoon and two squares of sugar, impeccably wrapped in paper with the green Flore logo, resting on the saucer.  My coffee comes in a small brown ceramic pitcher; next to it, a twin white carafe holds hot, frothy cream.  I pour half a cup of the strong black liquid, then empty the carafe to dilute it.   The cream penetrates, then swirls itself, as if powered by some invisible law. 

Photo by Rochelle Joseph
I take a sip or two and feel the heat slide down my throat.  
My journal sits open at my right elbow, expectant.  Unzipping a pocket in my motorcycle jacket, I fish around and produce a fountain pen filled with violet ink. 
As the caffeine kicks in, I begin to write.  
            This is my element, my better-than-sex.   


           Tonight after dinner I decided to walk, letting my senses navigate. Setting out vaguely in the direction of the apartment, I stroll down the wide boulevards, past narrow cobblestone alleys flanked by buildings grown crooked with age. Illumed by gas lanterns, my shadow bends far up from the sidewalk to darken the many tall windows above my head.  Like soldiers, they line the second and third floors of each limestone residence, block after block.  Looking up through them I get a glimpse of high ceilings, one with exposed mahogany beams and red walls, another with scroll molding, the next painted forest green, all with glorious crystal chandeliers, some with two. 
I notice I’m being watched from one window by a lone figure, who before sleep came to pull in the wooden shutters flanking either side, closing out the sound of traffic and the inevitability of the dawn.        
            At Pont L'Archeveche I cross the Seine, hearing the light splash of waves left by the wake of a touring bateau, its taped information spoken first in French, now in English, fading in the distance. The moon looks like someone had drawn it with charcoal then smudged it with their thumb. To my left, Notre Dame looms into the night sky, its spires and gargoyles visible under delicate spot lighting. I pass it to cross Pont Louis Philippe.

Photo by James Siedenburg
                Midway through, a sprite in black tights dances to internal music around a collection bowl set on the cobblestones. I stop to watch. Her fingers curl gracefully as her arms reach out in pirouette, high breasts straining against her blouse. Her legs, lengthening through arch and point, lead into staccato kicks. I drop a few coins into her bowl and she courtesies. I answer with a cartwheel in the direction I’d been traveling, and with a smiling glance back, continue till I reach the edge of the Right Bank.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
           On the immediate corner there's a cafe facing a small square. Several tables with white cloths dotted with flickering votives are set outside, loosely populated with diners. A warm rosy light spilling from the kitchen windows makes the scene glow. Drawn to it, I stop, taking it all in. Things looked like this when I sampled Ecstasy back in the day - a drug which creates an easy ride of euphoria. It causes you to rack focus and just see what’s right there, every day. Once I realized that was there for the taking in every moment, I sought to be aware on that level with no need for alteration since... though I do tend to be attracted to people, places and activities that create sensory overload. 
            Picking up an enveloping, sweet scent, I spy a skinny man far to my left, sporting a beret and a scraggly beard, holding a straw plate full of flowers. They look like miniature carnations, full, but with spindly stalks.  I watch him weave through the tables offering his wares until he's close enough before I call out, "Monsieur, s'il vous plait monsieur!" 
He makes a speedy arrival, eager to sell what I realize are two kinds of flowers.  What had looked from afar like very full blossoms are in fact many tiny single buds held together by a thread wound around their brittle stems.  Not speaking fluent French, I motion that I'd like to smell them. 
The pinkish one has a strong sweet fragrance, the one I picked up at such a distance.  The white one's perfume is quite different -- subtler, like citrus.  I manage to ask, “Qu’est-ce que c’est? ” He flips the end of his multicolored scarf around his neck and picks one up with flourish, saying "Jaza-meen!" in his best English.  Nodding towards the other group on the plate he smiles, "Orrrrahnge Blossum."  
Enchanted, I buy one of each, and bathe in their perfume all the way back to the apartment, past the Pompidou and Le Bain Douche, through the big wooden door and up the circular stone steps, my head reeling with images.

Once inside, I barely stick the buds in my water glass on the nighstand before falling into bed fully clothed, with no need to dream.     


It’s raining today so I am writing indoors. I stand in front of my typewriter in a tee shirt and bare legs, eating peas out of a can with a spoon, watching lines of water slide from the eaves down the glass panes, waiting for inspiration.
I rented a typewriter for my stay and it arrived with accent keys and the letters not all in the same line up as mine in America. Didn’t expect that.
Last time I used one was in college. There was something about the visceral push of the keys, the sound of the metal letter arm slapping the ribbon to paper, the handle click and zzzzzip of the carriage return that inspired poetry.  I’d come home from dancing all night in punk clubs and stand in front of it in my boots and fishnets at 3 a.m., hair smelling like smoke, the keys lit only by the street lamp outside my 4th floor window. Raw lines would come to me in a flood, or sometimes I’d craft just one word at a time, often typing with only one leather-clad finger.
Mood is critical to inspiration. Back then, so was pain. Now I’m just so fucking content… but a sensualist to the core.  I write from there.
The tea kettle goes off, piercing my reverie.


People really ARE kissing everywhere – and not just pecks. They are long kisses. Involved. Breathless. Tender. In public I’ve seen people kissing the face, neck, ears, cheeks, eyelids, nose, forehead, hair, hands and wrists of some beloved.
Between that and food and clothes, we Americans really fucked everything up for ourselves didn’t we?


In the bathtub this morning I was re-reading a few chapters from Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg and was struck by how holy I believe writing to be.  I’m here because I’m pursuing this direction in earnest.  I must do it so completely that if I find it doesn't work for me I can rest and go on to other things without regret.  I'm not so concerned with where it takes me. It's having done it fully and exhausting every last possibility that drives me deep down. I cannot die knowing I never gave writing my best shot. 
I’ve waited for 15 years to give myself the freedom to do this. And now, deliciously alone in my beloved Paris for a short time solely to write, I breathe in the preciousness of fulfillment.  How exhilarating it is to find myself in the midst of a vision coming true to the letter, as grand as my unharnessed imagination had designed it.  No matter how else I may be rewarded or disappointed in my life, I will always have this experience alive inside of me – alive!        


            When I came to Paris for the first time over a year ago, I immediately went out for a bateaux ride.  It was good to take an hour to get a general lay of the city and a gliding peek at all the big sights. I was so excited to be in the place I'd spent half my young life dreaming about that I could not even unpack before getting a look. 

The boat I took cruised from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and back by way of the Seine, the waterway that snakes through the center of Paris, dividing the city into it's Right Bank and the Left, made famous by the concentration of artistic and literary activity that made its home there in the early 1900's.  There are nineteen bridges that stretch across the length of the river, each unique in architecture.  The water is lined with cobblestone walkways, occasional groups of houseboats or flat commercial barges, and low buildings as beautiful as sculpture.  In one area the shores widen to accommodate two small canoe shaped islands, each of which have bridges extending on both sides.
On it’s banks were people walking their dogs, embracing on wrought iron benches, legs flung over each other, involved in long slow French kisses, sunning people, drawing people, eating, dozing, reading people, and some who were just sitting to rest or to think, who followed the boat with their eyes.  I envied them and vowed to return many times and I have, this time renting an apartment of my own
Today, three weeks into my life as a resident, a Bateau Mouche passes... and as I lay sprawled on the cobblestones with my journal, watching as I bite into a plum, I realize I am now one of those people I so wished to be.


Stay tuned, there may be more to come ....

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  1. omg. love. keep it coming ... please

    1. So glad you like it Loey. There is much more ...

    2. Word porn indeed. So sensual, so lovely. Gads woman, more please.

  2. Love love love...!!! Your excerpt on "French Kisses" would be a great intro for a book on how we Americans "f'd" everything up. Can't wait to read more. Inspiring me to write about my Parisian jaunts. Thanks so much for sharing!


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