I had forgotten...

one of the pleasures of hot days (and nights) in a country where the houses have shutters: sitting in a cool, dim room, relishing every breeze that seeps through the louvers.

It is still light at 11 pm here, unlike the Bay Area where it is dark at 8 or not long after. People are up and out late--or is it only that one hears them more because one throws all the windows wide open once the sun goes down? I left the windows open but closed the shutters when I went to bed. This morning the air through the still-closed shutters has a coolness, but it feels already as if it is going to be a scorcher.

Yesterday was the first day of the Colloquium in honour of Hélène Cixous at the Maison Heinrich Heine at the Cité Universitaire. A fascinating, almost too-stimulating day of talks and meditations on her work (with much talk of Derrida, too) around the themes of memory and origins. Especially notable (for me) were the talks by the writers Cécile Wajsbrot and René de Ceccaty, along with those of some of the scholars, such as Maxime Decout from Lille and Ginette Michaud from Montreal.

More talks today and a dinner this evening on the rue Racine.

This photo is of a reading at the much regretted Village Voice Bookstore on the Rue Princesse in March 2004. St. Patrick's Day, I seem to recall. The occasion was the launching of the translation of Cixous's Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint (un jeune saint juif). I remember an overflow crowd to hear Cixous and Derrida.



It's a summery Sunday morning and the church service across the street has just started to the tune of mournful hymns sung at the tempo of a dirge, but I can't quite bring myself to close the windows and deprive myself of the flutter of pigeon wings, rolly bags, high heels, cars cruising for parking spots. Last night the street noise went on late; I was wakened sometime in the wee hours by African-accented voices having a loud argument under my window. The argument began on the left and faded away to the right, and I didn't get up to see what all the shouting was about, though I was sorely tempted. When I did finally get up it was to the sound--new here, though perfectly normal in San Francisco--of mandarin. A young couple going their different ways around the church and exchanging last minute instructions--or so I imagined.

Yesterday I went to the Marais late afternoon for a reading and saw a wedding party leaving the church--on bicycles. The groom and bride led the cortege, she sidesaddle on the luggage rack, he peddling, dragging a couple of white enamel kitchen pots behind them. Then came the parents, and the friends. All very noisy and cheerful and head-turning.

I waited at the bus stop, Carrefour de l'Odeon, next to a woman sitting on the base of the statue of Danton, who told me she wasn't waiting for a bus, she was people-watching: she didn't get into Paris (from surburban-but-barely Boulogne-Billancourt) very often and she'd been to the Poetry Market and now she was watching people, from her perch on the pedestal about a foot from the bus lane. She worked, she said, in the Tourist Office.

Paris, Marché de la Poésie, Place St Sulpice

Around the Place, white tents sheltering poetry publishers, mostly small presses, but so many of them and how attractive their volumes are: generally sober with text rather than images on the cover. Then there's a central tent with a stage and microphones and some white plastic garden chairs for listeners and lookers. Yesterday I listened to two Korean poets, Lee Sumyeong and Park Sangsoon, read, sponsored by the bilingual review, La Traductière. They both read again later in day at the Café Les Éditeurs at the Carrefour de l'Odéon, along with a poet from Japan, one from the UK, and two or three French poets.

In the morning I had been to the flower market on the Ile St Louis; the plants on our kitchen balcony (a grand word for a couple square metres of territory really meant to hold mops and buckets) were dead on (my) arrival and I needed to replace them quickly with something living, swaying, green, light-capturing. Furniture is all very well, but it just sits there, unchanging; a plant or two changes everything, brings it all to life.

The weather? Sunny, summery in a way northern California never is, although I would also say, not at all contradictorily, that Palo Alto has an ideal climate, hot during the day, cool at night, cool foggy mornings. Here the weather is sultry-summery, you don't need or want a sweater in the evening. It feels very different, I mean life under this weather feels different: streets full of people attesting to a change in the air.

Reading, Café de la Mairie, Friday 16-18h (4-6pm)

I'll be reading with lots of other people (whose names I don't know yet) at the Café de la Mairie, Place St Sulpice, Paris 6e, this Friday, June 9th from 4pm-6pm, in conjunction with the Festival de la poésie franco-anglaise and the review, La Traductière. Do come and have a drink in one of the city's mythic literary cafés (Perec wrote Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien here) if you are in Paris.

Poetry Daily

has one of my poems on their website today:  http://poems.com/today.php

It will be in my new book, The Hotel Eden, from Carcanet in the spring of next year.


I've been working for years on a fourteen-liner, and I don't know, but some reason tweaking it again today (probably because I introduced some details about the Bd. St Michel and a newsstand on the corner of the Bd St Germain) I thought, as yesterday with the street-sweepers, about how much things like corner newsstands, of which there are many in Paris, add to the texture of city life. I'd rather pick up my newspaper at a newsstand than have it delivered to my door. You look at all the papers and magazines on display, you exchange a few words and coins with the newsie, some of them grouchy, most friendly, maybe you sit down somewhere on a bench or in a cafe to read the paper, watch people, eavesdrop on their conversations. I remember years ago we tried having the paper delivered to our suburban home--Le Monde was promoting home delivery--but my husband liked buying it before his long Metro trip home at the end of the day. In the morning he worked on the Metro; at night he read the paper (there's an art to folding a broadsheet to read it in the confined space of a Metro seat).

Even in a small village you can do this, even in the absence of corner newsstands. In our village in the south of France the municipality subsidises a cafe, cum grocery, cum newsstand cum post office. It's small, it's friendly, there are always a few people standing at the counter drinking, others sitting at the half dozen tables in the back. Everybody probably knows too much about everybody else, they look at you curiously, summing you up, you look at them curiously. 

But just look, in the pictures, at the street furniture, the newsstand kiosques, and their design. Will they all turn into images on our ipads?

The sound of sweeping

I've been reading a book about gardens, a collection of essays, Of Gardens, by Paula Deitz. Last night I came to one called 'Autumn in Japan,' about visiting a temple in Kyoto where 'entering the moss garden, there comes from outside the rhythmic sound of sweeping. Inside the garden, this sound pervades the autumnal air. Its visual accompaniments include the implements used to sweep the leaves--rustic brooms and woven winnowers that scoop up the piles--and the sweepers themselves dressed in faded indigo stripes and plaids.' This reminded me of one of my favourite Paris sounds, as I know I've written before: the sound of sweepers sweeping up leaves in the fall--but also cleaning gutters year-round--with their brooms, now green plastic, but once rustic too. Every time I pass one of these sweepers in the street I want to stop and say thank you, I love listening to you work, thank you for not being machines.

Of course, they might rather be driving a great noisy truck, instead of catering to my sensuous, and leisurely, pleasures. Probably 'brooming' the streets is a pretty lowly task in the life of a city like Paris. Most of them are first--or second?--generation immigrants. Which brings me to another book I've just read, Samuel Selvon's The Lonely Londoners, about a population of Caribbean immigrants settling in London after WW2. It begins with a man called Moses, going to meet the 'boat train' at Waterloo Station, a friend of a friend of a..., who is arriving from overseas and may need a little help finding a place to live and a job; and ends with Moses years later, now a Londoner, but thinking about where his decade or so of London life has got him, and wondering if he should return to his island in the Caribbean. It is an immensely human, alive, funny, sad book. I would probably never have come across it had I not been auditing a class on the city of  London, that combines history of the city's past hundred years, along with representative books in which the city is the background--like Samuel Selvon's novel.