Wakened from a sound sleep at 4 a.m. this morning by the roar of big long trucks parking (as I discovered when I dragged myself out of bed to see what the h— was going on) on both sides of the rather narrow street under our windows. And then doors banging, men shouting, trucks idling, generators roaring. We had been warned by the arrondissement city hall that someone was making a fashion film on the Place, but nobody mentioned that they were starting in the middle of the night and would have generators going all day. I haven’t been out to see what it going on, because I am consigned to residence with bronchitis—a cough and cold etc I’ve been staving off for a couple of weeks but which finally got me. Well, at least I have an excuse for not being out and about seeing and doing all the things I should be seeing and doing.
I mentioned I’d seen the Bonnard show at the Tate Modern; I found it a little disappointing. All the paintings I know and love were there plus rooms of paintings I hadn’t ever seen, but which didn’t add much—indeed subtracted somewhat—from the ones I love, because they made me conscious of a narrowness in his technique and vision. The panoramic landscapes struck me as uninteresting, almost amateur; and then, of course, he repeats his structural tricks (the windows, the doorways). But the colours were still beautiful as were the interiors and gardens, along with his portraits of both himself and Marthe, his companion.
I remember feeling a similar letdown at a big retrospective of Braque at the Grand Palais some years ago—there was too much, and much of it was not first-rate, and perhaps I would rather not have known that. Which, I suppose, only goes to show how great the greatest painters are, and what some of the differences are. I imagine that goes for poems as well.
It’s a crisp, sunny morning—no, afternoon now and the walls are vibrating along with the generators. Perhaps the fashion shoot will pay for the fire damage to St Sulpice, which we’ve learned with cost $1m to repair; the fire was, it seems, criminal in original, set among the belongings one of the homeless folks who sleep in the church doorway, and which he stored during the day behind the big oak outer doors.
Almost forgot to mention that my new poem ‘Apple Thieves’ will appear in next week’s New Yorker.
Had to be up and out earlyish this morning for Hélène Cixous’s seminar at the Cité Universitaire, Maison Heinrich Heine, her second-to-last seminar for this academic year. It is a sunny day and I cut through the Luxembourg Garden on my way to the Metro. Most of the other people were joggers, including a squad of firemen. The leaves are all coming out, the flowering trees are in flower or done flowering (for some) and a number of the entry gates are locked against the gilets jaunes demonstrations for today. Coming home after the seminar at 2 pm I thought, for the first time in a long time, how special the shade of chestnut trees is, deep, sheltering and, at the moment, a very tender green. Coming home the Garden was already packed with people of all ages: chess players, boulistes, tennis players, kids kicking balls (the playground is closed because it is being refurbished), strollers , sunbathers, readers, talkers…
Pesky business—a tax extension to request, but which requires payment of the estimated final bill (ouch!), Eurostar (my train to London last week was much delayed because of a Brexit demonstrator on the roof of St Pancras and a strike of French customs officers), healthcare…first world problems.
Reading: Heaney, Stepping Stones, again: I was reminded of it by someone last week and thought I should read it again; A Bergson lecture (1901) on Time, only now published in French; a book by the contemporary Italian, Tabbuchi (wonderful); Jack Robinson aka Charles Boyle, Good Morning Mr Crusoe (wonderful); and the usual poets I return to, plus a new one, the lovely Bernard O’Donaghue’s The Seasons of Cullen Church. Bernard O’Donaghue introduced us readers at Blackwell’s in Oxford in February, and I bought two of his books, which I am very much enjoying.
Oh, and yesterday afternoon, late, the Japanese bamboo show at the Quai Branly.
Later, a movie.
I haven’t written anything here in a while, partly because if life seems to repeat itself perhaps blogs shouldn’t. But I’ve gone back to reading a few pages from Virginia Woolf’s Diary each night before I turn off the light, and she is infinitely inspiring and witty and wise and something she said in the part I was reading last night (1922) about reviewing and her editor’s nit-picking caused me to get out my pencil and put some lines in the margin.
Ultimately, what it led me to was a phone call I had with one of my literary (acquaintances, friends?) three days ago. We’d made an appointment to talk on the phone on Wednesday at 5 pm after I returned from London (Tuesday evening) where I spent four days. When I called she reprimanded me for not calling Tuesday, as we’d decided—no, no, I said, I couldn’t I was on the Eurostar on Tuesday afternoon, coming back. To make a long story short, she then told me I must have got mixed up and—irritated—I said maybe she’d got mixed up.
End of conversation, but it still rankles a little so I put it here, hoping to un-rankle it.
I’ve been off to readings—Oxford, at Blackwells, two in Paris, one at Phyllis Cohen’s lovely Berkeley Books in the 6th, the second a few days ago at Reid Hall, also in the 6th, also wonderful, because there were lots of old and new friends, and friends of the other two readers (Nina Bogin, Marilyn Hacker) and it was a beautiful reading so we sat outside in Reid Hall’s courtyard until the reading began. Then I went to London, to see my daughter and the Bonnard Show at the Tate Modern, and London seemed green and carpeted in spring flowers and full of bird song (in Hackney).
Back in Paris after a month in the country—beautiful weather, almond trees in bloom, scented, and covered with bees, humming with bees.
Not sure whether I’m happy to be back in the city. I liked our small country routine: work, biking or walking, running the odd errand to surrounding villages for food, or up to the village store. We bought me a new, much lighter bike, and explored longer roads than I was able to on my heavy, clunky ordinary bike. I experienced excercisers’ euphoria, loved climbing hills, stopping in a town for a pain au chocolat…like it best when the reward is a downhill glide at the end, which is hard when your village is perched on the top of a hill.
One of the things I missed was the soup kitchen gang: cooks, volunteers, eaters: 35 per serving, so usually about 150 a day, a majority of them, at the moment, eastern Europeans, Polish, Rumanian, the odd Russian, plus occasional others. Very few women and mostly they keep their heads down, though there are exceptions. Afterwards the volunteers eat while the cooks chat and clean up the kitchen. It’s a lovely place to volunteer, where the occasional fight breaks out, but not often, and a lot of laughing goes on. I’ve been in twice this week, replacing regulars and will be in again the week after next (next week I’m going to Edinburgh for a few days, for a reading at the Scottish Poetry Library).
Back last night from London and Oxford, where I read at Blackwells Books, along with Alison Brackenbury and Nina Bogin, and moderated by Bernard O’Donoghue, another wonderful poet. A terrific audience, that included old and new friends.
I’ve only ever been to Oxford once before, though I have been to Cambridge on several occasions: high, old stone walls with gardens, lakes, and chapels hidden behind them, crocuses poking up through the grass, and gardeners trundling wheelbarrows. After lunch on Friday with Jenny Lewis and Jennie Feldman, Alison and Nina, Stephen Romer took us on an insider’s tour of Worcester College where he teaches at the moment . It was hard to leave.
Back to Paris on the Eurostar, and this morning we leave for the Vaucluse for a month. It is pouring rain and blowing hard. I’m not looking forward to the trek to the bus stop, but I am looking forward to seeing family and our next door neighbour, Paul, and doing some biking in the hills around the Mont Ventoux. No internet, except for the village hotspot.
Yesterday the sun came out—went in—came out—and we took a walk through the Luxembourg Garden, with our mittened hands stuffed deep in our pockets, and scarves wound tight around our necks. The Garden was full of strollers, kids playing soccer, chess players, boule players, and the sunny parts were full of people talking and reading, chairs backed up against sun-trapping walls, especially the wall of the Orangerie, where all the chairs were full, a single line of them so that the people were lined up like pigeons along a branch or wire, heads tipped to catch the sun, eyes closed. Not many chairs in the shadier parts, up around the orchard, for instance. We did one ‘turn’, extending it into the avenue de l’Observatoire, which smelled strongly of resin from the shredded Christmas trees—big piles of them! Close your eyes and you feel like you are in a forest, say in British Columbia.
Wednesday I’m going to London and Oxford for four days, and then, as soon as I return, we go to the Vaucluse for a month. No internet there—yet—which we have always enjoyed, though we’ve never been there for this long, I mean, in years, in internet years, and I think we may need to get internet this time round.
Snowing this morning in Paris. Thick white flakes falling, snow piling up on the ledges and zinc roofs of the church opposite, though not so much on the sidewalks and streets, yet. Hoping to go over to the Marais later for lunch with a friend. I was planning to take the bus, but if there are snow-related traffic snarls, perhaps I’ll take the Metro instead. Paris isn’t really prepared for snow—I mean there’s a tendency to let it fall and see what happens, unlike, say, Montreal (Boston, New York?), where people plan ahead so the economy doesn’t come to a halt. Here, it will be another drop added to the demonstrations that kept shops from selling stuff around Christmas, shops that seem mostly empty to me, as the January sales go on.
Still it is pretty, especially when it falls straight down, without gusts of wind pushing it, making you reluctant to go out. I wonder where the homeless man, who now comes late to curl up on the sidewalk and leaves early, is. In the fall, he took socks, money, tangerines, rice—anything that fit in his pockets or stomach—but didn’t want anything more encumbering like an isothermic blanket or a backpack: ‘Don’t need that, don’t need that.”