Heat Wave

Everywhere we turn we are warned about this week’s heat wave, and how to survive it. So when the sun hit the kitchen windows this morning we hung sheets, from my pile of torn sheets, over them, on the outside, naturally. Now, mid-afternoon by Anglo-Saxon standards, and early afternoon by French calculation, the sun has clouded over and the sun does not appear, but it is hot and muggy and we have drawn the shutters and closed the windows like good Mediterraneans (in my husband’s case) and are keeping the house as cool as we can for tonight. Unlike in the Bay Area, when night brings cool air, the temperature in Paris doesn’t drop much. Still, we will open the windows wide and let somewhat cooler air in. We need fans but we leave in two days, so perhaps we can get by.

I am reading Virginia Woolf’s Second Common Reader, which I stumbled on in a second-hand bookstore a few months ago. It is brilliant. I don’t need to be passionate about Gissing to love her writing. And now, soon, I must find the first Common Reader, which her friend Lytton Strachey liked better than Mrs Dalloway (they were both published at about the same time), because he found Clarissa Dalloway trivial or perhaps shallow and not very likable. I know what he meant, but I’m still very fond of the book. I reread the last scenes of the party again last week, to think again about the old woman whom Clarissa sees, as if she had caught sight of another self in a mirror, walking through the house next door, doing this and that. Does the woman see her? It seems not. It is a tiny but fascinating scene en abyme, that seems divorced from the book, but isn’t, any more than the parallel suicide plot is.

I have just looked at the thermometer outside the kitchen. It says 90 degrees Fahrenheit (it comes from my grandparents’ house is Saskatoon, and has a photograph of the house and my mother and her sister as young girls on it). Too hot for serious reading. And I want to go to the gym, but the AC there is broken.

Alice Oswald elected Oxford Professor of Poetry

This is very good news, and overdue, because Oswald would have been an excellent candidate already the last time round (but maybe she wasn’t ready at the time for more responsibility), and also, of course, because she will be the first woman elected to this position in the 300 years of its existence. I have just finished rereading Seamus Heaney’s Oxford lectures in The Redress of Poetry; I’m looking forward to reading, possibly hearing as podcasts each of Oswald’s 12 lectures, and eventually having them in book form. And to reading and rereading her poems. She is a funny, moving, original poet—intelligent in every sense of the word.

Cafe de la Mairie

I was one of a group of readers last week, celebrating the Poetry Festival at the Café de la Mairie, Place St Sulpice, where I met another writer for a glass of cold Sancerre (it was a hot day, the café is not air-conditioned) a couple afternoons ago. He is publishing a poetry collection in the fall in New Zealand; we discussed revision, especially up-to-the-finish-line revisions, always a little dicey, in part because one wants the book to be perfect, in part because one tends to make last-minute changes and then regret them, when it’s too late. I’d been thinking about unity of tone in a collection: what makes for unity of tone, and whether it is desirable. So maybe the question is how to have a ‘harmonious’ (whatever that is) range of tones, as in Heaney, Ashbery, Milosz or Larkin (even): poignant, funny, erotic…

I like miscellanies, collections you can open and read anywhere. In the best of these, of course, the writer’s ‘voice’ (another broad concept that needs defining) is the unifying element—and perhaps the small links, a phrase, a word, that lead from one poem to the next, or the poem that signals a change in thematic material, autobiographical to erotic, say. Putting a book together is like hanging paintings for a show. Sometimes you can get away with throwing a Braque into the middle of Picasso…you couldn’t throw a Matisse in though. Where is this analogy leading me? Strong personalities make strong books?

It is raining this morning in Paris. The zinc roofs shine, the pigeons coo on their ledges (and sometimes on my kitchen porch, landing on my oranger du mexique and breaking the branches). We have tried children’s windmills, skewers, forks, old CDs, but still they come. Ten years ago I was charmed by a pigeon raising a brood there. No longer. It is amazing what they find to build with in the streets of this ungreen city: a few twigs, bits of somewhat flexible wire, hairpins.

The rain has stopped. The zinc roofs have dried. A class of schoolchildren with a teacher in front and a teacher behind chatter on their way to the swimming pool. A car, looking for a parking place. Pigeons cooing.


Church bells raining over the neighbourhood. You really never need a watch or clock in Paris, there are always bells pealing or tolling, or a face to consult by leaning out the window in the morning (on the Town Tall, for instance). If you want to know the time, that is.

June is the busiest month? The square has been busy for three weeks now: a succession of events, from the mathematical games show, which drew a large crowd of kids and parents, to the Poetry Festival, to the (now) antique show, really just brocante. Once we bought back from a neighbour in the country, the sleigh bed my parents-in-law had given away. Another time, when I came home with a china lavatory basin and pitcher, my father-in-law turned to my mother-in-law and said one should never give anything away. We still have that; the sleigh bed got sold when we moved into the city.

It must be the last week of school for primary; the older kids are out for their baccalaureate exams. Soon everyone will disappear to the country or day camps and only tourists will remain. Yesterday, the newspaper says, a first mass was celebrated in Notre Dame, very small, priests in hard hats. My husband, who went to a concert at the Centre Pompidou last night, says that the quaies were absolutely packed with people picnicking when he walked home at close to midnight.

The weather iffy: sometimes sun, sometimes a downpour. I don’t go out without an umbrella.

Sunday June 9

It’s been a busy couple of weeks: the European elections, the Brexit mess, keeping up with the kids, the Fete de la Poesie, Place St Sulpice, with its hundreds of booths and poetry books and crowds easing through the lanes between the close-packed stands. There is a venue for readings on the south side of the Place; other readings take place in nearby cafes, like the Cafe de la Mairie, where I was one of a group of readers (the Netherlands, UK, Italy and myself, the unofficial Canadian representative. The Festival ends today.

Meanwhile, in part I imagine because of the Notre Dame fire, there has been an unusual amount of activity around St Sulpice Church—or does it just seem so because windows are open now to the warmer weather (which comes and goes, this morning the sky is shades of grey, rain threatens)? Still, there must have been all kinds of events (in addition to church services) scheduled for both Notre Dame and St Sulpice, and the former have had to be relocated.

We were on a bus coming back from an errand to the Bastille neighbourhood a few days ago and coming along the quai on the Left Bank, it was clear that the bridge across to the cathedral was still closed to pedestrians. The roof has been covered with tarps, and apparently police are still sifting through the debris.

Yesterday was Helene Cixous’s last seminar for the season, and it was celebrated with a small colloquium at the Cite Universitaire, celebrating the Seminars themselves and the ongoing work of publishing them, ending with a drole film by Laurent Dubreuil (Cornell) and Laurent Ferre about ‘My First Seminars,’ in lieu of the more traditional lecture. Lots of notable Cixous-eans and Derrideans in attendance in addition to the faithful, long friends of the Seminar. Flashbacks to May 68 and its attempts to change the university system with the establishment of some more experimental campuses, such as Paris 8 at Vincennes.

And now the first church service of the day is beginning: organ music. And I’m going to dress and get to ‘work.’

European Election Day

We caught a train back to Paris from the Vaucluse yesterday afternoon, arrived in a downpour. Caught a bus home, sunny again. Unpacked, grocery-shopped, tried to adjust to city from country. I miss the country, the repetitive few things you do each day. In the city I already feel guilty about all the things on offer that I don’t do, as I observe my few routines: the view out the bedroom window to the church roof (bells ringing noon right now), the view out the kitchen window over the tiny mop-and-bucket balcony, a few plants, to a jigsaw puzzle of roofs.

The European elections are today in France, and I gather the results for all of Europe will be published tomorrow. It seemed funny that different countries voted on different days, but it was a relief to discover that the results for the early-voting-countries would not be made public until everyone had voted, as one country’s results might easily affect the vote elsewhere. It is an important election, given the rise of the far right across Europe and the unresolved problems of social media interference in the process.

Meanwhile it is a summeryish day. I am putting my books away (Marilyn Hacker, Pierre-Albert Jourdan, Bernard O’Donoghue), and will go and vote, and then think about getting some exericse, outdoors.

Hot and Cold

The weather of course. We had a few days of summer heat, calling for a change in wardrobe: skirts and sandals, instead of scarves and coats and umbrellas, but now we are back to cold and blue sky with big rolling clouds and sudden downpours. Right now it is pale sun, making—oops no, back to clouds over the sun and no shadows.

They were repairing the dome of the church across the street, but the workers have all gone, perhaps over to Notre Dame for the emergency work there. Crossing a bridge upstream from Notre Dame on a bus this week, it seemed to me that they had covered some of the walls (and presumably the holes in the roof) with sheets of plastic, against the rain, which duly fell. A week ago it was almost impossible to get onto the Ile de la Cite, but now they seem to be allowing people, if not in the immediate vicinity of the cathedral, at least closer. After all there is a major hospital across the street, courts of law, and shopkeepers losing business.

Yesterday afternoon I walked over to the Orangerie, one of the museums in the Tuileries, to see the Marc and Macke exhibit, which is, as several friends had said, extremely interesting. But perhaps what moved me most of all was a square of garden behind the Orangerie, which has been turned into a patch of forest undergrowth, with a life (if that’s the word)-size bronze sculpture of a fallen tree trunk, roots in the air, long trunk, branches broken over, under several ‘real’ trees and undergrowth of ferns, heliobore, and ground cover. The sun shone through the leaves, it was very peaceful, and somehow very un-French: most of the other garden-rooms are lawn with masses of colour-coordinated flowers, beautiful but very formal.

We are going to the Vaucluse tomorrow for a month.

Now the rain is pelting down again.