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Friday, May 11, 2012

Return from Paris




Back in New York City with an awful headache. Air thick with soot and humid. Perhaps this evening it will storm.

These are my first hours in America - I have been gone ten months. While all is clear I'll write my thoughts. Perhaps then I'll sleep, and the pain in my head will go away.

Last moments in Paris:

I made cheese omelettes for a last lunch with France-Aimee at my place on Rue Milton.

I was packed and ready to go when she came over at eight. All I had to do was fix the dinner. With the omelettes we had a tomato salad, afterwards some oranges and cherries. She insisted on seeing all the drawings that I made at Gare Austerlitz, so I showed them to her.

She was not wild about them. However when I showed her one of the watercolors I made in India she really responded. "I see genius," she said. To me this sounded like a silly stylization, like Pound who said, "Genius? I specialize in it." Somehow it was not flattering because it was not true, not the way she said it.

Earlier in the day I said goodbye to B____, watched his bald head go down into the Metro. He was on his way out to Maillet to visit his cousin Perrine, after eating lunch at his local hangout near Pont Neuf. That restauranteur took a great interest in my sketchbook after B____ opened it up to show him some of the drawings. B____ has a way of making a public demonstration about any piece of art that happens to be around, and I think he gets a sort of masochistic pleasure out of embarrassing the owner. He plays the role of professor saying, "This is quite good, but this one you see just doesn't work as well. Perhaps you should work it up again in color." I know B____ well, as a friend. His faults fascinate me, and over the years I'm able to see into their causes.

Then France-Aimee drove me to Gare du Nord, parked her car and went to look for a hand cart while I stood by my luggage. Typewriter, sketchbooks, sculptures, I stowed them on the train. As we had some time we walked together to the end of the platform. I felt a sudden longing to be there a few more days so that I could study and draw this place. The new Paris railroad stations had been a favorite of the Impressionists. Monet's famous canvas of Gare St. Lazarre was of a brilliant glass-roofed structure, filled with billowing smoke and steam from the new locomotives. Today at Gare du Nord, that giant hulk was nearly opaque, stained by years of grime and debris and bird droppings. Manet lived nearby, and patrolled these platforms often, the station bars serving beer, the bustle of women in their long dresses and gentlemen in their tall hats, strolling the boulevards of Baron Haussmann nearby.

The sun was just setting. An orange hue cloaked the high row of low-cost houses that overlooked the station yard. The ties between the tracks took on a deep blue-black. I imagined my father squinting at the source of light, to distill it's color, before jabbing his brush into the paint.

The towers and bridges were were a severe inky jet, in profile. More bridges crossed the tracks here than at Gare Austerlitz. These are realms where steel industry pushed an iron artery deep into the heart of the city. Yet Gare du Nord has an intimate setting. The blue metro trains were rumbling periodically over their steel constructions. I felt the pulse of the city as never before, precisely because it was quiet and forlorn.

Then into the scene burst a new train, one I had never seen before. It was orange and white and had two levels, two rows of windows and was built very high, even higher than the double decker buses. It seemed like a row of modern houses on the move, as if Manet's old boulevard of freshly cut sandstone had suddenly taken wheels.

France-Aimee told me she was very much amused by my love of industrial places, train yards and factories. We walked back to the head of the platform arm in arm. I confessed to her that I had wanted to walk arm in arm often before. She even said she would have wanted it too. We talked about the other night when I left. I had dinner with her on the boat, and she said she had not wanted me to leave. I asked her if I could kiss her on the lips and she said 'No' but I kissed her anyway. A little kiss.

She was smiling. "I have lots to tell you," she said.

"Well start now."

"No, not now"

"Then when?"

She's planned a trip to the US in August. Perhaps because I have so few expectations I anticipate seeing her again so much. I enjoy her company. I liked the feeling of her little arm crooked in mine as we walked.

We said goodbye without much emotion, except we had to tear ourselves away a little. We were more entangled than we realized. It kind of spun us both around, and cracked smiles on both our faces when we parted. She went walking off.

Immediately, almost nervously, upon getting on the train, my lingering attraction for France-Aimee transferred itself to a young girl sitting opposite me in my compartment. There were six passengers, all strange to one another. Her legs touched both of mine, and a long period of eye contact ensued that had me convinced that a great erotic train journey had finally come to me. She is a ballerina for the Paris Opera, and is only twenty-one years old. Some quality arose from her that was so needing physical contact that we indulged staring into each other's eyes, smiling and letting our faces become drawn with emotion. But only an hour after the train left Paris it stopped in Longueau and she got off. We both agreed it was a shame. Her parents live in Amiens, which is nearby.

I slept for the rest of the train journey, two of the other passengers, both schoolteachers, one from Tallahassee Florida who teaches college students, the other Irish, who teaches French to young children, argued their points of view about television, and home entertainment. The American boasted of the television sets he had in the house, the video tape recorders and all the tapes he has of old movies, which he likes to be able to watch whenever he wants. The Irish fellow said, "Who needs all that stuff? Doesn't it weigh you down?"

Stevo was in London as promised. We shared some coffee and danish, then he ran off to a meeting but before he left he gave me the key to his New York apartment and made me take twenty pounds.

It was one of the strangest meetings with a person so close to me, my own nearest brother. Such a short piece of time. Yet our bond was still there. Brotherhood, in Victoria Terminal, London, just as if it was in our little hometown of Woodbury, Connecticut when we were children.

For the remainder of the morning I marveled at the strangeness of life, and tried to pry loose its secrets as I recognized old London haunts from the bus window on the way to Heathrow airport. It was all there, the work, the long hours, the misery cashing those difficult checks of Ismail's, the walks on the weekends up and through the maze of city streets. My nights with Anna and hours spent bringing her to climax, and then our beautiful breakfasts after in her Chelsea flat. And the feeling of liberation that inevitably resulted, when she 'threw me out'. It was her cycle. She was a tigress who bites afterwards.

I beheld the detail in the bricks that I recognized I wondered if they are the same bricks, my bricks, my London, the same place where I was at so many other times in my life. It seems miraculous that a place can be so well remembered, and so much of it, when seen after a long absence.

I watched the movie during the flight home without sound. I had ideas, took notes, and slept. When I awoke all the stewardesses stood around smiling at me. They were laughing and smiling, asking me over and over, did I want some lunch? This made me wonder what I had been saying during my sleep, or what I had been doing. So I asked them and they said "Nothing at all!". I must have looked different after awaking, like some confused kitten. I never could explain it. For the remainder of the flight they hardly paid me the same attention. One of the girls was quite pretty, a blonde, with a short streak of grey hair near her forehead.

New York water is softer, more difficult to rinse soap off with, has a silky feeling, but smells strongly of chlorine. It's true what they say, the milk here is thin and tasteless.

What a city! I noticed most of all, the skyscrapers, a population of glass and metal giants, an island cluttered with towers. What made these New Yorkers into a race of tower-builders? I saw on one side of the road that lead towards Manhattan, rows of gravestones, on the other, miles and miles of factory buildings, industrial suburbs.

Technological life, physical death. The forces of matter and mind meet in New York, glass and steel and flesh, all collided, governed by some unworldly idea, hatched beyond the vision of any human being.

Visited Peter and Molly. Peter and I went for a walk, drank tea at Dante. He told me about the Kenneth Anger films he’s been seeing at Millennium. Anger showed “Lucifer Rising” to an audience of less than five people, and confessed that he was out of money after finishing the film. One of the five then gave him a check for five hundred dollars. Apparently Anger wore a New York Ranger’s jersey, with the R and the S ripped off:  __ANGER__ in big red letters across his chest.

Talks about change, how it will effect New York. More jobless, more people forced to accept changes that are either too difficult or unpalatable because of their age, education, and family.

The rapidly advancing vanguard of technocrats, leave behind a myriad of surviving subclasses,, small time farmers, craftsmen, DIY types, owners of small businesses, criminals, shopkeepers, mechanics.

Change in the form of wholesale conglomeration, the merging of smaller entities into larger ones, nearly always corporate, is also fracturing our society into many smaller groups, whose boundaries stop at the edges of these new giant success paradigms. No all can join the rush into corporate management or labor. Their boundaries are the barriers to entry to other groups as well, peoples confined by their unwillingness or inability to adapt, and so are deposited outside of the solutions being imposed on the present, left behind as a substrata of the social river of change.

Is it possible to foresee the wealthiest corporations inhibiting the smallest spaces held within the memories of a computer of the future, that has memorized everything, and in it’s headquarters roam urban brigands roaming with crude weapons, scavenging society for their elemental needs.

After our talks we broke off and I made a tour of midtown, to see the progress made on the buildings that were started when I left for Europe. Notre Dame de Paris took hundreds of years to construct, but the IBM tower at 57th Street and Madison was built in twenty months. There is a bamboo garden at the base into which passers by may stop to relax, sit down and drink glasses of iced tea. The bamboo stands receive light through a cantilevered construction of glass and white tubed framing. The main tower lobby adjoins the garden and looms over it.

One of the offices adjoining the street is a consumer product center, designed solely for advertising IBM’s new personal computer. All of the computer machinery is white and everything else that is not bonafide IBM computer product is a brilliant fire engine red. The building itself is spectacularly clad in a black,  and obviously very heavy, overcoat of marble.

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