A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
The temperature’s dropped ten degrees today, sky a heavy gray, random raindrops staining the streets, drying. The rest of this November’s been unseasonably warm, rarely a scarf necessary—a weather that seems eclipsed, its ending unrelated, of course, to last night’s events, but nonetheless consonant with the mood here.
Last night, of course, difficult as events unwound, even in the safety of the fifth-floor apartment. Ger slept at about midnight, very deep sleep; I stayed up and watched France 24, each succeeding minute bringing worse news. The place is relatively small (one bedroom), and we can hear our upstairs neighbors easily—new neighbors who just moved in some months ago. We don’t know them, but do know that usually they get to bed around midnight, similar to our habits. Last night, though, one of them—the man, it seemed—kept pacing back and forth in leather-heeled shoes, pacing, pacing, until 2, 2:30. I wondered what he was doing. We don’t hear a T.V. up there; I imagined him looking at his iPhone just as I was looking at France 24 on Ger’s iPad. Back and forth, back and forth, the mortality count rising as he paced. Unnerving.
In the morning I went out to buy the papers. The headlines: La Terreur á Paris (Le Monde), La Guerre en Plein Paris (Figaro), Carnages á Paris (Libération), and the most chiliing, Le Parisien’s Cette Fois, C’est La Guerre—This Time, It’s War. Inside each, of course, pictures of the brutality, differing death counts, eyewitness accounts.
I had a date to meet some friends across the city in Montparnasse, so took the 95 bus from here in Montmartre. The bus, in Paris sometimes a place of animated conversations even among strangers, virtually silent. Riders/residents staring out the windows—these not “vacant stares,” but—and I might be projecting this— what seemed pensive, even piercing expressions in the faces of most.
The streets not empty, but much less crowded than most Saturdays. Sure, the weather had turned, sure, venues had closed (schools, museums, many stores, concerts) but it wasn’t that. Why go out? In what was perhaps a silly enterprise I tried to notice, on the way down from Montmartre/across the river/through the Left Bank and deeper into Montparnasse, how many smiles I saw on the street. Four? Five? Each in varying degrees of faintness.
So visited with friends a while, took the bus back home, passed Le Printemps on the way, and though it had closed, its holiday windows were still animated. Ger and I had passed them a week ago—big crowds, the windows elaborate, goofy kitschy instant-photo projections as this year’s feature (“Stand here! Wait until the flash! Now look! That’s your face in an elf costume!”), both kids & adults trying it, much joy. Today, though, desultory clumps of people passing, the windows a mere distraction.
Still sirens here & there, much diminished from last night’s, and no helicopters now to be heard. Not much police presence that I saw in my trip down/back home, or on Raspail or Rennes, but I suspect they’re aplenty in the 10th and 11th.
President Hollande has called for three days of mourning. No need to call for that, except for the formality of it, really; it’s already happening.
And no reason to go into a rant about religion here: the irony that putative moral codes buried in superstition have brought and continue to bring about the most disgusting & immoral acts imaginable. That goes unsaid, doesn’t it? But what & who ought not to go unsaid/unnamed are those who died/were injured in these slaughters (carnages, as the French use in plural) and the fact of who most of them were: young people the age of our own kids—twenties, thirties, early forties—who were just out on a Friday evening enjoying an inexpensive drink or dinner—this was not a fancy neighborhood—catching a concert in an old well-used hall, enjoying a life not as “libertines” or “apostates,” but as human beings enjoying the company of others.
Two things, though, buoyed me today. One: a woman, perhaps fifty-five, riding her bike beside the 95 bus, her blonde hair cut stylishly, her face determined, serious, her pace matching that of the bus. Pure Parisienne. The second: a printed sticker I’d been seeing around the neighborhood, slapped up graffiti-like on walls—this, the first thing I saw on the way to get the papers: Je Existe! I don’t know quite why it edified: maybe its existence a Fuck You to the terrorists.
I held it all together pretty well until this afternoon, when I returned to our place. We’re on the fifth floor (a walk-up), and I noticed that beginning on the second floor someone had placed, in front of each of the two opposing doors on each landing, a croissant on an upside-down paper plate. On the plate was written a note. I didn’t bend to see what the note said—none of my business—but when I came to our door, there was the croissant and the same note inscribed carefully on the back of the plate: “Bonjur voisins, Des gens français sont dans nos pensées aujourd’hui.” Then, in English, “The French people are in our thoughts, this day and every day. With love, The Americans on the first floor.”
We don’t know these Americans. They must have moved in sometime this year. But I thought the gesture lovely, poignant in a most beautiful way.
Copyright 2015 Gerald Fleming
Gerald Fleming’s most recent books are The Choreographer (longer prose poems, Sixteen Rivers Press, San Francisco) and Night of Pure Breathing (prose poems, Hanging Loose Press, New York). His work has appeared widely over the decades. Fleming taught in San Francisco’s public schools for thirty-seven years and lives part of the year in Paris.
— Madrid demonstrators show solidarity with France