| May 31, 2003 Nantes
Woke to the sounds of Mme O. rattling around in the kitchen with her daughter. C. in such a painful state that she went out to buy aspirin rather than suffer in bed. Went back to sleep amid the papers I've laid out on the bed in the office. Notebooks there that have crossed the Atlantic three times without profit.
All my time divides itself into little splinters. I hate the fact of returning and yet, I say to myself, "you will still be here five minutes from now." I have always suffered a neurosis upon departure from anywhere, no matter objectionable the place might have been. My heart gets hooked on empty streets seen from the car and the laundry hanging from the windows outside of Cadaqués sticks with me well into forever. I mean particular laundry from particular windows. I am not as memorious as Borges's Funes, but I think I understand his agony.
Up late to buy books for C.'s exam next year. Balzac on the list which means she will try to read a hundred pages per day and so finish in a week. Afterwards, we had drinks at a bar where we had never been together. A fine view of St. Nicholas on Rue Calvaire. Everyone seems to be at the beach today. The tramways passing before us. A woman rode her bicycle up to the rail before us and spent a long time and great care posing it just so. C. began Balzac and I read the Guardian and worried about what to encode or omit in these pages. What a disaster we would make if we wrote everything. As it is, one risks becoming one of those obsessive keepers of journals that make their appearance now and then on the local news, bearded, seated before hundreds of composition books nobody will ever read. There is so much life in all of us, so much fascinating mundane, that nobody will ever know, that gets poured out on the ground like water.
Tomorrow's plan slowly getting whittled down by fatigue and sadness. We were going to Pornic, but my general anxiety and C.'s rather stiff hangover will likely keep us to the garden. F. called, graciously urging us to borrow her car.
June 1, 2003 Nantes
A walk downtown this morning. I've bought my aunt a scarf, my uncle a bottle of calvados and cigars. C. had photos taken for her passport renewal. I've made photocopies of my renewal form. Our renewal seems to depend on good form, protocol, and the sympathy of the clerks. The photo booth let her try on four faces. The first, she said, made her look drunk. She said she looked crazy in the second. In the third she is laughing because I began to sing in a loud voice. The fourth just wasn't her. So we will go with the third, C. laughing.
Mostly I want to walk down Boulevard Piètre-Chevalier and go jump in the Erdre, keep swimming upstream until I stop. But tomorrow Paris, and then Versailles, into the gentle company of my cousin. We'll talk of Argentina and she will try to help me again get translation work. She'll speak wisely to me about Europe, the United States, and her plans. It will be some comfort.
The day after will be unbearable, assuming the RER is running. Versailles to Montparnasses to Gare du Nord to Roissy. It is of small comfort I won't find myself cornered in Gatwick for a day. "Gatwick" is a word that causes me physical shock when uttered. It is, to me, the shabby front porch to Europe, the rotting sofa on the tumbledown front porch of Europe. That is England to me. Bad food and children screaming.
The cat will have spent two nights hunting before I go to sleep in Boston. I watched him last night, in the moonlight, atop our wall, facing down the neighbor's cat, also atop his wall. They jump across the alleyway and alight on the opposing wall with an admirable agility. Oh for a summer of sleeping with the back door open to their comings and goings, then Talensac in the morning, reconstitution with friends around coffee at the café at the head of the marketplace.
How do you count your time? How do you
value it? Is it more than money? Truly? Would you take a cut in pay for
more of it? If you haven't, why not? Do you count your time in children?
Or books? Or trees? Does the cold core of everything ending ever roll
out of you while you lie in bed? Does its coming shake your resolve? Are
you an optimist? Do you get up on the right side, resolve yourself against
all negative influence? How do you square that with your parting? Like
a terse farmer, with a bit of barnyard wisdom? Do you dream big? Invest
for the future? What do you hitch your wagon to? Do you love your country?
Do you hide? Can you name your country? Do you eat what others won't?
Do you swim? Garden or otherwise build? Amass? Break? What will stand
after you? What form will you eventually take?
June 2, 2003 Nantes/Paris
Is the image any less transient for having been recorded? How every minute seems eminently divisible and yet it grows dark anyway, somehow we sleep, somehow we wake in light and snatch a mosquito from the air, and yet the sun will do down again and the insects will rise from the basin at that same hour, bite us, leave us still allergic, in spite of how we had admired ourselves just that morning for our speed and our eyesight. For time certainly takes the for of a mosquito carrying off our blood to mysterious places even while the corpuscles still live within the beastie that diminishes us a little at each visit.
And how much goes unsaid. Oh but how I could go on. C. drove me to the station in the family A's car.
On the Paris train a young couple prepares formula on the little table between them. In the next bank of seats a woman quizzes her children about on English and has them spell words in French while allowing the older sister to correct the efforts of the younger children. Do American parents correct the language of their children as much as French parents seem to do?
The clouds are that same color as the one that Pastis takes on when mixed. we roll out past the TAM trainyards and the familiar tram cars, out past the recycling plant and the gypsy caravans that surround it and soon the Loire will run along at our right, a course I know very well. It is less awful leaving knowing I'll spend the night at M.C.'s. The air-conditioning keeps off the realization of what a beautiful day it is outside. Any number of families out on the sandbars picnicking belie this, just as love always obviates or belies progress. In the U.S. life is what happens to you while you are worrying about the future.
The idiot father playing with his older daughter's noisy top. Draws stares from all around, this man-boy spinning his top into the laps of passengers across the aisle. Raised the infant up for a better look at the toy and it fell forward onto its face, striking it on the tabletop. All this as soon as his wife had walked away. Moron. Wearing an "offroading" jeep t-shirt. Turned out he was German.
Storms on the plains outside of Le Mans.
June 3, 2003 Paris
She was gray-haired, the Indian woman, and quietly elegant in the way of many Parisiennes of foreign origins. She laid her violin down flat in the bin, looked about the passenger compartment as if she had expected to be challenged. He, a black American man, addressed me in French, telling me that I was in his seat, I excuse myself and pointed out that in fact it was he who had mistaken row twenty-five for twenty-four. I wonder why he addressed me in French and snapped rudely at the young American who was politely waiting to take his seat beside him ("Qu'est-ce que vous faites là?!") and what we had in common, me having just conducted my security interviews in French, perhaps to the relief of the attendants. Why, for example, did I feel necessary to try to be charming to them? A kind of snobbism based on the illusion that I was providing the with some relief from speaking English to all the Americans, who were indeed recounting all their banal adventures to one another--indeed, is this account anything but the same? It could be as well that it the officials seemed too much like anxious English students and this seemed wrong to me.
A mix of pretension and anxiety and sadness then, is what made me yell at the man when he clumsily (and without asking permission) removed the woman's violin to replace it with his rollerbag which just conforms to the maximum size allowed by the airline. She jumped from her seat, obviously horrified and took it from his hand as he tried to stuff it back in above his bag. She looked about for another place while the French-speaking American looked at her as if she were he lunatic, "Hey, lady, it'll fit in here! Whatsamatter--wassron wit here" he said, inexplicably switching to English. I was so disgusted at this I said in a voice loud enough to turn heads (and then only because I spoke French at what is ordinarily an American volume) "Mais monsieur il été bien vous qui a déplacé les affaires de madam--c'est donc vous qui a tort." He opened his mouth to answer. "C'est pas normal," I said before he could get a word out.
The unfathomable psychology of foreigners speaking other than their common native language to one another. Or was it just nasty competitiveness on my part? It was fun and speaking this way honestly honored my poisonous mood. The best I can do is at least is make the account of my disgust exquisite.
Soon we took off, the woman behind me chattering away to her seatmate about her fundamental and recurring need to "just sit in a beautiful space and have coffee" a need which is nevertheless not too far from my own, although I would substitute "have a good screw" in place of the commonplace beverage Americans encourage themselves is itself a substitute for "have an authentic experience." "Oh I never miss a church," her seatmate responded, "We always go to pay our respects, wherever we are." Respects to whom? why the necessity--what horrible crime has she committed? Why always in churches, especially in France, a gesture which would be taken as respectfully as, say, telling everyone that you sing in motel showers. Isn't the Christian god supposedly everywhere? Perhaps they were discussing Montmartre, but it was hard to tell, as one woman clearly confused "God" with "coffee," the other "respect" for "prayer."
Everyone around me seems to have been driven insane or arrived in that state. Nor am I any different seemingly. (At least now, as I write, the lunatic in front of me has gone to the rear of the cabin where he is doubtlessly deranging other lunatics. Liquor, mercifully, is no longer free on intercontinental flights). Paris hid herself beneath the wing beneath my window and soon we were among the clouds, going in no discernable direction but at great speed. I am tensed for arrival, having overheard two frat boys swear to each other that they would sing "God Bless America" immediately upon touching down.
June 3, 2003 Boston
Listening to the French Ambassador to the United Nations in a shirty sort of interview on Connections on WGBH. It's strange to hear the host, Dick Gordon, try to provoke him so pointedly on a supposedly liberal outlet. "Mr . Ambassador,"says the host, "You seem to have a very thick skin." "When I feel the reputation of France is at stake," he answers with a little laugh, "my skin is very thin." Callers are dredging up their own petty horror stories. "A French family we considered friends," sniffs the caller, "no longer want anything more to do with us." "Mr. Ambassador, this is exactly the kind of antiamericanism that I'm talking about," says the host. Anti-French feelings are much deeper than I had imagined and but exactly as ineptly expressed as I thought they would be.
June 4, 2003 Brookline
Didn't set foot outside of the house, except to talk to a guy selling magazines. C. called full of bad news about my nomination. Spent the day worrying and sending letters here and there, trying to rally people to my cause. The rectorat wants to either send me to a small town outside of Le Mans or to a collège in La Mayenne, neither of which is an option. What to do? (Have an interview tomorrow at a school downtown).
Uncle G. comes home so late, nine-thirty,
every day. But we were able to eat lunch together anyway. We ran into
three of his car-salesman colleagues at the deli. If they weren't big,
they were young. An Iranian guy who has a sister in Marseilles. Another
big guy who didn't say much through his sandwich. And young C. from Virginia,
who G. says is a writer. Indeed, we have a handwritten poem of his on
the kitchen table. "They Dying of the Sun." It's a funny mix
of Apollinaire and Alan Ginsberg. G. promises to invite him over.
June 5, 2003 Brookline
Greene portrayed the informal (but high pressure) sales pitches that all these schools employ. It's quasi-religious. Remember how, returning from Rome to Paris, I saw an Esperanto school from the metro somewhere near Place d'Italie. What qualifications must one have to work there. Are there any native speakers of Esperanto, for example?
The director wondered if I was interested in nine straight days. Two Argentine clients up for an intensive course. Businessmen. Perhaps gay. Shit pay. Perhaps I'll take it. I'll get to walk through the Chinatown gate on Beach St. It's only thirty minutes by tramline.
Cracked out Le Monde Diplomatique on the train. Nobody blinked. But I was a little tense doing so, at first. Oversensitivity on my part, doubtlessly. The fact that a reaction wouldn't have been outside the pale is depressing enough.