European Diary: Café Le Dac, Boulevard St.-Michele; 7:00 a.m., Friday; June 25, 2004; Paris, France

Horrible nightmare: I was in Boulder, Colorado with two girlfriends and two groups of people, one of which was an acting troupe I led. I kept traveling between the two. With a friend, who was part M. and part this guy I worked with at Ask Jeeves whose wife edited an art magazine. It turns out I had done something horrific, presumably in concert with him. (Child killing? Rape?) I don’t remember doing the crime or crimes, but it was advertised in the television news that I was wanted for them. M. came to invite me to do something, then smashed a bottle to the back of my head which, to his dismay, didn’t harm me. The other guy and I went around furiously trying to get rid of “evidence” of our crimes, which seemed primarily to consist of cloth bandages on our clothes. (I have no idea what this means.)


Yesterday we went on a city-wide van tour, terrible, with some dentist’s wife from Oregon City and two New Yorkers from Florida with the Oregon woman’s bright son and disaffected daughter who seemed disgusted that she had been pulled away from time at Clackamas Town Center for something as stupid as Paris. We had gone on the tour as a misbegotten attempt at getting a quick lay of the land. We saw the horrid amusement park of Montmartre. Paris seems fake sometimes, as though it were only a representation of itself. The approach to Sacre Coeur, Faubourg St.-Honoré, places like this are as crass as anything in Hollywood, choked with high-end chain shops, a process that some Parisians maintain has destroyed Montparnasse as well.

We were dropped off at Notre Dame, which even the chattering clouds of Japanese and the Americans with the shorts and cameras couldn’t ruin.

(What were they looking at, any way? They didn’t seem to be piercing the skin of anything with intense reflection or creating a state of complete openness or praying to God or anything of that nature. I wonder if they were looking at tourism itself, or, having learned little either about their world, or even about how to learn, have absorbed their modes of behavior while traveling from television and magazines, that so should one behave while traveling, that this is traveling. I wonder if any of them are thinking to themselves, “This is not satisfying.” Maybe they enjoy dragging their asses from one “attraction” to another and waiting in long lines to go up to the top of some damned tower or another – honestly, what is it with the tower thing? – or look around like a single guy at a party wondering what they’re supposed to be feeling?)

But inside it was so quiet and so alive and so eternal, infinite and high that all my upset and unease were washed away. Prayerful: Mexicans lighting candles at the Guadalupe Chapel, other groups and individuals from around the world lighting candles to their saints in the niche chapels that surround the nave. I lit one for St. Geneviève, patron saint of rain.

We walked across the Ile de la Cité and crossed the Petite Pont to the Left Bank, had coffee and water at a café where an old lady warned me against smoking and let me help her on with her snazzy leopard print jacket and I felt like a human. We stopped at Shakespeare and Company (the “new” one) where S. berated the clueless little American girl for not stocking enough books on the Holocaust, then we shopped our way back. It felt like Paris. We had anniversary at our hotel (dinner), served late and cold. But S. was thrilled by the unbelievable flower arrangement that Joseph ordered for me from the florist next door and the “Le Stendhal” cake he sent someone to fetch for me from the bakery on rue Guy Lussac.

The writer Adam Gopnik was correct in describing Paris as a constant movement from the monumental to the intimate and back again, but it is also the movement from one iconic vocabulary to another and sometimes to and through many at the same time: from Medieval Paris to the Paris of the expatriates, from the bloody excesses of the revolution to the Montmartre of the Impressionists, from Picasso to Sartre. Looking out from the balcony of our hotel you float, as in a dream, between the Hunchback of Notre Dame to Danton to Hemingway and out over the rooftops.

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