« A Day of Mourning in Paris | Main | Christmas in Paris »

Longing for Snow



As I walked to my favorite café there was a light rain that seemed to want to turn to snow. I wanted it to turn to snow. But it wasn't in the mood.

While waiting for salmon and risotto with mushrooms, I read Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. It’s a series of essays that examines pain, in people with Morgellan’s disease; Bolivian miners; ex-gang members in Watts and Silverlake, Los Angeles; women with eating disorders and women who cut themselves; addicts; and most compellingly, herself when she is punched in the nose and robbed in Nicaragua. Jamison’s gift, I think is less a fresh approach to empathy (some of the essays feel like catastrophe tourism) than it is a fresh approach to language and especially to the structure of an essay. I was most interested in her citing of Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, a map of sorts for storytelling, with 31 structural units of story, which she shuffles in unexpected ways in her essay about Nicaragua and her nose.

After dinner, I caught up on my daybook, my daily mandala of the twelve realms, for envisioning and reviewing the focus and balance of each day.


Around me were couples, all but one speaking French. I noticed a typical pattern and one that was atypical. Typical: the woman does most of the talking, and the man seems half present, nearly mute. In one case, the man had little opportunity to talk, since half of the woman’s conversation was spoken into her cell phone.

Another older couple, in their 70s perhaps, was startling in that the woman had the voice of a little girl, the man the voice of an indulgent Daddy.

The couple I enjoyed most were in their 40s or 50s, had rich voices, musical and intelligent, but what I liked best was the rhythm of their talk and her laughter. They were both lively talkers, playing verbal tennis. That ball got thwocked from one side of the net to the other and back, in a rousing game.

The waitress hovered, wanting to get a closer look at what I was drawing and coloring in my Moleskin. I tipped the page up for privacy.



And then two men sat down next to me who spoke French with a Provençal accent in voices so loud, I jumped when the younger one spoke. They were discussing women and money and Paris. Women were better older, they agreed. Paris hotels were too expensive, unless you rent the room by the week. And Paris has too many foreigners now, especially Muslims. They continued on, and I thought how nationalism is really just one country, the land of Xenophobia, and it seems to be inhabited by the shallow and the dumb.



I paid and walked out into a light rain. Rain that was growing a body. Rain that was slipping on a lacy white dress. I held up my hand to the sky. Snow? Snow! Snow! Two men in a nearby market grinned. I remembered standing in the doorway of the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, seeing snow for the first time in my early 30s, a man with whom I was beginning to fall in love standing in the doorway behind me.

You’ve never seen snow? he said. 


It still fills me with wonder.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (10)


A perfect snowflake
that has a few million glassy crystals

in cunning combinations never
seen before nor assembled before ever since

the beginning of creation now
falling among its gazillion brothers and

sisters equally unique to the last
angular wedge of ice-rod perfectly

fit against others in geometric utterly
deliriously first-of-a-kind differentness

world within world as it floats softly
gravitationally earthward turning from its

center with spikes spokes intersections shapes and
interlocked knit bits and perfect pieces

sealing in forever a face unseen a
frozen jail whose icy bars jail nothing in but

light the light of trillionth differentiation
from everything and anything that

has come before

a castle a high castle on an ice
mountain so silvery and

high among its crown of bright clouds
uninhabited except by the Uninhabitable

Manufacturer unseen and invisibly hammering
out these spinning parquets for the floor of

earth as a gift from the ceiling of heaven
Who puts into each one the

blindingly and inconceivably delicious
mathematical creativity only something so

beyond human conception could
beyond even the Inconceivable Whose

artfulness knows no galactic bounds as
each flake so designed drifts unencumbered

by a history of design even so distinct is
each one and so unbirthed from its

past so uniquely a universe within
itself as it falls from

perfect anonymity and when it
lands at last and melts away

vanishes completely into anonymity

world within world
sinking back into

light within light

and is gone
2/13/14 (from The Sweet Enigma of it All)

Sunday, December 28, 2014 at 19:34 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Richard's photographs are exquisite! And your sense of balance and movement of topics beautiful to read. No snow here in Berkeley where a warm sun glows through the live oak trees. Thinking of you and wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2014 at 19:36 | Unregistered CommenterVarya

C’était le dernier jour de l’année 1978. Je suis montée dans une voiture qui partait vers la province. Environ trois heures plus tard, nous sommes arrivés devant un château près de Montceau-les-Mines. Il faisait nuit noire. Nous sommes entrés dans le château, dans une grande salle vide bordée de hautes fenêtres à petits carreaux, avec de grands miroirs se faisant face, et un parquet qui invitait à la danse. De la musique s’échappait d’une pièce voisine et nous conduisait jusqu’à une grande cuisine à l’ancienne, aux tommettes rouges.
Des personnages fantomatiques passaient d’une pièce à l’autre, par petits groupes qui se saluaient en se croisant. Dans un coin de la cuisine, des filles improvisaient un salon de maquillage et grimaient les visages de couleurs vives. D’autres préservaient les bouteilles apportées et veillaient sur le gâteau.

Je me suis aventurée dans les étages. Des chambres vides de meubles s’alignaient le long du couloir, chacune avec sa cheminée et son petit tas de bûches. J’en ai choisi une et j’ai attendu le jour. A l’aube, le soleil est apparu au bout d’une prairie blanche. Tout le monde est sorti et nous avons marché à sa rencontre. Cette beauté nous lavait de l’année précédente.

Nous avons repris la route, calmes, silencieux, rêveurs. Nous sommes entrés dans Paris au matin, dans une ville enfouie sous la neige, comme je ne l’avais jamais vue. Les habitants découvraient les toits blancs et les rues de derrière leurs fenêtres, au chaud. La veille était un dimanche, les chasse-neiges étaient encore au repos. Paris était désert, vierge. Nous avons tracé sur la neige le premier sillage de roues de voiture, en roulant au ralenti, sans la salir, et nous avons découvert toute la ville, de Vincennes à Boulogne, à petite allure.
Puis nous sommes allés au pied de Montmartre. Rue Lepic, nous avons rencontré quelques parisiens que nous avons aidés, en poussant des Ho Hisse! Joyeux, à faire grimper une deux-chevaux qui patinait. Ensuite, ils nous ont aidés à pousser notre voiture. Sur la place du tertre, de jeunes adultes glissaient sur une patinoire improvisée dans le travers de la place.

Ce premier janvier 1979, le dimanche a duré plus longtemps que d’habitude.


(From Patricia Duthion, posted with her permission.)

Sunday, December 28, 2014 at 21:52 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Kaaren,

Thank you for the snow in Paris.

I love it too.

It plays the finale of time -- a year,

Then melts.

I love the pictures. The stippled banks and the shutters.

Good for you both.

Have a fulfilling New Year, both of you.

Love ya,


(Sent by e-mail, posted with Bruce Moody's permission)

Sunday, December 28, 2014 at 21:54 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


Thanks for this. Is there any subject on which you have not written a poem?

Warmest wishes to you and Malika for a wonderful 2015.


Kaaren & Richard

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 18:34 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


Thanks from both of us! A warm sun? I can't imagine that any longer in December...

Wishes for a splendid 2015 for you and Charles.

Much love,

Kaaren & Richard

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 18:36 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Thank you, Patricia! This is an enchanting description of a heavy snow in Paris one December. Here's a rough translation of Patricia's account: (Happy New Year to you, XO, K & R)

It was the last day of the year 1978. I got into a car that was going to the province. About three hours later, we arrived at a castle near Montceau-les-Mines. It was pitch dark. We entered the castle, in a large empty room lined with tall windows with small panes, with large mirrors facing each other, and parquet, inviting us to dance. Music escaped from a nearby room and we moved to a large kitchen with old, red tiles.

Ghostly characters moved from one room to another in small groups, greeting each other in passing. In one corner of the kitchen, girls improvised a makeup salon and painted faces in bright colors. Others guarded the bottles of wine we'd brought, and kept watch on the cake.

I ventured upstairs. Empty rooms, furniture lined up along the corridor, each with its fireplace and small pile of logs. I chose one and I waited for daylight. At dawn, the sun appeared at the end of a white field. Everyone got out and walked toward it. This beauty washed over us from the previous year.

We hit the road, calm, silent, dreamy. We entered Paris in the morning, in a city buried under snow, like I'd never seen. People discovered the white roofs and streets from behind their windows, cozy and warm. The day was Sunday, snow plows were still at rest. Paris was deserted, virgin. We drew on the snow the first trace of car wheels, rolling slowly, without dirt, and we discovered, at a slow pace, the whole city of Vincennes in Boulogne.

Then we went to the foot of Montmartre. Rue Lepic, we met some Parisians who helped us, uttering Heave Ho!, happy to push a skating two-horse. Then they helped us push our car. On the Place du Tertre, young adults slipped on a makeshift rink crossing the Place.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 19:08 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Bruce,

Thank you for your message. In truth, it was a measly snow, and was gone by the morning. The photos of snow are from previous years. But just a trace of snow makes us dream.

Much love to you and yes, let's all have a fulfilling New Year.

Kaaren & Richard

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 19:12 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

K & R: lovely writing and photos!
We woke to the wet desert which always sings with relief when blessed with any moisture.
More rain and wind with snow to the north of us. A magical way to spend the final day of

When I venture out today, I will try and get some photos of the snow in the mountains.
Until then, know we are sending you warmth in the winter, moisture in the driest moments
and love for all the nooks and crannies of your lives!


Wednesday, December 31, 2014 at 20:32 | Unregistered CommenterSuki Edwards


Thank you!

I can just smell that rain in Arizona. I'm looking forward to seeing your photos.

Sending you and Fred love, and wishes for a delicious New Year!

Kaaren and RIchard

Friday, January 2, 2015 at 19:52 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>