"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in cafes (20)


A Eulogy for Jane Winslow Eliot (9/27/26 — 7/31/2011)


Time and space do not exist.

I heard these words as I washed the breakfast dishes this morning.

I was thinking of Jane Eliot.

It had been just over 40 days since she died.

I wanted to try in meditation to accompany her through the bardos.

But I couldn’t.

Maybe it’s that I do not experience death the way that Tibetan Buddhists do.

Or maybe to some extent I do, but I don’t have the inner stillness to stay on that journey for long.

Or maybe my sense is that Jane had already moved through a panoramic review of her life while she was alive.

I remember her deep honesty in her memoir, “Around the World by Mistake.”




It’s extraordinarily difficult to say who someone is, to approach describing their identity.

What is her effect on you? Is it lightening? Darkening?

Does he give you energy? Take it away?

Maybe we know others mainly through their effect on us, inspiring or disheartening.

Richard and I came back to Paris from the joyful celebration of our friends’ Loire Valley wedding, and heard from a mutual friend that Jane Eliot had died.

It often seems to happen this way. A great upsurging of joy, then sadness, sorrow breaking through.

I left out what happened at our wedding in Crete. Alex and Jane had encouraged our notion of being married there, because Ancient Crete was one of the last partnership cultures. 



During our wedding dinner, one of my relatives said to our friends that she wished their oldest daughter had been there. Both parents were storm-tossed with sorrow at her sudden death in her early 20s. Steve wept at the table. Rain ran into the nearest bathroom. Some of us followed her. Some of us comforted him.

And one of my family said, softly, “Oh, I wish they hadn’t ruined the celebration this way.” But no, I thought, and said, There are always these parallel channels of grief and joy. The day is richer for their tears.

And Jane Eliot? Her death was different. Her life was long and rich, fulfilled.

I’m circling and circling my memories of her.

Whatever you brought to her, she greeted it, surrounded it, examined it, enlarged it or lovingly tossed it away, laughed or seriously addressed it.




I’m circling and circling memories of her:

In the very first week of blossoming love between Richard and me, when we discovered that we lived only four blocks from each other in Venice, California, he invited me to a neighborhood block party at the home of his friends, Jane and Alex Eliot.

There was an odd symmetry to where they lived in relationship to Richard’s place. He and they each lived in a house on the same block of Paloma Avenue, each one house away from the end of the block.

The block party was the first social event, besides the poetry readings where we’d met, to which we’d gone as a couple. Jane and Alex, a generation older than we, instantly became the couple with whom we were closest.



What did we talk about at this party? Not the neighborhood. We talked about our love for myth. Alex had written a number of books on myth. We talked about the mythosphere, a term Alex coined for the place where myths live, where the stories of the soul dwell.

In those first days of our new life together, Richard and I discovered much about one another through the mutual passions we shared with Jane and Alex: mythology, especially Greek myth, Greece and the Greek islands, Venice Beach, poetry, art, a marriage of kindred souls that included lively spiritual and intellectual dialogue, writing, room for solitude for writing, as well as for romance, a contempt for mean-spiritedness.



We laughed at the same things, especially dumb, pompous human behavior and dismissed the same things as a waste of time.

We saw each other at our home for dinner and parties, and at theirs for the same. Jane’s specialty was a smorgasbord of meze.

We met at Figtree’s Café on the beach for breakfast, or the Rose Café for lunch or Lula’s for Mexican dinner.

During the three years that we and three friends ran a weekly poetry reading series at the Rose Café, I don’t think Jane and Alex ever missed a single reading.

When I think of Jane, I hear her laughing—a merry boisterous laugh which delighted in generosity, surprise and beauty, and had a touch of scorn for human idiocy. 

Jealousy? She understood that she was unique and so is everyone else.

Jockeying for power? She and Alex had been at the pinnacle of power in New York City and gladly given it up for creative freedom and time.



Greed? What does anyone need beyond food, shelter and time for love and creativity? And adventure!

Snobbery? She didn’t see people in hierarchical terms at all, much like my father. If you are really aware of each person’s uniqueness, how can you put anyone above you or below you?

Unkindness? A sure sign of unkindness towards oneself.



I called her Athena. She was a Libra, and shared that sign’s affinity for the goddess of peace, earthy intelligence, inventiveness and fierce strength. Nike!

Wherever you walked with Jane, she exclaimed over the beauty of her natural surroundings—birds, trees, the sea.



Well into her 70s, she’d walk down Paloma several blocks for a swim in the Pacific Ocean, which is colder on winter mornings than you can imagine. (Or so I hear.)

What Richard and I loved best to do with Jane and Alex was to sit at Figtree’s or the Rose Café (whose names, naturally, come from nature) and talk. Really talk. Talk that ranged all over the world—the earth and her creatures, humans they had known—Dali and Gala, Frida and Diego, for starters, or their noisy neighbors—and spirits of the mythosphere.

To Jane, the invisibles were as real as birds, as people. You felt relieved in their company to escape the tiny cage of rational materialism.



With Jane—and Alex—I could talk about the mythical vision I’d spent years discovering. When Richard and I shaped our combined mythical knowledge into a workshop at the C. G. Jung Institute, Jane and Alex were in our first class of students. (Oh, the irony, "teaching" these two masters of the mythosphere.)

Alex and Jane had lived all over the world, been top journalists in NYC. She had worked at CBS for Edward R. Murrow and at Time magazine; he had been Art Editor for Time, until his pension and a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to retire early and take his family to Greece. For four years they’d lived in Greece with their two young children, writing, home schooling the children, and exploring sacred sites.

There was only one respect in which they seemed to be bound by the conventions of their generation. Alex continued to write and publish books on art and myth, and now was working obsessively on a poetic memoir.



Yet she, when we first met them, was not as disciplined a writer as he.

She had published a book on children’s education, Let’s Talk, Let’s Play and written a highly original cookbook, Beyond Measure; A Cookbook for People Who Think They Can’t Cook, and published other books and journalistic articles in such magazines as The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Horticulture, Travel & Leisure.

But the assumptions of her generation mostly held: the woman would care for the home, children and relationships, while he worked.

Yet you could hear in the leaps of imagination, the sensory precision of Jane’s conversation that there was a longer story she needed to write.

And then she suddenly did it: created a studio for herself on the top floor of their duplex (so that was why she never managed to find the right tenant), and wrote, edited and published her memoir, Around the World by Mistake.

The title delighted us, containing all her qualities of humor, adventurous spirit, trust in serendipity, and largeness of experience. And the story itself unfolded in sparkling, sensuous prose, a vivid sense of weather and the sea, absolute clarity about others’ character, and the most brilliant example imaginable of how to inspire children.



The memoir tells the tale of how, in the summer of 1963, the couple, with their two young children, signed on for a trip around the world. The Yugoslavian freighter was scheduled to deliver goods from Yugoslavia to Osaka and back, a trip of seven months with sixteen passengers. But this is no ordinary trip. They discover that they are in extraordinary danger. But I won’t spoil the story, when you can order it and read it yourself. That’s Jane on the cover with a seagull on her head.

And then, Jane listened with great sympathy and understanding to my account about the last few years of my father’s life, his deepening dementia. She understood my longing to stay connected to his soul, beneath the dismantling of his rational mind.



And she rejoiced with us that my father was able to die at home, most certainly aware of his family’s love.

Jane’s mind, which was so alive, original, and warm—began to fade a few years after my father’s death in 2006.

By then, we had moved to Playa del Rey. In the sad way that driving distances separate people in Los Angeles, we saw Jane and Alex less often. They didn’t like to drive at night. One of us didn’t like to drive at all.

We’d bring dinner to Jane and Alex’s or meet at the Rose Café. Her mind wandered in conversation, but Alex, and we, assured her that it didn’t matter, she was still Jane.

And when we walked back to their house on Paloma, always, always, she pointed at birds, trees, the sea, with love and glee.

She was my wise woman. Magnificent Jane.

After the first sorrow, after the tearful call to Alex, a strange thing happened: I haven’t mourned Jane at all. It’s as if she hasn’t died. She is present, alive, vivid, much as my father continues to be.

Honestly, I don’t think we know a single thing about death. All I know is that Jane is still here, and oh, how we loved her. How we keep on loving her.





Surrealist Café Opens!

On today's menu, the results of our first Surrealist Café community collage.  Readers will recall that we asked you to walk into a cafe precisely at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, and record, in whatever medium you chose (poetry, prose, photography, etc.), what you observed.  These contributors seized the time, and amazed us with their originality, fecundity and talent.  All contributions are (c) 2011 by their individual creators.

This post is dedicated to the memory of our friend, mentor, role model, and surrealist creative, Jane Winslow Eliot, who died at home in Venice, California on Sunday, July 31.


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Margo Berdeshevsky, Starbucks, Rue de Rivoli, Paris, France:


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John Harris, Les Deux Magots, Boulevard Saint Germain, Paris, France:

Hemingway would have called her "a well built woman," meaning sturdy and with a good shape. Her long hair, cascading in multi-colored curly strands reflects light like the leaves of Paris' majestic plane trees. She is reading Sartre's Nausea in French, and I know she is French because she wears her clothes well, and not the other way around--as with many chic American women. If there is a "seduction" factor in France that goes deeper than sex, it is here in the café, where Hemingway and his women float through like ghosts, making my heart beat faster.


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Diane Sherry Case, Starbucks, 26th and Wilshire, Santa Monica:

I wanted this to be playful. But in came a girl with a bashed-in face. Her remorseful boyfriend spent the night in jail, bloody fists and bloodless heart. He remembered their love way too late as his fist flew toward her face and he just couldn’t stop it, he just can’t stop it. I wanted this to be fun. But here she is, her lips caked with blood. Her son came home all hyped up and wired, swearing, You stupid bitch. Then out flew her truth. I never wanted you to begin with, I was sixteen years old. I just wanted to be playful. But here she stands with a bruised green nose. Plastic surgery, what are credit cards for? A new nose, some pouty lips, as if men will come running with hard-ons for her, a hundred hard-ons, she could choose. She picks up her purse, afraid to be seen, and leaves, as the kid with the derby stands there calling her name, Stella, chai latte, Stella, chai latte. 


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Janelle Balnicke, mobile sidewalk cafe, Worthing-on-Sea, England, UK:

See Worthy Widow Walking by Worthing-on-Sea, Saturday July 30th 1PM



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Tara Ison, Steve's Espresso, Tempe, AZ, USA:

A chalkboard whiteboard blank-parchment fresh-drywalled neck nape, this faceless fetus-soft young boy sitting there back to me, young man man-boy, spread sheet of buttered filo leaves asking to be rolled stuffed baked tasted swallowed whole, a new-shelled pink abalone steak slab smelling of weed and salt and waiting to be licked and nipped by wolves, sniffed and gripped by some mean old bitch who has gone from buttery young flesh herself to crusty dry talon’d owl, who who who is she anymore to taste wet plump tongue and will he leave flee finish his coffee and leap upon his hyped-up hipster sneakered feet and buoyant himself away, will the back of his young man boy neck escape so easily my horned veined crepe’d hand before I am over and done? 


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Stuart Balcomb, Rose Café, Venice, CA, USA: 

TEN CITIES: See how the scene and circumstances change with each new location:

Los Angeles: the Player, in his requisite Hollywood black, pitching a script to a hot, young actress.

Seattle: art dealer in Pioneer Square, lunching with his gallery assistant.

Buenos Aires: metal sculptor in La Boca, tourists from Florida at next table.

Boston: jazz club owner, discussing his lease with landlord's wife.

Seville: meeting his daughter-in-law for the first time, his only son having died last week.

Perpignan: owns four fishing boats, wants to sell one.

Albuquerque: Hitman, flown-in to find former mob member, now in the Witness Protection Program.

Munich: Belgian tourist, imploring his estranged niece to stay and have a litre of Hefeweizen.

Palm Springs: retired airline pilot, moved here for his asthma condition.

San Francisco: bartender on his day off, lunching with waitress he secretly loves, but won't ever tell her.


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Scott MacFarlane, The Bunker, Mount Vernon, WA, USA:


One o’clock      
     from the inferno, from her      
     duodenum raging            
          like Der Führer concussed in his bunker, 
          like a pickax impaling the blue iris of her mortality,
          like stillbirthing.

“I can’t live like this.” Woe and tears
     drip of drugs
          end her Third Reich of agony,
          extract the axe
          resurrect the old her,
          peace of 


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Ann Denk, Café Inconnu, Newport Beach, CA, USA: 


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Joanne Warfield, Rose Café, Venice, CA, USA:  

Little Kenzo

Ahh, little Kenzo, full of pure joy,
What’s to become of this four-year-old boy?

A rocket scientist or a priest yet to be?
What lies in his future, the world will soon see.

There’s hope, I do glean, in his backpack of books,
and in the kind eyes of his mother’s sweet look.

With all of our children so gently embraced,
This surely would foster a true state of grace.


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Steve De Jarnatt, Food, Pico Boulevard, West Los Angeles, CA, USA:

A familiar face.  A face that feeds me. On the Westside now. But it had given sustenance mid-town for years. It all came back one day. Judy, Judy – Judy’s.

I’m a regular — tri-salad to go, meatloaf from heaven. Comfort. FOOD. And idle, always interesting chat. The Eames—ADD—locavores. Today I go by ruled by time, on an expedition to capture a moment. But she’s not in today far as I can see. I scour the faces. Families picking crusts like any other, the solitary ones who homestead a table for the day—the Gort glow of their MacBooks winking. Nothing to write home about. Or to Paris.

There she is — in the kitchen. Judy’s reddened mug. Overseeing something emerging from the oven? Crying. With someone else who’s crying. Through the portal square, framed beside The Specials. String hair down from the bun. Moving from the frame, off stage—unknown.


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Suki Kitchell Edwards, 8100 feet up Animas Mountain, Durango, CO, USA: 


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Dawna Kemper, Pat’s, Topanga Canyon, CA, USA:

Bright yellow bandana-print muumuu fringed bottom smocked bodice you keep pulling up to cover the bikini top with the cacophony of black and white letters pressed against each other. What do they say? (I can’t tell without staring.) Speaking Spanish to the waitress to your husband to God. Unruly waves of dull brown hair pushed free of your face by a wide stretchy black band bold in your pockmarked makeup-free beauty. Flip flop dangles and falls from your pink lacquered toes and stays off, foot dangling free naturally expressive the hands, too, painting words while you speak chopping smoothing waxing the air in front of you. You eyed my boyfriend’s plate when it arrived, then back to talking niños with your husband hands still moving pausing only when your own plate of eggs was delivered, latching hands with your man to offer up a whispered rezo a Dios.


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Bruce Moody, Café Inconnu, Crockett, CA, USA:

The Crimson Jumper

She walked a hundred miles in one week, once. From a disappointment in love. She didn’t know where she walked. Those old roads. Her head down. Just walked. Until love fortified itself in her, and dropped off its silver lamé of being duped. Now she sits guarded by her garments, which are unremarkable, which fit, which are comfortable and offer neither disguise nor invitation. She bends over her gadget. It does not mean anything to her, but it works for work. This is a strong woman, the air around her declares. Or a stronger woman. Stronger than before. She does not trumpet it. It is just in the air, like oxygen is in the air. Useful. Wiser. Benevolent.


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Lorie Adair: Steve’s Espresso Café, Tempe, AZ, USA:

He scratches behind an ear, cups his chin in a hand pale as a fish. He speaks to a friend; his mouth is thin, teeth the color of dishwater. Reaching into his pocket, he shifts to stand. At 6’ 3”, his thin legs poke from blue scruffs. He removes an I-Touch, rubs his fingers along the screen. He listens to his friend, grunts, holds the Touch 8 inches from his face. He sets it on the table, nods at his companion then lifts the screen again. He tilts it; a background beat of Soul. He stands, signals the barista. “Another to go.” He flips open courier bag, placing Touch in its pocket, angling laptop in its slot. Humidity like sex. Later, he reaches for the Touch, scrolls through the list, his forefinger sliding along glass. Caressing black space, he forgets the color of her eyes, the brand of lipstick she wears.


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Patrice Bilawka, Café Literati, West Los Angeles, CA, USA

Dusty Brogues

The Stranger strolled into the café and took his place across from me. Every day, same time—10 a.m. Just like me. He rarely looked around, but when he did he would sometimes cringe. His eyes were a blue, watery abyss. We never spoke. But I thought, “Maybe today… yes, maybe I should say hello.” Would I smile, or nonchalantly stammer a quick greeting? I would just do it. And whatever came out would be fine. I was looking at his shoes. Dusty brogues. Then I brought up my glance, and…the Stranger disappeared. He didn’t get up and leave, or switch to a different chair. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed. No. But he was gone. Do crazy people know they are going crazy? Do they keep things to themselves, like seeing people disappear? That was 7 weeks 2 days and 4 hours ago. The Stranger has not returned, and I have not seen anyone vanish since.


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Jon Hess, Café Literati, West Los Angeles, CA, USA:

"We close in five minutes," says the cricket behind the counter at Café Literati. Her fabulous gold hoop earrings sway, patting her neck. Her freckles are peach colored. "Well?" Her smile is nice -- her sadness deep. Her guitar is waiting for her in the trunk of her beat-up old Honda Civic. Chairs are put on tables. I'm the last customer. I wanted to tell her that I came here to write about her for my friend's blog "Paris Play." But then the seductive mystery of not knowing would be shattered and she would no longer be a stranger. Then I want to tell her to never stop singing, because her music heals her. The room is quiet for a moment. Minutes later, I step onto the LA street and imagine Paris.


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Richard Beban, Café André Breton, Paris, France:





At Play In The Surrealist Café

Today the sun begins its annual passage through the Lion constellation. It’s time to get serious—about play.

“What if?” the Surrealists liked to ask.

What if all of you, or many of you, or the lion-hearted and the playful among you, were to participate with us in a Surrealist game?




Of course you would!  Here's how:

1.)  On Saturday, July 30, precisely at 1 p.m. in your time zone, wherever you are in the world, walk into your favorite café;

2.)  pick one stranger walking by, or in the room;

3.)  write a paragraph (150 words maximum), or a poem (same word count), take a photo, or draw a picture, or even write a song, about him or her. Abstract, figurative, or realist, you choose.



And what if you sent your café composition to us by Tuesday, August 2, at 6 p.m. Paris time, and we published it in Paris Play the following Saturday, August 6?

What sort of collage would be created by all your various hearts and minds?

Forget whether you’re an artist, or a student, or a lawyer, or a mother, or all of the above. The point of this is the magic of collaboration and synchronicity. Please join us!

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“Of the three metamorphoses of the spirit I tell you: how the spirit becomes a camel; and the camel, a lion; and the lion, finally, a child…. But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred "Yes." For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred "Yes" is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world.”

Thus Spake Zarathustra, part I, Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Walter Kaufmann.





Three Short Stories

Story #1: 


Since we’ve been in Paris, we’ve met more than a few American women who’ve lived here longer than we. In response to our question, “What brought you to Paris?” we’ve heard more than a few answer, “I fell in love with a Frenchman. But we’re no longer together.”


Story #2:


We’ve also heard a few people say that they don’t believe in the inner world, the spiritual, the Invisibles, the gods, the stars, magic or myth.

Each of these is a story.

A story that someone has lived.

A story that someone tells him- or herself.


Story #3: 


Both these stories make me think of a third story, a story I lived, which is related to both these prior stories.

In 1994, I was living by myself in an apartment in Venice, California, with a view of the sea from Malibu to Marina del Rey. I had moved there during the Los Angeles riots of 1993. As I moved in around Halloween, I watched the terrible Malibu fires from my windows, an orange snake slithering along the black mountains.

In early 1994, the Northridge earthquake struck my building so forcefully that I leapt out of bed and under my pine dining room table before I was fully awake. I thought the building would collapse and that my life would end there.



And a love relationship ended there as well. I looked back on the two of us and wondered, What was I thinking? He wanted to live in the country; I in town. He wanted more children; I wanted none. He liked constant movement and social life; I liked a balance between going out and staying in. He rarely read; books are as real to me as people and just as important. He was a hearty drinker and smoker; I cared about health. He had no interest in his own inner life; I’d gone as far as I could in exploring my own.

We weren’t suited. Yet we’d stayed together for several years.



Didn’t I know who I was by now? Didn’t I know what I needed in a partner? I felt such weariness, despair, in imagining ever going through this entanglement and breakup again with another man, when anyone looking on from above could have told us: Impossible! Out of the question!

I needed some invisible being who knew all about such things, an expert in love, someone like… Aphrodite! Yes, I needed to have a serious talk with the goddess of beauty and love.



That night I wrote in my journal 100 things I wanted in a mate.

I awakened the next morning with the thought, “Too greedy. Narrow it down to ten.”

It was surprisingly easy. I wrote the following ten things I wanted in a mate in one steady flow:



* Mutual chemistry.

* Mutual adoration.

* Fidelity.



* Communication.

* Has done some serious inner work in healing childhood wounds.



* A reader.

* Preferably a creative type who is capable of being as much of a muse to me as I to him.



* Counter-cultural roots.

* Does not want children, or at least any more than he already has.

* Wants to travel the world.



I said to Aphrodite: “Please bring me a man with all ten of these attributes, or else, if it’s not meant to be, I’ll have the richest life a single woman can have.”

“In the meantime, I’ll work on overcoming my stage fright, and find a place to read my poems in public in Los Angeles.”

I then forgot about the prayer, and began focusing on poetry.

Three Fridays later, I went with an acquaintance to a reading in a Santa Monica bookstore called Midnight Special. (Like so many independent bookstores, it no longer exists.)

I saw a man in a white shirt and Levi’s in the far right of the front row. He looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure from where.

He, who was hosting, stood up halfway through the lineup and read three poems. One about horses, one about a former love, one about taking his dying father to Paris.



I fell back in my chair, barely stopping myself from falling over completely.

“What just happened?!” said my companion.

“I don’t know,” I said. But I did. An arrow had hit me right through the heart.

This is not a metaphor. I felt an arrow pierce my heart with such force it knocked me backwards.

After he read, this poet mentioned that every Saturday afternoon, there was a poetry workshop at Midnight Special that three poets took turns leading. It was free, he said, and all were welcome; he’d worked on his own poems there.



That night I wrote in my journal that I would marry this man.

The next day I awakened early and canceled several appointments. I opened my journal to a poem I’d written about driving through Navajo country in northern Arizona on one of my journeys to pick up paintings as an art dealer between New Mexico, Arizona and California.

I shaped and edited this poem for hours, then drove to the Promenade for the poetry workshop. It was led that week by the very poet whose work had knocked me out the night before.

I had had a better track record as a muse for male artists than I had received from them. So I was nervous when it came time to read my poem.

Richard—for that was his name—began talking about my poem as if he were an x-ray technician of poetry. He said that in the poem’s central metaphor, the unraveling of love being like the unraveling of your own DNA, I'd woven a braid between the three strands of the natural, human and spirit worlds. He then said something so humble that I found it hard to believe: “You’ve done something here that I don’t know how to do, that I’d like to learn how to do.”



Darling one, I said, silently, we have many things to learn from each other, and I for one, will be your glad and willing student and teacher.

There were other poems discussed that day, but I don’t remember them.

After the workshop, our ritual was to all walk down the Third Street Promenade to the Congo Square coffee house. When a group of poets get together, the stories fly.

He and I were startled to learn how many of the same places we’d lived, the same events we’d attended— demonstrations, rock concerts, art events—in the late ‘60s and early '70s in the Bay Area, and later, film and writing conferences in the '80s and '90s in L.A. How was it possible that in more than twenty years we’d never met? Yet this explained why he’d first looked so familiar to me.

Just as it took three weeks from the time I’d sent my wish to Aphrodite to meeting Richard, so it took another three weeks for the romance to burst into bloom.

One Friday night at a Midnight Special poetry reading, I showed him two poems and asked him which I should bring for editing to the Saturday workshop.



“Either,” he said, “Yours are always wonderful. Let’s go get some dinner.” He took my arm and we strolled two blocks to the Broadway Deli, and that was it for him.

Love came aurally for me. For him it came through touch.

In another three weeks we were talking marriage.

What does this story have to do with stories #1 and #2?



Story #3 happened because I do not believe story #2, that the Invisibles do not exist, and because I asked an Invisible, the goddess, Aphrodite, for a story that was not story #1, a story of infidelity and heartbreak.

Richard, it turned out, lived four blocks away from me, on Paloma Avenue in Venice.

Aphrodite is associated with the sea, scallop shells, dolphins, bees, honey, apples, pomegranates, myrtle, rose trees, lime trees, clams, pearls, sparrows and swans. And doves.

And you probably know that paloma means dove.






Writing in Cafés



Most of the time, I write at home, but the other day, mulling over a journal piece I intended to write, I thought, why not try writing in a café today? Especially since the journal post included the mention of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, who used to escape the chill of their apartments by writing in Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots at Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

I would have to try out a few cafés to discover which has the best ambiance, the best conditions for writing.

It’s the hottest April and May on record in Paris, so open windows were one requirement. A good table for writing was another. And not too noisy.

After a brisk 25-minute walk, I arrived at my chosen café. Already, one advantage of writing in cafés was apparent—a good walk stimulates the mind.

What was it Friedrich Nietzsche said? “A sedentary life is the real sin against the Holy Spirit. Only those thoughts that come by walking have any value.”



The café was crowded and noisy, but perhaps it would be quieter upstairs. I asked the woman at the cash register, “Are you serving upstairs?”

Oui, Madame,” said a blonde woman whose hair was unusually short for a French woman.

The upstairs floor was L-shaped. A woman sat at the head of the “L,” a man in a corner at the foot. Both were focused, writing and reading. I picked a table halfway between the two and arranged my notebooks, colored pencils and pen on the table before me.

Behind me there was greenery in the open window that muffled the sounds from the street. In spite of the heat, a slight breeze brushed my shoulders.

A waiter appeared shortly. He was warm and twinkly, if a bit nervous, and took my order for a Badoit and green tea from Japan.



What luck! I’d found my perfect writer’s café on the first try!

I caught up on my soul-map, the daily mandala I draw of twelve colors, a daily check-in that keeps me on track in the twelve realms of my life.

The waiter returned. He seemed nervous, and sure enough, he spilled the sparkling water. But he swiftly recovered, grabbing the bottle, apologizing, drying the table, and wheeling off to bring me a replacement. Nothing on the table had gotten wet.

By the time he returned, I’d finished my mandala, and opened my notebook, ready to begin writing.

A kite string of fluttering women were heading up the stairs. I couldn’t see them yet, but I could certainly hear them, shouting in Italian. They must be on the way to the bathroom, I thought. Such noisy revelers would find no one up here to observe them and little to observe.



But no! Like a gaggle of chattering mockingbirds, they twittered past me, one male among them, and crowded around a table two tables away. Another straggled past in a red shirt, red jeans, a voice like a fire alarm.

How far away could I move and manage to outdistance their voices? I carried my Badoit, tea and notebooks to the opposite end of the room, and slid into the farthest booth. No, still too loud. I moved to the table opposite, directly in front of the two open wings of the window, poured my tea, took a sip and lifted my pen.



A man in a gray suit came up the stairs, looked around the spacious room, and slid into the booth I’d just vacated, directly across from me. He arranged a notebook and book on the table, then stood up and closed the two leaves of the window.

Oh non, monsieur, s'il vous plaît, il fait trop chaud pour avoir les fenêtres fermées[1].”

He nodded pleasantly and opened one of them, leaving the other closed. “Voilà!” he said.

It was still too hot at my table. I looked around the room. There were at least three other windows, but all were too close to the noisy Italians.

I finished my tea, packed up my bag, and headed downstairs. The man in the gray tailored suit leapt up and reached the stairs just ahead of me. What was he doing?



While I paid at the register, he stood beside me and chatted with the cashier.

I walked a ways to the next appealing café. This one had no upstairs floor. But look! There in the corner, out of the main flow of people and traffic were two empty tables.

Just as I settled in at one, a man signaled me from halfway across the room, accompanied by a younger woman.

He gestured, Was the table next to mine available?

Yes, I nodded. He maneuvered his way through tables and chairs and took a seat against the wall next to me. He turned to me and grinned, as if happy to have company. But where was his female companion…?



I glanced outside and saw that she was the hostess of the restaurant.

A handsome humorless waiter came to take my order: a Perrier and a fresh fruit salad.

“Are you together?” he asked the man to my left.

Oui,” he said, and pushing his table up against mine, said to me, “Vous permettez?” 

Was I going to humiliate him in front of the waiter and other diners? No.

As soon as the waiter took his order for a beer, he introduced himself.

I told him I was here to write, as soon as I’d finished “supper.”

“Oh,” he said. “You’re a writer. I’m a painter.” And he pulled out photos of his paintings for me to admire.  He looked Spanish, like Javier Bardem, stocky and dark-haired, but his accent was pure Parisian.

Did I have children? he asked.

“No,” I said.

Was I married? 

(If my wedding ring were any thicker it could be refashioned into a bracelet.) “Yes,” I said, “very happily married.”




“Ahhh,” he said, with heightened interest.

“Not just married,” I said. “He’s my soul mate.”

“Ah ha!” he said, with even greater relish. (Nothing like a challenge for a hunter.)

My fruit salad and sparkling water had arrived. I would talk to him while I ate, then excuse myself to write.

“And you,” I asked, “have you found your soul mate?”

“Yes,” he said. “She’s older than me. A writer. No children. We’ve been together for a year.”

And then came the key piece of information: “And she’s out of town till Monday.”

“I see,” I said. (And I did.)

“She would like us to live together but I prefer to keep my own place.”

I bet you do, I thought. Lucky woman, I thought, with such a devoted mate.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. We were now in tedious territory.



Did he ask for my number? Of course he did.

Did I give it? Just guess.

How much more interesting a conversation would be if a woman said what she was really thinking: An older writer, is she? I must be your type.

Well, yes, as a matter of fact you are.

Just think, if I hadn’t met Richard, and you had met me before your girlfriend—let’s call her Diane—I could be the one begging you to move in with me, and you could try to seduce Diane the instant I left town!

I don’t follow you.

Oh, you know, women are pretty interchangeable, don’t you think?

Well, I don’t know that I’d go that far…


Monsieur, I have an idea. Let me guess ten things about you.

Who would turn down an invitation like that?

All right, he said.

But you cannot speak while I guess. All you can do is tell me how many of my guesses were correct, after all ten. I don’t even want to know which.

All right! he said. You’re on!

1)      You’re alcoholic. (The smell of addictive drinking is different from a beer or two on the breath.)

2)      You have never been faithful to a woman in your life.

3)      Your greatest gift is your lovemaking. You’re not even interested much in painting.

4)      It’s easy for you to pick up women because you’re very handsome.

5)      You feel sad about your life, but you’re not sure why.


6)      You hate solitude.

7)      You think psychotherapy, introspection of any kind is stupid, a waste of time.

8)      There is an emptiness in you that nothing fills.

9)      You have herpes (I can see it on your lip).

10)    You hope that you’ll stumble upon some woman who is not only smart, but wise, to help you make sense of your baffling life.

Nine, he said. But this, he said, touching his lip, is not herpes. I cut myself shaving.

I nodded. It appeared to me that he hadn’t shaved in several days.

I ate my fruit salad, then told him politely that I needed to write.



He smiled and scribbled down his website. “Come to my art show!” he said, then waved goodbye.

I smiled, and took out my notebook, but the writing focus had flown. So I packed up my notebooks and pen, and walked home.

But I cannot tell you a few truths I sensed about him without telling you a truth about myself: the encounter pleased me! We women are divided creatures. We want to get our work done without annoying interruptions. When we’ve found our true love, wild horses can’t tempt us away. Yet, what delight to know we’re still considered fair game for handsome hunters.

The next day I stayed in and wrote for four hours straight. And then had a delicious evening with my true love.



The street art photographed in this edition of Paris Play is primarily by Tristan des Limbes, who has recently been blanketing Paris with marvelous, and occasionally grotesque, drawings.


[1] Oh no, sir, please, it’s too hot to have the windows closed.



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