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

Entries in Paris (20)


Elements of Ecstasy, a Five Year Update



Take a big question of your life: Why are my sleep hours so crazy? Bring it to a specialist.

You love everything about her: her strong nose, her mood balanced between caring and taking care of business, her beaded scarf on black jacket, the sparkle of Arabian Nights in the consultation room.   

You have one hour to tell her your entire psychological and medical history, and you do so in French. She gives you a recipe for change.

You join your adored husband on Boulevard du Montparnasse where he’s taking photos near La Closerie des Lilas.


Arm in arm you walk through the curving paths, the sheltering trees, the thwock of tennis balls, the elegance of chess in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

“Have you ever given up something you were good at?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. “Have you?”

“Chess,” he says.


“I was pretty good when I was six years old. But my mother brought me late to an important city tournament. Now I don’t remember how to play.”

“Oh, my darling, my lateness must drive you nuts.”

“It’s better now,” he says. “Ten minutes, that's Paris time…. How about you?”


Street art © 2016 by Pole Ka

“I was good at reading Tarot,” I say. “But I didn’t like the way some people projected guru nonsense on me.”

We walk across Paris to Simrane. The January sales! We each have a throw pillow cover in our bags, shredded by our chatons. We want the jewel colors (van Gogh), not the milky impressionist ones (Monet), or the newer fluorescents. We find replacements.

At Le Pré Aux Clercs, we take an alcove table. I glance in the mirror. Where did that lost girl go who was so besieged by men she could barely think? She’s now a woman (mostly) at home in her body and soul, no longer pursued, but captured, captivated by this man across from her, a man who knows how to listen, a man who is thrilled by many of the same things that thrill her, and who himself thrills her still, who, like her, appreciates the waiter, attentive but reserved, unobtrusive but present, and who brings to this intimate nook perfectly cooked saumon et légumes for her, and salade de tomates et Mozzarella et soupe a l’oignon for him.

Paris waiters

It’s the five-year anniversary of our living in Paris. We click our cafes crèmes, talk of how the refugee crisis is affecting Europe, and what we can do to help. Let’s ask friends on Facebook, that world-wide forum of brilliance and idiocy.

Down rue Jacob we go. The waiter flies after us with a glove one of us dropped. I’m dizzy with the beauty of the displays in every vitrine. Remember Jung’s words about the Door to the Divine for us intuitive types: sensory beauty. Oh yes it is. Here is a shop I’ve never seen with Navajo and Mexican-printed patterns of sweaters and skirts.

I dart in, find the scarf I’ve been looking for, but he’s waiting on the sidewalk, I don’t want to hold him up.

Street art © 2016 by Konny Steding 

We meander up rue de Seine. There on the corner of rue de Buci is a new street art paste-up. He stops to take a photo. “I know you hate to backtrack,” I say, “but we’re here & the sales are on & I hate to shop & may not want to come back & I’d really like to try on this scarf & you say yes or no.” I don’t need his permission, but he knows what suits me. Back we go. “Yes,” he says. And it’s half off.

Down rue Saint-André-des-Arts to Starbucks for beans. An unhappy French girl at the counter. I see why when her male colleague orders her around, micromanaging her.

We switch him over from English to French, and chat with the girl. By the time we leave, she’s cheerful.


At our favorite Alice in Wonderland bookstore, I buy The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, and Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, a novel that helped me get accepted early to college, when I wrote an essay about A Book I Hated.

I wonder why at age 17 I hated it so. Will re-reading it bring back the time, for a fictional story I’m writing?

At home les chatons greet us, with vomit on the rug and purrs. Lift it off, soak it with bubbly water. Move our two couches close together facing each other to create a square enclosure and, voila! le cratère de l’amour

We lie together (no, not “lay,” you writers who keep posting variations of “I was laying on the bed”) against pillows, reading. Ethan Frome: the first chapter is clotted prose. Then the characters of Ethan, Zeena and Mattie in a small village in western Massachusetts envelop me with their tragic tale.



It is grim. Hopeless. And rather unimaginative. Sometimes the dialogue between Ethan and Mattie seems melodramatic. I wonder how much experience of love Edith Wharton had. “Oh Mattie.” “Oh, oh, Ethan.” “Oh, oh, oh, Mattie.” “Oh, oh, oh, oh, Ethan.” 

And then they try to kill themselves.

Surely even these stunted lives have a few moments of joy besides the first blush of falling in love. But man, can she write about weather. 

In an essay at the back of the book, Lorna Sage writes, “Edith Wharton got to know the kind of dead-alive New England hamlets she is describing by taking excursions in her chauffeur-driven motor car.… One should dwell a little on this image of Wharton touring the territory of her tragedy – a woman of enormous energy, wealth and creative curiosity finding her subject in the ‘insanity, incest and slow mental and moral starvation’ of the near-extinct inhabitants she observed on her travels. The contrast between Wharton and her subject could not be more striking.” 

She wrote this novella in French while living in Paris, then with ease, a second time, in English. That might explain that first congested chapter. 

In A Backward Glance, Wharton wrote, “From the first I know exactly what is going to happen to every one of them; their fate is settled beyond rescue, and I have but to watch and record.” Control freak much? Don’t her characters ever surprise her?


Pollux (top) and Castor 

Les chatons nestle against us, Pollux on Richard’s head, giving him a tongue shampoo, Castor burrowed close to my feet. Hyper-active Pollux has been taking a natural tranquillizer given him by our vet, and it’s making him mellow enough to lay lie down with us, calmly at times.

Later, I check e-mail and find on Poem-a-Day a poem by our friend and mentor, David St. John. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/alexandr-blok  Yes, there it is: the ecstatic sensibility I’ve always loved in his poems. The passion for subtle intellect and sensual beauty that Paris embodies. It’s why we love his poems, and him. And why we love this city.





Sunday, August 23, 2015  


Louis XIII on a horse. Smokey sky above salmon and ochre bricks.

We circumambulate the Place des Vosges, find a wooden bench to pause

and drink it in: a cloud of swallows wheels above summer-lush lindens,

fountain plash, a bee above our heads, a feather falling between us.


Yesterday, one of those days when nothing goes right.

Today: sweet talk and galettes at Crêperie Suzette, and now this perfect moment.

Walking home, we see the dark falling above the carrousel and zinc roofs 

at St. Paul. At 9 pm? Already? Fall is on its way.






EDITH SOREL: March 13, 1933 - April 11, 2015


We are mourning the death of our friend, Edith Sorel, a marvelous raconteur and journalist whose incredibly prolific professional life spanned the last fifty years of the twentieth century.

She became a personal friend after Paris Play’s May 2011 report on one of her storytelling salons, and we treasure every moment spent since in our apartment or hers, or in various restaurants, just hanging out and talking. She had a wonderfully deep, raspy, scotch-drinking voice, and a knack for distilling her stories into the best character studies of each subject, whether Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, or Ingmar Bergman, or Woody Allen, or Henry Miller, or Picasso.

She was born in the 1930’s, a Jew in Transylvania, and lived in fear under the Nazi (then Hungarian) terror, with her parents paying off the neighbors (time and again) to avoid being reported. That experience of constant fear, and ostracism, sparked in her a tremendous drive to escape that oppression, and she found that escape through learning six languages, and becoming a translator, including eventually for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

We were lucky enough to accompany her to the premiere of a new film about her life just last year, "Dragon Lady," which is in the final stages of post-production and subtitling.

We cannot begin to do her justice here, but wanted to express our grief and love.


Edith at the premiere of "Dragon Lady."




Street art © 2015 by E.L.K. 

I was walking past the little café on rue des Écoles where all the kids stand in a clump smoking. I like to hold my breath as I pass them, so as not to inhale the smoke. It’s just one drug among many, I thought, but it’s probably my least favorite.

Richard tells me they’re starting to show a gangrenous foot here in France on cigarette packs; the images are much more vivid than on American cigarette packs, but then a larger percentage of French people smoke. It hasn’t become unfashionable here yet.

Approaching my café I saw one of my favorite waitresses off to the side, smoking furtively. She ducked her head as I came near. I could see by her body language that she was ashamed of smoking. I stopped and we talked. I asked her her birthday. In August, she said. I predict that by your next birthday, you’ll quit. I’d like to, she said, but first I need to have less stress in my life.


Street art © 2015 by PopEye

I told her the story of how I quit. I picked a date, which happened to be Valentine’s Day. I thought about it for a month ahead. Fourteen days in advance I smoked my usual fourteen ciggies. The next day thirteen. And so on, until the last day, on which I awoke, took a puff, put out the cigarette, put it in a baggie once it had cooled, lit it up later, took a toke, put it out, until at the end of the day, I got into bed and lit up the little snippet I had left. I took a deeeeeeep breath, and the ember fell on the dusky rose duvet and burned a nice big hole in it. I looked down and said, That’s it. Never again. 

For the next two weeks I exercised like a lunatic, hung out in the sauna and Jacuzzi, and two weeks later the urge was completely gone. 

Acupuncture is also good! she said. 

It probably is, I agreed.



After my usual salmon and veggies, I opened my computer and chomped through a short story that I’d taken to a workshop the week before. I’d tried an experiment, making a draft of the story with everyone’s comments included in bold, with initials indicating who had made the comment. It served as a meditation on other perspectives. In rereading this draft, I could then make decisions: good suggestion, irrelevant suggestion, and skip over the spots where I wasn’t sure. Certain typos were no-brainers. Some of the suggestions involved adding to the story. As I made a decision about each comment, I eliminated it. Except one: someone in the workshop suggested changing a central metaphor in the story, because it was too familiar to her. But it wasn’t familiar to me. It seemed intrinsic to the nature of the character. I mused on this, and couldn’t decide. 

At that point, this same waitress came up to me shyly, and asked in French (we only spoke in French), if it wasn’t indiscreet, could she ask me a question? Of course, I said. What do you do? I’m a writer, I said. What are you writing? A short story, I said. But I wasn’t sure if the word in French should be conte or nouvelle.

Nouvelle, she said. A conte is more like a fairy story. 

Or The Thousand and One Nights? I said.

Yes, or Le Magicien Dose, she said.

I couldn’t quite translate that: Dose?

She said it again, and I laughed, The Wizard of Oz? D'Oz!

Yes, she said. 


Street art © 2015 by Fred le Chevalier

That’s magic, I said. I was just writing about the Wizard of Oz; it's a central metaphor in my story. 

She smiled and scurried off to wait on another table.

So that was the metaphor that I was weighing whether to keep. Why did she mention this book, of all books? It was a sign to keep the story as I’d originally written it. 

Hours later, I told her this. 

Yes, she said, everything in the world is magic. Only some of us are open to it, and some are not. Some are closed and fearful. 

We had each given the other an answer to a question neither of us had voiced aloud. But I’d heard her desire to stop smoking. She’d heard my question about my story. The nature of the world is magic, sympathetic magic.





Christmas in Paris





Why does Christmas feel so vastly different in Paris than in the U. S.? 

It’s a week before Christmas and I feel—Paris feels—calm and peaceful. (Some of that sense of peace comes from the relief of distress I've been feeling about the U.S. Finally people are beginning to revolt against racist police brutality in America.)

But back to Christmas: years ago my mother initiated a Christmas ritual for our Arizona family. Enough with the glut of Christmas shopping! We would each choose one gift for $25 or under, preferably something amusing and original, wrap it and stack it beneath the Christmas tree.



On Christmas Eve we’d gather and pick numbers from a hat to determine order of choosing, then select a gift to open. When your turn came, you could snatch someone else’s opened gift, or take a chance on an unopened one. Easy and fun. Everyone liked this low-pressure, low-cost version of Christmas (except for the vicious fights when everyone wanted the same gift. Kidding. Kind of.).

Sometimes a gift was so original it knocked your Christmas stockings off. My sister-in-law, Leatrice, once gave M & Ms, on which were printed portraits of my mother smoking a cigar. Wish I’d been there for that Christmas—I’d have tackled anyone to get that gift, and never, ever, eat them.



Still, the holiday season in America continued to be fraught with glut—too much advertising, too much treacly music, too much junky Christmas decoration, too many dumb holiday films, too much traffic, too many crowds, too much spending, no matter what you and your family chose to do. Too much everything!



In Paris, it’s the absence of all this that makes the season so pleasurable. The Christmas lights are minimalist. Less really is more. Certain colors are the same—red, silver, gold—but instead of the green of money, there’s more of the blue of the dreaming mind.

I find it amazing that one week before Christmas, I haven’t heard a single note of Muzak—no Rudolph, no Jingle Bells, no Silent Night—instead, the nights really are silent, except for the music of spoken French which surrounds me now as I write in my favorite café.



The window displays are, as usual, works of art, with some references to the season, but with fresh, original approaches.

There are more Christmas parties, but they tend to be attended by friends from all over the world rather than by family (or at least the ones we’ve been to). That’s okay, too. I carry my family inside my heart—they’re always with me. I sometimes think I love best from afar.

The essence of Christmas—the birth of Christ, and Santa Claus or Père Noël, who embodies the spirit of giving—are the same in both the U.S. and France.



You don’t have to be a Christian to acknowledge what Christ represents: the divine embodied in man. I think each of us has an inner image of what divinity is, according to our genius (genius in Plato’s sense of a daimon, a guardian angel or twin soul who follows us all our lives and lets us know when we’re off track by giving us depression or other useful signals). For me, that inner image is not goodness. I was raised by good people, so-called atheists with many generations of Christian ancestors.

For me, that inner image is making art. I was also raised to exult in the treasures of art throughout the ages. For me, the divine center, the Self, is best expressed in art. My own way of honoring the inner Christ, or as C. G. Jung called it, the Self, is devotion to writing five or six days a week, a daily ritual to honor my daimon.

Elaine Pagels, in her bestselling Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003), contrasts the Gospel of Thomas with the Gospel of John and argues that a close reading of The Gospel of Thomas shows that its teaching was: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

Another translation is: "There is a light within each person, and it lights up the whole universe. If it does not shine, there is darkness." Thomas emphasized the light within all human beings; John placed the emphasis on Divine Jesus Christ as the center of belief. Pagels is the main modern advocate for a connection between Buddhism and the third and fourth Century Christian sects, which were called "Gnostics" by early Christian heresiologists.



We’re celebrating the same thing this month in both countries. But in a commercial culture like the U.S., profit dominates. In France, quality of life wins out over profit. And everyone profits by that. (Unless you arrive at a store in Paris fifteen minutes before closing, and the proprietor languidly informs you that they’re closed, they need time to tidy up, and get home, go on this week’s vacation or weekend in the country. And then you shake your head, and say to yourself, Jesus Christ! This would never happen in the U.S!)