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Entries in Paris (20)


Carolyn Kizer: December 10, 1924 - October 9, 2014


She was my poetry mentor, great friend and goddess.

We now live in what was once her Paris apartment, full of many of her poetry books and some of the novels she loved. I am too full of emotion to do her justice yet. 

But here is one anecdote that says everything about her: an admirer wrote her a letter, but did not have her current address, so simply wrote on the envelope: The White Goddess, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The letter was delivered to Carolyn.

Richard and I ran a poetry series with three other poets (Jeanette Clough, Jim Natal and Jan Wesley) in the late 1990s at the Rose Café in Venice. Just as we launched it, Richard and I met Carolyn at the Petaluma Poetry Walk with Jackson Wheeler. She and I fell instantly in love with each other. She was one of our first readers in the Rose series, which helped to make it a success.

Carolyn was one of the first feminist poets in America. Long before I met her, I relished her sharp, witty, clear poems, recognized in them something very close to my own taste. I loved the deep subject matter, the light tone and style of her mind and her poems.

She went to Sarah Lawrence College, which I attended for a year, studied mythology with Joseph Campbell, who was one of the writers whose books saved my life in my twenties. Most of her poems are mythological or erotic or celebrating friendship. She once told me she considered friendship more important than marriage. I said, marriage for me is more important, the romance in marriage. But there was romance in our friendship, too.

She was an editing maniac, generous, but outrageous. When Richard’s first book of poems, What the Heart Weighs, was published, he gave her a copy over dinner in Venice. When he stepped away from the table, she immediately began editing the poems (in ink in the book!). I worried about his response, but when we left her, he said, I’d be incensed if it were anyone else, but not Carolyn. The edits were minor tweaks, but all good.

When I sent my manuscript of poems, The Minotaur Dance, to her, asking for a blurb, she edited every one of them and every one was improved. And the blurb was a delight.

When she stayed with us in Playa del Rey, our cat Marley visited her in the guest bedroom. She made a huge impression on him. Not only was she as appreciative of his handsome white and gold-furred self as we, but even better she took him to bed for the night, a treat he never got from us who value our sleep. 

I cherish the books we have from writers we know. But the one with the inscription that I treasure most is Carolyn’s note to me in Cool, Calm and Collected: Poems 1960-2000

     “for beloved Kaaren,

     the best friend of my eighth decade—

     what a joy you are to me!


written in her distinctive handwriting that is as easy to read as print. (No rococo flourishes there—she was direct and clear and unpretentious in all things.)

Speaking of unpretentious, I accompanied her to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books one year. She spoke on several panels; we went to various events as audience. I remember one panel discussing poetry, in which we sat in the front row. One of the poets on the panel was a woman we both knew, a fine poet, but a rather abstruse thinker. The woman was expressing some modern, convoluted, deconstructive babble that Carolyn just couldn’t stand. We listened, growing bored, until Carolyn had had enough and shouted at the woman from the audience. I was mortified, though I agreed with her.

Carolyn was born under a Sagittarius Sun and Gemini Moon. People born at exactly the Full Moon are often visionaries. (You don’t have to take it from me; I was thrilled to read this notion long after I’d intuited it, in William Butler Yeats’ A Vision.) Those born at the Full Moon tend to be what Willy called antithetical, aristocratic, visionary, artistic, passionate not sentimental, valuing the aesthetic over the useful, solitary vision over service to mankind, humor over melodrama. That’s Carolyn.


After we were married, Richard and I used to visit Paris and stay in Carolyn and John Woodbridge’s apartment in the Latin Quarter. (He, an architect, would have preferred the sixth arrondissement, but she wanted to live in the arrondissement where Dante had once studied and taught.) Occasionally over the years, we’d overlap visits with John and Carolyn, and go stay somewhere else. John often cooked dinner, which we ate around their round black dining table. He took us to the best open air market nearby, and introduced us to the only shop we’ve ever heard of that offers excellent frozen food, Picard.

We’d talk for hours about poetry, novels, Paris architecture, people, cats, and tell stories, endless stories.

When Richard and I tired of weeping with joy every time we arrived in Paris and weeping with sadness every time we left, and decided to find a way to live in Paris, we began looking for an apartment. At the time we were staying at Carolyn and John’s apartment, so called them to let them know what we were doing after the first day of looking. John called the next day and said, It’s getting hard for Carolyn to travel. Would you consider buying our apartment?

Would we! It was exactly what we were looking for. We determined the highest we would go, they came to a selling price below which they wouldn’t go, and, voila!, it was the exact same price down to the euro. Now, all we had to do was sell our house in L. A. at the bottom of the worst housing market in memory. We went ahead with applying for a French mortgage, and it was more complicated for Americans to buy an apartment in Paris than all the other financial transactions combined in our lives. But after a year, it was done.

We never were able to host John and Carolyn here, as she did stop traveling such distances, and the early signs of her dementia became evident when we last visited her in Sonoma, before we moved here permanently in January 2011. In spite of the obstacles to communication at the end, we never stopped loving the two of them.

I will be sifting through memories for a while to remember all I can about Carolyn and our friendship. I’m rereading her magnificent Cool, Calm and Collected: Poems 1960-2000. One brilliant poem after another. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her book, Yin, but she might have won it for any one of her books. There is no one else like her, this frank, eloquent, elegant, beautiful, generous, sharp, funny goddess. A great poet, great friend, great soul. Irreplaceable.



        (Carolyn Kizer: December 19, 1924-October 9, 2014)

Moon, bright eye

in a cloud-shrouded face.

Great blue heron, I see you

sailing away.








Ballerina Clown by Jonathan Borofsky, Venice, California

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another."

     -- Anatole France 

One of our greatest fears about moving to Paris was that we’d miss our family and friends too much.

But almost no week goes by when a friend or family member doesn’t visit. And the best part is that we see them while they’re in a state of relaxed enjoyment, giddy from the beauty of this city, even while jet-lagged.

This week, Chris and Alice, friends from Los Angeles were here. He was on his way to Lyons to teach a three-day class in myth and film. She was in the midst of real estate business by phone and computer even while staying in Paris several days.


Downtown Playa del Rey, California

No one is a better source than Alice for what’s happening on the ground in our last hometown. She was once a writer, and brings a writerly sensibility to understanding character and people’s domestic desires and dramas.

When Richard and I taught myth in L.A. and beyond, in discussing the Greek gods and goddesses and their various realms, we’d always emphasize that genius, one’s daemon, is not just a description of artistic originality. Genius can be found in any field. And as we discovered in working with Alice on the huge challenge of selling our house in Playa del Rey at the very bottom of the real estate market, genius can and does shine in real estate brokers, too.


Venice canals

Richard and I each lived several lives (he six years and I four) in Los Angeles before meeting each other. We met in 1994 (the year of the great earthquake) when we lived within several blocks of each other in Venice. For that and other reasons, Venice is my favorite spot in L.A.

It’s where I lived in the ‘70s after crewing on a schooner and crossing the Pacific from Honolulu to Marina del Rey. It’s where the crew hung out with Ken Kesey and his gang of wild women and men.

It’s where I used to go when I’d come to L.A. in the ‘80s as a traveling art dealer.

It’s where I lived when I moved from Santa Fe to Los Angeles in 1990.

It’s where I experienced the Malibu fires in the distance, and the L.A. riots closer at hand in 1992.

After meeting Richard, it’s where we bought a fourplex and lived from 1995 to 2001.

It’s where we became close friends with Jane and Alex Eliot and so many other friends of a lifetime.


Sumo tournament, Venice Beach

It’s Gold’s gym, the beach, the boardwalk and the Rose Café, where we helped run a poetry series in the late ‘90s. It’s where we met most of the poets in L.A. and many from around the country, too.

It’s where we lived when we both went back to Antioch University, L.A., for graduate degrees in writing.

And it’s the place we left in 2001 to buy our dream house in Playa del Rey.


View from our former house, Playa del Rey

Richard and I loved that house, but we discovered that it changed our lives from living in a beach town where you could walk to almost everything, to one where you had to drive to get almost everywhere. And that made a huge difference in our lives.

When we decided finally to move to Paris, the market decided to stop us. The house was on the market, then off, on the market, then off, as home values plummeted and fear reigned. We wondered if we’d ever sell the house. 

Enter Alice.

She began with a stern talk on being realistic about the price. We listened to her, and adjusted it accordingly.

Then came the painful part. Feng shui! She Feng shuied our house, every corner of it, and began to stage it so other people could come in and imagine themselves there.



She began by taking my most precious piece of art, a stylized papier-mâché cross made of antique leather book covers that my sister Jane had made me as an Antioch graduation present, and placed it at the top of the inside stairway. I had my own strong reasons for its placement elsewhere, but Alice was intransigent. Then she took my favorite brilliant-colored Indian rug, a gift from my parents, out from under the dining room table and positioned it in the entrance hall. The first thing you saw on entering the house was a joyful splash of color on the wooden floor and at the top of the stairs.

She added mirrors, pillows, rugs, shifted paintings around—it took all evening. Richard went to sleep nauseated, and I did too. I know a thing or two about creating an inviting home (you would, too, if you had my mother).

But in the morning, I saw what Alice had done. Genius! We had looked for years for the right piece of art for the top of the stairs and Alice saw immediately that we already had it.

It was amazing how, even representing both buyer and seller, she managed to dissolve every single obstacle that came up in the final negotiations with the right buyer. And there were considerable obstacles. At one point, when we’d packed up most of the house and were essentially living out of just the master bedroom and kitchen (boxes were piled high everywhere else), with some of our possessions already on the way to Paris, an inspection revealed that the entire master bedroom oak floor would have to be removed so that two beams holding up the second floor balcony just outside the bedroom could be repaired. (Termite damage.)

Alice got several other contractors’ opinions, and found one who had an ingenious method of ridding the beams of termites without tearing half the house apart.

There were numerous such examples. She kept her cool when Buyer was balking, and calmed us when it looked like we were not going to be able to move to Paris after all.

Now, here in Paris, over salmon and lamb and Côtes du Rhône in our favorite bistro, we learned from Alice and Chris that Venice is booming. Stretch limos prowl Abbott Kinney. Robert Downey, Jr. bought a loft on Abbott Kinney for eight million dollars, I think Alice said.

Rose Avenue, right adjacent to where we used to live on Fifth Avenue, has turned into the next Abbott Kinney, with shops and chichi restaurants.



The movie producer Joel Silver just bought the charming 1939 post office building on Windward Circle with the murals of Venice and Abbott Kinney himself. Last November, Google moved into the Frank Gehry-designed "binocular building" on Main Street, directly across from Richard's old duplex. While we HATE the name, the three-mile strip from Santa Monica to the tip of the Marina del Rey peninsula is home to so many tech start-ups that the industry (and press) has dubbed it Silicon Beach.


Parc Monceau, Paris

It is wonderful to spend time with a couple who love each other and are full of news about so many things that interest us. But that night I lay in bed wondering if we should have sold our fourplex in Venice. Wouldn’t it have been great to have a pied-a-terre there? I mentioned it to Richard at breakfast. He reminded me that we wouldn’t have moved to Paris if we’d kept that place. I know, I know.

One thing has to die for another to be born. And in spite of realizing how deeply American we are, how the U.S. will always be our country, our favorite city in the world is Paris, and we did not make a mistake in moving here.  As Gertrude Stein put it, "America is my country. Paris is my home town."




Terroir or Terror

Something odd happened at Kitty’s party, afterwards too, but first things first:
It was the second night of the Loire Valley wedding weekend. We hitched a thirty-minute ride with Alfonso and Gigi from Chinon to Bréhémont, the tiny village where Porter’s mother, Kitty, was giving a party for the wedding guests. 
Alfonso had flown in the day before from China. Seven time zones away. No jet lag, he said. Not if you’re in your late 20s, there’s not. Alfonso’s job takes him all over the world.
I sat in back with his girlfriend, Gigi, who looks like a French Gigi should look: young, fresh and full of zest. The element of beauty is often the anomaly, and in Gigi, it’s her slightly Asian eyes in a classical French face.


We described our ecstatic cheese experience at La Cave Voltaire. Gigi exclaimed that she had studied cheese-making in France for years, in college, no less. She had just returned from a year in Wisconsin as a cheese marketer, teaching cheese makers the concept of terroir. Terroir, she said, was both an agricultural region, and a practice of combining wines, cheese and other foods from the same earth that “go together” harmoniously.
I ask her if she knows the concept of synchronicity. Terroir sounds like the sensual counterpart to synchronicity, I say. No, she doesn’t, but when I describe it, we both agree that it’s somehow analogous to terroir, one emphasizing what goes together in space, the other in time.
Gigi was surprised at how excellent the Wisconsin cheeses were. She loved the United States, and wants to return there to live. Next time, try California, I suggest.
Kitty lives right next door to the bride and groom. She and Porter’s late father bought a house in Bréhémont.  After he died, Porter bought the house next door.

At Kitty’s house, Porter stands in the courtyard in a barbeque apron, greeting friends, radiating his native Birmingham, Alabama charm. Louise is in the living room in a sleeveless, low-cut long dress, bright flowers against a black background, pale Irish skin, orange hair tied in a chignon, looking more beautiful than I’ve ever seen her. Nothing like a wedding to bring forth Aphroditean splendor.
Kitty stands in peach shirt and white pants in front of the fireplace of her fine old stone house. At the opposite end of the room, a boar’s head is mounted on the wall, with a gold hunting horn above it. Kitty describes how she found it in a Paris brocante shop and carried it home on her lap in the Métro. How people did stare! You can see where Porter got his charm. The French kings used to hunt boars in the forests around here.

I talk for a while with David, Porter’s oldest friend at the party, an Andover classmate. David, in black tee-shirt and jeans, a red bandanna around his forehead, has a strong nose and a way of getting straight to the truth. He had made a short film while he and Porter were in boarding school, based on Crime and Punishment. Porter had played the part of the policeman, and he was very good.
David and his wife and children live in NYC, where both work in theater. David began by writing original plays, then discovered that his true talent lay in adapting others’ stories for the stage.  Next fall, Natasha begins four years at the High School of Music & Art/Performing Arts in NYC. “Flashdance,” David says.
Richard and I gravitate towards the big stone fireplace. David introduces us to his Greek-American wife, Erana, and their daughter, Natasha. Erana is as open and friendly as her daughter is closed and sullen. Nothing her parents say or do is right. Richard says later, “She’s a typical 14-year-old.” But judging from the sample pictures Erana shows on her iPhone of her daughter’s work, she has a true gift for painting.

The four of us talk about a possible swap with their apartment in Manhattan. Do they like cats? We can’t swap places with anyone who doesn’t want to live with Marley. They have three cats. 
Erana shows us pictures. Perfect. And after the kids have grown they’re thinking about moving to Paris.
Soon we meet another couple, Richard and Margarita. Both have sculpted Nureyev faces, high cheekbones, are lean and good-looking. They live in Sligo, Ireland, Yeats country, our favorite part of Ireland. Richard’s family have been merchants there for years, and knew Yeats. Margarita is a Russian mathematician. When they marry, it will be a second marriage for each.
They have recently bought and renovated, with Porter’s help, an apartment in Paris. Margarita is ready to move here; Richard, not yet. “You must help me persuade Richard to move to Paris,” she says to me in the deepest voice I’ve ever heard in a woman.
We file around the buffet spread, then all bring our plates to the low table in front of the fireplace.


Mora and Ludovic join us. They’ve just driven from Paris to Bréhémont. Ludovic is a tall slender Frenchman; Mora is Venezuelan, refreshingly ample-bodied after all the skinny minnies in Paris.
Mora is an architect who’s helping Porter renovate a client’s recently purchased apartment in the sixième arrondissement.
Mora, in black with a star-scattered scarf, dark eyes and gleam, tells us how she came to live in Paris. She attended the Sorbonne for college, continued on for a Master’s in architecture, then went on for a PhD.
From time to time, she’d go home to Venezuela and feel depressed, homesick for Paris. She realized she was getting one degree after another mainly in order to stay in Paris.

We wax eloquent about our love for this city. The first six new people we’ve met at this party, by some quirk, all gathered by the fireplace—from NYC and Greece, Ireland and Russia, Venezuela and France—all have a passion in common, a conviction that there’s no better place on earth to live than Paris.
After we’ve eaten, and stacked our plates in the kitchen, the “play” begins. The bride’s Irish family and friends set the tone. Nicola, one of Louise’s bridesmaids and former schoolmate at Trinity College in Dublin, recites a poem about a girl who sits on a porcupine, and has to be taken to the dentist and upended to have the quills removed from her bare bottom. The dentist has taken “things” out of these regions before.

Louise does a dramatic reading about tooth decay in the persona of an ancient hag, folding her lips over her teeth to create the impression of empty gums.
Richard and I had each brought a poem of ours to read to the bride and groom, but quickly discover that the spirit tonight is one of broad humor, Irish humor, which our poems don’t match. We sit back on the couch and admire the Irish genius for memorizing long stories and poems, one after the other.
On the ride home, Alfonso suddenly stops the car. There is a spiny creature waddling across the middle of the road. A porcupine? Or more likely in these parts, a hedgehog. Alfonso shines a flashlight into its eyes, hoping to inspire the little guy to scoot over to the side of the road. But the hedgehog is now terrified, and curls up into a ball.
Is this terror or terroir? Comedy or synchronicity? Coincidence in time or space or both? It is odd right after the long poem about a porcupine.
What to do? Alfonso returns to the car.
Gigi says, “You can’t touch him; he probably has mites.”
Alfonso returns and gently, gently with the toe of his shoe nudges the hedgehog to the side of the road.
We drive back to the Lion d’Or, and dream about porcupines and hedgehogs, terror and terroir, Kitty’s house and Paris, Porter and Louise, and new friends from around the world.


En Plein Cœur de Paris (Right in the Heart of Paris) 


The ingredients: Beauty. A body of water. Culture. Walkability.

A block and a half to the post office. Drop them in the box.

Loop around rue des Écoles and back down rue Pontoise to the gym. It’s Sunday night and closed. But you take an iPhone photo of the schedule taped to the window. Yoga and Cardio and Stretching and Salsa all day.

Cross Blvd. St. Germain and continue down rue Pontoise past a restaurant with tables outside, which looks inviting. But it’s too close, we wanted a longer walk. Rue Pontoise comes out on Quai de la Tournelle, and Voila! it happens again. We emerge along the banks of the Seine in a state of delight. How little it takes to generate happiness. A river. Evening light. Your hand in mine. The statue of Sainte Geneviève in stone rising above the Pont de la Tournelle and the Seine.

The legend goes that in 451 when word came that Attila and the Huns were about to invade the city, Geneviève held them off with the power of her prayer. And she became the patron saint of Paris. In 1928, the sculptor Paul Landowski was commissioned to sculpt a statue of Sainte Geneviève to rise above this bridge.

“Did I tell you what the sculptor went through with this sculpture?” you say.

“No, tell me!”

“Apparently, Landowski wanted it to face west towards Notre Dame. But the city insisted that it face east as a rebuke to the Germans against whom the French had fought WWI. As a kind of echo of Geneviève’s resistance against the Huns centuries before. You can see who won.”

The statue faces east towards Germany.

“Where did you read that? It wasn’t in the account I read.”

“In Colin Jones’s book, Paris: Biography of a City.

“It’s 8:00 p.m. and still light. I love these late evenings.”

“And soon it will still be light at 10 p.m.”

We cross the bridge. People are lined up with cameras trying to capture the sun setting behind Notre Dame.



One couple, the woman with legs like sausages, is kissing so intensely I have to watch. The man is gripping her jaw with his hand as if it’s a fish that might slip back into the Seine if he doesn’t hold tight. I love to see hefty middle-aged couples convulsed with passion.

We cross into the central street of l’Île Saint-Louis and pass all the familiar shops and restaurants. One more bridge and we’re in the Marais.

We pass a Jewish temple. A rabbi in a fedora comes out and scolds a couple of young male students. His gestures are classic. He holds up his hands to the sky in helpless dismay, but he speaks fluid French; there’s something dear and funny in this combination of the familiar and the strange. Richard asks, “How do you say “Oy veh” in French?

Men walk by on the other side of the street with tefillin[1] and payot[2].

As we turn onto rue des Francs-Bourgeois, I spot graffiti on a wall that I've never seen, an old-fashioned full-length portrait of a man.  "Do you have this one?

"No," you say, and pull your camera from your bag.

"Why does it not surprise me that you just happened to have that camera on you?" I laugh. 


You snap the image from several angles and we continue on. A little lèche-vitrine[3]. Here’s a long dress in a shop window. I don’t wear long summer dresses, but this one I like.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“Nope. It’s not you.”

That’s all I need to hear.

I hoped there would be an empty table outside. There’s a slight breeze but the air is warm. We don’t want to eat indoors. And there is, in the corner against that ancient wall. We sit across from each other, one table away from a young French couple, who, like most French people, modulate their voices so that you can talk without the conversations of others distracting you.

Foiled in our last attempt to have galettes, tonight there are no obstacles. We’re radiating joy and the waitress feels it, comes up to our table and smiles and laughs!

I’d forgotten that they have galettes with goat cheese here, which is better for me than cow’s cheese. And more important, is delicious.

You look flustered. Too many great choices; what will you have?

The waitress laughs. She’s small and dark-haired and possibly Middle Eastern.  She takes our orders and comes back with a big bottle of Pellegrino, pours it for the two of us.  

“I have to tell you one thing about you that I really love.”

You raise your eyebrows. Moi?

“You. I know how hard these first two weeks of French classes have been. I think four hours of instruction in a new language are the equivalent of eight hours of work at anything else.”

You nod in agreement.

“What moves me is the way you put your whole heart, mind, body and soul into learning something new. Your wholeheartedness—you approach everything that matters to you that way.”



You nod.

“The way you disappeared into your office all day Saturday memorizing pronouns and articles, and then practiced them later with me. Really, the French language doesn’t have a chance against you. You will master her. Just like Sainte Geneviève conquered the Huns by her attitude alone!”

You laugh. The galettes arrive. “Bon appetit!” The waitress sings, and swings away to the next table. We hold hands above the meal, thank the goddess Demeter for this food that smells so good we have to cut short our thanks and demonstrate our gratitude by quickly digging in.


“Ohhhh,” you echo.

“No, this is the best place for galettes in town.”

“I have to agree. And this one has goat cheese, which I haven’t found anywhere else. I’d offer you a bite but it’s too good.”

“You can’t have a bite of mine either.”

“I wouldn’t want one, with all that boeuf on it.”

We eat, sighing. “I passed a men’s shop on St. Germain with the perfect black linen jacket for you in the window. That is, if you want one.”

“Let’s go by after dinner and take a look.”

After dinner, we cross the street and Voila! there’s a graffiti image that I hope is… “What do you think that is,” I ask.

“An octopus,” you say.

“I could use that image,” I say. You photograph it, and then as we walk down rue des Francs-Bourgeois, there is another, in orange. And then another green one. You photograph each.


The Missing Star

The restaurants we pass are all wide open now to the street. Many are full of men with men, in groups, in couples, and standing in front of the restaurants, hunting. And very tall, thin black men who look like models, walking arm in arm in the street.

We cross in front of the Hôtel de Ville de Paris. To the right is a long fountain and a carrousel, to the left, the magnificent ancient building.

“Look at the light behind that statue.”

We look, then glance at each other. No words are needed. The joy on your face mirrors what I feel.

Through the Place du Parvis-Notre-Dame, the square in front of Notre Dame. Boys are tossing up a toy lightning bug, which twinkles in the church’s dramatic lights.

Tourists eat ice cream. A Russian family crosses our path.



A girl is draped across a boy’s lap; they’re kissing. The beauty of this city brings out romance.

We look for the jacket, but the shop must be farther up St. Germain. You’ll pass it tomorrow on the way to school.

The secrets of the magic of this city: beauty, the river, the culture, but most of all, that you can walk everywhere. If we were meant to drive every day, we’d have been born with wheels on our feet.


[1] From Ancient Greek phylacterion, form of phylássein, φυλάσσειν meaning "to guard, protect"), are a set of small cubic leather boxes painted black, containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, with leather straps dyed black on one side, and worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers.

[2] Payot (also peyotpayospayesspeyesspeyos Hebrewsingular, פֵּאָה; plural, פֵּאוֹת‎ At Yemeni jewish it is called 'Simonim' too סִימָנִים) is the Hebrew word for sidelocks or sidecurls. Payot are worn by some men and boys in the Orthodox Jewish community based on an interpretation of the Biblical injunction against shaving the "corners" of one's head. Literally, pe'ah means cornerside or edge.

[3] Window-shopping. Literally, “licking the windows.”


Sweet Delight


The theme of the day announces itself as we enter the Petit Palais:

I await my turn as Richard’s photography bag is scanned.

A woman pushes between us, and puts down her purse.

“Excuse me,” I say. “We’re together.”

She mumbles something in French, and elbows past.


A long line to buy tickets. I photograph the two busts of an African

couple with glowing eyes, one in a turban, gorgeous against the

marble wall. Richard finds a vent in the floor where cool air rises.

He’s always hot, a bull. One man at the counter and twenty people in line.  


I listen to the man offer a tarif réduit[1] to the woman in front of

me. She doesn’t look senior enough, forty at the most. I see in his

eyes his intention to insult. He holds up his hand awkwardly, two

plastic caps—or condoms?—on finger and thumb. Two more



The exhibition’s downstairs. The ticket taker tears my ticket half

with the images of a duchesse and a tigresse.

“Ohh,” I exclaim. “I wanted them for collage.”

He looks puzzled. Tickets are for tearing.


We gaze at Blake’s poems and etchings of Dante and Chaucer,

The Canterbury Tales, The Inferno and Paradiso, Songs of

Innocence and Experience. History is a perpetual fight between

tyranny and liberty, said Blake. That’s the struggle in all countries

and families. Some oppress. Some are oppressed. Some bolt for




As a child, Blake saw "a tree filled with angels, bright angelic

wings bespangling every bough like stars." Later, he blasted

slavery, child labor, and the oppression of women. Some called

him crazy. Would that we all were crazy like Blake.


Look at his drawing of the Recording Angel! This is what it is to

be an artist: to write in the book of life one’s experience while

alive, rather than waiting to read it in the Book of Judgment after

death. Blake saw visions of the truth behind the veil.


One museum guard has a wooden leg. So naturally, he’s the one

they assign to move around from room to room. Like a noisily

clumping Ahab, making it hard to focus.


In the last room, a Jarmusch DVD plays. Johnny Depp tells an

American Indian named Nobody that his name is William Blake.

Nobody quotes Blake,


“Every night and every morn,

Some to misery are born.

Every morn and every night

Some are born to sweet delight.”


I see the dark-haired woman who was in front of me in line.

“You don’t look old enough for a reduced ticket,” I say in French.

She looks surprised.  "No, I'm not."

“The ticket taker was rude.”

“Yes,” she concedes, “but what can I say? I’m a woman, and he is a man.”

“You could protest,” I say, thinking of Blake’s defense of women.

She shrugs, docile.


We emerge into the air, hop on the Métro. At the next stop, a group

of dark-haired young women gets on, and yells at each other.

One stands against a pole and sneezes twice, spraying Richard,

who sits right below her. Everywhere we go today, this leitmotif:

humans being animals, artists being angels.


[1] reduced rate (for senior citizens)