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

Entries in Shakespeare and Company (10)


Moment of Ecstasy

iPhone photo by Kaaren Kitchell



I left Shakespeare and Company with two books I’d ordered, Louis Zukovsky’s epic poem, “A,” and Robert Ward’s novel about the Sixties, “Shedding Skin.”

Should I go back to my studio now to write, or to a café? Something tugged on me in the direction of the latter.

I took the most beautiful route, along the south side of Notre Dame. The gargoyles glared down; I’ve heard they need repairing. The proportions of the trees against river and sky was… perfect.

In the park named for a pope, I looked up to see a sky smoky with clouds and the waxing gibbous moon, which seemed to be directly above our apartment to the south.

On the Pont St.-Louis, I remembered a stanza of a poem I’d written about my mother’s visit to Paris:

Here, the Pont Saint-Louis where

police tortured a gypsy for a crime,

so her mother cursed the bridge—

it crumbled seven times.

And then I spotted swans. Six swans, with seventeen ducks nearby. I hadn’t seen swans on the Seine in a while.

All I wanted at the café was a hot chocolate. Maybe the waitress disapproved—not much of an order—since she promptly forgot it. I reminded her, sipped and read and wrote, and left the café at 9:30 back across the Pont St.-Louis.

There in the middle of the bridge was a man singing, in front of him a telescope with a sign, “Regardez Les Cratères de la Lune.” 

How much? I asked.

Whatever you want to donate, he said.

He aimed the telescope; I leaned down. The image was so close I felt as if I could leap onto the moon. The craters on the right side were more pronounced and numerous than on the left.

That’s because the line between day and night is strongest on the right side, he said.

Of course! The moon has her days and nights, just as we do, depending on where the sun is shining his light on her.

Two French men came dashing up and brushed cheeks with the man offering the moon.

They introduced themselves. Nicolas and Charlie, and the moon man was Jean-Raphael.

Voyez-vous une femme chantant à pleine voix, ou un lapin dans la lune? I asked.

Un lapin! they said.

Naturally, rabbits being one of Aphrodite’s creatures, like Paris herself and the French. 

You can see Saturn and her rings, too, said Jean-Raphael.

I peered into the telescope. Nothing. Again. Nothing. And then, there it was, tiny, ringed, a bright dot just to the right of the moon.

I looked up and had that sense of standing in eternity: three men and I paying homage to the Moon and Saturn from the Pont St.-Louis with the Seine and swans below on one of the last warm nights of summer in Paris: a moment of ecstasy!




On Sadness, Joy, Writing, Hélène Cixous, Montaigne, Mothers and Myth

After the saddest year of my life (but was it, really? I ask myself, and answer, Yes, it was), I was surprised tonight to feel the joy returning. That old version of joy, of life as overflowing abundance. First, Richard and I went away for four days to Amsterdam. More on that in a later post. 

A leisurely break, a honeymoon of sorts, followed by fresh energy for each of us in our work. The day after we returned to Paris, I sent off a chapter of my novel to a literary magazine. It’s strange, the shift, a new kind of detachment from the results of submitting work, a new kind of unwavering resolve.

I’ve had many professions, U.C. Berkeley language lab, tutor for the blind, model, cook on a schooner, waitress, bookseller in Sausalito, Cambridge and NYC, real estate agent, on-the-road art dealer, teacher of Greek myth.


As an art dealer, I learned two things: finding the right gatekeeper is a simple matter of love—the artist’s sensibility resonating with that of the dealer/agent/buyer. And the value of the best art often takes people the longest to see.  

My favorite of the artists I carried was invisible for a full year to everyone to whom I showed paintings, until, one day in my suite at Los Angeles' Chateau Marmont Hotel, a couple of top collectors walked in and flipped over this artist’s work. A few minutes later, they were in the hallway conferring, and minutes later, writing a big fat check. No accident that they did not need my vote of confidence in their taste (as many collectors did).


The structure of my novel is unorthodox, but the characters will not allow me to change it. Last night, after two-and-a-half hours in my favorite café, doing final editing and finishing chapter nine, the young couple next to me and I struck up a conversation. They asked me what I was writing. I told them (very briefly), and added (since they were Greek) that its structure was based on Greek myth. And then the woman and I began to talk about what is so wonderful about Greek mythology. (After a couple of millennia of strict monotheism in Greece, I am always surprised—delighted!—to encounter a Greek person, an engineer, no less, who loves Greek myth.) We agreed on three things: it represents divinity that is both male and female; these gods and goddesses are like human characters, with all their strengths and flaws; and it is essentially stories. I left the café feeling I'd been given a message, a gift.

And then tonight! Yow. Hélène Cixous read from her latest book, Twists and Turns in the Heart’s Antarctic, at Shakespeare and Company bookstore. First, her translator, Beverley Bie Brahic, read an English translation; then Cixous followed with the original in French. The text was poetic fiction, an essay, an epic, a Greek myth, about a daughter named Hélène, a brother, O., with whom she has a murderous relationship, and their 100-year-old mother, Eve. The images were closely observed, intimate; the metaphor, of Euridice (the mother) following Orpheus (the daughter/writer) shakily down some stairs. Stunning writing.



And this was peculiar, an image that sounded wonderful in English, the mother’s recent bond with a teddy bear, sounded slightly sentimental in French. In addition to the gorgeous writing, I felt a longing to live closer to my mother, the pain of being far from home soil, a pang of admiration-envy of my two sisters and brother who live so close to her. (For everything, there is a price, and this is the price for me of living in Paris.)

I have loved Hélène Cixous’s work for years. I drew closer, standing in the doorway, as H. C. answered questions after the reading. A beautiful face, big ears, long nose, Algerian-French, German Ashkenazi Jewish on her mother’s side, Pied-Noir Sephardic Jewish on her father’s. A fez cap, gray-green cardigan and scarf over a black sweater. A relaxed and delicate face. Nefertiti eyeliner. She looked a bit like Nefertiti.

She could not “enter” France for years, found the French too bourgeois, “carpeted,” until she found the door. That door was the tower of the small castle that had once belonged to the great essayist, Montaigne, in the town of the same name. His writing room was about the size of the room in which we were gathered. A view from the small windows of vastness, reminding her of Goethe’s view in Strasbourg. She felt the imprint of the books that had once surrounded him, though they are long gone.



She now goes back to visit Montaigne’s tower once a year for inspiration. Of course, she says, you have to have read all of Montaigne’s essays for it to mean anything. Important things happened in this tower where he wrote. Kings visited the writer there, among them, King Henri IV, the first Protestant king of France. Henri IV, like Nelson Mandela, was a mediator, mediating between the Protestants and Catholics. 

In response to a question about why she so often used the first person in her writing, Cixous said, the self is multiple, legion. (Yes! as are the forms of the divine, which is no longer entirely “out there,” or “up there,” but envisioned now as inside us, aspects of the collective unconscious.)

The translator discussed a French word haimé, a word Cixous invented by joining haïr, "to hate," to aimer, "to love." She struggled to find a graceful equivalent in English, and settled for "hateloved."

I asked Alex to save me a copy of Twists and Turns, and bolted out of Shakespeare and into the street, too happy to wait in line. I called our favorite restaurant to see if they had a table for one. “Oui, Karine!” said David. Had hareng with potatoes and carrots, and warm goat’s cheese on tiny pieces of toast. Then as the restaurant filled with no one but French-speaking diners who were spilling over with exuberance tonight, I left to walk to my (second-)fave café to write this letter to you.





It's Just a Kiss Away



I decided to swing by Shakespeare and Company at the beginning of my walk. I'd quickly pay for the book of poems I'd ordered from the U.S., Anna Journey's, Vulgar Remedies. But there was a crowd in front of the bookstore. The sign said Halloween Celebration of Dracula. Book Purchases after the Event. 

Ah, rats! It was already too crowded inside to enter. But here was Ben at the door, asking me if I wanted to get in. And Alex asking if I'd come by to pick up my order. Mutual appreciation: how we all love it. Alex went in and rang up the book and brought it outside to me.

I'd now heard a bit of Jacques Sirgent, of Paris' Musée des Vampires, speaking over the loudspeaker about Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. Compelling, but I needed a walk more. Maybe I'd stop by on the way home.



Halloween was in the air beyond the bookstore, too. At Place St.-Michel, two young men with guitars were playing Sympathy for the Devil. Above the fountain, Saint Michel was vanquishing the devil, with two seated dragons to either side. I remembered reading that "dracul" in Romanian means "the dragon" (drac "dragon" and ul "the") and that later the word meant "the devil."

On rue St. André-des-Arts, I passed a Greek restaurant open to the street. A man stood in his stall next to a giant hanging slab of meat, his face so red and immobile, he looked like a figure in a wax museum.

I walked for an hour, and circled back around to join the crowd in front of Shakespeare and Company. Alex and Ben sat in chairs in front of the shop, their backs to the door. Jacques Sirgent's voice was spinning strange tales.

Sirgent asked if anyone knew why Bram Stoker set the tale in London. Apparently no one did. Because, he said, it was the wickedest city in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century; London had the highest rate of women murdering their babies.



And why was that? Young women who came from the country to work as maids and nannies in the houses of the rich were raped by their employers. Because unmarried pregnancies were considered so shameful at the time, the women would give birth and flush the babies down the toilet. The women who were caught were arrested. But since it was in neither the perpetrator's nor the victim's interests that the information be published, the women were sentenced to prison for three years, and released after one year. That's crime times three: Woman raped, child murdered, woman imprisoned. Victim times three.

I looked up at the gold-framed portrait of Shakespeare above the window. A red leaf had landed on the bottom of the frame. A spider web fanned down from the roof to the top of the frame. Of course I noticed it--we'd been dusting all our bookshelves earlier that day.

Why were vampires invisible in mirrors? asked Monsieur Sirgent, and answered his own question with a question: could it be because the vampire represents the darkness inside all of us? Our own inner Dracula? And, he continued, there was a connection to the troubadour love tradition. At one time in Europe, all love relationships were sealed with the blood of the couple.



I read a few of Anna Journey's poems later that night. Here's a bloody love poem for you from her book:

Vulgar Remedies: Tooth and Salt

After extraction, a tooth is smothered

in salt and burned to stop a wild

animal from finding it. Because if


a fox gnawed it you'd grow a grey

fang and if a bear chewed it you'd wear

its yellow snaggletooth. You've taken me


to the exhibit called Vulgar Remedies: Belief,

Knowledge and Hypersymbolic

Cognition in L.A.'s Museum


of Jurassic Technology. We'd married three

weeks earlier on a seaside cliff. If

a person doesn't burn


her childhood teeth, I read on the exhibit's

glass case, she's cursed to search for them

after death in a pail of blood. Suddenly,


I knew what I should've written

in my wedding vow: how forever feels

too vague a word, that I'll stay


beside you until we rise in the shine

of our fangs, our silver pails

filled with blood. We'll recover


all we've lost: our bodies, the blue-slate

roof of our home, each frail and traitorous,

old, unsalted bone.



Poem (c) 2013 by Anna Journey.



Sensual Surprise: An Invitation



My friend was late. We both grew up in the Sonoran Desert, and were trying a new Mexican restaurant. I didn’t like the looks of it—on a noisy street, noisy inside, the menu so-so. I called her to suggest we meet at another one several blocks away.

Oh! But she thought our dinner was for next Wednesday.

I had hardly been able to bear to break away from the writing earlier. But I was out in the world now, and hungry. My friend and I caught up on news as I walked towards Shakespeare and Company.

I picked up James Salter’s Burning the Days at the bookstore, and talked with Ben, whose literary taste is book for book the mirror of mine. I also bought Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.

The second Mexican restaurant had white tablecloths. That usually means slightly too stuffy for my taste, and overpriced.

I opened Daily Rituals and read. The serving of guacamole in a Oaxacan pot was huge, but it was tasteless.



There were three people at the table in front of me, a beautiful woman with a high forehead and short hair, her husband whose back was to me, and their male friend. The friend was deconstructing the difference between pleasure and joy. The woman laughed abruptly, an odd laugh, a warm smile, and then the man kept lecturing on and on, and her smile disappeared. This was the Preacher’s table.

A table to the far right was filled with young French women drinking margaritas. More and more margaritas. Their volume rose and rose until they were shrieking with laughter. This was the Drink and Be Riotous table.

Directly to my right was a French couple in their late 30s. She was wearing a dress with cardigan, hair pulled back, reserved. A very thin, boyish man sat across from her. They ate and talked in low voices, discreetly. This was your Married Couple table.

I ate my enchiladas verdes. Is it possible that enchiladas can have too much cheese? These had too much cheese. Almost every writer whose work I love writes six days a week for two or three hours, first thing after breakfast. That works best for me, too.

At his table, the preacher was killing the other two with boredom.

I glanced to my right. The reserved married woman was sitting sideways on her husband’s lap. She'd removed her sweater, revealing a sleeveless, low-cut dress with big polka dots like flamenco dancers wear. Her arms were raised to her prim bun, and she slowly released the rubber band and shook out her hair. As she did so, she wiggled, wriggled—shimmied!—on her husband’s lap. He didn’t seem to mind a bit. This was the table of Sensual Surprise.


Okay, friends.  It’s time again for the Surrealist Café: Sensual Surprise. Send us a paragraph or a poem or a photo or a drawing of absolutely anything sensual—food, love, beauty, dance—that you experience, observe, dream, imagine that takes you by surprise.

Send it to us by noon, Paris time, on Thursday, May 2, and we’ll publish it Saturday, May 4. We've played this game before; this is the fourth worldwide Surrealist Café we’re creating.





Unexpected Pleasures




You can walk out into the world thinking you know what pleasures await you, and have no idea of the treasure in store.

I knew the dinner would be excellent.

I knew that editing a story would be satisfying.

But I'm startled by the acute pleasure of being out in the cold sharp night air after several weeks mostly indoors with the flu. The world is so… solid, so real! Feathers! Flowers! Carytids! The moon! 

The pleasure of crossing a narrow street at the crosswalk, three men talking and blocking my path, the one on the bicycle looking up with great sweetness, "Oh, pardon!" and backing up his bike to let me pass.


The sweetness of men! It moves me even more than their strength. That Celtic douceur that comes from centuries of the troubadour tradition of courtesy (and perhaps from centuries of its opposite, savage wars on one's own soil).

The pleasure of remembering that I have several books to pick up at Shakespeare and Company. I'm carrying a book bag with my laptop and printed-out stories.  Do I want the extra weight? Sure. Better than swinging by too late after they've closed.



I detour, pick up the books. The bookseller with whom I'd been exchanging messages says, "Oh, it's you. I know your face, but didn't know your name."

"Same with me. You have the slightest accent. What is it?"

"I'm French."

"But your English is perfect."

"I lived in the States for a while."

Out into the blue-black cold. The face of Notre Dame across the river makes me think of Rosamond Larmour Loomis. The cathedral reminds me of those four years of boarding school, of memorizing hymns, the strict regimen of classes, study hall, every hour mapped out.



Rosamond was the headmistress of the school. She died last week at the age of 102, several weeks after her boyfriend Henry.

I remember two conversations with her, one when I was 14, and had been called into her office with Miss Moran, the sadistic assistant headmistress. I’ve already mentioned this once on Paris Play, but it made a deep impression on me, hinted at my future. Miss Larmour sternly addressed a most unfortunate incident involving naked girls in high heels and pearls stampeding down the dorm singing an aria from La Traviata. She said, "We thought you were a leader when you arrived, but this is not what we had in mind."



And later at a school reunion, she was no longer the strict head of the school, but relaxed, warm, ageless. We discovered that we'd both been married for the first time later in life, at the same age, though years apart.

Rosamond died the way I would like to die, quickly, quickly, well past the age of 100, with my beloved and friends nearby. I imagine her on her journey, sailing into the mystery.

It is crowded at my writing café. But maybe, maybe that man is not sitting at my table.

The waiter asks.

No, he's just spread out his packages there from the adjacent table where he's talking with a woman. He graciously makes room for me.



I order salmon and scalloped potatoes, the way my mother used to make them.

I open my new James Salter novel, Light Years, and begin to read. Oh. my. god. Oh! Oh! This is music. I cannot help it, I begin to annotate the page with a pencil, making scansion marks above the words as if the lines were a prose poem.

The rhythm of his sentences, the sculptural quality. The weather, the sensory richness.

I know these characters, their lives rich with art, books, friendship, family, storytelling, animals, weather, beauty. (And later, carelessness, sad choices.)

The dinner arrives. The waiter says, “If you finish that book tonight, I’ll give you a free dessert.”

The couple next to me laugh. It's a joke Parisian waiters make only when it’s clear that you’ve just started a book.

The meal is fantastic.



The man at the next table gets up to use the bathroom. The woman strikes up a conversation with me. She lives for literature. She lives in a small town near Brittany. 

The man returns. He runs a poetry and fiction reading series near us in Paris.

She invites Richard and me to visit her in her small village. She offers to drive us around.

He invites us to come to his poetry series next weekend.

They have just met in the Jardin du Luxembourg.  We all exchange cards.

I am flooded with richness.

When they leave I order a glass of cider. The mild alcohol content won't interfere with my editing.

Oh yes it does. I'd forgotten the lingering effect of the flu, am instantly tipsy. Now, how to balance that out? A coffee would keep me up all night. But a hot chocolate wouldn't. That delicate balancing act we do with food, drink and energy.

The hot chocolate warms and awakens me. I edit the story with the music of Salter's sentences ringing in my ears.