my open window, the Paris sky showed a cold gray above the half-hid rooftops
glistening in the rain. It was the month of May.
I was 23-years old. I lay atop the hard bed in
the attic room, my eyes wide open, and listened to the dripping of the shower
on the eaves, the constant patter of rain on the roof slates. Earlier that
morning, carrying my suitcase, I stepped from the double door of the bus depot
and found myself in a dirty, run-down section of the city. A weak sun greeted
my eyes. The solid gray overcast had clear to split into blue pieces, and what
had begun by being a damp, dismal day was how lit up by a weak, anemic sun. Even
that was something at least, I thought.
timid and shy I started walking towards the big, leafy trees clustered on a
corner ahead. I felt tired from the flight, I hadn’t slept, and suitcase seemed
heavy. I stopped under the leaves in order to let my eyes wander over the
scene. All the people I saw were going
to work. The place teemed with loud
life. Buses, trucks, and cars had crammed the small street full. In droves,
stern-faced people were flocking to work on the walks. I heard the tramp and
shuffle of shod feet, the reek of gas fumes, noisy motors, cars pressing up
into unbroken lines before the red stop lights – it seemed as if I were seeing
it from behind a pane of glass except for the noise. I felt dazed.
went on and found myself held up by a packed crowd tht was confronting another
on the opposite curb. The stop light twinkled
green. Borne along, I marched forward and both groups of us met in the middle.
Dodging, I made my way amid others wandering back and forth. Afterwards, I
followed the others down the walk gazing at the trousered legs of the men, the
bare legs of the women moving beneath their coats and skirts.
had to rest. Standing to one side, I set my suitcase down and took out a
tattered letter from the pocket of my coat.
Mike’s letter paper was beginning to fracture along its old folds. As I
unfolded it, I was afraid it would fall to pieces at my feet. I contained the only directions to Mike’s flat,
and on the plane I had read it several times to know which streets to take. I
had never traveled abroad before, and I was afraid I could not recall the
directions correctly. So I began to unfold the letter along its splitting
folds, I began to recall a time, when, among friends, I had opened as book to
quoted from it and out tumbled a tasseled dance card from between the pages,
and I had terribly embarrassed and scrambled to pick it up, burning with shame, I don’t know why. Some
guy had said, “I realize that we guys were sentimental,” and another guy said,
“We are not sentimental. We simply want to remember what happened.” I could
recall the first man’s contempt, and I was afraid to stoop down here, in this
strange street, my face reddening, dying of shyness, to try and rescue an
ungraspable paper scraps that lay in the path of hasty, unseeing feet. I
foresaw myself snatching fragments. But
to my relief, the letter didn’t come apart. The tramping people simply passed
I set out again, still on foot. The air was damply chilly but I knew the sun
would warm it. On the walk, puddles shone like serving platters; a slight
breeze blew crisping shivers across their surfaces. I went on under the thickly, planted trees
where the faint stains of dogs made repulsive silhouettes on the freshly sanded
last, I came out on a wide public square, pigeons rising thickly as I came. At
the back of the square rose the sad, oblong faces of old buildings. Then a busy
street came, then another, fleets of vehicles maneuvering, shunting, slowly
piling up. I set my suitcase down and stood there confused, trying to remember
what Mike had said of this city, so famous and so full of glory. Why did I seem so confused and full of fear? I crossed to the sun-lit side of a drying
street. Ahead was a grocer in a soiled apron who stood behind his heaped
goods. Before him, rising in colorful
pyramids, were fresh vegetables and chickens roasted to a rich brown. Heavy, fresh-bellied fruits were bulging from
old, openwork baskets. Old women, their
heads covered by wool shawls, shuffled and stooped among the piles clutching shopping
bags. The grocer’s kind, facing eyes kept watch on what each took. He must have
been sixty-five. I walked on past, seeing a shabby old man with a creaking
pushcart piled high with ripe apples, moving up the street.
I thought. People here were content to
take each day as it came.
remember seeing all this, but what happened afterward wasn’t clear. I recall
ugly sordid doorways, solid traffic creeping along, the wide sidewalks surging
along past over cluttered shops, a few people at the windows, trying to price
the displays. What else? I recalled stopping to look at my letter. But when I
looked up, again I saw a stream of faceless, bobbing people bearing down on
me. I felt like a tidal marker tilted
against the tide, the current swirling around its base.
my eyes, I saw across the street, a butcher truck drawn up at the curb. Like
beetle’s wings, both of its back doors stood open and two men in soiled smocks
were unloading packing crates, joking and laughing. Then I froze. Because just above a low,
crowded cluster of buildings, a huge brown dome came into sight. It rose above everything like a huge,
discolored boil stretched tight enough to burst. Not taking my eyes from it, I began to
rummage in my coat for a map, but of course, I didn’t have one. It was merely a
church, I said, to reassure myself. Just a church. But the way the low buildings drew in close
to it, it was as if they were maggots feeding on its bloated, dilapidated bulk.
after I had heavily mounted the narrow steps to Mike’s flat on the eighth
floor, after I had taken a couple of valium, I lay on the broken bedclothes,
staring up at the ceiling and hearing the return of the rain.
first morning in Paris.
attic room looked out over a grim, jumble of roofs. From the old crowded
housetops rose a cluster of stunted chimneys. Their long, dark shadows fell slanted across
the tiled rooftops. From where I stood I
could see the entire city was it stretched prone. Grey church steeples, tapered
like needles, stood out sharp the low sun sinking in the huge scarlet evening
sky, while on distant hills, tiny buildings, like pan pipes, were rising out of
the fine, gray haze.
after writing, I would stand here like that for some time, not seeing, not
hearing anything, knowing only that I was tired and how little I had gotten
done. My mother thinks it is stupid for a man to be writer. She wants me to do something useful. Besides,
it is a woman’s field, she says.
The evening came on. I had opened the window and
my arms bare in my blouse, leaned out over the sill. From the streets below
cries of voices, cooking odors, everything rose upwards. At the end of the
brief street, empty now except for parked cars gleaming at the curb, I saw
chunks of traffic whizzing past, out in the busy, lit-up boulevard. It seemed then that I would sleep.
the room was dark, and I could hear Mike’s peaceful breathing in the next room.
Above me, on the ceiling, was a slanted, broken oblong of light. I had tried to
sleep. Now I lay awake and listened to
the noises of the night. It was like being in the country in America, it was so
deeply, emptily quiet. No sound. Seconds passed. Then a dog barked, faint and
far away. Down in the street, women's voices floated up. One laughed, and it echoed up between the
that it was quiet, I waited anxiously for sleep to come. I had a great deal to
do tomorrow, and I wanted to be fresh, my nerves strong and my head clear. But as I lay back, I could only hear my
woke early. For a while I lay resting, my eyes open, cold awake. I turned my
head. The roofs showed a cold gray. I could hear Mike’s breathing still. I lay
there. Then I started to listen. I could hear the early traffic down in the
damp, gray cheerless street. All over
the city, millions were up and stirring, the start of another day.
never seem to feel there will be enough time.
at the Moveable Feast
my open window, the Paris sky displayed a cold gray above the half-hid rooftops
glistening wetly in the rain.
was 22 years old, and I lay on the hard bed of the attic room, my eyes wide
open, and listened to the dripping of the eaves, the patter of the rain on the
slates. Early that morning, carrying my suitcase, I had stepped from the double
door of the bus depot and found myself in a dirty, run-down section of Paris. A
weak sun greeted my eyes. The solid, gray overcast had cleared to split into a
few blue pieces here and there, and what had begun as a damp, somber, dismal
day now lit up by a weak, anemic sun. That was something at least.
and terribly shy, I started walking towards the big, leafy trees clustered
ahead on the corner. I felt tired from the flight, and the suitcase had books
in it, and as I stopped under the leaves, I let my eyes wander over the scene.
It was morning in Paris, and the people were going to work. The place teemed loudly with life. Buses, trucks, motorbikes, and cars were
busily crammed the street full. In
droves, stern-faced people flocked to work on the walks. There was the
continuous tramp and shuffle of shod feet, the reek of gas fumes, noisy,
coughing motors, cars pressing up impatiently into unbroken lines before the
stop lights — it seemed as if I were seeing and hearing all this from behind a
pane of glass. I felt in a daze. This was my first trip abroad.
went on and found myself held up in a packed crowd confronting another that
stood on the opposite curb. The stop light twinked green. Borne along, I
marched forward, mindful of my suitcase and both groups met in the middle of
the street. Pausing, pushing, dodging, I made my way amid much brisk wandering
back and forth. Afterwards, I followed the others down the walk, watching the
legs of the men in their trousers, seeing the bare legs of women moving beneath
their skirts and coats.
had to rest. Standing to one side, I set my suitcase down, and took a battered
letter out of the pocket of my raincoat. Mike’s blue letter paper was beginning
to fracture long its old folds, I had read it so often. As I began to carefully unfold it, I was
afraid it would fall apart in my fingers. Why I took it out, I don’t know. It
contained my only instructions to mike’s flat, the streets I had to take to
each his flat. And I had read it many times during the flight. Standing there, I couldn’t remember a word.
I unfolded it along its splitting folds, I remembered a time in high school
when I had opened a book to quote from it, and out at tumbled a tasseled dance
cards, and the gathering rose in jeers.
Unable to look at anyone’s faces, I had hurried scrambled to pick it up,
burning with shame. Harold, my enemy,
said, “Guys are not sentimental, I thought,” but Jenny replied, “Guys are like
us – they want to remember what has happened.”
I could still recall the smirking contempt in Harold’s face, and I was afraid
of having to stoop down here, in the midst of this foreign street, my face
reddening, to fumble for each ungraspable paper scrap from those hasty,
unseeing feet. But, to my relief, the letter did not come apart. The people
simply passed by me.
I set out again. A May morning. The air was still damp and chilly, but I knew
the sun would warm it. On the walk, puddles shone like serving platters, a
slight breeze blew crisping shivers across their surfaces. I went on under
thickly planted trees where the stains of dogs made repulsive silhouettes on
the freshly sanded paths.
last I came out on a wide public square.
At its back rose the sad oblong faces of old buildings. I walked across
the square, pigeons thickly rising as I came. Then a busy street came, then
another, then another, fleets of vehicles maneuvering, shunting, and slowly
piling up. I stood there confused,
trying to remember what Mike had said of this city, so famous and so full of
glory. Joyce, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Manet, Cezzane. Mike loved living here, he was on leave from
Harvard, but I felt strange and full of fear. I crossed to the sun-lit side of
the street. Ahead a grocer in a soiled
apron stood behind his heaped goods. Before him, in colorful pyramids were
fresh vegetables and chickens roasted a rich brown. Heavy, fresh fruit was bulging from old
openwork baskets. Old women, their heads covered by wool shawls, shuffled and stooped among the piles,
clutching shopping bags. The grocer’s kind, fading eyes kept watch on what each
took. He must have been sixty-five. I
walked on past, seeing a shabby old man with a creaking pushcart pied high with
ripe apples, moving up the street.
people were content to take each day as it came.
remember thinking that but what happened after that is not clear. I recall the sordid, ugly doorways, the solid
traffic creeping along, the wide sidewalks surging past over-cluttered shops, a
few stopping to gape at the windows, trying to price the displays, but it was
all taking place behind a pane of glass again.
else? I recall stopping often to look at Mike’s letter, but when I looked up
and saw the stream of faceless, bobbing people pouring down on me, I felt like
a dumb, stranded obstruction, like a tidal marker tilted against the tide, the
current swirling at its base, and, numb, I simply went on.
my eyes, I saw across the street a butcher’s truck drawn up at the curb. Like
beetle’s wings, both of its back doors stood open, and two men in soiled smocks
were unloading packing crates, joking and laughing, free from care. And then I
froze. Because just above a low, crowded cluster of buildings, a huge brown
dome came into my sight. It rose above everything like a huge, discolored boil
stretched tight enough to burst. Not taking my eyes from it, I began to rummage
in my coat for a map, but then remembered I hadn’t remembered to buy one. It was a church, I told myself. Just a
church. But the way the low building drew in close to it, it was as if they
were maggots feeding on its bloated, dilapidated bulk.
after I had heavily mounted the narrow steps to Mike’s fat on the eighth floor,
I had gone in. I didn’t unpack. Instead, I took a couple of his valium with
glass water. I lay on the broken bed clothes, staring up at the ceiling and
hearing the rain return.
first morning in Paris.
attic room looked out over a grim jumble of roofs. Up from the old housetops
rose a crowd of stunted chimneys. Their long, dark shadows fell wanted across
the tiled rooftops. From where I stood I could see the entire city as it lay
prone. Gray church steeples, tapered as needles, stood out sharp, and the low
sun was sinking in the huge, quiet scarlet evening while on distant hills tiny
buildings rose like pan pipes out of a fine, gray haze.
after writing, I would stand there like that for some time, not seeing, not hearing anything, knowing only how little
I had gotten done. My mother thinks it
is stupid for me to want to be a writer.
She wants me to do something useful.
Besides, writing is a woman’s field, she said.
evening came on. I had opened a window, and my arms bare in my blouse, leaned
out over the sill. From the street below cries of voices, cooking odors,
everything roe upwards. At the very end
of our brief street, empty now except for parked cars gleaming at the curb, I
saw chunks of traffic whizzing past, out in the busy, lit up boulevard. It had seemed then that I would sleep.
room was dark. I could hear Mike’s peaceful breathing in the next room. Above me on the ceiling, was a broken,
slanted oblong of light. I had tried to sleep. Now I lay awake and listened to
the noises of the night. It was like
being in the country, it w3as to deeply, emptily quiet. No sounds. Minutes passed. Then a dog barked, faint and far away. Down in the street, women’s voice floated up.
One of them laughed, and it echoed up between the dead buildings.
that it was quiet. I waited anxiously for sleep to come. I had a great deal to
do tomorrow and wanted to be fresh, with my nerves strong and my head
clear. But wanting this only made me
more nervous. As I lay back, the only thing I heard was my heart.
woke early. For a while I lay resting,
my eyes open, cold awake. I turned my
head. Above the dark roofs was a cold gray sky.
I could hear the early traffic beginning down in the damp, gray
cheerless street. All over the city,
millions were up and stirring, the start of another day.
never seem to feel that there will be enough time.
was thinking of simplicity of style this morning. Anyone with a simple style is
embarrassed by it. I know I am. I feel
somehow that alternatives of expression don’t come readily to me. The ones that
do appear seem not so much of talent as much as study and numberless attempts.
There is a deep division between those who strive to be simple and blunt and
those who crave the cheap intoxication of the ornate.
is the reason I came to Paris – to improve my prose. I am twenty-two years old, an utter unknown,
a bit late to learn how to write. But I
want to write. I want to loiter about the cafes, to stand on street corners; I
want The Sun Also Rises to happen to
me. But except for Mike, I know no one in the city but the statues.
last, I feel that I am learning to see! Really see. What I want to do while I’m here is to learn to make pictures
of things with words. I believe that there is something fresh in ordinary
objects which, if we are patient and humble,
time and effort will give us to see.
that young girl, for example. How does one write of her? She went by me over an
hour ago, just a bit after seven. I am
at a café at the Boulevard St. Germaine, when the boulevard was getting busier.
Whole columns of cars crept slowly forward, their chrome trim gleaming uneasily
in the fine, pale light of the tall lamps. It had showered and the walks were
still very wet. Upon them was taking place a huge, tireless swarming. Among the
crowd who mixed and mingled, I spotted her making her way, wearing a
light-colored raincoat. She was carrying
a long object of some kind. Yes: yellow
light spilled out from the doorways and open shops and bars, but I still could
not see what it was.
tables of the café terraces were full of people relaxing over drinks after
work. She slowly went past me, my head turning to watch her as she passed, and
then I saw the worn, blunt snout of something peeping back at me under her arm.
I sharpened my gaze and instantly knew what it was. I was not alone either. A
man sitting nearby me caught my eye and winked. And it was an amusing sight –
for it was as though to escape the claustral confines of being carried about
that the crusty loaf of fresh bread mischievously, like a puppy, poked out its
girl walked by, my eyes following her, while there came towards her on the
walk, a very stout, house worn-looking woman with whom quite unexpectedly, she
collided. It was nothing, hardly more
than a jostling, yet no sooner haft h both of them blotted together than the
bread saw its chance and sprang free.
There was a c3ry: the girl’s hands flew whitely from her sleeves.
was too late.
loaf fell from her into the street, the unspeakably dirty street still drying
after the rain. The stout woman, gross
and impenetrable, moved off slowly with the
majesty of a ship. Perhaps she
had not realized. The bewildered, hurt
girl, who had stopped not far from me, stood staring after her a moment. As the
young girl stood in the light falling from the street lamps, I saw the look of
pained surprise on her face. She was a lot younger than I had thought. She
knelt quickly to retrieve her ruined bread. She felt for it, found it lying in
the trickling curb. She drew it up, eyed
it, shook it, then very carefully, brushed it off with a hand she wiped on her
raincoat. But her young face, at first
so clear and fresh, looked tiredly sad when she stood up. I watched her until
she passed from sight.
is always the city. I coiled down the worn staircase. Above me were the floors
of smug, shut doors. The staircase ended, the courtyard door was open, and I
could see the door from the farther side still shut. The cobbled yard was empty. My steps fell clear on the huddled stones
like a field of dull turtles.
door behind me shut with a boom. I walked down the slope of a hill. Soon, up on
my left, there loomed the great, blockish bulk of Trinity Church. I walked past, going past its small park,
crossing a street where buses and cars clogged the bustling streets. Glass
doors gave off a quick glare as they opened and closed. I walked down the
street, through the throngs of shoppers, hearing car horns, the mechanical
exertions of motors, all the noises of a big city’s hard energy.
ended up on a bridge. I didn’t know
which one. But before me, as far as the eye could reach, spread the city. I saw a crowded mob of low roofs. Here and there the skyline bristled with
church steeples, a torn bright sky looming overhead. In the distance, at the outskirts, smoke
could be seen spreading form a single tall factory stack like dark stocking
being stuffed back into a pencil. I saw
the gleam of a large, bronze dome.
leaned on the railing of the bridge, looking down into the dull green water of
the Seine. Gas scum floated in sinewy rainbows atop the slow-moving drift. An
old black rubber tire wallowed weakly in the water. Green trees grew thickly on both banks. On a
large island, a thick screen of trees id almost all of its old, long-faced
houses. Far down, there were other gracefully arched bridges, and I could see
cars sliding across, their tops, moving like the lids of little boxes.
walked home, going north by the Champs d’Elysses before I turned east. A spray
dots speckled the walk, and I stepped in under a grove of dark oaks. Far up in the spreading branches, the leaves
made a dense shawl. Where I stood, in
the dim, cool of the shadow, it was as if I were in a magic glade, green and
silent, except for th3e twittering of the birds, a sound full of lively
charm. Suddenly thunder tumbled like a
huge marble block tipping over. Out on the busy avenue, in the open space, I
could see the rain bouncing off the pavement like volleys of arrows. As I looked up through the barely stirring
leaves where a dappled light of aqueous color shone gently. It was like being under water. No drop of rain reached me here, although I
could hear the upper leaves were being pelted and saw a few nod and stir.
is no great age.
yellow streaks fell from the bare floor from the darkened blind. The street lamps outside had come on. In the
badly lit room, I was sitting at the edge of the unmade bed, my hand clasping
my bare, calloused foot. The tall floor lamp shed its skirt of light on my
worktable on which stood all my baffled equipment” books, pads, Mike’s old
typewriter furling paper. The afternoon had worn away and now I sat there, sat
as if empty as if without will, retreating from all I had hoped to do. At last, I rose to my feet, making the wood
floor buckle, ad walked over to the window. Dragging back the blind, I saw the
rain streaming down the speckled glass.
Down in the empty slick street below, the rain was falling like rice.
Suddenly, I wanted to go out. I walked
across the room to my desk where I saw a page that lay bright under the gaze of
the gooseneck lamp. An open book lay
like a pair of imploring hands. But I
saw so little of people I wanted to be out among them now. Mike wouldn’t return from work until after
seven, and I wanted to talk to someone, anyone.
Rue de Clichy lay deserted under the cold, wet sheen. I walked up the hill to
the Metro, passing people who huddled in doorways or under canvas awnings. Absent eyes and illegible faces, waiting for
a let up in the rain. The gusty wind
suddenly whipped at my clothes. Hunched,
his face hid by an upturned collar, clutching a tilted umbrella, someone
faltered towards me on the walk. After
him came a couple, an open newspaper held coweringly over their heads. With
stiff, unfeeling fingers, I lifted my collar up around my ears. Gray water curled like cables in the gutters.
flags in the Place d Clichy hung wet from their white poles. The cafes,
brightly lit were open and seemed jammed full. The wet sidewalks had sprouted
with umbrellas. Cars came past, wallowing noisily through the pools that stood
on the cobbled stones, sending the water to wash against the curbstones
soon found a Metro station whose busy stairs I went down. On a chair before a
green iron gate, a fat woman in a smock sat taking tickets. I handed her mine
and passed on through. At last I came out on the platform. A few dazed steps at
a time I came forward, then stopped.
platform teemed with people.
a press of people, more than I had ever seen here before. My eyes spelled
hundreds of flickering feet; dim form shuttled to and fro like Dante’s
shades. I began to move among them. Ceiling lights shone on moist clothes and
faces. I threw a look at the big, sober-faced clock. In two minutes or say
five, a train would come so it would not be so bad.
air was foul. From the close-packed
people rose a haze of heavy breath, added to which was the suffocating odor of
damp clothes and of bodies that weren’t clean.
I suddenly felt a fear, and rummaged in my jeans for my wallet. My heart rose in panic — it wasn’t
there. I rummaged again then realized I
had put it in the wrong pocket. Someone laughed, a loud jeer, almost at my
elbow. I swung around, annoyed, seeking a face, but everyone had their tacks to
me or were reading or talking together.
began to walk up and down.
cursed myself as a fool. I shouldn’t
have left the flat. The same difficulties, the same half don work awaited me
back I the attic. But as I walked up and down thinking I should go back, I
became aware of something enormous shaking the platform. An excited stir ran
through the crowd. People, as one, rose
from the benches, faces lifted to seek and search for what it was, some shrinking
back, faces tightening, and it was then
I caught sight of the train. Like some
huge, disabled black beast the black bulk came crawling forward, its
indescribable clamor crumpled ahead of it.
From all corners of the platform, hurrying people closed in on it. Suddenly a hideous shriek escaped from the
disconsolate dripping mass which, shuddering in all its metal fell still. By
then the crowd was all around it.
carefully threaded my way through the standing people, walking by the train.
The carriages towards the front of the train were usually not very crowded,
but I passed on by a few and saw that
each lighted interior the seats were all full. At last, sensing that I had
better hurry, I got on. Behind me, the metal–glass doors slid tight shut. As
I moved ahead down the aisle, skimming
the floating faces, I spotted a vacant seat.
I reached it and sat down, and as I did, a harsh, dry crackling could be
heard from under me. I looked down
stupidly and saw the old leather cushion had split in a hundred places – its
filler was spilling out.
All the people had been facing front in
silence, but when they heard the sound, several heads turned my way. Everything in me fell quite, quite still. I
felt their gaze find me, felt it, like a hand, move over my body and face,
touching and handling. At last I felt it withdraw and raised my eyes. They sat
quietly, seeing noting, then we felt a sharp jolt, the first of many, and,
bodies jouncing, we began to separate from the train. Beginning to breathe again, I looked around.
me, dressed smartly in a dark skirt and white silk blouse open under her coat,
the woman about my age pressed her hard, well-tended face to the window. Her
parasol, tightly rolled, leaned beneath her feet. Outside, a necklace of lights
was racing past, and she looked dully out at it. As the carriage junked and
swayed, she seemed to care where she was. Most of the other passengers too
displayed entire indifference. I watched
the men but too were tired and didn’t’ seem to mind the ride. Some were bored and swung one leg to make the
time pass. A few directed long,
expressionless stares at the window. Others, drugged to drowsiness, dozed or,
propping their foreheads, they would startle then doze off again. Several sat
leaning forward, sack shouldered, propping their foreheads with a palm. But there were a few, however, were not at
ease, and who, in fact, looked frightened.
example, not far from me sat a young man in a dark coat who could not keep his
hands still. They kept alighting here
and there: on his knees, on a window sill or a seat back. But no sooner had
they touched a thing than they took fright, tangling in the air like awkward
white butterflies. What struck me was the unsettling way he looked at his hands
– as if he’d never seen them before. They kept fluttering about until suddenly,
to my surprise, they both disappeared, absorbed by his armpits. After that, he sat with mock brawn, his knees
wide, all aggressive confidence. But his
uncertain eyes kept casting looks about as he rode.
by a window I saw a man wearing a shapeless gray suit. He saw him gazing out.
Suddenly I saw the side of his face, his profile, changed abruptly to a full
face and I was sent a silent, menacing look.
He then lowered his face to the window, in which there appeared, coming
as though to confer with his own, a pale face, a face that was a faint, drowned
echo of his own. When I looked back a few seconds later, I saw the two of them
still consulting intently.
there were others, too, each bearing his or her shyness differently, each
fearing in their hearts that they would be found ridiculous by someone among
the rest. Heeling and swaying we sped on through the dark.
glanced over at a man’s watch. We had
been riding for five minutes.
we began to slow. Out on the platform, standing people first flew, then drifted
idiotically past the windows. The train
yanked to a standstill with a brief screech. I saw only that people, talking of
trifles, were filing off. The rest of us
remained in the carriage and waited. Looking around, I saw the young woman was
gone. The man with the nervous hands was gone too. By this time, the twin doors had closed, and
we were even more crowded than we had been.
In the cramped space before the shut doors, those who hadn’t been able
to find a seat simply stood. As the platform started slipping past, white hands
began to appear on slim metal poles, and, faces set, they rode grimly hanging
new crowd was composed mainly of men. They were much alike, sedentary-looking.
Hum-drum toil had scoured their faces vacant. They had about them the torn,
docile, spiritless air of treadmill animals.
Now they were on their way home. They swayed gently like a field of wild
flowers nodding in the wind. I looked at
each in turn, and as I looked at them, I prayed, prayed for God to give me
proof, any proof, that I might find myself more than these, whom I both loved
and yet despised.
WOW! Where are the snows of yesterday?
I felt the dampness and solitude of my Boulevard General Leclerc flat and my year in Paris… Your writing also brought forth smells and thoughts from the “Notebook of Malte Brigge” by Rilke that I read 30 years ago. Thanks man
Ah, Paris before it got gentrified. Notre Dame cloaked with soot. Filthy Halles. Beggars entertaining people by playing spoons. Hostile people. Paving stones that could be picked up an heaved.
My first night there, I went to a cafe on the Seine only to find a Jewish coed from my university hanging on the arm of a Turk.
Yet it was infinitely more interesting than today’s scene with its highly cultured, pampered crowds, miles of gourmet restaurants, and monuments floodlit for romantic tourists.
Have you read Maugham’s account of Stickland’s stay in Paris in the Moon and Sixpence? Or Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris? Both portray the unforgettable reality behind the shining image of the city of light.
There are still quiet backwaters in Paris. The famous Cafes of Boule St Germ are a good place for watching the wives and kids of the latest generation of Russian Oligarchs.
Richard Sale, you are a master of story painting. I enjoy your work immensely.
I “won” a week in Paris back in the early 80’s when my name was pulled from a hat at Fort Devens for courier duty. Since my civilian clothing was frozen in the 70’s before I began wearing uniform every day, I had the appearance of an East European. I spoke Polish to add to the effect. I even carried a USSR made camera. I had a grand time masquerading as “le Polonaise” among the Parisians.
“Take that young girl, for example. How does one write of her? ”
I don’t have your gift with words yet I remember her still, two years on. Standing in the aisle on the metro. From the Étoile to the Tuileries. Ten minutes, more or less, yet one of those eternal moments.
I’m glad that I avoided the tourist season, though I must say a few of the Brits I saw in action gave New Yorkers a good name.