Paris… Ten Years After

Parisvoice celebrates ten years, Feburary 1989 The celebration of birthdays,  anniversaries and other assorted red-letter dates is significant in that you are confronted directly with time, drawn against the silent but ever-present tow of complacency. Beyond the festivities lies always the existential questions.

When you are thirty you are practically obliged to think back to twenty and ask, How was it then? And then peer ahead a decade to some strange beast called forty and shiver at the gap between youth and adulthood. Ten years with the same partner too takes the mind for a spin. Those early days when things were fresh–experiences, attitudes, responses–float to the surface like driftwood on a deep lake. What will the next ten bring? And speculative thoughts hover over the day like a marvelous but ominous cloud.

This month marks The Paris Free Voice’s tenth year of publishing, personally significant in that I, too, squealed into existence in Paris by train at about the same time and began dangling my feet in some rather unimpressive attempts at journalism. I coroneted the title Features Editor, which meant I could dig up anything at all. In those days the paper consisted of a couple of pages that were brashly stapled together. My first article dealt with the exhibition of an Italian sculptor who also happened to be a cardiologist. I botched my facts, called the artist a chiropodist and received  my first lettre recommendée  of complaint from Rimini. My next article was on a jazz dance school for which I had traded a couple of classes. The paper got the address wrong and ran the last six lines of the piece upside down. Needless to say, my dance career ended abruptly.

I remember well those days for their naivety, the benevolence of their American arrogance. I marveled the first time I met an Algerian, (there had been very few in suburban New Jersey), gaped at the fine nudity on the Metro billboards, celebrated the luxury of the randomness of Time, thought about how cultures treat senility, grew accustomed to skewered ducks and rabbits.

The streets of Paris became my post graduate education; the books I read were the ones I stumbled on and ravished on park benches and subway cars. Proust could be pampered; Miller could be read while bouncing along cobblestones; and there were so many poets to discover, and backstreets, and people with hyphenated last names and odd stories and no money. I didn’t even know pigeons could be eaten. Time, you see, was marked by things other than semesters or periods. And there was little notion of what six months meant let alone ten years.

“How long you staying?” one would ask another. “As long as I can”. Or  “As long as my money holds out,” were frequent replies, which for many meant  a half a year, a year and half maybe, another season or until I get back from Spain. or “until the day before the expiration date of an airline ticket.” Some said, “forever.” Others, “until the novel’s finished. Or started.” There were always chapters to go or poems to rewrite. I always said, “it’s open ended.” But the future is always open-ended and now ten years later I still wonder what I really meant. As long as I could afford to sit in the back of the old Coupole with a bottle of rosé and my notebook of stories and scribblings and half written leads for the Voice, I’d stay.

Now, I have a house mortgage, a bambino in the creche, a Macintosh, and a stable of appliances that I once ran from  that chug along exclusively on 220 current. The keyboard of my typewriter even converted. I can’t find half of my words in English. I forgot what’s the capital of Arkansas and I’m unsure if in America they’re playing baseball or basketball now. I missed Washington’s Birthday and didn’t know it. And only the truly die-hard kindred spirits across the sea still care enough to write. Unwittingly, I start every other phrase with Mais  or Bon  or Bof.

Ten years marks the zone of awkward return. Promenading to government offices with a stack of tiny self portraits, stamped envelopes addressed to yourself and your electric bill as some great proof, has long since ceased to be an exercise in narcissism. Ten years should be enough to get your papers in order, your priorities straight, your parents convinced that this overseas trip is serious. If you are going back it’s as a foreigner, so you’ll probably stay, also as a foreigner. The accent thins but doesn’t die.

Ten years at any one place, with one person, ten years of the continued publication of a little profitless newspaper… should serve to get you asking again at least some of the big questions.

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