September 29, 2009

Forget Paris

I am reading in The Washington Post a movie review of Paris. Ann Hornaday says, “Cédric Klapisch’s intoxicating portrait of a city that, despite (or more likely, because of) being in a state of constant flux, retains timeless energy and allure.”

I have not seen the movie that is playing at E Street but I plan to go instead of going to Paris. It is hard to go to the city of love without love. I had been thinking of Paris because my daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter, hurtling onto five months and wowing the Parisians, are there.

Paris equals love: the too-oft used equation of the romantic comedy.

Hornaday to my surprise does not mention that Cédric Klapisch has directed two of my all-time favorite movies that I classify as Parisian romantic comedies—an off classification that suits me perfectly because the Rom-Com that fits that term too well has lost its edge: L'Auberge Espagnole (filmed in Spain) and Russian Dolls (Paris, London, St. Petersburg) are edgy.

I’ll let you know when I see the movie Paris.

Meanwhile, as in yesterday, the CEO I’d met on the plane home from Australia—my Ezio Pinza (across a crowded room …)—wrote me again. This time to say that his “love” has died. My “love” is the way he has always referred to the woman he was on his way to see when he met me on the plane from San Francisco to DC, the woman he’d been dating since he met her on a high-end cruise—meaning not many people, small boat—after his wife had died.

Last we talked on the phone ever so briefly I told him things with D. were in flux and in play.

He writes, “I probably should not be sending this since our connection lapsed so long ago.” He explains what has happened and ends with, “It is as I said at the beginning, ‘I probably should not…[his ellipsis].’ Yet at times like this, perhaps we need to cut ourselves a bit of slack.”

I sit in front of the e-mail: I ponder him. I ponder me. I ponder D. I reply with words about mourning, with my own realization that, as I say to him, “I can only imagine how this loss has thrown you back into the déjà vu of your beloved wife. As to my husband [or rather D. as we know him here, dear readers] I say that the story of our relationship “is an open book for all to read. I am writing a blog, have been doing so for a year now and though the beginning is a bit rough, the later entries seem to know what they are doing.”

I wonder now, A missed chance that was probably not a chance, that the CEO never allowed to be in his honorable stance and his privacy? I gather that he has kept quite a distance from his east coast “love” as he lives comfortably with cook and housekeeper in Saratoga and retreats often to his house in Carmel—no phone, no computer—to paint and collect, perhaps for a book, the letters of his wife.

I wonder D.—as in, I worry him. His presence pervades this writing and, I now see, all the preceding entries. You don’t need to say it. I will: She’s not moved on.

As synchronicity would have it, as I was reaching for Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and for T.S. Eliot’s Selected Poems because I sought something to quote to the CEO from these works, a small torn-edged card falls out of one of the books: the note from the brief encounter in the galley on the plane: his e-mail address and this line in his hand, “Cooking is an over-rated feminine attribute …[his ellipsis],” a reference to the title of my book, the title that appears in the margin of this blog, much as it appeared in the margin of my life (instead of celebration, separation).

Didion says, and I write this to the CEO, “Grief is different, grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of ‘waves.’”

Now I read this and see that the description of grief likens, oddly and out of her context, to love. The miracle of Didion’s book is that she never once mentions the word love while she writes a love story.

Later, she describes the dailiness of her life with her husband; she has her own list. I have mine: espresso and steamed milk in the morning. Cuban bread made quickly with three packages of dried yeast, the baked bread devoured with lightening speed what has lightened with time. Pea soup from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook. Beef stewed in red wine and tomatoes, string beans added at the end. Fork-stirred omelets rolled onto his plate.

Didion quotes from Eliot’s “The Wasteland” with no reference; in others words, you either know the source or not: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” p. 190-1 in her book. This is line 431 in “The Wasteland,” in part V What the Thunder Said, three lines from the poem’s end.

The CEO ends his e-mail this way, “Incidentally, I’ve reread two poems you sent to me, ‘Leap Before You Look’ and ‘The Privilege of Being’ …[his ellipsis] both compelling.”

The first is an all time favorite of mine by Auden; the second, a poem by Robert Hass that has resonated throughout my life.

I now ponder whether either of these poems would fill up the ellipsis of time that has passed between me and this gorgeous seventy-ish, stylish, loyal, sensitive man.

I reread. The poems, as poetry magically does, answer:

Leap Before You Look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep.
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire.
But to rejoice when no else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

—W.H. Auden, December 1940

I like to think I have lived by these words, but knowing oneself is the work of a lifetime. So, who knows? But whether I have lived the words or not, they ring like bells. They answer.

Hass’s poem answers with stunning reality and Victorian swoon—Wisdom more often than not comprises paradox:

Privilege of Being

Many are making love. Up above, the angels
in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing
are braiding one another’s hair, which is strawberry blond
and the texture of cold rivers. They glance
down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy—
it must look to them like featherless birds
splashing in the spring puddle of a bed—
and then one woman, she is about to come,
peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says,
look at me, and he does. Or is it the man
tugging the curtain rope in that dark theater?
Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet
lubricious glue, stare at each other,
and the angels are desolate, they hate it. They shudder pathetically
like lithographs of Victorian beggars
with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags
in the lewd alleys of the novel.
All of creation is offended by this distress.
It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,
rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,
it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
they close their eyes again and hold each other, each
feeling the mortal singularity of the body
they have enchanted out of death for an hour or so,
and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,
I woke up feeling sad this morning because I realized
that you could not, as much as I love you,
dear heart, cure my loneliness,

wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.
And the man is not hurt exactly,
he understands that life has limits, that people
die young, fail at love,
fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks
of the sadness they gasped and crooned their way out of
coming, clutching each other with odd, invented
forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
companionable like the couples on the summer beach
reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes
to themselves, and to each other,
and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.

—Robert Hass, Human Wishes, p. 69

Love is the human wish.

Meanwhile Eliot reminds:

He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

I’ll let you know about Paris. More soon …[ellipsis mine].


  1. I can't point it out exactly, but this post seems different from the last few (perhaps more optimistic). The two poems are beautiful, I enjoyed both of them very much. It seems this movie, Paris, has slipped under my radar. I'll be looking forward to what you thought of it.

  2. More soon ... --Mary, and thank you, Jon.

  3. Mary, you impress me with your willingness to reveal yourself on your blog. I normally revert to humor and withhold myself for my book. You click Publish and leave yourself open in real-time seemingly without hesitation.

  4. You seem more peaceful about being alone here. I am hopeful about Paris.

  5. Mary - you wrote how Didion writes a love story without ever using the word "love." You use the word love in other posts, do you feel you are writing a love story?


All comments are moderated and welcomed. Please do not post links to sell stuff from your site or another site, however.