December 24, 2009


Paris repairs. Consider The Hôtel de Ville, city hall, in the 4th arrondissement, a giant sand castle fantasy that dates from 1357 and is still the working center of the city. At night it sparkles like a dream come true.

Take the Metro to the station of that name or simply walk Rue de Rivoli. Start in Marais and follow that road all the way to the Louvre or further if you are going to eat at Le Zimmer.

Take the Metro to George V: Don’t miss the Champs-Élysées at Christmas.

But walk this city.

The repairs will startle. The lining of my heavy black coat, its hem that touches the top of my boots, got caught on a boot link: separated and frayed. I could have walked into any dry cleaners along the streets of Marais and gotten an excellent repair. But it was Sunday. So I pinned the hem with safety pins and walked to the open market at Bastille: fresh food: roasted beets (yes, they roast them for you), cheese, meat, fish, a rabbit for dinner (Yes, I cooked it. See the recipe below.) But I also found needle and thread and so could do the repair myself. I am not the seamstress my mother was, nor as good as anyone in the Parisian dry cleaners, but the satisfaction of the needle and thread in hand healed.


Paris dreams. For at night we repair through sleep and dreams. Parisians do not balk at movies and books with dreams. In Paris it is safe to dream. It is safe even to write about the dreams. Hélène Cixous wisely advises, “Crossing the frontiers to the other world without transition, at the stroke of the signifier, this is what dreams permit us to do and why, if we are dreamers, we love dreams so much. It’s the cancellation of opposition between inside and outside . . . .”

I go into the closet, hear a noise, perhaps the neighbors, I think, and lean closer to the wall to listen.

This is of course absurd in the way that dreams are.

From inside the closet, from the wall something touches my breast. I’m unable to move or see.

Paralyzed the way we sometimes are in dreams and in this case also blind.

I try to open my eyes but can’t. And still I see. I am no longer the center of the picture. I am the observer. Someone else goes into the closet in the light and finds a box. In it is a large crude oddly shaped oboe. A musician decides to try to play the instrument. It is difficult at first but then he wets the reed with his tongue and the oboe responds to his mouth, his touch, and the sound becomes more compelling, the playing more necessary.

But then the oboe is lying on a bureau. It waits for him—like a demand: When will you be home? When will you play me?

I was hidden.

I lay alone in my bed in Paris and knew this: To be absent was how I dealt with D.’s inability to connect. “Only connect . . .,” E.M Forster tells us in the epigraph of Howard's End. How often I have read that line, spoken it. How deeply I thought I had understood when I had not. Yes, D. left me, but where was I?

When the light came late in the morning as it does in Paris in December, I walked the streets of Marais. There I stood somewhere in the 3rd or 4th before a repair shop for clarinets and oboes and saxophones and flutes. . .

If only I could paint this. Perhaps I will for the dream that moves from the wound to become something other than itself reinvents, repairs.

More to come on dreams. . .without transition: hat trick, bedtrick, mind trick.

Here is Melissa Clark’s wonderful recipe for Mustardy Braised Rabbit with Carrots.

December 21, 2009

What happens in Paris

I'm tempted to say, What happens in Paris stays in Paris. . . But I will tell all. Read here for the joys of Paris, the light-hearted city full of lights. The bateau at night is incredible just as it is in Charade—well, okay not that incredible. After all I am not Audrey Hepburn but Cary: Peter/Brian/Adam has appeared. More to come on who is who.

Pick up the bateaux at Pont De L'Alma at 5 pm in the winter to see the sunset and then the Tour Eiffel in sparkling darkness at 6: the ride is short enough to not do you in, long enough to relax and the Paris you see from the Seine will fill your heart: Open heart, open heart. Go here to take a look:

Have dinner at Brazzerie Zimmer From the bateau, walk up Avenue Georges V and catch the metro, the 1 line, get off at Chatelet, exit through the Place de Chatelet sortie and you are there. Eat the steak, the artichoke, drink Pomerol, try the Berthillon salted caramel ice cream. Bon apétit!

December 17, 2009


The days are short in Paris: sunrise today at 8:38, sunset at 4:53: Check your city and compare at

Yesterday after the long walk west on Rue des Francs-Bourgeois that turns into Rue Rambuteau to the closed Pompidou, I return to stand by the Seine at Quai Henry IV near my apartment as the sun takes its slide down. Take a look here:

I have heard that it is easy to be without love in Paris. But as the bateaux slide with the setting sun, I can think only of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant when she kisses him and if I remember correctly she says, “Can’t kiss back?” And then he does. And again. Or have I made this up? She says, “When you come on, you come on.” We are in Charade where no one is who they say they are except perhaps for Audrey/Reggie. Or is she? She must deal with the changing names and perhaps personas of Cary/Peter, Adam, Brian. Have I got them all? Does it matter? Isn’t three the perfect number as identity is the question. Is it not always the question?

And the river shows the way as it journeys through the city beneath the 32, or is it 37 bridges. Go here where you can click for photos and pretend that you are with me: as I recall and as Paris is blanketed in morning snow.

December 16, 2009


Limits of Control, Jim Jarmusch’s film about art and life and what we can and cannot control, perhaps about how we know what we think we know is running at the theater next to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the glass towers of books that go on and on and on—that Sebold writes about in Austerlitz—and that you cannot enter unless you know the code: how I think about the doors, the maze one must follow to find them. Actually, you can buy a reader’s card, but you cannot go into the stacks, the towers that dominate the horizon on the edge of old Paris. The reading room seduces the way my solitude does.

Does my solitude reveal?

Off to the Pompidou: On exhibit: THE SUBVERSION OF IMAGES: SURREALISM, PHOTOGRAPHY, FILM—but it appears that the staff is on strike. How appropriate: unable to get in to see the surreal. Will I stand outside and look the way I stood outside the librarie?

I’ll let you know if I get in …

In the meantime: What is the code? Send in the clowns, the fools, the genies and whoever else can help.

December 15, 2009

French subtitles

Have you ever seen an American movie with French subtitles? Jim Jarmusch has a new film Limits of Control that I'm going to see today. Check out the preview: Click on the camera.

Will seeing a movie in the language I speak with subtitles in the language of the country where I am be like discovering the unconscious? I am full of questions in Paris and discovery awaits me. This I know of all the things I do not know.

This and the fact that the city of lights is also the city of parks. Want to live here.

December 14, 2009

My apartment!

Can't believe it: 125 square feet, small French appliances with minds of their own, window on the courtyard: all at 7 Rue des Francs Bourgeois. Peace and quiet surrounded by the hubbub of Paris, beautiful stores with treasures I ogle. Want to write in my little attic room but Paris, irresistible.

December 11, 2009

Paris Interruptus

Dear Readers,

I am off to the city of lights. Perhaps reread "Light" while I am away... I'm going to do that. I will post notes to keep you informed about sights and moments, then write a new entry on my return. My thanks to all my readers and especially to my commenters. I am in your debt: readership has grown.

On the deeply personal side, I say, Let the Rom-Com roll. --Mary

December 06, 2009


I am about to travel to Paris. And before I embark, I contemplate the journey at stake.

In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, published in 1899, Chopin’s main character says, “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money. I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself, I can’t make it any clearer; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.” Like the character in Chopin’s novel, I am on the journey of discovering the totality of self—if that is ever possible.

Though writers (beware of the critic) and people who hope and fantasize are cautioned to be careful of dreams, I look to my dreams for answers about who I am. Here’s one: Keys on a thin metal ring. Collecting the keys of others, of boys so that they may not leave class, go back to their apartments. Beethoven playing. We in class are studying him section by section. The students are both kids and young men. My father’s face at the transom.

I must want D.’s keys. I must want him playing Beethoven.

Or do I?

The old Victorian in Adams Morgan where D. and I lived had old doors with transoms and mullioned windows that one doesn’t see in condos in downtown DC. I miss the house on Kalorama Road, my library, my writing room.

Or do I?

The houses have all gone under the sea.

At the gym some time ago, a beautiful married woman who wears diamonds to work out, asked me how I was. I said, “Lots of dates but no one.” “Would a man really make you happy?” she asked. I answered, “I think so.” But I wonder. Isn’t this a good question for me. Perhaps I have found my place in the world.

After all Thoreau went off to the woods and we are still reading him. What was his loneliness about? Or what was his solitude about, a better question.

And here I sit, ready to fly, with the longing for emotional memory, for the holding of life.

Last night I was watching Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. If that man with locked-in syndrome could do what he did, can I not do this? I can, I can.

I want to be the little engine that could. I want to recall those moments with Sarah, my philosopher daughter with her first book coming out in May, and with Ben, my son who is so hard on me now—he has no use for D. I long for our moments on the couch in the family room, watching Mr. Rogers. I like you just the way you are. What a comfort I found Mr. Rogers to be. I recall the yellow Dansk pot that I made Sarah’s “chocky” (her hot chocolate) in. The pouring of the hot liquid into her cup, her little hands pounding on the table waiting for it. I recall Ben when he was ten or eleven, standing in a doorway watching me cook. My children are grown now. One is in Paris where I will go; the other, in Australia on his vineyard.

I feel as if I am at the transom, high above the door frame looking through frosted glass at the life that lies before me, or better, at the one I am living, watching the way my father watched from the transom of my classroom in my dream. I feel him with me in the way I used to feel my mother after she died. He has been dead nine years and I feel him in the way I felt her then, as if he is coming to me.

I sense that my sexuality is involved here for my father was key to its emergence, to my sense of what it is like to be loved by a man. Did his fears infiltrate that knowing? Earlier here (see “Hypersensitive”), I have described my father’s quiet, his calm like the sense of the sea receding with the tide; his angles like a Giacometti sculpture in shadow at the edge of sand in fading light. But the flip side of his quiet was an abiding fear that he would lose one of us. I noted the angles of his body by the sea when he was old, some months after my mother had died. He stood on a beach in Hilton Head. D. and I had taken him with us on a business/vacation trip where we could swim, play tennis (my father used a Western grip and had a slice that could place the ball at the corner of the court). That day at the beach, D. went out far in the ocean to swim. My father walked the edge of the shore until D. came in, some forty minutes later. He must have watched me and my sister, both good swimmers, in that same way.

He came to his fears through loss: His mother and father came through a sewer with my father’s oldest sibling, an infant at my grandmother’s breast, during a pogrom in Russia when they left their parents and the life they knew to emerge on the other end in freedom. Much was gained, but the loss does not fade. I carry that loss and more because all my grandparents died before I was born and because I have lived through the devastating illnesses and deaths of my mother, my sister and my father. I wonder if my fear of loss is a legacy that I carry with me like the memory of my father and the way he paced the shore.

As I free myself or rather try to free myself from those fears, I sense my father’s face at the transom of my life. I hear his wish: It is time for you to do what I could not.

A transom is a strengthening cross bar set above a window or a door. And thus I am looking for a crossbar that gives me strength. A mullion is the vertical bar between the panes of glass. Do mullions and transoms form the pattern of a window, a window on what is next?

I see a woman at a house by the sea, a loose white dress, and the breeze across her face. I see a grassy plot where tea and wine and wind will begin the story.