Monday, April 11, 2005

Beaucoup de catching up...

April 11, 2005
Alfortville, France

Beaucoup de catching up to do, and maybe a little explaining ...

The last week that I spent in Paris before going back to the US for my Easter visit, I was staying in the 15th arrondissment -- a charming place in a charming neighborhood, but alas no land line and no local cyber cafe, so I fell way behind on all things related to cyberspace. It was actually kind of nice, in some ways, to have a vacation from the computer. And I may have another break like that coming up again soon, as the laptop continues to be temperamental and I think she needs to go back to Guillaime for a check-up. But I do want to write about the visit I made to the Shoah memorial as soon as I get caught up here ...

So I got up at the crack of dawn on March 21 and made my way to DeGaulle airport to catch my flight to Cincinnati, only to be told by the Air France agents that I was booked for a flight on the 22nd, and no, there wasn't any space for me on that day's flight. So I called Adrian and she hooted and invited me to come back to Paris and spend the night on her couch. About the umpteenth time she's saved my life in this lifetime. The silver lining was that I had the chance to attend the opening night of Sophie Honeyman's performance on a paniche on the canal St. Martin that evening, "The Dream of the Red Pavilion." Sophie (Ian's wife) is a dancer who practices a (now) rare style of traditional Chinese dance. There was singing, too, and poetry recitation, and lute-playing and all kinds of intricate percussion, and gorgeous costumes and masks. I have this strange kind of luck, after all, because the paniche was packed and Ian was only able to get me a ticket because someone had cancelled at the last minute. And the late night walk back along the canal was lovely, too.

Thus I was able to get a good night's sleep on the couch at Chez Leeds, and made it back to the airport the next morning in plenty of time, in spite of the "greve" that meant most trains weren't running and so the streets were completely snarled, the traffic a mess. But I had a book to read in the shuttle and a pain aux raisins in my coat pocket. And there was still time enough at the airport for one last cafe creme, one last cigarette, before boarding my flight. And then it was smooth sailing all the way.

My brother John picked me up in Cincinnati in his big red truck and drove me out to Bullitt County -- a whole 'nother reality from Paris, but I like moving between these extremes. We picked up John's girls -- Kayleigh and Hannah, ages 11 and 7, respectively -- at their mother's house; they crowded into the cab of the truck between us and we all had a snack of M&M's straight from Hannah's purse. John and I stopped talking politics, at that point, because we were both just getting too depressed. I hadn't realized until I got back to the States what a relief it is not to be confronted with the idiocy and criminality of the Bush administration on a daily basis, to have at least some sense of psychic distance from the sad state of US politics ... Not to mention not having to look at those red, white and blue "W" bumperstickers on the highway.

Then it was on to Mom's, where some of the rest of the clan was waiting -- my brother-in-law David making a sandwich in the kitchen (the bumpersticker on his pick-up says, "George W. Bush is a punk-ass chump"); my niece Rachel and grandniece Chloe curled up on the couch together, taking a nap. Mom was at work until 10 p.m., so we all had a good time sliding around on the new kitchen floor in our stocking feet -- the Woloch version of synchronized swimming, invented one Christmas by my ex-brother-in-law, Jerome (once a Woloch, always a Woloch). I had to give Chloe a bath before I could get in the tub myself, then I sat up talking to Mom for a while after she got home from the Senseless Bureau, and finally passed out about 1 a.m.

I spent most of the week, when I wasn't catching up on paperwork, doing things like playing "Bad Barbies" ("Les Barbies du Mal," as Brendan Constantine says) with Chloe Balou, who is the most brilliant and beautiful 6-year-old in America. She's only in kindergarten, but she reads and writes and uses the internet and counts to a hundred in English and Spanish and puts pepper on her mac-and-cheese. She's also ticked off that she wasn't allowed to vote.

My other grandniece, Paige, had had a terrible accident on her bike the Sunday before I arrived, breaking her wrist and scratching up her face, and we were all terrified that she'd be scarred. But she was already healing beautifully when I saw her. She's a brave little thing, if a bit reckless. She told me, "Oh, I was going way too fast."

On Saturday, I drove to Lexington, because it just so happened that my visit in Kentucky coincided with the annual Kentucky Women Writers Conference. I was a presenter at the conference last year, and it was one of the best times I've ever had, so I knew it would be worth the trip. Besides, Christina Lovin, one of my former students at New England College — irony of ironies — was being presented with an award for a sonnet crown about coal mining she wrote when we worked together. So I got to hear Christina read, and Louise Gluck — who was amazing — and to see a lot of friends, like Jim and Mary Ann Hall, and Rebecca Howell, who puts the whole conference together. And I ran into Beth Ann Fennelly there — a surprise — and my old college pal, Terri Isaacs, who's now the mayor of Lexington and still a hoot. A bunch of us went to Natasha's later to hear The Bats. At first, we were told they didn't have a table, then someone saw T.I. and said, "Oh, but since you're with the MAYOR ..." The Bats are a rock 'n roll version of the L.A. HAGS and they threw pop tarts into the audience and sang about menopause.

Then I got to spend Easter Sunday with my family but, since it was raining, we had to cancel the Easter egg hunt. So I put on a pair of Chloe's bunny ears and hopped around handing out treats. And we all ate way too much chocolate and my nephew Jesse danced like a maniac in front of the t.v. ("Well, at least he's doing something PHYSICAL," Aunt Bobbi said.)

On Thursday, John took me back to Cincinnati and I caught my flight to Paris. Arrived in DeGaulle on a sunny Friday morning, took the RER to Alfortville, unloaded some of my luggage and showered and took the RER back to the Gare de Lyon to catch the TGV to Geneva. Jan picked me up at the station there and whisked me right to Off The Shelf bookstore, where a crowd was already drinking wine and waiting for the reading to start. I wasn't sure I'd be able to speak coherently, at that point, but the reading went well and there was a lively Q&A afterwards and the books sold like hotcakes. Then Jan and her husband John took me to dinner at a brasserie with a couple of their colleagues. Fascinating folks. It seems as if everyone in Geneva is associated with the UN or and NGO or the World Health Organization. So the political discussions are deep and wide and well informed. And everyone, but everyone, is completely bewildered by the rise of the American right wing and the popular support in the US for the Bush administration. What can I tell them?

I stayed with Jan and John that weekend, in their lovely apartment in Nyon — about fifteen minutes outside of Geneva — overlooking the castle and the lake. I led a workshop around their dining room table all day Saturday and most of the day on Sunday. I'd inadvertently left the power cord to my laptop in Alfortville, so when I wasn't teaching I relaxed, walked around the lake with Jan and John, looked at the Roman ruins being excavated, had lovely meals and stimulating conversations. There was a dinner party at their house on Sunday evening, and a lot of talk about the death of the pope and his legacy. The consensus seemed to be that, while he did wonderful things to promote peace, it was a tragedy that his position on contraception did nothing to slow the spread of HIV in Africa.

On Monday morning, I caught the TGV back to Paris, and returned to chez Poilloux in Alfortville. I'm staying here at Pierre's and Isabelle's, temporarily — they're off in Borneo with the children until late May — and it's been a nice little respite this past week. They left clean sheets on the bed for me, and lots of coffee, and sweet notes welcoming me to their home and telling me how everything works. I'm a ten minute RER ride — 20 minutes on the metro — from the center of Paris, and have lots of space to spread out and work, and lots of peace and quiet. I use their third floor apartment mostly for sleeping, and work in the big ground floor room, where the windows look out on the garden and the cherry tree that's in bloom, white blossoms falling on the patio like snow. The tulips are blooming, too. Simon is out there now, kicking around a soccer ball; his dad, Mario, is upstairs in their apartment on the second floor.

I've been going back and forth to Paris most days, for readings and brunches and dinners with friends. Getting some writing done, but also busily making final plans for the third Paris poetry workshop, which begins on Sunday night. Jim Hall's health problems prevented him from coming to Paris this spring for the workshop, but the whole poetry community here has rallied to help me keep the ball rolling. Jennifer Dick and Lisa Pasold and Ellen H. will be leading afternoon sessions, and Sarah Luczaj, who arrives from Poland on Friday afternoon. I'll be moving back into the photojournalist's apartment in the Marais this weekend, and spending two more weeks in Paris before hitting the road to London, Basel, and then on to the Carpathians.


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