—From the Fool—
This week I decided I had to be somebody else. I can’t be a Fool any more. Or, okay, I can be if I can make some money out of it. I’ve never had a problem with money—it just fell into my hands when I needed it, like the wormy apples my dad used to pick. But now I’ve got inspiration, and that costs money. Her name is Genevieve. Or that’s her professional name—her real name is Luann.
I wouldn’t say it was love. More like just making a deal. She’s a friend of my sister and did her a favor, so my sister told me it was time for me to settle down and get a purpose in life. So why don’t I marry Luann?
My sister’s more of a success now. The brothel she’s at now throws guys out if they’re drunk, and that’s a big step up. And she just finished paying off her student loans. In fact Luann recommended her to that place, since they want to go more upscale there and she’s got a B.A. in Comp Lit. My sister casually mentions she’s reading Baudelaire, and the client thinks that’s pretty hot stuff.
Point being she wanted to hook me up with Luann because Luann wants to get out of customer service jobs. She said Luann can cook, so I said okay. Which gave Luann pause. “You agreed pretty fast,” she said, and asked why I’d marry a hooker. “My sister told me to,” I said. I wondered why she’d marry a Fool.
But she said I’d have to get a job with a future. I don’t know how you figure if it’s got a future since people can’t tell if there is one. But I’ll give it a try. I’ll talk to Benny next week. He’s got a lot of advice that he doesn’t use, so he likes to give it away.
I really like cemeteries. Every year a group of our friends gather in a little local cemetery to have a Victorian picnic gathering, snacking in long gowns under the majestic oaks and then reading/hearing Victorian poetry. This is not the usual image of “cemetery,” flat and disciplined, it’s the local rolling meadows and trees with a genial gathering of many forms of stone remembrances, some flat, some towering, some playful.
This last week I spent five hours in the amazing Paris cemetery, Pere Lachaise. Not my first visit—I saluted Jim Morrison long ago—but this is the first time I was able to devote the best part of a day.
At the top of my list were the lovelies of the louche, and I had to choose carefully because my mobility was limited. Colette. Piaf. Abelard and Heloise. Oscar Wilde. Moliere. And then the souls who perished in the obscenities we regularly generate—Nazi death camps, the slaughter of 147 members of the Paris Commune (actually perpetrated right against the cemetery wall).
All have some visible form of remembrance. It’s a little city of the departed, with alleys and houses and curving streets, as crowded as a favela and as rich with stories. One pays respects.
This time, my keenest visit was Piaf. When Conrad and I met in 1960, our regular hang-out was a seedy café that offered really good hot chocolate (when you could find a waitress) and a jukebox that included “Milord.” That scrappy intimate voice singing of love and survival, coming from a “shadow of the streets” was imprinted on our love’s beginning.
Yes, Piaf has a stone, but the real remembrance is in our hearts.
For me, travel isn’t about relaxing or having a good time, it’s about what happens that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t bought the ticket. Usually an equal measure of joy and sheer grind—about the same proportions as if you’d stayed at home, but different.
I arrived in Paris on Thursday, checked into the hostel, went out for a heavy meal, slept. Friday, up early to go to the Louvre, walking along the Seine from Hotel de Ville. Much time in the Louvre spent looking for stuff, but got a new appreciation for Delacroix and an equally profound disgust for David. And a long indulgence in the curvatures of the Venus de Milo—the mob of tourists in front sends you around to the sides and back, where the action is. Then to the Delacroix house/museum—very peaceful after the scream of the Louvre and its vast expanse—that whole complex extending in one vast walrus-wallow for at least six long blocks. Fortunately only a small part of it is dedicated to art, else all the art of the world would be imprisoned there. Then back to the hostel via the grocery store, a bottle of wine (all mine) and a copious sardine salad.
Between the wine and the sardines I didn’t get much writing done, but Saturday I actually finished Chapter 15 of the 7th draft of Galahad’s Fool, and it feels readable at last. Elizabeth was coming in from Zurich, and the day before I’d found a small neighborhood pharmacy that could order rental of a wheelchair. We’d debated the need, with her slowly-mending hip, but seeing the distance to traverse in the Metro, even despite the stairs, it seemed a wise decision. They would only rent if by the week, but the weekly rate was only 25 euros, less than what I thought we’d have to pay per day.
Before picking up the chaise roulante and taking the Metro to the Gare de Lyon to meet her train, I took a quick jaunt to the Musee des Arts et Metiers, an exhibit of science & technology mainly from the 18th to 21st Centuries. Two artifacts struck me. One, a robot vacuum cleaner for factories, programmable to follow an exact itinerary, accurate within maybe a centimeter. A wondrous achievement—for whom? The workers it replaces will not, I fear, reap the benefits. Will they all be retrained to find work in the new technologies? Or their work hours cut from 40 to 15, with the same pay and benefits, as was envisioned in the wishful sci-fi of Fifties? Certainly, when pigs fly.
The other high point was, to me, very moving. Two scale models of workmen building the Statue of Liberty—the head, the neck and the crown. In one, they’re completing the full-size plaster cast, the scaffolding up to the crown, a single workman about the length of her nose. In the second, they’re burnishing elements of the metal casting—same lady, same size, but a different set of skills. To me, there was something about the sheer magnitude, the grubby work involved, the collaboration, the careful crafting of pieces that would have to cross the ocean and then fit flawlessly—that gave me thought.
So, I picked up Elizabeth, wheel-chaired her back 2.2 kilometers to the hostel, then up to the grocery, and she made a memorable supper in the almost nonexistent facilities of the kitchen there. I’d been sleeping two days in a men’s dorm, and now we transferred to a private room—downside being that it’s on the 4th floor, with only a bunk bed. But it’s actually quite cozy. There’s a lift, but you have to summon the desk clerk to operate it and it’s so small that while Elizabeth is lifted aloft, I have to carry the wheelchair up 4 flights of stairs.
Sunday was all museums. Out early to the Musee Picasso, a goodly sampling of stuff and good commentary. Most of his famous works are elsewhere, but I was mainly struck by the pieces that were theme-and-variations: a series of assemblages around the theme of “guitar” and two series of drawings based on classical paintings. The capacity for endless exploration, unstoppable—is that the essence of genius? I’ve been moved by some of his paintings to the depth I’ve been moved by Rembrandt, but the deepest impact, I think, is simply in the mad intensity of his creative urge.
And then to the Pompidou’s grand expanse of modern & contemporary art—preceded by a lunch of falafel, fries & beer. I wasn’t really that open to this one, except for a huge plaster “bride” by Nikki de Saint-Phalle and a small room of Rouault, whom I’m a sucker for. One surprise, though, was the fact that we traversed both museums free of charge: for people with disabilities and their attendants, admission was free. The websites stated that documentary proof was required, but the wheelchair proved adequate. As the ticket lady at the Picasso said, they knew that Americans didn’t have disability cards, since we have the freedom to die without government interference. (She didn’t state it quite like that.) A bonus for endurance.
Which brings me to the peroration of this screed. (I love the word screed.) As a card-carrying liberal, of course I’ve always supported “handicapped access” in all its various forms, even when there’s no parking except two vacant handicapped-only spots. But I never felt it until I was wheeling the love of my life across Paris, spotting the curbs, trying to see if the chair would go smoothly up the next cut or if it’d hit the extra quarter-inch of concrete and bounce her out. I slowly learned the technique. She’s able to get up from the chair and stump up or down stairs with effort, but the difference between a lift and a dozen steps is vast. Until one has had the experience—either as disabled or as attendant—I think we see those “access” elements as something we do for “those less fortunate.” Perspective changes when it’s ourselves. More to say about this, leave it there for now.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016