Saturday, 25 January 2014

Hemingway, Paris

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young 

man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays 

with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Ernest Hemingway

I recently decided to pay a brief visit to Paris, and 

co-incidentally, came across Hemingway's A Movable Feast,   

in a second hand bookshop. If I'd read it before it must have 

been a long time ago, for I didn't remember anything about

it. But these Paris stories give a wonderful account of days 

and people, of cafés and writing, which reads almost like a 

journal, with its street names and details of café interiors

and bartenders & conversations with people 

whose names are so familiar to us now, Sylvia Beach,  

Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald. But this 

seeming-easy flow of days, and streets, bars and talk, is, of 

course, part of his craft. He is a supreme storyteller, 

sculpting, moulding, shaping, chopping and re-assembling 

his material into a finished product that turns raw experience  

into the kind of art form in a shop window that stops you in 

your tracks, like an elaborate many-tiered, decorated 

chocolate cake.

Of course A Movable Feast is nothing like a chocolate cake,  

resembling it only in terms of allure and delight, (that is, if 

you like chocolate as much as I do) but I use this comparison 

because that's the kind of shop window display that would 

bring me to a halt, in some Paris street. For it has to be

Paris streets that one imagines, reading A Movable Feast.

And then there's one's own memories of different times, 

images from one time moving seamlessly into another. O

damp mist by the Seine, of frost and yellow leaves on 

pavements, of hot sunshine and blue skies and the delicious, 

acrid metallic smell of the Metro.


Ce n'est pas pareil, he said. He was standing on the corner of 

Boulevard Barbes by Tati, and the busiest metro station in all 

of Paris so it seems, Barbes-Rochechouart. I'd just taken a 

slip of paper from someone standing 2 or 3 metres away

from him and I wasn't going to take another, thinking they 

were the same. But it's not the same he insists, and so I take 

his piece of paper too. They are both for wonder-workers,

the first, Maître Charles, the paper says, is medium voyant 

guérisseur and the second, Prof. Moro, promises to bring 

back a strayed lover within a week.

The light hurtles down the Boulevard Magenta turning 

people into misty wraiths, barely visible, except for their

long shadows, thin needles, only perceptible because they 

are in movement, like strokes of piano keys, sound 

transferred into light.

In the Marché Franprix, the man in front of me says to the 

girl at the caisse – je vous souhaite de bons rêvesthen,  

looking at the rest of us in the queue, a vous tous, he says. I 

heard him say earlier – j'ai beaucoup voyagé, but I didn't 

hear where he had travelled. He has white hair, sallow skin, 

a smiling face. The young woman smiles back. How 

wonderful to be wished good dreams by a friendly stranger.


The elderly man with a paint-spattered shirt is washing the 

stairs, slowly. I apologized to him when I came upstairs, 

treading on his newly washed steps. He looked neither 

displeased nor surprised. He just paused, to let me go past.  

My room is on the 4th. Floor. The light in my room is not 

working. So I walk back over the wet & shiny stairs,

down to the 3rd floor. I tell the man there's no light in my

room. I hesitate before doing this, as I do not know if it's 

anything to do with him. He washes the steps but is he also a 

handyman? Does he know how to make the lights work

Should I bother him, interrupt his work, with my problem? 

But I decide to tell him and right away he says attendez, je 

descends, reinforces this with a gesture indicating I should 

wait, and he goes off downstairs.

I wait on the 3rd floor landing. A couple of minutes later, I

see him coming slowly up the stairs again. I'm concerned 

about him, he moves so slowly, his health is clearly not good.  

He calls up, asks me if the light is working now. I check it, 

and it is. I call back, and thank him.


In the evening, I walk back from the internet café, to the 

crossroads at the metro Barbes-Rochechouard which is 

quieter now than it was earlier, late afternoon rush hour. 

There's a concrete underpass beneath the trains here, 

because from Stalingrad they come above ground, perhaps 

because of the canal Saint Martin I don't know, but the rails 

pass between a funnel of criss-crossing metal, a long bridge, 

supported on concrete pillars. So the underpass is roofed by 

the loop of railway, and it's an area that's grey and dark, 

black stains in the corners, crushed rubbish underfoot, but 

you know that no matter how hard people worked, it could 

never really look clean.

It was thick with people yesterday when I arrived, a clump of 

gendarmes by the barriers that fence off the road, and

groups of Arab men talking loudly, gesticulating, the traffic 

roaring past just beyond the barrier, and shrieking pulsating 

sirens. Today, a pompiers wagon was flashing its blue lights 

and sounding its trilling sirens, but the traffic was wedged 

tight, there was no room for anything to move out of its way, 

and the pedestrian light was on and people were crossing in 

a thick black tide, the traffic could not have moved forward 

without running into them and they just kept going.

Evening, it's quieter. I cross over to the corner with the neon 

sign Tati elevated high above the rooftops and a waterfall of 

sparkling white lights draped down the side of the building. 

On up the Boulevard Rochechouard, lined with bargain 

clothes shops, and turn right up the cobbled street that leads 

to Sacré Coeur. Souvenir shops on both sides, with stands 

loaded with scarves and hats. And in one of them I find the 

calenders I like so much and want to give as presents. They 

have the familiar images of Toulouse Lautrec posters of Le 

Chat Noir, Tour Eiffel, Moulin Rouge.


From Sacré Coeur I walk along to canal Saint Martin. I went 

there yesterday, walking from Saint Michel to République, 

the almost empty square with its many benches under trees, 

which would be full of people in the summer, but deserted 

now, and the statue of République herself, holding aloft 

something that looks like an olive branch though may not be, 

but is surely something significant of liberté, égalité and 


Past the art nouveau metro entrance at Temple,

to the tree-lined canal Saint Martin, 

Today I take a different route to the canal Saint Martin, but

it has none of the charm of the Magenta/République walk. 

Scaffolding and long stretches of nothing at all and not many 

people walking. At one point a crane was demolishing some 

buildings. The end of the crane has long metal teeth which 

pick delicately at a flimsy plastic partition, and pull it down. 

Several people, standing, watching. 


I go back to the cobbled street below Sacré Coeur to buy 

more calendars. The young man in the shop sings along to 

the music. When I remark on his happy mood he says C'est 

un bon matin, on chante...Oui, la vie est belle, n'est-ce pas? 

He wants to know where I'm from – He's studied at 

Newcastle University he says. He's been to Loch Ness too,

but he knows the monster story is just for the tourists.

It's very good for me this morning, to see someone smiling, 

 he says.

I say it's good for me, his happy, cheerful self.

But he insists it's better for him! La vie est belle!


You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong

to this notebook and this pencil.”


For a poet he threw a very accurate milk bottle.”

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Le Temoin Bleu - Blue Witness

Blue witness - southern France

Several years ago I talked with artist friends who I 

sometimes worked and exhibited with, about ways of 

presenting, showing and exhibiting art, ways of sharing, 

outside of the usual spaces of art galleries. In Edinburgh's 

Festival we are used to seeing art everywhere, performers, 

music, visual art, photographs, sculpture, readings and role 

playing on the streets, as well as in buildings so that the line 

between art and 'real life' whatever that is, is blurred to such 

an extent that you sometimes feel that just walking along a 

street is to take part in ongoing street theatre, a spontaneous 


I first saw poems on transport systems when 

travelling on Dublin's Dart train in the '80s, and I was 

delighted when poems of my own were displayed in 

Glasgow's Underground in the '90s, and on Edinburgh's 

buses. I've written about one of our exhibitions in the Blue 

Dolphin post here. And one of the artists has since created a 

blog, Forest Dream Weaver, to display her beautiful

paintings and wall hangings . I particularly like the way she 

has teamed up her paintings with photographs from nature, 

which has sometimes been the inspiration for her art.

Blue witness - Paris

Cities are places where a lot of people congregate and pass 

through, but there are other places where art can be created 

and Le Chemin des Grands Jardins shows the way Roger 

Dautais uses the materials he finds in nature to create land 

art. These intricate and sensitive creations may be seen by 

few people, perhaps by none at all, in their own

environment, but many of us are thankful that he takes 

photographs of them so we are able to see them on our 

screens, even if we will never see them in their own habitat.

The image reproduced with kind permission by Le Chemin 

Le témoin bleu de Kermadio pour Dritange

I was so pleased to have this one dedicated to me that I wrote

the quinta, 5-line poem, below, as a response to it.

comme des gouttes de pluie rouge

les baies penchent sur l’échelle de pierres

les gouttes rouges du temps -

les plus doux -

s’étendent vers le bleu, le témoin, l'originel

English version -

drops of red rain, 

these berries lean on the sculpture of stone -

red drops of time are the sweetest – 

they stretch up to the blue,

our first witness

Blue witness by the sea, Scotland, solstice