Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Flâneur

Oct 2, The Flâneur

Skip slept most of yesterday. Hard to describe the peculiar kind of loneliness that sets in during these times when he sleeps all day. I’ve lived alone and we certainly don’t spend all our time at home together, but his post chemo sleeping doesn’t leave me feeling exactly free to do what I want. And it makes me terribly aware of the fact that Skip’s just not here in quite the same way. Not at all the good feeling I have when I’m watching a movie and he’s at work in his studio, for example—or when he’s taking a short nap in the den. Preferable to seeing him in pain, certainly. But lonely.

So, I began reading Edmund White’s Flâneur. It’s a slender book based on the conceit that you can walk from one end of Paris to the other in a brief period of time. As he takes us through each arrondissement, and quartier, he gives background: historical and literary mainly. Not the tour book kind—oh, it’s informative but also gossipy as can be. Fun read and beautifully written.

And it brings memories. Reading the description of the Marais, the Jewish quarter in Paris, brought back vivid memories of the hot summer when we sublet an apt on the Rue Vieille du Temple— a place so tiny the owner had stuck little bits of foam on the edges of all the furniture. Insurance, we supposed, against her large and clumsy American “guests” impaling themselves on a bookcase in her absence.

The apartment was near Goldenberg’s deli and the twisty little courtyards where Rabbis presided over everything—even the parfumeries and the dress shops had a resident Rabbi. There were falafel stands and, sometimes, too many memories. Once I saw a woman crying near the place where, she told me, she had last seen her mother. Another time, we found a bench outside what appeared to be the only Catholic Church around. Pretty little garden spot, lush with flowers, set in from the walkways of the courtyard (there is—or at least was at that time—always du monde on the streets in the Marais. Lots of people walking). As we bit into our falafel/pita sandwiches, we noticed what we hadn’t seen before, a small plaque stating matter of factly that a major deportation of Jewish children had taken place from that very spot. One of the few places in Paris where WWII collaboration was acknowledged and marked. I snapped a photo of the plaque and then, without a word, we packed up our lunch and moved on—

That summer, a large ACT UP action was being organized in the Marais. Everywhere we looked, it seems, posters exhorted us to hit the streets to demand that something be done about the AIDS scandal that had recently broken in the French press. Health officials had knowingly shipped AIDS (SIDA, in French) tainted blood to hospitals, with predictable results. For the gay population, not only the crime itself but the public reaction was an issue. Those infected through contaminated transfusion were depicted as “innocent” victims of the disease, and the gay community was understandably pissed off. “As though the rest of us are guilty,” one flyer read. And “we are all innocent victims”—a play on the 1968 slogan students had chanted when Daniel Cohn-Bendit was slated to be deported back to Germany. “Nous sommes tous les juifs allemands” (“we are all German Jews;” read “we are all scapegoats; we are all outsiders”)

A large manifestation was planned. In a misguided attempt to show it understood, the health ministry had mounted some kind of AIDS public awareness campaign. Huge posters showing closeups of people’s faces—beautiful, pristine, unmarked faces-- were everywhere. The tagline was always the same. “I am sero-positif. Would you… [sit next to me on the bus, eat in the canteen with me, etc?]” One placard showed a young man with an earring. Someone had altered the tag so that it read “I am sero-positif. Would you fuck me?” And many of the posters had been changed to show lesions on the beautiful models’ faces.

Long talk with my gay cousin, Mark, yesterday. Mark was with us in Paris the summer of 1985—not the summer I’ve been describing, but an earlier one. I remember one night we took a long, crazy, Edmund White-like walk all the way across Paris and I plan to send him this book when I’ve finished reading it. Now, Mark works in palliative care and he phones me regularly to discuss Skip’s pain medication—all business and chemical formulas, so different from the way he usually sounds. But toward the end, we always fall back into casual conversation.Mark adored my mother and recently we had a long talk about her. When he first moved to San Francisco, he told me, she kept him pretty close. “I didn’t really start going to clubs until I moved to New York,” he said. “Theresa’s the reason I’m alive today.”

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing this.