The Snow Painter

In the Musee des Beaux-Artes at Rouen, France they keep their best paintings in the corner. A tiny room, a third the size of most in the gallery, it contains several Impressionist classics, including Monet’s take on the cathedral from St. Catherine’s Hill and a windblown plazascape which makes you shiver and feel alone in the world.

But the painting that grabbed my heart was Alfred Sisley’s take on a couple walking towards (or away from?) a village in the snow. So much sentiment he packed into the painting, so many suggestions… why do we go out in the snow? To be cold? Why? It’s these really naive but also really old questions that really interest me.

This poem is an obvious riff on Wallace Steven’s The Snow Man. It’s not the first time I’ve riffed it, and it definitely won’t be the last – I love The Snow Man, and have a relationship with it, and my appreciation of winter and snow is colored by it.

My writing is a lot like my cooking. I make the same dishes over and over again, refining them, twisting them, learning the role each ingredient plays, and always paying homage the source.

The Snow Painter

Sisley made his mind into winter
in order to describe
two intwined in the white hush
crunching towards town, the inn
where smoke rose from the chimney –

And far from misery, Sisley
said without a word how it’s better
to be cold, and going to be warm
than to be warm forever –
January now. Wait. Make warm soon.

She crunched. Accompanied him to the inn.
Couldn’t conceive an other that wasn’t.
Even the land is composed of our ticks
tocking to the wind which is cold, or isn’t –
no snow can deny her her perceiving.

Spring in Paris

Then one warm afternoon in late April the air comes alive with white gnats. Only they aren’t gnats. They’re seed pods. Because even the trees are so astounded by the cult of warmth spreading that they’re shooting their seed into it.

Too busy bursting to notice that already the spreading is slowing…

Warmer Today

the pop of a cork from a terrace
5:15, a Tuesday in Paris
the last of this March.

one nose in the noisy mess
falling down the Boulevard de Port-Royale
foaming home, bubbling home, pouring home.

Why I Love Paris – The Short Answer

Paris has juice.

It’s not the only place, of course. San Diego has juice. The Bay Area’s floating in it. Seattle has juice. Even SLO has juice, though you have to go looking for it. I think Portland has juice – I’ll find out this fall.

I’ve learned by banging my head against the wall a hundred times – You find a place in the world with juice, you get in there and guzzle up. Don’t be shy, or picky, and for God’s sake don’t be cynical about it. Just drink. Learn to like it if you don’t. Because if you down enough, and if you’re also disciplining yourself and exercising properly too, you’ll get ripped on it.

What do I mean by Juice? I mean this:

Interested people doing interesting things.

Paris is merrily, warmly, wonderfully, wantonly drowning in its own juice. A flavor I’ve never had anywhere else. I’d like to call it Pamplemousse, because that’s such a fantastic word, but there’s a better title for the essence of Paris:

Supreme devotion to the savoring of detail.

All over Paris, on the streets, in the cafes and brasseries, in the markets, in the artisan shops and in the metro, in the parks and along the Seine, on the Champs Elysees and in La Goutte d’Or, in the Arab groceries and in the tower mazes of La Defense, you find the juice. You watch long enough and learn a little of the language, you start to see how it’s made. Study the processes. See how you can make it on your own back home. And of course, provided you can pay, you can guzzle all you want.

When you’ve had your fill of Paris, you pay up and leave, like anywhere. But you don’t forget the taste. Or what you’ve learned. And if you squeeze your arms, you can feel the nice muscles you’ve built on the delicious juice of Paris.

La Première Semaine à Paris

Paris on a Friday night. A gargantuan meal at Chez Denise – Tripe au Calvados which is the French menudo, then a big hunk of baba au rhum. The midnight metro, packed with kids buzzing on Friday. Jazz in a cave, a walled up part of the catabomb, beers and stumbling home at 3AM over the Montagne Sainte-Genevieve, remembering the same mistaken turns stumbling home in the same state in 1998 and taking them anyway.

Market shopping on a Spring Saturday. A wander up the Mouffe going oh that looks good, oh that smells good. A pungent cheese, a nice sausage, a good baguette and a bottle of Languedoc pink make a nice lunch. A million bones in the catacombs. Chocolat Chaud on the sidewalk at Deux Magots in the interim between a spring rain and a spring hail. The Italian shop across the street makes the best gnocchi, and I make the best tomato-cream sauce.

Lazy Sunday arranging things in my new apartment. Everything in town is closed but the cafes and the big stores, and it’s ok because I shopped on Saturday. A long walk home from the Gare de l’Est, and it’s impossible to get lost in Paris if you have money in your pocket, because there’s never a need to go anywhere but somewhere warm with good food and good drink.

Monday morning and I ain’t gotta go to work so I get up real late. A lazy walk up the Mouffetard to the Place de la Contrescarpe and a coffee at the cafe.

My first poulet roti, with pomme puree riding shotgun and a bottle of Chablis for company.

Long morning hikes to the Seine and to Montparnasse for coffee on the sidewalk at Cafe Odessa.

Wine shopping at Caves Augé, only the most beautiful little wine shop in the world. When it’s time for lunch the kids working there put a table out on the sidewalk and lay out a spread, with a simple bottle of red burgundy of course. I ask about it and they say, sure, this is a very nice bottle. I get a Cote du Rhone red too, and a nice Loire white to have with oysters, and take the metro home to work.

Friday. I head to the Sacre Couer, thinking Ah wow this is where they hacked Denis’s head off and then he carried it down the hill giving a sermon the whole way – but it’s foggy and there no view, and the thing is swarmed with tourists, and hawkers assailing the tourists, and people pretending to enjoy this beautiful place but mostly feeling frustrated and there’s the pervasive sense of ‘I spent 12 hours on a flight for this, fuck, well at least I’ll get a gazillion photos.’ I don’t take any. I leave the throng. I walk down the other side of Montmarte, find a quiet cafe, have a beer in the sun. Better than any damn cathedral anyway – even the Sacre Couer.

A good week working and living in Paris. Ready for another – but first, a lazy Saturday afternoon cuddling up to that very nice bottle of premier cru Pinot Noir.