Nothing to say about Paris

14 Nov

…except that after the hullabaloo on my Hajj comments, to stress that this is an attack on our Sacred City, and that I hope the response is commensurate.  I am Albanian after all.

Just a reposting of a couple of old Parisian posts of mine.

And begging Europe, PLEASE, to not take it out on the current desperate people flooding into the continent; they’re innocent and are fleeing the same animals.  If anything, I hope this produces some greater empathy; they’ve lived through days like yesterday in Paris on a regular basis.

And since the attackers are highly unlikely to be recent immigrants……but European born, I intend to cancel my subscription to any publication — Times, New Yorker, New York Review of Books — that now shoves some sap-story article about the alienated youth of the banlieues in my face…for example: “The Other France: Are the suburbs of Paris incubators of terrorism? By George Packer“​ — no matter how much I respect the writer, the journalism or the publication itself.

How should the inhabitants of American inner cities — with their far greater economic misery and alienation and hopelessness and violence and what’s come to be systematic murder at the hands of authorities — be responding, then, to the conditions of their lives?




It gets harder to leave Paris every time.  That my departure falls exactly on the eve of Lent today makes it a bit more melancholy but a bit easier to take as well.  “Here,” I think, “I’ll lose this for now; maybe again soon I’ll have it back.”  Like any Lenten action, you might have to have it taken away to keep the edge of your love for it sharp and even.  I dunno.

I don’t need to tell readers that I’m totally unembarrassed by my sheer, sappy sentimentality and ready-to-die-for loyalty to this city.  You can keep the unkempt disorder of dank, mouldy London and its claustrophobic spaces and the nightly threat of getting the shit beaten out of you at 11:00 when the pubs close (I’ve never in a lifetime in New York City, even as a teen during the Dark Ages of the seventies and eighties, felt that kind of menace on that kind of regular basis) and whatever it is that everybody suddenly decided is so cool about it since the nineties.  You can keep sehr-hip Berlin with everyone in their funky Libeskind glasses and with that constant annoying earnest look, or the architectural wonders of Oslo and the new cosmopolitanism of the Rotterdam waterfront or the New Pittsburgh — or friggin’ B-a-r-c-e-l-o-n-a — or any of the other newly minted urban centers that found some way to remake their grimness over as cutting-edge in the post-industrial world and that supposedly left Paris behind in the dust.  I’ll take her over any of them at any time.

Something here, if you’re susceptible to it, makes you sick forever.  Forever.  It’s a promise of perfection, of a possible and absolute Attic kind.  Of perfect image, of perfect moment.  Of what Hadrian felt for Athens, having just seen a stage production of Yourcenar’s book here.  In Athens, a young man bending over to lace up his sandal.  Here, a girl wrapping her scarf; the posture and composure of the kid refilling your glass — that twist of the wrist that slays; the highly conscious, almost Japanese rituals of courtesy exchanged with even everyday shopkeepers.  Some fleeting view of what the civilized ideal looks like, rushing past you in a furtive but powerful array of images all day and all night.  And all marked by the supremely intelligent understanding that it all starts on the surface — that that’s what counts — and that it works its way down from there.

New York holds out a radical promise too, but of a very different sort, and New York makes it clear that you’ll have to suffer so much to obtain it that you’ll be too exhausted to actually live it in the end. And I’m from there anyway and don’t have that outsider’s magic belief that some kind of fulfillment is waiting for me there “if only just…”  Just nothing; it’s just my hometown; superior to all the rest — obviously — for the simple reason that it contains the whole world, but really just home.  Queens.  Here it’s not about something you’re expected to achieve necessarily; it’s about being part of a life as it should be lived.  There’s no being more specific than that; it’s just the way things should be.  The myth is so overpowering and myth is our only reality anyway and when, of course, it falls short, as everything in a fallen world does, that doesn’t heal the sickness.  It just makes it worse because the temptation to keep wishing the moment frozen grows as any real possibility of that recedes.  And I guess that means ultimately that the secret of what makes leaving Paris each time that much harder is just age.

I discovered a cousin I had never known before who lives here, an experience like finding a beautiful old photograph of someone you don’t know in a shoebox in the back of a closet.  “…you’re never through with the city…” she wrote me, after we had had coffee one morning.


Paris, Gare Montparnasse, March 2, 2014



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