French Friends

Today was a day of reconnecting with French friends. First was lunch with Jean-Marie Jacquème and Joyce Heard, who drove from their home in Aix-en-Provence to spend the weekend in Nice. Joyce and I were staffers together at The Harvard Crimson a long time ago, and Jean-Marie is the man she moved in with 20 years ago when she was a struggling expatriot in Paris and found out he had a dishwasher. I know this from editing a wonderful memoir titled "Just Desserts" that Joyce wrote and that will appear in the May 1st edition of Wazee Journal.

Jean-Marie is an impish, emotional man who seems always just about to say something hilarious, or else to break down in tears. He is tremendously good company and a fellow e-chronicler of various travels, in his and Joyce's case, to Morocco, Paris and all over. This shared passion made me look forward to seeing Jean-Marie outside of the virtual world, knowing we would both be toting digital cameras and probably writing about the day. Jean-Marie has not yet made the jump from e-mailed posts with photos to a blog, and I pitched him hard on the advantages of blogdom. For now, you can't see his witty posts, written in French, unless you are on his mailing list.

For supper, we reconnected with Françoise Philippe, our house-swapping friend who drove over from Cannes. She delighted Darlene by presenting her with a playfully ornate purse swirling with lace and brocade, a late birthday present, and then we all had lots of catching up to do over a dinner of mussels. Françoise's English and my French are about evenly matched, so we switch back and forth depending on who's getting the most tired. Darlene waits for English to return whenever we move along in French for a while, but that is likely to change after the two-month immersion in French. I appreciated Françoise's supporting me in worrying about Darlene's idea of buying a miniature Yorkie here in France and taking it home. "How will you travel?" she asked. "You must wait until you are old and stop traveling to have a dog." But for all my resistance to the idea of un chien, I found myself stopping a woman with a miniature Yorkie at an ATM on the way to lunch. Uh-oh. The impossible simply takes Darlene a little longer than the difficult. She has already named the dreaded critter. You guessed it: Fifi.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A woman named Carmen holds Margot, her 14-year-old Yorkie, this morning on Macarani Avenue in Nice. Posted by Hello

Le Blog and The Book

A French blogger reports an apparent first, at least in France: A book whose cover displays the author's blog address. Will this become the norm, as prevalent a stop on the author's slog toward building audience as the book tour? In a comment to the post, the book's author says his blog came first, and that he was not forced by his publisher to do a blog for publicity's sake. Well okay, but I suspect that soon he will be one of the last authors to be able to make that claim. Authors (and artistes?), start your blogs!

Tomorrow (April 2) will be the last day until May 28th that The Chronicles will appear in English. While Darlene and I are immersed in French at Institut de Francais in Villefrance-sur-mer, I plan to write only in French and to limit my reading of English as much as possible. Family and friends, in preparation for this obsessive move. have had decent results copying and pasting French and English into this web site, which provides instant translations for both languages, as well as a long list of others, including Portuguese and Korean.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Four Ways of Looking at Nice

This afternoon in the old city. Posted by Hello

Darlene with her French dictionary in the garden of Musee D'Art Moderne et D'Art Comtemporain. Posted by Hello

Spring in full bloom at the Musee garden. Posted by Hello

You may have seen the postage stamp. Here is the orignal "Love," a 1966 oil painting by Robert Indiana of New Castle, Indiana, USA. Posted by Hello

Insomniac Links

Items found on the web between 3 and 6 am while not sleeping in Nice:

Japanese consumers, always just ahead of us in techno-life, are reading full-length books on their cell phones. Wired's witty headline: Cell Phones Put to Novel Use.

Three days before Darlene and I plunge into French immersion at Institut de Francais at Villefranche-sur-mer, I am testing the water with these blogs: le blog litteraire, les republiques des livres, la Muselivre and lafeuille.

Barry Hannah, a captivating Southern novelist who visited the Bennington MFA program while I was there, is doing better. (via Denver's celebrity lit blogger, The Rake, soon to tell all in a wide-ranging interview coming in Wazee Journal, conducted by the staff of The Chronicles.)

Robert Creeley died Wednesday. A fine poet and a fine human, qualities not always celebrated in the same person. Voluminous poet blogger Ron Silliman posts a heartfelt tribute here and links to obits in The Washington Post and The Times of London.

UPDATES(via Beatrice): Creeley's NYT obit here. A 1998 interview here that includes this typically guileless quote by Creeley about why writers write:

Williams says he'd rather go off and die like a sick dog than be a well-known literary person in America. A poll taken on the streets of Manhattan discovered that less than one percent could tell who Norman Mailer was. Poets write, I do believe, because they have to—it's something nothing else quite satisfies. One has to do it—compulsively. I remember Carl Rakosi saying before we were to teach at Naropa some years ago ( we were musing over just how to proceed): "Well, the last thing poets need is encouragement!" They'll do it come hell or high water. My own "acceptance and recognition" came from peers, as Olson, Duncan, Paul Blackburn, Denise Levertov, Cid Corman—and elders like Williams and Zukofsky. The company is what matters.

Darlene has been gamely trying to sleep as I click away on the Vaio next to her in the dark. As usual, I resent sleep's demands: log off now or pay for it this afternoon in stumbling fatigue as we roam Nice on our first full day in France. Over and out...

Nice to be in Nice

We arrived in Nice this afternoon just in time for a change in the weather. While we were buying cell phones, it rained and the temperature dropped nearly 10 degrees, to the 50s. Walkers on the Promenade des anglais in front of our hotel bustled along to keep warm. A two-hour nap recharged brain and body, but that missing night's sleep still keeps us considerably off balance. All four bags made it from Boston. The Hotel Mercure has a spanking wi-fi connection and a deep bath tub, so everybody's happy.

The cell phone signup at Bouygues Telecom was incredibly complicated and lasted an hour and a half. But through it all, our saleswoman, who spoke fairly good English, showed remarkable patience and ease, even though we knew she was well past her scheduled departure, and she hadn't had lunch. She interrupted our signup to visit with others who came in, then she kept people waiting while she explained to Darlene how the French write the number 1 in a way that looks like a 7 and other fine points of language and culture. No one seemed to be in much of a hurry, but things were getting done in a professional manner. I could detect some subtle difference in human rhythms here, a softer way of being in each other's presence, less inner pressure than I usually feel whenever I am waiting in line for anything.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Darlene stretches out with a good book on British Airways 212 which arrived 15 minutes early at Heathrow in London. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

More Tired than I Thought...

Okay, this is my third attempt to post to the blog, and each version gets less euphoric about making it to Heathrow on an easy flight featuring lots of free space, great food, and a French movie I've been wanting to see for months, "A Very Long Engagement." Each version of the post is less flowery and now this one is haunted by the probability that when I click on "Publish Post" this text will mysteriously disappear down the ethernet connection of UK Explorer. So that's it. The happy campers are in London, glad the coffee kiosk is open at 6 a.m., so we can keep it together to find our way to the British Airways flight to Nice in a couple of hours.

My father and I after lunch at Legal Seafoods in Harvard Square. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

My mother and I in a card shop in Harvard Square. Posted by Hello

Darlene waits for Flight 491 to leave Denver. Posted by Hello

Jet Blues

Denver International Airport

JetBlue's nonstop flight from Denver to Boston costs $99 one way. But Darlene has never been a fan of the 10-minutes-to-midnight departures, the 5:30 am arrivals at Logan, and the comatose daze in which we arrive at my parents' home in Cambridge. She is a woman who needs nine hours of solid sleep a night. I seldom get a good night's sleep anyway, so I've taken a perverse pleasure in the JetBlue red-eye flights. Insomnia loves company. We had the 9:25 p.m. RTD bus from Market Street to ourselves and arrived at the airport relaxed, glad the packing was over, looking forward to the start of our three-month sojourn in France.

But as we stood in line at JetBlue, I saw a scrolling digital announcement that our flight was delayed two and a half hours. For several moments I delayed telling Darlene, but she was going to find out sooner or later, and I had no Plan B. Now she is sleeping on the carpet at Gate A35. It is 12:45 a.m. We have been told we will begin boarding at 2 a.m. All the bookstores and restaurants are closed. Everyone looks as if they are underwater--moving slowing, speaking softly. I've had fun flying JetBlue to Boston, but I'm no fool. I know it's over. She didn't even have to say so.

Good Fences

Here's what a 28-year-old writer whose second novel just made the New York Times best-seller list has to say about writing:
The hardest part is getting away from self-consciousness. The easiest part, once I’ve done that, is the writing itself. I spend so much time trying not to get in the way of myself, trying not to question if things are smart, trying not to question if things are funny. It’s like huge crowds of people pushing against a fence, like you see at a soccer match or something. And then the fence is torn down and everyone just runs around on the field and it’s great. That’s sort of what it’s like. There are all these fences in oneself that are restraining you and restraining your natural instincts, and once you can get rid of those it’s very easy.
Well, running around the field is certainly fun when it happens. But without all that pressing against fences, I doubt the joy would be so great, or the writing so good. I am coming, lately, to more of an appreciation of all that I used to think restrained me--New England family traditions and hangups, bouts of depression, crappy knees, sexual taboos--because they seem so central to my life, and my life feels more and more precious the longer it lasts. Which is not to say that I have given up on letting my natural instincts loose to play in the world and in my words. But in my sixth decade, those instincts have smartened up enough to look for a gate to the soccer field, so they can run around on the grass with the fences still standing and fewer fans trampled.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

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