Every hour of every day I hear the pulsating rush of le Periph and I am reminded that Paris is dead. My dorm is at the very bottom of Paris such that if the city were a ball I’d be the spot that hits the ground. I sit in my windowsill. I watch cars drive on the highway in an unending flow, like blood in veins, fish in streams, but they’re all metal idols of life. Life does not go this fast. Life stops to take a rest.
It seems to me that Paris died forty years ago and is now taxidermic like the fawn I saw guarding an antique shop in the 9th arrondissement. Someone must have prepared the fawn’s body to be preserved, then sewn a tailored military uniform for its cartoonish appearance. Through the window it looks perfectly reanimated and proud to be enlisted in the French infantry. Up close it’s just dusty and reminds me that it has been dead for a long time.
Something stopped in Paris in the 1980s. I think it happened when Parisian food stopped developing. You love French food until you live in Paris and then you decide you can’t have another meal of meat, cheese, butter and bread. A waiter in a French café will serve you a brown omelette, ignore you until you’ve properly begged for the check, and proceed to charge you 14 euros. Paris is proud of its food. They won’t change it any time soon. Read more »
Because I can’t just watch from inside the house any longer. Because the sun is setting behind grey clouds during a Chicago winter. Because you can’t recognize how dark it is getting until the streetlights switch on all at once. Because you don’t realize how cold your hands get while shoveling snow away from your tires until you try to fail to wrap them around the steering wheel. Because you’ve been working all day or because you’re late to work all night, and this snowstorm was the worst thing that could have happened.
Because it’s been fifteen, thirty minutes now and your terrifically impractical silver sedan hasn’t moved, and because I can see even through the window, even through the dim winterlight, that your tires needed to be changed years ago, because they are smooth as rubber bands and the two rear wheels spin wildly, freely, disobeying God or Newton or the settings of the universe.
Because two pedestrians, a greying white man and a woman out on a walk, they have already come to the rescue and because I am just sitting inside and watching. Because they shiver in the cold and I am warm. Because they have scavenged cardboard from the alley to put under the tires for traction and because this cardboard is already shredded and dampened and useless. Because I have dry cardboard and car mats stashed away. Read more »
On the Praza do Obradoira a young man falls to his knees and cries into his palms. I feel the sharp corners of the rocks dig into his aching knees. He can’t be older than 30 and at the sight of him I feel infantilized, because I am immature in passion and devotion. I could be filled with the feelings that bring him to tears right now but I am immature.
He is a modern-day pilgrim. He wears a large green backpack and his face is unshaven. His blonde hair is messy and his clothes are dirty. His father, standing behind him to the right, and his mother, to his left, are pilgrims too and match this description. But they are not on their knees and he is on his knees.
He has been walking for over thirty days, over ten miles each day, to complete the Camino de Santiago, or the way of Saint-James. And now he is prostrate before this, the revered Santiago de Compostela. Now his vision is spotted with tears which blend and blur the sharp stone lines; he sees a watercolor of the Cathedral.
He looks up at it, his destination. I’m already inside, looking out on the square. I imagine the Cathedral from his eyes. The Baroque facade raises powerfully into the sky. It is intricate to the point of complication and confusion. You can really only focus on a small section at any given moment. The town is small but many villagers walk through the square around you. Some hug you and some cheer for you and some pray over you.
I don’t know what faith is but I find it beautiful from the exterior. Read more »
The door to the lounge is heavy. Six students enter and sit on large bean bags and a small couch and two cots. They laugh as someone struggles to connect their computer to the television. Behind or between them is a plate with writing in Hebrew, directing attention to the metal door set into the floor. It leads to the common room on the floor below as I’ve been told. The television is turned on and the lights are turned off; but no, the room does not become a dark void with their focus turned to the screen. Eerie green light radiates from the corners, where glow-in-the-dark tape has been pasted. Here, the common room is a bomb shelter. The students who live here brush it off; but I, the visitor, cannot shake the idea of that heavy door slamming shut and the lights going out and the room filling with green and the cots being shared by the six of us.
The students at NYU Tel Aviv are caught in the middle. Fortunately they have not been in any danger—unlike many because of the conflict between Israel and Palestine—but in Tel Aviv they are stuck in the center of the rising tensions within their academic community. In May 2021, a letter was drafted calling for members of the New York University community to support academic non-cooperation with the campus in Tel Aviv until Israel is de-militarized and Palestinian students are offered equal opportunities for education. Over a hundred faculty signed the letter, and it’s safe to say that the sentiment is shared by a lot of students as well.
I knew about this before I made the journey from Paris to Tel Aviv to visit my boyfriend in this past month. He’s a student of NYU Tel Aviv. COVID blocked travel for the past few months, but Israel opened up to tourists in November, and I took the many bureaucratic steps necessary to visit him for a very short weekend. Read more »
I sit in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in this the 19th and penultimate arrondissement. We are a pocket of American students lounging down by the perfectly circular pond. We rehash old jokes in unapologetic English which go unheard by the hundreds of Parisians sitting on the hill like Greek citizens watching lesser and stupider gods. It is the weekend so we cross the city on the Métro and by pure luck make it to our destination and once we’ve arrived we mispronounce the name of this handsome park.
Right at the edge of the water stands a man who rips off pieces of bread from the bakery and throws them to the mallards who flock before him. The duck man loves them and they return the feeling. But he so hates the pigeons which walk up to him on the grass and seek the crumbs he throws to the mallards. When they approach he kicks at them; and if they watch from nearby, he chases them with a fallen bough from a horse chestnut tree. He smokes something that is not tobacco and is not cannabis. It smells pleasant enough. It makes him more relaxed and still more vicious towards the approaching pigeons.
We sit by the water and some of us watch him. We are New Yorkers though most of us have only been in New York for a year or two because our time spent studying at Washington Square was cut short by the pandemic. And in New York at Washington Square there is no duck man and there is the pigeon man. We loved to see him enveloped by the purple green flashes of gray feathered flock. He let every oil-slicked feral disfigured city bird onto his lap and onto his shoulder and head. Read more »
You know this feeling. The formation of words to open the conversation, the gravity of this dull walk with your father. The deals you make with the devil inside yourself: tell him by the time you reach the end of this street, the middle of this bridge, and definitely before you reach Sainte-Chapelle.
You’re coming out, because you’ll collapse if you don’t. And when the words are about to boil over on your tongue, you’re cut off by your own voice pointing out a French bus with the word «Toot» on it.
You’ve done this before. It’s harder, now.
A few years ago you went on walks like this one all the time. You’d structure the beginning of the conversation over and over, memorize it, say, “Dad, I need to tell you something important: I’m gay.” Even in your mind the last word would come out as a raspy quietness.
Today, these are the words you rehearse like a pop song echoing in your head: “Dad, I think I need to get help. I don’t know how to manage my mental health anymore. I deal with daily anxiety, and I’m really struggling with the idea of spending the next year across the world from everything I know.”
The parks are bigger here. And the people speak too quickly a language you can just barely understand. And their crows are blacker; and street smart like your pigeons. The fathers here smile wider as they run, pushing their children on scooters. The hot is mild and so is the cold, and the rain is only falling dew. Read more »