Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Why the boy drew a car

In Circus, Drafts, Local projects, Theater on November 30, 2012 at 6:33 am

When the police officer checked for a pulse at her neck, he didn’t say: “She’s alive.” He said: “She’s not dead.” Either way being business as usual from the looks of things. I don’t remember the name of the town. North Carolina, at any rate. Middle of the night; the bus terminal where all passengers stranded by late arrivals and no-show connections sit, wait, or OD in the washrooms.

The connection to a eight-year-old’s bellyaching yesterday: not obvious. Brain connections can be as haphazard and surprising as bus terminals at three am. And yet.

Clinging to his mamma like a newborn chimp. Mamma losing one of her shiny new bling-bling earrings. (Non, Madame, so sorry, no way can I crowbar my way under the stairs to retrieve it.)

Fast-forward to the next appointment. Unless the coaching stops for reasons I can’t control, details are forthcoming on How Things Came To Be This Way. No matter what the facts may demonstrate, the father in this story is innocent. A given. No matter why the man is in jail, I’m sure his family loves him. A crucial factor in keeping anybody sane.

So why does the drawing of a bellyache take the shape of a car. And  how did the mamma come by those fabulous earrings – no longer paired. Why is the boy in constant panic over planes crashing.Why are all windows in his drawings as black and guarded as his eyes.

No, I won’t lay out the family’s story here. But the boy did tell me what his daddy does for a living. Plus, we did get some good use out of the cardboard clock face a friend lent me as a teaching aid.

The draft? Yes, coming along; the connections just as haphazard as everything else. You catch the bus when you can; divert somebody else’s or make a thousand-mile detour, if there’s no other way to get to a destination. (Note: the word “destination” does not imply you reach the one for which you bought a ticket in the first place.)

Eight years

In Drafts on November 29, 2012 at 11:38 am

A lot could – and did – happen since the year two thousand and four. People I thought I’d see again died or went their way while I went mine. Beliefs I  held got knocked out from under me. Careless words came back to haunt me. Discoveries – huge. Disappointments – humongous. And so on.

Does this blog still serve a purpose for the writing I’m doing these days? I don’t know. If it does, it might serve that purpose just as well as a private blog on which to jot down whatever impressions may prove useful later on.

The words I don’t know being the best I can manage for now.

Eight years ago, I thought I was leaving on a one-year trip. I thought I was twelve months away from family, relatives, old  friends (and old foes, too). I was wrong.


L’Heure bleue

In Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Local projects on November 28, 2012 at 7:41 am

Story taking shape the way cloud formations do. Impressive ones, yesterday afternoon. Fine-textured like Italian-style meringue.

Does the perfume still exist? L’Heure bleue, it was called. All the photos done yesterday afternoon have that blue note. Plus the pop of orange inside shops starting to advertise all the holiday goodies. Outrageous TV ads for chocolates, drifting by while coaching a boy on synonyms – to see, to perceive, to observe, to contemplate, to watch, to notice.

Stories, everywhere. Something read yesterday… ah, yes. A tiny moment in a tiny book called Oscar et la dame rose by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt – the story of a little boy, living his final days.( I liked the tiny moments in the story more than the story itself.) However: the boy receives a plant for Christmas. One that grows in the Sahara, in a single day. From the moment it receives a drop of water, it sprouts, grows a stem, leaves, and flowers. The flowers wilt, turn to seed; the leaves dry off. By night fall, the plant è finito. A full cycle in twenty-four hours. But then, some bugs – plants too, possibly? – live out their spans in a matter of minutes.

Story. Yet more streaming my way this morning when I start  language coaching with two other youngsters.

On the road

In Drafts, Music on November 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

The song playing so loud in my head I can’t concentrate on anything else

Celeste tesoro d’etern’ (el) allegria

dormi vida e coro riposa e ninnia (bis)

Four “voices” in the choir. First take at rehearsal on Saturday, two of us taking the higher-pitched notes.

Yo-Yo Ma riffing with Big Bird from Sesame Street on a website dedicated to English as a Second Language. The boys did part of the online test; asked for a translation of Chris Brown’s lyrics in a song called Don’t Wake me up.   Disappointment. “Is that all it says?”  Lyrics aren’t the big selling point in pop, I answer. Besides, my main point was getting the second boy to laugh. Official excuse: practicing English pronunciation through repetition of Don’t Wake me up up  up up up.

Funny (to me, anyway): the eight-year-old with the eye avoidance issue, staring at me. Then, staring some more. Holding my gaze as if wondering “what happens next?”

Not funny: when, in an appeal, a well-intentioned lawyer resorts to: “we want our three children to live in dignity without being ridiculed and beaten up on their way to school.”  Not funny because systemic discrimination due to race and/or any other reason may be forbidden. But you can’t claim refugee status “just because” people spit on you or tear down your shanty, or extort a government subsidy from you at gunpoint.

Story in all this? Sharp voices. The inner ones often are. They speak all the things running in the background while the polite voices play ring-around-the-rosie. Such as the long-suffering one who kept a running commentary on no-time, no-money for over half an hour yesterday; then, tried to squeeze in her real gripe in the last five seconds, as I reached the top of the stairs.

I disappointed her, I know. Lobbed her slow tennis ball back at her with a comment as mealy-mouthed as her own. Some day, maybe, the woman will start shrieking in exasperation, and get loaded up with tranquilizers. Personally, I prefer to let fictional characters be outrageous, if that’s their inclination; and one hundred percent adorable when that happens to be their vibe.

“There is a house in …”

In Drafts, Music on November 26, 2012 at 9:24 am

A) The lettering may be upside down

B) the film maker doesn’t have a clue what it means, save for context: the large package contained sesame seeds.

C) at any rate, it was a night scene; the sign is there for red-light district atmosphere;

D) whether upside down or not, if someone knows what the sign says, the info may add an extra touch of humor to the whole thing.

E) The grillwork, done by the resident artist, adds an extra layer to the House of Several Rising Suns theme.

F) Not to mention the red circle then being repeated in a different context, within the walls of this former leatherworks factory

G) and friends collecting funds for the publication of a book of recollections by former workers in Graulhet’s Leather Trade

H) which had nothing to do with the trade advertised by the phony signage seen above.

I) Does any of this make sense?

J) In the strange, proto-writing stage where the writer watches bits and pieces, words, impressions and sensations gather round?

K) Yes.

L) What the sense will be, the writer will only discover while writing.

M) Oh, not to forget: the prim pucker of the lips (a person I met for the first time, the pucker observed at the end of each sentence, as she talked with others; hm; which of the characters might benefit from that, and why?)

“Un ange passe”

In Drafts on November 25, 2012 at 8:40 am


The title may read like a stage direction of the Exeunt Omnes type. In fact, it’s a French expression describing a sudden lull in a small or large gathering when, all at once, conversations stop for no apparent reason. When no one can stand the silence any more, someone’s bound to say: “Un ange passe” – a signal for everyone to grab the first thought streaming by, dig into the nibbles, grab another drink, laugh, joke, or continue the earnest tale of…

Of? Ah. Glad you ask. The scene stood poised for the next sentence yesterday. Or for the switch to another part of the story. Or another point of view. Several characters offered to pitch in after the Angel X-ing. But no. The scene went into freeze frame; one woman sitting on her couch. The other, holding something, and looking across the counter from the open kitchen into the living room. Neither one of them has budged since – in this, fiction holds a definite advantage over reality. You can leave characters in mid-sentence. Providing they come up with something worth hearing later, no one’s the wiser.

Meanwhile, the writer lives with the discomfort, of course. I spare the reader deep thoughts concerning the differences between Vedantists and Buddhists (I’m reading Alexandra David-Néel’s Astravakra Gita Avadhuta Gita these days). Save for the fact their basic philosophical disagreements have practical consequences when it comes to telling a story. Add a radical anarchist to the mix,  along with an easygoing agnostic and several types who say they don’t want anything other than a good time at a decent party? You get several angel crossings in a crowded room. Lulls where people look at one another, and wonder if they decide it’s time to go home, or if the time has come to tell a perfect stranger the one thing they swore they’d never breathe to another soul, ever.

Breaking News: Some Bars Treat Musicians Better Than Others

In Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Food, Music, Visual artists on November 24, 2012 at 8:38 am

The funniest: the card players,  so intent on their game. Looking as if they’d been lifted straight out of a nineteenth century French novel set in a small provincial town. Expression-wise? Les joueurs de cartes by Cézanne. Serious business. Empires may crumble, France may lose another triple A rating. Such is life. Main question: Do I play the Queen of Spades now? Later? What do I do with the damn two of clubs?

In bar settings, we start off the sets spread out in the room. Cha starts a solo of E piu non canto and we come in with the different voices before squeezing our way into an empty space and doing the rest of the repertoire for that set. I couldn’t see the card players anymore. At the break, one of the singers closest to them told me the men bitched and grumbled. How’s a guy to concentrate on his cards in a concert hall?  I can hear the bitching in my head; the thought of it makes be want to break out laughing.

The sweetest: the twenty-something barman who mixed up a killer punch for us in a huge bowl meant to hold bottles of Roederer champagne on ice.

The grumpiest: the red-headed cook with the black chef’s jacket. Looked straight out of the galley kitchen on a fishing vessel trawling the North Sea. When complimented on his great food, he snapped: “What do you think I’m here for? I’m a cook.” Score another for the inner laugh.

The guy who claimed he’d been dead in a month, so please, you  must go on singing for me, please, I love you all, please sing some more? Was caught sneaking some of the killer punch – forgivable. Then, caught again scarfing down some of the jambon de Bayonne. Loud protests all around. He promised to change his ways if we gave him the bus schedule to Graulhet so he could join the choir. Cha gave him the Rugissant’s web address instead.

The coolest (1): table talk after the two sets. Unless the group has enough gigs on its own, most musicians play in several. The talk was about venues, personality quirks, sound checks (why do all trumpet players insist the bass has too much volume? the mystery remained unsolved last night.)

The coolest (2): new members of the group showing up to watch us perform and one of them giving me a copy of a fabulous and hard-to-find classic: Bella ciao, Chansons du peuple en Italie il nuovo canzionere Italiano, a gem put out by Harmonia Mundi on which I should find the cade d’uliva we’ll be rehearsing in a few hours’ time.

Story? Yes, the door out to the street. Objects can be just as ornery and notional in fiction as in real life. This one’s giving me a hard time. Insisting  on being a part of the story. It’s one of those huge, medieval contraptions of a door but with contemporary features worked in, such as an interphone and a locking mecanism with a buzzer.

Plus, bonus feature: as I made ready to leave for the performances last night and checking out members of a circus on the web, one of the librarians called. The book I’d asked for was waiting for me.  See above photo. (Bad contrasts? Yes. The book: Journal secret du Petit Poucet, story by Philippe Lechermeier, illustrations by Rébecca Dautremer.)

Conclusion to this Report? When in Albi, do drop in to the Bar du Parc at Hôtel du Parc, in front of the Athanor. La Rugissante may not be there, but the card players, the barman and the grumpy excellent cook should still be around.

Smile when your heart is whatever

In Drafts, Music on November 23, 2012 at 9:18 am


Pretend it’s OK. Pretend it’s no big deal. Pretend you know the rules of the game. Pretend it’s all for laughs anyway. Pretend you get the joke. Pretend you recognize the person.

“That moment with  you; I still hold it in my heart,” the woman said. Yes, she placed a hand over the left side of her chest when she said it.

I smiled. Said: “I’m glad things are going well for you, these days.” She went on for a while. Try as I might… a vague something in the eyes, maybe? I suppose she must have been one of the women on temporary contracts. I have to assume I did or said something she found memorable. The shape of her face evokes someone else I remember; but the profile is different, and so are the teeth.

An eight-year-old boy of supersonic intelligence, obsessed by planes. “What time does he go to bed?” I ask the mother. “Whenever he decides; he doesn’t listen to me,” she answers. I get a grudging admission from the boy that nine-thirty is the outer limit for his day. The three of us shake on it; I pretend to believe this agreement will  hold until next Thursday.

The metronome above? Ticking in my head, in more ways than one, as I take another boy through his paces. Thirteen years old, and too late already for any number of good outcomes. How to keep him out of an Institute for the feeble-minded, because he isn’t. How to speed up the rythm, enough for him to get some lift, and grab some chances available for him, further on in life. Pretend it can be done.

Pretend you can write fiction that breaks your heart in the same ways; that leaves you as desolate as real life does; as unbelievably happy and grateful, too, when your eyes and your mind clear out enough to see again.

When things hurt too much,  the character must remind herself to pretend she’s singing a sad song. Even the saddest can only last until the last note. In concert, something more upbeat follows for the simple reason nobody wants to set an audience to crying out of the venue on a tsunami of tears.

Wasted Fucking Lives

In Drafts on November 22, 2012 at 8:05 am

The word anger doesn’t even begin to convey the feeling.

Outrage. The kind that knocks the words away from your mouth. The kind a howl captures, sometimes. Or the kind that sinks down so deep, you may as well have a piece of sharp steel stuck somewhere in your body in a spot from which removal would cause more harm than good – so live with it. When the fucking thing moves in your gut, feel it. Groan, if you must. Bite into something that won’t bite back. Wring a wet  towel till it’s dry. Sleep. Accept the blessings from dreamland – and don’t let anyone ever tell you dreams aren’t worth the time you spend in them. Some of them can and do stave off insanity.

Then, get up again, and deal with the next piece of crap thrown in your direction. Or the unexpected gift from a kid who’ll never amount to anything. That’s what her teachers have told her since day one; whatever her parents think, I don’t know, except for the fact their overall expectations are at the grazing level.

When the light goes out of it, this is one shitty little town. Yes, some of us go on laughing and singing and writing as if our words made any kind of difference. But on some days, all  you want to do is curse and shake your first at the nonexistent gods. “Show your divine faces and come down here! Come down here and slog it out like people do and must and go on doing!”

And so on. Until the outrage leaves you limp; or boils back down into anger; or simmers down to… something. Irony? Yes, let’s call it irony. Sometimes, you meet up with it at a stage beyond outrage. Not this morning.

Santa Fe. The eyes on the man standing there with all the others trying to peddle something or other to the tourists. The raw piece of cold steel in the gut feeling. God damn.


In Animals, Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Local projects, Music, TV on November 21, 2012 at 7:41 am

Other photos grabbed yesterday morning are even closer to the mood. Not mine; the one suggested by the arrangement I encountered in the afternoon. “I thought you were coming over at five thirty,” the mother says when I appear at three fifteen. Keeping track of appointments: something of an ongoing concern in her life, among several others.

The blinds to the outside world : shuttered. Giving full value to the sheer black curtains and the black and silver contraption on the table where the boy and I sit while mother and two daughters watch a made-for-television drama of the murky/jarring music kind.

Fact: movement attracts the eye, whether you want to concentrate on verb tenses or not. While the boy struggles on, my eyes wander from the TV screen to the faces and attitudes of the three women taking in the made-for-television horror. A storyline based on one of the many cases of children abducted and sequestered by adults. The heroine is blonde. The bad guy is never far from his shovel.  The makeup on the sequestered one being the most salient disaster on view. No matter: the eldest daughter keeps warning the two other women of the villain’s upcoming actions. All three of them jump out of their skins anyway, every time he pops up swinging his shovel again.

Advertising breaks, of course. Move from heavy American TV drama in translation to frenzied French delight (so frenzied, in fact, I’ve forgotten what product caused all the excitement). Meanwhile the question uppermost in my mind at that point: can the boy make it through the home schooling program? The odds don’t favor him.

Mixed in with too many appointments, plus ongoing reading of Alexandra David-Néel? Life as it plays right now is a clear challenge to the draft and the characters in it: show me something I, the writer, can explore with a sense of discovering or re-discovering what I thought I knew. Characters, in real life or in fiction: contradictory. The boy (in real life) for example: clings to reading syllable by syllable, stumbling on each one, the way you’d cling to a fraying life jacket. Yet, if I start reading along with him, he picks up the pace and streams through a sentence, catching the meaning as we go along. Finding some way for him to do that on his own, even while the pre-packaged emotions play out in the background.