Archive for December, 2015|Monthly archive page


In Animals, Artists, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Visual artists on December 31, 2015 at 9:07 am

No further news from the boy who hoped to spend the night in the Albi train station.

When, after bone x-rays, they were told to leave the Home because they were over eighteen (notwithstanding their birth certificates to the contrary), each boy received fifty euro and the Toulouse address of a national organization that runs public awareness campaigns on the plight of refugees – but doesn’t provide any first hand emergency service whatsoever. Those of the boys who attempted that route lost at least twenty-five euro in the process, and then got lost in their attempt to find the building, let alone a live body to give them a hand.

I suspect the boy who made it to Albi ran out of money for a new calling card. The boys’ basic survival tool, the one and only item all of them cherish beyond everything else: a working cell phone.

It rained during the night. I know because I cursed the dog when she insisted on going out at three AM.

A dog peeing in the rain is one thing. Humans trying to sleep in the rain, quite another. I’m holding back a lot of anger – can’t afford to waste precious energy in ranting or sputtering when a problem is of such incredible magnitude. All the social services are overwhelmed, I can well appreciate their difficulties. But “batch-processing” in order to make room for more candidates to the clearing house approach? Sorry, no one will convince me there aren’t better ways to allocate funds for decisions based on something other than short-term political expediency.

Expediency of the kind that says: some lives matter, others don’t. Clear out batch A pronto, I’m sending Batch B down the chute.


Stepping back. Way back. I don’t know if the book exists in English translation. But since the two characters refused to move on last night – and after I stopped cursing the dog – I picked up Didier Anzieu’s Le corps de l’oeuvre again, this time with crayons. A blue crayon seemed the only way to go for underlining in the fifth phase of the process i.e. letting go of the work, be it a painting, a piece of fiction, a sculpture, an essay… The only color that made sense to me, at any rate, as I stumbled across two of the denizens of my own imaginary world in Anzieu’s writing –  the brother I considered my “dead twin” (although this brother died when I was about two years old), and the other, the first-born, still-born one. Giving voice to them both, one way or another, elsewhere than in my inner world. Letting them go, one way or another, for whatever else still lies undiscovered.

Writing is a pretty idiosyncratic business.

So, as I told someone last night: phone off, this morning. Whether something useful will emerge writing-wise, I don’t know. The crayons are out, in case there’s need to scribble some more. At some levels, words don’t seem to show up unless I scribble them out of my head, and move them down into my fingers.


In Absurdlandia, Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography, Revision on December 30, 2015 at 7:45 am

Along with the type of thread required to repair moth damage on my best (only) sweater, the lady provided all the usual talking points that begin with I’m not a racist but Talking points delivered with the earnest and friendly mien of a Jehovah’s Witness peddling door to door.

Then, she brought up one item I hadn’t heard yet: the next town over. The closest one with a slightly smaller population. And yet – the marvels, the lively streets filled with eager shoppers. All because those people have a mayor who knows what’s what.

Had I been someone else, I would have answered: “ah yes, and under Stalin, bread was cheap and the busses ran on time.” But I’m me, so I ambled toward the door with a phony smile on my face.  Must add I had other business calling which involved walking all over town and back. This further led to an early collapse into bed.

However, while walking down the road minding my own business, a former neighbor hailed me on the street and invited me in for a look at his evolving collection of old tannery equipment. The machinery was great. My favorite though was a photo he found (and had enlarged) of the women who worked the industrial sewing machines in the space he’s turned into a private museum. (I’d just written a few lines about one such sweatshop arrangement, thus, a welcome moment of serendipity.)

“Don’t sell the pics to the Russians,” he said when I left. I have no idea what he meant by that.

At any rate, I’m off to Gaillac for some talk about and around documentary films, failing production houses and other related topics. Several characters traveling with me. Yes, the issues are larger than Hautvoir, as one of them says. But whatever specifics need apply must be local.


In Absurdlandia, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography, Revision on December 29, 2015 at 9:21 am

Laugh? Cry? If nothing else, the messages in white chalk speak to the power of writing. I suppose the writers would use other means of expression if they had access to them.

There was a lookout – or just a young man having a smoke, who knows. At any rate, I didn’t stick around. Grabbed two fast shots of the crude drawing of an assault rifle and a bit of the message expressing the usual vulgarity aimed at the local constabulary. The messages run the length of the esplanade. A version of Stephen Crane’s A man said to the universe *.

A long, long time ago, in another country but in the same kind of neighborhood, the boys rumbled with chains in the alley behind the apartment. Boredom – some offshoots of.

On the Nouvel Obs electronic edition, I look at individual faces in a shot done of the crowd doing a practice run on pogroms in Ajaccio. Men, women, children. So many of them, smiling to the camera – look! a photographer! he noticed me! At last! “Sir, I exist!” (“You’ll publish the picture on a national edition? Coooool.” And so on.)

You don’t cure boredom with tazers, tear gas, truncheons or jail terms. Obvious, no? Obvious, but common sensical stuff doesn’t make for great headlines and award-winning shots of war-ravaged  neighborhoods.

Ergo, laughter? Worth a try. Kills boredom dead. Harder to produce than tears though. Finding the right distance. Finding the right angle.


* A man said to the universe: “Sir I exist!” “However,” replied the universe, “The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation.” (Stephen Crane, 1871-1900)

We pause for a moment of mind drift

In A post to keep afloat, Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision on December 28, 2015 at 5:40 pm

one of those super-annoying moments in writing, in fact. When the writer must walk away from a scene in progress. Why? Because n-o-t-h-i-n-g appears between the fingertips and the keyboard.

Will a real-life walk through the neighborhood help?

Who knows?

Let us find out. Characters? Care to come along?

Never mind laser swords, I’m looking for Ockam’s Razor

In Absurdlandia, Circus, Drafts, En français dans le texte, Hautvoir, Local projects, Names and Titles, Revision, Sundays on December 27, 2015 at 10:40 am

I have a great fondness for the Swiss team of ironists known as Plonk & Replonk. Should their name be new to you, you can check them out (in French, I’m afraid), here. French notwithstanding, you should find the visual element of their puns entertaining, subtitles or no.

On my last visit to their website, I was quite taken by an unusual item called a Pinaillette. Quite taken because, the brothers Plonk and Replonk applied Ockam’s Razor to a vexing question: how does one successfully split a hair in four. (Couper les cheveux en quatre, being the French hairsplitter’s passion. You call a French hairsplitter un pinailleur – the closest translation in English would be a nitpicker or a quibbler.)

Back to the pinaillette. Whenever the notion of hair splitting came to mind, I always envisioned the process of Ockam’s razor operating lengthwise. The brothers have found a neater, simpler solution as you will discover if you return to the website link above and look up La Pinaillette.

How this applies to the vexing question of Ethics vs The Rule of Law… ah, mes amis. Once again, my eye is drawn to the letter next to my computer. A letter received yesterday in which paragraphs 6-1 and 6-2 of a French law relative to age limitations in public services are carefully poised on both sides of a mini-scale, and the necessary conclusion thus arrived at: I cannot work on a contractual basis in the French educational system but I can be paid for those hours I devoted to the betterment of young minds. If I will be so kind as to forward my business registration number along with my bill etc.

The letter ends on my favorite variation of the French art of the final salutation. This one begs me to accept the signatoree’s “perfect consideration”. (Should you ever need to sign off a letter in French, this reads : Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, l’expression de ma parfaite considération. For a modest fee, I can write the entire letter for you if you provide the particulars of your case.)

Which brings me back to the more basic question no Pinaillette will ever resolve, no matter how the human hair and Ockam’s Razor meet: when and where do natural law and statutory rights and obligations part ways? How do people deal with moral choices involving a lot more than a filament of protein, be it blonde, white, black, brown, rusty-colored, thick, thin, smooth, wavy or kinky.


Is the revision finished yet? Almost. Close but not quite.


The Rat of Faith

In Animals, Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography, Poetry, Revision on December 26, 2015 at 9:51 am


The boy with the one-year residency permit came over last night, bearing food gifts from the shop where he works. We talked about the boys with no rights whatsoever, and why he and many others avoided the people smugglers as much as they could.

For the ones who “made it”, for the ones still trying, Philip Levine’s poem The Rat of Faith. It kept me company during the writing of one novel. Life stories are novels too – many (most? of them), in search of an author.


A blue jay poses on a stake

meant to support an apple tree

newly planted. A strong wind

on this clear cold morning

barely ruffles his tail feathers.

When he turns his attention

toward me, I face his eyes 
without blinking. A week ago

my wife called me to come see

this same bird chase a rat

into the thick leaves 
of an orange tree. We came as

close as we could and watched 
the rat dig his way into an orange,

claws working meticulously.

Then he feasted, face deep

into the meal, and afterwards

washed himself in juice, paws

scrubbing soberly. Surprised

by the whiteness of the belly,

how open it was and vulnerable,

I suggested I fetch my .22.

She said, “Do you want to kill him?”

I didn’t. There are oranges

enough for him, the jays, and us,

across the fence in the yard

next door oranges rotting

on the ground. There is power

in the name rat, a horror

that may be private. When I

was a boy and heir to tales

of savagery, of sleeping men

and kids eaten half away before

they could wake, I came to know

that horror. I was afraid

that left alive the animal

would invade my sleep, grown

immense now and powerful

with the need to eat flesh.

I was wrong. Night after night 
I wake from dreams of a city

like no other, the bright city

of beauty I thought I’d lost

when I lost my faith that one day

we would come into our lives.

The wind gusts and calms

shaking this miniature budding 
apple tree

that in three months

has taken to the hard clay 
of our front yard. In one hop

the jay turns his back on me,

dips as though about to drink

the air itself, and flies.

Philip Levine

Back later

In Absurdlandia, and other spirits, Circus, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Wine on December 25, 2015 at 10:23 am

Looks like Christmas morning isn’t the ideal time to move revision along by leaps and bounds. Phone calls, text messages, a bit of food prep still in the works.

In Mexico, the ruling party still calls itself the Institutional Revolutionary Party. With the latest political developments here in France? Power by any other name spells power. Doesn’t have much in common with the surge of energy that puts a smile on your face or just the inner contentment you experience when there’s no such thing as a mind/body split.

For character purposes: a split-second moment yesterday when a young man brought back a backpack I’d lent him. A slyness in the smile that made me laugh. Whatever the nature of the fast one he felt he’d pulled on me, more power to him. I’ll root for him and others like him over Institutional Revolutionaries any day.

Season’s Greetings, and all that.

So much depends on …

In Absurdlandia, and other spirits, Current reading, Drafts, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Sanford Meisner on December 24, 2015 at 9:57 am

the only certainties in this day: I must buy fruit at the market, and meat at the butcher’s. Everything else depends on other people right now.

“Surrealistic,” the lawyer commented upon receipt of those documents in the four young men’s possession. Whether they’ll manage to obtain more this morning; whether delays have run out for an appeal, if such is needed; whether there’s need for a trip to Toulouse with them today; if so, whether we can find someone for the drive; whether the combined knowledge of French of all four, plus my attempts at making sense of what they say will be up to the task… etc.

As for the locals and their reactions – eh. Mystère total. I’ll take that one as it plays.

voilà, and revision too, maybe.

After the four left last night, I started Rouletabille Le Mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux. An old Livre de poche edition picked up for fifty centimes. In which Leroux’ young Rouletabille outdoes Poe in Double assassinat de la rue Morgue and Conan Doyle in Speckled Band – no mean feat. In this yellow room, there are no openings, none. None whatsoever. And yet…

Allez. Marché and whatever comes next.


18:55 – the four now have a lawyer – and a good one.  Plus a secure roof, heating, and food for the next few days.

On to the evening with friends.


Absurdlandia (life in the slow lanes of)

In Absurdlandia, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, news coverage, photography, Revision on December 23, 2015 at 9:20 am

Maybe I’ll receive answers to my emails today. Even if I do… Today is December 23rd. People around me aren’t exactly in a buying frenzy, gift-wise but they’re weary. Wary, too. Seeking refuge in denial or plain shut-down. Don’t want to hear any more. Playing at being four or five years old and believing in the tinsel and the Disney version of The Snow Queen (nothing like Hans Christian Andersen’s version).

Inducing guilt isn’t the answer either. For some reason guilt is definitely a trickle-down phenomenon – the lower you get on the socio-economic scale, the more guilt accumulates on your head. Part of the luggage that gets pitched out when folks start believing their own Self-Made Myth.

Four young men, among so many others, pitched out on the street and declared illegal*. Plus a family of four, living on the brink. The ones who could help, the ones missioned to help? Busy with the big picture. Ah, the big picture.

In my immediate world, those are the ones I worry about. These days, I smile a lot but I don’t laugh out loud very often.


Read two short stories by Deborah Eisenberg last night, as an antidote. Antidote? Yes, to words drained of their substance and replaced by puffery. The Breakfast of Champions made of air surrounded by remains of whole wheat, or rice phantoms. I live in France, so most of the puffery I hear these days is in French. As a visitor said to me last night: they don’t like you much when you point out their lies. No, because they like to think 1) people are stupid 2) a lie repeated becomes truth 3) if it doesn’t, you can always replace it with another lie.

So: four young men, stranded on shores they imagined as welcoming,  far from their native land. Eager to study, eager to work. Eagerness Denied. A family of four, waiting for the powers that be to settle their fate. Chances of helping any of them in solid, practical terms: getting slimmer every day.



Labradorite, they call it. Under the right lighting conditions, the stone reveals stunning inner landscapes. I own a pocket-sized smooth pebble for holding in hand and a larger chunk like a miniature mountain sliced open.


Story: onto revision of Part IV.


*Six, in fact, but two have already drifted off to parts unknown.

Rule of Law

In Animals, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, photography, Revision on December 22, 2015 at 10:19 am

Of course, signing petitions and donating contributions are good. Money is crucial if you need to hire a lawyer for an appeal on a court decision.

From there, the process gets trickier and trickier. In the current public mood, both local and national, grumpiness and corner-cutting crowd out finer notions such as concern for other people’s welfare. People other than your next-of-kin or immediate friends, for instance. And if your own legal status leaves you open to a backlash, matters get trickier still.


My friend was doing a voice check on the mike. “Say something, anything,” he asked before I started reading words he wanted to include in his musical composition. The general theme of the readings involved walking. Maybe that’s why I said: “I was walking down the road, minding my own business…”

Same as I was yesterday, after depositing the “Old Age Security” check at the bank. Small town. A lot of exchanges happen live, without benefit of phone, email, twitter, Facebook and/or other electronic platforms.

What to do and how, concerning that exchange of information. Delays are ultra-short – between now and December 30th. ’tis the Season to be jolly with good friends and neighbors. Even if we scrounge up emergency funds, finding a immigration lawyer who can file an appeal this week or next, at the latest? Iffy.

I was sitting on a park bench, taking in the view…


… “and along came a spider who sat down beside her.” A friendly spider, I hasten to add. Who offered to serve as translator.

Now, what to do with what I learned.


Revision? Oh yes. Also.


Under The Hidden Benefits of Housecleaning: finding a mangled copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in a Bibliothèque Verte French translation. (I set it down last  night after Wamba had found an escape route out of the burning castle. And may the Force etc.)