Archive for 2016|Yearly archive page

Street arts and smarts

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, proto drafts, Theater on July 9, 2016 at 9:02 am

best to concentrate on details at the moment. As soon as I widen the frame, the view gets too depressing. The ugly stuff doesn’t go away, nor does the awareness of it. But the ugliness doesn’t need any help from me in its propagation.

The noise from the late-night band ended past one AM. Basic chords repeated ad nauseam to a pounding drum beat. The audience loved it and kept asking for more. Not the finest moment in the history of this town’s street festival.

There’s an off-festival venue this year, in the inner courtyard of one of the schools where I do (or did?*) coaching. A group of caravans, a large she-goat, Celtic music, puppetry – from the most elementary to the more accomplished. In the more polished category, Rêves d’une poule ridicule gets my vote. I’ve seen the show evolve from its first – hm – embryo? The mock strip-tease of a chicken getting plucked and groomed for the plunge into the stew pot is now the pièce de résistance in a thirty-minute show with great miming and acting by the three comedians and great musical support from their accordionist. A show that works for kids and grown-ups alike.


*When your friends get ostracized, you can’t help wondering when your turn will show up. I hate it when people reveal a seamy side I only imagined they had in the fictional renditions I’d done of them. Local people. People I meet on the street and with whom the simple exchange of pleasantries isn’t possible anymore. Some line has been crossed where being right is the same as being wrong. You weren’t supposed to question the treatment delivered to kids who deserved better. You did. So much for genial hand waves and kiss-kiss at the local market. If it stopped there, it wouldn’t matter much – plenty of other people to wave at and chat up. But the back-room maneuvers to destroy people’s reputations and professional standing? Unsavory, to say the least.


Details. An empty water bottle where none stood before you left the house. A door double-locked where you only turn the key once because the door is so flimsy the lock is the only part of it that might sustain a direct kick.

Signs of someone else’s presence. Someone who comes and goes. Lets me know where he’s going, then goes there. Eats the food but leaves the dirty dishes (in a clever way: by leaving a few uneaten bites in the dish). A teenager in other words.

He’ll be away for a week, and replaced by a grown-up.


As for single or double-locking of a door: with summer windows wide open and the gitano community grilling meat, drinking beer and playing the flamenco between parked cars on Place du Château, there’s no need of locks or keys. You go by your reputation in this part of town. That’s just fine by me, no matter what local back room boys and girls dream up as put-downs to justify their part in la comédie humaine.


Yes and no

In Absurdlandia, Circus, Dance, Film, Food, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, proto drafts on July 8, 2016 at 8:11 am

If writing is something like your first responder on the scene, resisting the urge takes some doing. Resisting the urge to identify. But aren’t you supposed to identify. Aren’t you supposed to put the pen to paper or the fingers to the keyboard the second the urge to do so shows up?

Answer: as the title says. Yes, for the small nugget you may find in the reams of repetitious bilge a body can produce over time. Or for a try at another angle on some obsession of yours. Some need to know that won’t go away, no matter how often you tell  yourself you’ll never get an answer other than: that’s life or who knows or some other pat formula designed to chase away the pesky fly.

Except the fly keeps on coming back.

Resisting the urge? Yes. Forever? No.


A phone call in all the din out on Place du Jourdain last night during pre-opening events to the annual street arts festival. A woman whose voice I can barely make out. Someone I know told her to call me. New family in town, maybe I can help. She’ll call back this morning.


Unanswerables. France won a soccer game against Germany last night. Honking cars streamed by with folks hanging out the windows waving flags, way past midnight. In the afternoon, an eleven-year old American boy by the name of Omar asked me – if I had a choice – what French name I would give my lodger from Mali. I’d never given the matter even the edge of a thought but the boy answered for me. “Hassan would be nice,” he said.


The gulf between the virtual and the real, the article says in The New York Times over one of the shootings in the States,   recorded live as-it-happened.

Unanswerables piling up like overdue bills. “Tenir debout dans le chaos” – the title to a piece published in a temporary paper put out during Aurillac’s street arts festival last year. A swirl of unanswerables, like so many pieces of confetti. Catching some of the patterns they make – is that the best a body can achieve?

The fine edge. Collective joy, collective grief, sadness, anger, rage, panic. Collective. Private. The edge where one emotional state tips over into another.


A total change in eating habits isn’t a full-time occupation? Yes and no, when you’re out in public places with food and drink provided by others.


Allez, I’ve used up this morning’s musing time.


Limits – whose? Which ones?

In Local projects, or juice, proto drafts on July 7, 2016 at 8:10 am

Like so many other things we’re “not supposed to know”, we do know because someone spoke up. Someone decided he or she couldn’t abide with the cover-up and had to choose what to do about the secret.

I spent the better part of yesterday’s evening with a local school principal listening to, and sharing my own, stories of kids pulled back from the brink. Her phone buzzed all the time. Mine rang once: a call from a boy who wanted to share the good news about passing his exams. He’s now a full-fledged butcher with a full-fledged residency permit. In the near future, we’ll raise glasses of fruit juice to his success.

The ones you need to tell. The stories you can’t treat like just another filler in the media downpour. A boy smuggled out of one country in the trunk of a car, then sold as a houseboy by his father – here, in France. Saved because his teacher wouldn’t take so- he’s- missed- school-so-what for an answer at Social Services. Once he’d been found, she lost track of him when he was placed in a foster home. Years later, her phone rang. A social worker said someone who kept talking about her had kept her number all this time and wanted to speak to her. He’d just gotten his diploma, wanted her to know she’d made his life a living hell but he’d decided to follow her way and get a life.  Tally up one kid with a chance at something other than violence, despair and revenge on the next generation.

Those are some of the stories that keep you going. Plus the scary ones – the ones about grownups teetering on the brink and wreaking havoc on other people’s lives. They keep you going in another way. They say: I can’t let this happen. Or if the damage has been inflicted already: what’s the way out of the mess? Not the endless replay of the tragedy or the endless repetition of a pattern – the way out and on to something else.

When the boy who was sold by his father was still in school, the principal’s superiors had insisted she “teach him” – respect, compliance, the rules of the social game. He’s lived through more than most of us can imagine, she countered, and I’m going to teach him about life? First, I’m going to teach him I won’t give up on him. I’m going to teach him I respect him and that’s the only reason I expect him to respect me.

I like her a lot. It’s too bad her house was damaged when her neighbor set fire to his own place for insurance purposes. But if this means that while they repair her place, we’re almost neighbors for a while? Fine by me.

Plus, she tells me in confidence*, the empty store below her temporary accommodations? About to open as – drum roll – a bookstore! Here in this very town!

Financial ruin and perdition await.

*In confidence, you understand. Don’t go spreading the news all over. (Scheduled opening in August, hurray hurray).

Both unexpected and predictable

In Artists, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Visual artists on July 6, 2016 at 8:35 am

Sorting through electronic files about local refugees this morning, trying to get some grip on my sloppy filing habits, I have to smile at the persistence of another habit: my decision to shelter the one who’s annoyed me the most – and, in all probability, will continue to do so. I’m a bit old to change some of the more basic attitudes in my makeup. In this instance, my need to understand what annoys or jars or disturbs. Plus, as Henri Michaux once wrote: don’t be too hasty in discarding your bad habits because, what will  you replace them with? (this being an extremely loose translation from the French).


My main problem as a writer right now: reality is proving more interesting than my fictional take on it. More interesting, and invasive too. This is a high-class piece of annoyance, obviously. At some point, the fiction writer will rebel and insist on telling it her way. So I guess I’ll let the fiction writer stew until she starts sputtering or breaks loose as she is wont to do. Beddy-bye for now, fiction writer, the door’s unlocked, you can walk in or out anytime you please.


So, for this next bit of living, a seventeen-year old joins me and the dog for a stretch of the trek. He’ll stay with one of my friends next week while my visitor arrives from Canada.


Reading two things in tandem at the moment, as I often do. The first, Boris Cyrulnik’s Parler d’amour au bord du gouffre and Kandinsky’s Du Spirituel dans l’art, et dans la peinture en particulier. 

The first part of the Kandinsky isn’t an invitation to read on. Writing in the Russia of nineteen ten, he seems quite taken in by the theosophists. My personal appreciation of the likes of Madame Blavatsky doesn’t lead me to any rush to further enlightenment. While I understand Kandinsky’s dislike for materialism of the acquisitive kind, I’m not a huge fan of mystical eye-rolling either. So why don’t I put down the book? Because it annoys me? No, because I’m getting to the good part: his reading on the language of forms and colors and his insistence on what he calls the principle of inner necessity that makes an artist’s work resonate with something basic in humans which he calls the soul. I don’t know what a soul is, but that part of what he writes makes sense to me anyway.


So, back to this business of annoyance. Better annoyed than bored? Yes. Especially when annoyance is just another name for curiosity. What’s causing the ruffled feathers? What is it about so-and-so that grates so much? Why can’t you let that particular sleeping dog go on snoring?

Story, in other words. Out in “real” or in fiction.

For now, back to real I go.

Yesterday was crazy, today may be even crazier, so…

In A post to keep afloat, Local projects, photography, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on July 5, 2016 at 8:07 am

…so I may get to drop back in here again today, or not. If free time shows up, I’ll try to spend it on the proto draft instead.

Ergo, a bit of good craziness here, as in turning on the computer this morning – in a state of advanced fatigue – and smelling the jasmine at the sight of the photo I snapped of it yesterday. Worth a share? For sure.

Smell the jasmine? Hope you do.DSCN9163

Oh say can you see beyond the Roman candles and silver palms?

In Food, Local projects, news coverage, proto drafts on July 4, 2016 at 7:51 am

Lots to do out in the world of real. For now, I pull away from the media surf with two items: the photo of a French policeman walking over someone’s bedding in yet another encampment “evacuated” in Paris. Finding shelter for one person is tough enough, I understand full well sheltering thousands is no picnic – but there has to be better ways to treat people than loading them up like garbage and dumping them like same.

The second: the only item I’m reading in The New York Times for now, an opinion piece by Roy Scranton published on July 2, 2016.

P.S. If you replace the word ‘American’, coupled to the words ‘heroism’ and ‘military’, you discover the myth holds true. The uniforms, badges and medals change, the basic notions don’t.


And yes, this is still about writing my own stuff – although the flow will get interrupted a lot again today, tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday… maybe I have to revise my writing habits as I’m doing with my eating patterns.

While a silly tune plays havoc with my head

In Absurdlandia, Artists, Circus, Dance, dreams, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, proto drafts, Theater on July 3, 2016 at 8:35 am

This is serious. Come on. Look at the mess on your desk. Look at everything you must get done before nightfall. Plus, the horrors, the miseries, the emergencies. Plus, you must take some time for yourself, as they say. Relax. Wind down. But Think Of Others! But don’t stress out. But…! and so on.

Tragedy/Comedy. An impossible balancing act? But so is the simple act of walking.

Few of us will ever push the act of walking up to the level of walking on point, one foot at a time, on overturned glasses. And, indeed, what is the use or the purpose of achieving such a level of strength, grace and daring? No purpose. The notion must have appealed to the circus artist* the same way a crawling baby decides he’s going to manage that trick of walking on his hind legs no matter how many times he lands on his bum.

Impossible. The tragedies, too deep. The comedies, too superficial. “Not funny,” say the mourners, and of course, they’re right. Except for the fact laughter doesn’t ask anybody’s permission to show up, even at a funeral. Laughter breaks forth – in churches, in schools, in hospitals. It can even break forth while having sex or visiting a sorely afflicted friend stranded in dire circumstances. How? Why? Because of something incongruous. Something that breaks the solemnity. A fly on the solemn speaker’s nose. A piece of savage wit. Anything, anything at all that interrupts the narrative and sends it spinning off in another direction.

Something silly enough to interrupt even horror?I don’t know, although some of my characters keep on trying to break through that barrier too.

For now they’ll have to take the back seat while I tackle another bout of paper sorting, laundry and house-cleaning, prior to various visits – official and otherwise –  to my humble home. (The official part happens on Tuesday. Can I greet two persons from Aide Sociale à l’Enfance with my living-room in this condition? And my kitchen? And – gad – the bathroom. Will you look at this mess in the office? )

and so on.

*La danseuse sur verre (Lucie Boulay). You can see her performance on youtube or visit this page of Le Boustrophedon’s website.

When you can’t run, amble

In and other spirits, Circus, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Theater on July 2, 2016 at 8:47 am

Two brief encounters last night, like book-ends to an overlong evening at the year-end staff party in a local school.

After a familiar brown face peered out at me from a passing car, I found the owner of the face loitering near one of the local homes sheltering young migrants awaiting validation of their papers. He attended a few of my workshops and shows a natural talent for writing. In fact, in one of those workshops, he told me his life ambition was to be a poet, but he’d settle for social work. Well, he’s made a success of his school year so they’ve signed him up for a Bac Pro (the French designation for a trade-oriented B.A.). In social work? Literature? No, in Entretien des équipements industriels (Maintenance of Industrial Equipment).

He laughed – sort of – when he said it and added he couldn’t send me emails anymore because the computers didn’t work in the Home. I told  him to sign up for my sessions in August and, in the meantime, to read through his writing and attempt to combine into one powerful statement the many attempts he’d made throughout the text at getting a certain something across.

The walk home involved an isolated stretch between the stadium and the pool where I keep a wary eye and a jaunty step. A group of teen-aged boys approached, thoroughly engrossed in their world – no problem there. Then a solitary figure came my way. I gave him a crisp bonsoir in the murky light. He answered something I couldn’t make out as I walked by, then called out Madame in a light voice. The voice was so soft, I hesitated before turning. He laid a hand on his heart to show his good intentions and came closer. “I’m Salah,” he said and I recognized the boy I coached (for a total of four hours…) prior to his French literature exam. He didn’t have the results yet, but he was pleased. The luck of the draw landed him a text by Voltaire to comment and he’d applied the rules I’d pointed out, he said. Held out his hand for a handshake, smiled, said merci with all the hardware glinting on his teeth, and took off.



Something quite beautiful picked out this morning of an article in Le Monde about French poet Yves Bonnefoy who died yesterday at age ninety-three. « La tâche du poète est de montrer un arbre, avant que notre intellect nous dise que c’est un arbre, » he once wrote. (The poet’s task is to show a tree before our intellect tells us it’s a tree.)

Maybe the same applies to fiction writing. Slow going at the moment, in my case. There’s some fascinating stuff to translate (for a fee? wheeeee!) for a circus group and a puppet theatre. Papers, emergencies, laundry, friends…hop-hop-hop.

Allez? hop-hop-hop. Or maybe at a slower, steadier clip because I’m not keeping a hop-hop-hop kind of pace these days.

this is a blog version of Kilroy was here

In Artists, Circus, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts on July 1, 2016 at 9:00 am

I hope we won’t drown in a surfeit of good intentions over here. At fifteen minutes before nine AM, I’m thinking of switching off the phone for a few hours. Text messaging is a long and tedious process.

However. Almost done on the translation of a circus act’s publicity material and about to break the morning fast. Fiction writing feels like the good little girl’s treat, these days. (If you’re good, mommy will let you play with your imaginary friends, sort of thing).

I’m intrigued by the meet-up point building up ever-so-slowly between two characters who clashed in a previous novel set in Hautvoir. How the meeting will happen – if it happens. How it will go. How it will affect the outcome of the story: all mysteries at this point.

This is it, blog-wise? Yes, for now.


“I was walking down the road, minding my own business…”

In Artists, coffee, Film, Food, Fun, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, or juice, photography, proto drafts, Tea, Wine on June 30, 2016 at 8:47 am

Those are the first words I speak in Ed Maurer’s composition, Pérégrinations. Yesterday, I spoke them – and other bits used in the score – while the camera rolled. Others did the same. The shots will provide material for a clip. We laughed a lot – including after others helped me off the floor when a chair broke under me. Because of my weight? I doubt it, heavier bodies than mine occupied it first. No real harm done  but maybe I should take a refresher course in shoulder rolls and tumbles, as learned years ago in a judo class.

“I was walking down the road, minding my own business…” And then? A cat dashed across the path? A cop car appeared? A group of marchers? No one other than a buzzing fly? A squadron of stingers? Had it rained during the night? Were the fields and spider webs covered with dew? Or was this a path through a forest? What kind? A path well-trodden or a push through scrub and thorny bushes? A street? Industrial, residential…

Characters, take your pick.


Behavior modification. Basic observation: you can’t modify eating habits the same way you quit smoking because you can quit smoking altogether but you can’t quit eating. Obvious? Yes. Not so obvious: the how-to. A trip to the small downtown supermarket now involves a mental blanking out of some nine-tenth of the displayed food stuff. Some of those I ignored already, some I bought on occasion, some I considered staples. I won’t be counting grams of ingested protein or salt forever but I’m doing so now to get the notions straight – including when eating out with friends.

I’ve reactivated a long-time companion for this purpose: a notebook I’d bought in Montreal a month before leaving for Europe. Jottings, drawings, notions about food. Fancy meals, simple ones. One recent entry shows cartoon figures at a café table in Gruissan. Date: May 28 of this year when I went to the seashore with friends. Comment added yesterday: “I didn’t know it but I was eating my last hamburger with fries. Delicious, luckily.” Better to end something on a great memory than on a lousy one.

So. Re-training the taste buds. Including when the jollity of a morning photo shoot peaks over wine and pasta with home-made pesto.

Yes, stomach? What’s that you said? ’tis time, I agree. I’ll have breakfast now.