Archive for the ‘Break – coffee’ Category

Through a thicket of parentheses

In Break - coffee, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on June 14, 2016 at 8:01 am

Too many highlights in one day. For now, I’ll settle on the moment when the freak storm hit town. I was reviewing English pronunciation with an eleven year-old whose contributions to the school play consist of four lines. First line: I’m a zebra. Second line: I like oranges. Third line: Hello Handa, I’m fine thanks. Fourth and final line: A surprise! I like surprises. Tangerine! My favorite fruits!

(Note: even in their English lessons, the French use a lot of exclamation points.)

The session was at the Social Center. All activities there scheduled for a move (when? soon. When is soon? Please. Soon gets moved down the line on a regular basis). Ergo, maintenance on the building: down to zilch (I avoid the elevator). Freak storm hits town and the waterfall begins (somewhere around Hello Handa, I’m fine thanks). Instead of Hello Handa etc, the girl says My feet are wet in French (mes pieds sont mouillés). And so they were. My feet were next. Stanching the flow: impossible, the water fell from under the window. So we set aside tangerines as the zebra’s favorite fruit, pulled out the mop, spread towels on the floor, and moved the lesson to the other side of the room.

What makes this highlight worthy of note over the others? The others are too complicated. Way too complicated. They involve transferring information from one language to another (French to Albanian or French to Soninke, two languages I don’t speak nor understand). The Albanian and Soninke speakers then attempt to tell me what they’ve understood of what I said in French. Sometimes, confusion grows at exponential rates. Other times ultra-basic information clicks into place. “Ah, that’s what you meant. – Yes, this is what I meant. Now, what do we do about it.” And so on.

I pause for a break of mindlessness and my second bowl of coffee.


At this point in the writing, even the word proto-draft sounds too elaborate. At this point in the writing, I jot down whatever carries an emotional charge sufficient to lift the words out of my head (my head’s a crowded space these days, in terms of things that must get done, must, must, or else…)

I pause to savor the coffee. Plus toasted walnut bread with a slather of Italian ultra-bitter lemon marmalade. Whatever pops up next as the most pressing of the pressing things to do? May (or may not) get my full attention

Why people get tired

In Absurdlandia, Animals, Break - coffee, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Synopsis on May 31, 2016 at 8:51 am

At least, for the time being, there’s still a human presence behind the wicket. With a bit of persistence, you even get admitted into the Holy of Holies beyond the waiting room. Into a small room where fingerprints get recorded on a green screen atop an electronic gizmo shaped like a cube. Four fingers of right hand, four fingers of left hand, then both thumbs. Followed by an official paper attesting the holder’s  right to wander from departmental administration to municipal bureaucracy for another stretch, seeking an official address the préfecture accepts as the one and only place worthy of receiving her acceptance or denial of the right to stay for another year.

What will be the next step when The System goes all-out electronic? No more human presence to greet, treat or mistreat you and your application for a renewal of your right to take the bus to and from the préfecture. If you happen to live on the street with the rest of your family and if your French isn’t all that extensive, where will you find access to a computer? How will you fill out the electronic queries? I mean, how will you even know how to get online – assuming the library staff allows you inside in your dirty, sorry state? Where do you park the wife and kids while you tackle the screen?


Why people get tired. Why they cut corners or ignore LAST AND FINAL notices. Why they shrug their shoulders (if they still have the energy for a gesture that extravagant) or just sit like lumps with occasional glances of the common-misery variety.

Why people just give up and let others do what they will, for better or for much, much worse.

I look at the piles of papers on the table. At the scanner the electrician managed to revive the other day. I look at the novels, the poster from Hassen Ferhani’s excellent documentary Dans ma tête un rond-point. I add  a few lines to the synopsis-in-the-making. I add a few brief notes to a story in the first-glimmer stage. I tell myself I must see the dentist and the doctor too. I look at postage stamps, the battery from my camera, in need of recharging. I tell myself I should eat a bite of breakfast, and ignore the rain, the rain, the rain.

I smile at the absurdities because if I don’t, who else will in this house? The dog? She’s a good sort but not too gifted in the smiling department. In fact, jokes and laughter worry her. She likes sad songs and vocalizes to some of them. Eh, sad songs cross the species barrier, but comedy? not so much. As for absurdity…

On to the next thing, whatever it may be

In Animals, Artists, Break - coffee, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Theater on May 2, 2016 at 9:31 am

Of course, the finished inflated balloons are spectacular, and the performances by Plasticiens Volants delight crowds world-wide. As usual though, my fascination with backstage remains. How things get done – whether a sit-down dinner for seventy (or more – final count not in yet; we had sixty reservations, plus…well, folks who show up), or any other venture.

The making of – process, in other words. For instance, take a giant hand that will float high above a crowd. First, the company’s sculptor makes a clay model. Coated with a white polymer, photographed, it gets run through a 3-D visualization. Then, another computer function provides the flattened layout of the cutting and sewing pattern required. I can’t manage sewing a straight hem so my admiration goes to the Plasticiens’ seamstresses who sit in small pits with meters of fabric stretching out around them.

(We pause here to take a groaning dog outside).


The groaning dog subsides.


Somewhat dazed, I am. Lots to do. A bit less would suit me fine. Revision? Yes, that too.

Favorite things

In Animals, Artists, Break - coffee, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts on February 29, 2016 at 8:58 am

This, for example (while I cringe at the thought of Things I Must Do Today):

One of my favorite online news sources (Mediapart) publishes a blogger’s enthusiastic report concerning a fiction writer/poet/painter’s prize for literature. I take a look, of course. No more than ten words into the reading, my eyes start to skip away. I ask them to be polite and read some more. They comply but it’s no good. You’re wasting precious time here, they say. Why? Because both the writer’s words and those of his admiring public remind me of the worse moments in French literature classes. Moments when chaste-by-obligation nuns turned ecstatic in dubious ways over some roiling sentiments by Gérard de Nerval, for instance.

So I revert to Seamus Heaney. Of personal contact with Irish soil, I have nothing but a brief stopover at Dublin Airport for some unexplained “checking” of the plane boarded in Paris, and supposed to cross over the Atlantic all the way to Montreal. Of the airport, I recall nothing but the sight of a priest with a full and beefy red face downing a huge mug of black beer. Plus, of course, tales by and about me Irish grandmother.

All this to explain there’s no trace of a brogue when I read Heaney’s poems out loud to myself. (Other times, I read them silently, because then, I definitely hear the lilt and the ponderous, the wondrous, and so on.)

The one I read over and over with delight last night – after endless dreary dealings with provisional budgets better described as desperate scrapings:


The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise

Were all at prayers inside the oratory

A ship appeared above them in the air.


The anchor dragged along behind so deep

It hooked itself into the altar rails

And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,


A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope

And struggled to release it. But in vain.

‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’


The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So

They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back

Out of the marvelous as he had known it.

Seamus Heaney


Is there a moral to this post? Two, in fact:

1 what works for you, works for you. What doesn’t, doesn’t.

2 the second I’m still struggling to carve out in fiction, with grateful assistance to those voices that matter to me.


More urgent, trying, pesky dealings with bureaucratic deadlines and dead ends today? Afraid so – with whatever delightful breaks I encounter in passing. You don’t tell an old horse to speed past a luscious bit of greenery by roadside – not unless you wish the old horse to jerk down his head and spill you out of the saddle.



In Break - coffee, Food, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on February 27, 2016 at 9:52 am

A neighborhood butcher with a sense of humor is a pleasant addition to daily living. “Lots of blue out there,” he said when I stepped into his shop.

“With touches of white,” I added as the third vehicle from the gendarmerie pulled up.

“Well, it’s nice to see them around. It’s all about who wins the intimidation contest.”

I agreed, for obvious reasons. Still, I said, with so many of the downtown shops closed down, and so many young people striving to take the young entrepreneur route…

He fell right in. True, he said, and reached for my supper selection. The self-employed are France’s future. If a young man wants to sell small bags of baking powder, why arrest him? His friends wish to make self-rising crêpes, the American kind. Because I don’t care for them, should I stop others from eating them?

We bantered on in this vein for a bit because any given day is like what the title of this post says – an aggregate.  In geology, the term refers to a loosely bound mash-up of various minerals that went through a number of separate  traumatic events, and ended up glomped together for two or possibly ten million years. (The term “loosely bound” being a relative concept).

Do bodies – live, dead, barely living or about to be born – glomped together in a rubber dinghy also form an aggregate? They do, but of a briefer duration. And despite everything, grateful, so grateful (the living ones, that is) when human decency shows up on the sea or on the beach in order to extract them safely, one by one.

The relief after the ordeal is of shorter duration than the fateful crossing? Still. Better some food, some water, some medical care and kindness than none at all. Considering the indescribable jumble awaiting said bodies on the shores they so longed to reach.

What else in the mix, today? Fun, funny, boring and annoying things. Plus nonsense of every possible description. Was it Ferlinghetti or another who wrote the poem I should have jotted down years ago, and didn’t? The one about drawing a small circle on a piece of plain old dirt – then discovering the stupendous amount of unknown things revealed before your eyes. I think the poet had mentioned the number three hundred such revelations. If he did, I guess it was because he stopped counting so he could write down the poem instead.

Next up in this day: some very disagreeable stuff relating to accounting and funding requests. Mixed in with whatever makes that dreariness bearable. Dreaming up a provisional budget? Writing someone an email that says we’ve spotted sixty errors in the balance sheet you sent us?

As one of the characters would say: joy, joy, joy.


(For writing and general living purposes, the chewed up garden gnome has joined the bunch that keeps an eye on proceedings around here. He considers himself “honored and pleased” to feature in this shot with La Bienheureuse Germaine and a few other significant lares. He wishes to thank the ones who saved him from a disgraceful plunge off a cliff overlooking a parking with lots of late-night activity of a dubious kind.)

Accounting, RL. Accounting, yes. Coming right up.


This was my virtual day off

In Animals, Break - coffee, Drafts, Local projects on December 2, 2015 at 9:21 am

Time off – that’s all. Nothing fancy. Get up when I so decide – not when the dog insists 4 am or 5:15 is the one and only time for outside. Have the first coffee nice and slow while deciding if I want to know something about the outside world or not. Getting the house chores done, the plastic containers out to the plastic bin, the paper to the paper, the glass to the glass. Reading, maybe. Writing, maybe. Leaving this town for – hey! – a day in Toulouse or in Albi. Buying a new sweater. Taking in a movie. Eating in a new restaurant.

Voilà. Just had my five-minute virtual spin through a day off. I should be preparing all the materials for the final workshop with the eleven year-olds (moved over to Friday – my official day off because of the full day of English classes in their school tomorrow). My table is littered with should do this and should do that. Right now, I should get the files ready for the day of coaching. I should pack up the old laptop for the session with the kid who can’t write (and doesn’t want to anyway). For the time being, I’ll bask a few extra minutes in the knowledge that, today, I will not lead a group of children in the singing of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. I’m a simple soul. Don’t need all that much to keep me going.

More cold fog today. More sniffles and kaf-kaf. Yesterday, I caught some good shots of the spunky pre-adolescent duckling eking out a living on the bit of river just above the weir. He(she?) shares the territory with a water rat. They both go about their business. The duckling swims in short bobbing motions, with a tendency to veer off toward the left. The water rat glides, looking purposeful, until something sends him into a loop. Sometimes, he seems to forget he was heading for the other shore. Doesn’t seem to bother him much.

Meanwhile the duckling bobs along. How he(she?) will make it through the winter, I don’t know.

Allez. The rest of the local Wind in the Willows will have to wait. (I add the Drafts category as a… as a… the distant call of the loon, maybe.)

Fatigue plus whatever emerges from it later

In Break - coffee, Food, Local projects, Music, news coverage, Scene Prep on December 1, 2015 at 8:15 am

a blur of fatigue as thick as the fog outside, a something settling down on the lungs ( book doctor’s appointment) and not much time left this morning before I sing We Wish You A Merry Christmas with another bunch of children. So, page-holder. Try again later.

Resting in front of the screen with the morning coffee. Even Duracell bunnies can’t keep up with the White Rabbit (late, late… important date, and so on).

But it’s nice to know France is living up to its reputation as a great dining spot.  (I just grabbed a shot of Our Beloved World Leaders posing before breaking bread at L’Ambroisie. The name has to be a coincidence, ja? Nobody was witty enough to choose the name in reference to the Greek gods’ favorite snack food. Can’t be.)

I pass on the opportunity to share a pic of the dining area for the teachers of one school I’ll see on a regular basis on Mondays.

End of coffee. Onward etc. (I’ll be kind to myself and call this Scene Prep.)

Testing, testing, one-two-three

In Break - coffee, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Once in a parking lot, proto drafts on November 7, 2015 at 9:52 am

I recognized her and she recognized me. We reconnected at the coffee break on the second day of the Suicide Prevention training session. She asked for an update on the boy we’d discussed in her office over three years ago. Off the radar, I said; you know how it goes when the family realizes authorities are investigating. Let me know if you hear anything else about him – him or others –  she said.

I approached her in the parking lot at the end of the sessions. Told her I’d appreciate some time to review procedurals  for a novel involving gendarmes – not all of them portrayed in a flattering light. “I want to get the good guys, the bad guys and the in-between ones right, in terms of professional practices and responsibilities in a brigade,” I said. Glad to oblige, she answered. Also, she added, I’m in a different town with other duties now. Doesn’t mean I’ve lost contact with your town. Doesn’t mean either everything we talk about has to go on record.

So we’ll meet up at some point after I finish the proto-draft stage i.e. a total something ready for a run-through the flattener (a pasta-making image, this).

I like her. Liking her keeps me in a zone of great discomfort. Alert, let’s say, to the crevasse on the left and the chasm on the right. As for the wobbly and crumbling soil in between… I tread with caution.

The sun’s out – riotous, in fact, for the past three days with summer-like weather conditions.

Story-wise: notes, back-stories, read-throughs, step by step by step.

Preface to writing something I don’t want to write

In Break - coffee, Hautvoir, Local projects, notes, photography on October 5, 2015 at 6:52 am

The feeling: the same as in my teens when I had to deliver a piece of homework to the teacher’s specs, instead of exploring the book, the poem or the author as I wanted.  Which may provide part of the why in why I get along with most kids. Doing exercises one through seven on page thirty-four isn’t much their thing either.  I’ll have to deliver the homework anyway. Ergo, rise above or go under the barrier of resistance and deliver the generalities demanded by l’Education Nationale.

Ah yes, same feeling years later as the uncomfortable time spent dragging body and mind back to the writing desk to produce a soporific stream of generalities for someone’s speech. “They” loved the speech. There wasn’t one rough angle in the whole thing. They basked in the comfort of it. I even received congrats from the man who mouthed the words.

So. While I try to get a few grandees to live up to a tiny, minute piece of the grand Overall Concept of peace, goodwill and understanding, I’ll start by another assembly of generalities with a few details thrown in to give a sense of verisimilitude.

Other recollection that crops up: a report tacked onto a university bulletin board, years ago outside a Psychology Department office. The report dealt with an experiment by a philosopher who had assembled a piece of total and absolute nonsense out of high-sounding and obscure terms delivered with suitable this-is-no-joke rigor. A variation on the Emperor has no clothes story? Yes, except for the fact no one at the conference dared raise a finger, for fear of looking the perfect fool. (Homework, girl, homework. Stop the dawdling and get to work.)

Several hundred photos in need of sorting. Tendinitis growing in intensity in the right arm (bad angle between a chair too low and a desk too high – nothing I can do about it for the time being. I stop from time to time, walk around and exercise the thumb.) Some coaching sessions I’ll have to put aside tomorrow for the run through so-called “cases” – on the chance some of the talk will lead to practical arrangements beneficial to the “cases”.

Ahem. Homework?

What else? Gratitude to someone who could write the email with some chance the elected ones would pay attention. Maybe following in her trail will bring results. Everyone’s in election mode. Everyone wants to look good. The problem, as always: you can’t please all of the people and those with a right to vote tend to occupy more mind space than the other kind.

Plus, in the fictional nether lands: the laws of unexpected and unintentional consequences at play.

But first: I said do your homework, girl.

(exit to the sound of gnashing teeth.)


In Animals, Break - coffee, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, photography, proto drafts, Sanford Meisner on August 26, 2015 at 6:50 am

The man at the end of my street – last night’s would-be suicide – has recovered sufficient equanimity this morning to stand on the bluff for a smoke, and watch the firefighters extinguish the blazing car in the passageway below.

The biggest oddity about the blaze: its tardiness relative to the rumble in the night. The arsonists used a timing device? Electrical fire unrelated to the vigorous night time verbal and physical exchanges? (Could happen; years ago, I lost a vehicle to an electrical fire when extreme cold shorted the wiring. However, the cold was not extreme at six am over here, although the stench of burning plastic forced a shutting of all windows.)

As a brave but not stupid policeman once told me when I called about a brawl  below another local window: “Make sure they don’t see you peeking.” This was the extent of the brave but not stupid policeman’s help. There’s a fair amount of weariness that sets in when the same cast of characters stages the same kind of inter-gang mayhem. The voice of weariness suggests you leave them to their favorite sport, and stay clear of the window.


Unrelated? Not at all. Even if James Joyce, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s work held no appeal (which they do), I’d recommend Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature for the nine-page essay at the end, titled The Art of Literature and Commonsense. A gem. I won’t provide spoilers from any of the many passages I’ve underlined. It’s a must-read, period.


Today: Story, yes, among other things. Including a slow working out of a course outline for six forty-five minute writing workshops with a class of twenty-five middle school children. For most of them, the very notion of putting pencil to paper sets off nausea and stomach cramps. The budget: minimal but, if the project is accepted on Friday, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.


Temporary: the word came to mind as I prepared my first coffee after the morning stroll and the return to billowing chemicals from the burning vehicle and the firefighters’ extinguishers. Temporary, as in: for the time being, all’s sort of OK that doesn’t really end. How could it end? A burned car cries out for revenge, does it not?  Ergo: my choice of early morning for the main stroll on the esplanade with the dog remains the superior option vs aimless midnight wandering in the passageway below.

My favorite of this morning’s early shots: the café owner has just set out the tables. First customer yet to arrive with his version of the night’s events.