I live in a small yet classy flat in Paris… I have a great bay window that I sit in front of and drink coffee. As an American I like to drink drip coffee, however the isolation one feels when drinking drip coffee in Paris can be overwhelming. Only Americans can stand the stuff; we grew up on it. The rest of the world sees this concoction as muddy water lacking in body, depth and flavour. We Americans see it as a cultural icon, the “cup of joe” from the dim lit diners of our past. Alas, the comfort of the humble beverage is no substitute for the interactions of the world below, and as the isolation starts to build I venture into the dog-shit infested city streets.
There is a cafe down the street in which I spend many hours talking to expat Spainiards about bullfighting and art. I feel very “Hemingway like” when I participate in this ritual. The men are gruff and smell of perspiration and cigars, but they are “men” in the sense that one believes all “men” should be. They are passionate about life, women, art, food and drink. There is a sense of freedom I feel as I sit with these men, a freedom from constraint.
After spending time with the Spaniards I often return to my flat and stare out the window. Although my body is in Paris, my mind is often in Madrid or Seville or even Philadelphia. The location depends on the mood, the amount of alcohol in my bloodstream and the haunting sentimentality which is a part of my being.
There is a streetlight in front of my building which looks like a piece of art deco. It has not worked since I have lived here and I often watch people allow their dogs to piss on this piece of art, hour after hour, day after day. Once, while drunk I pissed on it as well, just for good measure.
A woman lives across the hall from me. She is very attractive. I occasionally say hello to her, but I do not think she understands English or French. She looks Middle Eastern or North African, She never answers, but smiles politely and nods her head as if in approval of the salutation. But that’s about the end of our “conversation.”
Someday I think I’ll get a phone in my flat,but then again, all the people I care to talk to I see every day. The Spanish men, mon amour, the woman across the hall and others who reside in the area. Some of these others sell me things, others want things from me, some even give me things.
One rainy day an elderly woman I buy bread from, gave me an old photograph of the building I live in. The photo was a bit tattered with some water damage, but the image was clear. A moment of time preserved; as so many moments in Paris’s history have been. But unlike photos from the turn of the last century depicting cafe-goers or wine -sipping Nazi officers reading newspapers in the sun, this old photo had a personal connection to my present.
The building looks the same now as it did at the time the photograph was taken. The cracks in the facade of the building appear unchanged although the world around the building has changed significantly. The trees are much larger now but they do appear to be of the same variety. There is a woman in the photo. She looks well off; a woman of distinction, not like the people you see today on the Rue. And there beside this woman, frozen forever in time, is a dog. A dog pissing on the streetlight.
I sometimes hear the woman across the hall fucking her lover. He is a Frenchman, but does not look native. At least I think he is French because he moans in French as they fuck one another. I wish the walls were a bit thicker and the hallway a bit wider, but then I enjoy hearing them enjoying each other and I am sure they hear when mon amour is here with me.
Mon amour; she sometimes moans and always snores. It keeps me up some nights, but I love her nonetheless. She is not French, as I am not French, but here we are in Paris. I have never asked her how or why she ended up here and she has never asked me. It is not a taboo subject but some things are better if they remain a mystery.
One morning not long ago, after her complaining of my American coffee and my love of white bread, we watched a woman from the window. Her style was heavily influenced by Jim Morrison and she paraded down the Rue in leather pants, silver belt buckle and lizard skin boots. She stopped at the front of my building and waited; while her dog pissed on that damn streetlight.
Mon amour loves looking at such people, but unlike me she is not interested in their dogs. Mon amour is a cat person. She has a cat and often brings it to the flat when she visits, but I never see the damned thing. I think it hides somewhere but I can never find it. However, I do find its hair everywhere, especially on my clothes.
My lover is always cold. Paris is not a cold city in comparison to Philadelphia, I am quite comfortable but my lover, she is always cold. She turns the heat up to somewhere just short of 45 degrees celsius. Maybe her cat goes outside to escape the inferno. I often turn the heat down while she is not looking.
My lover does not cook but she loves to eat. She loves champaign and Belgian chocolates. She loves poetry, music, books and getting her back rubbed. But most of all my lover loves love. That is probably why she is in Paris.
I love art. The art which is incorporated into the everyday things in life. The art in the way the handrail curves around the end at the top of the stairs, the art in the way the matador lets the bull graze his suit and the art in the way my lover complains of my coffee. I love “the art” of french bread ; Le bonne pain with goat’s cheese. I love reading the French newspapers and I love the dogs that piss on the streetlight. My life is richer because of them.