changing countries is like swapping your body in for someone elses. its displacing all your hungers, or giving up all of your friends for new ones, or throwing out your language, or walking out the front door and not going back. its been the better part of a year.
immigrating is an old tradition. but (like so many things) its dead.
i'll come across myself being sentimental at times (i miss the ocean more than anything now - i dream about it every night, as if by habit, or as if by trying to satisfy some jungian hunger) and have to stop to laugh, as if i were sentimental over cutting my fingernails. because it would take me a few hours - less than a day - to go back to wherever the hell i came from. this is nothing compared to the months of travel that people used to accomplish with horses and disease and dark nights surrounded by animals of imaginations. we know nothing of what immigration used to mean. its another human condition that's lost forever.
what makes this time unique is the fact that immigration no longer exists. finally, with things moving as fast as they now do, we're all tourists. and we can never stop. at least i cant.
its not a global village. its a global metropolis that cares nothing for its residents. its a round city with invisible highways that wrap the foundation of our skies and connect neighborhoods named Tokyo or London or Los Angeles.
its not a global village. its a global civic tourist trap with everyone forgetting where they left their homes.
with less than two thousand U$D you could be in the middle of the amazon in 24 hours.
the question, however, is not How would you, but rather Why would you?
Why would you leave? Why do you want to?
Why do you stay?
to move to paris is to leave behind birds and trees and blue skies and anything that might have once seemed like nature. paris seems to me the center of the civilized world. this means its already eaten all of its nature.
paris is a stifling, grey, grim, grisly, gothic skeleton of a city that's turned inside out. the interesting stuff is inside. the people are like this, too. they all look like such nice people, they all look alike, until their mouths crack open and a thin stream of horror, like an exhalation of smoke, streams out.
and every day the sky drags itself slowly over the steepled rooftops, scraping its soft underside like some huge flat and confused snake, ocassionally bleeding down enough rain to make the people that live here complain even more than they usually do.
dont get me wrong; i like it. but the psychic burdens of the people surrounding me is a weight i feel every hour. i grew up in the countryside, in the sticks, near the boonies and butt-fuck-egypt. so here, now, this is my class on how to live in cities.
this city is a ghost that isn't dead enough for its own liking. its a ghost with a hunger, its a phantom with an itch, its a ghoul with an addiction. its a steeple next to the metro. its a perfumed factory, a snakepit of cables, a skyline of tombstones, an underground world of grey butter and white static and a deep fear of the neighbors that live up north cause they just might come back with rifles.
i live in paris now. i'm more legal here than i was in the states. i've registered with a government group that supports artists. they like me because i'm a painter. this is a big change from the states. in the states money is the basis of culture. here its "intellectual pursuits" (another term i'm still trying to decode).
these months have been tricky. i lost my balance a few times and got into trouble more than once. a good friend bailed me out. i got sick enough to make walking across the room a challenge. november 17: i got my wallet stolen. i could hardly use a map when i got here, much less the language (one day i ordered glazed duck "confit du canard" and accidentally mispronounced it as glazed asshole "confit du connard").
but it wasnt as hard as it couldve been - as it has been before - and i've made progress. at least i have a place to live, other than the eiffel tower and the metros.
this is my dining room, and the street in front of my gallery.
i've moved my studio into an art gallery (from which i can legally sell paintings, and its called, thank you and good evening, a Boutique). i live in the 18th between the abbey and the strip joints. its a neighborhood called Pigalle.
as a registered artist i have a number for paying taxes. i can sell my paintings. i have a checking account, i have a cell phone, and i have an internet connection. i also have an attitude because i'm making a meager living off of painting and writing. i can speak the local language and, i have to say, i feel damn proud of my damn self. dammit.
i even have my own lil private set of catacombs. its only 8 or 9 rooms of storage and dust, but i've taken a certain affection for it.
the first time i lived in paris i was on the street. paris about kicked my teeth in ten years ago, in 1990. when i was here the first time, hitch-hiking, i was so hungry and broke i was collecting centimes off of the sidewalks, i was stealing groceries from the street markets, i was sleeping in the subways and under stairs and on the top floors of apartment buildings that i would break into when it was raining too hard for the other places. being woken up by cops that dont speak your language is as much fun as having them prod you awake with a baton and a flashlight. but you get up. another night when i was sleeping in a subway some rats woke me up (nevermind the trains) and when i wasnt in the subway i slept in the eiffel tower, behind one of the great spotlights that unblinkingly stare up the metallic spine of that hated landmark of france. in 1990 i lived in the streets for almost a month, teaching illustration, stealing, finding, scratching anything i could and losing weight and learning words like encouler and merde and putin. i was so poor i swore i would never walk past a penny and not pick it up.
i continue to swear to myself. the first week i moved back here i swore i wouldnt leave paris until i had exacted my revenge. i need reason to live and fighting something as abstract as a city seems as stupid a reason to me as any.
its raining outside now. i hear the abbey bells as i write this. the winter is coming. its cold.
14 oct, 2001
paris, like any senior citizen, knows that something that is old isnt bad. 1970s pop music is played next to something that was released last week. this disturbs american cultural sensitivity because it threatens the sales addage of "NEW!" (one of the two top-used words in marketing media... the other being "SALE"). cheap and new.
this is not paris. paris is expensive and old. stay away, americans. stay away australians. stay away. its bad.
30 oct, 2001
paris keeps its rockstars well preserved, on the rocks, on ice, and on public display. the city knows the value of death. the graveyard of père-lachaise, itself, is a rockstar. louis the 14th's confessor, the soft-spoken monsieur lachaise, used to live on this hill and louis would come up to take an eye on battles that would happen on a nearby hill. the graveyard itself was a battlefield in 1871. molière was moved over to père-lachaise to bring a little extra clout to the graveyard. not that it matters compared to the likes of jim morrison and chopin, two more names that make having a burial plot in père-lachaise party bragging rights. or so i'm told.
sometimes this is new york, sometimes this is carnival, and occasionally, i find myself feeling like i'm in some little tiny traditional village that i found in the outskirts of france. sometimes, rarely, its home.
the metros link everything together and collapse it all into itself.
the metro is the digestive tract of the city.
the trains are subterranean demons that come roaring and rattling out of the dark hallways like enormous metal worms with long unmoving arms that stretch out from underneath them. the electric third rail exists and, i have it on certain word from multiple drivers, If you touch it you die. its that tough and that simple. this is something i reach for, like a kind of intellectual safety blanket at times while i live here and get shook up; If you touch it you die.
if you touch it you die. this has become a kind of mantra for me. i dont know what it means yet but it is taking on spiritual significance.
i spent several nights riding in the cabs of the trains, talking to the drivers. one guy talked of himself as a miner. another said that this was his music. another one seemed like he'd done a few too many lines of coke. they all seemed oddly content and none of them bothered to look where they were going. they'd been there hundreds of time before and anyway, it all looked a bit alike.
25 nov, 2001
today, i asked for a glass of Vin Rouge and got a beaujolais nouveau instead of the normally-served bordeaux. it was like getting a mountain dew when yer expectin pepsi. i about spit it on the ground. it seemed horrid. i'm sure i made a face until then i heard the bells in the abbey ring and i realized what was going on. i looked up from the table i was sitting at and saw cobbled streets and people walking wearing long, black wool coats and the air from my breath was visible. it smelled like dry leaves and burnt wood. the cold air made the sounds of the bells all the more clear. a man came out of the cafe and he was carrying the plate of food i had ordered. i moved the paper (i was reading articles on how hated americans are all over the world, by everybody) off the table and he set the food down. it was a piece of bread with melted cheese and a fried egg, easy side up, steaming next to a small salad with a clear dressing. it was 2 in the afternooon and i was being served a fried egg. i picked up my fork and before i could take a bite two people stopped directly in front of my table. it was an old man and an old woman, both dressed in fur coats, their arms intertwined. they seemed like strange angels going to a fashion show. they looked at my food then looked at me and smiled and didnt say a word. they were admiring my food, but they were obviously wealthy and so it was a kind of artistic admiration. i got a little nervous until the old man said, with all the diligence and intent of a judge pronouncing sentence, "bon apetit, monsieur" and i thanked him for this kind wish (cause it really is more of a way to say "Have a good meal" than "Have a good apetite") and he smiled at me and then he and his wife, slowly, walked away.
they were wishing me appropriate hunger for my meal. this was nice.
lunch was, needless to say, very, very good, despite the unexpected glass of beaujolais. i managed to recover.
eating is a national past-time. this is not only good for you, its also fun, and necessary. its also one of the final activities of a nation of people that have slaughtered the outdoors that was left. there are, for example, no birds in the streets of paris, save for the occasional pidgeons. the french love blood. they are hungry for it at all times, as if it would sooth some part of the grit they suspect themselves capable of. but going outside is, in the mind of most parisians, equivocated with stupidity and hunting. the parisians must be inside now. they have no other choice. they've killed everything that was outside. there is no outside for them (remember, thier city is turned inside out) and so they turn to the more intellectual, the more refined, and the more paletable of activities. eating is at the top of the list.
and anyway, we all get hungry.
if you're a farmer, eating isnt as big a deal, because your nerves are sanded down a bit from carrying axes and breaking wood. if youre a parisian, your hands are as soft as veal skin and your nerves are quivering for input.
food is a natural selection.
30 nov, 2001.
the nights are all a deep blue and pale grey. paris is blue at night. blue and grey. after only 2 or 3 minutes of walking a family that was near me on the sidewalk explodes. man hits woman, roses and toys spill over the cobblestones, children started screaming, woman hits man, older sister grabs man, younger girl falls down crying. in the mess of it all the 5-year old boy looks at his parents slugging each other, then his eyes drift over and he looks at me. i dont think i'll forget the look in his eyes for a while.
after this little outburst of dom.violence settled down the family split up. older daughter and woman go north, man and younger boy and girl go south. not having much else better to do i followed the man and the two children down street after street for almost an hour. the man was walking fast, his children orbiting. the 5-year old boy would peel off and play at the fringes of the sidewalk. he'd push the bases of signs, pick up things to throw, splish in the water that was in the gutter -- completely accepting of what had happened. he was more familiar with the events and the violence than i. the father never seemed to pay attention. the father was busy screaming into his cell phone. it was odd; this boy's expression when he saw all this and, then, his fast movement away from that to playing with the shit in the gutter. complete redirect that not only made sense but seemed familiar.
a few minutes later in an even narrower street a woman was screaming at a cabdriver (who was sitting in the drivers seat) and kicking the side of the car while her boyfriend passively watched, arms folded, heel against the wall nearby. she kicked the door furiously at least twice (her foot must hurt today) and slammed her palm onto the roof and window. i've never seen a woman attack a car before. she was screaming french so fast right next to the rolledup window ... and so loud ... i couldnt make out a single fucking word.
08 january, 2002
i've been sick for days. its been almost five days now. influenza's had me pinned against the bed and weighs a ton when i get up to walk. i've been reading all the harry potter books in an effort to better understand what people like and disprove my theories about his flaccid will and good luck. today i felt the need to circulate some blood and so i stepped outside. its not the first time i've made this mistake.
sometimes the people of the world look like ghouls and monsters. the pores of their skin seems magnified and the holes around their eyes are darker and deeper because there might be a vacuum inside their head that their eyes are trying to escape from. their necks are rubberlike and their hands flaccid and unattached. they stagger in front of me and leer at me, licking their greasy mouths and uttering horrible croaking noises while they pull metallic covered slime from their nostrils and wipe at their eyes with the backs of hairy hands. gibbering, mad, pathless.
sometimes this is what i see, when i'm a bit sensitized and havent seen people in a while. i dont like it. but its there.
but today, after walking for maybe an hour (i was trying to feel better) something reminded me that i wasnt in such bad shape after all. she came walking up the steps carrying bags. she was short, wearing a stained creamy blue parka made of some plastic material and at first i recoiled because it looked like she had blood running down the side of her face. then i had to laugh and remind my self that people walk around with halloween masks all the time (right? dont they?) and then i had to recoil because it wasnt a halloween mask she was wearing on her face, it was her eyeball. he left eye was lolling lazily on her cheek and blood had dripped down her front and her nose was green and white and smashed against her upper lip and her other eye was only a little better off. and she seemed to be in little pain. maybe she was walking to the grocery store. it just so happened her face had been destroyed that hour.
i always have an excuse not to help people. today it was because i was running a fever and having a hard time standing.
but i think about it, and really, my excuse is the fact that i live in a city and i'm too spooked by the idea of helping someone, of getting cooties, of getting entangled, of getting overwhelmed, of having to give more than i fucking want.
but today i didnt help because i had influenza. see; i felt sick in the first place.
He: "Voila. I'm working all alone today so i can earn a little bit more. It's been like this for a few months now."
Me: "six, please."
He: "Why six?"
Me: "because, duh, its 3 for me and three for my lady. we're hungry today, you see."
without hunger we'd have little to live for. this is the great secret the marketing executives of the united states know. it is mostly hidden from the europeans. and the day that they discover this will be the day that marketing is able to sink its poisoned hooks into the spirit of this geriatric ghost of a city. marketing is the introduction of new kinds of hunger that you dont need. and that defines a kind of life for most americans..
this is the fundamental difference between the french and the americans; the form, origin, and quantity of their Hunger.