I’m feeling nostalgic. Good friends are off visiting Paris, France, and the pictures they post to Facebook make me want to go back. Since that’s not possible at the moment, I dug back into some old writings and revisited a piece I started a number of years ago. It’s very much a work in progress. It’s also not really nonfiction, though it isn’t exactly fiction either, which is… problematic… and something I want to discuss in another post once I see where this piece takes me.
from “A Summer in Paris”
…Bordering an outdoor market, within sight of the Montmartre Cemetery, he found a cafe and returned there often. Four booths crowded the inside, and three round, tile-covered tables sat outside beneath a tall horse-chestnut tree. It was a small place, like the house on what he swears was Rue de Florentine, but there always seemed to be a table waiting for him. Perhaps it was because the tree dropped a yellow bud that stained the sidewalks and tables and chairs a slick mustard-yellow. Or, more likely, he thought, it was because of the cemetery.
The locals of the Montmartre quarter shunned the place, leaving the remains of Degas and Nijinsky to the ignorant tourists. But he knew what the locals knew. He had written a paper on it the year before. Montmartre wasn’t always a peaceful, picturesque resting place. It started out as a gypsum quarry that, during the French Revolution, was converted to a mass gravesite before being topped off with dirt and soil. It was born of violence and famine, and buried to hide the shame of a failed government.
Unlike the locals, however, this history soothed him somehow. It was as though he sucked it all in at once — inhaled both the death of the cemetery and the acrid, pungent life of the lime trees that dotted the paths of the dead. He sat at his little tile table for hours, sometimes returning two or even three times in a day. He sat, and he watched. It was there he learned he liked his coffee strong and black. It was there, with the help of his French-speaking friend, the eldest son of the family of six, he learned to read the battered yellow map he found on the floor of baggage claim his first day in the city. And it was there he learned to steal…