France, Paris

Paris – Not Quite a Eulogy

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”
― Oscar Wilde

Sometimes Paris doesn’t work. Aside from the fact that the French don’t like to work as is (and this is a true stereotype, I’ve found), the city itself just doesn’t hang together properly. Aside from 6 decades of failed immigration policy, 5 governments since the founding of the Republic, the incessant onslaught of developpers trying to ruin the city, problems with crime, Islam, post-colonial guilt, the echos of WW2, Muslims, the decline of the French language in popular use (it as once literally the linga franca of Europe, no more), the loss of her religion, the increasing wealth gap, the development of a new underclass, the fact that soldiers have to patrol my neighborhood, and, lastly, the fact that Anne Hidalgo thinks that skyscrapers will work within the city itself (hint: no one but real estate developers want that) – aside from this the city just feels wrong sometimes. It feels angry and ambivalent all at once.

It’s difficult to explain but think of the last time you walked into a room and something just  fell out of place. Now thing of a time that you have walked into a room after a tenuous truce had just been made between enemies and their anger still hung in the air. that is a decent approximation of the Parisian atmosphere on many days. It is not just the looming and ever present threat of terror, nor the gaping wounds that last attacks opened. It’s something else; maybe the city changed to quickly, who knows? But it is palpable, not always but when it is, it is a thick viscous feeling that that slows everything down and makes the city repugnant.

But it is not always like this. And during the moments when the weakened but enduring spirit can pierce the fog that has fall – those moments are incredible.

It is during those brief moments that one can understand why the city used to capture the imagination of the greater part of the worth. In these moments the City of Light is dimmer but shining nonetheless. You can’t prepare for these times, sometimes you can’t even stop to enjoy them – they pass like one of those rare strangers with whom you make an immediate connection but never see again.

Artists drawing in museums.

The odd couple on a lonely quai.

Children yelling bonjour monsieur to you as they go to school you to work.

In and of themselves they mean little, but together with a million other tiny, indescribable details, the picture of the old spirit comes together. I can no more tell you how these moments come to be than describe why Marat’s posture in Jacques-Louis David’s painting makes such an abhorrent man so pathetic.

These moments are unpredictable but they tend to lie where the stone better bore the weathering of time. At Sunday organ concerts at Saint Eustache, where Parisians line up to listen to a half hour of music on one of the most beautiful organs in the world. When you attend mass at Saint-Nicholas-Du-Chardonnet, a mass performed in the old way and a congregation whose faith would have been more home in the 12th century than in ours. It can be found in lost corners of museums, on roofs in the 6th, on quais in the 4th, in cafés in the second. The sap of the old city varnished some of these places, so it is harder for the problems of today to penetrate and rot what soul remains.

This is perhaps the most interesting time to live here since the Germans marched down Champs-Elyéee and the future of the city as hurled into doubt. But whatever her ails may be right now, the city comes out of hiding when she feels playful or reminiscent.

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Writing

The Many, Many, Many Benefits of Journaling

For the sake of journalistic (or blogger, whatever) integrity I have to be honest: I am horrible at keeping journals. It is a next to impossible task for me to keep writing in one for more than a month. I get sick or go on vacation and habit dies a quick death. But when I do keep journals I feel like I realize the value as I am writing it. I get to run through my day, critique my actions, and practice my writing. And, of course, a lot of things that seem like a big deal when they are happening seem pathetically unimportant seven hours later when I am writing them down.

But what is  truly wonderful is the fact that you get to watch your writing style develop over the days, months, and years (you also get to see your handwriting get progressively better until high school and then fall off, at least in my case). You can see where you started and just how far you have come, which is wonderful when you are having doubts about your ability as a writer or whether or not you have improved. Doubts that everyone has in the path to becoming a writer… Actually, I’d say that no matter what art you choose, the further you get the slower you advance. And considering the difference between good and great is, in many cases, quite thin – you have to just keep working at it!

But if you don’t see your improvement it is too easy to get frustrated and fall into a rut. Once there you’ll have to climb out. And the easiest way to do this is to see just how far you have come.

But this is only one benefit the journaling has to the aspiring author – there are two others that I want to cover. The first is that it is a bottomless source of inspiration, especially if you develop some kind of tagging system (either on the computer or marking the top of the journal page). A short sentence at the top to give a sneak peek of the contents when browsing. You life is full of the stuff about which whole novels are written; the difference between you and a great writer is practice. A practiced eye insofar as finding the stories in the mundane, and a practiced style. Without both your writing can only be so good.

Lastly, it is a wonderful drug. Diving into your childhood, seeing how you felt and remembering things long forgotten, this is all priceless. And nostalgia is a feeling that sharpens others – a childhood memory is usually a thing of extremes extreme happiness, contentment, pain, wonder – and it is these kind of sharpened emotions that make the best materials for writing.

So start journaling, your future self will thank you.

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