Lumembourg, early October
I look up from a book, and suddenly, the clouds are gone and as far as
I can see are fields and houses, the Continent! Europe! Green and brown
fields, irregularly spaced, with clumps of houses held in place by crooked
webs of roads. Hills covered with dark green evergreens and many-colored
tweeds - fall colors.
We've begun to lose altitude as we cross the border from Belgium into
Luxembourg - the sun is shining slantwise over the fields and the glow of
the countryside is partly the sun, and partly my enormous excitement. I
keep smiling hugely at the stewardess and falling from one side of the airplane
to the other in an effort not to miss one village or road or field or stream.
They become detailed as we drop toward them. The thrill of seeing the country
from high up and then drifting down into it is overwhelming - unreal, mysterious.
Oberkirch, Saturday 23 Oct
I'm sitting crosslegged on the wall of an old chateau-fortress, eating
bread and cheese with cold fingers. My sleeping bag and poncho are drying
from the dew in a very feeble early-morning sun, and my feet are drying
after an expedition down through the gatehouse, over the drawbridge, and
around to the ivy-hung door of the outer walls - to steal a few bunches
of still-green grapes for breakfast.
Yesterday morning, Friday, after an arid class and after trying with
no success to squeeze a little human companionship out of Peter, I went
home very sad and lost - and decided, in desperation, to bootstrap myself
out of this clinging desolation, to pack my bicycle and follow the first
good road I found into Germany for the weekend. So I bought a cheap bottle
of red wine, and some camembert, packed the rucksack and tied it onto the
back of the bicycle with bread strapped on top, and told Madame Degen "Je
pars pour l'Allemagne. Je ne reviendrai que peut-être demain, peut-être
dimanche, peut-être lundi. Donc, pas de petit déjeuner demain!"
"Vous n'allez pas seule?" she said with a visible effort at
minding her own business. "Oui."
A narrow road out of Kehl, skirting turnip fields and half-timbered German
village houses where the large trucks going by barely had room to pass me
(I was carried along in the aftercurrent of those going my direction and
swamped by the wake of those passing from the front). Soon, a forested hilly
country with the village of Nussbach at the bottom of a slow apple-tree-planted
curve. Just outside the town, a roadside crucifixion with the inscription
"Aus Dankbarkeit für den glucklichen Verlauf der Ruhrepidemie
im Jahr 1973 errichtet." A small church with the inside whitewashed
except for a wonderful handcrafted and painted ceiling. Blue hills, sun
fading in the fog, gardens with kerchiefed women and men in blue denim burying
huge piles of turnips (I saw a field belonging to a convent being cultivated
by two nuns and an ox), apple trees nearly bare but studded with small hard
apples, a long slow descent into a wide valley filled with vineyards and
a village - Oberkirch. Best of all, across the valley nearly at the summit
of a steep vine-covered hill, were the ruins of an old castle. By now I
was thirty kilometers from Strasbourg and it was late afternoon. So - up
the hill to the castle, barefoot, sweating with the effort of dragging the
heavily loaded bicycle nearly a half mile uphill, stared at by many eyes
in the farmhouses beside the road, thrilled by my resolution to live in
the castle for the rest of the weekend. [The castle was the fortress of
Finally the top of the hill and the memorable picture of my bicycle with
the packsack and loaf of bread tied onto it leaning against the ancient
stone gate hung with centuries' growth of ivy, framed by a Gothic arch built
in 1170. A running exploration: two corner towers still standing five stories
high but without a roof, one long narrow roofed crypt, a covered gatehouse
in excellent repair with an ancient fleur-de-lis carved into the entrance
doorway, an underground room with a wooden door that can still swing shut,
a circle stairway carved in stone, which once let to a now-vanished room
above the crypt, and a wide stone wall with narrow arrow slots built into
it enclosing about as much area as half of Sexsmith High's gym.
Then supper sitting on the west wall watching the sun dissolve away in
a bank of fog across the valley; bread torn into chunks, smeared with the
soft camembert, with the very rough unpleasant wine which nevertheless
put me nearly to sleep. Bed was a pile of dried leaves in a corner of the
walls. But not much sleep: the struggle to keep warm and many half-thoughts,
half-dreams kept me awake through countless tollings of the Oberkirch cathedral
bell. Dark massive walls all around, stars through the branches of a beech
tree overhead, surely a pocket of warm air somewhere, Olivia, Joyce Detweiler,
Charles, Danny, Frank, Mother I dreamed a dark young man was climbing the
corner wall with a knife unsheathed in his hand, and when I had struggled
with him and take then knife away from him, I saw it was Paul. And when
I looked around, the castle was full of people camping out - and there was
Mother: I tried to tell her what strange dreams I had been having Don, Rasheed,
Father, Susie Simone de Beauvoir dry leaves creeping into the sleeping bag
Peter, Janeen a cold haunch; and finally morning - even colder, and wet.
But the sun cut through the fog finally and began to pick out red tile
roofs in the village and the many-colored trees on the hillside behind the
castle to the east. A warm corner among the moss on the east walls, grapes
for breakfast and the smoke and stirrings of the farmyard below to watch.
Men going out to the vineyards with baskets on their shoulders, another
man digging a pit and filling it with turnips which he covered with straw
and then buried. A child ran all the way down the hill swinging a pail and
calling to a dog which was already far ahead of her. Not ten minutes later,
the dog came back up the hill with a bent old woman, following the exact
path the child had taken down - it startled me (what Balfour Gallivan would
call a "metaphysical shudder") and I was relieved when the child
finally came back half an hour later, running all the way uphill as well
Spent the rest of Saturday morning talking to the farmers, and the afternoon
talking to German tourists and writing journal, wrapped in the sleeping
bag, lying on the broad west wall in a patch of sun. Slept much better that
Tuesday after Toussaint, 2 novembre
Ferdinand: his bare clean room full of jazz records, his sweet vermouth,
his butter bread for lunch, the old courtyard outside his windows and the
clouds scuttling (Oh Frank!) across the sky above the ragged tiles. Ferdinand
with the holes in his clothes, Ferdinand with his burning burning black
eyes and his curling black beard, with his mouth Ferdinand and 'blues'
and Luigi Tenco tearing our hearts out of our bodies.
The beautiful tu of the French language: "Je veux être
tres honnête à toi, tres bonne à toi. Je peux t'aimer
un peu pas tout à fait, mais un peu. C'est assez?" "Sincèrement,
tu m'aimes?" As honest and good as a child Ferdinand. "J'ai
peur. J'ai peur de t'aimer trop." "Quelle sorte d'entente pouvons-nous
avoir? Nous resterons toujours des étrangers?" "Tu est
la? C'est toi?" "Je suis un homme, je suis pauvre, je suis un
être faible. J'ai peur de te faire mal."
Tuesday night: "Et tu apporteras ta chemise?"
8 novembre, Monday
The fact that Peter finds Giroudoux's Intermezzo pointless ("I've
come to the place where I think any damn fool can write about death")(and
Baudelaire "a spoiled brat who thinks that he can make himself important
by spending the rest of his life talking about death in terms of stink,
shit, pus") makes me realize how little my judgment is cerebral - in
literature as in all art, and for that matter in relationships of all sorts,
my appreciation is nothing more than an expansive affection. And
I'm beginning to like France and to want to understand it.
Tuesday 9 novembre
I promised last time to tell you about Frédéric Conrad.
He says he is thirty seven but he looks older, with the thin sharp face
and large clear eyes of my imagined Sherlock Holmes; he is very tall and
thin, with long thin fingers and large bones, a high forehead (receding
hairline), a ridgy nose, high cheekbones, and a very delicate mouth. His
eyes are his most remarkable feature because they are very straightforward
and intelligent. His personality is many contradictory things: both cunning
and childlike, both tough-minded and incredibly generous.
He tells stories very well and doubtlessly he exaggerates a little, but
even without exaggerations his life has been very interesting. To begin
with, his ancestors were Huguenots, early French Protestants persecuted
by the Catholics. His parents lived in Germany from the time shortly after
his birth, however, and he speaks only German. His family was extremely
poor and he left school at sixteen to go to work. Then at seventeen the
war took care of his education: he was in Hitler's Luftwaffe until, when
the war was nearly over, he was captured by the Canadian forces and held
prisoner on an island off the coast of Germany. Among the work the prisoners
had to do was the netting and dismantling of the mines which floated into
the area just off the German coasts - extremely dangerous work. To supplement
their diet the prisoners dug a sort of shellfish and, with 'sea roses' they
cultivated and ground to a paste, made a gourmet special of the mussels
baked in a shell of dough. One day, however, Frédéric decided
he was fed up with risking his skin by rescuing mines, so he ate a whole
lot of the mussels - caught in July, one of the months in which the shellfish
spawn and are poisonous. His comrades assured him that he would be very
sick but that they would call a doctor for him in time to prevent his dying.
It all happened according to plan and he was transferred to a hospital in
Germany proper, locked in but unguarded, taken care of by German personnel
who had more sympathy for him than for his Canadian captors. As a result,
as soon as he was strong enough, he escaped through the window and fled,
traveling only at night and eating only the sugar beets left in the fields.
After several weeks he reached his home town and lived in hiding there
until he managed to get some false papers. The war was over, the country
was devastated, no one had any money and there were no jobs. He and his
brother set out to seek their fortunes, first by hitchhiking about Germany
and France picking up jobs wherever they could, accepting a meal as payment.
Then one day they came upon a man with a truck, stalled in the road, trying
to fix his engine. At that time petrol was extremely scarce and many people
had converted their trucks to steam by building a wood-burning steam engine
on top of the cab and stopping every once in a while to pick up fuel in
a forest. After he and his brother had helped the man, the German, formerly
a farmer, told them he could give them both jobs if they were willing to
work for food and lodging and whatever else he could spare. They were glad
for the offer, stayed on with the man, and eventually bought the truck from
him. With the truck they set out again, traveling as far as the Netherlands
and Austria. When they met refugees carrying all their possessions on their
back or on crude sledges they transported the belongings for the refugee
families, for payment in jewelry or watches or whatever the refugees could
Eventually the brother married into a wealthy industrial family and now
commutes to New York every week. But Frédéric's luck was running
the other direction. About six years ago he met a young German girl, eighteen
years old, pregnant by an American, a GI, but unmarried, full of high spirits
and very pretty. He fell in love with her, paid her medical expenses, bought
her a fur coat and himself an expensive car, and got himself badly in debt
in the process: he managed to pay the bank by selling most of his property,
but because of the many private debts he had and couldn't pay, he fled Germany
for France. Not long afterwards the girl, whom he intended to marry, ran
away to Germany with a boyfriend, in his car, which contained about $2000
in savings; worse, he discovered that she and the boyfriend had been using
his car for a marijuana smuggling operation over the border from Germany
to France. ("Den Jung hette ich irh erlaubt; ich war verliebt bis über
die Ohren. Aber noch dieses ...") So there he was in Strasbourg with
twenty francs in his pocket and his car and money gone. And exiled from
Germany once more, not only by his debts now, but by the gossip and scandal
mongerings of his old friends and his family.
At the present Frédéric is building up a business for himself,
one he invented by himself and has tailored to his need for freedom and
his love of travel: called Euro-Contact, it is an agency for making contacts
between various countries. For instance, if a German firm needs a French-speaking
agent to travel to France, Frédéric looks for the Frenchman
and arranges the rendezvous, for a fee if the deal goes through. He lives
in a tiny room five stories above a bake shop where he eats with the family.
He renovated the room himself and so gets it very cheaply. We understand
each other well - or seem to - and are mutually useful since he can take
me with him when he travels about the region on business (he loves castles,
woods, and the French villages and countryside as much as I do and likes
to have appreciative company) and give me a good meal in a Strasbourg débit
once in a while; in return, I can help him with his English correspondence.
He's witty, wise, and excellent company.
Tuesday 9 novembre
I've just posted a very fat letter to you but haven't run out of words
A few snippets of news:
I'm taking Spanish in night courses, with instruction given in French,
learning two foreign languages at once.
Last night, coming home on my bicycle in the dark and the fog, my light
stopped working and I who hardly ever see a policeman was stopped by seven.
All of them reacted differently. One was hugely amused by my efforts to
speak French to him and even more amused by the fact that I hadn't ducked
into an alley when I saw him. "You don't avoid policemen in Canada,
then?" he said, and winked, and told me I should walk my bicycle until
I was out of sight. "And if you turn the next corner, you'll be out
of sight sooner," he added as I walked away. The policeman nearer to
Neuhof wasn't quite so young or quite so French - he had a very German accent
and a very earnest manner. He didn't know what to do with me so he kept
looking at my identity cards with his flashlight and saying "Hm, canadienne,
hmm." Then he took me to two other police, thrust my cards at me after
looking at them once more, and left me with them. Then they demanded
my cards, asked me how old I was, and told me to walk the rest of the way
home. (I walked to the next corner.)
I find that if I take two old tea bags, saved from some afternoon's tea-date,
and boil them violently in a small saucepan, the room is filled with a wonderful
smell of roast chicken.
Saturday 13 novembre
With your letter was the one I've been waiting for three weeks now, the
answer to my Canada Student Loans application. - But before I destroy your
suspense I'll tell you another story. I have three centimes left - three
fifths of one cent. I'm out of meal tickets. My rent is due on Tuesday,
120 francs. To mail this letter I need 65 centimes. It's begun to snow today
and I haven't any boots. My green stockings are falling apart. At the end
of the month I'll owe 30 francs more for breakfasts. I haven't bought any
books yet, and haven't even an exercise book to make notes in. - And my
letter from Mr Passey of the Canada Student Loans Plan says "Dear Miss
Epp: From the information provided you are not a resident of Ontario. You
should therefore apply to the appropriate authority in your own Province,
which is ..."
It is Saturday afternoon and I've just done all my laundry in the bath
water and am drying it on top of the oil stove. As soon as I smell the scorching
I know it's dry and take it off; better than an automatic dryer with a buzzer
and just as fast. And I've discovered a way to take showers for free whenever
I like to. If I sneak up the back stairs of Gallia, the woman's residence
here, I can take a shower in their shower rooms and sneak back out in peace.
I must finish telling you about Ferdinand. He's astonishingly poor: his
room costs him 50 francs plus heating and electricity, per month. That is
about ten dollars, or a few cents more. He eats at student restaurants at
26¢ per meal or buys a bit of bread and coffee for other meals - butter
is for the real occasions when I come to see him on a Sunday afternoon and
we feast on a 10¢ package of soup I've brought, with bread and butter
and a little sweet vermouth from a bottle he's hoarded for a month. [Cinzano
Rosso] We both enjoy these feasts enormously - we 'relish' them. Sometimes
we even have a candle stub!
His room, in spite of its meagerness and cheapness, is quite large and
he keeps it very clean. He got it cheaply because when he came it was uninhabitable.
But he papered it and scrubbed it and furnished it with various sizes of
boxes, and now it's very nice. His one luxury, and really his only luxury,
is his record player (connected to an old cheap radio for stereo effect)
and his collection of jazz and blues records. The covers of all his records
are tacked up on the walls together with clippings of Dr Schweitzer, of
photographs he likes, one or two cartoons and postcards - like me, he creates
a sort of exposition of his life on his walls.
He has very few clothes - I've seen about two sets - and they are in
a very motley state because the French laundromats tear holes in them. He
patches all of them, no matter what color, with thick white thread. In spite
of - or because of, in his case it's possible - all this poverty, he is
a wonderfully joyous person. He dances to his records, has a tiny glass
of cognac on Sundays, makes enough money in the garage where he works to
pay his rent and have three meals a day, works until midnight every day
on his beloved mathematics, puts two lumps of sugar into his coffee,
argues African politics with swarms of friends (I keep meeting new ones
- he calls them all, not amis, but frères), laughs
at me when I stare into pastry shop windows, is offended when I refuse to
borrow meal tickets from him.
It's snowing today, mushy big flakes that fall in sticky piles on the
evergreen branches, outside my north window. It's beautiful but I'm glad
it won't stay long.
Friday, 26 novembre
Ennuie: I have never suffered from ennuie as much as I do this year,
in France: I am ashamed more than disappointed, and I cannot admit it to
anyone, but I am tired of being here. I dislike the cold and wet, the continual
lack of money, the half-friendships, the bad, unhealthy food, the lack of
purpose in myself, the isolation of Neuhof, the inability to live as I live
naturally, in a room which is me, eating what I like, dressing as
I like rather than revoltingly and humiliating according to necessity, the
Americans I know, the inability to live Strasbourg and explore Strasbourg,
the financial disappointments, the inability to go anywhere or even to afford
concert tickets, my appearance, the lack of hot water to bathe and the inability
to dry clean my clothes, my peculiar disturbing health - all of these are
petty trivialities, material mostly, that make me feel ugly and lumpy and
charmless. My morale is usually very low except for bursts of joy that do
still appear. How can I change this year to something memorable? Without
money? When it is too cold to travel? If only my money would come! It may
never come: I haven't found a job yet.
Monday, November 29
Mr Passey of the Canada Federal Loans has just written again to inform
me that I am so a resident of Alberta because the $200 I marked down
as from my parents makes me officially a dependent and therefore - now
I have to write to Alberta for application forms, I have to fill them out,
send them to you to sign, send them back to Alberta, wait for a reply. But
I'm seeing about a job as femme de chambre in Strasbourg's biggest hotel
Hôtel Sofitel: "Tiens, nouveau!" from a passing garçon
in the corridor (cap and apron!).
The dark, blue streets of 7:30 this morning, with massive clouds moving
quickly: cathedral tower, a concentrated sun in one small spot between clouds,
steep tiled roofs in succession to the cathedral. Madame Matter, with her
fat face become thin and flabby, her small child's eyes and mouth, her vast
chest and dwindling hips, her word and laugh for everyone, her tears and
her childish way of wiping them away with her elbow, when she spoke of Charles
(who died of poisoning from eating Wurst: the dog died eight days later:
Mitchell says this is funny even if it does happen to people), "Pour
moi, on m'a demandé trois fois si je vais me marier, mais je ne peux
pas, je ne peux vraiment pas, j'ai trop aimé mon mari. Il etait bel,
cet homme, o la la!" Her joy, her philosophy, her religion, is his
grave and his memory: vases, flowers, statues (le bon Dieu avec les moutons,
c'est tres joli"), trucs, visits to the cemetery at six a.m.,
"Dors bien, Charles."
I am working eight hours a day six days a week in the Sofitel, wearing
a blue uniform and a little white cap and apron. When the guests get up
in the morning I grin obsequiously and say "Bonjour, Monsieur,"
in my sunniest tone. Where the hallway is narrow I say "Pardon, Monsieur"
(for existing in the same atmosphere my lord). I'm careful to put the ashtray
at the angle calculated to make the guest read "Sofitel" on it
at first glance. I know that the foot end of the bed must be tucked in first,
I believe it with all my heart, although I can't understand why. In short
I'm a dedicated chamber maid. I have to speak French all day (but my accent
is going to decay because hardly anyone at the hotel speaks French French:
Darinka who works with me speaks pigeon Yugoslav French; Jean-Jacques the
chef's boy speaks Swiss French; the Algerian patissier who told me I had
eyes like stars speaks Algerian French; one of the garçons speaks
Austrian French - and as for the guests, they're Russian, German, English,
I can shower every day, I get breakfast free, fifth floor has a view
of the cathedral at sunrise when we do the first room at 8 a.m., the croissants
that guests leave on their breakfast trays are delicious. I'm planning to
work a month or so if they keep me, and if I haven't a loan by then or if
I give up trying to get one, I'll go to another city or another country
and get a job there.
I began work yesterday morning: Mademoiselle Jacqueline, who is the Gouvernante
in charge of all domestic personnel, is a very girlish and very sympathetic
thirty - looks twenty: it was she who got me the job and it was she who
handed me over very gently to Madame Matter yesterday morning. Madame Matter
is the fairy godmother of the hotel, half fairy (bottom half) and half mother
(top half): the reason for the line of demarcation is that Madame Matter
was quite stout not long ago but has lost thirty nine pounds. Peculiarly
she lost it all from her hips and abdomen. She's fifty two (she asked me
to guess, so I guessed and subtracted ten, and said fifty two, and I was
right). Madame Matter is full of jokes and joviality: every morning she
says hello to every one of the personnel both in the basement among the
pastry shops and kitchens and on the five floors. Every evening she kisses
the older cleaning women on both cheeks and shakes hands with everyone else.
She is the "première femme de chambre," first lady of the
chamber maids, both by self election and by the fact that she was the first
to arrive when the hotel was opened. When she meets a guest in the hall
she is full of good will and solicitude: Did you sleep well sir? How are
you this morning sir? I'm afraid it's going to rain sir.
Often she refers to herself not as "moi" but in the third person,
as "Madame Matter." When she forgets something and has to go back
for it, it's "Imbécile, Madame Matter" and when she is
explaining why she is so careful to get the last sniff of dust from under
the bed, she says "I get so anxious, what if I should get sick and
another chamber lady should come and find some dust? Madame Matter, Première
Femme de Chambre."
The one thing in her life which is more important than her Hotel Sofitel
is her husband Charles. "You see these two rings? You know what it
means? It means my husband is dead, yes." Later in the afternoon we
were vacuuming and a petite panne d'électricité gave us a
break she showed me her wallet full of photographs of Charles and of her
German shepherd dog.
I'm a very happy chambermaid (this is Sunday). Who'd have thought I would
enjoy making beds and scrubbing bathrooms 48 hours a week? I do. I love
the perfectionism of the Hotel Sofitel, I like the broken French camaraderie
of the personnel. I like the play acting, I like the physical work. Today
was especially good because there's little work on Sunday. First of all
I get up at the cracka, or slightly before, and ride to work while the sky
turns pink. There's Jean-Jacques all smiling in the staff dining room. When
I arrive he gives me a large bowl of café au lait and I help myself
to bread and jam while other staff arrives and says bonjour or "gouda
Morgja" which is Alsacian. The room is small and bare with a television
on a high shelf, four small tables, and auditorium-like wood and steel chairs.
The Alsacians all tear their bread to bits and put it into their bowls of
coffee and slurp it up, but I don't like soggy bread! So I put lots of butter
on it and luxuriate - the crusts are very thick and very hard. Our bread
arrives in loaves about 3 feet long and we chop off several chunks for ourselves
with the chopping knife. The funny little janitor with a floor-length apron
tied around his middle says "Good morning, good morning. Iss very fine
day, very fine." He was once in Montreal for a winter and so is proud
of his "very fine" English. However, "good morning"
and "very fine" are the limits of it, the outer limits. Usually
some of the garcons are eating breakfast at the same time and have something
witty to say. Madame Matter (not Marterre, after all) arrives and is hailed
by everyone. She's the hotel's queen. After she has said her round of hellos
she comes over to me, shakes my hand, and says "Hello Nelly" -
or sometimes "Hello Lilly," "- Ca va?"
Then we climb the stairs to the next floor and say hello to the gouvernante,
Madamoiselle Jacqueline. Then the elevator to cinquième. Uniforms
- wish you could see me in my uniform: blue short sleeved dress, large white
apron, white cotton caplet; pockets bulging full of sugar packets rescued
from breakfast trays, and scrap paper from waste baskets, and huge bunches
of keys. It is not at all unbecoming, worn with a high chignon (and in my
case the four pairs of stockings I wear for driving to work!) and, on Sundays,
earrings! Sundays are slow days because most businessmen go home for the
weekend, so we remind each other, "doucement," "langsam."
The other femme de chambre on the cinquième étage is Darinka,
a Yugoslav who speaks very little French but has invented a jargon composed
of several French and Alsacian nouns and several verbs which she knows in
only one person and one tense. From her, we've picked up the world "polarko"
is Yugoslav for "Take it easy," the phrase I taught her in exchange.
Polarko, doucement, langsam, Takiteasy all mean "If we want to have
something to do until quitting time, turn on the radio and rest a while."
This Sunday the radios which are built into all the rooms were broadcasting
opera: we were can-canning in our stockinged feet. The early morning views
over the Strasbourg rooftops toward the cathedral and over the courtyard
Our clients are often interesting - the Greek ambassador to the Council
of Europe whose 'seat' is in Strasbourg, a little Englishwoman who translates
for the Council, a funny Englishman, crazy I think, with a flowing moustache
and a wine-colored striped jacket who after he left sent me a postcard from
Paris. A journalist, honeymooners, a raucous American woman from Ohio, a
dear little Irishman who said "Good morrrning, Ellie," to me every
morning of his stay, Germans, Italians, Scandinaves, Chinese. I snoop, naturally.
At eleven o'clock we go downstairs for lunch in the staff dining room
- I gulp it, and run back upstairs for the rest of my noon hour to read
and write for a little while. In the afternoon we've usually finished early
so we work slowly and sit for a while in the bathroom and gossip. Darinka
tells me her life story in patois. Or else Madame Matter tells me of her
and Alsace's war experiences, her romance with her husband. Or she gossips.
She likes me very much for some reason and I adore her: every evening she
kisses me goodbye, one on each cheek in the French manner.
Five o'clock comes eventually, after we've had our showers and washed
a few clothes and read the magazines we've confiscated. Many goodbyes to
people hanging around the service door - "Salut Jean-Jacques, à
demain!" Then the bicycle ride home or a ride over to the university
to have dinner with Peter or Richard or a group of students who happens
along. And time for a little De Beauvoir before bed .... Next morning, the
alarm clock early, ouch!
Sunday night, December 5
The world becomes more strange. I long for wisdom and I long to know
what to do with my love of it, and I long to know what to do with my love
of its people. I long to know how to speak to people that I love, I long
to be able to take them with me to a rock where we can overlook the world
and speak real speech.
Le 19 décembre, Sunday night
Christmas in Strasbourg: the old streets are hung with white lights; all the squares
have Christmas trees; Place Kleber, downtown, broadcasts Christmas carols
by loudspeaker; the Cathedral is just as it always is, but needs no decoration
for Christmas because its dim long nave and its candles always remind me
of Christmas; all of the long-familiar shop windows along the route to Neuhof
are transformed and in one of the small squares near the chestnut seller
boy's place, an old man in a long muffler is selling sapins de noël,
Christmas trees; Place Broglie is like a fairground and I love to promenade
between its rows of stalls. The place is a long square with the high-pillared
Opéra at one end and imposing municipal buildings flanking its two
long sides. In the square, an avenue of booths has been set up, surrounded
by silvered Christmas trees, and at the end of the square just under the
opera house, a dozen tree-sellers have set up a forest of evergreens with
inspection paths running through it. In the stalls, ropes of tree-decorations
swing and glitter with the wind and piles of candy lie in paper cones under
alluring signs advertising the candy-coated hazelnuts and the halvah. One
stall is a gaufre stall: rows of steaming irons bake waffles while the custom
waits. In another stall a man in shirtsleeves and a white apron stands twisting
cotton candy very gravely onto a stick while his wife stands beside him,
hands folded proudly over her abdomen, and crowds of children watch. Carols
come thinly from Place Kleber; the cheap toys and swinging bundles of mistletoe
and holly reflect colors among the candy and the boxes of geometrical ornaments;
there is a whiff of evergreen with the steam from the waffle irons.
Michèle is my French girlfriend. We met one day in the restaurant
across the street from the hotel, where Jean-Jacques [the patissier's boy]
and I go every evening after work for a coffee. The tables were all full,
so we sat down next to an Algerian-looking boy and a long haired girl with
large eyes and little pointed face who sat with their chins in their hands
not saying anything. They listened to our conversation for a while and then
the girl couldn't contain herself and joined it: we began talking about
going barefoot. When Michèle said, in French, "I go barefoot
all summer. If I could I'd go naked too," I knew I liked her, and when
I told her I was studying child psychology, she knew she liked me, and that
was the beginning of my first friendship with a French girl. On Friday night
we made a rendezvous at the same restaurant and walked arm in arm through
Place Broglie (brilliant after rain) eating chocolate bar sandwiches and
candied hazelnuts out of a cone and catching up on talk. She's invited me
to her place to stay for New Year's Day, which I have off.
Last Wednesday the first time I had money for a very long time. Did I
pay the rent first? Did I pay off my debt to Peter first? Did I buy a pair
of shoes first? Nope I bought four paperback books and a bottle of Tosca
perfume and a pair of lace stockings, and I spent nearly a dollar in a classy
So many other things: a Bach concert in an old, dim, church; coffee in
little restaurants; French movies; a "petit verre de vin blanc"
in the old quarter of Strasbourg; discussions, visits, walks at night; the
beautiful morning rides to work before the stars disappear; window shopping
at pastry and lingerie shop windows; books and music; a growing knowledge
of the real, non-academic, working France; and Christmas almost here.
Jour de repos - mercredi le 22 décembre
Simone de Beauvoir - "une journee blanche" - "meme sa
curiosite manquait aujourd'hui."
29 decembre, mercredi jour de repos
Saint Paul's on a hazy day in which the sun seems to be misted onto objects
rather than to have come through the haze: contrast of blue shadow and pink
brown stone, seen through the fine, trailing branches of a leafless tree.
Is what I've called dépaysment what Sartre calls la nausée?
"Les mots étaient évanouis, et, avec eux, la signification
des choses, leurs modes d'emploi, les faibles repères que les hommes
ont tracés a leur surfaces. J'étais assis seule en face de
cette masse noire et noueuse, extièrement brute et qui me faisait
peur." My reaction is different: fear sometimes (this summer, fear
of a word in my Spanish text) but usually more a lightheadedness, a wonder,
"Faces stop showing what they crave / In my attempt to see"
Mr Volk, Bill Volk, engineer, twenty and fifty two, sophisticated and
pure in heart (his jokes with waiters, his happiness and his desire for
goodness) - his young, young blue eyes, grey-brown stiff beard, body becoming
flabby at the centre - his smacking goodnight kiss, his longing to dance
up stairways after seeing a ballet! He doesn't become embarrassed by himself,
he doesn't request posturings from me, he's a representative middle-aged
professional American, cultured, democratic, informal, full of the love
of good and beautiful things but without snobbery and without oneupsmanship.
"Good is the conscious enjoyment of beauty" - George Moore
quoted by Mr Volk. "Death doesn't exist. Being dead isn't being."
Snowfall in Strasbourg.
After I came in from the ballet with Bill Volk, I was lying in bed 'thinking'
and half asleep when a knock on the door jarred me and I fumbled the door
open to find - Peter. [He'd lent me his hotel room centre ville while
he went to Spain for the holidays.] We opened his packages, read his mail,
cut an end off the Christmas cake from his mother, drank beer from a glass
and then lay together on his bed, under the eiderdown, and talked in the
dark until I fell asleep. It was sweet to have him there, looking so shaggy
with his hair long, so tired and so warm with his arm around me all night.
In the morning I dressed in the washroom and found my things without turning
on the light, said "Dors bien, je te laisse," to a hand rather
than a face.
On Friday night I met Michèle outside of the hotel, we went across
the street to the Restaurant de la Bourse and ordered a martini, and then
I ran out to find Mitchell and Rick. By the end of the evening I was furious
and desolate because Mitchell was so unfriendly ("tired") and
Michèle so charming.
I waited forty minutes for the bus. I hated Mitchell sourly, I tramped
and limped all over the bus stop island, and there on the service station
next door was the large blue trade name in neon lights, with the top letter
shot out: HELL. I was cheered up by it.
But I got up as miserable as I'd gone to bed. In the bus I looked around
dully and thought how everyone was sealed in plastic capsules that they
couldn't see through. Sneaked to Place Kléber instead of the earlier
stop which was all I could afford by squashing myself between a group of
tall Alsacians going to work. In the bathroom of 524, burst into tears because
I felt deformed and ugly, cried all morning, wallowing in admitted weakness
("Mais tu as toujours du courage" says Madame Matter, but I'm
weak - no I'm not. I show weakness in order to prove that I do not live
by even my own laws, to prove strength. It's an argument.)
It was a good move because it brought Madame Matter to tell me the sad
stories of Jacqueline (who is so lovely and no longer trusts men) and Mademoiselle
Ziechelmeyer ("Elle n'a plus rien la-dedans" with a gesture of
sweeping all of the contents of her abdomen into a basket on the floor)
and then to cry herself when she told me about her romance with her husband
and about her 'boyhood' as a little devil. We were sitting across a table
from each other as I ate the dinner she'd brought for me. She said suddenly,
"Quand j'avais ton age à toi, j'étais un jour assis juste
comme toi, en face d'une dame qui s'appellait Matilde, et elle a pleuré
en me racontant son histoire et je m'ai demandé si une fois ça
m'arriverait et voilà. Un jour, si tu te souviens et si ça
arrive aussi à toi, te peux penser à moi. Elle doit être
morte, ce Matilde."
Wednesday, 22 décembre
Peter was leaving for Italy so I stopped in to see him late one rainy
evening after work - there he was, a bit pink-faced after having drunk the
whole bottle of champagne some friend gave him for Christmas by himself,
writing a letter, a bit lonesome but his usual loveable self - he greeted
me with a hug and a glass of quetch and we had a good long visit in which
he said that since he was not going to be home for some weeks, and since
he had paid the rent anyway, he might as well let me have his room until
he got back - it's close to the hotel where I work and would save me many
rainy half hours riding in the morning. Consequently I've been living in
his very pleasant room next to the most beautiful church in Strasbourg since
the next morning! With his radio! (One evening I was listening to the Messiah
and The Magic Flute at the same time - both because I couldn't bear to miss
either and because the radio kept drifting from one station to the other.)
December 24th, Christmas Eve
During the day Jean-Jacques confided that he was not going to go home
for Christmas at all because his parents are indifferent to him and he prefers
the streets to them on Christmas Eve. (Madame Matter later confirmed what
he had said.) He was so wistful that I immediately invited him to spend
Christmas Eve with me. After he'd finished work, he arrived chez moi with
a wooden checker board and two bottles of mousseux (a bubbly sweet ginger-ale-like
wine) under his arm. We poured the mousseux into my toothbrush glasses and
he beat me in checkers because the rules are different in France - a king
can move great leaps in all directions. When it was time to go back into
the rain for the Midnight Mass at the cathedral, we discovered that the
courtyard gate was closed and locked - so with great relief we went back
into the warmth. We had lit all the candles Madame Matter had given me for
my Christmas 'tree.' I had picked up a branch of evergreen in the Place
Broglie one night and put it into a chianti bottle: it is still trailing
tinsel on the table, with its one silver ball and its sprig of mistletoe
at the crown. We opened the windows and looked at Strasbourg's early a.m.
with its light reflected in irregular squares by the wet cobbles of the
courtyard, the fresh sky moving rapidly, the shining roofs, the cool air
blowing into the room. We went to sleep (I chastely in bluejeans and J-J
chastely in a chair [actually we lay side by side in our clothes] with a
blanket and pillow I'd given him) listening to the rain, feeling very close
and sentimental and both very happy with our funny Christmas. The first
thing Jean-Jacques said when the alarm woke us to go to work at 6 a.m. was
"C'est la premiere Noël que j'ai dormi. Je suis merveilleusement
heureux." Me too. When we walked to work the streets were empty except
for a little man waiting for a bus, Saint Paul's was dim, the river Ile
was flowing rapidly and unevenly between the quais, the old old church of
Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune hulked in shadows behind the garish orange lights
of the Sofitel marquee, the air was fresh and we walked quickly.
Christmas morning: there is little work. Darinka and I sit listening
to the radio or lean our elbows out the window as the wind blows the sound
of the city's bells across the rooftops to us in gusts. Dinner is a marvel
today. The cook served up his turkeys with élan: seizing them by
both feet like a baby about to be powdered, he hacked them in half with
his cleaver. Hack: both legs are off. Hack: the drumsticks are brutally
chopped in two. Six hacks and the breast is in slices. With the turkey we
have roasted potatoes and stewed chestnuts, and frozen oranges stuffed with
sherbet. (In the evening there is the bûche or 'log,' a rolled cake
full of whipped cream.) Then there is red wine and the men get cigars -
Jean-Jacques has 30 in all because the chambermaids give him theirs. At
the other tables the chambermaids are in an uproar: Georgette is roaring
out Christmas carols, old Marie is smirking, and Sorka is dancing with her
stockings rolled down below her knees. Afterwards Sorka explains. Her face
is still flushed and she looks at it anxiously in the mirror of the room
I'm vacuuming. Her stockings are still rolled below her thick knees, her
strawy hair is standing up in back-combed wisps. She jiggles as she tells
me in pigeon German-Yugoslavian-French, "Nichts essen heute Morgen,
spät, nichts essen. Zehn Uhr, Flasche Vermouth. Gros' Glass, alle femmes
de chambre, Badezimmer, trinken gros' Glass. Moi nichts essen." She
hops on one foot and slaps the other, then slaps her head to demonstrate,
"Oh viel' schwer' Füsse, schwer' Knopf."
I've come upon an unexpected sugar-daddy. Mr Volk of Princeton New Jersey.
The Volks were clients on fifth floor for two months before Christmas: Madame
Matter adopted them long ago, gave them other people's flowers, washed their
socks, brought them cookies, changed their linen oftener than the other
clients', and kissed them goodbye when they went home for Christmas. Now
Mr Volk - a research engineer working for a French plant here, at home a
lecturer and the author of a university textbook in maths - is back alone
for several months more, and since I'm nearly the only person he knows in
Strasbourg who speaks English (and his French is dreadful) he invited me
out to dinner. So we went to the Coq d'Alsace, a beautiful little restaurant
full of polished wood and dried flowers, with gleaming white tablecloths
and wine goblets, and handsome waiters in white jackets and bow ties ...
a 'martini' to begin with, sweet orange-colored wine with a floating strip
of lemon peel. Then consommé, clear tea-coloured soup with a sharp
onion flavour, served in a thick bowl which was served on a plate which
was served on a slightly bigger plate which was served on a slightly bigger
plate ... then the entrée, a sort of appetizer: Mr Volk had a blue
trout (really blue and very pretty) served whole with head and tail intact
and half a lemon for color contrast; and I had a dozen escargots: snails.
They were served to me in their well-scrubbed shells, each one rocking in
a slight indentation in their silver platter. The waiter gave me a tiny
two-pronged fork and a walnut-cracker (or maybe it was a surgical forceps
of some kind?): eh bien, now what? Eating snails is a complete ceremony:
you take your large silver soupspoon and lean it across your plate. Then
you pick up a snail shell with the forceps and put it gently into the bowl
of the spoon (no, you don't crack it). With the little fork you poke around
in the entrance of the shell and pull out the snail, very small and grey
and chicken-liver-like. Then you pick up the shell with the forceps and
tip the juice over the snail: the juice is green and salty and looks like
swamp water. Then you eat the snail: he's good: and you drink the juice:
it's even better. ...
Then the poussin which we had ordered without knowing what it was. The
waiter brought a covered platter to the table, and before our eyes pulled
out two very small chickens roasted golden brown with their feet still attached
and squeezed into claws: the waiter chopped the legs off deftly at the knee,
then cut the chicks in half along the middle of the breast bone, and gave
us a chick each. Good! Halfway through the meal a funny little woman came
along and swept our pile of bones onto a little saucer, then disappeared
again without a word. Two minutes later a waiter appeared with two shallow
silver bowls, each of which had a slice of lemon floating in lukewarm water.
"What's that for?" I asked Mr Volk in all naivete. "Fingerbowl."
And then he went on, "There were these two middle-aged Jewish New Yorkers
who decided to go out to dinner one night. At the end of the dinner, the
waiter brings these bowls of water with the slice of lemon. 'What's that
for,' says one of them. 'I dunno.' 'Do you drink it?' 'I dunno.' 'Ask the
waiter.' So he asks the waiter, and the waiter says 'It's to wash your hands
in.' 'See,' says the first guy, 'you ask a stoopid question, you get a stoopid
... After the poussin, cheese with bread. Then dessert, glace: Mr Volk
had an orange frozen and stuffed with orange sherbet, and I had a lemon.
During all this, the waiter had been solicitously refilling our goblets
with riesling, the most famous white wine of Alsace.
For the classic ending of a classic French gourmet meal, tiny cups of
bitter black coffee.
It is amusing to think that the cost of this one meal was nearly half
my weekly wage: I live very oddly on these two financial levels, working
for a low labouring class wage and going out from time to time on a high
high-class splurge. And since I've had Peter's room for the holidays, I've
spent my days playing femme de chambre and then come home to a room that's
been polished and a bed that's been made by my femme de chambre!
January 4, Tuesday
Tonight Darinka invited me for supper (the writing is queer because my
hands are cold): Darinka is the Yugoslavian girl who works with me and Madame
Matter, twenty-eight, small-boned, pretty with her black eyes and the bushy
knob of a bun on the top of her head. She speaks very little French and
only three or four words of German and so when I began a month ago she spoke
to me hardly at all but just stared out of her round eyes and went on with
her bed making. But during the Christmas holidays when M.M. was away for
ten days, Darinka and I spent our abundant free time sitting in some bathroom
we were cleaning, telling stories. She told me about her family at home
in Yugoslavia: she quit school to help on the farm at the age of eleven,
and worked as a baby-sitter in someone else's home from that time on. Two
years ago she escaped illegally into Switzerland, I think, and after staying
there with Yugoslavian friends for about a year Hamide (an Albanian Muslim)
asked her to marry him and go to France. When she arrived in Strasbourg
she was put into jail for several months, but in the meantime, Hamide, also
a political refugee, and other Yugoslavian friends were arranging for her
papers to be taken care of, and now she's been working at the Sofitel for
nine months. All of her adventures in prison and crossing borders illegally
were recounted in animated pigeon French. If I speak normal French she doesn't
understand me so I've learned her pigeon and we rattle along at great speed
and enthusiasm. I enjoy these conversations, no matter how trivial the subject,
because they are a game requiring enormous inventiveness both in expression
Anyway, Darinka led me into her room on the second floor of an old house,
where she and "moi Monsieur" live with one bed, one dresser, a
table, one wooden chair and one striped canvas deck chair, a radio and a
record player - Darinka set about making meatballs and macaroni and soup
in the kitchen. Since it was cold before the heater had properly started
to burn, Darinka poured us both a little glass of schnapps to warm us up
and cure her toothache (she and her monsieur have a glass of schnapps first
thing in the morning to cure any ailments that might arrive during the day).
Then she poured us another. Then her monsieur arrived from his job at the
Kronenbourg Beer factory, still dressed in his bright blue overalls and
red shirt. Hamide is forty-four, small and thin, with a large head and black
eyes. His face is full of wrinkles and the top of his head is bald, he looks
like a friendly dwarf from Snow White because his face is so warm and good.
He and Darinka have a warm and affectionate relationship in which he is
definitely boss, but a kindly considerate boss. We had a hilarious meal,
all three talking pigeon, discussing Albania and gypsies and Yugoslavia,
teasing one another, telling stories, grinning over our Kronenbourg beers
through the haze of Hamide's American cigarettes. When I left they stuffed
my purse with Kronenbourg beer bottles, bonbons, oranges and dates until
it wouldn't close any more. Hamide shook my hand and said very seriously
that I should come back anytime, that he'd lived alone for eighteen years
and that he knew the situation, that I should consider them my family, and
would I come tomorrow night? It was one of the pleasantest evenings I've
ever spent in France.
- The French have a habit of wishing Happy New Year by kissing everyone
once on each cheek. Though it's past New Years I still meet people I haven't
wished New Year's happiness to, and the kissing begins again.
face is so beautiful and when it is relaxed it has a slightly sad look,
with his soft, long, well-defined mouth, his Hamlet beard, his blue eyes
lost and grey. When he smiles his face shines. (Blessed are the pure in
heart.) His hair is grey, and it musses over his forehead in a shock, a
very crisp cowlick.
A martini and two pieces of pastry with a large, fat, British MP called
Mr Richard who gobbles and hums, and spreads his legs wide when he sits,
and loves the Welsh (he's Welsh) because "they're Dylan Thomases, all
of them, great eaters and drinkers and letchers, and all with such a sense
Tuesday again, and I am sad and raw again, and happy because of Bill
Volk. I am sad because of a deception of Madame Matter, raw because of my
confused love of Darinka and her, because of the way Jean-Jacques stood
shivering outside the hotel waiting to tell me that he knew I'm in trouble,
"C'est grave, regard comme je tremble pour toi." "Tu rigoles,
Jean-Jacques?" "Je ne rigole pas, c'est grave."
I am so confused, perhaps it is from the wine we drank with dinner, perhaps
because I realize that so many things are ending here in Strasbourg, I think
of Jean-Jacques with his hair so long, in his white tunic looking so young
and beautiful, like a Da Vinci angel with soft eyes and a delicate, delicate
face, shivering, his hands in his pockets as far as they could go, his face
turned sideways toward me. Raw because I feel again the overwhelming largeness
of the world, where I find books, pictures, faces that overwhelm me by their
beauty and vitality, where I can run up the hotel corridors with the laundry
cart because I am bursting with fierce energy and then drag through the
hallways sad because I should not have trusted someone.
When I leave for Italy with Mitchell on Tuesday I'll take along the bottle
of B&B from Bill Volk and we'll drink it as a toast to the giver. I
come home every evening happy because he's so beautiful, because he talks
to me and I talk to him - because he is excited to find me and I am equally
excited to find him. ("Do you know the story of Van Gogh cutting his
ear off and giving it to a prostitute? They said he was mad of course, but
for the first time I thought I understood it today. He was poor, his pictures
weren't worth anything she wanted, but he wanted to give her something of
himself so he cut off his ear" in his quizzical, humorous New York
accent, "I'm incoherent, but it's like our situation. You won't let
me buy you a sweater but I want to give you something." We were sitting
side by side, very close, at the draughty corner table in an old Elsasser
restaurant where first three old men ("original clientele") and
then a blond young woman who looked like Catherine Hepburn sat across from
us and smiled and nodded. All of the tables were occupied by groups of family
and friends who sat talking and joking over their wine, or playing cards
- and there was a kind of curiosity and warmth shared by people in neighbouring
An hour later, perhaps, a truck stopped. The two drivers changed places;
a young man with a tight dark face was in the driver's seat, Mitchell had
the other seat, I was in the narrow leather sleeping bench with my back
pressed against the body of the truck, and the older man sat on the engine.
We started off in the hill twisted countryside, Toscana I think, where trees
seem not to lose their leaves but only to turn a rusty color among the evergreens.
The farmhouses are older, they're made of rock and seem built into the rocky
hillsides as a kind of eruption: they have none of the solid geometrical
separateness of the Lombardy farmhouses from their plains and the rows of
trees that surround them.
I had little time to reflect on this because the older truck driver was
playing footsies with his elbow along my abdomen I thought at first
it was the jolting of the truck but it became more and more definite. After
he took out his handkerchief and blew his nose industriously he put it back
into his side pocket, but his hand wandered between my knees and I clamped
them together hard, squashing him I hope. My back was freezing because the
window was grande ouverte in order to allow the driver to spit out. The
other man now began to stroke the side of my face: I tried ignoring him,
I'd frown slightly to indicate my unwillingness, finally I said "Mitchell
would you turn around and say something to me once in a while?" "Why,
are you falling asleep?" "I'm having trouble fighting him off.
And I'm having a hell of a time keeping from laughing, I'm biting the inside
of my mouth." After that, no trouble from the older man, who sulked
at me whenever I dared to look at him. I was half asleep when they turned
off and stopped. Mitchell turned around and barked at me, "Do you want
to get off here or go to the entrance, hurry and decide." Stunned.
His conversation in Italian became confused. The driver began to speak in
French. Mitchell was confused too. "Are you going to Rome? Marvelous!
You're not? You want to be paid? We have nothing to give you." "No,
no, don't want to be paid." The two Italians had an argument in which
the driver repeated several times "protegere" or something similar.
I said "Tell them we'll get off here." Mitchell said, "No,
no, I don't understand," and to them, "What do you want?"
The driver, apologetically, "La donna." "Well, no the donna.
You won't reconsider?" The two men had an impassioned discussion of
which I understood only that the young driver, who seemed on our side, said
"Shut up, you fool, he understands Italian" to the older man.
But by then we'd gathered our junk and bolted up the highway, where we were
picked up just as a policeman had turned his motorcycle to chase us off.
Remember the sun on the Spanish Steps! I sat on the wide stone balustrade
high over the steps, while three gypsies in long floating skirts flirted
and begged from the tourists, played with their baby brothers, sang, drummed.
The women going up and down the steps were often beautiful. (My bluejeans,
my boots seem a liberation from all forms of social constraint. I can eat
bread from a paper bag, lie flat on my back in the sun like the Italian
boys, whistle, put my hands in my pockets - yet I know that my face is pretty
and my neck is very feminine. I'm content.)
Rome delights me. I've decided to stay for a month, until the 10th of
March when my rent runs out, and not work until I get to Athens.
Financially this is even a feasible project because it is possible to live
extremely cheaply.I notice a sign, "Affitisi Camera" - room for
rent - and think, "Nothing is lost in looking, I need a room, the neighbourhood
looks cheap enough," so I ring the doorbell of an apartment on first
floor. The bell grates somewhere inside. The window beside the door, an
almost blind window looking out into the dim hallways, is opened. An apparition
looks out at me from a completely dark room. I can make out an old woman
with grey hair straggling around her face. She seems to be wearing a nightgown,
then a slip, then an apron, then a shawl. She says "What do you want,
Signorina?" I say "Cero una camera." She backs up in the
darkness and turns on a dim light. "This is the room" she says.
It is about 6' by 9', with a bed, a dresser and a wrought iron washstand.
There is no other window. What I can make out doesn't look very clean. "How
much?" "Come in, venga, Signorina," she says, and I follow
her into a dim hallway - no light - full of stacked anonymous packages covered
with newspaper. Somehow she finds the door of another room. This one has
a window and more newspaper-covered piles. "10,000 lire" she says.
That's cheap enough, but it's a horrible room, I'll see if I can bargain
her down. There's no budging her. She tells me about her dead husband, her
feeble-witted daughter (whom I see sitting like a bloated statue in an armchair),
the taxes to be paid tomorrow. I tell her my story (all in Italian).
Still she won't budge. She says "You take it, then?" I say, "How
much, 9,000?" She says "10,000." I say "9500."
She, "10,000, why quibble about 500 lire?" I say, "9000.
Why quibble about 500 lire?" She says, "10,000. You take it, then?"
I, "Okay," with a long pained sigh for her benefit. Ten thousand
is cheap enough and maybe she does need that thousand. She must be
about ninety and her daughter is a mound of vegetable matter. Okay, Signora.
As I leave, promising to move in tomorrow, she calls after me "Venga,
Signorina, be sure to come back! Venga, venga!" And all the way down
the stairs I call back "Si! Si!"
When I arrive next morning she's half-promised the room to somebody else
but since the ten thousand was burning a hole in my hand, she said "Well,
too bad for that other one, it's yours." Relations with the Signora
that day were quite sweet. They have not been so sweet since - see the story
of the Lampidina Battle later in this letter - and she no longer calls me
So I'm living at 238 via San Giovanni in Laterano. The kitchen, where
I wash in cold water, is without doubt the foulest, smelliest, dankest room
I have ever seen or smelled or felt crawling over my skin. More piles of
newspaper-covered bundles. A floor of paving stones, filthy especially in
the corners and between the cracks. One feeble light bulb on the high ceiling.
No windows, but a set of narrow wooden doors leading to a balcony onto which
a small gabinetto, toilet closet, has been tacked among more strange dirty
bundles and a washline, all this above the square courtyard where fifty
other balconies display each family's spare junk.
Back to the kitchen - piles of pots and pans on the floor, no clean dishes
to be seen except for two cups and saucers. Two shriveled lemons cut a week
ago and not used since. Clothes lines. Heaps of objects which are so crumbled
in my memory (due to their age and dirtiness and the lack of light) that
they seem half-decayed - impossible to make out. Garbage spilling out of
a cardboard box on the floor. A stone sink into which water drips incessantly.
Scraps of soap, shreds of steel wool.
When I back up into my room I always lock the door to keep out the detestable
yellow 16 watt light and the newspapery bundles. But you know me: I'm thrilled
at last to be living in utter romantic squalor.
My room is dirty - she didn't bother to change the bed linen for me -
and at first I was always itchy just from the thought of the bugs who might
be gnawing at my scalp. But there are no bugs and I've swept out the spider
webs. I've also torn down the blind doll from her dusty velvet shelf and
put the picture of the Virgin under the bed. My books are on the mirror
shelf, several twigs of apple blossom are in the ashtray, two really lovely
Botticelli portraits are on the dresser and - there is a 40 watt light bulb
in the dangling socket.
And this is the story of the Lampidina Battle.
The day after I moved in, my bulb burned out. I told the Signora, "No
light!" She said, "No problem, Signorina. You just go down the
street and buy another lampidina." I said "Me?" in
astonishment and she said "Si, si" with all possible serenity.
Oh you witch you, I know how to fix you for making a poor student buy
her own lightbulbs! So I bought a forty-watter, installed it, and went off
to spend the afternoon walking with Mitchell.
When I came back at ten p.m. there were the Signora and the Daughter
sitting in front of the door waiting for me. They'd forgotten their key.
And the Signora was furious. "La sua lampa è troppo forte,"
mutter, mutter, in the rasping Italian of all fat old Roman women. "Si,
si," I said, pretending to understand nothing and closed my door "Good
night Signora! Sleep well!" At midnight, when I came into the kitchen
to wash, both women were asleep beside the kitchen table, elbows among the
newspapers, leaning together like two vast statues, heavy and rounded in
the half light. The daughter, who is about forty but ancient as a mountain,
was propped against her mother with her hands under the Signora's heavy
breasts. Both were stunned by the sound of the door opening. "Signorina,
what time is it?" the Signora managed to say - they have no clock,
they have no sense of time, they sleep until ten or eleven, sometimes until
one thirty in the afternoon, I think because the mornings are cold. Then
- "Oh, Signorina, Signorina, lampa sua è troppo forte, è
troppo forte, è troppo forte" as I vanish behind the door.
Next day, I come home in the evening, nobody's home, but she has switched
my bulb! Where's my 40 watt dangling bulb? I stamp around looking for it
behind bundles, in cupboards, in the garbage. It's vanished.
Next day, I buy another 40 watt darling. This time, when I leave, I take
it with me and substitute the other in the socket. We'll see how long it
is before she discovers the trick.
Thursday, 17th of February
Rained this morning, rewarded myself for getting up by a cappucino and
doughnut at the caffé four doors down on Via San Giovanni in Laterano,
where the bar tender in his white jacket always shakes a little extra cioccolato
onto my cappucino, and does it with such a smile!
The city of Rome is one palace, church, statue, stairway, fountain, bell
tower, cupola, after another, all set amid the odd clumps of marble and
brick which are anonymous ruins. The spaces between monuments and assorted
junk are green: wonderful parks, palm trees, laurels, flowers, lawn. All
of the city's peach and apple trees are in bloom, irises have appeared in
the parks. Some, a few, of the buildings are moving - the Colosseum where
I sit and read high in the fifth tier of the old gladiator arena when it's
sunny, bell towers, the Spanish Steps with their flower sellers, the fountains
of the Naiads, where water has stained the sculptures a deep rusty yellow
and the central jet moves and glitters with the wind. There's much I haven't
seen. My Italian is improving, I can almost talk in sentences. I try to
spend three hours a day on it.
An important subject still uncovered - FOOD. Oh Italy! Pizzas,
with mushrooms, with onions, with potatoes, with sardines, with olives,
with eggs, with artichokes, with any kind of covering, crisp, oily, cheap,
delicious. And spaghetti! Cheap. And filling - for the coils slide
into every corner of the stomach and pack it tight. Bread - just down the
street is a paneteria with a large window. If you stop and stare into the
room behind you see three men in what looks like white flour-sack pyjamas
tossing dough into rolls; putting the rolls onto a long, light plank; opening
an oven door and flicking the plank into it so that the rolls stay on the
inside surface and the plank comes out clear; opening another oven door
and thrusting in a large flat fork; pulling the fork out full of freshly
baked rolls and dumping the rolls into waiting baskets. They know me by
now, and always look up to wave and say ciaou to the peculiarly dressed
And the market... Near where Mitchell has his room is a large rectangular
park, all around which are set up the canopied tables of the vegetable and
fruit vendors, the meat vendors, the Friday fish vendors, the flower vendors,
the pens of live chickens, the stacks of merchandise. You walk between the
stalls, scuffling through lettuce leaves and wrapping paper, while all around
you the vendors shout invitations to buy "lovely pears only 160 lire
for a kilogram!" Some even reach out to touch your sleeve, "Venga
Signorina, venga, venga, è buono." Fruit's often cheap, especially
pears and oranges and dates or figs exported from Africa (which is nearby,
really). You can buy a large paper cone of chopped salad greens for three
cents, or a lot of raisins for seven and a half. Carrots are cheap too,
and vegetables like onions and artichokes. All the Roman housewives come
with their string bags. First they buy salad greens, which are put into
their bags without wrapping, then three kilos of oranges, dumped on top
of the greens, then more until the bag is full.
In the meat stalls, unskinned rabbits hang from hooks, sides of beef,
pork legs smoked to a grey stony hardness, chickens who still have their
necks and heads covered with feathers. In cages, ducks and hens squirm together,
beautifully colored pheasants trail their long tails. On top of the cages
a live rabbit sits motionlessly, tied to the cage by a string on his leg.
Real gypsies with long skirts and tangled hair scream back and forth
to each other: they're as dirty, ragged, and graceful as the romanticized
storybook gypsies. Bums of all types sit on the park benches eying the food.
(On Saturday night when the stalls are packed away onto pushcarts and the
rubble is swept up, you see them and quite a few respectable housewives
poking about for a lettuce leaf or an orange that's not really spoiled.)
The cats of Rome sit near the meat stalls, casually waiting around. They're
all big and sleek, the thousands of them that live in the ruins, the immense
black toms, the tabbies, the wary white aristocrats.
Roman beggars do not fare as well as the cats. On a sunny day you see
them sitting on a sidewalk along a church wall displaying their amputations
or their crippled limbs or simply their bony faces. On the Spanish Steps,
gypsy children pull at the coats of tourists, laugh at them, tease them
into giving 100 lire. Often a fat old woman will stand at a corner and,
as you pass, wordlessly poke her cupped hand out at you with a shy and almost
The streets are full of hawkers of all kinds - Somalian bananas, postcards,
guide books, addresses of pensiones, black market radios. Often, at night,
a family will burn wooden packing cases against a pillar for warmth and
stand calling out the names of American cigarettes they're selling at black
market prices. The police don't seem to notice.
Traffic is generally mad, rush hour steadily from seven in the morning
until midnight. Pedestrians cross streets by simply stepping out into the
flow and darting between cars, who pass on both sides like water in a stream,
furiously and often without slowing. It is exhilarating - I enjoy it, especially
when the street is a point of influx for five or six other streets, and
the traffic turns in all directions.
It's midnight, the hallway outside the window is full of voices and footsteps
until late at night. The Signora and her daughter are asleep in the kitchen
again. Tonight is Carnivale, and the streets are full of confetti. All evening
families paraded their children among the crowds downtown, for they all
wear costumes. Thousands of little girls in lacy ballgowns with silver wigs
in the style of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. Tonight there were
grand balls all over Rome. I've just come in from a walk along the medieval
walls - huge buttressed masses of stone with crenellated tops. It was pouring
rain. The sky was full of reflected light.
Next day, 18th of February
Up at 6:30 this morning to watch the market unpack and the sun rise over
the Forum from the Campidoglio. Breakfast was rolls still hot from the bakery
oven, with butter, eaten on a park bench. It's noon now and I've found a
sidewalk café where the cappucino is cheap. Hot sun! A view across
the Forum ruins! All afternoon to write and study Italian and eat bread
and butter for lunch.
Priests or students at Catholic seminaries walk by in pairs, all wearing
long black gowns that make them very tall, very graceful. A Negro boy just
passed in one of the black robes and a cape - beautiful.
The elder Italian women who go by are not beautiful. Nearly all
are fat with hostile, wary little black eyes. Older men are aggressive -
like all Romans I've seen - but not ugly. They cannot pass a woman without
speaking to her, whistling, hissing, trying to catch her attention. It's
Any mail mailed before or about the 25th or 26 goes to c/o American Express,
Piazza di Spagna, Roma, Italia, and any mailed after that to c/o British
Consul, Athens, Greece.
PS Do we know anyone in Saint Paul Minnesota? I've just picked up a 16
year old called Andy, who escaped alone from Rumania three weeks ago and
is being sent to Saint Paul as a political refugee by the American Embassy.
Am in Ischia, the small Italian island off the coast an hour's boat ride
from Naples, waiting to take the ship Appollonia to Athens on the 16th,
a three day voyage. Am here with my friend Jerry and we are camping out
in the closed campground, where we have to climb a twelve foot gate to get
in. The sea is blue, purple, green, turquoise, all at once, choppy, still
cold. We spend most of our time sitting on the sheltered sun side of a wall
eating bread and reading.
[picture of Jerry]
Mitchell and me the day of the excursion to Ostia-Lido]
the Self-Made Man]
Athens, 18 March, Youth Hostel
The man who answered my ring at the British Consulate this afternoon
was a furry-haired little Briton who said "Oh, we are closed, yes,
but for mail ..." and gave me all the letters under E. In gratitude
I promised him all the stamps on all the letters and then ran across the
street to read them while two guards reappeared from time to time to see
if I were still at it, and try to read over my shoulder. (A female in bluejeans
is an even greater curiosity here than in Rome.)
The ground seems to sway like a ship (still effect of the Appollonia).
The hostel dining room is full of bearded boys writing or talking, only
two girls at the moment, both long haired and bluejeaned and beat looking
- yes, me too, all this time my hair has been getting longer and bushier
and dirtier. And as for the bluejeans - you know what happens to my bluejeans'
zippers Mother, they're all kept together with pins. With one pocket over
a hole in the seat and the other over a knee, they must hold now
Money - again, a couple of miracles. Listen: left Rome with just enough
money for the boat ticket, plus maybe a dollar and a half to live on for
a week and to get me a job once in Athens, and to live while finding the
The day before leaving, Jerry, in his usual state of intoxication with
the sun in Rome, invested 400 lire in a box of colored chalk. Early in the
morning we bought a loaf of bread for 70 lire (10 cents), a bottle of wine
for 160 lire (23 cents), two pounds of raw carrots for 50 lire; I put on
my hoop earrings, and we trudged across the city with the carrots in a plastic
bag slung over our shoulders, to the Spanish Steps, where we sat and gathered
our courage. Took the dog skull out of the carrot bag and set it on the
pavement where the cement was smoothest - a crowd gathered immediately,
and we were committed. They asked what the skull was - "Ma, è
mia madre," we explained and showed them the inscription. That caused
a bit of a laugh - we had the crowd's sympathy, mostly teenagers with long
The first chalk line was a little circle, with the inscription above
it saying "For the sustenance of life" in English, French and
Italian. To illustrate, we set the skull beside the circle, with its wire
eyeglasses, and stuffed ivy leaves into the eye sockets. We had a slug of
wine "per corragio," for courage, and scattered the chalk and
began to draw. While Jerry did some abstracts I did a madonna and child
in rich bright colors - something for everybody. By this time, one of the
Spanish Step loungers, a young man dressed flashily in a cheap suit, had
appointed himself business manager and barker, and was exhorting the kids
not to stand there gaping, give these talented starving artists something.
Some good-looking gang leader, with a large gesture, threw in a couple of
tinny 10 lire pieces which rolled neatly into our circle. There was a rain
of them as the gang followed his example. We were giddy from so much sun
and adventure by now, had taken off our shoes and jackets, and grinned brilliant
thank you's at the kids; this brought another laugh, because it was "thank
you for nothing" - 10 lire is a penny and a half. But we'd picked up
the spirit of recklessness that sidewalk beggars need, and began to ham
it up, chomping carrots hungrily, gulping wine, offering it around, making
eyes at the spectators and fools of ourselves, joking in Italian, drawing
with flourishes and concentration. The crowd was changing, older people
and tourists passed. I scribbled the SUPA slogan "Make love, not war"
and a passing tourist said "With that slogan you'll win the war"
in his long Texas drawl. We began to get a few 100 lire pieces. A photographer
walked all around getting nearly forty shots from different angles. Mitchell,
who had been sitting on the wall watching and pretending not to know us,
told us later that he'd looked like a newspaper reporter, but we never found
out. Then an American woman with a little girl stopped - the little girl
was at our level and extremely interested. Jerry tossed her a piece of orange
chalk and she joined us, to the delight of her, us, of the crowd, and even
of her mother, who didn't care how full of chalk she became. She even refused
the sponge we offered her afterward to wipe off the baby's hands; "Doesn't
By now Jerry was doing cubistic wine bottles and oranges and voluptuous
Coke bottles and I was doing a caricature of Ursula Andress next to the
Virgin. There was a loud chink on the pavement - someone had thrown in a
500 lire piece! I looked around to thank the donator but was too
late, because the American woman was already hurrying away, with her skinny
neck bent forward and her grey streaked bun very tidy, and her iron ankles
jerking in their heavy oxfords. We just gaped after her. After an hour,
when the circle was full of small coins and Jerry had just finished a portrait
of Gino our grinning waiter (and put a wreath on his head) labeled "Cesar,"
and when I'd come to the end of my artistic repertoire, and when the wine
bottle was empty, we saw a large shadow fall over the drawings. Two pairs
of thick Italian blue-clad legs, policemen! "Can't do that here,"
they said. "Non è permiso" they said, but with grins. "Okay"
said Jerry, and shoveled the chalk and money together with a magnificent
disregard. We joked, the crowd joked, the policemen joked. (But there was
a long-faced Italian girl who didn't joke - she told us mournfully, "When
I tried that the policeman took all the money.") Enough work for one
day. We ran off to the Borghese Gardens and ate the rest of the carrots
and gloated over our earnings - 2030 lire in all. Those three dollars kept
us for the days in Naples and Ischia before the ship sailed, so I still
had the original dollar and a half.
[Was in Athens from mid-March to the end of May but only two scraps of
journal remain from this time. Unrecorded are a room near Lycabettos where
Jean-Jacques Gaté lived with me when he was stranded, a morning job
governessing two young children for an Athenian judge who took me to Agrinion
to his family's home for the Easter week, an afternoon job governessing
Lellie and Lucia, the two daughters of Harry Stathatos and his wife, who
I think were running a garment business, weekend hitchhiking excursions
with French friends, loss of my passport and money on a hitchhiking trip
[random photos Delphos, Alain Oliveau, a Greek house]
Downstairs room in the Athens Youth Hostel, the long dark room on the
right side of the corridor, where I had a bed next to Chrisusa's and lay
in my bottom bunk looking between the iron bedposts at Isabelle undressing
across the room in front of the windows. I would lie staring at her abdomen
because her face and legs were cut off by the bed and the top bunk - her
huge pregnant belly stretching her white slip, when she had taken off the
corduroy jumper and the cotton smock and hung them over one of the iron
cross-supports at the head of her bed. Then she would lie down awkwardly
in bed, and lie immobile until she slept. One evening Isabelle wasn't there,
and I wondered. Next day I rushed out to tell Alain, Jean-Jacques, Fernando,
that she was gone, and it was true - she had a baby girl. Lellie and Lucia
and I picked flowers for the baby on a forbidden hilltop which we found,
behind the stadium, when Lellie stubbornly pushed her way through the bars
- wild iris on delicate stalks.
Istanbul Wednesday June 8
I'm sitting in a café eating yougourt and drinking something exotically
Turkish called Koka Kola, writing a postcard to you which shows the scene
that I once saw on a travel poster of Turkey and which made me decide to
come, listening to the conversation of three American beats with shoulder-length
hair, looking out to the Blue Mosque. I got here after leaving Jean-Jacques
in Thessalonika, meeting a South African millionaire sitting on a rock in
a beautiful village called Kavala, drinking coffee with a Greek van driver
in Turkish-Greek Xantia, sleeping near a vegetable truck near the Turkish
border, walking two kilometers over the border, and getting a 240 kilometer
ride directly to Istanbul with an Iranian truck. The mosques and minarets
are very beautiful. My hotel is near Hagia Sofia.
Kotor, the village you see, is strung out along both sides of a fiord
of the Adriatic where the water is clear green, warm. And in the hills high
above the town, I know of a cherry tree this bohemian life and way
of travel gives me much contact with the people one of my favorite
memories is the night spent with a family of happy-go-lucky Turks in their
hovel. I stopped to ask for a drink of water and they gave me six glasses
of it, shelter from the rain, supper, a baby to hold and some potatoes to
peel, a pair of old bluejeans because they find mine too rotten, a bed for
the night, breakfast and goodbye kisses. A beautiful family. The mother
twenty six with five children of whom the eldest is thirteen, was really
stunning. The granny, toothless but grinning in her red Turkish trousers,
was a coquette.
Further on, a morning in a Yugoslavian high school. In Bulgaria, also
a night with a family.
I've just spent several bemarveled hours at the art museum here and now,
as I pass the concert hall on my way to the auberge, the Schumann Concerto
in A Minor coming down through an open window in a rehearsal room.
Left Wien yesterday in pouring rain and got here at midnight in pouring
rain too late to get a bed in the hostel - they grumpily let me sleep on
the floor - there's the second movement now - I'm writing this on a wall.
Are you haying? Everywhere in Europe, everywhere I was, people were haying
beside the road, often with sickles and forked sticks. In Jugoslavia I saw
one old woman walking along the edge of the sea with a haystack tied to
her back with bailing twine. Other places the Jugoslavs were piling hay
into narrow boats. Many hay wagons were pulled by oxen. Often the hay is
piled on a pyramid of sticks to keep it off the ground, but in Austria it
is tucked between and over the branches of slim trees.
I'm in Strasbourg, keeping Bill Volk company until he goes home and until
I go to Jean-Jacques in Paris for Bastille Day on the 14th. I live in a
where my curfew is sometimes 9 p.m. I have magnificent dinners with Bill
every evening and last night - in pigtails and sneakers - I went to a diplomatic
reception at the American Vice-Consul's with him to celebrate the 4th of
The sisters here smile a lot - my room has hot water, an eiderdown, grey-flowered
wallpaper, blue-flowered drapes, red-flowered bedspread with one red-flowered
cushion, and an orange-flowered tablecloth, with another orange-flowered
cushion; a view into a courtyard where an old woman in downtrodden bedroom
slippers talks in loud grumbling Alsacian to her cat while she cleans fish.
It rains a lot. The sunny days are beautiful, now that the grass is green
along the canals where the little boys fish. I read and write and sometimes
go to the country and walk and windowshop and wait anxiously for supper
because it's my only meal!
I've just come from Darinka's wedding and I'm burning to put it on paper.
Madame Matter told me yesterday that Darinka was to be married at the
Mayor's office at 8:30 this morning. On the way I stopped and bought a bouquet
for Darinka with the five francs Bill gave me to buy fruit for lunch, a
mixture of spring flowers in reds and yellows and blues. In the large reception
hall a woman in a white uniform stood holding a bouquet of roses and a camera.
I looked through the keyhole of the door with the red-dyed welcome mat before
it. A group of people were signing papers I couldn't see Darinka.
In panic, I asked the woman holding the roses whether the weddings were
already finished. She said I could ask, and led me in. Three or four groups
stood or sat in the plush-carpeted antichamber, some of the brides wearing
cheap veils, some in long dresses. And there against the wall sat Darinka,
looking pretty with her hair in a French roll, a stern white suit with a
sterner white blouse, her hands folded in her lap, looking intensely nervous,
on the edge of tears. I grabbed her hand, "Darinka, ça va? You're
pretty!" and thrust the flowers at her. She was confused - "Ellie!
Ca va? Ca va?" Hamit was sitting on one side of her, smiling in his
dark suit. "Ca va bien?" He looked composed - his face is small
and wrinkled, almost bald, with an indescribably wise and affectionate pattern
Only then I realized that Mademoiselle Ziechelmeyer was sitting on the
other side of Darinka - in a black hat and suit, black gloves, black shoes,
shriveled and bent, her small eyes red-rimmed, her large lower lip quivering
a little. I was uncertain - the last time I saw her had been unpleasant.
We'd both been upset. "So you see me after all?" she said. "I'm
so .." I began and held out my hand to her. She didn't take it. "What
are you becoming?" She seemed on the verge of tears. "What am
I becoming?" She awkwardly accepted my hand now. "What are you
doing since you leave us?" she repeated in English. As I opened my
mouth to tell her, she leaned forward still more to look at me - "How
can you come here? In torn blue jeans - aren't you ashamed?" "No."
"What would your parents say if they knew you were running around in
torn jeans like a beggar? Would they approve?" "Yes. They know."
"You aren't sérieuse. I can see you aren't sérieuse.
You weren't sérieuse when you were at the hotel either. You weren't
studying," and in English, with a shaky laugh, "you were making
romances." I explained that I was coming back to university in September
but she hurried on, "Don't you have a needle?" "Yes, but
..." "Everybody is looking at you. You're making fun of everybody
here by coming here like this." "It's not that I'm making fun
of them, I just don't care about them." "And you don't care about
the opinion of an old woman like me, you don't care about that either,"
this in a perfectly level tone. "I do care that you have an opinion
different from mine, and that is why I want to explain to you, but it is
difficult. I am sérieuse, but in my own way." She was rushing
on again, "They won't let you into the wedding room like that, there's
a man who'll stop you - but it was good of you to come, you wanted to wish
Darinka well because you love her." She turned to Darinka, "Darinka,
it was good of her to come wasn't it." Darinka jumped, coming back
from far away, clutching the bouquet, confused, near tears. "Oh yes
..." But Mademoiselle Ziechelmeyer jumped back at me, "You're
a rebelle, you want to say to everyone that you're different." "Yes,
because ..." "Don't you have any self respect?" "I have
a great deal of self respect, and ..." "Then it's false self respect.
The way you keep yourself shows how you are inside." "Mademoiselle
Ziechelmeyer, this is all I have here." "You should work."
"I find it more important to travel at the moment. I find ..."
"You have your own system." "Yes and I find that you pay
too high a price for respectability, to be bien rangé."
Darinka was far away again, her face was too carefully held. Other brides
were coming in with bouquets and veils. Mademoiselle Ziechelmeyer had her
hands clutched together, "It makes you an outsider," using
the English word, "do you want to be an outsider?" "Yes,
I am, and ..." "It embarrasses me to see everyone staring at you.
It embarrasses me to speak to you, you should go, they won't let you in
anyway." She was near tears again. "You'll see in twenty years,
that I'll have six well-raised children and two books published ..."
and I smiled and took the hand she'd offered me because at last I'd understood
that she loves me, and that she loves me for what she disapproves of. With
a sudden, trembling, smile she said all in a rush, "I believe you're
a brave gosse at heart, you're really a good child underneath."
Paris, 13 July 1966
[page missing, which described visiting Domrémy with Bill, then
starting out next morning to hitch to Paris and being picked up by a young
businessman in a sportscar]
So I find myself sitting in a restaurant terrasse overlooking the fishermen
on the River Marne, with a headwaiter and two garçons hovering. He's
a charming conversationalist this Parisian, he seems to have character too.
We begin with a plate of little fishes served whole, fried fresh from the
river, served on a paper lace doily. Then we have runions - kidneys served
with a brown gravy which makes them delicious. He talks about Pascal, his
house at Versailles, his dogs, his horses, his factories, his war experiences.
He smokes a slim cigar. He has nice eyes. There is something steely about
him, I wouldn't want to be a business rival of his, but at the same time
there is something wise and even kind. For dessert we have fraises des bois,
wild strawberries. (I sneaked a look at the price list - dessert by itself
"If this is the first time you've come to Paris, I must think of
the most beautiful entrance route. You should have a good impression,"
he says, and the silver sports car dodges through the traffic under his
expert hands. We enter a deep woods and pass a vast castle with a zoo. It's
the Bois de Vincennes. A lovely introduction indeed - then he's driving
along the Seine smiling at my enthusiasm as I get my first glimpse of Notre
Dame and the quais of the Island, interposing in his self-assured but half-sincere
way that it's a good thing he won't see me again because he would be sure
to fall in love with my "belle bouche"! This spot of gallantry
(Mother) is not a gambit - ie he doesn't want anything from me but he has
cultivated the French art of savoir-vivre and it is at its best in men like
him. Savoir-vivre is an art of appreciation I think.
After a short tour le monsieur leaves me near my destination and is off
with a wave and a discrete roar from the Aston Martin's sleek motor.
A wide boulevard full of people, Avenue de l'Opéra. Jean-Jacques
has given me the address of his office, I'm excited about seeing him again
- I'm breathless, in fact, when I ask the girl at the reception desk where
I can find him. "Oh, he's on a boat bound for Israel," she says
coolly, and I fold up inside like a punctured rubber mattress. "He's
taking one of the student groups there and coming back on the next boat,"
she adds. I'm broke as usual, this time completely, and I'd counted on J-J
to dépanne me as I'd dépanned him in Greece.
So I walk to J-J's parents' place, beside the Seine, overlooking the
railway station where Mr Gaté worked until his retirement - a good
hour's walk. I push a doorbell, and the little flutter inside turns out
to be Mrs Gaté. "Ah, Maurice, c'est Ellie qui est arrivée."
Well at least J-J had the goodness to tell them I'm coming. I'm led to a
living room chair, given a lemonade and tactfully left to read my mail.
Mrs Gaté is little and pretty. She tells me how her adored son came
home on Sunday, read my letter, announced that he was being sent unexpectedly
to Israel. "I said to him, 'She'll feel lost if she arrives in Paris
and there's no one here' and he said 'She can take care of herself,'"
Mrs Gaté explains.
I'm invited to supper. "Where are you staying tonight?" asks
Mama Gaté. I have think fast. "At the office of course"
I say. So after supper she puts on some lipstick and we all three go back
to the Place de l'Opéra to see the lights. Tomorrow is the 14th of
July and everything is lit. The boulevards, those famous boulevards, are
wide, lined with trees, lined with fabulous shops. At the office (the travel
organization is called AMI - Amitié Mondiale Inter-Jeunesse) we meet
a young man with circles under his eyes: I gather that this is Wieland,
the young man who began the organization and has directed it until now,
and who at the age of 24 is responsible for thousands of teenagers spread
throughout the world from India to Mexico, and a budget of incredible numbers
of francs. When the Gatés shake hands and go home I ask if I may
sleep on a little corner of floor at the office - a normal request since
everyone sleeps on the floor there - and do a bit of work. We climb three
flights of narrow stairs to a set of tiny offices piled high with papers.
I'm set to work addressing envelopes by a boy called Barberousse.
At 2 a.m. when the addresses are finished Barberousse suggests we go
home - what, people don't sleep on the floor anymore? It seems not because
I'm taken through a maze of streets back to the elegant Avenue de l'Opéra.
Barbu pushes open a door twelve feet high and we go through two mirror-chandelier-glass-cream-and-gold
foyers before arriving at the elevator, a sort of wrought iron lace birdcage.
But we take the service elevator - it's better. Barbu opens a large opaque
window and steps outside through it onto a ledge. He tells me to wait around
the corner in the hall. Suddenly a door opens and there's Barbu in the doorway
of a room. White walls, high ceilings, a green carpet. Against one wall,
two low benches pushed together for a table and covered with dirty dishes,
paper cartons, empty bottles. On the floor are three air mattresses tossed
in half-deflated heaps among the magazines and crumbs and clothes and boxes.
One low cupboard. No other furniture. Jar lids full of ashes and butts.
In the adjoining bathroom there's a shower, a bidet, even hot water, but
the garbage barrel has overflowed and wet wash cloths cover the shower rods,
the soap's on the floor and everything is filthy. Well. I spread my sleeping
bag in a corner and lie down in my bluejeans. Barberousse says a very amiable
goodnight and goes to sleep on a child-sized mattress; two telephone books
are his pillow and he's covered with a wooly bath towel!
At dawn, I'm awakened by someone else stepping through the window (the
hall window and ours are kitty-corner, we can easily step over the four
storey drop from one ledge to the other - no one knows who has the key).
He finds himself an air mattress and goes to sleep on it under another bath
towel - in the morning when the telephone wakes us, the stranger, who is
big and handsome, says "Bonjour Mademoiselle" as if he were being
introduced at a reception, all French formality even flat on his back with
a bath towel around his flanks. Barberousse gets up and goes out to buy
some bread and butter, then he makes coffee.
It's the fourteenth of July and the day has a holiday feeling. Sun's
The boys go off to the office to work and I can't resist powdering the
whole bathroom, camp stove, dishes, smelly floor rags and all, with Ajax,
and then I turn the shower hose on it. Then I take the carpet sweeper over
the rug like a lawn mower, picking up pounds of crumbs and lint.
At noon I'm invited to dinner at the Gatés. They are just the
two and me and a tamed Paris street bird but we have a ritual dinner according
to all the best laws of savoir faire, savoir vivre. First an apéritif,
vermouth with ice, and olives as appetizers. Then radishes. Then chicken,
then peas, all with wine, then salad, then cheese, then fruit, then ice
cream, then coffee. Nothing is served until the former item is finished
and the plate wiped clean with bread. Radishes are eaten with butter.
We look at photographs, I admire their antiques, they listen to the Tour
And now I'm settled. It's Monday. In the morning I get up and make coffee
and go out, like the Parisians, to buy my baguette for our breakfast and
fetch it home unwrapped, swinging under my arm. We sit on the floor, slice
the baguette lengthwise, spread it with butter and jam to make a 'tartine',
and dip it into our coffee, which we usually have in empty big Maxwell House
jars because our glasses aren't big enough and we have no cups. 'We' is
Barberousse and me, sometimes Serge, sometimes Popaul, sometimes Thierry
- whoever works late at the office and doesn't want to go home.
We pile the dishes in the shower and the mats in the corner, then we
go off to work. Cathi is in the downstairs reception office. Up three flights
of steps are the four cubicle offices, piled high with papers, typewriters,
telephones, files, stencils, stamps, old clothes (there's a pair of bluejeans
in the corner that I recognize by the patch I put on them in Athens), scraps
of paper, record player, photos on the wall covering all the places where
people have gone through it.
In one of the back cubicles I address envelopes, put stamps on envelopes,
write lists of addresses for future envelopes, wrestle with the French typewriter,
sort passports. In the evenings we work late, radio and record player howling
jazz, Beethoven, Bressans. Nobody in the office plays at being "des
grands personnes" - adults. The boys are bearded, everyone is penniless
because even the people entitled to a salary can't get at it when there's
no money in the pot. At 2 a.m. we go home and fall into bed - but not everyone
because someone has to be there in case of long distance telephone calls
from India, Mexico. Sometimes when we crawl in the window at 2 a.m., through
the rain, taking good care on the slippery ledge, we've got shop to talk
and this lasts until three - then come a series of long distance calls from
Mexico, Canada, India, Egypt. Somebody, one of the Mexico AMI representatives,
is in jail because he wrote a food cheque for which there was insufficient
money - and the rescue funds sent by l'AMI in Paris haven't arrived yet,
and we have to be careful not to let the story leak out and someone remembers
something, just after the light goes off for the last time - "Hey,
Popaul, did you get Cathi to type up those Israel lists for you?" and
we start again.
Jean-Jacques is back. Unforgettable: last night, walking back from the
student quarter after a dinner in a 'dive' where the floors are covered
with garbage from previous diners, perfectly medieval and in keeping with
the ancientness of the city, it began to rain; colored lights reflected
all down the Seine from the edge of the quai where we leaned on our elbows
to look. Lights inside the trees along the boulevards, making the wet leaves
glitter, brilliant green. The peculiar deep shade of night-blue caught in
glimpses of the sky between trees on the Boulevard des Italiens.
The boulevard in animation at night - shooting galleries, and candy stalls
with the smell of hot syrup; demonstrators with their portable tables, hawking
vegetable grinders, magic tricks, glass cutters; cafes open to the sidewalk
with an orchestra on the balcony playing Strauss waltzes; a street musician
standing in front of sidewalk tables playing an Eastern folk song, his face
so sad and so proud that I'm sad too and want to make some movement toward
him but can only stare at him until he picks up his shapeless leather bag
and walks on to the next café; the gilt statue of Joan of Arc with
a ragged banner; a tiny woman asleep on the warm-air grill under the arcades,
curled up so we could not see her face to tell whether she was young or
old; the 'beatnicks' along the quais of the Island, sitting against the
wall with their guitars and sleeping bags, mouching cigarettes from passers-by,
singing American freedom songs or Bob Dylan translated into French, young
mostly, dressed (a long haired boy singing "We shall overcome")
in the shabby green US Army surplus jacket that is the universal stamp of
beatnickism - I have one too. The Paris 'kikis,' cheeky ragamuffins who've
seen too much for their age, arrogant and tough, but full of humor, children
like no other children, teasing old ladies on the street, puffing at cigarettes.
Equestrian statues all over Paris - the good king Henry IV covered with
Is happiness sitting at the studio window wrapped in a sleeping bag,
with a storm roaring overhead among the angles of seventh-floor walls, reading
aloud, full of pâtes à la sauce tomate, body tense with coffee
and the silent current of my longing for Jean-Jacques? Apprivoisé
then, but now shut up firmly into himself. I've lost completely the "visage
du p'tit matin." But once or twice - lying side by side on the green
carpet after Barberousse had turned off the light, we would wait until our
breath deepened and quickened, and then he would put out his hand to find
mine (curved above my head) and then we would wait again, and then I would
move so that my hair fell against his arm, and then he would kiss me through
the hair fallen over my face and we would struggle to find a way through
taste of hair in our mouths not wanting to move our arms already wrapped
around each other moving. I can't think of his body without intense emotion,
the thin chest and back (brown - he always wears Sagittarius on a metal
chain), the delicate shoulder bones and fine smooth skin, the long torso
and flat cul. Moving and separate from me, or still and focused against
me I love the form of his body and adore fragments of lines of it
- wrist or neck or mouth, casual ankle and insouciant hip.
The last news you've had was from Brussels so you're far behind. I hitchhiked
back to Paris after a week. Immediately after my return to the AMI office
we went broke, abandoning several thousands of people in various countries
without money and disappointing several hundred more who wanted to leave
and had already paid. In the chaos which followed an order of bankruptcy
from the Paris police headquarters, the offices were filled with complaining
customers and anxious parents and policemen and inspectors, and we were
all on the verge of nervous collapse, shock, etc, especially those who've
made AMI literally their life for nearly twenty four hours a day.
Wieland, the boss, went into hiding, trying frantically to find some
money before turning himself over to police headquarters, where complaints
of abuse of confidence and cheques without provision as well as journalistic
suspicion of swindle were waiting for him. No one knew where he was, the
police issued a warrant for his arrest, hundreds of people were anxious
to get their hands on him. Then at midnight one night when I was at the
studio alone the telephone rang. I answered and it was Wieland, calling
from his hideaway in the apartment of a friend. "Can you come right
away?" he says. "Of course," I say, and he gives me the address
of an apartment building in a far quarter of Paris, telling me that he will
wait for me to pay the taxi as soon as it arrives. So I run to catch a taxi
and go humming through the strange dark narrow streets, not knowing what
he wants, not sure he'll really be there to pay the taxi, craning my head
anxiously to see if there is a police car following. He is there to pay
for the taxi, and no, the police weren't following, and I'm still not sure
what he wanted me for, but I think generally he needed to talk to someone.
When the telephone rang a particular ring or the doorbell sounded three
short rings, one pause, two short rings, I answered. And I listened as he
explained what had happened to the finances (no swindle involved) and then
we tried to sleep on the sofa covered with coats. He was so frightened that
he trembled and so I held his hand.
For breakfast we had a tin of beans that we found in the cupboard. Then
he set to work writing a letter explaining the situation and its reasons
to the participants and the parents, pleading for help to patch the association
up until the participants could be brought home. When the doorbell sounded
its secret ring and I opened the door to find our two friends also from
the AMI office, he sent us to make a stencil of the letter and send copies
of it to all the parents. I typed the stencil, and then we licked envelope
flaps and stamps until three in the morning. The letters are mailed, we
reported back to Wieland and all went walking in the deserted streets of
Montparnasse until we found a café still open, and then we ate supper.
Home by four thirty a.m.
At one the next afternoon, I had just gotten dressed when there was a
knock at the door and two men flashed their badges at me. "You are
Mademoiselle Ellie Epp? We are looking for one Wieland Lemke." "He
isn't here." "Do you know where he is?" Silence. I knew he
had a one o'clock rendezvous at a certain café. "Was it you
who typed the letter that was sent out last night?" "Yes."
"Have you seen Lemke?" Silence. "Well them Mademoiselle would
you come with us to the station please."
We arrived in a set of dingy fourth floor offices near the cathedral
in the oldest part of the city, magnificent sunny day, excellent view from
the windows. Two inspectors set out to question me. When I explained that
for the moment I intended to say nothing because I wanted to give Wieland
a chance to do what he could to straighten out the affair before he handed
himself over to the police, they both began to roar like detective inspectors
in the movies. They told me I could be held in jail for the night unless
I was willing to cooperate and that I would quite possibly be deported straight
home. I was overjoyed at the thought of both these possibilities, but hid
my pleasure as well as I could, not wanting to spoil their fun.
Then they sent me off to another room where I was guarded by not one
but two policemen who gossiped to me about marriage in France, and whom
I amused by singing and doing exercises and writing poetry for several hours
(they also pointed out the various monuments we could see from our window)
until the moustached red-faced inspector stuck his head in the door to tell
me with malicious pleasure, "Ah, Mademoiselle, we have someone in the
next room whom you know very well."
Not five minutes later, the other inspector stuck his head around the
door to announce with the same malicious joy, "Mademoiselle, Mr Lemke
has been arrested." When I was taken into the other room again to sign
my papers of release, there was Wieland looking white but composed. He sent
me a sad wink, and then I was released to the custody of Barberousse who
was waiting in the hall. I found, then, that Wieland had not been arrested
as I had been told, but had come to the office himself after coolly telephoning
to the commissioner himself. The two inspectors, when they found that he
was coming to give himself up after evading their best efforts for nearly
a week, were livid with rage and chagrin.
Monday July 29th
I'm back in Paris after a week's vagabond into the south of France. (There's
nothing to eat in Paris; the trip was an economic necessity.)
[then enclosed a journal with attached explanatory notes]
I took off my shoes as soon as I'd crossed the street from 22 Avenue
de l'Opéra; and it was raining a warm rain. Joan of Arc was on her
high horse at the intersection, the Tuileries stretched out toward her,
the Louvre was misted over, each section fainter and more mysterious than
the next, all diffused into mysterious outlines with the Carrousel arch
darkest against the far transverse wing. Grass wet, geraniums brilliant,
the strong young women alone and black among the flowers, all of the city
beautiful against the low sky. Almost dusk at four o'clock; transmuted,
dissolved, vaporized, the bank of trees and the arches of the Rue Rivoli
falling back; the obelisque almost invisible; the round pond deserted.
At five o'clock I came out of the Louvre and the sky was lighter. When
I passed near one of the strong young women, someone had put a branch in
her open hand. The gravel soft underfoot; wrought iron chairs abandoned
among the water and floating leaves among the trees, the blue and red flower
beds more brilliant than usual. The Place de la Concorde from the balustrade
above the Impressionist Museum. A small girl with her mother. A wonderful
long puddle with water higher than my knees. A flower at the foot of beautiful
Joan and home to read and cook more pâtes à la sauce tomate
and at 3:30 sit bolt upright to talk to Barberousse who can't sleep because
he's thinking of naked girls. I can't because I'm thinking of Mitchell and
Jerry and Alain and Jean-Jacques; I explain that they are phantômes
more real than reality because of this year of dépaysage.
Now it is quarter past five and I want to go back to my phantoms. This reminds
me of crazy what-was-his-name in Athens who wrote everything in his little
Porte d'Italie dazzling in the sun, why is it so wonderful and fresh?
Space - I've been a city dweller for a month now. Wet lawns and glittering
tall buildings, Forêt de Fountainebleue, standing under the trees
Two kilometer walk through farm fields, a bushy hedge on one side, a
young boy on a bicycle singing with his transistor, the tiny farm hamlet
of Les Tuileries, where a woman washes her clothes on the edge of a low
stone trough in her water shed, muddy henyards full of flowers. A roadside
garden - carrots and beans washed in a puddle! I'm tempted to steal a tomato
from a windowsill, but it is too light. I feel like a troubadour with my
dufflebag slung at an angle over one shoulder, watching for berries that
might be edible or magic, looking down at the woman pounding her clothes.
A boy on a scooter smiles under his helmet and shouts back with the wind,
"Le moto, vous aimez ça?" "J'adore!" I run after
him. "Vous etes quelle nationalité?" "Je suis canadienne."
"Mois aussi, je suis canadien francais!" Handshake. Burgundy
countryside, wooded round hills, drift of smoke and scent from a pointed
roofed four-chimneyed railroad hotel. Peaked spruce and stratocumulus darkening.
Vézelay. I wander into the Pax Christi auberge and am taken to
a bed under the rafters. Everything is wonderful: faces, voices, me, the
guidebook I've stolen, the fact that supper is in an hour and apparently
one doesn't pay. I've taken the chance because I can't pay. I have two Metro
tickets, but no money. We eat dinner elbow to elbow at a long table, soup
and bread, ham, large chunks of potato, cheese and bread, plums. Afterward
we go to a low room with a fireplace and sit around the fire on benches
as a young priest, emotional but not at all articulate, tells us about his
walking pilgrimage to Le Puy. He tells us of his feelings of increased sensitivity
toward himself, toward others, toward nature. He says that sometimes he
spends the day praying, singing, talking to le Seignieur, full of le Seignieur
to the feet. Another priest talks about the expérience spirituelle
and expérience humaine. I'm excited because I recognize that
my year is as much a pilgrimage as his and that to me the expérience
spirituelle and expérience humaine are absoluement pareille.
"Je ne suis ni catholique ni protestante, plutot agnostique, mais c'était
pareil pour moi," I blurted when the priest asked me about the two
expériences. And as for his joie, I have had it today.
Black sky; stars for a change. Light sheets on narrow walls; street lamps
on the trees and wall creepers; cobbles everywhere as if the village were
molded in one piece; deep cellars; Middle Ages arches, steps, stones; walls
all fused together. Complete emptiness of the streets.
From Avallon, a Marseillais truck driver with a large tank trailer stopped
for me before I'd even put my thumb out. He talked steadily or roared his
radio, was going all the way to Avignon. Miles of Burgundian countryside
green fading to blue across wide valleys with red roofs; the colors making
me think of Cézanne. Night - casse-croûte beside the road.
Not far from Avignon he stopped to sleep and I rushed out with my sleeping
bag to spread it in some stiff aromatic grass, but he came along and made
a little attempt, which I repulsed, whereupon he announced that I was not
gentille and that he was leaving, good night, but he turned around to say
rather sadly, "Les hommes sont tous pareils, eh?" He has never
made love to a femme honnête but prostitutes repulse him and he se
sauves as soon as possible. "Mais pourquoi pas, vous ne voulez
pas un petit bonheur? On perde la tête pour un moment et ..."
"Non ça m'intéresse pas du tout!" "Je vous
dégout?" With your round soft beer belly pushing your belt down,
yes, but ... "Mais non, il s'agit pas de ça." So he said
goodnight rather grumpily, and, this morning, roared the motor to wake me.
He had something of good in him, tho' ignorant and sad.
Les Baux. Pile of chalky white rocks with a castle at the top, broken
down to a few flat walls; small tourist souvenir town, disagreeable because
of the junk displayed and the no entry signs. I climbed the hill opposite
and unrolled my sleeping bag on a ledge in the half-egg hollow of a shallow
cave. From my ledge I could see the castle and beyond it other masses of
white rock, and beyond them the flat blue valley stretching as far as the
sea? I climbed through the thorn bushes to the top of the rocks and sat
among the lavender reading the books I took from the youth hostel this morning,
La sonate à Kreutzer by Tolstoi, Villon's Poèmes
and Eloge de la folie.
Restless sleep, a dream of talking to Jean-Jacques, smell of lavender
crushed under the sleeping bag; all night the same scene framed by the rough
unbalanced black oval of my cave's walls; the stars visible through the
opening of a window in the cave.
At dawn, a cold wind and the sudden vision of a pink light on the castle.
Then brilliant sun. Walk down full to the valley. Fields radiating from
the road; olive trees flashing silver because of the wind; the vines' heavy
underbelly of grapes. I lay in the grass beside a vineyard that was particularly
lush, eating purple sweet grapes until I was sick, and finished the Kreutzer
Lunch - grapes. Walked to the next village, four kilometers, in the sun
among the rocks and vineyards, with the white walls of the mas. An
amiable coffee-delivery man in his wonderful-smelling van, making a detour
north of Tarascon to a potato chip factory. The bag of potato chips he gave
me as we drove back through the fields of pear trees and tomato vines was
fresh from that morning, delicious!
One more ride, very sympa, who deposits me on the beach among the dunes
and tenting families along the marais near Frontignon. I make a tour into
the bushes nearby and - an abandoned field of grapes, overrun by donkeys,
children, and bushes, but full of grapes at the peak of ripeness.
Back on the dune a big-eared big-eyed little boy, nine years old, Patrick,
comes to join us, then Patrick's little sister Cathi. Then Cathi's young
mother with the remains of their supper (wine, tinned octopus, bread, potato
chips, chocolate, yougourt). Then Cathi's father, young, handsome, with
a warm smile and wonderful smiling eyes who insists I come for breakfast
next morning. All the kids help me find a sheltered place to sleep among
Next morning they come to fetch me to their trailer for breakfast, and
there's a grandmother too! By then everyone is in bathing suit and we get
into the water as soon as possible. Sand white and fine. Water
turquoise. I'm invited for lunch. For supper. We make an expedition and
bring back pounds of grapes. Brilliant red sunset among the refinery lights
on the other side of the marais.
But at night the atmosphere becomes heavy and rank, I'm suffocated among
the dunes, and there's something else wrong too. At the first drops of rainfall
I realize that I'm violently sick to my stomach. The Déchanet family
has told me to sleep under their tent-porch if it rains, so I move, but
oh misery, I'm terribly sick, my stomach's wrung dry but I'm still heaving,
the rain is crashing down now, thunder and lightning, mosquitoes - suddenly
a huge puddle forms under my sleeping bag and I'm soaked all night.
Then it is Sunday and time to go back again. The Déchanet family
saying goodbye with more warmth than relatives show, running to get the
half bar of chocolate that was left over. "Et il y a Patrick qui pleur,"
said Mr Déchanet as I went off clutching half a saucisson.
As I'm sitting on the opera steps at noon a very young-looking Herald
Tribune paper boy comes up the steps to ask whether I'd buy a paper - "But
I'm broke, I haven't one centime!" "We're in the same condition,
then, shake!" he says - he's English. "Oh, and I'm reading a great
book, by Orwell, Down and Out in London and Paris," he says.
Evening: I've just discovered that my packsack has been stolen. A few
clothes, paperback books, my papers and letters. My journal is gone and
I'm sick at heart.
undated scrap of journal
Tonight a fattish, fastidious business man who stopped for me on the
road to Luxembourg. Near dark, outside Longwy, past the curved sculpted
black stacks and the sulphur smoke, past the ladle pouring out its fire
into railroad buckets, the dung-colored houses without grass in their front
yards, the dirty children ("Tu vois, c'est une fille! Tu vois!")
and the long grinning stares.