Paris: Nothing Like It, Nothing Better
In recent days, I’ve spent time formatting a book titled Paris, Etc., edited by Jessie Vail Aufiery. Jessie lived in Paris for a number of years with her French husband and their twin daughters. My immersion in poems, stories, and essays steeped in Parisian details, venues, attitudes, and nuances gave me a personal grim irony when confronted by the carnage of November 13, 2015. I’m sure many others are experiencing their own shock and sadness, whether or not they have ever been to that city or read about its unique appeal.
The concluding paragraph from an essay by Bobbi Lurie called “I Hold My Bol of Café au Lait in Both Hands”:
Bonjour ma petite, I had learned how to say a few things in French. I had also learned to wear scarves, to never leave the apartment without makeup; to wake up to my coffee, my bol of steaming coffee, mixed with hot milk, standing at the window, leaning towards the balcony . . . the view.
Learning to be Parisian, the book suggests, is a peak of human fulfillment, of knowing how one should live and of thrilling in the experience of rooftops and boulevards each time one looks out at the city.
Were the ISIS assassins aware that they were attacking an ideal of Western civilization, the dream of millions, or were they just seeking revenge for French bombings of their caliphate? Probably a bit of both because of their hatred for the values of the West.
Jessie’s collection includes a piece, “The Rebirth of Paris” written by Bettini Ballard after the end of World War II when she awoke “in my own wide, comfortable bed in which I had listened to the declaration of war six years before.” The bed had been hidden in the attic of a friend to keep it from the German officer and his mistress who had taken over her flat during the Nazi occupation. But now Ballard was able to reclaim her home; the Nazis no more.
Let us hope ISIS will go the way of the Nazis, but in a much shorter time, and that Paris will soon again be the magical city of Christopher Buckley’s prose poem, “Paris Dispatch”:
Yesterday, I mailed them sentimental postcards of the autumn trees lining the Seine. I’ve been waiting 17 years to feel this way again. The pink neon still buzzes outside the Dixie Melody, the sidewalks wide and unending, and our lives, more or less, burning away imperceptibly like the little fragments of smoke from the chestnut vendor’s coals. If we’re lucky, we’ll find ourselves on a street, stopping at a small table and happily ordering an over-priced coffee to watch the world go by a while, knowing there is nothing like it, nothing better, as long as we’re here . . .
— Walter Cummins
Walter Cummins teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators programs at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Paris, Etc. will be published by Serving House Books, which is under the leadership of Cummins and Thomas E. Kennedy.