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- August 23 – Early Morning
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- September 6 – Le G. – Early Morning
- September 11 – Late Afternoon
- September 12 – a.m.
- September 17
They just don’t got no luck. First, the brand new choir, pushed eight meters
higher than Amiens collapses after only a year. That’s 1284. Then, in 1573, the steeple –
put up just six years before – keels over, on Ascension day no less. Just misses the
throng departing after mass. Well, that’s a break anyway.
• • •
It’s not about Bush. Bush is a stalking horse, if that’s the phrase. There are larger
forces at work and though the U.S. may seem the dominant player, that is because it’s
the most visible and overt. China, moving like the wind, doesn’t register on our
awareness because we’re so blind to anything but our own image.
Along with a rue or boulevard Victor Hugo, every town in France has a street
named for Jean Moulin. What would the political condition of France be today if
Moulin and thousands of others hadn’t fought against the Nazis?
Dream the other night, before waking up in Amiens, of New York taken over by
bona fide fascisti, clusters of them, replete with armbands and black carbines. Swastika
flags on dark streetcorners lit by electric torchlight. Every little cadre seemed to operate
as though it was controlled by an invisible central authority – remotely. Without
appearing to receive orders they simply knew what to do. Stopped by four or five of
them, who demanded your watch – the Swatch Katie bought for you in Switzerland in
‘86 – and you had to give it up. They would certainly have beaten you with their gun
butts, at very least, had you resisted them.
Woke up just at the point where you were making a desperate attempt to talk
them into giving it back – knowing that an appeal to its sentimental value would be
useless, or worse, and there was only a very limited amount of discussion possible
before the rain of blows to be delivered systematically, but without passion, would
begin. Hopeless feeling, vying with an impulse to somehow try… they seemed so
stupid and closed off, yet if you just managed to find the key…
So here it is, something’s always held up before us, a kind of MacGuffin: right to
vote, stop the draft, right to say this, do that, right to abortion, stop this war, that war,
exchange a particularly vicious figurehead for a less voracious-looking bone grinder.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 679
But what you want to know is how peace gets made. And what peace might feel like?
How would it smell?
From your table, you have to squint to read the blue enamel sign that tells you where
you are: Place Flora Tristan. And below, in smaller letters still: 1803-1844, Femme de
lettres, militante féministe. Grandmother, you learn later, of Paul Gaugin and diarist of
You sit, sip your café allongé, try to cultivate the art of being. But here as
everywhere, part of you is always straining toward some forward place.
A treasure trove of herb garden in a courtyard off the rue des Mantaux Blancs –
who knew? Among the plants, a good number with mytho-magical properties:
Helianthus tuberosus – known as the Jerusalem artichoke; Passiflora caerulea, as in
Christ’s Passion; Acanthus mollis, a wound-healer; Lonicera caprifolium to counter
nostalgia, and for scent and immunity Lavandula x hybrida. Some are, by turns and even
minute degrees, poisonous and curative: Buxus sempervirens, Vinca minor, Helleborus
foetudus – handle with care.
It’s not the I-Ching before you, only today’s Libération, just as impenetrable. At
what point did you shift your focus away from the outside, passing the touch of your
eye evermore over your interior topography? Is it less abrasive in there? A presence
enters the space of Le 57 and sits down a couple of tables to your right. An unusual
thing – up until now morning customers, apart from you, head for the bar, drink their
drinks, pay an leave. You sense this is a woman, doesn’t feel threatening, so you don’t
immediately track her. When you do raise your eyes, you see that she’s beautiful,
compellingly so, like a fab mod blonde of yesteryear. She’s reading a book, head
inclined downward. Full-lipped, serious, not grim. You’re impatient to get back to not
looking. To wait for her to turn a page or take a sip from the water glass with the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 680
Lipton Iced Tea logo that stands next to her coffee cup seems intolerable. Your own
coffee cup is imprinted with the
logo, as is the unused packet of sugar nestled
in the saucer that, when you turn it over, reads Express yourself in minute blue letters.
Emblazoned on your water glass, the logo of Virgin lemonade: “The Virgin
Fast crescendo of taps over the construction noise outside. Small heels, green
eyes, wavy brown hair, black skirt, tanned belly, electric blue top – she’s gone. Your
water glass – drain it. Who’s that by the bar? The same woman who sat reading now
pays her tab. A chic leather bag hangs off her left shoulder. Black and white, trimmed
with piping, it’s pushed way out of plumb by a hip whose width seems altogether
incommensurable with the face you saw in profile a few short breaths ago. Another
She turns right out the door toward the Pernety Metro stop at the corner of
Losserand where they’re tearing up the street in preparation for laying down new
curbstones and surface. Occasionally, you glimpse a backhoe that almost pirouettes in
its labors of scoop and dump, a brash young fellow in the cab, fast and precise with the
The bar’s gone quiet for a moment as the smashing sounds continue round the
corner. This morning’s barista, an Asian woman, maybe mid-twenties, concentrates on
the newspaper spread on the counter. For a moment, she seems genuinely troubled by
something she’s read, but then you see the pen in her hand and her eyes brighten as she
fills in the letters on the crossword puzzle. Don’t let me lose you comes the lyric out of
the speaker behind and above. A soul tenor pleading: Turn it around.
• • •
At the Hôtel de Ville, an exhibition on the Jews of Paris and their fate under
occupation in which you discover that “pletzl,” meaning “the little place,” was the
Yiddish nickname for the Marais.
Out of a display case, a document, typed and dated 26 October, 1943, stares up at
you. That it’s got something to do with the demolition of a house is as far as your
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 681
limited French can go sans dictionaire. But it’s the letterhead itself, imprinted in the
upper left hand corner that you can’t break away from:
COMMISSARIAT GENERAL AUX
- - - - - -
How many blank sheets of paper did Section V.B. have printed, just like this one,
in anticipation of having something to fill in below? Did the printer pause beyond
taking a sample closer to the window to check for the correct density and color of the
sheets together, interspersed with carbon paper, tapped them into neatness on a desk or
blotter and rolled them onto the platen of a typewriter. Someone did this. What kind of
weather did Paris have on October 26 that year?
• • •
You shoulda stood in bed. This morning, in an attempt to re-acculturate yourself
in advance, you cracked the online Times, and learned that Bloomie’s just handed
Lockheed-Martin a $212 million contract to engineer surveillance systems for the NYC
This evening, as you walk down by Les Halles, the great bell of St-Eustache starts
a-booming. A line of Thomas Friedman’s you read a couple of days ago fires up on
your front burner. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden
fist.” Once he seemed a sane man, with a finely tuned conscience. Now he’s gone mad
as the age itself.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 682
Awake and contemplate your imminent return to New York. Think about
packing. Better not put the model gun into one of the suitcases. Even though it
wouldn’t be carry-on, you can just see some bright-eyed British Air security guard at
Charles de Gaulle spotting the pistol’s shape on their x-ray machines and blowing up
your bag just to be on the safe side. Not to mention what would happen to you as the
bag owner given the bombing massacre in London six weeks ago.
Can’t take the thing with you, so what to do? Don’t want to leave it in L.’s
apartment. That doesn’t make sense, only defers the problem. In the shower comes the
inspiration – why not mail it to yourself? That’s the ticket. On the offchance the post
office scans the package and destroys it, you don’t lose your books, clothes and
souvenirs into the bargain.
At La Poste on rue Pernety you buy a pre-paid envelope and return ten minutes
later with the packaged sealed, its contents securely bubble-wrapped. The clerk fills out
the customs form, asks what’s inside. Your pre-coffee mind balks at the French word
for it. You cudgel your brains, then blurt out in English: “a toy.”
“Ah,” he says, “un jouet.”
• • •
Over coffee at Le 57 you attempt with qualified success to decode an article in
Libération on the future of Gaza after the Israeli pullout. In the midst of which you
realize that you’re tapping your foot to the rhythm of a familiar song. Out the speaker
above your head, Ruben Blades singing “Pedro Navaja” – his sly homage to a Latino
Mack the Knife. Behind the bar, the patron washes cups, one eye on the street, his
shoulders making subtle figure eights in time to the beat. After “Pedro,” another
vintage Willie Colón, “Timbalero” – a cut you play off an old cassette back home when
you need to blow the dust out of your brainpan. It’s a Dionysian tour de force, built
around a trombone riff that spins further and further out as the lyrics propel a timbale
player – who is riding the N-train – all the way to the moon. Holy cow, this is weird,
too much synchronicity for your little head: a Korean DJ spinning ‘70s New York Salsa
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 683
in a Montparnasse bar. But yeah, like the song says: A ride to the moon on a choo-choo
• • •
They’re drowning in Romania, Bulgaria, Austria. Lowland Swiss are being
swept away on the worst floods in their lengthy recorded history. Drought from Italy
to Algeria, and vast fires devour large swaths of Portugal and Spain. One photo shows
the town of La Coruña by night, sheathed in the hellacious glow of the approaching
flames. In another picture, a man swats at the conflagration with a tree branch. Where
are the international armies of relief? Funny, it’s been temperate wherever you’ve
traveled this summer, but sweltering in New York. And they say the Atlantic’s hotting
up more than usual, so the predictions are for a bumper crop of tropical storms back
• • •
It’s down to plumbing. Guns and plumbing.
• • •
It’s a wonderful landscape, the warp and weft of your associations.
• • •
Early evening. Katie’s recovering from a stomach bug and Gwen’s tucked up
with her on the sofa at L.’s rereading Harry Potter. So off you ramble on your own and
stop for a beer at Le Select. Last night in Paris this go-round. Emigrating by inches.
But to where?
Lots of sidewalk traffic – a thousand gestures on ready display – designed for
and reveling in the public air. Who can record them all? Every so often you see a face
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 684
you almost recognize – a total stranger whose features, for an instant, remind you of a
friend’s. Come on, you tell yourself, this is Paris – you hardly know anyone here.
It’s been raining on and off, but now, pushing eight o’clock, a change in the
atmosphere. Above and beyond the rooflines along the Boulevard Montparnasse, a
contest between the white-pink clouds and the deepening blue. Paradox of light.
Makes you shake your head. The sun’s almost down, and suddenly, the sky’s got
Flight home this afternoon. Gwen breaks her usual pattern of sleeping in and
ventures out with you to the boulangerie. She consents to have her picture taken at the
foot of the street you’ve often walked and on which, if you could, you’d live: rue des
At some point, you’re back at the café. Meyer is there too, your grandfather.
Bea’s over by the register, talking French with Samantha and Noëlle. Jack could come
by if he wanted to – he’d fit right in – but you’re not going to hold your breath.
Mark and Bruce sit side by side at Tables 10 and 11, working away at their
parallel laptops. In a few minutes Katie will come. When Mark takes off for his class,
she’ll hang out with Bruce talking food and knitting. Little Isis, Grainne’s daughter by
Eran, runs nimbly among the tables, beacon eyes fully intent. Mario, between crêpes,
steps out from behind the counter and scoops her into his arms. Eric B. pulls up outside
on his brown-orange bike. Slings his chain around its frame and the parking meter, but
he never actually locks it. You can see Eduardo down the street, approaching at a brisk
walk. He looks excited, or is it anxious? Put a postcard between the pages and close
the book. It’s here.
Katrina, the too-perfect storm. Material special effects. Or, as the occultists used
to call automata: real artificial magic.
Prayer to self: May grief make us wise.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 685
All quiet on the Washington Front.
Says Kathleen Blanco, Governor of Louisiana, on the arrival in New Orleans of
National Guard Troops recently returned from Iraq: They have M-16s and they’re locked
and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so,
and I expect they will.
• • •
No one knows how far that Green can span.
And Fannie she Mae, or Mae not.
It took a while to sneak up on you, given that your focus in the immediate
aftermath had been on sounding out your city’s vital signs, and your own recuperation,
but a year or so after the fact, you sought out all the visual evidence you could find and
concluded that whatever hit the Pentagon on 9/11, it probably was not a 757. You
realized then, in a kind of watershed, that the signals your body had started sending –
in however tentative and fragmentary a fashion – the moment you saw the great gash in
tower one and then second tower struck were by no means entirely false alarms. You’d
responded to the awfulness of the moment, but something beyond it too. A great evil
had been loosed in the land and this evil now manifests in unambiguously clear
gestures of destruction. Could you then have imagined how, only four years later, that
evil would exponentialize to the point where it could pass for a force of nature, or even,
by sheer magnitude – in some folks’ beliefs – a god if not God?
It took until the coming and going of the hurricane for you to cohere into an
image the fallen portal of the tower twins, and the West dragging the rest of the world
through it into the age of reverse miracles, an age in which the Corporate State, for want
of a better term, had reduced its function to forcing people to their knees – and then to
grinding noses down before the dark power it had always served and worshipped. As
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 686
Lake Pontchartrain swept through the Lower Nine-eleven, the mask of Apollo washed
away. And behind it…?
• • •
On the front page of the Times, an image of a body, waterlogged past human
scale, floating near an overpass in New Orleans. For all the liquid surrounding her,
from this distance and angle, the drowned woman appears as though in free fall.
• • •
The members of the Cuban legislature rise for a minute of silence.
• • •
Up at the Met, in the Gillman Collection, a curious display. Gelatin silver prints
from 1893-94, roughly three by four inches, selected from over four hundred cards
made up to identify suspected anarchists. This is the work of a fellow named Alphonse
Bertillon who devised a system of body measurements, physical descriptions and
photographs for the Paris Prefecture of Police Bureau of Identification. In 1898,
Bertillon’s system was adopted by the International Conference of Rome for the Society
of Defense Against Anarchists, attended by representatives from a score of countries.
Below, in the display case, twenty-seven faces. You spend a great deal of time
trying to read these vanished souls: lawyer, dressmaker, auto mechanic,
• • •
Doubt attends your every keystroke, like a dutiful servant or an eager child. And
then? And then?
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 687
Like a mutated Joe Hill, George W. Bush appears at your side to urge you on if
you think, for a second of flagging:
“It’s as if the entire Gulf Coast,” he says, “were obliterated by the worst kind of
weapon you can imagine.” No, George, you say, it can’t be. Yet he says the same thing
to Associated Press.
• • •
Hands to work, hearts to God, feet to the fire.
• • •
Carthage, kan ya makan.
• • •
Blackwater mercenaries just returned from Mesopotamia on guard in front of the
Royal St. Charles Hotel. A reporter asks one of them whether New Orleans is as “wild”
as Iraq. “Nope,” says the man with his M-16 held at the ready, “It’s pretty Green Zone
• • •
Almost robotically you log onto iTunes, search and download New Orleans, the
Gary U.S. Bonds version circa nineteen sixty-early-something. You’re right, amidst the
Dionysian overload of the saxophone, surging back beat, the call and response to Gary’s
edge-of-orgasmic distortion vocals, the half-remembered lines are in there:
…Come on take a stroll down to Basin Street
And listen to the music with the Dixieland beat.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 688
Sure, it was a great pop tune back then. But who knew one day it would vibrate
in your body like a kirtan? Mississippi turns Ganges. Sacred rivers, sacred names.
Divided waters one.
Steeped to your gills in a New York hate of mind.
• • •
Baffled for years over the distinction between putti and cherubim, you look ‘em
up and discover that the former, also known as amorini, are winged infants who
accompany Cupid on his missions, while the latter, according to Pseudo-Dionysus the
Aeropagite, comprise the second-highest of nine angelic orders. Maimonides’s Jewish
angelarchy posits ten ranks, wherein the Cherubim occupy the tier second from the
bottom. In the OT, they ain’t so cute as their images in post-medieval Christian art
would suggest. Genesis has them guarding the eastern gate to Eden where they block
access to the Tree of Life with flaming swords held high.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 689
even know themselves? How is it possible to distinguish between their successes and
reversals? Still, one thing’s clear. The fascists lost the war, but won the peace.
• • •
Dans la langue Creole on dit: Au prensip – in principle. Mais, au praktik – in
practice – ce n’est pas le même chose.
• • •
Will the next really big awful thing to hit us take place out on the Pacific shore?
They’ve done New York, the old Dutch-English, Euro-immigrant city and first stage of
New World trade and pluralism. And now, the Afro-Franco-Caribbean city, roots stuck
deep in plantation swamp, Louisiana Purchase, westward expansion beyond the
Mississippi – our great age of agriculture. New York and New Orleans represented,
arguably the most subversive, polyglot cities, each with an utterly distinct culture,
altogether idiosyncratic and unto themselves. What remains – assuming one wanted to
symbolically erase American history by epochs – would be an urban center on the coast
linked to the great Asian future.
Now is that a nutty idea or what? Yet Thomas M. says you have buen olfacto – a
• • •
Immense skywriting stretches in an arc across the Chelsea sky and out over the
Hudson River towards Joisey: UNCLE JACK’S STEAKHOUSE. Out of what reality did
Meet Samantha, latest addition to the Le G. waitstaff, who started working here
while you were away visiting her country. This morning, with her hair down, she
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 690
nearly stops you in your tracks with an unanticipated jolt of everyday French beauty –
the kind possessed by saleclerks there who would aim to be supermodels on these
shores. On top of which she wears a navy blue sleeveless dress with yellow and white
trim around the neck, armholes and waist which serves to transform her into a vision of
the ultimate, idealized Air France stewardess of the ‘60s. These are the images your
mind escapes to these days, in the face of so much horror.
• • •
Superdome, Astrodome, Thunderdome. Has anyone made the connection
between NO and Mad Max?
• • •
Bertrand Russell to Anthony Dallardo, Jr., 20 May 1959:
Thank you for your letter of May 14. My reason for not writing about Whitehead’s
philosophy is that I radically disagree with it but have never thought it desirable to emphasize
• • •
Walking your way along 23rd Street, a woman wears a teeshirt that says: A
RESTRAINING ORDER IS JUST ANOTHER WAY TO SAY “I LOVE YOU.”
• • •
Katrina, a Frankensturm. Not the last surely. Nor have we seen the last of the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 691
turned. You cannot see his face. No one but him lying there, across tracks the garbage
truck made when it came through a little while ago, its mechanical arms lifting the wire
trashcans and flipping the refuse over the cab and into its hopper.
Posed as he is, the kid looks weirdly like a hit-and-run, though reason says he’s
just being recalcitrant. Still, you stare a moment at his back to satisfy yourself he’s
breathing before your gaze travels on. Here comes a guy who looks to be his father.
The fellow squeezes a stream of water from a Poland Spring bottle into the boy’s face
and up he comes, and protesting bitterly, cheek plastered with wet sand.
Tonight those stupid blue light beams travel up from Battery Park City into the
clear sky. Will they do this every year until Kingdom bloody Come?
Odd thought: If Reagan hadn’t broken PATCO in 1981, would things have gone
differently on the morning of September 11, twenty years later?
• • •
Glance out your window again. A pretty near perfect half moon hangs there as
though supported by the light beams.
• • •
Look again before you pull down the shade. Moon’s moved away and now you
see planes at a lower altitude coming in for their approach to Newark: one, two, then
three, passing through the rays.
Only 9:30, but your eyes are dry and raw. And your body is telling you it’s got
to lie down.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 692
• • •
p.m. What is that goddamn thing still doing up there, circling round, scaring
good people shitless.
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