Paris, When It’s Naked
ISBN: 0-942996-20-8 • $15.00 • 115 pp.
1993 (1st edition)
A daily odyssey between the Rue Madame and Place Saint-Sulpice leads to an incredible construction of the living myth that Paris represents. …places its author on the radical fringe…a minor classic…
—Carl Bankston III,Â American Book Review
Excerpt fromÂ Paris, When It’s Naked:
When it rains in Paris Europe brings out its umbrellas. Quick, the morning paper is thrown into the basket. Coffee is thick with cream, to make you miss Vienna, and there is a smell of buttered bread on the heavy coats of the men who hurry to their desks. It’s dark in the Metro, and messy. There are many young women among the passengers, some of them having never read Le Spleen de Paris. Of course, Baudelaire loved London. In the buses, electric bulbs shine, and the morning still looks like the evening before with the same customers who for years still wonder if they should smile at each other. Today’s not the day. Those who go to work in their cars carefully wash their windshields, sometimes with a swift stroke of their sleeve. It’s very difficult to find a parking place when the weather is poor, which it is most of the year. Some courageous citizens give their dog a morning walk. The people and the animals get wet, but there are unavoidable duties to perform, and they follow the rule. The morning news is all about Europe. European unity is a panacea, and the average Frenchman want to know how high the snow is in Russia. Maybe, with the fall of communism, winters will be less harsh and the Russian economy will rise. So all kinds of little clouds crowd the TV. sets, not only those coming from the Atlantic, but also those from the North Sea. Oh yes! there was a storm over Hamburg. In the meantime, the rain has not abated.
You can’t see the outside, and you can’t open your window. It’s dark until noon, then it’s already late for a good light to fall from the sky. You raise your nose, look at the heavens, and no angel with a trumpet appears. Very ominous clouds cross the sky. They run over each other, they pour. So you listen to the one o’clock news and you know that the races have been canceled. Again. If you have the radio on, you’re told it’s because of the weather; if you have Channel One, or Two, they show you restrained horses wearing blankets. You wonder if these blankets are wet, and hope for the best. Anyway, you don’t bet on horses. It’s getting late. You don’t exactly know late for what, but it’s too late. The sidewalks are shiny, and slippery, too. There’s water on everything. It’s raining all over Europe. In the Italian part of Europe there’s a semblance of sunshine. But is Sicily European, really? Are we going to integrate these hot southern countries into our nordic economies? Will it rain more, down there, once Europe gives itself a common army? Nobody has answers for anything nowadays. What if the Russians bring their winters to the western parts of Europe? How are we going to get up in the sheer blackness of Sweden’s mornings at the same hours as in Paris? Incredible problems will have to be resolved. Of course, there are trains. The don’t slip on pavements, they don’t fear storms. They leave, and they arrive, on time. They’re a European invention after all. They suit European weather. Look how well they cross Switzerland with no additional effort! And France will extend the lines of its bullet trains all the way to Spain. Once in Spain, you will see what you can do to stay dry. Look, you can also stay in Paris. The rain washes the monuments carefully, takes the leaves away from the trees, melts itself into the Seine, so you don’t know if you’re walking, or floating, and isn’t this a wonderful state of mind? But it’s getting darker if you can imagine such a thing. Little lights fight their way to your eyes. Oh, yes, you are in the narrow rue des Canettes, and there is a Greek restaurant with a special container for wet umbrellas, so you won’t have to sit on yours, and get arthritis. You go in because you’re hungry, and because in Paris there is nothing else to do but eat here and there in all these foreign food places, and they’re less boring than the foreign films in the cinemas. Who wants to see on the screen the Moscow Metro when the French ones are inundated! But this particular Greek restaurant doesn’t serve Greek specialties anymore, so take your wet umbrella, resume your wet coat, go down the wet street, under the pouring rain, and look for some inexpensive Chinese or Vietnamese eating place. But beware, you’re already stepping out of Europe, and Europe is not yet formally founded. You’ll have to wait for the end of the year. At least, you’re in Paris, and you know it, and it doesn’t need Europe, or any other continent. And you will never die of thirst, in this city, as in African deserts, your skin will never dry out, your complexion will remain pleasant. Although you’ll never have the pink cheeks of the English princesses, unless the common market really works. For the time being, try to find some little joint which has a good inexpensive Bordeaux sold as house wine, because rain makes your pocket and your throat feel dry. And then, look at Paris, do it in your imagination if your eyes can’t find it, and see what a solid mass of a city it is, what a fugue in its composition, what an epic story in its stones, what an evanescent spirit in its rain.
Etel Adnan is an Arab-American poet and writer born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. She studied at the Sorbonne in France, U.C. Berkeley, and Harvard and taught Philosophy at Dominican College in San Rafael, California. She is the author of more than fifteen books of poetry, essays, and cultural writings. She is a recipient of a 2010 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles National Literary Award. She divides her time between Sausalito, California; Paris; and Beirut.