James Anderson's Paris Spleen

A short work of fiction from writer/poet James Anderson's self-published book Zebra Skin

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This story is an extract from Zebra Skin:

I have arrived: I came to say Farewell – To thee, old world. These songs of parting love, mes chanson en anglais. Paris, homesick for my country. Though I loved you in the evenings. In your rosey light that bounced off the Seine and blushed your stone. To see the Monet, Cezzane, Renoir, van Gogh, Pissaro, Degas, Delacroix each took my breath away. That Monet painting we had in our house where I grew up, like in my childhood home, it had a wall of its own. To visit Paris and see its original; to see it was to see home. The glow of the sunlit glare on each image. The pastel lighter tone of the French style. Windows do not give more pleasant views from their frames. The Antique Roman painting I saw was far more Renoir than Raphael. No dramatic poses. Soft colours and a gentle leisure.

Paradise was here too. 

I found Rimbaud’s poem when walking along the Rue Perou by the L’eglise Sulpice carved on to the wall. Its complete one-hundred lines of “Le Bateau Ivre”. That was my favourite spectacle. That I loved, and loved most of all. I never more admired the books than on the passage by the Seine. The tattered market stalls that carried sumptuous books in old editions let out open in the fresh air. But I was not fooled by the view. It was still a sidewalk book shop. Viewed from the promenade by the Seine, they were still dusty books. My favourite part was walking through the narrow side streets of cafe’s and decorative galleries, all nostalgia of home came flooding. Home of Bath and London once more, but it was unique to Paris; wine and espresso in the evening. View the books laid out in the sun outside the Taschen bookstore. Sorting through tomatoes and oranges on the market stalls on Rue de Seine and the meats from the butchers. Outside on each cafe terrace, ash floats in the air like dust in an old room.

Open, wide, grand spaces for walks and recline, for stroll and for rest. Bath, a Prince’s garden. Paris, she knows palaces, she knows grand spaces. I am most comfortable and relaxed in your great spaces; your palace gardens and your grand Louvre, your fountain-sides, your Avenue des Champs-Élysée, your arc de triomphe, your bridges overlooking your expansive Seine

Paradise is here too.

I left a poem in a bookstore and signed it my name. The fear that my book will end up in some dusty shop in Paris beside the Seine. No more a sensation than a leaf rotating on the windy pavement. My words are claustrophobic and do not belong in small places. I was Horace’s stone that once sunken reappeared more beautiful. There is no work station nor writing desk for a writer. He must be on his feet with the means to write. To Baudelaire, to Mallarme, to Rimbaud, to Verlaine, to Hugo, and Laforgue, I have arrived. Reveal what you gave later to Debussy and Ravel. now, what does not belong to you. Paris you are now your limped homeless sidewalk beggar with cups of loose change, hoping to be beautiful again -you were once! I view you like had every French artiste: hallucinated, perplexed, haunted by history. Rimbaud loved you? You loved Rimbaud the more. You wished Verlaine had been your truer child. But you must suffice with Baudelaire and Balzac. I was a writer here for a time, sharing the voyage with my good friend Etienne. I tied a lock to the bridge and writ J & Bath. The key was swallowed by the water’s lips. I should have held it, kept it, thrown in to my Avon stream.

Paradise is here too.

Oh these homesick notes from Paris. These days were not too short. The city is beautiful and evenings calm. There is already much I miss about my home city of Bath. To me Bath is like a lover I cannot get over. How naturally I love my city. I go to Paris and I long for Bath. I escape to London and I wish to hurl myself back to Bath. Now I am in Paris. I love and not love. I live and wish to live. Maybe tomorrow.

Paradise is here too.

 For Bath, you lack big spaces. Paris you have them. Open, wide, grand spaces for walks and recline, for stroll and for rest. Bath, a Prince’s garden. Paris, she knows palaces, she knows grand spaces. I am most comfortable and relaxed in your great spaces; your palace gardens and your grand Louvre, your fountain-sides, your Avenue des Champs-Élysée, your arc de triomphe, your bridges overlooking your expansive Seine. I enjoyed your subterranean getaway, bohemian prince, running the streets on narrow pavements, spying small galleries and artisan treasures, hidden bookshops and terraced cafe’s along Rue de Seine. The smell of cooking; cigarettes and lemons.

Paradise is here too.

I never more admired the books than on the passage by the Seine. The tattered market stalls that carried sumptuous books in old editions let out open in the fresh air. But I was not fooled by the view. It was still a sidewalk book shop. Viewed from the promenade by the Seine, they were still dusty books

Paris was made for the evenings, Parisians walk down the beams of a sunset sun. A woman walks by who for a time borrows beauty. The lighter fabric, made for a breeze and a gentle paced walk that moves like rhythmic ribbons on twirling batons, like flowing Arab shawls in the hot desert, like Tibetan flags hung on their ropes. The light shawl, the bouffed or flowy dress, the little jacket, their figures mere bones draped in skin. Above a long flowing dress, a jacket glitters, sparkling light that bounces on the Seine waves, shaping skinny bones, hair as if sewn by couture tailors. A little black jacket and a dress shaped like a tulips. Petals and bones, everything was petals and bones. I caught a woman’s hat that blew away in the wind “Merci Monsieur!” Recliner’s by the fountain at Jardin des Tuileries. A collection of beauty. Like bathers by their ancient baths. Spurting mouths splash each angle of its octagonal shape. La tour Eiffel, the Louvre, the triumphal arch, the obelisk, all in view, and the gardens all around. Decorated with white statues on white stone and white sand, wide paths and wide roads. A hat blows off someone’s head in a strong wind. It flies past the skirt of bathers and dances over the water. Before being snatched by the touch of water. Submerged. The fountain spray keeps it under.

Paradise is here too.

The pyramid reflected light on the Musée du Louvre, the sun dial through the day, each sculpted figure on its mantle a minute in the hour. It was lovely. It was Paris. I was a foreigner. Everywhere at home. Everywhere anonymous. The region I am from. I have no envy. But like a love, one true, I compare to everything. And everything fails to meet the measure. I missed a lot, so much. The girls, in my city, are as pretty. They have that country charm. They dress as dear to the petal and the flower. Their accents are as delicate; their hair in waves, left dishevelled by nature, like bathing girls, and hangs the length of waterfalls. Demeter’s followers on this westerly Isle. That I did not forget. 

Paradise is here too.

Bath is a dream from which I never wake. The rolling hills and unique Somerset sky, the blackcurrant sunset clouds, that unjuiced orange that hangs in the sky. Rimbaud, I should have my own wall too. Somehow the South West had turned out well. This is my home. And my heart did miss it. I missed the taste of the air. The music on the street and in the bars. The quiet distant murmur. The evening hymn of dining and wine. I missed the country elegance. The sunburnt buildings in the evening sunset light. The Abby bells on a l’heure. I missed the colour of the stone. The low topped roofs that reveal the sky. Ce n'est pas la France. C’est le Sud-Ouest. C’est l’Angleterre! I arrived home… Paradise is here too… Still with the dust of Tuileries on my black shoes.

Paradise is here too.

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