Monday, October 22, 2012

Why I Miss The Seventeenth Century

     The “O” key on my computer seems to be sticking. That’s not cool at all. I really have to be able to use the “OoOo” key. Too many words require the use of the letter “O”. I wonder if I can write a thousand words without it? An Oulipian experiment? Crap. My usual approach to repairs, household, automotive, technological, is to wait and hope that the problem will solve itself and become magically fixed. I don’t think that I am capable of repairing it myself; I’m full of self-doubt and my inner voice tells false tales of the harshness and greed of the world and inhibits me from asking for assistance. I will fail, they will rob me, take advantage of me, steal, destroy, make it worse, humiliate me in some way. Pricks. I must be ready, at all times, for attack.
     I just took a small business card-sized piece of paper and ran it around the “o” key and it is now working perfectly. That is, in fact, a much more common method for fixing problems. A simple tool, an instinctual thought, a deft and economic motion and, et voila, il est repare. You just have to shake your head.

     On the way about my business I noted that there is still construction going on at Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis. It’s the landmark building in our quartier. They have cleaned it since last we were here in 2010. Then, it was a huge dark threatening slab of religious stone looming over the St. Paul area of the Marais. If I lean out of my living room window and look to the left, I can see the church at the end of the block and it fills the sky. In the past year or so they’ve cleaned it, ground off the accumulated centuries of weather, coal and exhaust that blackened it. Now, it’s creamy white, the natural color of the limestone blocks that have been in place for 400 years. It’s the church where the kings were baptized as infants, before assuming the mantel of monarchy and before the revolution.
     The tall wooden doors have been repainted a blood red, the massive columns are smooth and all the detail of the carved capitals is visible. The giant clock above the entrance has been reconditioned; it is colorful and a bit disorienting. I’d expect it to be on the front of a bank and not a church. Another Christian reminder that “time is running out?” Goddamned busybodies.
     Paris, like everywhere else, is changing, getting in line with the superficiality of the 21st century. The bar where we used to hang out, Le Dome, has been renamed Le Favorite and the prices have doubled. The tangerines, which we ate by the dozen, are harder to peel, larger; they’re probably from another country, cheaper to import. Also, there is the noticeable disappearance of booksellers, both French and English language.
     On our block there was the Librairie Charlemagne, a cluttered Parisian stationary and bookstore. Now, it’s Maje, an upscale boring clothing outlet. The Village Voice, a great English language bookstore in the fifth arrondissement has closed and The Red Wheelbarrow, with a good selection and a friendly owner, is selling their stock and closing. Will all bookstores eventually become clothing stores? Another great city becomes a mall. It diminishes the culture. The external life, “how do I look”, becomes more important than the internal, intellectual world.  I don’t much care about fashion. I’m not so poor that my self-esteem is tied up with how close to the wealthy and privileged I can make myself look, which costume to wear. I’m not rich and detached enough to waste money setting myself apart from the subspecies of poor, middle class, and working people.
     I like bookstores more than clothing stores. I like grocery stores more than clothing stores. I like hardware stores more than clothing stores. Pretty soon, I guess, everything will be coming to us via online shopping, which is convenient and cheap. Everything except clothes, because we are all still built differently and you pretty much have to try on a pair of pants before you buy them. I guess, if I was rich and insulated from the real world, I’d hire a personal shopper who would come by the house every week, take my measurements, adjust for diet, and go off with my account numbers to top off my ego. For now, I hit Target or Penny’s once a year and stock up.
     Paris seems to be changing from a literary, political, artistically rich culture into a shallow, badly lit shopping center.
     You are what you think other people think you look like.
As I laps into bitterness I’m walking by Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis. There is a group of workers struggling with a huge stone section of one of the main columns that holds up the front of the church. A drunk, crouched in a small alcove, laughs at them as they struggle to slide the giant block into place. It’s a thick section of limestone, very heavy, perhaps close to a thousand pounds, and cumbersome. A hook is attached to the top of the stone and nine men are maneuvering a block and tackle system into place so that they can move the piece.
     They must look like the same guys who built the cathedral centuries ago. Lean, serious men, dressed in canvas pants, covered in dust, each in his position, making eye contact, muttering directions. They’ve got the stone halfway in place and then a big guy steps up with a long-handled, heavy rubber mallet, much bigger than a sledgehammer, and pounds hard on the front of the curved surface of the section, moving it into place, millimeter by millimeter. One of the workers is wearing a dirty beret, another has a rag wrapped around his head, turban-like. The rest are wearing toques and bandanas and could have modeled for a painting by Millet or Caillebotte.
     I’m not alone. A lot of people have stopped to watch the work. A woman smiles at me as she walks away, as delighted with the scene as I am. There is something important about a group of people watching others doing a difficult job, a job that can only be done by hand, delicately and with purpose. It’s genuine and ageless in a rapidly changing and frivolous world. The stupid clothing store across the street, which has taken the place of the Librairie Charlemagne, looks thin and dull. I’m sure that I’m romanticizing the event; the church, the stone, the drunk, the authenticity of the work, the domination of modern culture by the artificial and synthetic.
     So what? It’s why I’m here, in Paris, again. I’m a romantic, and what better place to practice romanticism? I’m glad that I saw those guys working on the church, otherwise I’d just drift around looking for trouble.
     Also, and I know it’s not the same as moving a thousand pound stone into place while being ridiculed by a drunk, I fixed my “O” key.

1 comment:

  1. Joe the romantic. that's what we call you. great piece, man. i'm right there with you...