One of the hardest things for a writer to get his mind around is the conflict, inherent in his calling, between discipline and experience. To write requires solitude and sobriety, a concentrated and sloe-eyed confrontation with the self and the world: picture Emily Dickinson, alone, laboriously pulling the universe through her ink well. For most of us, though, having something to write about requires society, recklessness, wool-gathering, cultivation of chaos, ruination of sobriety, screwing and screwing around, and the messier the better - what might be referred to around these parts as a bordel of a life. For the diary writer (and it's dawned on me in the last few days that this is not a blog, but something closer to a diary), the need for experience is even more acute, and having ventured, in an kind of Ambien sleepwalking rampage, out onto this limb of daily writing, I find myself living in fear that one of these days in Paris absolutely nothing is going to happen to me worth writing about and that limb will dry up and crack with my next step forward. In the 16 days of this diary I've had rainbows and I've had dog shit, but how long can that kind of luck last? This is how I justified going out last night.
It was another conversation date with Marc - the 23-year-old much better looking younger brother of Ryan Philippe. This time the setting was some kind of art opening at the Palais de Tokyo. I used to pass it all the time when I stayed with friends who had a place in Passy, and the place had been on my mind recently after another friend forwarded this choice piece of pornography in Butt Magazine. Late to meet Mark, I found, on the grand staircase facing the Seine, a pack of feral potsmoking fire dancers:
The art opening itself was not what either of us was expecting, which might have something to do with the fact that we didn't read the invitation very carefully. It took place in an auditorium where chairs were set up in front of a big screen, but when the lights dimmed and the show started, there was nothing to watch. It was a pre-hearing of a radio broadcast, a collage of interviews and sound clips from Corsica, mostly in French but with smatterings of Spanish and Italian, English and German - my native tongue and all the ones I blew off in school. I had a hard time concentrating - I found the rapid-fire Italian much easier to understand than most of the French - and when I closed my eyes and tried to focus I kept drifting back to problems in the novel, ideas for La Création du Monde. When Marc made some impatient noises I suggested we blow the joint and get dinner.
Dinner wound up being take-our Chinese back at his place on the other side of the river, and when our food was eaten and our after-dinner drinks drained, I said I needed to get back to the monastery as I hadn't finished my writing for the day. So I got up and gathered my things and went to the door, where we exchanged our first kiss on the lips - chaste and brief. And that would have been it if I hadn't turned back around to say something, and the opportunity presented itself, in that moment of leaving behind Ryan Philippe's much better looking younger brother, to kiss him again, and a few minutes later his cat was dodging us as we tumbled, stark naked, to his bed.
Look, I tried to leave. I could hear my novel calling to me from across Paris, demanding its promised share of the day. Three or four times I said I have to go, and each time he said just five more minutes. I kept feeding those minutes into the machine, but of course it was never satisfied. If both my desire to leave and Marc had been a little stronger, it might have turned into a dicey situation - I guess I've forgotten what 23-year-old male sexual need is like but at one point I was surprised to find myself prevented by a scissor lock of his legs from getting out of bed and at another he actually threw me back onto the mattress. Poor cat! Perhaps he's used to it.
Yesterday, at the used-bike shop in Montmartre, I struck up a conversation with an American girl who's in Paris for several months and we commiserated on the difficulty of learning French here. No wonder Americans are monolingual - geopolitically the empire may be crumbling but linguistically it seems to have a couple of centurions standing watch over every street corner on Earth. Even the other day, studying French in that little cafe on Libya Street, surrounded by locals, in walked Steve Perry on the radio with open arms. I know it's churlish and implausible to complain about finding myself in bed with an absurdly good looking young Parisian with a fiery sex drive, the strength of which at 38 I retain but a dim and distant memory, but the two of us can't speak French for more than three and a half minutes before giving up and switching to English, where we're apparently both more at home. As I wrote a few days ago when introducing Marc, James specifically said I should find a Parisian boyfriend in order to learn French. And he's right! I'm here to finish a draft of the novel, make a film, and learn the language, so what am I doing in bed with a boy who might as well be from Cleveland? When I finally succeeded in leaving Marc's apartment I felt like once again Steve Perry had waltzed in on the middle of my French studies. Well, there's always the judge, who keeps me honest with the French conversation, but he canceled today's tete-a-tete because of illness. At least I learned one word last night - I now know how to say thigh - and thanks to the context I'll probably remember it. Of course there's that other thing I'm doing here in Paris, which is keeping this diary, and as you can see my bordel of a date with Marc got me through one more day of that.
- Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”—The New Yorker; “Stunning”—Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”—Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."—San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des Récollets.
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- Paris Days 22 and 23 - my life in captions
- Paris Day 21 - just not yet
- Paris Day 20 - John Updike
- Paris Days 18 and 19 - pseudoflaneur
- Paris Day 17 - bordel
- Paris Day 16 - pep talk
- Paris Day 15 - me talk pretty Sunday
- Paris Day 14 - separated at birth edition
- Paris Day 13 - regime change
- Paris Day 12 - where am I, exactly?
- Paris Days 10 and 11 - eulogy, pornophony, brunch
- Paris Day 9 - lessons
- Paris Day 8 - la crise
- Paris Day 7 - "free"
- Paris Day 6 - blowing my fuses
- Paris Day 5 - deeply concerned
- Paris Day 4 - "bip!"
- Paris Day 3 - storm the Bastille
- Paris Day 2 - jet lag, neon, cous cous, fatwa
- Paris Day 1 - she sick woman very is
- Indulge me - I offset my carbon
- 2008: Annus ambivalence
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