D’Arc that Brings Light [a Short Story]

I

There were no ice flows in the Seine the February we were there, crazy in Paris in the winter. Who goes to Paris in the winter–many it seemed from our wanderings, but it was cold–yet there were no ice flows. We walked the water’s edge and feared falling in and drowning, as she said, holding my hand a few days before dropping my camera in an outburst of anxiety I still do not understand, perhaps I have forgiven her–I guess I have–how could I not have forgiven her for dropping my camera. Yes, I have forgiven even if I have not forgotten. What means either for the way she condemned us to severely restricted photos–she dropped the only camera with a zoom lens. What any of this has to do with the Angel of Death or Joan of Arc or her statue by the Seine I cannot say? Questions have a habit of leading to other questions and yet others again, the times I’ve gone round myself in myself a merry-go-round with me.

I thought I saw the angel of death sitting perched on the gutters along the top edge of the building behind our hotel–the backs of each facing the other.Yes, I imagined an angel sitting perched on the gutter of the roof directly opposite our hotel room. I think I saw the angel sitting as I had imagined angels would have to sit perched, them having wings and all. Angles and pigeons–pigeons are doves I remembered, will remember again after this as my mother lay dying in her room–it wasn’t as if anyone in the hospital had any hope that she was really alive–I just kept her on life support for me, not for anyone else, a pigeon landed three days before she died. Pigeons are doves, doves, symbols of the Holy Ghost.

How does Michael fight Satan with those wings? Where does he keep them? How does an angel’s anatomy work . . . I looked down to the gray waters of the Seine from one or another gray bridge, at times following the gray stones into the river, many times the time we were there I looked, a gray bridge dipping into gray water, the flow of the Seine not as fast as the Hudson, I thought, or is it, I do not know.

The word ‘flow’ and the French for river fleuve are cognomen. What this has to do with Paris or how gray Paris was or whether or not there were ice flows in the Seine or the life of Jeanne D’Arc, the Maid Of Orleans, Joan of Lorraine; her statue by the Seine. It was cold, cold the day we stumbled on her going from gauche to droit.

How cold it was the day I remember now first seeing the statue of her by the Seine that February we decided to go to Paris–Paris in February–cold, very cold. It was gray for days–I mean, all ten days until the last day, the morning of our departure, yes, gray everywhere in all directions from atop the Arc du Triomphe, gray, gray and more gray as far as the eye could see from atop Montmartre just below Sacre Coeur.

When we had come in, it was drizzling, it was misty, gray again gray. It did not rain any of the other days we were there, I don’t recall, but it was as gray as the buildings were gray, the stones gray, the bridges gray, the Seine, gray–who goes to Paris in February? I mean, how fucking cold it was atop the Eiffel Tower–I do not recall shivering as we were, the only time I recall ever not being able to hand hold a wide aperture slow shutter shot with my AE-1.

Most of the photos in Paris were uneventful, the light was really shit on too many days, and she, yes, she, she dropped my fucking zoom lensed automatic Canon in the Louvre, from about the height of her knee or was it the middle of her thigh, the idiot she was, impatient witch, must have had her period, I don’t remember.

And do not tell me women are not mostly whacky during their periods because they are, and she should be a picture entry in the dictionary next to werewolf, hers coming virtually on the full moon. I watch the phases as they turn during the cycle from New to Full and when it turns waxing gibbous, I run to the store for fresh garlic. I sleep with a bunch of cloves under my pillow, she should know–she has always been temperfuckingmental, yes fucking mental every time she has her period–too bad if you do not like hearing it, but then American women in general having more responsibility to and for their freedom than many non-native women, do not indulge themselves when they have their periods, at least not in the same way non-native women do, but then maybe I have no idea what the fuck I am talking about, and you would then have to trust yourself to discern what you should and should not take, and if you do, how much salt.

But I loved Paris, although I thought the people in Madrid were better looking in a general way, if you can be generally better looking, than the people in Paris. But what was the most disturbing about Paris, besides how beautiful it was, was how champagne was no cheaper there than in New York, the fucking EU can shove itself up its ass. I mean, I can ride a bicycle to Champagne from Paris. I can leave after breakfast and get there before lunch. If there was ever a reason for the guillotine, this is one: chop the fucking heads off of the greedy CEOs of th companies that make champagne. Maybe they just haven’t caught on and should be charging more in New York, but as much as New York in Paris for champagne is criminal; no, really, some systematic murder is necessary here.

How the fuck do people put up with it, we are a lot stupider than our parents and grandparents, I remember when they tried to raise the price of beef when I was kid to some unreasonable amount and people everywhere just lleft it on the shelves and bought chicken instead, and soon enough the prices of beef came down, fuck them but now it is fuck us and we are the ones helping them fuck us. But we did drink wine in Paris–we have always drunk a lot of wine in the time we have been together . . . and I recall three times the wine being eventful and the rest being uneventful, but not bad.

We made it to La Coupole, and at first they gave us a lousy table, but then when I ordered the wine and then matched the food to the wine in French we were switched to another table, a better table, they understood that I understood something and that I did not come to La Coupole with my tongue stuck up my ass. The French are funny, but the worst people and the most condescending people in Paris were not the French but the fuckers who are not French, and it was only these pieces of shit who pretended not to understand me when I spoke to them in French when no French-Frenchman misunderstood anything I was saying or trying to say . . .

Real pains in the ass, the non-French Parisians, but then the French most likely have given them a hard time about their fucked up French, so then the shoe was on the other foot, and they could give me what the French have given them, but really, fuck them. I preferred the French to les Maghrebins in Paris–who wouldn’t prefer people who understood what he was trying to say, what I said to the French got response . . . but fuck them and their felafel, and I had just as much problem from Sephardim Jews in the Marais . . . real bastards, virtually every one. NO kidding–the French were fine; every other mother fucker from somewhere else was an asshole.

II

I cannot imagine a world without wine. I can imagine Paris without people who are not French. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to imagine such a heinous thing as a world without wine; I cannot fathom the thinking during prohibition that lead fucking Protestant gringos in American California to destroy three and four hundred year old vineyards. A world without wine is an ultra conservative thing? But then politics has nothing really to do with being against or being for wine; but then, I never understood iconoclasm of any order–fucking Protestants.

I remember asking a Chicano friend if only white Protestants could be gringos, and he said no, not really, that gringo was for American, white American, and then I wondered if anyone by extension American could be a gringo, or was there another term for that, but we did not get into that discussion, but maybe you could say Israelis in relation to Palestinian Arabs were gringos, but then this does not make any sense except in analogy. And I also cannot imagine a world without Jazz, but wine, for sure, how could anyone live without drinking wine–I do imagine that there are millions of people for whom a life without wine is more than okay. However, wine is life, Il vino e la vita. Le vin est la vie, no? Of course this is true.

I cannot see me ever refusing to drink any good wine, anywhere, any time. I know too many people have no clue what they are drinking or how they are drinking when they drink wine, what goes through their heads in their choices I could not guess . . . I know too many Americans have their tongues stuck up their asses when it comes to their taste in wine, just as often their taste in food. But I do not want to begin a diatribe or go on a tirade against Americans and America in matters of taste. I know that Muslim proscriptions against alcohol would prevent me from converting to Islam, even on pain of death. I would prefer to die a martyr in the cause of western civilization and the place of viniculture in that civilization than be a Muslim. This is not a condemnation of the religion. It is an assertion of who I am, or what I am, or how I identify myself. Yes, Identity is ID Entity. I drink wine; I am a wine drinker, that is who I am.

I am not a vinter, although I wish I could be; no, really, I do. I am also not a wino, nor any other variation of alcoholic, but I could drink wine every day, and believe I should drink wine every day, although I regretfully do not. I would need to live in Italy or France to be able to do this? I do believe this–I would drink wine with lunch more often if American employers did not have sticks up their asses as far and as uncomfortably as they seem to here even in New York.

I do not imagine in fundamentalist Protestant America it is any better–although, I grew up with the stereotypical image of the southern moonshiner, although I imagine that is all about the dry and wet county conflict you have throughout many states in the South, even today. A world without viniculture, though, is a world I would prefer not to live in. I would not kill myself, though, if there were no wine . . . I do know that there is no condition that humans cannot get used to, that is, no level of descent, no degradation, no amount of corruption or decadence withstood that would be too much for humans to endure.

The world does present a choice of life with wine or life without wine. I choose to live with wine. The destruction of virtually all of the old Spanish vines in California during Prohibition was one of the great crimes of the 20th century, right up there with the Nazis stealing and destroying a lot of the art of the West during the Second World War. I do not expect anyone to get it who is not inclined to be outraged by this because they think you can or should only be outraged by atrocities against human beings. Fucking Protestants.

I don’t know what to say to people who think that their indifference to the sensitivity, the perspective and perceptions of artists in their art has nothing to do with nor has any transference to or onto their feelings and responses to human beings. I do understand that it is possible for a person to be indifferent to art and passionately protective of human’s and their rights; I am just saying there is often an indication that is revealing when you find someone who is insensitive to art you also find someone insensitive to artists and thus find someone insensitive to a sensitivity for humans.

Perhaps if I had never had wine, this question might not come up. I do know Italians and Frenchmen for whom wine holds no special place, has no special merit, does not preoccupy their notions of what is civilized and what makes up an advanced civilization. This Franco-Italo-American is not one of them; my father, himself Italo-American, was also not one of these for whom wine held no special place. But wine is significant in the history of cultures or culture.

It is important in history, a great agent in the civilization of the world. It is alive, it is living, it is life, and I remember having heard a French woman one time in a bistro here in New York, an older woman, perhaps at the time nearing two decades older than I was–she was waitress in a bistro here in Manhattan owned by a friend of a sister of a friend (as if that were not convoluted), and she used to say, the words I have herein stated I had heard, “If you drink only wine, you will live to ninety; if you drink only water, you will die at 53.” I used to raise my glass with the broadest of smiles and salute her with a big gulp.

III

I loved L’Acajou–it’s not there anymore as my mother is not here anymore, as the past is not here anymore, and what was past is past never present, and what we remember is not past but now, contemporary. Shall the twain ever meet? Why do I ask you these questions?

I held her hand until her heart stopped beating, my mother. She was named for Jeanne D’Arc and Mere Marie, and Bernadette Soubirous and Therese de Lisieux, La Petite Fleur de l’Enfant Jesus. I do remember the statue of Jeanne D’Arc by the Seine, how I kissed my fingers and touched her feet, reaching up, stretching to reach them with the aid of a step stool I had bought at a store to do so, giving the step stool to an old man in the park by the Louvre after having done so.

Priez pour moi ma belle douce Sainte Jeanne, ma belle douce Sainte Therese . . . Sainte Bernadsette, Mere Marie . . . what more could I say when I prayed?

Beyond living . . . yes, to survive is to be beyond living. I do understand that there must be many Italians and French for whom their tongues are stuck up their asses when it comes to appreciating good wine. I know that not every Italian can cook. Not every Frenchman, let’s say, drinks wine and appreciates wine. I do know Frenchmen for whom drinking wine is a patriotic duty. I know too many Americans who also have their tongues up their asses–far many more than there should be–when they are supposed to be discerning good food and good wine. But this is no never mind to what I know, what I have understood, what I appreciate and will continue to appreciate for as long as I live, because to live without wine is not to live but survive, and survival is not living. The etymology of each should tell you how.

To survive is, as it is in French, sur/vivir, beyond living. To survive is to be beyond living, to live not being possible and certainly being something other than merely surviving . . . beyond to live; what could it mean to be beyond, al di la, as Italians say, to the from there, how I feel most of the time–how I felt whenever first in love, no? Beyond the beyond, how far is that, yet how immediate, how always near, somewhat like how infinity is always, perpetually infinitely far from wherever you are, but eternity is right next door, the next step, close by because the door to eternity is now, is here, is right away.

I am of Italian and French ancestry, whatever that means . . . so I allow myself to think I have a special connection to the development of viniculture in Europe. What would it be like to make wine, to grow grapes to make wine . . . white burgundy with duck breast Parisian style. Do I even know what I am talking about? There I am again asking you and I do not know why?

I wish I had the patience it would take too get through the Julia Child cookbook I got as a Christmas present one year how long ago now I cannot recollect. I think I want to make magret du canard as we used to have at Jule’s, with the white burgundies we used to drink . . . yes whites with duck I love, from Burgundy or from Alsasce, I had a great Riesling once with the duck at L’acajou . . . duck, medium, never well . . . but you have to know what you’re doing. If you think this means under-cooking the duck, then you do not know what you’re doing and your skin’s not going to come out right. You probably do not know what medium is for duck. And with duck, white burgundies are the best wines to have . . . never well done for duck, which is why duck is not popular in America–it is usually overcooked.

IV

I remember my Dad reading MacBeth to me when I was a boy, one of the Folger Library editions we used to use in school, one of Julius Caesar we used in 7th grade. I was maybe 7 when my Dad read MacBeth to me. I remember noting that Faulkner had taken the title of his novel The Sound and the Fury from MacBeth’s soliloquy upon hearing of his wife’s death, how life is a tale told by an idiot, yes, an idiot’s story, full of sound and fury, of course, all stories told by idiots are full of both, signifying nothing . . . all of our telling the telling of the idiot who signifies his nothing by sawing the air and belching and bellowing–out, brief candle.

The word ‘universality’ comes from the word ‘universe,’ or, in its etymology, one line. Yes, all universality is about one-lineness, a kind of singularity, or unilateral-ness; that is, everything linear, everything in a state of linearity, one dimensionality. But is this the the chief component of the universe, or what is uni-versal. Yes, universality exists through an extension of another and another and another–all in the petty pace?

Does universality have to go on in petty paces? Again, we find the extension that is a line in what is universal, every line extends. Essential to the idea of a universe or something universal can be found in the term ‘another.’ There is an in perpetuity in what is universal. I wish I had a handle on my universe, this cosmos of mine, let alone this one of ours. There is nothing so difficult I recall having read somewhere where someone said Picasso had said. Yes, nothing so difficult as a line.

Unlike Hamlet’s undiscovered country, the death Macbeth faces is plebeian; it is ordinary in that it is the same death everyone meets. By this, Macbeth’s tyranny, his usurped kingship, is made low. To die is the final democratizer, everyone equal before the laws of Death. Level is flat, even thus balanced. What is in balance is of equal weight; Death is equal unto us all. Another and another and another passes, out, out brief candle . . . and who escapes Macbeth’s soliloquy on anotherness, how is life not full of sound and fury signifying nothing for every man and woman facing death, facing the absurd. There are no universals without extending another and another and another . . . all universality dependent on this state of anotherness.

Macbeth shares an association with this state of anotherness, perhaps born out of his state of otherness which derives from his choice to kill the king. Macbeth’s estrangement, his state of being other, other than who he was before the murder, other than what has become of the kingdom since the murder, both inward and outward states of otherness is intensified by his coming to grips with the banality of another-ness, a most fundamental anotherness in the days that creep so likely in their petty paces, as do tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, how they creep, once more, in their petty paces, yes, all of them to last syllable of recorded time.

The record from beginning to our doom, his doom, the end of all records reaffirming the likeness of day in day out existence repetition repetition repetition. Yes, all of our yesterdays, together, lumped as one, the great monolith of past time, the same yesterdays of everyone else that light every fool on his way to death, death the great and final another-ness of every one of us.

Who is like unto Death? How do we imagine the angel of death, how to write the angel of death, Lang suggested that the Angel of Death would be the gentlest of angels, no? It has started to rain one of the days I am remembering . . . yes, rain, rain go away–we know where this is going; we know from where it has come–come again another day. Another day infers a day has been had before, that there is one from which an extension into another can be made. Another and an other do not seem to be so different. The former is made of the latter, but then children are made of their parents, we could say. There are limits to their sameness or even their similarities.

V

Otherness and another-ness are distinct, the latter sharing something of the former, while the former is apart from the latter. Separate is this other, always separate, exclusive even at times, in places, what situations could we draw to illustrate. Another is always possessed of something of the former in the series. Another is serial; other is not. Another makes a line; other is a point. Another primarily shares in and while other primarily shares in but. It is not as if you cannot say this and that other or you cannot say not this but another; you can. It’s just that I am speaking of their primary associative condition.

Come again another day, and I will explain it all to you. I remember the showers we took i the rain in the summer in Pittsfield in our bathing suits. I still cannot imagine another happiness as sweet as the happiness when I was boy in the Berkshires the summers I’d spend there at Aunt Mae’s . . . I was told that when she was young she looked a lot like a young Katherine Hepburn–Katherine Hepburn always reminded me of my Aunt Anna–does still today every time I see her . . . I am remembering the time I went to see the Vatican Collection–was it one day, or did I go more than once–I do not recollect.

I swore for a time after I had seen the statue of the Emperor Augustus from Prima Porta that I had seen it breathe, yes, breathe.

It did. It took a breath. I saw it.

I did too.

I did not imagine it.

VI

I know what is meant by living stone. I understand what Goethe meant when he said architecture was music frozen in stone. I know statues and architecture are different, but how much are they really different from one another. I’m not even sure how different architecture and statuary are different from ballet. I know they are in the ways they are delineated within a category of acceptable critical appraisal and understanding, but whether ballet is so much different in the representation of form than statuary–great statuary is motion, movement, being frozen in stone? I am not frozen in stone, nor are you, but you are frozen in these lines and these lines will, I hope, give eternal life to you, to me.

It was one of the biggest events the Met had ever had, when the Vatican Collection came, what year it was I forget. I also forget where we ate lunch. We did eat lunch, the girl and I who went together. A museum was one of my favorite date spots. When in the collection together we no longer stayed together but broke off from one another to look, see, examine separately, on our own, each one to it. I stared at each piece for a long time; I stared at many pieces that afternoon for a long time. For a long time after that afternoon I spoke about my experiences at the Met.

I recall having paused for a moment after a dream I had had, after having awakened to remember it the next morning an hour before dawn. I also remember something Da Vinci said to me in another dream. I recall the aforementioned portrait of Jerome that I saw at the Met when the Vatican Collection came sometime in the mid eighties. I don’t recall the year or the month, even; I do recall the crowds, the lines, the tickets, the jostling, the baa-baa sheep in flock after flock, the faces I would have loved to push in, teeth I would have been overjoyed to kick down their throats.

I opted instead to ignore the ignoble masses and focus on the art I had once in a lifetime to see. I recall the same was true around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Fucking sheep. I sometimes make barnyard animal sounds amid people expressing what I feel or think in this both meeting in a parallax of passion and emotion . . .

What else is there to say about the wilderness, the desert, the emptiness we face every day in a culture void of Truth–oh, here he goes again I can hear former friends say as they might have as we’d sit around a table in the English Major’s lounge when we were undergraduates. Yes, a society committed to re-enforcing the ideas that there is no Truth, that there are no little truths, that there is no transcendence, nor absolution, nor objectivity. We are no longer beings of spirit, but first and last beings of material, beings of use, each a means to an end, each alone and fragmented, each only capable of any power en masse. Each of us is no longer macrocosm in our guiding metaphysics. We are merely numerical. Our ethics or morality or sociology and our politics are all branches of Arithmetic and Book-Keeping. What the hell are you going on about I hear our boy say as if he were listening to us.

VII

I pray before a triptych at the Met, Ave Maria Plena Gratia, and all that genuflecting as Gabriel before the Queen of Heaven. I remember growing up thinking that Protestants and Jews were too materialistic–I had family who said as much at the tables we’d sit around for weekend dinners or holiday dinners, most of them religious holidays turned into secular events. I know my immigrant friends from the Soviet Union are more materialistic than they would ever admit, ever be able to admit. Humans are not beings of spirit, but beings of material, only material, therefore are means to an end, always in every communist philosophy, materialism, right? I think as would the monks, or a hermit perhaps in a cave in the mountains. I remember a portrait of Jerome by Da Vinci, the former who was the first comprehensive translator of the Canonical biblical texts into Latin and a friend of Augustine. Jerome is in anguish in the wilderness with a lion ready and waiting nearby, and with his candle and book and quill also nearby outside of his cave. A city is seen in proportion to its distance, Da Vinci one of the first to introduce perspective and the relativity of distance into his painting. I remember a print of this when I was boy. I felt for him, bad for him, related to him in my onliness, sometimes in my room as he was in his cave, or so I like to tell it, knowing the sympathy it might evoke.

I had a dream the other day about Jerome in the wilderness; there’s always someone in the wilderness. I recall a Sister in Catechism class telling us the life of the Baptist. I liked the Baptist when I was a boy. The Baptist spent a lot of time in the wilderness with the Essenes, a radical monastic group of celebit Jews in the desert. Jeremiah became a friend in reading when I was a teenager. The Lamentations fit my mood, pretty much the zeitgeist too. Anyway, Jerome stands above my side of the bed in the dream looking down on me watching you (this is to you, your form–all that about Velasquez, you know–we made it to the Prado last summer in Madrid). I see him but do not move my eyes from your form, the line of your torso in the street light lit room, the bed by the window facing the floodlight that bounces off the wall to meet the street light on the bed. I hear him say something in the dream. The lion the lion! The medieval galleries are among my favorites at the Met. I love our day trips to the Cloisters. I find myself sometimes saying a prayer before one of triptychs on wood . . . the Louvre was the only place in Paris we went to twice.

I wake from a dream where I had been wandering in the desert. I don’t usually dream of deserts or dream of wandering, but in this dream I was doing one in the other . . . I watch you lying naked along the edge of the bed nearest the windows, Velasquez has nothing on my eyes. The light shines on you as well as the wall perpendicular to the windows, a triptych of frames, I imagine an altar panel in wood from the middle ages, I recollect the fragments of medieval sculpture at CLUNY in Paris that February–terminally gray, I recall having said. I remember the room Marie Antoinette was kept in before she was guillotined . . . La Concierge . . . gray stones in gray light under gray skies . . .the sun decided to shine on our last day, the day she puked in the street in the morning after breakfast on our way back to our room, was it bad snails from the night before, I do not know, it was a cute place, tiny, really, the owner was sweet, the food was good I think I can recollect . . .

Paris was beautiful even if gray for nine days, overcast horizon to horizon, as far as our eyes could see from atop the Arc du Triomphe, from atop Montmartre, just below Sacre Coeur. Gray, gray and more gray. Terminally gray for days . . . how many days without the sun, without foiliage, no green on the trees, who the fuck goes to Paris in February? We would go to watch the Eiffel Tower shut off when we found out when it turns off the lights, and we did stand on the sidewalk along a wall of L’Ecole Militaire where Napoleon went to school to watch the light show from the Eifel Tower.

VIII

I recall praying for my mother and then my father the day I brought her ashes to the niche with my fathers. I placed them face to face, that is, label to label. That will suffice for face to face on urns . . .

I bought Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial the other day. An edition introduced by Stephen Greenblatt. I read from Urn Burial when I was undergraduate taking 17th Century Lit.

With every bridge we crossed we paused to watch the flow of The Seine. I kept wondering with how cold it was why there were no ice flows that winter.

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