Essay

The Afternoon We Spent at the Rodin Museum in Paris with Death [short fiction]

Minutes waning. An oblique flash of moving from one gallery to another in the Rodin museum the last time I was in Paris ten years ago. All of piece together at once, no breaks in time or breath.  For a moment I was there enclosed by all that I had been subsumed by then, or as I say I assume, at least for the moment, each moment a continuum of now in perpetuity. The Romans did not have our punctuation marks; they did not have lower case letters.

Now is what it is as it is when it is where it is, how time and space are one, and how this moment is out of continuum with whatever has been and whatever will be. Our notions of spacing words in a line or lines on a page were not a consideration; there were no standards to follow, only custom that was radically different from ours. Literate persons in Roman antiquity knew where words began and ended and understood phrases and clauses, subordinate and coordinate without the guides of punctuation. But, then or there, a series of images came forward, comes forward, will keep coming forward, images in montage, the montage is the choice, all narrative in film is the montage, the series of images as edited in the film. All is as it is for the ease of your reading; what transpires here is one continuous stream.

And what I am talking about here is a rather slow one, image after image after image, not after-images, as we mean when we hyphenate the words, different. Not rapid, the images passing, yes, not rapidly moving montage, as we used to imagine back in film class, Eisenstein, you know, Sergei, the great Russian director who adored the work of John Ford, his images rapidly cut in his most famous sequences, one I am remembering having seen in class, the Battleship Potemkin . . . another series of jump cut images of that day in Paris in times-three slow-motion . . . moving as they do in this way not crawling but . . . it does not much matter what the images were like . . . “The Thinker” in the garden, a statue of Balzac, the dome of Les Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb inside, not too far away and where we had ventured before making our way to the Rodin Museum that February ten years ago, was it by foot? Why would anyone go to Paris in the winter?

Terminally gray for days in Paris, the first sun I saw in several was what broke one afternoon through the stained glass of Saint Denis as I stood at the foot of the sarcophagus of Francois Premier, imagining Catherine De Medici and her three-hundred personnel kitchen on her way from Florence to Paris to marry the king and gestate French Haut Cuisine . . .

I ask again, Who the hell goes to paris in the winter? The same people who go to Madrid in the summer . . . this weekend we are headed for Montauk . . . we spent the good part of an afternoon with Rodin, spending it leisurely, not ploddingly through all . . . an elementary school class coming up behind me as I gazed at “The Gates of Hell.”

Protracted minutes into a dozen or more before his “Three Shades.” You’d have to stand somewhere and count by Mississippi(s) the number of minutes equalling twelve or fourteen; if so, I think you could understand. I also recalled that then there walking in the museum I had recollected fragments of Rodin in New York, his sculptures at the Met, and those at an exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum how long ago I cannot remember. I always stop by to say hello to Balzac at MoMA in New York, the “Burghers of Calais” at the Met (near a marble statue of Ugolino and his sons, Canto XXXIII, Inferno in Commedia) with morning coffee on a Sunday.

You have to know that in every city I have ever been in I have visited its museums, every city, its museums and theaters more than anything else, the one place we were twice in Paris was the Louvre; in Madrid, the Prado, twice. Since I was a young adult, somewhere around twenty, I made my way to New York’s museums–especially in the summer–as often as I did her parks or beaches. There is no more to say on this, or so I feel for the time. I probably would have liked to have said something incisive about Rodin, particularly his “Three Shades,” as I had for a novella I had written, how long ago now was it, maybe ten years ago, having collected how many versions or revisions of it, the several versions for each of the different titles it went through in the several years I was writing it. I wonder. I do not wonder. I pause, I consider–I abruptly stop before having considered; I only got to the point of thinking that I perhaps should want to consider. I do not. This is it, as I have said elsewhere, similarly; all telling what it is when it is—this no different, when all is said, when all is tolled, toll, not tell, which would then be told.

All telling told and tolled.

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