Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gene McCormick- A Poem

Paris, Today
La Vie en Rose


Antique wooden horse merry-go-rounds can be found during a thorough walk along the historic streets—rues—of Paris; gaudy, stout  animals with chipped paint and worn saddles, going around and around, resolute, decade after decade after decade.

“Ride the merry-go-round,” he says and she says “No,” looking away from him, “only if other grownups get on, too,” but there are no other adult children to enjoy the ride.


Several of the tines are damaged,
bent down,
giving the small black umbrella
(bought cheap) a lop-eared
if still functional appearance,
able to fend off light persistent chilling
Paris rain which taps and then
sloughs to the left side of the umbrella
before dropping to the
glistening cobblestone street.


Walking the river Seine near the Pont Neuf crossing alongside booksellers whose tawdry merchandise lines the sidewalks, the Tourist is accosted by bands of gypsy children, eight to twelve years of age, aggressively soliciting euros for a dubious cause. They jostle, swarm and plead and the only recourse is to deal with them most sternly: “No! NO!” in response to the cajoling. By contrast, the homeless street people of Paris—standing, sitting, lying about the streets with a hand out, holding a worn cardboard cup containing a few seed cents—they are less aggressive but more pathetic and attract the sympathy coins in the Tourist’s pocket, especially if they are savvy enough to have a dog about them.


Strolling the Left Bank side of the Seine near Pont Neuf, there is ample opportunity to have a caricature drawn. Street artists, with a few swift Francis Bacon-like twists of a pencil or stick of charcoal, can create a bittersweet likeness, an image no one so portrayed truly wants to resemble. It is said that over a period of time such artists begin to see their world from a tragic-comic cockeyed perspective, accounting for the arguable fact that the suicide rate for caricature artists before the age of fifty is the highest on record.


The Tourist-as-flaneur rests aching legs
by sitting in the women’s section
of a first arrondissement department store,
a haven harboring collections of
couture-like designer brands and prices.
Well-bred young Parisien shop girls
dressed so expensively one thinks they
must have to return their work clothes
to the store at the end of their shift,
listening to such sirens and their educated
and well-spoken French lull female shoppers
to the cash register is like indulging
in an afternoon of, a private concert of,
Edith Piaf.
Only better.


Along the Champs-Elysees
large, stylish, retail stores
house precious peacocks standing behind
cosmetic counters assisting customers
in need of attraction when
they themselves are not preening
to shiny chrome and glitz counter mirrors.
At day’s end, feet throbbing from
standing eight hours at the beck of others
and with vacuous expressions
(their true faces affixed to
mirrors on Chanel counters)
they hurry to catch the underground Metro
destined to a one-room apartment,
smoking as learned from 1940’s black-and-white
movies featuring glamorous American stars
who made smoke, a cigarette, and ashtray
look cool.


The Tourist is not walking alone.
Business acquaintance Emily is at his side,
actually several feet to his left,
as they cope with summer sidewalk heat
navigating to the mammoth museum
promising miles of walls of visual echoes.
Window shopping slows the trek to the Louvre.
Ahead of the Tourist, to his right,
a much younger girl with hair
the color of a French caramel,
walks toward him,
her dress a translucent filmy summer material
and her shoes soft enough to make no impact;
she is sensed only through vision.
Their eyes meet and hold the gaze
and as she passes by her eyes turn toward
the Tourist and his toward her, lingering.
A slight, so slight, smile is her goodbye,
and she receives a smile in return.
He doesn’t turn around after she passes
and is unaware
as to whether she turns around or not.
She hadn’t.


“My brother is a genius. He works in Silicon Valley,” says the server, an Indian from New Delhi, as he takes a lunch order. “Myself, I studied for hotel management at university, but that didn’t work out.” He smiles. Today he waits tables at a small Korean specialty restaurant (seating capacity: 20, which seems larger because one sidewall is totally mirrored). “It is helpful to me in my present work that I speak four languages,” he says. “An Indian dialect, French, English and a little Korean.” He brings the Tourist a half bottle of wine instead of the smaller glass size ordered. “No extra cost,” he smiles. “No extra charge.” The food, the entre, was brought to the table by the owner of the restaurant, an attractive Asian woman of an age just old enough to have been the server’s mother, but isn’t, and who glances at herself in the mirrored wall each time she sets down a dish or re-arranges the table settings. Even though no words are exchanged and there is no commonality of language, the Tourist is fairly certain of what he will be enjoying for dessert.


It is the lure of the Crown of Thorns, supposedly worn by Jesus during his final cross-to-bear travail, that causes hundreds of true believers to enter Notre-Dame Cathedral on a Friday afternoon. Traffic is directed by white robed priests, nuns and similarly sanctimoniously-clad religious folk, elderly and with permanent frown-wrinkles caused by enforcing breaches of the No Flash Camera rule. Notre-Dame is a good place to cop a blessing, for a donation, and midway down the center aisle of the cathedral a man in work clothes prostrates himself, down to his knees on the stone flooring looking from the side like the letter Z jammed in a vise. Minutes pass and he remains in a trance, overcome by the Crown of Thorns on display (protected by plastic tubing), oblivious to his own plumber’s crack exposure.


Two teenage girls, so dissimilar in appearance
as to make sisterhood highly unlikely,
sit in the seat in front of the Tourist
as the red and white tour bus heads to
an outlying attraction.
Through the open space between the seat
on the left and on the right,
he can see the girl on the aisle
fiddling with a slab of chocolate
twice the size of a Hershey bar.
Shrink-wrapped with clear plastic,
she must squeeze the candy at the bottom
to force a bite through
the narrow open slit at the top.
She then passes the treat to her friend,
who runs her tongue along the top edge,
licking the chocolate off before squeezing
the bottom of the bar to expose
more confection through the opening.
The treat is passed back and forth, the girls
never taking their eyes off one another,
licking the opening,  pushing more chocolate
through the slit.
They don’t talk.
The Tourist turns to the rolling northern French
countryside rushing by the windows.


The throng leaving the Eiffel Tower is re-routed to an unfamiliar, seldom used exit as gendarmes stretch red plastic “police procedure” tape across a wide area, including the usual exit, covering a hundred square yards. First one, then more, then all of the crowd looks up: a man is threatening to jump off the tower. “Another suicide possibility,” mutters a gendarme, pushing people back from the tape. The Eiffel was once the world’s largest structure, being passed for the honor a number of times by the likes of, first, the Chrysler Building, then the Empire State Building and so on. “What happens now?” a woman asks the officer. He shrugs, “If he jumps he will splatter like a watermelon being stomped by a circus elephant. If he doesn’t jump we will arrest him and he will most certainly be committed.” Another shrug. As matters develop the unfortunate man is talked down from his wrought iron perch and put in ‘cuffs. Of less consequence, the re-routing disoriented the Tourist, and the suicide wannabe is in the paddy wagon well on the way to lockup before the correct exit from the Eiffel area to public transportation is located.


Sitting in the brasserie, he wanted to initiate a conversation with the two perfumed women, a young mother and a mature daughter, both unusually attractive, but at a distance of two tables away it was not opportune. “Look,” the Tourist wanted to say, “I used to be like you, be with people as attractive as you. Let’s share some wine.” But he said no such thing and soon the two were joined by another attractive mother and her daughter, who was at best average in appearance. Now there were four at the table and the only one paying him any attention, stealing furtive glances, was the less attractive young girl. Paying his bill and exiting, the Tourist smiles to the girl and says to the waiter “Chez bon.” The waiter nods blankly.

Several hours later, mid-evening, the Tourist sees the four women casually walking along the rue Rivoli, window shopping the deluxe arcade shops. The homely daughter (homely only in comparison with the company she is keeping), catches the Tourist’s gaze and for a brief moment keeps eye contact before moving on. The evening is over.


White wine
with bubbles,
a stemmed glass,
on a small
cruise ship
on the river Seine
listening to a
live quartet playing
Vivaldi, Albioni,
and Pachelbel
as the river
laps against the boat.

A very young boy
and girl,
stylishly dressed
(the maestro’s children),
run unattended
up and down
the boat aisle
spoiling the moment.


There is a florist shop on the rue de Rondeux directly opposite the main entrance to Pere Lachaise, the cemetery on the far east side of Paris housing the famed as well as the infamous, doing a brisk business selling maps to guide a visitor to the resting places, plots, of notable inmates. It’s akin to buying a Beverly Hills map of past and present movie stars; the Pere Lachaise map even more essential as the one-hundred acres of the old cemetery wind puzzlingly around and about (a sunlit stretch of grass with ancient overhanging tree shade can turn into a grey, morbid and, yes, haunting ground at just a swivel of an unmarked path). Beautiful and mystical, it is nonetheless the clientele that attracts tens of thousands of sightseers annually: Proust, Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Gertrude Stein, Maria Callas, Collette, Moliere, Modigliani and others, with top billing, according to security guards, going to Jim Morrison, late of The Doors.

A young woman pushing a baby stroller with one hand and controlling a toddler with the other notes that the Tourist is American, as is she, and wants to make a connection, to be of help. Pointing to an innocuous grave hidden off a main path, she asks “Do you see that grave? It’s some famous French writer,” referring to the incarceration of painter Amadeo Modigliani.” The Tourist says, “Merci. Yes, I have seen it.” The plain slab has been strewn with flowers and, more useful to Modigliani’s spirit, drawing pens and pencils. “And when you entered,” the lady continues, “did you see the grave of Oscar Wilder (sic)? They have to protect it from vandals with clear plastic sheets.” The Tourist affirms he has seen Mr. Wilder’s gravesite and was pleased to note that it was adorned with flowers despite the protection. The woman smiles and moves along.

Jim Morrison’s location is a pisser to find, ironic in that his is the most sought after of all the spirits. Once in the general vicinity, however, one only has to follow the crowd. His acolytes surround the site and the most devout have spray painted graffiti guideposts: “Light My Fire,” and “Peace” and so on. “I can cross this off my bucket list,” says a middle-aged matron as the clutch of spirits, potential muses, that had been hovering about the Tourist perhaps hoping for a cushy Air France ride to the ‘States, vaporize.


By day it is a sofa in a furnished fourth-floor walkup flat and has been so for too many years and far too many bodies. Wide enough to seat two people who don’t mind familiarity, the piece of furniture is covered in a heavy duty beige corduroy material, stretched across and about a timeless no-frills frame. It is as comfortable as two side-by-side orange crates.

Come night the sofa morphs into, with a slight tug, a bed, with a coordinated beige coverlet. The thin mattress sags in the middle in surrender to its past and if two people are stretched out along the extreme sides of the bed avoiding one another after an indifferent day, the gravitational swayback pull of the mattress will unite them.


One step at a time swollen,
veined octogenarian legs struggle
up four flights of walk-up stairs
to the furnished rental flat.
The Tourist has checked out;
the bent, gray cleaning lady
begins to set things straight,
using soaps and scrubbers,
a vacuum and a change of sheets and linens.
Putting dishes from the last meal
in the dishwasher,
she sprays air freshener around the rooms,
and on herself,
--coating displeasure with temperance—
and in an hour there is no trace
that a tenant formerly existed as it
becomes the turn for others
to bring life to the apartment.
The Tourist has left for good; the flat
will neither wait nor remember him
though it will outlive him,
and the cleaning lady as well..


 “Oh NO!” Blue eyes grow wide with alarm. The middle-aged, ash-blonde Air France flight attendant turns to a co-worker: “We’re almost out of vegetarian pasta lunches.”

“They only gave us twenty pastas. We’ll just have to go with the hot chicken and cold chicken salad lunches,” says the brunette attendant.

The blonde—her ponytail swept back, its color complementing cheek blush and the red uniform with turned-up collar and unbuttoned top blouse buttonhole—has a substantial years-of-service pin as well as an obligatory set of wings that tug at the opening on her blouse. A food shortage for an eight-hour-plus heavy jet flight carrying hundreds of passengers was not how she got the desirable Chicago-to-Paris route.

“I can’t believe we’re out of the vegetarian pasta,” she says, leaning over to distribute hot chicken substitutes. There is wedding ring bling on her hand but as her demeanor and open neck blouse telegraph, the ring’s significance makes one-way, not round, trips.

“Lordy, lordy, lordy” she says. “No vegetarian pasta.”

Brief Bio: Gene McCormick is NOT related to Napoleon despite a proclivity to walking about with a hand in his shirt pocket. McCormick is taller than was the runty Napoleon but by comparison is a bit of a dullard.

1 comment:

  1. Ah,you have transported me back to all the human dramas I so enjoyed during my week in Paris--Montmarte, Pere Lachaise (Heloise and Abelard), cruising down the Seine, the left bank booksellers, Notre Dame. I can see the people, observe the drama, taste the croque monsieur. What a rich tableau!