Letters from Limbo Pt-1

430 am. I’m up. Its inexplicable, since I went to sleep at 11:30. I do my best to toss and turn myself into even a light sleep, but no good. I’m up and that’s simply how it has to be. I walk to my Bialetei peculator, trusty as always and fire it up, having loaded it the night before. I turn heel and wearily make my way back to bed, sleepless, yet comfortable. I try to resist the urge to look at my phone, but the siren song of Instagram posts, dead of night texts messages and the status of my bank account wins out and I get the damn thing. Picture 1. Friend of mine. Wearing a medical mask. Gazing wearily from an airport, with the caption “wash your hands”. Noted. Picture 2. Other friend, in a home made workout studio captioned with “Gotta start those at home workouts- #social distancing.” Again, noted. Picture three, a famous celebrity I follow, with a picture of her and her son from some mountaintop, no doubt in California. ” Honoring social distancing by spending time in Mother Nature”. Noted, dear God. The reality of my new normal sets in and I’m not yet caffinated.

I hear my coffee peculator going and rise to the occasion. Pouring it into my white cup, I’m already vaguely annoyed, so much so I don’t notice I’m spilling onto my black counter top. After cleaning it off with some paper towel, careful, they’re scarce, I sip my coffee in bed, throw my phone aside and proceed to wonder if this is really all even happening. The sad fact was, yes. I will admit, when the coronavirus scare was in its inception, somewhere between when it had already ravaged Wuhan and was en route to Europe, I brushed it off with the hubris of a jaded aristocrat. “Its a disease. It awful. However, there’s always diseases that are awful. People live and die- and so life goes on”. In a few days the disease had closed in on Italy, a place I hold dear, and I began to worry for the well being of my friends abroad. I began to hear things that worked their way down the communication channels. Word of mouth spread.

Stories of people being plucked out of arrival gates and placed in quarantine for a simple cough or that the virus was wind born and could live in ones hair for days at a time. I deliberately tried to ignore the news. Call it willful ignorance.but I simply didn’t want to accept that something of this severity could be closing in on the world, causing people to empty store shelves, hoard resources and turn humanity on its head.

It was inescapable. Everyone spoke at length on their fears about the virus. Still, I lived my life. I had recently decided to dedicate myself to fitness and began exercising regularly. As I lifted weight, peddled or ran, all I had to do was look up. There it was, in no uncertain terms. “Coronavirus-Death Count Rises”. It had closed in on Italy, the Mediterranean , and people where placed under mandatory quarantine . The Italians, such hot blooded, vivacious passionate people, being sealed off, seemed so tragic and unnatural. Little by little, the cracks in my armor began to develop. The situation gathered more gravity, and as I tried to sweat myself into sanity, I began to feel that this was far deeper than I could gather, a revelation that began to make me loose sleep. Yet, it didn’t stop. Soon truths were being distorted into twisted falsehoods. Carriers of false information as rampant as the disease itself.

While most people right away took to their social media to spread the alarm like the town crier, ingested hours of news to be informed to the eighth degree, or talked endlessly on the phone with friends about what to do, I scoffed. For better or worse, such situations of collective mania have always evoked a petulant, haughty resistance in me. I raise my hackles on my own- and don’t like to be told when to do so. Confinement was fine- on my own terms. The very idea of being forced into it outside my own will sickened me, in spite of the perceived social betterment. Such bedlam was for the the pages of an Orwell novel. To my way of thinking at the time, it was just another example of how easily swayed humanity is. How the media can turn seemingly sensible humans into panic stricken flocks sheep. Everyone, from the friends to family, of all ranks high and lo. The bus driver, the lawyer, the fitness instructor, the teacher, the churchgoing mother, the hiking enthusiast, the roulette dealer, the burger flipper , the garbage collector and the dog walker- making every loving fools of themselves. To this I observed from the distance with an inborn hubris and disdain that would soon be duly challenged.

Then I went to the store. People were crowding the place, the line was lengthy and there were more masks than Mardi Gras- but it was the furthest things from revelry. The shelves where the toilet paper and paper towels were not sparse but bare. I’ve never lived in a hurricane zone. Never lived in an area prone to natural disaster. I have vague childhood memories of earthquakes drill as a first grader growing up in Southern California, but little more. A neighbor sees me in the checkout line and offers me a ride home. Sitting on my patio, I pour a glass of red wine. Its a grey, overcast afternoon. Perhaps due for some rain. Normally I’d feel happy- I love rain, but my mind is still playing out the chaos of the market. Combined with the deluge of news and he persistent fears of my friends, I catch my breath, nearly dropping the glass. The gravity of this situation was like a rebellious, torch wielding peasant army, beating down the fortress of my mind. I felt mentally I wasn’t made for such things. I filled it with art and poetry and travel and family and things I felt passionate about. I had no room for this. But there is was, trickling in through some unseen chink in my armor, penetrating and invading like cyanide.

The gravity of the situation deepened. In Europe, quarantine was not an option, but a rule. Any person’s affected were to haul up in their homes for a minimum of two weeks, nevermind if they had family. All across the continent, people where shutting themselves up, being only allowed to leave if it was to a pharmacy or one of the sparsely stocked markets. Any divination from that was a guaranteed trip to jail. Things began to feel twisted and archaic. I began to envision wagons of the dead. In my mind, the medical mask began to parallel the antiquated plague doctor mask with its grotesque beak. The virus moved past Italy, then into Schengen area. France. Germany. Poland. Sweden. Austria. One after another, people were shuttered up, sealed off, and should they deviate- locked away.

The great rues of Paris, which I had only seen a few months ago, which had resisted the strikes, now had a greater menace- and this couldn’t be negotiated with. Meanwhile, an ocean and thousand miles away, I intook this all. Then, it happened. A case was discovered in my city. Soon, the businesses I frequented were announcing closure. The 50’s style barbershop I fancied which gave complimentary coca cola- gutted and shuttered. The resale store where I found so many of favorite threads- boarded. The Mexican restaurant that had the impressive Frida Kahlo decor-sealed off. The theater house I had preformed in- painted over and boarded. My favorite coffeehouse, boarded. “Closed indefinitely” was the message. “Wash your hands” the mantra. People all about me were laid off, fired or put out of work for a time yet to be determined. Within the beauty of Spring, the dark days had come.

One morning, I awoke angry. It was an anger that seemed to be sudden, but had culminated for sometime. I had some coffee. Still angry. Read, but couldn’t get into. So I got dressed and walked aimlessly. It was a pristine day out. The birds caroled sweetly as though to thank us from giving them the sky back. The clouds resembled cotton candy parting, and the pathway I walked shimmered from the previous night’s rainfall. In any other time, I would celebrate this, but I was struck with a heaviness. I felt as though a sack of razors and bricks had been placed on my back. I walked past the famous hotels of Old Las Vegas, all sealed shut. I felt like a fringe character from the film “The Stand”. Normally I would savor the poetic irony in such a situation, but the heaviness only deepened. So I walked. Past storefronts and broken neon. Past graffitied showgirls and weathered signage. I turn a corner past the old schoolhouse and suddenly the chasm fell from under me. I broke down. A feeling of immeasurable isolation gripped me to the core of my being, so much so that my knees buckled and I doppled over as though I’d been socked in the gut. I grabbed a nearby fence to support myself, but the tears kept coming profusely. It was the culmination of everything. The feelings of isolation I had had before , coupled with everybody’s ambivalence about it. It was a feeling of desolation. A feeling of loneliness even among the lonely. It was every infernal sign plastered on a building announcing that damnable virus. I was so filled with anguish and hatred I felt heat rise on my neck. If Covid 19 was a person, I wanted to grab the sharpest knife in the room and gut it like a freshly caught fish.

I thought I was going insane. This was far more than ” social distancing” and widespread fear. This was a wound being ripped opened years old, and this dark angel in the form of disease demanded I acknowledge it. Right now. Something had welled up, and an internalized levie had ruptured. It was society demanding I care. It was the condescending pats on the head. It was isolation even among the islolate. It was the pain of uncertiany. It was everybody telling me what I should do. It was doors shut that once signaled welcome. It was enforced feelings of panic. It was my petulant haughty brat staging his last stand. It was numbing world of vapid social media, on demand subscriptions and empty wine bottles and journals void of meaningful words. Of realizing I had no control. I had NO control. It was like an old dead skin being burned off. Emotional purges that were a long time coming.

Through my clawed hands and tears I began to breath. I marveled how hermits and mountain men in the old west could maintain themselves being so cut off. Or monks in faraway Nepal. How they did not give in to the sweet seduction of insanity. Even in a healthy body, far away from everyone, mask free- I writhed. Something in the fabric of all of this ruptured and caused me to feel in a way I wasn’t ready for. It felt like I was going mad. I breath. I stop. Then I get down and breath. Perhaps I was simply channeling the uncertainty permeating the air around me. Perhaps I was taking on more than I was aware. Or perhaps it was a feeling of helplessness. Of not being able to control a situation far beyond myself or understanding. I felt like I was being buffeted back and forth by a world I had no prior comprehension of. The animalistic, tribal behavior of those around me. Where were all my free thinkers and questioners? I felt alone, bereft and confused.

I realized that a person dosent simply become insane. You ease into it. You grow weary of the battle with no victories. Of the constant fight with no end. Because simply waving the white flag and yielding is a hell of a lot easier. There, on this March day, I stood feeling more hollow than I had in years. I stood on the verge of a chasm, and looked down and saw all the other souls- surrounded by emptied take out containers, eyes mutely glowing in front of news casts, ever bloodshot, heaps of tissue and emptied bottles of sanitizer and canned goods, surrounding them like a makeshift fort, beckoning me to join them in a yawning stretch of comfortable numbness with no end yet in sight.

A dark night of the soul- and it was barely 11 am.

An American in Paris Pt-5 La Musique

 “I dreamed of Crusades, voyages of discovery that nobody had heard of, republics without histories, religious wars stamped out, revolutions in morals, movements of races and continents: I used to believe in every kind of magic.

-A Rimbaud, Alchemy of the Word

When I was a little kid, I used to sit under a tree in our backyard and daydream aimlessly. Nothing needed to make sense. It just needed to be. The clouds above me were fluffed cotton or a fine bowl of mashed potatoes. The leafs before me were soldiers and captives. The ants that sparsely crawled over my mickey socks were citizens of a great city laying just behind me, in the billowing folds of our oak tree. Growing up was hard. Not because I wanted or lacked for anything, but because I was always somewhere else. Other, more beautiful worlds constantly goaded me just beyond my grasp, and, for one reason or another, I constantly fell just short of their embrace- like the lame boy barred entrance from the child’s kingdom in The Pied Piper of Hamlin. So my world became internal. I read whatever I could find, savoring words like chocolate, wanting for more. At family gatherings, I sequestered myself where the books were kept, and seldom rose except for when it was time to leave. Words. Even from a youthful age, I knew well their potency. I knew that they could change the color of the sky, the cerebral skin of a moment,a singular vibration and ifso- alter time and space. The lineage. The thread of inspiration that informs one soul to another.

This was one of the many reasons I awake this morning, here in Charlevelle- seeking a poet long dead. Or was he? Death, by definition, means end of existence- but in Charleville, that seems far from the case. For even by night as I took to the streets of the town, I could see vignettes of Rimbaud wherever I went. He was my guiding had. reaching through the pages of time, haphazardly seeing another straggling soul through this labyrinth he once dwelled in, so as to find something I’d yet to know. The chaotic crux of this whole journey.

I lay in bed for some time, attempting to reign in the mania of the past few days. I’d been moving like a frantic hummingbird, spinning in meaningful, though concentric circles. My boots where looking a bit worn, in need of a good spit shine. My bag once pristinly packed, was in complete disarray, and a ruptured container of instant cafe au liat powder filled my few shirts with their sweet smell. I look at the news. The manifest is getting worse. I sink comfortably into bed, happy to know I’m far from the bedlam.

Downstairs breakfast is being served. Cheese, ham, croissants, brioche, hard boiled eggs, nutella and jam. Simple fare for traveling folks. There’s a young man who appears to work for the hotel and looks like a French version of Emile Hirsch clearing plates. Up front, there’s a new attendant. A woman in a green cotton sweater who I assume is the manager. Almost nobody speaks English, and I with my horrendous French am also having a failure to communicate. No matter though, for in Charleville, all roads lead to Rimbaud. So I hit the town square, where the morning fog shrouds the old streets. Nobody is about. Only myself. I walk past the statue from last night and to what appears to be the center of the action. A large, immobile medieval Wyvern looks back at me. A Noel dragon? There’s a Christmas village set up, with all sorts of charming shoppes and storefronts- an old world holiday. Countless wreaths and holly lay on the streets, bound for festivities to come. Near the entrance to the marionette makers shop, the church bell tolls. In this moment, I am happy beyond measure.

Well, I figured there’s was no better way to begin my day then facing the poet himself. Something easily accomplished by a trek to the town cemetery. I walk along the town boulevard, past the old schoolhouses converted into tourist hotels, souvenir shops selling postcards, crude multicolored busts of young Arthur, magnets and hats. The is a romance to an early morning in Charleville, The old women in tartan wool walking along with grandchildren, nuns going to and from the seminary to the first mass, robust countrymen walking to the train station, youngsters going to and from school and a steady stream of tourists milling about aimlessly. I continually wonder how Arthur could feel disdain for such beauty. Yet, I as a visitor, see only through the rose colored glasses of new experience. My vision is slanted. Perhaps every agile youth, every toll of a bell, every laugh of a child was yet another remembrance of his confinement. St Remi, the 12th century cathedral in the city square, was where he took his first blessing, and thus was welcomed into the fold of the Christ child. His mother, whom he referred to as the “Mouth of darkness” was a cold and firm woman who scorned frivolity and adored the church. Perhaps this was were Arthur felt his first inklings of rebellion-the involuntary confinement of religious shackles. In life Rimbaud often spoke of his reverence for God, but disdain for the religions of man. A good boy at heart, who sought to be bad.

I walk onward, past more cafes. More charming bookstores, more garlands of Christmas holly sprawled out on the pavement for one reason or another. I ask where I may find the cemetary, and my French is so bad that I take to making the prayer guesture, which most of the citizens pick up on, and guide me onward. Finally, past a small cafe where a cutout of a chef stands, I see a crucifix. The cemetary entrance! I bring no map, nor guide of any kind. I sought out Arthur and had faith he would guide me to him. The morning is chilled and brisk. I can see my breath like smoke from a gallious. Then, as if it lay in wait, is a singular white spire, along with its twin. The graves of Arthur and his sister Isabella. Its a surreal moment. I had played it out in my mind hundreds of times. Yet I wasnt ready for the emotion. I walk slowly to the headstone.

‘J Arthur Rimbaud

Novembrie 10

37 ANS

“Priez Pour Lui”

A latin inscription read, “pray for him”.

“Pray for him”.

37-damn. Only 2 years older than I. So much living in that double digit. Tramping the countryside of France. Gun running in Ethiopia. Mad dances in the streets of London with the debauched poet Verlaine. Every conceivable sort of intoxication. Every fathomable blasphemy. The profane and the sacred. A lost leg. Carried on a litter back home to Roche-a mutilated prodigal to a place of return. His mothers screams and condemnations never far from his ears.

I sit on a bench nearbye and as the wind whips my ears. Its cold but I dont care. I’m alone. I dont care. I’m serene in this moment. Mutual communine with the gone husk of poetries greatest libertine.

Pray for him.

I walk the cemetery. My boots sink in to the mud from the previous nights rainfall. So many lives. So many stories. I feel no sorrow. Rather, I feel an unprecedented calm, melding with an incredible gratitude for simply being alive and experiencing the moment at hand. As I walk along, I find myself singing ” wishing you were somehow here again” from Phantom of the Opera and bluster in embarrassment. All about me are Romanesque and Gothic edifices and crypts, cherubs and seraphic imagery from a bygone era. The fog is ascending and the day begins to break. Light comes to the cemetery- and the dreamscape and a thousand dancing spirits rise again.

Theres a quaint cafe steps from the cemetery entrance. I’m always down for an espresso. I slip in and have a coffee under an impressive advert for a French beer brand who’s mascot is – well- you guessed it. I rustle a newspaper. I’ve had almost two weeks of no news about our currant fool in chief. I see one image of him and decide that’s all I need. I spill a little coffee and sip up whats left. Its not even 8 am. Charleville is slowly, sleepily waking. I’ve got a whole day ahead. The cemetery, as well as the internal fog has lifted and the day is mine. I walk several blocks, down an ally and to the riverbed where a large stone building awaits me. The Musee de Rimbaud. Here, artifacts of the poets life are stored and kept with love by the dedicated, though not exactly multilingual staff. After a several minutes trying to articulate the layout of the museum, I hit a language barrier wall and decide to be my own guide. Up the stairs of the old building I go onward. One floor containing the boots of the poet. Another containing the very image of his christening portrait, bathed in blood red light. While observing a few engravings of Madame Rimbaud, a very excitable man walks to me, who fortunately speaks fluent English. He is a Swed.

A scholar visiting from Stockholm, he gives me more information on the poet then the whole of the museum. His name is Phillip. His passion is infectious. We walk the museum and then decide to switch gears. ” Have you been to the Maison Rimbaud?”, he asks. “No” I say. ” “Oh its even better than this. Its the place Rimbaud lived for a time when he was here and wrote some of his finest poetry. Its nearby. I’m headed there after this”. I ask if I can come along and Phillip is glad for my company. He’s pleasant looking, tall man with a mischievous smile, and language brimming with curiosity- as common with the Swedish.

The Maison Rimbaud is just across the street. I find the atmosphere more engrossing, as it lacks the sterile processed vibe of a museum. Its an organic place to loose one’s self in, with doors opening to rooms and a long winding staircase that whirls up into the inaccessible attic, barred by rope. There’s art on the walls, though it dosent command ones attentions. The vine entwined windows, the creak of the weathered floorboards and the damask roses and faded gilding with yawning unused hearths and chipped plaster flourishes adorning the ceiling create a realm I can wander into, stopping by a windowsill to think, just as Arthur had done so many times before. Perhaps his only moments of respite and contemplation in a life fraught with disorder and mayhem where here. In a space I now occupy. A thought that both silences and dazzles me.

Phillip is a good travel companion. A good talker who knows how to gauge ones attentions, cause some reflection and reign them back in with still pique their curiosity. His mind is always ticking, filled with ideas. A reverence for the old but a student of the new. We walk along the city square and decide to break for a meal at the former Rimbaud Bar. The place is filled with burly men and bemused tourists. It takes a while to even get the waitresses attentions, but those minutes are filled with beers and lots of worldly conversation. Phillip’s children and wife are back in Graz. The train leaves every hour. I think about taking a day trip to Austria, aware of the irony I’m 4 days late for the Perchtenlauf festival, where youths dance in devil masks and brandish switches, but I’d would be wonderful to be in a city filled with a history of music. However, the strike has waylaid trains in and out and Phillip has already made arrangements, so there will be no trip to Graz this time. Instead, I find consultation in another beer and a continued conversation with a new friend in the Rimbaud Bar.

After lunch, I walk with Phillip to the train station, and we pass through the park which happens to be outside my hotel, containing the bust of Arthur. There’s a fanciful gazebo out front. ” you know Rimbaud wrote a poem about that gazebo, right?” Phillip inquired. ” Oh yes, La Musique?” A piece where young Arthur observed this corner of his existence every Sunday, when the musicians would gather and play there, lovers would kiss, children would make merry, grandparents would watch and the poet, observed like a deranged outsider, is filled with desire- and longed to escape. I bid Phillip farewell on his trip to Graz. I’d only known him a few hours and I already missed his reassuring zeal and infectious energy. The Sweds have the most beautiful way of seeing life.

The rest of the day I spend drinking red wine in my hotel room and watching ” Total Eclipse” with Leonardo De Caprio portraying Arthur. I’m not ready to give him up quite yet. I could go back into the city, perhaps pay an evening visit to his grave,but at this time, I feel I’ve done what I need. My mission fulfilled.

Icicles greet me from my window the next morning. Phillip is long gone, probably warm in his bed in Graz. I start to feel an inexplicably melancholy. I usually feel this when I’m drawing close to the end of a journey. I love my home, but I loathe going back. Its as though the rug is fulled from my feet and I’m upended back into the monotony of bills, groceries, and bus passes. I’m not yet ready, but its not a choice. As I dress and descend the stairs, I have no real desire for anything this day. Perhaps its because I plateaued my second day and say all there was to see, from the cemetery to human connections. As I spread currant jelly on a croissant, watching the news, though absorbing nothing, I feel a lingering sense of unease. I can’t place it , nor make heads nor tails of it. Maybe its the malaise seeping over from Paris. Maybe its the Winter dreariness, that feel of being alone.

Spending the day with Phillip, a man alive with passion and curiosity, made me realize perhaps I wanted for more than my own solitary experience in this journey. It was a feeling that bordered on despair. Wanting, need and isolation in one heady cocktail. This is sadly something that happens at the tail end of many of my trips. On my first trip abroad to London in 2007, the day before I left, out of nowhere, I ran into the bathroom and locked the door, burying my head in my hands, struck from head to foot with inexpressible anxiety and malaise that rendered me almost paralyzed. This is something I continue to work through sadly, and, as this last trip has taught me, lost little potency over time.

I go to the train station and secure a ticket for tomorrow morning. Nobody understands me, and I think I should really make an effort to learn French to save myself future embarrassment abroad. I go back to the hotel and feel inexplicably tired. After locking down a flight back home, I begin to drift off. The chill of the day and the slow pace of Charleville make it so. I wake up a few hours later and the day is at its peak. Realizing I’ve been antisocial enough, I slip on my hoodie and go to the downstairs bar to see if anythings doing. The front desk lady, the boy who looks like Emile Hirsch, a rugged young bartender and an older and rather saucy woman who dosent speak a lick of English are all there. The boy is about 20 and says his name is Shony. He fumbles through a conversation with me with as much English as he can. In a way I feel so indolent. I could have picked up a new language all these years. It’s as though I’ve been plunged into a scene from Amalie. Everyone here is like a character in a short story or an off Broadway play, each alive with his or her own spinning narrative an rapid fire dialogue my travel weary body is quite ready for. The older woman, upon hearing my adoration for Rimbaud, seems provoked. Shony is then, somewhat reluctantly, thrust into the role of my interpreter.

” She says he wasn’t that great a poet and he was someone we learn of in school” . I bark back ” Oh, No! He was a brilliant poet. The finest expressionst. His words illustrated the struggle of poverty, youth, desire, excess-everything!’ The woman kept prodding, and I kept coming back. For better or worse, I’ve never been the backdown type. She was older, perhaps late sixties with a large wool scarf twice the size of her head. A no nonsense country matron with little tolerance for some overly romantic tourist telling her about her countries poet. In that moment, I realized, in spite of the rampant imagery, Charleville’s backhanded contempt for Arthur continued. To me, he was a dark angle of worlds and words. To them- a foul mouthed freak who made them a mint and sold coffee mugs.

Poor Shony had no idea what he was in for and we went back and forth. I realized what was going on. “Am I really debating an elderly woman I can’t even understand about a French poet right now?” It was a surreal feeling, and the bartender and the front desk lady seemed quite amused by our antics. In the end, the lady swigged a beer, said something to me in French and sauntered out quite stylishly- her white heels clacking along. Such a thing could only happen over poetry!

Light in Maison Rimbaud

I spend my last evening in Charleville wandering about. Its a weekend, and the city square is filled with tourists dressed in all manner of yuletide finery. Young choir boys are jostled to and from church, families cavort, and the mystical Christmas Wyvern is now illuminated. I know where I want to be. I make another stop at the Maison Rimbaud. I assume it may be closed, and perhaps I can linger around the nearby river, but it’s open another hour. I wander where I have wandered the day before, retracing steps I’ve traced already. At night, the place has a unique glow, a tinge of lavender that traces the plaster walls and defunct fireplaces like the hand of a ghost. Unfortunately, this time I cannot find my way outside to the garden, and without Phillip’s exuberant presence, the place seems a bit more lonesome. Though I know I still have Arthur. That’s for certain.

I bid farewell to the Maison Rimbaud and wander the town. As the first night, the dim lights illuminate the vast cobblestone roads and alleys. Walking to the Cathedral Saint Remi, I see the boys from before, practicing the great French Christmas Carols as the holy saints look on. The flames of candles dance off the gilded archways and distilled stained glass imagery of the 14th century edifice. How many took their first plunge into the baptismal font here, I wonder? Centuries worth. As the night wanes on I notice that there’s some sort of a festival taking place. Teenagers dressed as elves are dancing in the own square next to the Christmas Wyvern and it seems to be some sort of saga. Something about the magic elves who must like the Christmas tree. Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty waltz plays. Curious choice to be sure, but it conjures all things mystic, so I’m pleased. There’s children with coco, smiling and pointing couples and parents. An old world holiday.

That night in bed, I can barely sleep. Where did all the days go? It was only 8 days and I felt as though I had lived a thousand lives. Walking with the protesters in Paris, wine with a new friend in Montmarte, the kindly smile of the girl at the Alane, the baguettes and eggs at the Cafe Richard, standing at the gate of the patrician realm of President Macron, the rich color tapestries of Lautrec, thinking inexplicably about my family as I wandered the left bank, the bust of a poet illuminated by a single streetlight. A symbol of something alien and wondrous within us all.

I would get home. Though it was manic, and not without some chaos, new friends would be made, new memories kept. I have all my nick nacks. Hallmarks of a personal atlas obscura -ever advancing. My protest flyer I found on the street in Paris, Diane Pernets business card, endless photographs, a napkin from Cafe de Flore , a leather satchel, and most importantly of all- my last entry in France, which seems to encapsulate all.

” Walked past bust of Rimbaud before the sun rose. Poetry creates bonds. Bonds create magic. Ive done what I came to do. Looking forward to next time I stand by his side. I am happy. Au revior!”

-Chris Cipollini Dec, 2019

An American in Paris Pt 4-In the Shadow of a Vagabond.

I turned sentences and nights into words”

-A. Rimbaud

The last morning in Paris.

There is no pre dawn opera this time. Simply the rain, pure as it is, pouring down upon the streets of Paris, purifying the city best it can.

In spite of it I still go into my day- knowing it will pass before noon. I have a farewell breakfast at the Brassiere Richard and get a farewell pack of Gaulious at the Tobacconist where nobody speaks English but me. I’ll miss this cafe, charming even by Parisian standards. Its turn of the century news prints framed on the walls, etched glass and nouveau finishes.

The night before I pick a small hotel by chance called Coulorus Sud, right near the city square. It seems charming enough and has decent reviews. At the advice of the hotel staff at the Alane, I take a taxi to the bus depot.. There is fortunately no strike in place. I bid the beautiful receptionist Caroline up front so long. Emerging onto the street, I see a bus pull up where a fight is breaking out. The people are crammed like sardines and the whole scene is one of condensed chaos. Not exactly the parting view I wanted to see as I left Magenta Boulevard. The rain pelts the car as we pass the Bastille remains, where the Marquis de Sade was housed and he composed his infamous 120 days of Sodom. A wispy chilled rain heavy yet passing clouds. French rain. I feel an inexplicable chill. The lingering eerie whisper of the man for whom sadism took its name.

I booked a bus that is scheduled for Roche, the nearest town to Charleville. The wait at the bus depot is interminable. Me, with my peacoat and clunky suitcase and a slew of frustrated tourists who look weary, oblivious and quarantined. Its cold, dreary and wet. Everyone is anxious to be somewhere else. After hours of waiting , my phone battery dying helplessly before me, the Roche bus arrives. I’m encamped next to an old Romanian woman who insists on coughing loudly without covering her mouth, and a young guy coated in cheap cologne I can smell from my seat. The wifi connection is dead, so no chance of contacting the hotel to let them know I’m coming. So be it. I look out the window. Black lingering stillness fills my eyes as we snake though the French countryside. I had wanted to read Enid Sarkie’s sublime biography of Rimbaud, to serve as a guide of sorts- but there’s no overhead light unless the bus is parked and I don’t want to burn out my phone- so I think about him instead. In this three hour sojourn, with its rues that bend and hills that yawn like a giants maw forever, nothing can be identified. I can make no trace of a distant chapel, a small fork in the road ( a place of in between- which mystically minded Arthur would appreciate- as he held a profound interest in Cabala, and occultism) or even a farmhouse. Bleak stretch-less nothingness veiling our eyes like a war widow.

I read once that Arthur, filled with a youthful cocktail of wanderlust, agitation, angst and abandon, walked this whole path himself- right into Paris. I can only imagine him, wandering by day, sleeping in a grassy knoll by night, until conjured again by the rising sun. No bread in his pocket- fortified only by guile, stubborn effort and will. The ride seems to go forever. I use the drive to reflect and think of my coming time in Charliville. A very differant world than Paris.

The bus then twists through the narrow streets of Charleville, having finally arrived-its dim lights illuminating chilling puddles over the aged cobblestone streets, rues and alleys. I don’t know this place- I’ve only pictures of it in books. That aspect of travel I find the most arresting. To have a perception of a place to what you think is the last detail, only to have it quashed by the reality standing there in front of you- its insignificance or magnificence- for better or worse. We finally pull into the bus station. Its freezing and raining. The drag my suitcase out of the compartment beneath the bus and to to a nearby taxi waiting. “Bonjour- Colorus Sud ?” I ask. “Oui” the driver replies and point across the way- where the hotel sits. Well there you have it. 16 euros saved.

In Room 333

Hauling my suitcase to the hotel, a small boutique style hotel that most likely either once served as a residence or a school, I see the face of Arthur, gazing pensively at me from the front desk . The girl speaks virtually no English. This is the countryside, and its not really expected here as in the city. However, seeing my reservation, there’s no issue. I pocket my key and head to the lift as the girl heads back to the conveniently placed bar downstairs. I love the feeling of these old world hotels. The worn rug, the rich woods, color choices off kilter though charming. Outside my room is skyelight of textured glass, cascading the orange shadows of the town to the tapering stairway leading to my room on the top floor. 333. Its cozy, with a plush white bed and a window overlooking the nearby park where a bust of Rimbaud is said to be- yet in the dark of night I cannot make it out.

I’m tired but hungry and I dont want to just turn in after such a long and anxious journey. This would not simply be a place to react of my poet of choice, but to cultivate words, feel my creative marrow refill and regroup after the mania of Paris. I dont even bother to unpack. Shoving my eye in my pocket, I go into the Charleville night. The rain has long cleared and the lanterns brings forth an unparalleled mystic glow. The smell of the rains and the icy air informs my senses and I seek to get acquainted with my home for three days. Next door to the hotel once stood the famed “Rimbaud Bar” a favorite of blue color country worker folk until it was turned into a brassarie by a couple from Paris. I start walking up the boulevard. Im the only one out. Its a winter night in the countryside- nobody bothers to stay up. My stomach is rumbling and I realize I havent eaten since Cafe Richard. In front of me stands an enormous statue of some great citizen, waters trickling loudly from the fountain surrounding it- I’ve arrived in the center of the town- and I stand alone.

Looking to my left there’s a small cafe. Its rather refined- not the stew and potatoes sort of place I was seeking, but I’m too hungry to go seeking something else out. Inside Im greeted by white and red. Red roses, red hearts, red wine. White tablecloths, white napkins, white lights tracing all the way up to the inaccessible stairway above. The waiter is shooting the breeze with his compares in the corner when I come in- it must be a slow night. He whisks over and in barely perceptible English, gets my order. As I sip on some much needed wine, I look at the walls. Arthur. Arthur. Arthur. He’s all around. Images of him in Charleville. Sketches of him in Ethiopia. Photographs of his poems are framed on the walls. Rimbaud famously hated Charleville. He sought to leave his whole life and whenever he returned, he plotted to leave again. Here, under the firm hand of his strict mother, he seethed like a beast- longing to see the world- to have the sweet liberation of being free. So I find it comical that Charlevilles most reluctant son has become its favorite tourist commodity. You could almost laugh, yet I feel young Arthur, ever ready to call a bluff- would certainly sneer.

After dinner, I stroll through the surrounding neighborhood. The Christmas lights are few and dim. There’s laurels and garlands packed tightly for the next day’s holiday pageantry and parades. Yet now, it’s only I, walking along, silently in slippery boots in this city that a poet scorned-and I already love. With each foot fall, each step through a chilled puddle, each trace of my hand along the alleys and rues of unpronounceable names and countless causeways- I feel a sense of obtuse joy. Joy in the fact I am here- removed from the chaos of the city and the world. Obtuse in the sense that its a place that my poet longed to leave. Regardless of the source, I’ll have it. How appropriate to arrive here by nightfall, when the town’s soul is laid bare.

How many times did Arthur wander these tapering streets in his troubled youth? How many times did he pitch an imagined tent in the town square under the watchful eye of a corrupted endeavor preening gracefully, cautiously looking on so as to escape his mother’s firm and hellish hand? Did he write here? Or simply seethe? Gather momentum. Watch. Feel. Sense. Perceive all around him with the willful eyes of a rouge feline? Questions I have no answer to, but wonder all the same. The streets are empty and I take numerous paths. Countless causeways with no real intention. The crooked and aimless path of the poet.

Returning to the hotel, the front desk now closed, I toss off my hat and pull of my boots. The bed looks particularly sumptuous after such a long day. Yet something pulls me to the window for a glance. The clouds have broken and reveal a streak of light tracing park nearby my window. they illuminate the bust of a young man. Arthur. My ragged mascot. He is already waiting to be my guide. Come morning, we shall finally speak.

Land of Illuminations

An American in Paris Pt 3- Vests of Green

Its 3 am. Again. I turn on the tv set, locked into a corner wall. There’s an opera playing. Its a gothic affair. A handsome young priest is tempted by a ghost bride who beckons him to follow her into the night. He strays alone but is hindered by the vengeful ghost of a fierce conquistador in full armor. The fretful priest lunges with a spear but falls flat. You cant slaughter the dead. A chorus rises, the curtain changes to another scene…yet my bleary eyes reach for the remote and I enter a heavier sleep then before.

I wake up at 8 am, rather irregular for myself. Its raining steadily. If I had more time in the city, I’d gladly flip the do not enter sign and resign myself to my bed, but since I’m already on the tale end of this trip, I need to make every moment count. So I dress, run a brush through my hair and through my teeth, take in some coffee, and create the day. The following days were a whirlwind. I began to construct a type of routine for my time in the city. Since the Metro was out of commission, getting my bearings was not a choice luxury but vital. A brisk walk from my hotel straight down would lead me to right to Notre Dame, and from there, the city branched out to all the major stopping points. Champs de Elease, Luxemburg Gardens, the Grand Palais, and the Presidential Residence. Within the end of my third day, I could easily map out Paris. I think how my legs have never been more exercised. My second hand boots being taken to task on the old rue, avenues, streets and back alleys. It’s a happy burden though. I take my coffee from a small café around the corner from the Hotel Alane. The man running the place doesn’t speak English and I with my miniscule French, convey a need for coffee. There is no breakfast being served at the time, but being a true Frenchman, he gestures me to wait at my table. In no time he produces a perfectly round place of eggs, brioche and espresso.

I sit at the table, quite contented. Its a Sunday and the vast majority of Parisians are ducking from the oppressive rainfall in the comfort of their homes or tourists like me, respectively, in their hotels. As I take in a smoke and begin to pen whatever is on my mind in my little Tartan notebook, a vagrant comes bye. There’s a glass wall separating us, but I can hear her clearly. Not fluent in French I cannot understand her for the life of me, and what she is saying is little more than a pleading babble-a verbal disarray of chaos language I cannot grasp. I’ve only my bank card, so my pockets are free of change. I’m down to one cigarette and have none to offer. I tell her I speak no French and she hurls curses and marches steadily down the Rue, her worn boots clacking with ferocity.

This exchange stays in my head for sometime, rekindling the mayhem of my first evening. I forget my privileges as a tourist in this city, so torn by strife. I saw the newspapers. The copies of “Liberation” filled the lobby of the hotel where I was. As well as the quaint tobacconist up the road where I got my Gauliouses. You could see them in the café, the hotel. They left an indelible impression in the streets. Everywhere they could be seen, felt, sensed. Sometimes seen vaguely. Sometimes head on.

All around Paris they left their claw marks. On feted monuments. On chic posters for high fashion heinously defaced. On images of the president. On benches, bus stops, windows and walls. On streetlights, signs and statues all around. It was the mark of the green vests. There’s was a wrath that the city had not seen in decades. The more I saw, the more tenuous my time in Paris felt. For no man among me wasn’t effected by their communal ire. The row over pension reform was only getting more intense. The Manifest. I remembered to the night of my arrival they stopped traffic, hindered buses and paraded down the streets. In this time, it had gotten steadily worse.

From the comfort my café, I saw the news. It took no French to understand the bedlam before me. I saw talk of teargas, brawls. Fisticuffs breaking out on public transport due to the scarcity of options. It was like a dark poem. In this haphazard time, men’s true natures come to the surface. Whether he wear a suit, or patches, push him enough and his blood boils just the same. In times such as this, nothing is sacred. Venerated statues fall like chess pieces. Opulent towers lauded the world over for their beauty become little more than contemptuous idols to the glutted and privileged . Haughty monuments to the ruling class-worthy and deserving of desecration. No chandelier will put bread in a mans hand or milk in his infants mouth.

Attempting my best to put this dark juxtaposition from my mind, I pay up and walk out of the café and into a bleak Paris morning beset with a pounding rain. I cant take that woman’s face out of my mind. I should have done something. Here I was, drinking fine espresso and wrapped in a very nice coat, kept safe and warm in my chrysalis of comfort. It would have been no great effort to summon a plate of eggs for her too. There’s no language barrier for suffering. The glass wall. It was also in my mind.

The sky bleeds rain and bellows wind. After several blocks, it disperses. I find myself in a rue I haven’t yet attracted to a face I’ve seen before. Its Rimbaud! I walk around the side of the building and find a well hidden entrance. Its a hotel, and inside, a number of Japanese youngsters are taking in coffee and breakfast. I ask the proprietor if she speaks English and she does. Her name is Delia. She tells me this is a chain of hotels named after certain members of the French literati. Due to the proximity of this hotel’s location to the train station, the very station from which Rimbaud arrived in Paris in 1871 before his ill fated meeting the poet Paul Verlaine and his unfortunate family, commemorates the rogue poets entrance to the city.

Delia is wonderfully indulgent and doesn’t give a toss about me sitting in the lobby and looking and the number of displays, riffling through copies of manuscripts, or looking at images of the tarnished young wordsmith looking defiantly at the world in his worn coat and unkempt hair. I curse the gods I’ve already got a hotel, since I would have happily stayed there, just to be close in proximity to such powerful works of poetry. Then another idea occurs to me. A dazzling one. Why not travel up north? To the birthplace of Rimbaud? Such a shameless idea, but not without heart. I ask Delia the distance. She looks on her computer. 3 hours. The strike may complicate it, but the bus is pretty consistent. Such adventures are what travel is about. I decided right then and there, I would go up north. I would visit the land of Arthur Rimbaud. Walk his path. See the beauty in his angst. Place my hands on his headstone.

I would go to Charleville.


I open my hotel room door. The housekeeper had just been there. She leaves loving little traces of her presence. Fresh tubes of Cafe au lait. Folded sheets. That crisp linen aroma. The tv off. My myriad of papers from the past few days, my Lautrec postcards from the Grand Palais carefully laid out. The leather satchel I got near the flea market tucked away, safe. Simple, loving details that warm the soul after a long day tramping in the cold Parisian rainfall. I kick off my boots, pull off my coat, and resign myself to a mid day nap. The past three days have descended upon me like a haze and I’m spent. The window is slightly ajar. Just as I feel the slightest inklings of a truly delicious rest percolating, I hear a call in the distance. I try to ignore it and I turn over in bed, but it gets closer. I reluctantly lift my weary head and look to the window. I hear a megaphone. Its crying something in French I cannot understand, and its aggressive.

Walking to my open window, I peer outside. Just outside my hotel, my eyes glimpse hundreds of protesters. Many in green vest attire. I see young people. Many appear to be students. I want to go and see what’s happening in person. In my black coat and sunglasses, I’m fairly innocuous. Forgoing the desire to return to sleep, I lace up my boots, button my jacket and march out the door. After a few blocks, I’m in the throng. Now I am no stranger to protests. I marched with several Occupy marches, took to the streets after the 2016 election, and participated in a “die in” to protest those slain in gun violence and the corruption of the NRA. This was my first international march and the energy, like the French , was passionate, contagious and revolutionary. All around me are caricatures of political officials defaced. There’s an image of Macron , a tear rolling down his cheek as his mouth is covered by the ghoulish hand of the powers that be, inciting silence to suffering. People of all ages, clad in their green armor, march in solidarity. While there are definitely the expected assembled shouts of ire, discontent, I feel no hate. Only frustration, mixed with a distinct sense of unity. Some people sing. Other dance, pound drums, and holler aloud. There’s certainly outrage, angst, but still hope.

I walk alongside a young man from Marseille. We strike up a conversation. In my atrocious French I ask what the strike is over exactly. He told me an Arab student, one of many, had been slain by police brutality outside the city several months ago, and government officials did nothing to penalize the officers. This apparently was an ongoing issue, so the young people of the city, along with many of the green vests and workers unions, were taking to the streets in collaboration with other strikes. ” We are fed up with this government”, he tells me. “Our lives mean nothing to these officials- they only care about their own interests- not those who they are here to govern”. I ask him about what he feels about what’s going on in America, and he tells me it must be difficult. I tell him it is, but like in France, we are gathering a resistance of our own. “The people of Paris are still people of rebellion, and our elected officials only care about money.”

This strikes me. I began to wonder if in the heart of every Frenchman beat the soul of rebellion? Is it hardwired into the DNA of these impassioned people to strike against the injustices of the world? I felt somewhat ashamed. Up until this moment, I had had misconceptions and anger towards the protesters. I felt that they were a whiny nascence arguing nothing and hindering my trip I had voraciously saved and diligently planned. I did not see the trickledown. How human lives were ultimately effected by the offhanded hubris of those deemed worthy to govern. I realized in this moment that this was truly history- and here I was, a scrappy writer from Las Vegas, walking amongst these people- filled with the fire spirit of the revolution.

As we walked past the Bastille, I feel the raucous energy around me- an actual heat that blankets my senses. Its as though the ghosts of the past are alive again, generating it in these youths. I raise my fists with them, clap with them, sing songs I don’t understand but whos energy I can make out, and shed their tears- reborn as I share in righteous fury. The din makes its way past the monument. A young black girl pulls me aside. “Are you a journalist?” she asks. “No”, I say. I’m put off by the frankness of her inquiry. ” Do you have an Instagram?” I tell her I don’t. Such a random inquiry doesn’t come from no where. I cordially walk away, as she eyes me suspiciously. It was a bit odd, since she spoke to me in English and there were hundreds of other to pick from. Big brother society. The world we live in. Everyone is watching someone.

Having properly rabble roused, I take this as a sign to return. I’m easily a mile from my hotel. I failed to realize how far we had walked. The noise peters off the further up I go, until I’m back on the Boulevard Magenta, which is unusually quiet. The chapel bells herald the evening mass. I stop at a small diner and get a lamb kabab and a Perrier to eat in my room. Turning the key, I place the food on a table, peel my coat off, close the window and collapse into a chair. The white noise of French news provides an odd comfort as I eat and wash up.

There’s a lot to process. In my travels, I realize there’s oft an underlined theme to my journey. It takes no guessing to see what this one is. Jeanne ‘de Arc. The Green Vests. Jean Valjean. Robespierre. The Bastille. The Manifest. Rebels. Nobody does it quiet like the French. There is but one more day to go-then I’m off, to a little hamlet called Charleville- to walk in the shadow of a ragged young libertine- a stolen quill in his hand.

General Lafeyette. Paris

An American in Paris Pt. 2- Place des Vosges.

I wake the next morning fatigued but exuberant. I’m in Paris after all. The fever dream of last night is over. There’s sights to be re acquainted with. Tastes to rekindle. Steps to tread again. The divine miasma of Parisian streets await me. The sun is barely up, so I nurse my Nescafe and await the arrival of dawn while listening to spoken word poetry videos on my phone. An exercise I developed to get the blood cells flowing. My bed was thick, juicy and plush-plenty capable of resting me well, but the breakneck pace of the day before and the external restlessness of the city I was in hindered me from total surrender. After a bit, the sun is up. I switch off the BBC news and reluctantly dress for breakfast.

I hate dressing up for breakfast. The morning repast to me is a casual affair and being forced to dress my best for some cheese and croissants while being surrounded in the awkward silence of ambivalent strangers seems forced and tiresome to me. It reminds me of period films where some jaded aristocrat must dutifully rise every day, be swaddled in clothes by an army of servants and sat at an endlessly tapering table loaded with fare, but is hardly able to enjoy the meal, as all eyes gaze on him.

Still the coffee is excellent and in spite of the madness outside, the porters in the hotel work hard and briskly. I appreciate their services, even though we barely are capable of communication. I partake of some chocolate croissants and brioche, mull over some newspapers ( in French, naturally) and look at my phone. No signal. No surprise. I know a sign when I see one. Time to unplug.

Alright world, time to engage.

Emerging from Hotel Alane, Paris is already bustling with life, even though the day is thick with fog and rain. Smartly dressed men and woman bustle to and fro, a stray nun walks by. Bicyclists- dozens, parade up and down Le Boulevard Magenta. I like this humble pocket of Paris. Its quaint, demands no attention, is chic enough, but void of pretense or over stimulation. Almost suburban. When I chose to come here, it was reluctantly. I had wanted Saint Germain, yet it was well past my price range for even the most modest accommodations. Still, with streets lined with cafes, a nearby HSBC for quick cash transactions, a lovely 15th century chapel just across the street, and Cafe Richard, a brasserie dated back to 1819 and a quaint tobacconist that serves excellent espresso next to that- I’m left wanting for nothing.

I venture to the chapel as the bells toll, passing a young businessman just rushing out, perhaps getting in a morning prayer. Right away, I’m greeted by that most exquisite smell. Wet stone and frankincense, coupled with the indelible imprint of both stories and history. The smell of the chapel! Though I have no religious convictions of my own, chapels, cathedrals, monasteries and holy places have always captivated me, internally and aesthetically. The human story, marvelous myths and gods monsters, prayer beads and scapulas- all calling me on to the tune of an incense censor, swinging delicately back and forth. Recessed in the center of the alter, several brothers, robes and all, chant the morning hymns. I watch this in stillness from an alcove, feeling something deep stir within me. Something older and wondrous. I take a moment to sit at an old wicker chair in front of a massive alter of the Madonna and child dating from the Baroque era. I think of my grandmother. She was a devout Roman Catholic. I remember going with her to mass.

When I was younger, it felt forced. I hated the itchy clothes, the mechanized rituals, the interminable psalms- none of which I ever related to. Yet I remember one thing. Her face. Her devotion. It meant something to her. Something deep and poignant my young mind had not yet grasped. It wasn’t rules and regulations. Deliverance and damnation. It was passion. It was heart. I saw it in her eyes. I often feel her when I go into churches. I don’t feel her here though. This place is much older, a bit more cold, more solemn. Then I realized how silly I was. Because she’s always with me. Passing Jeanne de Arc, I light a candle and make my way out.

With no Metro to in action, I’m forced to walk Paris. Not that I mind. I walk everywhere anyway, and Paris, like New York, is a city you can access rather quickly if you can hone in on a few landmarks and know how to pay attention to the signs. I have no real plan of action today. Just getting re acquainted with the city. Its a unique time to be certain. I wonder if I will wander into any ” manifests” or riots. So far, however, the day ahead seems languorous and pleasurable, interspersed with occasional rain and numerous pit stops seeking that perfect photograph and ideal espresso. Perhaps I’ll bump into Juliette Binoch or Carla Bruni, Louis Garrell or Micheal Pitt. There’s a Marie Antoinette exhibit taking place. I think about going. I never really thought about the ill fated queen much, and then I was cast in a play about her life and death. Playing the role of Axel von Fersen, her Swedish paramore, I got a crash course in the life of this woman. An ill fated pawn in the wrong place at a tumultuous time.

As I walk further down, I pass ethic hair shops, extremely well kept fast food restaurants, innumerable gift boutiques with gouache artifacts such as multicolored berets, scarfs that simply say “Paris” and Le Chat Noir place-mats. An impressive likeness of a sphinx flanks the boulevard where Notre Dame de Cathedral stands. She is fenced off, naturally, but tourists still crowd her for selfies and snaps. Even caged and in disarray, she is a wonder to behold. Powerful and resilient. I cry looking up at this stronghold of the human story, just as I cried watching the news of its burning. How I heard that the fire could be seen through Paris. How the inside was almost gutted. Had the bells toppled, the cathedral would have as well. Yet the bells remained, and with them, this transcendent work of visual poetry.

A few blocks later and I’ve arrived at my favorite place in the city- and possibly the world. The Place des Vosges. The area is a complex of 17th century architecture, offset by a park and a fountain with an impressive statue of a statesman on horseback, looking serenely over the area. Up and down the avenue are impressive colonnades boasting intricate details dating back centuries. The namesake of course would be the residence of author Victor Hugo, so it is fitting I see this just after Notre Dame. The area is also open to art exhibits, and I once saw an impressive collection on the work of filmmaker Agnes Varda here. Sadly however, its closed for renovation. I find some consolation in some wine and frites at the conveniently placed Cafe Hugo- resting at the end of the colonnade. I adore this place. The charming staff, the excellent cuisine. A nice place to drink, write, smoke, ponder and dream.

I break into my new Tartan style notebook. A damn shame I haven’t used it before now. Too engrossed to recollect I suppose. My hand too excited with the surrounding sensations to interpret anything that doesn’t look like frenetic scribbling. I glance over and the girl beside me is crocheting. Such a delicate, contemplative activity, and I’m almost lulled to sleep. It lends itself to my rain and wine induced semi euphoria. There’s something about this city. Perhaps thats why it’s produced so many poets, artists, visionaries, filmmakers , designers, vagabonds and brilliant dreamers. Nothing can touch it. To those outside, its vague, laden with pretense. Hauteur and cold. Thats merely a perception. You have to feel it. The feels and sensation that make this city grand. The rest of the world sees. Paris however, I believe feels.

The seen and the unseen. The people that are like felines. They warm to you when you respect them and are ready to do so. The seduction of the oblique and abstract. Centuries of history embedded in every cobblestone, grand fountain and sculpture. Paris is a city of divine juxtaposition. The not immediately accessible. The obtuse. Perhaps that why artists seek it out like a holy land. No city mixes the profane and the sacred more exquisitely. One second you observe the face of a tortured martyr etched in stone, the next the refined cut of a designer suit in a window in the Saint Germaine. The brusk yet noble and sturdy workers, the opulent fashionistas, the artisans, the business folks. A cornucopia of human experience that never ceases to make my heart beat just a bit faster and in turn make my pen move quicker and with infinite purpose.

The Seine before me, I stop and rest a beat- in spite of the rain. There’s no shame in walking in the rain in Paris- a little lesson I learned from a Woody Allen flick. Watching the river roll by, the Seine so majestic. I look up. To my left Notre Dame rises, and to my right, the Eiffel- cloaked in the descending fog. like a bride. The dock looks welcoming. I realize I’m on the famous Left Bank. Well, no time like the present. With each step, I feel my smile grow all the more. Another divine juxtaposition. No broken glass. No sirens. No madness. Just me, and the river.

Where am I going? I wonder. I realize I don’t care.

I’m just happy.

An American Writer in Paris-Part I


I recently returned from a trip abroad. I’m still processing the deluge of images, beautiful and wild that have assailed my senses and only now are becoming clear enough to reinterpret. Should it come across vague, just know it’s because the creative waters are still churning- so I will do this the best way I know-how- as a journal.

A poet I admire once said “fate may leave you an amputee, but still whistle in our favor” . This scentence, more than anything, has informed this journey.

My ideals high, I board a plane on December 4th right after a tumultuous workday. The world was lost in Christmas commercialism, but I barely noticed. All I wanted to do was to get to my hotel, pull over the covers, sleep off the jetlag and wake up to commence my adventure in a city after my own heart. These ideals met a heady end when I get to Orly Airport. The whole of the city- railways, busses, the famous Metro, have come to a cease. There’s a mass transport strike- apparently the most severe in decades. The roads into Paris are at a virtual standstill. The shuttle I had pre-ordered has been canceled and I’m left in the airport, utterly clueless, and navigating a series of unscrupulous taxi drivers who clearly smell blood in the water.

Fortunately, I find a bus to take me into the city at a mere 12 euros ( 13 dollars) that’s a considerable discount from the 90 euros the cab drivers offer to not even take me to my hotel. Apparently, there’s yellow vests in action- the French workers who are protesting the decrease in pensions. I had heard of these strikes back home, but brushed them off, thinking the waters would settle in a day or so. However, this is the last straw for far too many. Even some teachers and airline employees were walking out. In the city, there were demonstrations, riots. Police brutality and chants to take down the government. Its this backdrop of madness I enter into- a far cry from the pastoral by comparison Paris I last encountered a mere 5 years earlier.

On the bus, I meet up with several Americans girls. One, a girl named Aroura, is traveling through the city for one night, and then it’s off to housesit in Greece for a month. The other two are friends and one has a small child. Normally a person could take a train to our quadrant of the city. But as fate would have it, the Gar’de Norde area where most of our lodgings are located, are in the thick of the demonstrations. Even taxis hesitate to tread into the area. Fortunately, we manage to find a driver brazen enough to go it and take us all. Hauled up in our Uber, I feel like an artistic refugee as the car snakes through streets gridlocked in traffic and livid protesters-their yellow vests glowing in the Paris light. The streets of the city are beautiful still. Even the manic din of sirens and honking horns and police whistles cannot dim the beauty of the Champs Elysees or the fountains of the Place Des Voyages.

We languish in the car, making the smallest of small talk- our singular commonality is that we are all Americans with limited French who are tired, hungry and horribly vexed by all that’s taking place around us. Finally, we choose to disembark, the girls going one way, Aroora and I go another. Ironically, we go faster on foot. Passing a great square that I’m certain I saw before, the full scope of the situation becomes hideously clear. The statue is marred with graffiti, sirens blast. Windows of posh stores lay vandalized or broken. I survey this, jaw wide open. 

How is this Paris?

Hotel Alane lay at the end of Magenta Ave, across from a 14th-century chapel with an impressive likeness of Jeanne de Arc and a small shrine dedicated to Saint Margaret. At the border of Paris and Monmarte, land of Lautrec and Amelie, I choose the hotel due to its low key set away ambiance, its hearty breakfast, and the name-Alane -being not only my middle name but similar to Alain Delon, French New Wave icon. Aroura comes with me and we check into my hotel. After a change of clothes and a brush-up, we locate her hostel and she gets settled in herself. We both havent eaten in hours, so we locate a little cafe just around the corner from both of our establishments and take a deep breath over glasses of Bordeaux. After such a chaotic reunion, Paris and I are finally getting reacquainted. After dinner, I walk back to my hotel, freezing in the cold and pull the sheets over my head- feeling as though I’m in a dream.

I wake up at 3 am. My internal clock semi maladjusted. With an abandon only jetlag can summon-I make a series of phone calls to friends and family to let them know that I am alright and having been mugged and beaten to death by rabid protesters. I turn on the tv. It’s CNN France. Prime Minister Edward Phillipe, haughty as ever, is debating some irate woman. Macron,stately and stoic and ever unflinching- rolls the parchment his way.

The ruling class, I think.

I settle into the deluge of protest footage, after a while losing its sting and becoming obtuse, glossy background noise. I’m about to go back to sleep when I notice the light outside. No point now. I rip open a tube of nescafe provided by the hotel and make a coffee. Outside, the rain has fallen and slowing starts producing an immaculate rainbow- as though the sky itself is saying ” you’re where you need to be. Stop. Observe. Make no sudden moves. Marvel when you must. Be fed. Most of all, breathe.”

I think I chose the right location. Outside, I hear cathedral bells. Even the distant sirens have a dissonant cerebral quality that brings me somewhere I need to be. A place safe, deep and sacred. Paris is different by daylight. No chaos. No mania. Bicyclists going to and fro. Taxis going up and down the boulevard. A million little “rues” to slip into and get wondrously lost in. Some thick with private mossy gardens of respite. Others, a place to dry striped boater shirts and stockings. I shake off the dust of yesterday like a ragged dog.

I’m here, and that’s all that matters now.

In spite of everything, my imagination glows. 

My soul is home.

A Post Mortem Post

The month of Samhain is now finally upon us. I can now open my window without care and embrace the cooling night. Outside, the winds pick up speed, the chill flits through the sky and stores all around are besieged already with holiday chachkes. The year is at its end. If it were to take on the form of a person, it would be a silver haired fox of a man, past middle age, in a snappy Ralph Luaren sweater vest. A older variation of George Clooney who makes a killer cappuccino.

It is also but no intentional coincidence that in this month of dancing skeletons and mass marketed macabre revels that my post is about one of our great truths- one we will all arrive to, like it or not. Death. The great equalizer. We all know someone who’s faced it. Who’s passed to the beyond, as it’s called. Danced the eternal dance. Who can now only be communicated with by way of a prayer- or Ouija board- depending on your chosen faith- or lack thereof. Why am I thinking of this? Well on today, my day off- it simply occurred to me. What would happen- if I were to suddenly- die? Now I don’t wish to go into the details such as the physiological and psychological effects that lead up to ones expiration.

Moreover, don’t I wish to bore you with the myriad theology behind a person’s passing. I can only speak for myself, as I’m the person I know best. So, say I die, by some means. Hopefully not violent. I assume after my body is taken, some stray friend would catch wind of my passing on that great modern carrier pigeon- social media. Friends would post images of me saying things to the effect of “I can’t believe this has happened!” or ” So long poet”etc. Images of me looking far more socially active than I ever really was would materialize like daffodils across the landscapes of friends social media feed, well-intentioned, though probably not particularly flattering.

People would message each back and forth, and assorted folks would hear of my passage to the great beyond- hopefully on their breaks at work- to work in a nice thought provoking recollection. If celebrity deaths have taught me anything, it’s that in death you apparently can only be one thing among the still living. This logic seems to count for just about anyone- and since poetry was my thing for a while, I can safety assume it would be my mortal capstone in spite of having lived 35 years of life.

Perhaps my name would be sparingly conjured or given utterence at the occasional spoken word salon or circle. I can hope that my three books would sell more fluidly then ever, because let’s face it, posthumous work sells. Ask Van Gogh. After a while, an entire life filled with hate, anguish, laughter, sex, adventure, travel, moments of all shades and types, passion and experiences, dances and art and poetry would be condensed to a few semi profound stanzas, a handful of pictures and an otherworldly shot in the arm I was want to have in my previous life. It goes without saying that my home would be gutted, all my possessions distributed among friends and loved ones, or sent off to the impersonal limbo of a thrift store shelf, where they would be slapped with a price tag as though they had never known me at all.

My place would be repainted. Floors re-varnished, shelves cleaned. Old neighbors that knew me would move away. At best, I would become known by way of a new generation through the words I wrote when I was still alive. The places I lived in and experienced would be converted to almost points of literary pilgrimage. The homes I dwelled in, my old apartment, the room I was a child in… “This is where that writer lived”. One hopes such a thing were to crystalize. Let us not forget the Day of the Dead! I can only presume my loved ones would create a shrine in my honor. Perhaps my celestial captors would let me see it for a night.

I’m sure it would be decked in all the things I both fancied and favored. Bottles of French wine, orchids and babie’s breaths. Polaroid images, iconic shots of places I once deemed remarkable. Stonehenge, St. Charles Bridge of Saints in Praha, the forests of Germany, the Tower of London, Death Valley Junction. Florence Italy. The East Village. There would be piles of books. Leather bound journals. Fairy tales, Czech mysteries, coloring books, my prized Goosebumps collection (the envy of all the kids in the neighborhood when I was 10) biographies, family photographs. Open mic promo stickers, modeling comp cards, programs for plays. Food too! Things I loved. Piles of fruit. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, persimons, pomegranates, pink lady apples. Gingersnaps and those exquisite little windmill cookies. French bread, feta cheese, black beans, olives, Lavazzo coffee in white saucers. Kale salads and Persian cucumbers.

Bottles of olive oil, avacado oil and ground pepper and rock salt right from the Himalayas. Beeswax candles would set the tone as family would stand at heavy vigil. Friends would walk by and read poems I had written, passages from my books or work they had written themselves. Perhaps music even. Something particularly poignent such as “Revelation Blues” by Worlds The Tallest Man or “Saturn” by Sleeping at Last. (Fyi, if anyone I know is reading this and I HAVE died unexpectantly, play that latter song especially- it’s powerful! Just in case.) Eventually, true death begins. One by one, the people you knew in this life do a sad but perfectly natural thing- they move on. Eventually you are vaguely but hopefully fondly recalled, if only in a fleeting sentence or a photograph or a home video of some sort.

Those that knew you in life begin to age. And age. And age. Then, eventually, they have their own thoughts of mortality. You have become a family fairy tale, a scant shard of another time, recalled vaguely, yet not completely, as most who knew you have passed. Whispered among kin. Taken out on holidays, like a synthetic fir. Now, assuming you haven’t been cremated, it’s just you. In the soil. Flesh- gone. Co mingling with moss and advancing vegetation. That’s real death. When it’s as though you never existed at all. You’ve run your course. End of the line.

But it happens. Every day.

Now, granted this is just my personal musing. It may not be like this at all for me, or for you. We are all different. We will all be recalled and celebrated by those we have left in a different way. Some dont want to be remembered. Some want to be forgotten. Some have no romance about death. Some have all too much. Some want the world to weep when they pass, others a bit more modest, would be fine with a small gathering. The bottom line is this. Every second- is death. Every. Single. Second. How do we wrap our heads around this eventual truth? To most, it’s something to forget, bury, leave unattended. Others embrace the idea of transcendence.

Personally, I don’t fear death. Not for myself at least. For those I love- yes. Also, I fear the process of dying, but not death itself. If, or shall I say, when that day comes, there is nothing to behold, sad- but so be it. If however, there is I look forward to it. But still, it makes you think, how will any of us be regarded when that day, which we are all inevitably racing towards, like it or not, comes to claim us?

Fearfully cowering in the cornering, unwilling and yearning to live?

Or ready with open arms, for an adventure that no body can say is for certian?

Something to think about, in this season of ghosts.

“You’ll never eat cake in this town again!”

Confessions of a theatrical interloper.

My humblest apologies for the lateness of this post. I haven’t written in some time due to a variety of situations. New job, new routes to learn, new synapses firing, and a fickle laptop that as of this writing has gone to Heaven. Praise Buddha for workplace PC’s. I’d also like to preface this story by saying it’s not my desire to name names and bury any hatchets in particular. Its generally not my way. However, I simply feel, as a writer and an observant human, that some stories must be told.

Its September in Las Vegas. The citizens of the city of Sin breathe a sigh of relief as temps drop to a positively chilling 99 degrees, as we wait with baited breath for pumpkin spice anything to ease our taste buds after the scourge of another summer. Contrary to popular belief, this city does have some modicum of culture. One of which is our Super Summer Theater. Located in Spring Mountain Ranch, 45 minutes away from the hub of the city, it’s a great place to take a date, sip some wine, nibble hummus and crackers and spread on fold out chairs watching any number of productions from local theater acts. Last night was one such night. I attended a production of “Noises off”.

The play within a play, is a farcical situation comedy of errors about a motely theater company putting on a production of a bawdy British comedy. If one was to take a drink every time the word “sardines” is mentioned, they’d have alcohol poisoning before the 2nd act. One of my closest friends was in a lead role. I must say, its always a surreal feeling being friends with an actor. The curtain parting, the lights dimming and you see people donning skins that aren’t their own. No longer the people you know and encompassing a variety of situations, from humor to wit to farce to horror and all of the above. Watching everyone on stage engaged in all sorts of farce and frolic, dashing here and rampaging there, I realized how much work goes into theater acting.

Hitting marks, turning this way, then quickly turning that way, then back again. Running here and there, grab this prop, then that one, engage with this actor and that actor and hope to god that that person doesn’t drop his or her line, in which case the whole thing topples like a house of cards, assuming of course, your casemates aren’t there to pick up the pieces. I’ve definently done a few plays in my time, and it’s simultaneously liberating, jarring, restrictive, tense and arduous all at once. It’s a mixed bag I have to say. Lengthy rehearsals are easily one of the most boring situations person can be placed in. The director gives their command. Then the actor does it. Then the director changes his mind. Or does marking. From every fathomable angle. Before you know it, its damn near midnight, you have work the next day, eyes are bloodshot, and you know your cast mates lines better than they do. But hey, art, right?

Like I said before, I’ve dipped my toe in the theatrical pool more than a few times. Id like to share that story. A few years back, after the local poetry scene dissolved into a deluge of PC culture and poorly masked virtue signaling instead of white-hot passion, I lingered in my apartment feeling agitated, disenchanted and left out. I wasn’t one of the cool kids.

It seemed that the noisiest among us had won the day. I still felt the need to exercise a creative impulse. So what if it wasn’t at a poetic mic? I saw an ad for an upcoming play, “Marie Antoinette” put on by the Majestic Repertory Theater. I didn’t know these guys from Adam, but it was a topic I could relate to. Being a student of history and admitted Francophile, I auditioned for the role of Marie’s lover, Axel Von Freson. Nervous as though I was, if it was worth doing it was worth at least trying. Failing all else, it would make for an interesting story. The day of the audition arrived. I had it in mind to do the monologue from “The Libertine” with Johnny Depp, as the unapologetic Count of Rochester proudly proclaiming his sexual prose with a heated defiance. However, I couldn’t internalize the thing to save my life, so I ended up using an old spoken word piece from the poetry days instead. I just lied and said it was from a play. I’m a fatalist and felt if it was meant to be- it would. I met the director; an unassuming man, somewhat cordial, heavyset man named Troy, and did my piece. Then I was given a call back date a few days later. Standing outside I saw the other potential actors gather. They all seemed to know one another. Then me. The interloper.

We were all herded into the theater and assigned a partner. It was interminable. I had no idea about queu s or blocking. In poetry you create your own ambiance by way of your words and cause a ripple that the audience either gauges or just watches by way of verbal hula-hoops. In theater, you have to follow someone else and it not always easy. We were all called up in rows. I felt like I was a slave on the auction block or some prize piece of meat being sized up by a discerning john for the weekend. Fairly dehumanizing, but art, right? You could smell the flop sweat. “This row step back- Troy bellowed. “Everyone else go home”.

That was it. Anticlimatic. I felt down but at least I tried. I snuck into the place around the corner for a consolation coffee and wondered why the hell I even bothered. Two weeks later, I was at my job and got an email. “Chris, I’d like to offer you the role of Fersen in Marie Antoinette. If you accept, please reply- Troy Heard.” Had I not been in a small cubicle, I would have lept up and down in sheer joy. It was the last thing I expected. I got the part! I hastily accepted and proceeded to tell everyone in shouting distance for the next two weeks. I think I even told the waitress at Macaroni Grill. Forget modesty.

Since I lived around the corner, I was the first to the read through. This was going to be a big production, all the bells and whistles, a seasoned cast (everyone there has a list of credentials longer then my forearm) as well as a former costumer for Cirque de Solie. A big deal in Vegas Town. Initially, I felt welcomed into this new fold. We gave our read through, discussed the script, exchanged watered down jokes, sipped bottled waters and handed out the rehearsal schedule. Walking out of the theater after, I talked to one of the other actors, a decidedly nuanced and characteristically lethargic actor named Richie about the script.

I was eager to break bread and get to know these people, since the next two and a half months of my life would be revolving, pay free mind you, around them. I peppered him with inquiries, asking what he thought of the script, what sort of productions he’d done, testing the waters. His response was decidedly lackluster and he approached the forthcoming play with all the enthusiasm of a root canal. Nobody seemed alive with the passion of storytelling to be honest. Maybe it was just me. My character was supposed to be heartthrob, respectively. My costume was a strange hybrid of Don Juan meets Lost Boys, meets club going euro trash. Some sort of trench coat mafia style leather jacket that only a young Kiefer Southerland could have pulled off, striped slim pants, leather boots (of which I had to subsidize from my own pocket) a shiny Gucci style woven, all topped off with a huge red bow worthy of a Rankin Bass Christmas character.

I nearly ruined my hair by straightening it nightly and thickened my eyebrows Rudolph Valentino style with some Mac eyeliner I bummed from my mother. I liked the script. I enjoyed my look, and the solid character I was privileged to play. He lived a storied life, his affair with Queen Marie but a blip on the radar. But eventually his charms ran out and he became the victim of political intrigue and ended up beaten to death by a mob in Sweden in his 40’s.

Oh, Politics.

As rehearsal waned on however, I began to feel more and more like the odd duck in the room. A feeling only helped by Troy’s more and more obvious disdain for me not being one of his lemmings. Troy favored the other actors blatantly and this became more and more obvious as time went by. I began to dread going to rehearsal after a few weeks. He called me out at the drop of a dime. “I know you used to be a poet Chris but Fersen isn’t a poet- get it together!” One night after giving what I felt was a great monologue in front of all the cast he roared, “its obvious you haven’t done this have you?” Other conflicts arose with my cast mate Josh. I can say in all honesty, this guy was one of the most thoroughly unpleasant, petty people I’ve dealt with in my life. He was crude, vindictive and went out of his way to make me feel unwelcome, talking about me behind my back to Richie, and not exactly inconspicuously.

I heard every word. Little things after a while added up. “You want too much to be liked, Chris”, Troy said. Had I been the person I normally was, I would have told him, “No I just want simple respect”. I should have said something but I wanted the role so bad. I lived in fear that I would be recast and all the sleepless night and lengthy rehearsals would be for nothing. The whole thing tapped into my lifelong fears of rejection. I knew too well what it was like to be the last picked for a sport. I knew too much of how it was to not even have the Dungeons and Dragons nerds want to talk to you. To be the last in the pecking order.

To be ostracized- for simply existing. Josh, Troy Richie. They manifested themselves as my childhood antagonists come alive. The schoolyard bullies. Only I was in my thirties. In a full time job. With bills to pay, a passport, published works- life accomplishments. This wasn’t supposed to happen anymore. It always astounds me how we feel we’ve elevated ourselves to a higher, stronger mind and have become more seasoned by life, something happens we meet that person who knows just the right words to cut us down and in no time flat we become vulnerable, isolated children again- in the fetal position wanting for our mothers.

“It will be worth it”. I told myself. “It will be worth it- and it’s all in my head I love this. I want this”. I had to say something. I reluctantly called Troy to the side one day. My gut told me it was a fools errand, but I was teetering on not doing the role. As it was, I wasn’t getting a check and it wasn’t exactly benefiting my frame of mind. You could call it overthink, but for better or worse, I’m a feeler- Troy was a see-er. A natural inborn conflict of personality from which he was the nucleus. I breathed, tried to relax but got waylaid by bouts of panic attacks. He turned the corner and met me in the dressing room. I realized there was something very unsettling about him. His face was brooding, and lacking anything in the way of emotional intelligence.

He had an oafish, hostile, immeasurably dark quality about him that was powerfully off-putting, coupled with a childish, petulant aspect. Like the lumbering, overgrown schoolyard bully who stomped on sand castles, pushed kids in the mud and flew into hissy fits just for kicks and attention. Now, he bullied the passionate and aspiring into subservience- beating them down and building them up into a contorted version of what he alone deemed artistically acceptable- and those around him just went with it- because they knew he held the purse strings to what may or may not be their big break. I think in his heart, Troy knew that I was aware what kind of person he was- and for this he singled me out for his vitriol and abuse.

Unsurprisingly, the talk went no where, with Troy brushing my concerns and doubts off and saying ” get out of your head- because you think to much”. That may have been true- because at that moment, all I was thinking was how I saw him for exactly what he was.

The two months were interminable. I arose at 3. Caught a bus at 430. Got to work at 630. Left at 2. Home. Food. Shower. Hair straightened. Brows thickened. Base applied. At the theater by 5pm. Navigate the minefield of Troy and the others.

Home. Collapse. Repeat. This I did 4 days a week. For free. As the rehearsals dragged on, people got surlier. Huddling in corners together while I sat on the opposite side, exchanging secret, inside jokes with a sod off arrogance that sickened me. I wanted so bad to tell them all to fuck off. I could have. It would be so simple. Two words and out the door. End of play. But I wouldn’t. I wanted this too bad. I strived too much and not everyone was so horrible. The few that were though- Jesus. Opening night arrived. I paced nervously in my “Trenchcoat Don Juan “ensemble. Pacing nervously. The press would be there. Local news. Reviewers. Even typing this, I channel my anxiety that night. I counted down the seconds till my scene. Boom. There it was.

The light was blinding. I saw all the people there. Loads of them. They stood in silhouette like arcane judges. Watching. Seeing. I can say in all modesty that I never flubbed a line, nor missed a mark. Fear is a hell of a motivator- and I was terrified. I channeled the solider spirit of Fersen to see me through. I hoped I would do him well. At the end of the third act and the final scene, Axel appears from a screen of smoke like something out of a Ridley Scott fever dream and comforts Marie in her last minutes alive as she lay in the unbecoming squalor of a prison cell. Her once elegant hair crudely hacked off, her family gone and those she loved either sent into exile or abandoning her. After some consolation and a tragic dance together with Fersen, the man she truly loved, Marie is placed on the guillotine , basket at the ready, as I re appear this time in the guise of the executioner, a black sheet over my head, containing the empathy of devil while the blade is lowered and the room flashes blood red. End scene.

So, as I took the stage every night, all the cast would hold hands and we would take our bow. However, I stood next to Josh who would refuse to hold my hand for the bow. Just to get that last jab in for the night, I suppose, like a petulant dog marking its territory, while staring you in the face. This happened every night. It seemed wrong to me. I wanted so much to ask him what his issue was? I’m not in your clique, I get it, but he had no desire to tell me. It was so petty, especially at the end of the show when we should all be at our zenith.

One thing I felt particularly put off by was Richie’s snobbishness in regards to seeing the audience after. I asked him if he would go out and say hi to the assembled. “I don’t give a fuck about that shit, man- I’ve done my work, fuck those people”.

My jaw hit the concrete floor. Really? These people bought the tickets, paid money (28 per person, a heady fee for local theater if I do say so myself) and supported you-and you’re ultimately here because of them. I couldn’t for the life of me wrap my head around such off handed arrogance.

The play went on. Teeth gritted, Sweat dripping, pacing commencing. One whole month. Many glasses of wine were consumed. During my half hour between arriving home every day from work and my trudge around the corner to the theater, I’d lay on the floor of my apartment and wonder why I was doing this at all. I mean, I put myself in this situation. Nothing was forced upon me. Ultimately, it fell upon my feet. I wanted a new creative experience and I got one.

Why wasn’t I happy? Maybe it was me. Maybe I was just reflecting my insecurities, my inherent imposter syndrome, on my perceived aggressors. Id like to say that I truly loved the play, and was proud to be a part of it, I just wasn’t happy and I had brought this on myself. King Midas Syndrome, I call it. Wanting for something you think you want, only to discover it comes with a burden basket you can hardly believe and never thought of prior. The last night of the play seemed a long time coming. I remember it distinctly. I was a matinee show. I sat backstage and gazed into the mirror, noting the changing around me. Marie Antoinette was already yesterday’s news. Troy, always one to aspire to the cool kid’s club and virtue signal at any cost, chose the socially charged Animal Farm by George Orwell and the avante garde garb backstage reflected this change. The whole thing was very ugly to me and seemed to encapsulate my feelings about this show ending. The juxtaposition of color and beauty of Marie and the grotesque caricature of humanity that was Animal Farm. I looked in the mirror, my costume hanging behind me, already losing its luster.

I wasn’t without some gratitude though. I had seen all of my friends and family come to support me, and for this I was grateful. I was grateful for our lead, for she truly shined and deserved the role. Grateful for the crowds that came every night. Some who I didn’t yet know, but soon would. Five minutes. Places. We went out. “When I rule the world”, blasting into the theater. Harpsichords fluttering. Guitars rocking. Teacups clanking. Screams echoing. Hands slapping faces. Hands parting away one last time. Blades dascending. Red lighting. We took our final bow. It was done. As we all headed behind the curtain, I took one last glimpse at the theater, knowing, good or bad, I’d made it to this moment.

 Two friends had come to see me, and I look forward to seeing them after. I also received a message from my friend and champion, Tonya. I would be giving a reading from a book I had published earlier in the year the next day. I was elated. From one project right into another. I wiped my face, slapped on a v -neck and jeans, did a quick once over and bolted. Apparently, the bar is popular with the local theater crowd, and after some time the rest of the cast slipped in, hanging in their corners like high school cafeteria. I sat, with the shield of my friends and enjoyed a shot on the house- a nice perk.

However, Josh lumbered in and  wasn’t done. He looked me over and said smugly “you know Chris, we generally help take down the set after the last show”, with the inbred smugness I’d endured over the last two months and had come to utterly despise. I grit my teeth and stared him straight in the eye, thinking how easily one well placed kick could knock him off his barstool and right onto the floor. It would be appropriate. He was used to being on bar floors anyway. “Great to know”, I retorted, defying him. He turned his back to me.

I gave myself a mental pat on the back. I bid my friends goodbye, and walked home briskly. “it’s done”, I told myself. “it’s finally fucking done”. I hitched a ride to the coffee house the next day, a charming place on the outskirts of town. It was my element. Espresso and Perrier. Shelves chocked with old tomes of all sorts. The lingering miasma of both conversations and caffeine, all to the tune of twenties jazz and rustling newspapers.

I brought a hefty stack of my books, ample change and my card. I was ready for business. The other writers gathered. An impressive litany of wordsmiths with years of training and experience behind them. One woman had written an account about a journey to Beethoven’s home, another about the struggles of going blind yet still perusing words. My editor and friend Isabelle, a beautiful soul from Marseilles, came and supported me as well as an acquaintance from Seattle. I was announced, and called up. I stood at the mic, the smell of coffee brewing in the background, all eyes on me, book in hand, telling a story, words I had written, hewn from years of experience and observation. I knew this feeling. The very one that once felt boring. I noted, as I read, how strong my voice felt. The joy in my heart. I looked at the crowd. All people, old and young, rapt.

I was happy. Signing my books and shaking hands- was joyous. I realized then, it was a perfect “Pilgrim’s Progress” moment. I had looked within myself, found emptiness and discontent, sought something new and exciting and had an experience Only to arrive at a point I once felt tired of. Instead of feeling upset, I felt rewarded. Good or bad, it emboldened me, and gave me a story to tell. When it was over, I took a picture with the other authors filled with genuine joy. Full circle. A friend of mine has always said “what we really need in this world is never that hard to find”. That’s what I took from this journey.

Perhaps, if the Wizard of Oz has taught me anything, its that we sometimes need to go on a bit of a sojourn to appreciate what is standing in front of us all along. Emerging again, with a richer appreciation. Of course, I plan to act again, but this was a special story that noted telling- and made me realize my true love is this just that- stories, writing words, and giving them back to the world.

because hey- art- you know?

The price of pretense

I’m in my mid thirties. Can I tell you something? It’s weird to think of. Often, I have what I call “pause moments”. Those, take a look in the bathroom and gaze at yourself naked and imperfect, assessing every parcel to the last iota spells- and it baffles me. I’ve hit what at one time seemed an insurmountable number. I often remember my mom, lecturing me when my grades where subpar in school and saying the following; ” What do you want to see when you’re grown up and looking in the mirror?” Such a statement evokes a load of layers and meaning and some levels of snark. All cynicism aside, I’m not displeased with what I see. I see a slender though healthy individual. I have the deep set smokey eyes of my Latin ancestors, mixed with Cherokee and Aztec to my mothers side, the strong jawline and pronounced features of my Northern Italian brethren on my father’s side. I have my great grandfathers thinning hairline, sadly ( as a receipt on my countertop proudly announcing ” Rogain” gleefully illustrates) as well as the coordination of a daft lemur ( If you were to hold a gun to my head and tell me to cartwheel ,you may as well dig my grave right there.)

Self depreciating ironies and observations aside, I’ve come to a place in my life where I genuinely like myself. It’s not an emotion born of smugness or conceit. I call my flaws and my virtues into order and I assess them one by one- and make peace. There’s alot of have to learn in this life and much I have learned and I’m grateful for that, believe you me.

What’s the point of this musing?

Well I speak of being genuine. Knowing what you are and where you come from. One of my heroes, Jane Fonda, once said “to know where you’re going, you must know where you’ve been”. Truer words were never spoken. One thing I personally see to have, and this may resonate with you as well, is a genuine persona. Someone without pretense,mask veil or otherwise. Now I know in the creative stew in which I used to swim, pretense is tantamount to hustle. You can’t showcase venerability too much when you have an image to cultivate and works to ply. Fully understood. But at what point does and person drop the pretense and simply –be? You don’t need a personalty when this mask you carved out for yourself is the loudest thing in the room-and at the risk of tooting my own horn, I have to say that when you spend alot of time with true individuals, spending time for people who are vainglorious ego shills is unbearable. Let me give you an example. A few years ago, when I was sauntering in and out of the poetic scene, a new host appeared at the resident open mic I frequented. Now I won’t name this guy, though truthfully I don’t think he would notice moreover-care. In any case, I met this him one night and there was something about him I just could not jive with. I felt it instinctively. You know when you’re sick and its a slight tickle in the back of your throat and you just know it’s leading to something?

It was unmistakable . I’m sorry to say, he wasted little time proving me right. As time passed, this person spread more and more of his influence. Nights of meaning and hard truth became filled to overflowing with pseudo wisdom and debased spiritual jargon and part time yogis. I remember standing in the corner watching all this foolishness take place and feeling disappointment. How could so many be so seduced by such obvious facade? I wasn’t buying it and furrowed my brow at those who did, people whose ideas once meant something to me, having been transported by art and song- buying into nonsense, from a snakeoil salesman slathered in patchouli oil and hemp with a shit eating grin. It was maddening. As the weeks went by I saw more and more of my friends heed his pied pipers call and dance under his sway. Suddenly legions of my friends where adapting henna tattoos and telling me about my aura color. Instead of deep personal conversations on passion and dreams or fears and revelations, people began to form “hug circles” and “cuddle puddles”. These monstrosities of superfluous fluff were often accompanied by hippie drum circles carried in the dead of night on our dry lake bed. Kind of a wanna be witches sabbat only instead of rituals and calling the dead, it was DMT and molly infused orgies carried out in borrowed Target tents. These weren’t high spiritual nights. There were drug induced cacophonous keggers of baseless noise. Through all of this, our burlap donning, ever grinning lord of chaos himself carried on while his loaded lemmings wasted into oblivion pounded drums to call the night- or God or Zeus or Satan- depending on what kind of drugs they were wasted on.

Nothing like synthetic devotion. I hated him. I hated how I saw right through him, and nobody else seemed to. All the way down to his oily second hand Birkenstocks. Nothing but a spiritual shyster who hijacked a great scene and mind fucked the gullible- WHY could nobody see this? What is the MATTER with you all?!

Then, something happened.

He just drifted away. Little by little. People spoke less of him, his presence became less obvious and in a year or so’s time, apart from the occasional spotting at an event, he faded. Friends began to tell me of how superficial he was and how he was nothing like he said. I relinquished the urge to say , “I told you so”, and his influence eventually faded from memory and he became a blip on the radar. Now, in retrospect, I seem to have been rather hard on this individual. I mean, there was no need to hate him. I admit, I must have had some envy. Still-where was it rooted? Jealously? That he was finding something I had yet to? That he held sway and people sought to be around him? That he was crafting an identity for himself I sought to manifest? I would say it’s only half true. I feel the backlash truthfully came from people stepping away and seeing how vacant this all was. A sabbatical can be a blessing and I truly encourage them if you aren’t feeling very certain of something, or someone-if of course you have the time.

The final nail I feel with all of this is that transparency eventually became too apparent and it eventually turned folks off. When a person comes to you feeling true anguish, they dont want a long winded overzealous , passively domineering hug. They want a friend. They want to talk. When you’ve had a lousy day at work or a fight with a loved one, you don’t want a “cuddle puddle”, you want to look someone in the eyes and know really and truly you are cared for. You want a smile and security. What this all boils down to, is that facades, like mandalas- fade. And like a lying Pinocchio, they grow and grow until they become blindingly obvious. In the end, I ask you- what’s the point? Survival? Okay. Popularity? Perhaps- though not exactly noble and not at all lasting.

Granted this person I used as an example is long gone , and I don’t follow him on my scant social media. I do wish him well and looking back and knowing what I know know, I should have been a little more understanding that, he like many of us was “seeking himself”, or something to that effect. My ire lay with the fact he dragged so many down with him and in all honesty that’s something I’m still not completely over. I’m a project- laden with flaws-ever changing. We all are. It all comes back to what my mother said to me many moons ago.

“How do you want to see yourself when you’re grown up?”

-and I in turn ask you the same thing, reader.

What’s it going to be? You’re genuine self, an imperfect work in progress, ever changing- or- an egocentric circus act, that, like all performances, loses its crowd and eventually-leaves town?


As of late , Ive been going though a bit of a personal identity crisis. Well, scratch that. Crisis is too dire a word. Broken down on the side of the highway with a dollar in your pocket and an uncharged phone is a crisis. Perhaps shift applies? Okay, we’ll stick with that. See, for several years I saw myself so much a riled up creative. Edgy, angst ridden pseudo romantic. I remember one time breaking into an abandoned hotel and ripping wallpaper off the walls and using it in a collage. See in the trajectory of my life, I’ve had no shortage of rabble rousing. I’ve marched in protests, been kicked out of properties, commiserated with questionable individuals whose ideas were not exactly in my best interests, but back then I was gung ho because I GOT IT.

I went, as many young folks do, through my ” fuck the man” state of existence. However, as the inevitable passage of time would have it- I can’t relate to this person I was anymore. For a long time, I staunchly maintained ideals I swore with every beat of my soul I would never diverge from. Hard core left leaning ideals.

Then, something happened.

I got older.

See, maturation isn’t the bogeyman we think it will be when we’re young. It opens the door to self reflection, which is a beautiful and beneficial thing. You get a chance to stop, assess, breath, look back and either pat yourself on the back or shake your head in utter humiliation. You grow , and hopefully you learn. Trust me when I tell you that having a brutal look in the mirror with a clear and unfettered mind will teach you more then any university.

This leads into what was going to be an earlier post. For a long time I was a devotee of the open mic poetry scene. You would be hard pressed to find someone more passionate then I was in the scene around 2014-2016. I hit them all up, like a verbal buffet, sampling bit by bit and forming a taste I could enjoy. I met many individuals and many persons who I’m still friends with to this day and for that I will never be ungrateful. Its amazing what a low inhibition brought on by cheap wine, a page of a moleskin and a dead end job’s worth of angst can do for a room. This was my ritual and I did it with zeal and zest. I identified strictly as a “poet and spoken word artist”, a term that I now reel at, if not for its obliqueness and sheer pretense. I chose to step away from the scene when I saw it go downhill from my observation. Too much pandering to socialital politics and insipid baseless PC mores rather then fiery freewheeling passion that got me there in the first place, and this I will go into further on another entry. However, what I’m getting at is I began to identity myself so strictly as this wordsmith that I didn’t know what else to be. . I learned something a long time ago at the gym. When you give to much energy to one muscle group, and work only that, the rest of the body will grow weak and ultimately give out on you.

Have you ever gotten so bemired in one aspect of your personality , you don’t know how to operate outside of it? I was so lost in terms and phrases, romanticizing every nuance of life from a corner that I forgot how to live it- and engage with it,the very instincts that brought me to it in the first place- which needless to say, became unhealthy. Rose colored glasses can look sharp and chic, but don’t necessarily help ones vision of the world around them. When we give to much of yourself to one aspect of what we are, all else is neglected and suffers. In my little studio apartment, on the fringes of the strip- I feel a transformation occurring. I don’t know what to tell you is on the other side of this. I’ve joined a gym again. I’m making an effort to build up my body. Not for vanity, but for health and a long life. My mind is more open to voices I would have blissfully and hastily shunned 7 years ago. My personal politics have gotten more moderate leaning as a pose to dyed in the wool liberal I once was. I’m open to the greater conversation. I want to meet people I once disagreed with and demonized, because it can only challenge and enrich me. I don’t feel that the people on the other side are the evil demons I once marked them as anymore.One part of my mind says I’m neglecting my god given gifts. Another, which I know to be the more mature and ultimately right side of my psyche , says that this is part of the ebb and flow. The turn of a page to a new aspect of existence.

What I’m getting to in all of this babbling is this; gifts are beautiful. I personally will always view writing as mys great gift and I relish that and honor it. However, its not all I am. I love this new knowledge. I love the fact that I can embrace new aspects of being . I love that this journey is now before me. Because I have to say, I was looking at some old photos from a protest march from several years back I went to and I saw myself. To be honest folks, I didn’t look very happy.


Embrace it.

I speak from experience.