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From “Staying Gone”

TGV 6175 from Paris Gare-de-Lyon Now Lo sits in a Train à Grande Vitesse to the sea. Le TGV: the train of great speed. The TGV has an odd nose similar to the Concorde before it. Lo thinks it might have to do with De Gaulle, who surely had a weakness for prominent noses. Although the train’s furnishings have seen better days, she doesn’t trust herself to tuck in her knees as usual and put her feet against the back of the seat in front of her. Nor to take off her...

Exiled in Europe: An Interview with Three Women Writers

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has often examined the question of exile in essays and articles. Exile is indeed a place, he has written, a desolate space where one must confront the question: “Is there a moment when you know intuitively and accept that you have now truly arrived in exile?” He also suggests that a writer’s temperament is that of “a creature in a permanent state of exile,” since his or her real vocation is the eradication of the barriers of reality....

Never Any End to Hemingway

Well here we are, he wrote to Anderson, as he lay there, smoking. He liked typing letters from his bed with the black Corona on his lap. And we sit outside the Dome Café, opposite the Rotonde that’s being redecorated, he wrote to Anderson, warmed up against one of those charcoal braziers and it’s so damned cold outside and the brazier makes it so warm and we drink rum punch, hot, and the rum enters into us like the Holy Spirit. Period—new paragraph, as he weighed up...

Is This How Women Grow Up?

It is all a matter of décor Change your bed change your body What’s the use since it is still Me betraying myself Indolent and scattered And my shadow undresses In the arms of girls, all alike, Where I thought I’d found a country —“Is this how men live” Louis Aragon August 1994. The afternoon seemed endless, the heat relentless. She was stretched out on the bed, hardly dressed, reading, smoking, splashing herself with water, dropping off...

The Algerian and the Moroccan

This is my private diary from the year 2002. A large notebook of ninety-six pages with a deep-blue cover. I had lost it. I found it yesterday while cleaning, forgotten, abandoned for I don’t know how long behind my dresser. In the middle of this notebook there was, there is, an envelope on the back of which is written this title: “The Algerian and the Moroccan.” I knew what it contained. Words, words written as a couple, the Algerian and me. The tale of our...

Babel in Paris

Babel loved plump women. Where there’s lots of flesh there’s lots of sweetness. Lots of warmth, heat, tenderness, there’s a caress of sunshine and a velvety splash of the sea. In the damp, spongy folds of skin and in the large soft breasts, whether at rest or swaying gently in motion, there’s the comfort of a gently rocking cradle. French women—take your pick—were thin and wiry, coquettish and agile like monkeys.Hard to keep your eye on them. They...

Eternal Youth

My father was horrified when I told him that I was getting married and that the date and place were already set. He shook his head with his typical facial expression, a mixture of repugnance, incomprehension and resignation. As long as he made this face at me all the time, I knew that he still couldn't see me as an adult. It wasn't the fact that I was getting married that so upset him. Nor did he have anything against the woman I wanted to marry. What bothered him was the...

Memory of a Paris Street

It's been almost three years since I ended up on that street in the Grenelle quarter. Chance led me there—or rather, not so much chance as intoxication. The intoxication of the streets that always seizes me in Paris. At the time I encountered the street, I was spending four weeks completely alone in Paris and would walk for several hours each day through the quarters. It was an obsession that I couldn't resist. Its power is best attested by the fact that I felt it to be a...

From “Paris–Athens”

I first wrote this text in French. I finished it on November 20, 1988. I chose French because I wanted to make sense of my relationship with this language in which I have also written other books. I translated it as faithfully as I could: I don't touch upon events that took place after 1988; I simply omitted some explanations that were necessary for the French public and added others for the Greek reader.— V.A. I. Silence I don't know when I began to write this book. I...

Happiness

Last night, before falling asleep, she had realized winter was almost over. "No more cold," she thought, stretching out between the sheets. As if from a limpid world, the clear sounds of the night reached her, restored to their original purity. The ticking of the clock, almost imperceptible during the day, filled the room with a nervous throb, causing her to imagine a clock in a land of giants. The steps on the pavement seemed to her like those of an assassin, or a madman escaped from an...

The First Day

Author's note: I left Iran in 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution, and settled in Paris with my two small children. I was naïve enough to think that the chaotic upheaval of the beginning eventually would settle into normal life, and I could return. The increased hostility of the government toward the intellectuals and the war with Iraq, which lasted eight years, forced me to stay longer that I had imagined. I was educated in America and did not speak French. I had to start...

The Communist of Montmartre

In April 1935, the Paris Central of the Communist Party found itself in an acutely embarrassing dilemma. Moscow had asked them to bring one representative from each ethnic group oppressed by French imperialism to the Festival of Peace scheduled for that coming summer. But although when they went through the membership rolls it was no trouble at all to find a trustworthy Algerian and an active Vietnamese, likewise Polynesians and Caribbean mulattoes who enthusiastically embraced the...

from “In Ben’s Footsteps”

For Tim Peltason, Debra Carbares, Anjali Prabhu, and the Newhouse Humanities Center, Wellesley College Ben, do you know why the dreams of children are always corrupted in the mouths of adults? Why must we lose the gift of wonder and the faculty of indignation? And why do so few of us become ice-breakers or fire alarms? And yet, Ben, you gave us markers, signposts, beginnings . . . Of thought, dreams and meditation, to take away and sustain us for the rest of our lives. We were only...

from “Life of Pahé”

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Blue, White, Red

At the beginning, there was the name. A humdrum name. A two-syllable name: Moki... At the beginning, there was that name. Moki is standing in front of me. I see him again. He's talking to me. He is giving me instructions. He tells me to take care of the rest with Préfet. Don't ask him any questions. Just do what he asks me to do. Moki is there, his gaze turned upward toward the sky. He rarely takes a good look at his go-betweens. I listen to him. Continuously. Rapt. Am I...

Käte Frankenthal, an Activist Physician

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from “The Lost Cause: A Memoir of My Life with Gabriel García Marquez”

Whenever he comes to Paris, he calls immediately. "My friend,'' his voice explodes, "Why don't you come have lunch with me?" Now he's the owner of a neat, tranquil apartment right in the heart of Montparnasse. Inside, everything's dressed in light colors and seems to be organized with order and taste: English leather chairs, Wifredo Lam's engravings, a magnificent stereo, and always, always, a crystal vase in the library, with recently cut yellow roses. "They...

Making of Paris

Rogelio arrived in Paris at dawn. He was in a car accompanied by three girls; two were in charge of the wheel. Quite a feat for Sabina and Jenny, they'd never driven so much. They drove a 1990 Volkswagen with great dexterity, and on occasion they went over 150 kilometers per hour. From Berlin they never stopped harboring a doubt that, upon crossing the border between Germany and France, they wouldn't be detained even though Rogelio was carrying a visa that had expired in...

The Neighbor

All of us-myself, my children, and the friends who now and then drop to see us-are scared stiff of our neighbor on the floor below. Our life as expatriates in Paris is full of hidden anxieties and emotions. There is, first of all, a feeling of guilt for having come as strangers from across the border to encroach upon the rights of the native inhabitants. Underneath this guilty feeling lurks a silent, seething rage that must be suppressed, and a nagging sense of humiliation waiting for...

The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons

Mehrabad Airport, Tehran. Air France, flight 726 I hate this life of constant wandering, these eternal comings and goings, these middle of the night flights, dragging along my suitcase, going through Customs and the final torture, the humiliating body search. "Take off your shoes, open your handbag, let's see inside of your pockets, your mouth, your ears, your nostrils, your heart and mind and soul." I am exhausted. I feel homesick—can you believe it? Already homesick. And yet...

from Fever

"Read that," said Studer, thrusting a telegram under his friend Madelin's nose. It was dark outside the Palais de Justice, the Seine gurgled as it lapped against the quai and the nearest street-lamp was a few yards away. "Greetings from young Jakobli to old Jakob Hedy." The commissaire read out the words haltingly once he was under the flickering gaslight. Although Madelin had been attached to the Sûreté in Strasbourg some years before, and therefore was not entirely...

Escape from Disney World

After having spent his childhood doing comic strips and his youth doing animated cartoons, Mickey Mouse finally discovered his true vocation as a corporate insignia. In heraldic times, only mythological creatures or rampant beasts could aspire to adorn a coat of arms. In the century of the cartoon, it's only natural that the Magic Kingdom's logo is a rodent with gloved hands. Like the Mercedes star or the McDonald's golden arches, Mickey is a registered trademark. At this...

Le Marais

In Things I've Seen, Victor Hugo acts as witness to a good many uprisings in Paris scattered through the reign of Louis Philippe (1830-48). And so he describes the insurrection of May 12, 1839 (triggered by Barbès, Banqui, and the typographer Martin-Bernard), as well as the unrest in the streets linked to the Revolution of 1848. Sunday, May 12, 1839 I return to the Marais. On Vieille-rue-du-Temple, the terrified housewives chatter on the doorsteps. Here are the details. At...

At Home in Exile: An Interview with Shimon Ballas

This interview appeared in slightly different form in Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing, edited and translated by Ammiel Alcalay (San Francisco: City Lights, 1996). Ammiel Alcalay: Starting with education, practically and in a wider sense, how were you formed as a writer? Shimon Ballas: One has to go very far back, to early childhood. I was always attracted to writing. I connected it to stories told at home and I used to try and write them down for myself. I was always a little...

Paris Lost

Our first official German document, which we got at police headquarters on the Alexanderplatz in 1990, was an East German residence permit. We didn't get any closer to our old dream: the right to travel freely. Right on the first page of the document it said: On departure from the German Democratic Republic, this permit must be surrendered to the appropriate civic authorities, or to the border control. Valid until 8/30/2000. We didn't have a big trip planned at first; back then,...

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