Intoxication reeks of combustible ethanol on a head-ached opaque late morning. Even with all the force and platitudes dispensed from a historical milieu about the folly of drinking, the eminence of c’est la vie prevails. Even with how much you want to dash out the spoiled offspring of fermentation with obsequious courtesy, the bastard called intoxication will just stare at you. It will stare with sangfroid and gullible stupor. You’d be left to put back the pieces for integrity and adroitness’ sake.
Surprise, surprise. That was the message upon entering Paris circa 2016. In no other time did Charles Baudelaire incite me to be a revolutionary against the aristocracy’s protocols and traditions. He boldly induced me to revolt against the old, against the past and the plain. He stalked me to embrace modernity in his lyrical interpretation. Get drunk, get drunk intoned this poet who lamentably expressed in his Fleur de Mal collection of poetry the sense of ephemeral existence. He pushed me towards the nexus of urban decadence in an industrial landscape with no exit doors. Get drunk said he in the city of lights. Call on the sympathetic power of Dumas, of Voltaire and Hugo, literary giants all who made the Pantheon glow ever brighter. Yet explore more, explore Thomas Vinau, Angeli Paoli, and even Patrick Dubost. More so, discover the poets of the alleys and small bars and rebellious monks. Get drunk discover your own garden of poetry as you walk along the boulevards. Discover your own arsenic, tin spirals of convulsions and reckless beauty. Shove on yourself and be anesthesized by the poets who belong to the collective group “The Union of Poets Who Will Die One Day”.
Paris is a place to get drunk. Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle, holding on the book of Jean Marie Le-Clezio, I told myself, goodbye to being sober for now. The raison d’etre is to get in a city bathed in flood of light, from the Opera Garnier to the street of Champ Elysee with parading haute couture of Dior and Chanel, to the cafes along Rue St. Michel and Rue St. Germain or one tiny shop on Place Saint Sulpice. It is to be a serendipitous foray into markets that sell honey, stinky cheeses, dozen kinds of bread, herbs, and olives and truffles. Or feast in the medley of prints including internationally-renowned street artists Shepard Fairey, screen prints of music festival posters like the Gallows from Hellfest, and cool vintage-style posters reminiscent of the old French Chemin de Fer publicity posters from the artist Mads Berg.
Seine beckons. The first encounter was in a cruise along the muse river, Bateaux Parisiens sitting atop the boat on a late night cruise. I asked myself, “what is it that those French Symbolists have seen here in this city with innumerable bridges? Is the left bank more poetic than the right?” Gillaume Appolinaire answered with the line as we approached Ile de la Cite.
“Come to the edge, he said. They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew.”
That was when I started to see the possibilities streaming through the sights of Paris. There before me was the transformation of light, the filtering and the magnification of each particle of light. The light seemed to speak and humble itself like grasses growing in a fluorescent and incandescent patina of walls seen from Hausmann’s lens and from the voice of Edith Piaf or the contemporary Serge Gainsbourg and Jules Dore. If there were dozens of bridges that connected the two banks, the 37 bridges became hundreds, hundreds and they assumed the personality of savage, sovereign, tradesmen and jesters that walked since 52 BC with the Roman inhabitants to the seige of the Vikings in 845. My mind strolled along the streets following the shapes and curves of the Seine. Pont Neuf loomed large as it beckoned of the 18th-century reputation of the center of crime and commerce. If Appolinaire in his life was influential about the different art movements like Dadaism, Surrealism, and Cubism, the inspiration he evoked in that cold night was the paradigm of the many possibilities that await everyone. To jump into the abyss of the unknown and unleash the power of creativity and genius, that was the cry. He fully surrendered to the fluid obelisk of inspiration even if the claws of death became impatient with him, not allowing him to witness Armistice Day.
Arthur Rimbaud stirred. A poem a poem, there in the middle of the Seine! Rimbaud mouthed with a galling froth and said “I ran away. O witches, O misery, O hatred, my treasure’s been turned over to you! He further intoned, “I managed to make every trace of human hope vanish from my mind. I pounced on every joy like a ferocious animal eager to strangle it.”
I got drunk looking staring at the stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle. The experience in this Gothic church of Rayonnant architectural style was sublime and exalting. The vertical emphasis on the structure and the seemingly defying absence of gravity can leave the door of your senses ajar to the filtered light passing through the stained glasses. Light became delightful at the same time lamentably lame in its softness and constellation. The blue stained glasses exaggerated the colors. Interestingly even the shadows became so pronounced that neither yesterday nor tomorrow in its ambit is delineated in that experience. The moment became freedom. I haven’t had that experience so powerfully provoked and fused in my senses that big words like thalassic, wasteland, resurrection and sunrise became a globule of clarity and act of faith. As Paul Eluard wrote and whose quatrains rained over the occupied cities during World War II in his Liberte poem, these lines were so crisp and fresh to feel in your sweaty palms.
…And with the power of a word … Et par le pouvoir d’un mot
I start my life over Je recommence ma vie
I was born to know you Je suis né pour te connaître
To name you
That was a cosmic experience in a minute cosmos. There was an act of opalescent surrendering in that place, an act of being, of cooperation to that extended glow that neither adolescence nor old age seemed to matter in me. The forbidden spaces, untold stories, unused paint brushes and the theater of expressions conspired to dream and ignite into a rich moment of possibilities.
I got drunk standing before the Notre Dame looking at the gargoyles and intoning myself the first lines of Victor Hugo’s first line in Notre-Dame de Paris “just three hundred and forty-eight years, six months, and nineteen days ago today Parisians woke to the sound of all the bells pealing out within the triple precinct of City, University and Town.” I bathed in Quasimodo’s selfless devotion. I marveled, I just marveled, a child in the bossom of amazement.
I got drunk sharing and enjoying the slow white table-covered breakfast I had with my wife. I saw a ripple in the air as the freshly baked croissant and the slow spreading of butter on its crescent curvature, the layered yeast-leavened dough and velvety texture of its skin. How it generously covered the crisp surface of the croissant! The scent of fresh bread. The scent of a fresh morning. The scent of newly discovered optimism. A passing conversation on the next table between young couples, Iberian honeymooners. A child demanding the capricious attention of his mom busy on her iPhone. A middle-aged voluptuous waitress from Lorraine on a hurry to replenish the brie, reblochon and cantal cheeses on the breakfast buffet set-up. All of these including the newspapers on the rack, Le Monde and Le Figaro boldly declaring the impending train workers strike that would cripple the flow of commerce for the next days, combined into voluntary abdication to the whims of the moment and facade of civility of genteel humanity.
I got drunk with love, with my narrative of commitment. It was a simple dinner of take-out Vietnamese food in our hotel near La Defense. My wife and I decided to opt for a simple dinner with her choosing the food that she liked most after a day that witnessed a whirlwind of last items in the bucket list for Francophile infatuation wishes to satisfy. I got drunk because of the simplicity that illuminated even on the humble choice of wine I got from a nearby grocery whose cashier came from south Asia with his perfunctory good evening. I got drunk because we shared in the cup of marital commitment of 13 years, my beautiful Marissa and myself, simply looking at each other’s eyes. I got drunk because I remembered Yves Bonnefoy say in his poem at that very moment,
“But instead of reading
I want you to listen: to this frail
Voice like that of letters eaten by grass.”
I listened to her. Her voice spoke of nearness and expansion. I listened to her, my heart and being, the most sensitive parts that captured fervently the nuances and the unspoken gestures of a city embraced. I was like a forgotten poet in awe upon discovering the spherical presence of our moment existence. I listened to her as Paris listened too intently, ears the petal of night refreshed and renewed.