Shouting ‘theater’ in a crowded fire: Chicago Schools, Summer 1968 & Beyond

chicago schools oneFrom the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Jim Nutt. “Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good,” 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt. © Jim Nutt.

“Free speech is the right to shout ‘theater’ in a crowded fire.”

— A Yippie proverb, cited by Abbie Hoffman — a member of the Chicago Seven arrested and charged, along with Tom Hayden and others, after protesting at the Democratic convention held in Chicago during the Summer of 1968 — in “Steal This Book” (Pirate Editions, distributed by Grove Press)

Introduction by Paul Ben-Itzak
Text from Experiments in Prose,
Edited by Eugene Wildman
Copyright 1969 The Swallow Press, Chicago
Illustrated with images from the current or upcoming Art Institute of Chicago exhibitions Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, Past Forward: Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, and Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980

(Editor’s note, explanatory: The inclusion of the images from the Art Institute of Chicago exhibitions should not imply any association of the artists with the views expressed. Rather, this Chicago mix tape is intended to reflect the kaleidescopic brilliance of the multiplicity of Chicago schools of thought, literature, art, architecture, and design.)

(Editor’s note, prosatory: In dockside picnics looking out on Lake Michigan while on cross-country train trip pauses, in dreams of ame-soeurs encountered on busses crossing the lake’s glittering sea-like azure expanse, on a Sunday morning jog after an interview for a position I was offered but didn’t take (after my future boss had handed me a press release  announcing a new version of Prozac for dieters and explained “Your role would be to analyze how the news will affect the stock” and I’d thought “No, I’d be more concerned with how the product might affect the dieter”) where I ran smack dab into the final leg of the Chicago Marathon and was cheered on by bystanders as if I’d run the whole race, standing before Chagall’s “White Jesus,” a refugee from Hitler’s “Degenerate Art” exhibition, with its burning synagogues, in the cool halls of the Art Institute near the banks of the Chicago River, peering at a river-boat from the parapet of a bridge named after Hull House’s Jane Addams, contemplating, in a Paris museum, Henry Darger’s epic saga of the Viviane Girls, drawn to accompany a 15,000-page manuscript discovered in Darger’s humble janitor’s quarters in Lincoln Park before it became chic, sipping beers on the mahogany counter of a former speakeasy in the same ‘hood converted to a friend’s living room, whisked back to the train by a brisk autumnal wind while a lone saxophonist breathes life into the canned Debussy piped into a downtown district, seeing African-American workers being shooed away from a private lunch table set up in the publicly-owned Union Station, being held up at a corner outside the station for a police car chase which I soon learn was rigged for a film shoot, and contemplating a mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who seems mostly interested in privatizing city services, roads, and schools,  and where the Black population in one of the most segregated cities in the country has dropped by 250,000, aspiring to continue in the spirit of Izzy Stone, and above all inspired by Nelson Algren’s “Chicago, City on the Make” — a screed which has the sentimental effect of an homage — Chicago has always haunted and hounded me. So I was not at all surprised when, in July 2016, about to cross the flooded Seine, my other favorite body of water, I discovered, on a bench not far from a bookstand, “Experiments in Prose,” a celebration of the free-spirited Chicago-style design, literature, and activism which flourished in the 1960s produced by former Chicago Review editor Eugene Wildman for the Chi-based Swallow Press, and which opens with:

Talking

(Tape by Bruce Kaplan. Recorded primarily in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Mayor Daley’s triumph of the will.)

(From a poem about 80 lines long.)

… America, today you are a Helen
Helen, in your old age, in your wisdom
Is it to be a policy to war?
…. Your wisdom of war is too deep for me
My mind’s eye cannot see the point of what all this killing is for
Mankind from A to Z , can you see this is our time
World leaders of men, you have read the history of mankind
Why do you waste our time in war…..

That’s a very moving speech. Would you like to say what you were telling me earlier?

Well, I was for Senator Robert F. Kennedy. I had the feeling that he would have been the best to lead all the American people to a greater democracy. He would have helped the minority, the last minority, of Americans, the Negro, to get a fair share of the pie because free enterprise is… a pie, everyone wants a piece of it. I wrote some poems on Chicago too, on Kennedy for the people of Chicago….

chicago schools two

From the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Darryl Cowherd. “Blackstone, Woodlawn/Chicago,” 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago. Through prior gifts of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation and Anonymous. © Darryl Cowherd.

You say you gave up your job to write the long one, the Kennedy speech?

Yes and uh it was my own idea, it wasn’t that I was asked to do it, but just that I want to see a greater country and after Senator Kennedy’s passing, I thought that the next best man would be Senator Eugene McCarthy.

What’s your opinion of all these people coming here to Lincoln Park?

Well I think it’s the greatest uh thing to see the young people seeing America, discovering it, there’re young, they’re going all about the country and seeing it, and they want a chance to uh participate in their democracy. It’s a sad thing to see that so many political men have held on to power for close to fifty years, not one of them has [the] grace to bow out and let the younger lawyers and other young men into the government. They hold on with one foot in the grave, they still refuse to bow out gracefully. My name is John F——-, Irish-American, 38 years old, seven months in Chicago from New York City, eighth grade education.

MAN, AMERICA, MANKIND
I stand here before you a man
Not with the idea to teach you
That I cannot do, for I have learned from you
Shakespeare still is a poet, and a painter, and a musician….

I worked very hard on that. You see, Kennedy loved Aristotle, and all the great poets, see, and I reached in for Helen of Troy because Helen of Troy was so beautiful that they all went to war.

chicago schools three

From the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Valeria “Mikki” Ferrill, Untitled from The Garage, 1972. The Art Institute of Chicago. National Docent Symposium Endowment. © Mikki Ferrill.

(Group of girls.)

We’re carrying nothing that hasn’t proved its practicality and necessity by several years of experience. The heavy jeans and turtleneck are protection against mace, likewise the vaseline. The tape on the glasses to keep from getting hit on the glasses. The helmet liner is to protect the head. We tested these helmet liners last night by beating each other over the head with metal vases. The gas mask is again against mace or tear gas or worse, which they are using. For instance, that tear gas shell that exploded in Soldiers Field last night, they mentioned powdered irritants injuring police and National Guard, well come on there are no powdered irritants in mace or tear gas. That had to be something else.

They laid three of them up in the hospital. Probably military and domestic reagents. (?)

chicago schools four

From the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum. “The Portable Hairy Who!,” 1966. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt.

All right what else are we carrying….

Is the radio necessary?

That’s just to follow the news. The medical kit for obvious reasons, bandages, iodine, alcohol for mace. We have a half pint of absolute grain alcohol. The fact is, something that was bitterly learned at Ann Arbor, where we’re from, is that if you are blind drunk mace will not touch you.Time and again they have tried to subdue mad drunks with mace and wound up with a bunch of maced cops and a mad drunk.

Do you have any idea why that is true?

No idea why it’s true, just that it works. For the same reason that we don’t know how mace suppresses the part of your metabolism that digests vitamins. It does, that’s one of the effects of it. These are army surplus gas masks. You can get them for eleven dollars at the Army surplus store on Barry Street. You have to frighten them into giving them to you because the police have talked them out of selling gas masks. The World War II gas masks have been bought up by the fire department; these are World War I. Ah, but they’ll work. The black is because the worst of the police brutality is after dark, they seem to feel bolder in the dark, therefore the black is to protect you. You can hide easier.

chicago school fiveFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Billy Abernathy, “Mother’s Day,” from “Born Hip,” 1962. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the Illinois Arts Council.

You obviously feel there is a great deal of danger in coming to Chicago. Why did you?

We have had the word from some of our friends in New York, who were in Washington, and looked over the situation here, that we ought to have helmets, gas masks, and the works. The usual reaction by the police is not in regard to any action taken by the demonstrators, rather in accordance to the size of the crowd — the bigger the crowd the much more likely the possibility of police violence. This has been proved over and over again. The marchers don’t have to start anything, just a sizeable enough crowd will incite them. For instance, already two people here, that brings the count to what seven so far? In the past three days. And this is before anything’s even started.

Three killed, four injured, so far.

There was a guy killed last Thursday?

Dean Johnson and two others.

Who were the others killed?

I’m not sure, I don’t have all the information….

It was in the papers but we had to leave the papers and everything back because we can’t carry anything that isn’t absolutely essential. Oh, this uh experience too, the name of the defense fund. These are so that if I get hit on the arms I won’t get my wrists cut.

chicago school sixFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Gordon Parks, Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1963. The Art Institute of Chicago. Anonymous gift. © The Gordon Parks Foundation.

What’s worth the risk…. Why are you here?

Freedom man.

Freedom man, that’s all there is. Freedom’s where it’s at. We gotta get it.

What’s frightening now is not so much that the uh…. What’s really terrifying in the world situation today is how much we’ve become like the Soviet Union. As much as them like us, we like them. The same people that are demonstrating against Vietnam are now demonstrating against Czechoslovakia. It’s the exact same thing. One of our favorite anti-Vietnam people in New York is out throwing rocks at the Russian embassy.

I heard some people standing around talking before, fairly straight looking, saying it looked like the newsreels from Prague.

Incidentally, we found out who the federal allies they brought in are, the Eighty-Second Airborn, the one that was used at the Pentagon, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam. What they do when they train people, it’s for riot training, what they do we found is they give them all sorts of stuff about these kids are all Commie agitators trying to stir up, etc etc. which is so much bull. Honestly there’s nobody quite like SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], the New Left, and so on for throwing out Marxists wherever they find them. [In the early 1980s, reports surfaced that SDS had been infiltrated by government agents.] That happened at the last convention and they’re throwing them out steadily. The actual number of SDS people here is rather small. You’d be surprised, not all SDS members carry cards. Most of them are in other organizations too; it’s an interlocking thing.

Why do you think so many fewer people have come to Chicago than everybody was saying?

Nothing about it makes sense….

***

Those are the grooviest helmets I ever saw.

Thanks. Would you believe that more than half the people in this coutnry have no vote, no voice, and this is what we’re protesting. We can’t vote in the ballot box, we can’t get our words in a magazine, in the papers, all we can do is bring our bodies to the demonstrations, and vote that way. If we’re not given a voice, not listened to, well the imbalance remains and there’s only one way to correct it, we hope it won’t come to that. It has happened before.

What’s that?

It’s water, just water. Water is the one good antidote for mace. The vaseline will keep the mace out, but the water will wash off the vaseline. The water’s to get the mace out once it’s in your face.

chicago schools eightFrom the exhibition Past Forward: Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, now running at the Art Institute of Chicago: Stanley Tigerman, “The Titanic, 1978.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Stanley Tigerman. © 1978 Stanley Tigerman.

Revolution brothers….

(in unison) Revolution… si … black flag, great…. By the way, anarchy and chaos are not the same thing if anyone wants to know. We’ve been saying it for years but who listens to us, once again. The whole idea behind the anarchy thing here is simply that people will by themselves without outside control….

…. These men have a hitherto untested capacity for self direction….

They will, on their own, order their own society. People don’t need the whip, what they carry is enough, that’s what we’re fighting for, why we to take all the whips out of society, there’re garrets enough. People will naturally form an order and stick to it, and when they can’t, well, society sure as hell can’t do it for them. Society’s supposed to serve man, not vice versa.

chicago schools sevenFrom the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Art Green. “Consider the Options, Examine the Facts, Apply the Logic (originally titled The Undeniable Logician),” 1965. Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, Anonymous Gift. © Art Green.

chicago school nine newFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Bob Crawford, Untitled (Wall of Respect), 1967. The Art Institute of Chicago. Through prior gifts of Emanuel and Edithann M. Gerard and Mrs. James Ward Thorne. © Bob Crawford/ courtesy Romi Crawford.

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Word up!: Macron names renowned publisher new French culture minister

PARIS — From a minister of culture during the precedent administration who famously admitted that she didn’t have time to read books, newly inaugurated president Emmanuel Macron and his freshly-minted prime minister Edouard Philippe, both famous readers and promoters of literature, today took a major step in recuperating the image of a portfolio for years honored by Andre Malraux by naming as the country’s minister of culture and communications Françoise Nyssen, long-time director of Arles-based Actes Sud, one of the crème de la crème of French publishers. Together with Macron’s campaign promise to increase library hours at night and on the week-ends, and Philippe’s record as mayor of Havre in sending bookmobiles around the coastal city, the appointment of Nyssen, who also founded a school focused on listening to the child after the suicide of one of her own children, augurs well.

Cross-Country, a Memoir of France, 20: The Man with the Child in his Eyes

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”                    – F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby”

“He’s here again: The man with the child in his eyes.”                                                                       – Kate Bush

 By & Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Like what you’re reading? Please support the Arts Voyager by donating through PayPal, designating your payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address if you prefer to pay by check or in Euros. Based in the Dordogne and Paris, the Arts Voyager is also currently looking for lodging in Paris. Paul  is also available for translating, editing, Djing, and webmastering assignments.)

In an old  house in Paris, les paradises reel

“She loves books,” I insisted, struggling to get Pierre’s attention. “She’s serious. She’s got eyes to die for. She appreciates that I’m a writer.”

Briskly shelving cellophane-sealed histories of art and philosophy, squeezing dust-covered profiles of anarchist agitators and existential theorists in between musty biographies of Belle Epoch clowns and Front Populaire officials, carrying whole rows of obscure scientific revues from the balustrade overlooking the Seine lapping at the banks of the Ile St. Louis across the way — where Gauthier and Baudelaire once threw lavish hashish parties and Camille Claudel plummeted into “the years of darkness” — to his three bruised dark green metal stalls, occasionally brushing his long stringy pony-tailed graying brown hair away from his John Lennon glasses or flicking the soot off the sleeves of his Tang-colored jumpsuit, not even taking time to glance at the fathomless river rippling under the reflections of the crepuscular Sun, Pierre didn’t seem to be listening to my rapturous account of my first dinner date with Emilie, who I’d met at his 40th birthday fete near the Place Edith Piaf.

In Henry James’s “The Ambassadors,” Lambert Strether takes a break from trying to rescue a friend’s errant son from the jaws of a man-eating Parisienne to troll for literary treasures in the bookstands lining both banks of the Seine, finally scoring a complete volume of the works of Victor Hugo, poet-champion of les miserables and exiled political opponent of Napoleon III whose anguished militating against the death penalty from an island in the English Channel stretched even across the Atlantic to plead mercy for the abolitionist John Brown. If it’s true that, as pointed out by Robert Badinter – who as Mitterand’s attorney general would fulfill Hugo’s dream of decapitating the guillotine a century after his death – France is not so much the country of the Rights of Man as the country which declared the Rights of Man, it was Hugo picking up the mantle of Voltaire before passing it on to Zola who would try to ford the abyss between the declarations and the deeds. The gap between the piss-poor metier of bouquiniste – Pierre’s — and that of published author, by contrast, had frequently been bridged. Michel Ragon, the most cultivated man alive in France today (as of this writing, in late 2016), got his start as a bouquiniste before becoming the country’s premiere critic of art and architecture in the second half of the 20th century, as a side oeuvre keeping a log of proletarian movements that culminated in “La Memoir des Vaincus” (the memoir of the vanquished) the loosely fictional biography of a sort of Zelig among the anarchists or, more specifically, anarcho-syndicalists (anarchist labor organizers). (There’s a strain of anarchism in even the most encadred of French souls; as I write this, French policemen and women – the very embodiment of State order —  are defying both their government and their unions by marching for more modern means and the right to shoot in self-defense.)  Léo Malet – who was baptized by the anarchists and accompanied the surrealists before inventing Nestor Burma, the down-at-the-mouth French answer to Philip Marlowe, a poor man’s Maigret unafraid to dive into the muck of the Seine to catch a bad guy, whose rich vernacular and poetic vocabulary make Simenon look like Hergé and who left a trail of bodies in each of the 15 arrondissements in which his New Mysteries of Paris were set — was rewarded for this fidelity to the city with a bouquiniste’s concession, only to give it up after a few months because “I preferred reading the books to selling them.” And when another Léo, Carax – the bad boy of French cinema – wanted to demonstrate how far off the deep end the hero of his 1986 “Mauvaise Sang” had plunged after agreeing to steal a sample of HIV-contaminated blood with Juliette Binoche and Michel Piccoli, he had him break into a bouquiniste’s box after roaming the fog-addled bridges of the Seine in a midnight delirium. It was about the most fragile target one could pick; Pierre supported his metier de coeur by working part-time as a museum security guard, further trimming his expenses by jumping Metro turn styles.

So when I bought my first art book from Pierre, a tome on Impressionism published in the 1950s (the ideal epoch for the quality of the reproductions) with a portrait of Berthe Morisot as painted by her brother-in-law Manet on the cover, it was as if I had procured a part of Paris history directly from one of its guardians, another way to insert myself into the city’s lore.

Finally padlocking the last of the rusty boxes and starting off at a clipped pace for “Le chope des compagnons,” the bar across the street from his stand and the Hotel de la Ville, where he’d promised to introduce me to an Italian mason who specialized in tombstones (my dance magazine wanted to restore what at that juncture we still believed was the ballerina Taglioni’s dilapidated grave in the Montmartre cemetery, only to learn later from Edgar Allen Poe that the mother of pointe was actually buried in the Pere Lachaise sepulcher of the Bonapartiste ex-husband who’d barred her from the domicile congugale when she refused to stop dancing), Pierre scoffed, “Ecoute, it’s not you she’s interested in. She’s a little girl from the provinces set loose in Paris. For her you’re the American —  you’re exotique. If it doesn’t cost you anything, pourquoi pas? Mais fait gaffe:  Already she’s taking advantage of Marcel.” Marcel was the fellow bouquiniste who’d been putting Emilie up since she’d debarqued from Toulouse. “She was supposed to stay for a week-end, already she’s been there for three weeks. He has a thing for her, and she’s abusing his kindness.” As with his attempts to debunk the authenticity of Sarah Bernhardt’s ornate personal mirror, which I’d recently purchased from a Bohemian couple at a Montmartre garage sale, Pierre seemed bent on denying the legitimacy of my burgeoning French connections, be they anchored in the past or present. For me however it was clear that his skepticism derived from too many years of seeing tourists leaf through his precious books – the cellophane wrappers were meant to discourage such marauding —  without buying anything, while he paid his rent watching the same Philistines photograph themselves in front of the museum masterpieces he guarded.

“She’s pretty helpless, Pierre. She needs a friend. And as for taking advantage of Marcel, it’s not her fault if she can’t find work. She’s a social worker with ado’s at a time when the government has just cut 8,000 aide jobs from the schools.”

“Okay, Candide! Fait comme tu veut.  Just don’t come crying to me afterwards. The problem with you Americans is you’re too romantic about France.  You think every waif you encounter wandering the quays has just stepped out of the pages of Les Miserables, is harboring the soul of Piaf, and is looking for a Marcel Cedran to protect her. And you don’t even like boxing.”

“Dans une vieux maison a Paree

Ont vecu  12 petites filles

dans deux etroite files.”

Filles,” (sniff), “doesn’t rhyme with files,” Emilie pointed out with nasally muted contentiousness before taking a sip of chicken soup with approximated matzo balls. Unable to find Manischevitz, I’d bought a box of matzo crackers (or pain d’azyme) imported from Oran — the Algerian city on a hill in which Camus had set “The Plague,” which hosted a large Jewish colony — and pulverized them to compose the body of the balls, pulling out the major gourmet artillery to lure Emilie to my petite coin de Paradis on the rue de Paradis when she’d wanted to cancel our rendez-vous, pleading an incipient cold. “I’ll make you a big pot of hot chicken soup with matzo balls.”

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

 “It’s like Jewish penicillin.”

 “You see? It’s like I told you, your Jewish genes are trés important to you.”

“It has nothing to do with my Jewish genes,” I insisted. “It’s my California roots. My father built one of the first Nouveau California Cuisine restaurants in San Francisco, and my mother did the cooking. The only difference is her matzo balls were made of whole wheat.”

Pourquoi pas tofu?”

“She was Old School Nouveau California Cuisine.”

“If I drink the soup, it will make me Jewish?” French humour often being more refined than American, I never knew whether Emilie was kidding.

“It won’t make you Jewish, but it might make you less blueish.” Getting no response – the “Yellow Submarine” film reference escaping her, or maybe she just didn’t get my own sense of humour – I added, “It might help your cold.”

Emilie was now perched primly on the futon with her delicate fingers clasped between her knees, looking thinner in a somber brown skirt over black tights, a light-weight tan pullover not helping her ghostly, wan pallor. In an effort to rally her spirits – the soup had only increased the sniffling, and I was having trouble charming her —  I’d pulled out my Madeline omnibus. Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline – the hero of a series of children’s stories set in Paris which no one in France has ever heard of, just as many have never heard of “The Red Balloon” — had been the obsession of Mimi Kitagawa, my childhood best friend who’d turned over in her crib on Liberty Street in San Francisco in 1964 at the age of three and a half and breathed her last breath. During a desperate late-night passage in Greenwich Village in 1997, reeling from a push-and-pull, now I love you, now I don’t relationship with an exotic modern dancer-contortionist and meandering up Broadway in search of salvation, I’d ended up at the Strand (“8 miles of books, millions of bargains”), where a copy of the Madeline collection had beckoned to me from a display shelf near the ceiling, which I took as a hail-Mary from Mimi, by then my guardian angel. Later, whenever the ameritune of past experience threatened to blind me to present possibilities, I’d try to let Mimi become the child taking over my perspective (in Californese: “I’d channel her”), and remind myself that I had a responsibility to live my life for two.

I was now (we’re back on the rue de Paradis, in October 2004) attempting to translate the first Madeline tale into French to make it legible for Emilie, or at least get a rise out of her with my maladroit bungling.

Filles,” Emilie was pointing out, “Is pronounced ‘fee’; files,” French for ‘lines,’ “is pronounced ‘feeel.’ So in fact, Monsieur Paul” – she looked up from the book to emphasize the point with her eyes – “they do not rhyme.” Seeing my deflated disappointment – and realizing I was doing my valiant best to distract her from the cold — she added, this time with a slight upturn to her lips and an accompanying humour in her eyes to indicate she was being ironic, “Et pour ma part, je commence a perdre le file,” the latter phrase meaning ‘lose the thread.’

Dans deux FEEEEEEEEEEEL etroites donc, ils ont coupé leur pain,” or broke their bread, I continued, “et ont lavé leurs teeth,” which I emphasized by pointing to Bemelmans’s simple sketch of the 12 girls aligned on either side of the orphanage dinner table brushing their teeth, “avant de se mis au LITH,” I concluded, adding the lisp to “lit,” the French word for ‘bed,’ to get the rhyme with ‘teeth.’

Turning the page to a double-spread demonstrating the girls’ attitudes towards, respectively, the forces of good and those of evil, I translated “They smiled before the good” as “Devant le bon, ils se sont rejoui” to get the rhyme with my translation of “and frowned on the bad“:  “Tandis que devant le mal, ils aviez que du mepris.

Pas mal,” Emilie admitted, finally smiling through the sniffles. “But I don’t understand why for the good he draws a picture of a rich woman feeding a carousel horse in front of les Invalides – “

“Maybe it’s Napoleon’s horse?” I offered feebly, Bonaparte’s ashes being stored at the army museum.

“And maybe you lead me to Waterloo! Et apres?”

I continued reading and translating until the page on which Madeline, after an emergency appendectomy, wakes up in a hospital room full of flowers.

Putting her thin fore-finger on one of the pictured vases, Emilie complained, “She gets all those flowers for her appendix, and you have nothing for me?”

Au contraire! So, my belle-mere has a boutique in San Francisco where she sells exotic soaps, shampoos, bubble-baths, and body oils.  It’s actually how she and my father met; her store was across the street from his restaurant.”

Ah bon?” This had spiked her interest, as I’d cleverly maneuvered food, perfume, and romantic rendez-vous  into the same sentence.

“My step-mom – er, belle-mere – actually has a French last name. So you could say I’m part French.”

She smiled, if just with her eyes.

“Anyway, I have something she sent me that I want to give you.” Even though I’d asked my step-mom to send me the wild rose body oil specifically for such an occasion, I was trying to casualize the gift so as to not scare Emilie away. Normally I’d pretend to pull such small packages out of my victim’s ear, but the last time I’d tried that trick (inherited from my grandpa in Miami Beach, a liquor salesman, who used to do it with pennies or his wide gold ring with the oval black stone), the recipient had shrieked, thinking I was plucking a bee out of her bonnet, dissipating the ambiance. So this time I merely pulled the present, enveloped in bubble-wrap, out of my pocket.

“It’s very sweet of you,” Emilie said after twisting the cap off the miniscule glass tube and taking a whiff, patting and looking down at my hand to avoid looking me in the eyes. “If you don’t mind I will save it for later, because it could make me sick if I put it on now with my cold.”

“Speaking of roses,” I said, jumping to the stereo to cue “La Vie en Rose,”  “Would Mademoiselle care to dance?” Looking up noncommittally at my offered hand, which at that moment felt to me like a gorilla’s, she tentatively placed her downy palm in mine  and rose with an effort. In theory, waltzing with a French girl to Piaf singing “La Vie en Rose” in my own Paris apartment on the rue de Paradis across the street from where Pissarro  and Morisot learned to paint from Corot should have felt like a dream fulfilled, but my predominant sensation as I strained my back over Emilie’s doll-like hunched shoulders was the memory of dancing with Jocelyn Benford at the Lowell High School 1976 sophomore dance (“I need someone to ride the bus home with,” Jocelyn had explained, counting on my junior high crush still lingering), our ersatz silk shirts sticking sweatily together, broken up only by the ridged outline of Jocelyn’s bra, as we rotated to Earth Wind & Fire singing “Reasons.” As this French girl and I spun slowly on Paradis, the rose light-bulb I’d switched on coronating the reflection of our faces in Sarah Bernhardt’s abalone encrusted beveled mirror with a velvet aureole, Emilie felt even more fragile and fleeting in my American grizzly-bear grasp than that long ago 14-year-old.