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Summer Heat and Other News

Note! This post belongs in july. At one point I deleted it because I thought it was silly – when I brought it back I managed to file it in the wrong month.

Aix is a heavy, humid hot. Our one-room apartment gets no respite from the open window, just a little levity from the voices down below and the distant chatter, clank of forks and music from the hub of small tables that fill the Place des Cardeurs, to which the far end of our crooked alley, Rue Venel, opens. In the evening, sometime around 9pm, the starlings will start up their chirp and the music will loud, and the laughter will hum, and the aged stucco wall from the apartments twelve feet across from us will glow a silver blue-violet. With the excuse of going to pick up a bottle of water or a baguette, I’ll often walk out in the evenings to catch a drift of its life, looking for a dream to happen – maybe a person to bump into, or to catch a glimpse of lamplight in some corner of old buildings and trees in space.

A view from the Place des Cardeurs just down the road might be my favorite. I turn the corner of narrow Rue Venel and arrive at this big square of open-air restaurants succeeding down an incline like an amphitheater, bordered by narrow, colored apartments that, in an upside-down trapezoid, hug a big sky. Framing the light and clouds as its backdrop, it makes a theater for the buzz of people around the bars and tables and steps. Sit there long enough and something will happen.

Thursday night, for example, a week ago. Maureen – who recently filled in Hilary’s empty spot as my roommate – and I installed ourselves on those wide steps below the restaurants with glasses of wine in hand that we brought from the apartment. Just to sit and take in the night. After four stagnant weeks of free time in between the summer and semester sessions I was, in short, in need of an outing. Of course I can’t forget the sweet bites of those weeks – John’s birthday dinner and the visit of Hil’s parents, the dinners, the playing frizbee in the Place, the nighttime pool sneak-in, the visits to Emily’s WWOOF farm in Celony, babysitting in Tholonet the studio-cleaning and semester-planning, the painting sessions. But with enough leisure time, desires for work or life had accumulated more quickly than action could account for, and the best I could do was to get outside where things were happening – as if to mount an amusement-park ride to be tossed around without will.

For a while we strung out our legs and talked about life, as people tend to do, in the meantime tapping our toes to the music of a few happy guitarists from a table behind us. Streetlight cast its static glow on talkers and drinkers and laughers. Inevitably, some mysterious drunk-ish people, hearing English, approached us – one little white-haired guy who wanted so badly to speak English like a southern cali beach bum, and another younger guy who also slurred his words, but in French, and came to show us pictures of the robots he had made. In time we accumulated a pair of happy brothers named Moustafa and King-Sol. King-Sol smiled and laughed and sang a Sengali phrase (boo-yaka boo-yaka) that meant “boiling” for when anything was saucy or funny or good or in any way notable, or when the conversation stalled an ounce. Basically, we all went to a dance club called Bar Sextius, encountered another slew of characters and in short, called it a night.

A week later, last night, I went back to the same bar with the new crop of bright, friendly summer students – who already restore a levity and numinousness to this place which in that interval of unstructured alone time had become something of a palimpset for my circular patterns of thought. We had spent a glorious Saturday looking at architecture in the Luberon Valley and at the Abbey de Cenac – another story – and, though most of us were probably tired we had energy enough to go out and stay out late (one could blame it on the restorative quality of great architecture). I got to share with them a restaurant in town, got to show them the Place des Cardeurs, got to bring us to Bar Sextius. We danced. I saw King-Sol again (boo-yaka boo-yaka) and he told me again that one must laugh (il faut rigoler!) in life, and not to worry, ever.

On some morning painting session, with paintbrush in hand, I will hold to TS Eliot’s notion that the emotion of art is impersonal (that it is formal and not sentimental). Lately I’ve been trying to make my words follow suit. But here lately I’ve been jonesing to record whenever possible – to write without poetry or to draw childish caricatures of the people I know and the places I go just because I love them a whole lot. I want to paint the view from the Place des Cardeurs and to take photos of all the places I go everyday and write every memory down. Because lord knows life here is rich, and as the end comes into view I fear letting the colors of any one of these nights fade into memory’s gray.

 

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