Monday, July 12, 2010

Harold Jaffe's Paris 60, part 5

In the final excerpt to appear on this blog, our wanderer (Harold Jaffe) spends an evening being civilized by a family of Parisians.

4.15 Deep River

Listening to Vivaldi's Stabat Mater on my iPod as I reprise yesterday evening with new friends.

This version of Stabat Mater features the Japanese contralto Naoko Ihara, which in turn reminds me of the Japanese Christian Shusaku Endo's last novel Deep River, about a group of Japanese pilgrims traveling to the holy Hindu city of Varanasi.

It is the homely, seemingly misbegotten Japanese who makes the final offering, carrying the dead and dying "untouchables" to the River Ganges so their immolated ashes might merge with those who came before and were yet to come.

Ynez and Guillaume Deveraux live in a spacious apartment on the top floor of a Haussmann-era building directly across from the Montparnasse Cemetery.

The apartment was donated rent-free for as long as Ynez continued her employment as manager in the state-run Ministry of Health.

Her husband Guillaume is an artist with a cramped studio in the apartment.

At my request he shows me electronic representations of his work -- impressive abstracts which resemble both Action Painting and the calligraphic paintings of Mark Tobey, who studied Buddhism in Japan.

They have two daughters, Celeste 11, and Marie-Jeanne 3. Celeste has Down syndrome and is a grand mal epileptic, though she hasn't suffered a seizure in nearly a year.

I meet Ynez for the first time downstairs by the elevator, 7:30 PM.

Slender, attractive, somewhat tense, she is only now returning from her job; I am the invited guest.

When we arrive in the apartment, Marie-Jeanne runs to greet her mother then stops as she looks up at the large stranger.

I stoop low to greet her and she kisses me on both cheeks.

Ynez then goes to the sofa in front of the bay window where Celeste is sprawled with her head turned to the side and the foot of a rubber doll in her mouth.

Ynez sits and takes Celeste in her arms, whispering tenderly to her.

I sit on the same sofa.

Guillaume enters, shakes my hand, kisses Ynez, smoothes Celeste's hair, then picks up the three-year-old who is staring at me with a wild surmise.

Guillaume pours the red wine but Ynez is still caressing and whispering to Celeste.

Meanwhile, Marie-Jeanne has carried over her small, red and gold tin box and is making offerings to me.

She places a tiny pink bead in my palm, then an orange ribbon, then a chestnut, a silver bead, a very small bit of jade, another ribbon, a feather.

She delivers them one by one, carefully selecting from her box.

She has created an impressive still-life in my wide palm.

After nearly an hour of quiet talking, Celeste, who had not even turned her head to me, suddenly leans all her weight on me, reaches back and takes my hand which she grasps firmly.

Noting this, Marie-Jeanne settles her tiny self on my knee.

Ynez smiles.

She, the mother, looks lovely and weary.

The late sun slanting through the bay window lights her eyes and forehead.

This is the last of the Paris 60 excerpts - to appear on this blog, that is. If you would like to read more excerpts from this amazing collection, go to his website and click the word "docufiction."

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