Paris Dispatches is the blog of ArtSlant's Georgia Fee Artist in Residence, Brett Day Windham, who will be undertaking her residency in Paris during January and February 2015. She will be using the blog to share her process, work, and experience throughout the residency. You can find more information about ArtSlant's Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency here.
“...People complaining my letters not describing streets. As they used to. Clothes. Facades. In every little detail. I being increasingly caught up. In rhythm of trajectory.”
—Gail Scott, My Paris
As I become a little more used to living in Paris, it is taking more effort to stay sharp. I rattle around in the wee hours in this charming old apartment, which I share with communes of mice and a nocturnal man upstairs. I am accustomed, a bit, to living in a half-spoken second language. I am still experiencing moments of feeling physically overwhelmed by history, by beauty, and by being gently in love with very old Parisians quietly going about their lives.
I have been walking, collecting objects, tracing them dutifully into my notebooks, recording my steps. I have been deeply considering what constitutes a flâneur, and whether Paris might still occasionally reduce me to acting like a badaud, (a gaper, unaware of their person) or une glaneuse (a gleaner, collecting totems on the street), or whether I might be an armed flâneuse* (on the street with my camera) à la Susan Sontag.** I will come back to these archetypes and more ideas of flânerie in my next post. Meanwhile, I have been wandering further and further afield, changing my shoes daily, trying to keep my good eye keen.
In the interest of details, here are some street sketches, with intermittent mittens.
A distressed older woman in black sheer stockings and rubber flip-flops
standing in the doorway,
fussing with her keys
on Rue Magenta.
A man in the park with his pants down,
causing me to turn back in haste,
on the long narrow path to Jardin Paul Didier.
A woman in a long pleated vinyl skirt
dawdling on the narrow sidewalk in front of me
on Rue Poitou.
A Sunday morning drunk
staggering in search of trouble
at Chatelet/Les Halles.
A bow-legged old man
on Rue de Rivoli,
whose stride formed a perfect arc.
Korean tourists at Versailles,
moving en masse and
experiencing splendor only through their lenses.
Four teenagers sitting in a crosslegged diamond,
playing cards on the middle of the sidewalk
on Rue Saint-Paul.
Intensely beautiful French-African ladies
in bright red lipstick and black sweaters
presiding over the beauty counters
in the Galeries Lafayette.
Impossibly Privileged American Girls
discussing in baby voices
which countries they would “do” on school break,
over an early dinner of galettes —with no cheese—in the Marais.
A pale giant in black trench and fedora,
his huge right hand swinging like a violent pendulum
in the morning on Pont Marie.
One leg seemed wooden.
Fully outfitted, leathered-up Germans
on gleaming, unscathed Triumph motorcycles
begging our admiration at Place Madeleine.
My own reflection—unrecognizable for a moment—
in a mirrored window
on Rue de la Lune.
* “The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world 'picturesque.'” ―Susan Sontag, On Photography
** Note: Susan Sontag is buried at Montparnasse, not far from Simone de Beauvoir or Serge Gainsbourg. I visited each of them on a bitter day a few weeks ago, when I became convinced that I would never see the sun again. Tour Montparnasse rose up over the beautiful old cemetery like a power-mad tyrant, and my hands turned a blotchy white from the cold.
Brett Day Windham (born Cambridge, England, raised Providence, Rhode Island) is a multidisciplinary artist working with sculpture, installation and collage. You can find the full list of blog posts from her Paris residency here.
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