1. THE SEINE
From outside of Paris the Seine is a
simple French river, more interesting to look at for a ship
communication. In Paris, the Seine is a sentimental requirement;
Without it, one can not imagine, either the history of the city, or
the biography of its inhabitants.
Not to mention the poet ... how could
poetry exist without a little boiling water? But even an ordinary
bourgeoisie with a hard hat and swollen little whiskers often
by the bridge to look at the water for a long time. He can, of
course, explain that this is how he unloads goods from a boat, or
how dogs are washed, but you do not have to believe him. He usually
looks into the Seine.
The banks of the river are covered by
an entire row of bookseller stalls. Originally people used to stroll
along the banks, apparently looking at the books. Here one does not
sell complete sets of journals and works of long-forgotten writers.
This does not correspond to the surrounding landscape. An amateur of
dust and of dreams, whining of pain:
-- It lacks the eleventh part!
For a while it seems
to him, without a doubt, that the eleventh volume is the
most interesting. He shakes off the dust and
continues on his way.
Old women sell the books. They themselves are like
non-adapted bands of forgotten and useless history.
If one of them was
shaken like that, she would tell about love under
the chestnut trees, about the armament of Paris,
about Anatole France, about golden louis (an old
French coin). But it is better not to shake them:
they are full of dust and can easily die.
It all starts with
steps: Everything begins with ascents; on the stairs
sleep the poor; they sleep on stone as if they were on
fluff. Most of them like to get under the bridges:
it is cool in the summer and you can hide out there
from the rain. In the darkness the shadows move;
some people like the bridge of Auteil (Pont Auteil),
another -- the Pont Alexandre III. One cannot
distinguish any eyes in the darkness. Life here
consist of various sounds: the barking sounds of a
dog, cursing, whining, quarreling ...
The Parisian bridges,
the old and the new, with the clamor of the metro --
connecting both banks; the Stock Exchange with the Académie, Les Halles and the Sorbonne (University).
They have various names. Some people travel from
place to place,
others are strollers who dream. From below, they are
all alike: they are hidden in silence, under the
bridges near those who have no strength to cross
onto the side of the shore.
Fishermen can be seen
on the stone bridges. These are the greatest
amateurs of the Seine. They even speak about the
virtues of various worms that are used to catch fish. Or about the
success of one Dipon (Dipon caught a pike.
"Here it is!"). In reality, however, they are not
interested in fish at all. They only see fish at
fishmongers. They remain here for hours at a time,
looking incessantly at the inconspicuous heel of the
fishing rod. Often, looking like this in water, they
Not far from the
fishermen are people who are standing around, yet
are far from being "static." A vagabond washes his
pants. Two women come here to refresh themselves.
They do not lose any time: One makes a dress for the
other. And here, on a stone bridge, in the very
center of Paris, she measures it.
The steps that lead to the
Seine, this is not a fixed number of steps; This is
head-scratching and human fate. The need makes you
go down, the love too. Those who love Paris know the
damp fog that rises over the Seine, the short
melancholy cries of the small boats and the
trembling of shadows. The lovers kiss each other,
locking themselves in the barrier; they glide down
the stairs, they hide under the bridge arch, and no one
wonders at all.
The Seine has yet
other admirers. These, however, do not count the
steps of the ascent. They stay on the bridge and
then fall like a stone into the water. Who will be
able to explain why they chose the cold water,
instead of the rope or the gas pipe? They throws
themselves [into the Seine] because of hunger, another because
of unrighteousness, a third because of love.
Before the war people
used to come here from a very early age to look at
the mortuary that was here on the shore. They
admired the fanatics of the Seine, blue and swollen.
Now people have other pastimes: They have already
tasted death. Suicides are waiting to be buried
regularly, the place of death is in the earth, not
in the water; it's hygienic and calm. In this,
however, the Seine is not guilty. It is a river,
like all rivers. It is also a door. The door was
left open. People go through this door ... The
drops fall into the depths of the sand. And at the
same time, dreamers continue to haunt the shores.
For a historian the names of the
Paris streets are quite a rarity: To passers-by, however, this is
simple humor of a bad kind. When on the Rue de la Santé (Health
Street), one finds two hospitals and one jail; on the rue du
Roi-Doré (the gilded king) the rag-pickers quarrel, and on the
Boulevard [de la] Chapelle there are madams and bordellos.
The Parisian beggars street is called
Belleville. It is like a cluster of streets, so entangled that no
pedestrian or draftsman would be able to disentangle it.
These streets possess entirely
smelling names: "Rue des Acasias," "Rue des Amandie," "Rue des
Églantine." [However] Dampness, sweat and garbage are felt here.
Belleville exists on a descending
slope: stairs and vertically straight steps, and street bridges.
This is the romanticism of domestic romance, and also the
romanticism of a sound film in which there appears silhouettes of
"Parisian nights," of "Love in Paris," or of "Secrets of Paris."
So as in every other area of Paris,
there are in Belleville shiny streets with illuminated
show-windows, cafés, mannequins laid out with a smile and
multi-colored hats. A pig's head framed in a wreath of paper roses.
The cafés try to be as ambitious as they can to invite the
customers. "A gift will be given to every user," "A newly renovated
premises," "Every Saturday -- famous jazz" ... "A cup of champagne
-- one franc" ...
the champagne, smiling at the pig's head, just as they would
greet the mannequins. Then they go off in the direction where the
acacias and the almonds should be in full bloom. There it is dark
and empty. Buckets of dirty water and potato peelings are brought
out of the houses; Children making their needs. In the houses it is
even narrower. Life goes on there along the shores like a lot of water in a
well, with lukewarm water pouring out curses and tears.
Wise leaders would
be able to show these houses to the American
tourists. A dark courtyard under a small
half-dilapidated turret, toilets in front of the
entire house. A water faucet, rising,
A street of Jews without money.
They would like to say -- a fragment of a Warsaw ghetto. A street of
"cities," Pollacks, Italians, Spanish, furnished rooms and
yet the sad poetry of names: "Hotel des Acasia," "Hôtel de Pékin,"
"Hotel de L'Ocean." The small rooms are brimming with bugs and
children: the housewife with the bass voice and unpaid rent money,
the life of constantly waiting for the pay, accompanied by quarrels
with the neighbors, with the sounds of sirens; it is time to go to
On Saturday they go to the theatre
or to the movies, just like one would walk into a bathroom.
Favorites," a realistic drama, tickets are two
However, do not
believe everything: the "realistic drama" is
very legitimate realism and the masking of human
suffering. One of the "favorites" is a big lady.
She was left out, and the author stamped her for
it. The other is the daughter of an unemployed
person, and the composer is ready to cry over
The darling of
Belleville is the old actor Monteus, who many
years ago was a good Christian and epicurean, an
apostle of forsaking God and a stubborn
patriot, who knows more than anyone else about
all the dreams and all the secrets of the
crowded, entangled streets. He himself wrote
this play -- and today he has become a Marat. He
wears a red blouse and unmasks the heroes. The
audience agrees with enthusiasm. Lovely ears get
well-groomed words and an orange-peel;
Belleville lets out their anger. Finally the
gentlemen are unmasked. The "people's friend"
exits, accompanied by applause: he is greeted in
an old-fashioned manner. The orchestra plays the
fox trot. The young women quickly powder their
faces to cover their tears.
streets swirl; Here the audience exits the
theatre and cinema. In the midst of the rubbish,
hideous and disgusting cats let out a cry.
Up there, like
some idiotic lantern, there hangs a golden moon
over dark Belleville.