Peregrination: Health, Safety & Comfort

Khadijah Queen

July 1, 2019

Notes on a high-speed train

Out of St. Pancras, industrial—buildings, cars, goods in storage and process,

trees and power lines, utility poles lining the view from the tracks.

In France: VINS ET COMPAGNE painted in white on a green building with green

roof, I think. Looked like a barn, in a field—

Then, countryside. Then peeking at towns through gates and trees;

I love the cypress sentinels.

Then, wind farms, busses and trucks on highways (motorways?). We approached

the wild edge of Paris with its unruly trees, shrubs, an almost hidden stone staircase

thinning down to the tracks. Approaching the city, graffiti begins. Samples:

NONE

C’EST TON SPORT

NAMASTE

July 2, 2019

Paris. The word evokes romance, history, art, refinement, aspiration, poetry, architecture. First impression upon stepping off the Eurostar from clean, organized, polite London: chaos. Even the fashion got wilder. The folks got more neon-coiffed and leopard-habited the closer we got to St. Pancras, true, but Gare du Nord took that tendency to an explosive level. If London is a tidier version of New York City, Paris is a grittier one. Greeted by a dark and lowbrow commercial vibe, taxi hawkers in acid-washed jeans and American style t-shirts, homeless folks and heavily armed soldiers, my son (who’d just woken up) felt completely off-kilter. Another factor: cigarette smoke is everywhere, its own kind of pollution—and my son is asthmatic. Once we found our Uber, with a Cameroonian driver who drove us expertly in his blue Mercedes through winding streets that made no sense to us at all, we rode mostly silently to our digs for the night—just a five-minute walk from the Louvre, ten from the Seine, overwhelmed by the sheer color and density and aliveness, outsized and insistent.

Figure 8: Soldier outside Gare du Nord, Paris, July 1, 2019

July 4, 2019

Paris

It’s over 30 degrees Celsius—too hot to do anything, and we’ve moved to Mark and Ashley’s place on the edge of the 10th arrondissement. There is no AC. Pet care—Judy and Roberta are adorable, but large and busy rabbits—is more work than I expected with the hay-changing and lettuce wrangling, and especially trying to keep Judy from eating all the lettuce before Roberta can get any. I can’t open the windows wide enough for the air to do anything good, because France doesn’t believe in screens, and I don’t feel like chasing black moths, curious pigeons and horseflies out of the apartment again. Not to mention the cigarette smoke wafting upward from the street. Tomorrow we are going to DARTY (a big box French electronics store) to get two more fans instead of going to museums.

The thing about living in a Parisian apartment is that you live like a local, which means errands. I also need to do laundry, but the washer in the apartment is blocked by the rabbit cage and it takes a lot of finagling to get it going. I think I’m just going to wash the same shirt out by hand and switch out pants every other day. I still have clean dresses I can wear until the 11th. And oh, the stairs; there are five flights. When we go out, I am definitely going to spring for Uber and Kapten, because the metro is too hot and there’s far too much walking for folks with disabilities and anxiety. Yet again I wish public consideration of each other mattered more than money. On the way to Versailles yesterday, my son had an awful migraine—grabbing his head and moaning until a busker came aboard the metro. The soft trumpeting soothed him, distracting from the harsh lighting and crush of noise and physical press of the crowd. We might take a bus or two, we’ll see. The buses are nice. Then again, a private ride is probably safest.  

July 8, 2019

Paris

After our initial culture shock at Gare du Nord, we’ve adapted rather quickly to the pace of Paris, and will be sad to leave. Busy days—exploring gardens and museums, lingering in cafes and riding in Kaptens and Ubers to save our energy and my bad leg, planning the next excursion and eating too many croissants (if one can eat too many!)—are balanced by afternoon naps and days spent totally in the apartment, which is finally no longer an oven thanks to the second fan and lower temperatures. 

The people here have been wonderful—not at all rude as I was warned they might be. I feel fortunate to know the language passably enough, and when I falter, most folks can help me to reach a clearer understanding with their English. I’ve only done a little writing and I’ve decided it is enough to make whatever I get to make: a paragraph or two, half a drawing, a sentence as each arrives. The work of beauty interests me more lately, and Paris is the perfect place to investigate that, and even though I defend my dissertation in October, I refuse to be in a hurry. I started at the former studio of the painter Eugène Delacroix, now the Musée National Eugène Delacroix, who wrote the following in his journal upon moving there:

Mon logement est décidément charmant (...). Réveillé le lendemain en voyant le soleil le plus gracieux sur les maisons qui sont en face de ma fenêtre. La vue de mon petit jardin et l’aspect riant de mon atelier me causent toujours un sentiment de plaisir. (28 décembre 1857)

His happiness at just being surrounded by sun and blooms and, of course, the accoutrements of his beloved profession, seems to hold such a genuine and deep connection to his practice. That runs counter to the idea that artists need conflict, contrast, difficulty to produce compelling work. Certainly we use those things, but what if what we need is ease, beauty, a peaceful and safe place to reflect and create? Today much is made of writing retreats, but not everyone can access them. I’ve had to turn down several over the past eight years due to not being able to do the amount of walking required, or it occurred during my son’s school year, or the costs were burdensome. I stopped applying in 2014, and worked to make my home the kind of retreat Delacroix described. 

July 9, 2019

When I was hired as a visiting professor at CU in fall 2017, I bought new furniture: blue velvet sofa and loveseat, tufted nailhead linen headboard, forest green secondhand Adirondack chairs for the patio. I bought new pots and pans: copper and stainless steel, my first full matching set, and I threw out or gave away the hand-me-downs and TJ Maxx singles I’d amassed and dragged across six states. I bought new linens: 1,000 thread count white sheets, the softest I’ve ever slept on, now stained in a couple of places with ink like the rest, despite my best efforts not to fall asleep with a pen in my hand. I also bought a reversible duvet, white with a soft grey-olive branch pattern, delicate and beautiful, striped in the same colors on the other side.

But I love to write in new places as much as I do in the comfort of my apartment, with the nearness of my books, the organization of my closet, the depth of my bathtub with its built-in neck support, the fountain in the courtyard that I can view from my third-floor patio. I appreciate home all the more for having left it, and I started to write that I am lucky enough to have a replica of that comfort when I do travel, but I have earned this comfort. And more than that, I require it in order to do my best work. It feels amazing to realize that, and to have arrived at this stage of my writing, my living, my mothering. Mothering is never far from my creative process, and now, with my mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia, daughtering will return with more force, soon. [1]

Next year I might need to move again. She might have to stay with me if we can’t find her her own place. The peacefulness I’ve constructed might be shattered then; my mother is not easy or at ease. Her negativity can stun even my son, whose close relationship with her I’m afraid might be complicated by the way she regresses into past decades without warning. Afraid, might, fear, anxiety. Worry creeps in like the insistent blare of horns in Paris traffic when a fire truck tries to get through. Since I cannot refuse the worry, I wait for it to pass.

 


[1] After hearing her talk of the following title at DU in 2017, introducing her and being on a panel with her last year, and of course reading her other work, I am looking forward to more from Alexis Pauline Gumbs on her concept, “Visionary Daughtering: An Intimate Intellectual and Activist Archive.”