September 28, 2005


Thrilled to see an image I contributed to qarrtsiluni featured today under this month's theme: waiting for something to burst. This brilliant new site is "an experiment in online literary and artistic collaboration" and if you are a brilliant creator or appreciator, they want you. Go there.

The rest of the recent Paris photos are here.

I cannot fail to mention Cass Brown's book, just published. He giggles where others fear to tread and the laughter he provokes is a gift. If you know anyone who lives under the shadow of the big C, then you must give them a copy of this book. It is not a miracle cure. The miracle is that it was written.


September 27, 2005


That's the title of the book I read on the suburban train going to see ma tante. It was translated from English, or rather "traduit de l'Americain", so the original title was The Fourth Dimension (Rudy Rucker 1984). It had called to me from a bookstall along the quais like an old friend suddenly recognised in a crowd. Exactly the right book for this time, this place, these circumstances. Physics, cosmology, a touch of mysticism and maths and even some cartoony diagrams - my cup of tea with bells on.

Jamais je ne cesserai de vivre cet instant. Jamais cet instant ne cessera d'exister; cet instant a toujours existé.

Never will I cease to live this instant. This instant will never cease to exist; this instant has always existed.

Once the graffitti-scrawled outskirts of Paris are left behind, you are in the countryside. Fields of lettuce (or spinach? I am agriculturally challenged) behind neat, deserted country stations with strange names from another time:
Ecouen Ezanville...Sarcelles Saint Brice...Bouffemont Moisselles...Montsoult Maffliers...Deuil Montmagny...Groslay...Villaines...Belloy Saint Martin...
Can you believe that there are rows of empty shiny cars parked near such names, waiting for their owners to come home? I think the cars just go on waiting forever.

Three sisters, my mother Blanche, on the right.September 13 is the day they are supposed to move ma tante (known as Nenette though her name is Eugènie) to another medical establishment - a Long Séjour: euphemism for "abandon all hope of ever getting outta here" - about 40 kms away and that's why I've arrived, to accompany her and make sure she'll be looked after there. Her hospital is a characterless modern block plonked in the middle of a magnificent ancient park, once the estate of (probably guillotined) aristocrats whose fairy-tale palace, sometimes used as a film set, stands dilapidated at the end of a cobbled path entered through ornate wrought-iron gates. In contrast to the genteel and green decay of its surroundings, the hospital building is institutional brick, metal, concrete and plastic, greying, fraying and fading without grace. I go up the familiar ugly concrete staircase to the first floor and turn left along the corridor to room 133. An "ISOLATION" notice is pinned to the closed door, showing a graph: a line going straight down and at the bottom - I swear this is true- an emoticon. Circle face, two dots for eyes, mouth in downward curve. I push open the door and what I see hits me like a punch in the chest. A tiny person, my mother's sister, mouth open gasping grasping for air, wrists attached by straps to the metal bars of the bed, hands reaching out. Panic in her eyes, mere slits for eyes because the lids are so swollen, iodine-coloured lotion running out of the corners of the eyes down her cheeks. Breaths coming in short painful bursts, drowning breaths, heart-wrenching breaths, like sobs.

Three sisters in 1984. my mother in the middle, making a face.Trembling with furious anguish, I rush into the office down the hall where a nurse and the assistant doctor are chatting, oblivious. What I want to do is wring their necks but I realise that I must act rational.
"Have you seen the condition she is in? How can she possibly be moved today? She has been put in isolation because of infection so how can you think of moving her to a room which she will have to share with another person in Long Séjour? Why......" etc etc. I speak louder than is polite and I don't care. The assistant doctor, a sheepish smile stuck to his face, goes to have a look at Nenette but declares the decision is not his and I must speak to the Chief Doctor. They are all frightened of him because of his higher status.

Down and down the long brown corridor I go, searching for the Chief's door. I've met him before. He is Institutional Man personified. Information Age Man. In him, feeling has been replaced by information. He is a perfect specimen of artificial intelligence. Whatever I say, he counters with a snippet of medicalised information whether it's relevant or not and repeats it robotically, presuming I don't understand. Fearlessly I snap that he can stop repeating himself. The ambulance is due to arrive in half an hour to take away my aunt and I insist that he must check her condition NOW and phone the doctor in charge at the other place to cancel the move. He gestures at all the papers on his desk - what a busy Chief he is! - and tells me he'll be along, soon. I go and sit with Nenette. She is too distressed to know I'm there and I'm too enraged to be a soothing presence.

Later, the ambulance is cancelled. The doctor at the Long Séjour does not want my aunt transferred in her present condition. The transfer is postponed for a week at least. Chief Doctor Artificial shrugs his Gallic shoulders at my protests that not only must I cancel my return ticket to London, but had it not been for my presence, he would have sent my aunt off and not bothered to check if she was fit to travel. He admits nothing. I resolve to write a letter of complaint to the hospital director though I know it will have no effect whatsoever.

Another six days go by. I am enthralled by La Quatrième Dimension. I have vivid dreams. I visit the Musée d'Orsay and take some photos (the rest are on this page).

Artful  marble anguish.

Emergency exit, roof terrace, Musée d'Orsay

I walk around the Quartier Latin and go into bookshops and cafes. Most of the galleries are showing African art, there's a festival. Some of the masks, swollen slits for eyes and gaping mouths, are just like my aunt's agonized face. As the soul departs, the mask simplifies.
Reflected in gallery window.



In the église Saint Germain des Près (I have good memories stored there) I light a candle and pray for Nenette to be released. When I go back and visit her, there's not much change. On September 19th I'm with her again from 1:15 to 3:30 pm and she seems a tiny bit better. Her eyes follow me, recognise me. I talk to her but she can't respond. Some of her breaths are loud groans. By the time I get back to Paris it's after 6pm and there's a message on the answering machine to call the hospital. When you are kept on hold at this hospital's number what you hear is Satchmo croaking:

I see skies of blue...clouds of white...and I say to myself...waddawonderful world.....

The ironic, teasing note in Louis' voice says that he knows (though they surely don't) that this is the most inappropriate song a hospital could possibly use as their telephone musak. Artificial intelligence at work again.

When I finally get through, I'm told that Nenette died at 5:45 pm.

I breathe for you a deep sigh of relief, ma petite tante chèrie. Gone to the Fourth Dimension. Or the fifth, the sixth. Infinity, if you prefer.
Aunt & uncle in 1994





The funeral is efficient, dignified and quick. Nenette saw to it. She had made all arrangements and paid for everything in advance years ago. She didn't want religion or pomp or circumstance. Just a nice coffin, lowered into a family grave. It is already inhabited by the remains of her parents (my maternal grandparents, JuJu and Constant), her husband Georges (AKA Robert) her sister Alice and Alice's man, Albert. My mother and father's bones are not there, they are resting in a London cemetery. Here's a photo of my French grandparents at their house in Arcueil, a Paris suburb.

I leave for home. As the Eurostar pulls in to Waterloo station, there's a stunning four-dimensional sunset. All is at peace.

Sunset from the train, London.



Just got back from Paris tonight - or rather last night. My aunt died on Sept.19. I'll be blogging again in a couple of days.


September 7, 2005


Cover of the original book.

Taking God for a walk is proving a bit complicated because of where I chose to go. Foolish me. To keep you thinking in the meantime, I've scanned another of the early Gabriel Books on this page. It's a very long one so scroll down nice and slow and have a cup of tea while you wait. I've discovered liquorice tea, excellent with honey (the excellent Surrey honey which Jean gave me).

On Sunday I have to go to Paris again for a week so I doubt I'll be posting here before I come back. But I might wave hello from the Other Blog when I'm in Paname. My Auntie, still hanging in there but only just, is being transferred to another hospital and I want to be there.


September 3, 2005


A poem of mine (The River) and a painting I did in San Antonio, Paraguay, which was the inspiration for it, appear today on The Middle Westerner as part of Tom Montag's Saturday Poem series. Neither the poem or the painting are recent but I am elated that Tom accepted to feature them on his four-star (ie top class, top-drawer, high quality) site. Here is someone I so admire for choosing a path for his blog to explore and sticking to it, and in so doing finding his own voice and all the variety of material that anyone could hope for. I need to learn from such single-mindedness and a quality that is, essentially, humility. It's arrogant and deluded to think that anything you have to say about everything is worth saying, just because it's you who's saying it (not that this is ever my attitude. Of course not). Back to cultivating my corner of the universe.


Trying to think... Am working on No.15 which is a long and complicated one so please amuse yourselves in the meantime by trying to imagine where it is that I will be taking Gd in the next installment.

No prizes for the correct guess except gasps of astonishment at your perspicacity, intuition, etc. I doubt that anyone will come up with the right answer but it's also possible that everyone will.

I was about to write something sorrowful and angry about the situation in New Orleans and the whole post-Katrina disaster area but it's all been said better elsewhere and besides, what good would my words do? Isn't it better to focus on what I can do best and to try do it with all the love I can muster, here in my small corner of the universe?

My anger at the corruption, injustice, deceit, incompetence and stupidity which neglects the poorest and weakest whilst lavishing rewards on the powerful will not help those who need help. All it does is let off steam and make me feel better, gives me the illusion that I am contributing to the solution. Anger is not compassion and compassion is not a well-phrased blog post.