a walk and some rough prose from Paris

Sartre's Grave at the Montparnasse cemetery, Paris

I am sure she was Korean, from the face, though I won't tell you how I tell a Korean from the face. She had asked someone to take a picture of her and soon as that was done she hurried on, pulling her roll-on luggage, a notebook in the other hand, on which she had the numbers of the graves of her heroes, and the lot numbers where to find them. I went to the tombstone that had attracted her: Samuel Becket's. Another man reached it in step with me, and we looked on meditatively and I wondered what the other man's thoughts were, whereas in that silence our thoughts should have heard one another.

I had been unsuccessfully searching for Guy Du Maupassant's grave, bearing number 87 on lot 26. I could read on stone and plaster the years of birth and death, and endearments, but not their allotted number anywhere round them, so I gave up and began to wander, merely happy to be in this place which was nicer than a park, and doing that was good too, when I bumped into names I've heard, and names of some whom I've read, when their tombs were in easy corners, such as Eugene Ionecso's. Up from Becket's grave a man had sat on a bench and closed his eyes and gone inward. Down from Jean Paul Sartre's grave a second man was meditating on a bench. I couldn't tell the vocation of these people from their demeanor, but they'd been deeply moved, as also was I. Some others before us had been so moved as to be overwhelmed, as I could see on the tombstone for Sartre, on which large lips had printed red kisses. But the kisses could as well have been for Simone de Beauvoir who shares the grave with him. On their stone-bed flowers and wreaths grew in number from when I entered to when I left the Cimetière du Montparnasse.

From the cemetery I walked across to the Blvd du Montarnasse, where a gay pride march had passed, leaving behind it confetti and handbills and plastic and glass and spills of liquor. I caught up with the tail of the march, and joined the tourists and students taking pictures of people dancing on double-decker floats, some of those people so good looking, it seemed a pity they had denied themselves to their opposite sex. Because I am now grown up, I don't chide myself any more when such thoughts come. I took some pictures, got quickly bored, and went into the Le Closerie des Lilas behind me, which café was what I had come to experience.

They still have some tables which are small and square as noted in Hemingway's book; and some small round ones, and rectangular ones only slightly bigger. On the first table I took, inside, a small brass plate had Edward Munch etched on it. Which was Hemingway’s table? His plate was on the bar, behind which, to a side on the wall were pictures of Hemingway. I ordered for a cappuccino, feeling good and feeling embarrassed at feeling good, because my mind pressed its logic, telling me the man spent time here ninety years ago, and the experience I thought I was having isn't even a memory, it is only a notion of experiencing a writer, who can really be experienced only in his books. But I cannot deny it. I was happy the few moments I spent there.

And when I opened to read A Moveable Feast (restored edition) the page marker was on the chapter on Ford Maddox Ford, with Le Closerie des Lilas right there in the first sentence. And on this afternoon, the restaurant seemed the regular place that Hemingway considered it, because I had been to his others haunts—Lipp’s and Magots—on previous days and had been turned off by the crowds at Magots looking out into Blvd St. Germain and rue Bonaparte, and the stiff clientele at Lipp’s sitting well within the place on Blvd St. Germain. Both had seemed unwelcome to an Indian already challenged as a vegetarian, the waiters in Magots harried and those in Lipp’s too staid, and the guests somehow seeming ultra wealthy.

When I came out, after taking as much time at the bar that I could with a second order of sparkling water, I forgot to look for Ney's statue that Hemingway writes about, because my went to how the city had gotten to work on the parade of the gays. Minutes after the gays had passed the cleaner trucks were hosing down the streets, a small army of cleaners were blowing the mess from the sidewalk into the main street for the trucks to suck in, in a coordinated action that removed the memory of the march from the street. As I watched their tempo increased, and the cleaners became the tail of the procession, to which were attached now many more tourists, students, cheering shop assistants, and other humans on the rue St. Michel. Seeing the numbers in the Latin Quarter rising up to the cause of the gays, the reluctance of the world’s legislators to legalize their preference appeared completely out of step. But there is a gap between the action of the mind in places like the Latin Quarter and the pursuant action of the limb in legislatures.

For good time I stood and watched the frenzy of the cleaners in the rear, working with disregard to the revelers who on their part danced with complete disregard to the cleaners. After the evening, in the morning, the gays had made their point which you could read in the papers, whereas the streets of Montparnasse and the Latin Quarter began to bubble all over again for another new day. The sun was shining when I began a fresh walk from my hotel on rue Danton, and Paris shone just as much, her light from her own engines.

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