Paris Memories


Day of the Oyster Shell 

Here as I sit at this empty café thinking of you
I remember all those moments lost in wonder
That we'll never find again.
Though the world is my oyster
It's only a shell full of memories
And here by the Seine Notre-Dame casts a long lonely shadow.

— “A Song for Europe,” Bryan Ferry, 1973

Here as I sit in this busy Starbucks thinking

of all those lost to drink and drug

lying beneath the loam and cedar plank

unable even to scent the pungent air

or see the bubbles frothing at the winking brim,

I remember all the suitcases

the shells full of memories

once laden with Red Lebanese

that my brother brought down with Chester

from the port of Amsterdam —

which makes me think of my dad in Paris

whistling the Jacques Brel tune 

Dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y’a des marins qui dansent

my father the lawyer, unfazed by the sailors 

En se frottant la panse / Sur la panse des femmes

mutely horrified by Chester of the pink John Lennon glasses and pony tail,

“Wait a minute Chester” of the Texan drawl and the Starship drugs 

that flew us in Hyperdrive over Strawberry Fields

on little brown pyramids of LSD

Chester, Lord of the Hallucinatory Intoxicants, here pictured on a previous occasion in one of the low-lying chairs in my brother’s 7th-floor den of iniquity, his chambre de bonne marocaine, mixed with pungent Gauloises. Liberté Toujours

chester and ryc cropped for rycspace.jpg

Voilà Chester of the Heliopolis Heavens, lighting up a hashish-laden roach

(as we hovered above the orange lava lamp)

for the benefit of an enfant terrible with a motocross t-shirt

innocent no doubt as the driven snow;

Chester of the tiny brown pyramids 

that flew us into space at exactly one million kilometres an hour

champs 2.jpg

those little brown pyramids of Ancient Egypt that arced us above la belle ville

with its SNCF workers and grungy Edith Piaf dance halls

and that at the end of the day brought us back like Timothy Leary

to the end of the day in the life of the traffic circle

from Étoile down the incandescent shops and newspaper stands 

of the Elysian Fields, now buzzing at a lower frequency

champs 1 2.jpg

till we reached Rue de Berri and our friendly little Berri Bar amid the construction sites — to douse our gutted senses in the drowning stars of Artois

Dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y’a des marins qui meurent
Pleins de bière et de drames / aux premières lueurs

A Day in the Life

Like any good little canadien je me souviens that day. For me, it started by climbing six flights of stairs to my brother’s room on the 7th floor, where at nine in the morning I found him in the arms of an African-American woman. Later that afternoon she led us down the steps of the Georges V metro

our wits sharpened as time and space allowed

following this slipperiest of black rabbits

through the underground metropolitan

as she high-jumped the turnstile and ran onto a first class train

without even a second-class ticket

all three of us now high as kites drawn downward from the skies

and holding the strings tightly in our fists pounding through Les Halles

screeching to a halt at Châtelet

where we went up a gopher hole on a mission;

our pupils wide open

we took in the solar inclination of the sky

as we crossed the river and then burrowed down again

this time into Plato’s Cave in the form of a Senegalese bar

to squirrel away more drugs (apparently we didn’t have enough drugs already — at least not enough for Chester, the Flying Squirrel King of Hazelnut Dreams)

I vaguely remember my brother accusing the dealer of selling us fake stringy marijuana (Thai stick), while I was just trying to keep the table from spinning

like a kite circling somewhere

above Pyramides and Sèvres-Babylone

eight miles high

wondering if I was going to hit the ground —

like on that rainy night back in Calgary

flashing back to the wheels of my Suzuki 90 spinning

and my bike rotating slowly on one of its foot pegs 

in the middle of splashing traffic and streaking lights —

when all of a sudden we were back on the Saint Michel streets

albeit curving in ways that Haussmann never intended


Later, somehow, I found myself, sans frère and sans Squirrel King beneath the American Church at an improvised cafe called The Little Crazy

waiting for a blonde American girl to get real and to stop pretending that she didn’t know that I was thinking of her and that we weren’t in fact hurtling through the space of a communal memory of the Hotel Intercontinental at midnight the week before

and that she didn’t know how important it was the way she looked at me both half drunk and me irretrievably lost toasting some nebulous accomplishment that her dad the second ambassador bought at a hundred dollars a pop

The Giza-pyramids and Giza Necropolis, Egypt, seen from above. Photo taken on 12 December 2008. Auhtor: Robster1983 at English Wikipedia. Photo cropped by RYC.

The Giza-pyramids and Giza Necropolis, Egypt, seen from above. Photo taken on 12 December 2008. Auhtor: Robster1983 at English Wikipedia. Photo cropped by RYC.

I waited for her to stop pretending that she didn’t want to ride a steamer to the violence of the sun, or sail up the Nile with me from Heliopolis to the great temples of Thebes, where Amun and the sun god Ra became one with the One True God of Infinity

Didn’t she see the Thoth staring at us in benediction?

But she insisted she wasn’t going anywhere beyond the 7th arrondissement and the American University and the sacred heart of the daughters of someone else’s revolution

So I wandered back along the Seine, dis-spirited (as she said I would be — girls could always predict how lonely I’d be without them) even in this City of Lights that were becoming duller as the chemicals retreated from my brain

scraping the lustre from Ra's falling orb and the infinite stars

Piramida Cheopsa, photo (cropped by RYC) by Janusz Recław (Wikimedia Commons)

Piramida Cheopsa, photo (cropped by RYC) by Janusz Recław (Wikimedia Commons)

I continued my profane progress into the dark and met up somehow under the street-lights with Chester the Squirrel King and my brother at McDonald’s for a burger, fries, and beer. My dad's whistling came back to me — it always brought me back to earth — to smell the beer hall and the sailors and the salt cod jusque dans le coeur des frites — after which the three of us went across the street to sit once again, beer glasses in hand, with Stella from Artois, the only woman we could find to keep us company 

Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui boivent
Et qui boivent et reboivent
Et qui reboivent encore

Drunken now, yet soberly, we recounted to each other the strangeness of our journey from Ra’s temple in the sky to our local bar (now long gone, buried in swanky hotels). One, two, three little travellers on Rue de Berri.


One day amid gallons of frothy bubbles 

I will wink at the brim of memory

and scent the Lebanese air

beneath the loam and cedar plank

of those lost to drink and drug,

I sit here thinking in this empty cafe


Next: From the Top Floor of the Floating World

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