Saturday, November 24, 2012
Music, Video and Fiction!
Hello again! After a few weeks' pause, the I'm au Quai, You're au Quai blog is back this week with a new video and some more winter reading to enjoy by the fire. The video is a snippet of live saxophone performance, captured for us on the quai by filmmaker Richard Dailey. Below, you'll also find the fifth installment in our series of quai-related scenes from Mark Fitzpatrick's Paris novel Very Few to Love. At the bottom, you'll find info for contacting both Richard and Mark to check out more of their work. As the musician in this video reminds us, even the cold weather can't take the romance away from the Seine!
As I walked down Boulevard Saint Michel, the sky rapidly darkened and a cold wind swept in. Moments after the first drops of rain burst on the pavement, it was a downpour, hissing on the streets and chuckling in the gutters, setting people to dashing, newspapers held above their heads. I kept walking steadily, enjoying the feeling of it running down my face, soaking straight through my clothes. By the time I made it to the steps down to Quai de Montebello, the footpaths were almost clear of the milling tourists that had filled them a little earlier. Solid sheets of rain filled the air. Across the river, Notre Dame loomed through the mist and sudden dark. I walked down the steps, onto the almost abandoned quai. The surface of the river sizzled as the rain endlessly rippled it. Further along, beneath the trees, I saw a couple of artists desperately covering their portfolios with their jackets and making a run for it. A couple of the Russians were sitting stoically under the bridge to my left, their easels set up, ready to work if a customer should stumble in out of the rain. They were both on folding stools, talking quietly and passing a hipflask back and forth. Unwilling to intrude upon their peaceful moment, I walked the other way.
The downpour continued, and I paid no attention, letting it soak me. Under one of the trees, relatively untouched by the rain, Ludwig sat cross-legged, working on one of his little white sculptures. He looked up as I approached, gave me what I took to be a smile, and went back to his work, scraping at a groove in the crumbling stone, blowing it gently free of dust. I sat on the corner of one of the concrete benches near him, just about under the shelter of the tree. He paid me no attention at first, but then began to sing, softly, tunelessly.
“Little Irish boy, oh little Irish boy, oh my little Irish boy.” He sang it over and over, in a strange crooning monotone. Occasionally, he shot a sidelong glance my way, but always quickly averted his eyes again if mine met them. He smelled of paint, of mysterious herbs, of wet dog. Eventually, he put down the sculpture he had been working on and sighed. He looked up at me, then held up one finger while he rummaged in his many pockets. After many diverse, glimpsed items were pulled out and tucked back into other pockets, he found an unshaped chunk of his white, porous stone. His gold teeth flashed towards the back of a wide smile.
He pointed at the patch of relatively dry ground in front of him, beckoning me over to look at it. I leaned against the tree trunk and peered over his shoulder as he began to draw on the ground. It took me a moment, but I quickly identified his first rough chalky outlines as the shapes of Ireland and Britain. Then he placed his chunk of stone to the ground, and in one long, angular line, he went from the top of Norway, in around the Baltic Sea, down along the Low Countries to France, the Bay of Biscay, the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and all along North Africa until the Straits of Gibraltar had all but closed off the Mediterranean, and the line trailed off towards the bench, in a vague, here-be-dragons sweep. The European coastline was perfectly in proportion, and his initial drawing of the islands fitted in exactly the right position. He looked up at me, pleased with himself.
“Why did you start with Ireland?” I asked. “Surely that makes it harder?”
He nodded happily.
I said, “Were you just showing off?” He nodded again, and clapped his hands, laughing silently. He held up his finger again, and dug into a pocket, pulling out a small metal Eiffel Tower key-ring, with the ring part broken off. He placed it on the map, where Paris would be, always further East than I think it should be. Then he took one of his little vaguely human-shaped figurines, and held it up, pointing to his own chest.
“That’s you, Ludwig?”
“Ja, ja. Ludwig. Von Hamburg.” He placed the rough manshape on the map in the Germany area. Then he took another of the sculptures out of a pocket and pressed it into my hand. I looked at it for a while. It was featureless, had only a smooth white head, and thick but graceful limbs, rounded off at the ends, no real hands or feet. It stood, legs together, its head inclined. One arm was down by its side, and the other was held up beside its face, either listening or whispering a secret, it was hard to tell. Ludwig tapped it gently, and then tapped my chest. “Irish.” He nodded and flashed his back teeth again.
I carefully placed the figure on the South-East corner of Ireland. “Cork,” I said. “James. Cork.” Ludwig nodded. Then he picked up his playing piece, and, very deliberately, changed its location. Berlin. He stopped and looked at me, his expression perhaps a comment on what went on while he was in Berlin. Then he moved it again, tapping it as if counting squares on a chessboard for a knight’s move. Prague. He sat back again for a moment, looked at me for acknowledgement, then made another move. Milan. Each time, he stopped and sat back, looked at me, before moving again and naming the new city. Perhaps he was waiting for me to make my own moves. I did nothing, just nodded each time he looked. Barcelona. Marrakech. Frankfurt. Back to Berlin. There he stopped, and put his head in his hands. He stayed like that for some time, just rocking slightly, almost imperceptibly, maybe even whimpering right at the edge of hearing. Finally, he shivered and stretched, like a dog come in from the rain. He moved his piece to Paris, and sat back, arms crossed. I leaned over and picked mine up. I placed it beside his, beside the broken Eiffel Tower souvenir. “Paris,” I said.
We sat and looked out at the rain, still roaring down around the shelter of the tree with seemingly inexhaustible energy. Large drops made their way through the thick canopy of leaves above us as well. One fell on the English Channel, slightly blurring the coastlines at Dover and Calais. Ludwig leaned forward and gathered up the Eiffel Tower and the two figurines. He held them in his hands, cupped them close to his face as if whispering to them, conferring urgently with his little chalkmen. I looked fixedly out into the rain, but from the corner of my eye saw him nodding and smiling. He leaned over and nudged me. Taking my hand, he opened it, put the figure that represented me into it, and closed my fingers tightly around it, holding my hand in both of his.
“Irish boy,” he said, singsong. “You take him home, the Irish boy.”
I nodded solemnly. “Thank you, Ludwig.”
He sat back against the tree and paid me no more attention for some time, concentrating rather on the pouch of tobacco and rolling papers that he fished out of his sock. He meticulously made five or six cigarettes, holding them up to compare them, making sure they were as near identical as possible. Then he selected one, and, after tucking the rest into one of the upper breast pockets of his vest, he lit it, and smoked meditatively. I sat on the damp bench, my face in my hands, elbows on knees, staring at the river and the rain.
I looked up to see a spluttering and dripping Viktor arriving under the relative shelter of the tree, and shaking out his umbrella. He stood his little trolley beside the bench, and took his battered hat off to beat the rain from it. He grinned at me, gestured at the smeared chalk map on the ground in front of us.
“So. We take the opportunity to have a little geography lesson, eh? Very good, very good. Europa ist unser Spielplatz, eh Ludwig? Nicht wahr?”
Mark Fitzpatrick is an Irish novelist living and working in Paris, France.
For more of Very Few to Love, or just to send your regards, you can connect with Mark directly at:
You can also follow his new fantasy adventure novel as it unfolds on his blog at:
Richard Dailey is an artist and filmmaker, and the Editor in Chief of Afterart News.
More information about Richard's projects can be found on his website:
And be sure to check out the facebook page for Richard's new hip-hop documentary, Nos States,
where you can find info on upcoming screenings in Paris and New York:
Photos of Mark Fitzpatrick and Richard Dailey by Leslie McAllister: