GreenasSky A gambol in the goodies by Sloan Nota

Black experience, flip and deep

Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I need to write this. Now.

I’d heard of a prize-winning novel by a black man writing of black experience. A quick search turned up The Sellout by Paul Beatty.  The Man-Booker prize.  OK!

So I read it and loved it — at first.  The urgency of the prose, a burning wick of intensity. If you’ve read Robert Coover’s The Public Burning you’ll recognize that unsuppressable push of words.

But then The Sellout started maundering. The snappy jokes — not the characters, not the plot — became its reason. By the end I was annoyed. Annoyed.

So I Googled the same requirements.  This time the prize turns out to be the National Book Award.  Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad. I’m blown away by the novel’s power. Its vision. Its truths.

Its worthwhileness.

If you ask me to compare the two books I’ll tell you it’s like comparing Moby Dick with Mad Magazine.

If you feel strong, read this book.  Perhaps use the January 20 Inauguration time-slot to remind you of why you’re not watching that ceremony.

Categories contemporary society, history, words, literature | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Parisians Being Parisian


Paris shopping carts

Rhythmic Parisian shopping carts. (author’s photo)

Whenever I go somewhere I come away wondering what I’ve missed. In Paris not what streets I didn’t follow, but rather on the trodden streets what I missed while looking at it. Did I drink in the cathedral’s master architecture and miss the robin on Mary’s marble toe? Its gimbaling head ticking quickly in all directions, for food, for foe. Or have I watched tree shadows gyre on a wall and missed the parade?

I’ve spent a month in Paris, thinking I could post here diligently daily. I must apologize — I gave Paris my all.  Walking miles, gawking (which is hard for me unless I’m still). Soaking in Parisians being Parisian the way Jane Goodall would observe wild chimpanzees — if she was a chimpanzee.

What I was watching for of course is what made Parisians unlike me. Not that they don’t breathe in air as we New Englanders do but that their Paris air is drenched with sex pheromones. You don’t see them but Mama if you don’t feel them my condolences to you. Matrons wear their breasts high and proud; it’s clear which men dress to the left and which to the right. A couple wedged at the next table in a restaurant, tall, well groomed. It’s possible that she never took her eyes off his all night. Next to her, arguing issues with my partner, I feel a buffoon. She’s so smooth, so elegant. They shared an ice cream dessert but she didn’t spoon in until he nudged the dish toward her.

Was their dinner foreplay?

You’re right, how the hell would I know?  It’s just I’ve never seen an American woman gaze so pointedly into a man’s eyes for a three-course dinner — but it felt like a mode both Parisians were well-accustomed to. Bien sur.


The shopping carts shown at top sat lined up at our local grocery store. To me they’re part of the Paris je ne sais pas, the something that try as I might cannot quite be put in words. Their keen and twitchy nose for style.



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A Paris, of Many


Paris realities

Now You See It, Now You Just Thought You Had.  Poster and church, by Sloan Nota.

Paris is simultaneously so many adjectives why pretend yours is more valid than Jean Paul the taxi-driver’s, or Walid the TV historian’s or Julia Child the famous chef’s? So here are some photos to convince you I’m not in Kansas anymore.

My apartment is in the 3rd arrondissement (or Paris district) of 20 arrondissements.

The 20 arrondissements of Paris

Cartwheel array of Paris arrondissements or districts.

The 3rd is partway through a gentrification.  It’s the hot and hip area which doesn’t vary enough from continent to continent to rouse much interest. However it’s deliciously placed and myriad destinations are walkable from here.

Graffiti in Paris's 3rd Arrondissement.

Paris 3rd Arrondissement graffiti, September 2016. Underneath is painted — in English — ‘Arts Area’. Photo by Sloan Nota.


gentrification in the 3rd

gentrification, by Sloan Nota

In New York you’re aware of the firm grid of streets and avenues above the southern morass of cow paths. Here major streets continually meet in mad stars of traffic, red and green lights (small by US standards) control traffic in wheeling directions — pedestrian, two- three- and four-wheeled vehicular. You haven’t lived till you find yourself staring into the intense face of a suit and tie bearing down on you on a speeding motor scooter.

I remember a long-ago dinner with an inane male type who boasted of having had his Mustang shipped to Europe. Oh so many streets he couldn’t have fit down let alone parked. Yesterday on one such street there was this sign on the left,

Plaque: Picasso and Balzac worked here.

Plaque where Picasso painted Guernica and Balzac wrote.

Two or three steps across the street from this another building with a sign in stone,

Louis XIII became king here.

Paris sign where Louis XIII became king an hour after the death of his father Henry IV.

History. The lives that have left their traces in Paris. Sure, maybe someone fudged a few yards on where Louis XIII became king but in the US the best we’ve got is the old saw ‘Washington slept here.’  Something sacred about this much significance ladled over the same patch of earth for continuous years.


Yesterday we found ourselves witlessly traveling along the back of the gendarmerie — countless navy-blue busses backed toward the building (the better to roar into action), Impeccable grillwork encapsulating each back-up light. Buses, police buses — for what other reason than massive mayhem? Yet France has its reasons. We are not frequenting large gatherings of people.

Yet on this same walk we passed massive doors into the building. Some wag had snapped a bicycle lock onto this ferocious lion-and-snake door-pull

Paris gendarmerie door-pull.

Lion-and-snake door-pull at Paris gendarmerie with added combination lock earring.  photo Sloan Nota.

C’est la vie.

Categories art, contemporary society, history | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Wednesday in Paris

It’s now going on 10pm in Wednesday Paris — the local supermarket is closed. Who knew?  Following the zombie sleepless day that began with Monday breakfast and stretched like summer taffy into Tuesday night I hit the bed for a long sojourn in oblivion. And rose today to finally get my laptop online.

Here’s a bit from the Air France terminal, way back on Monday evening: Logan Airport, Air France terminal. On the tube an hour-long Hillary Clinton piece that trots around every well-known base on the playing field of her career.  Opinionated persons are interviewed, Clinton responds, in all the repotage not a scrap of new is found.

Could have been orchestrated by a PR team.  Hillary there to answer all the questions you know the answers to. I don’t realise how really off this show is until the next hour brings us the Donald Trump hour and I see how daintily they’re handling him. Gliding along bumpless, treating this man with the same deference they have Hillary Clinton. It’s not reporting, though it has all the recognizable set-ups.  Head shots of opining stake-holders framed by tasteful upscale furniture.

It’s not reporting because there’s no news here. This is a play in which the players connive to convince you that it’s news. They visit all the stations of the Hillary story you already know by heart and they check them off, bam bam bam.

Today on Facebook someone posted what were purportedly two versions of the same Wall Street Journal front page. One suggesting Trump is softening his tone, the other that he’s pushing a hard line. Same news cycle but aimed at different WSJ markets. This isn’t Walter Cronkite’s journalism, this is calculation.

Back in the Air France terminal, while one channel in your brain weaves in and out of presidential candidates, another channel is aware of of an escalating Beethoven symphony piped in from the ceiling.  While stewardesses who aren’t English-speakers pronounce names crammed with consonants or runny with vowels.  These people need to get to their airplane, this is the last announcement. Last. Two minutes later it comes again.  Again.  And last chance. Won’t someone volunteer to get on that airplane so it can take off?

I want you to see the slapstick. The ludicrous subversive comedy of the wait for the plane to Paris.

Meanwhile the most consequential Presidential race of our lifetimes is playing out all around us.

This is real life.


Today we start at Notre Dame cathedral. Inside, visitors raise their smart phones to photograph stained glass windows too far off to be resolved in a digital snap. The camera folk include those who have lit candles or even entered the “prayer only”  seating closest the front. Camera wielders likewise include those who brush past the nuns who beg money for the poor along the only route out.

The Pompidou Center, backtracking the same street — the same street as Notre Dame. The once avant garde contemporary arts center now comes off as badly in new of a new hairdo.  The white funnels like those on ocean liners now have flows of grime. The whole venue feels as painful as an ad from 30 years ago.

Inside, stirring art. The Beatniks — Keruac’s long march of typescript narrow under a road of glass. Ginsberg’s young voice reading Howl.  BonDylan’s here, with Ginsberg in a prayer shawl in the background perhaps hallowing a fire escape.

As my mother used to say, “Sorry this is long but I didn’t have much time”.

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