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Paris Scratch [12 Snapshots]

By Bart Plantenga.


I spent years wandering the streets of NYC & Paris, cluttered with ghosts & memory, rich in phenomenological detail, friends & foes, coincidence & the enticing scent of decay, which allows the old to ignite the new. This sensory wealth tends to overpower a city’s residents &, to survive, they must learn to ignore it all.

One day they wake up & wonder why they’re living here; they must now either put up or shut up; it’s either reinvent one’s relation to the surroundings or get a divorce. I decided to begin scribbling down a “snapshot” per day for a year.

The diptych Unloaded Camera Snapshots: Paris Scratch [Sensitive Skin] and its diptych partner NY SIN PHONEY IN FACE FLAT MINOR [Nov. 2016], began as an exercise in documenting everyday life. These eidetic, epigrammatic, not-quite prose poems, not quite journal entries, served as meta-factual attempts to re-pollinate existence with the fecund, oft-neglected details of the everyday, la vie quotidienne. Think of it this way: Brassai meets Doisneau in a Montmartre cafe &, over Pastis, decide to smash their cameras & triumphantly take up pens instead.

Jean Luc Godard once said: “There is just a moment when things cease to be a mere spectacle, a moment when a man is lost and when he shows that he is lost.”

WARNING: The depictions of friends & acquaintances contained herein are more than mere coincidence. FREE Paris Scratch soundtrack: Wreck 1198: Paris Scratch.

8. Un Coup de Fleurs
The thorny firm-stemmed women had once entered the church a step at a time in skirts of delirious exploding flora & shimmering seamed stockings. Ready to kill God with regret & desire. But now they, jilted in their forlorn dresses of exhausted blossoms — their aromas spent in thin air — sit around the wobbly cafe table like a bouquet of old toilet brushes in a bucket.

23. Fruit de la Frustration
The blind man sipped his café crème in the sun. His smile like a crack in the sidewalk over which people will inevitably trip. Or a riverbed geode cracked in 2. In France, geodes can be found — I looked it up — in the southeast between Cannes & Italy somewhere. His dog deflates into a wetnosed sigh at his feet, resigned to not going anywhere. The ponytailed counter girl in crisp white stares out, outside past her reflection, her job, past the forlorn hedge that hides the beyond & out. She had brought the old man his café crème. Was there someone else? She slaps the comb into her unread palm to a beat, a march or something tribal, something tiers monde, something that may lead her elsewhere if only for an instant. Would she always be this frustrated?

66. La Novel leVague
The woman leaps out of her doorway, very late for an appointment. But, to her utter astonishment, she ends up right in my path up the hill along Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, behind schedule for my radio show. She wasn’t looking & falls into my arms like some divine choreography where I’m Gene Kelly for a hypnagogic, suspended, breathless second like when an art-house film jams & spins in its sprockets or so it seems. She gazes up into my eyes & I down into hers. “C’est moi,” I say. “Non, c’est moi,” she insists. & there I stand on the rue watching her straighten her self up out of my swoonish embrace full of future & perfume, fixing her collar & swishing her bangs. “C’est comme un film,” she says. “Oui, un bon film,” I add, vowing to remember the address, the doorway, & all the rest. “Ou un roman.” I want to say, “Ou une belle vie,” but she’s already heading down the rue. & for a few months — that’s how long this kind of hope survives — I pass by her doorway just in case.

77. Archéologie de Boureé
The short snout-nosed barman at the landmark, Le Pigalle, wipes grime & puke off the dormant juke. Shines it until he sees his face — a bit too much too early, this kind of mockery. Sweeps up butts, sugar cube wrappers & wadded bar napkins, secret projectiles holding as yet mycologically unidentified bodily fluids. He opens the door a crack to air the place out of its deathly smells, its archeological legacy, a nocturnal residue discharged by the hard-faced maquereaux (pimps), old Brassai whores & other loose-toothed flambeurs, former school kids gone sour, all corralled into one side of the sweeping black neo-kitsch horseshoe bar, acting out the spectacles expected of them. Craved from the finest Hollywood, like a copy of a copy betrayed by their own self-portraits. The chichi fashion designers & awestruck touristas can order the 80-franc menu, slum it, pilgrimage into Pigalle. I stand grey between the 2, like a piece of grimy protective glass, feel the undertow, the attractiveness of their mutual contempt.


119. Le Bar de l’Existentialisme
“Sartre’s Bar” is what we call Chez Camille with it cramped window view of a shop that sells signed first editions but has never been open 1 day in the last 2 years. Chez Camille is truly existential: no gold leaf, no neon trimming, no cassette deck or radio – leaving us to our own devices to make conversation — no ornate frames — no nothing. Except some smudged mirrors that make us look slightly different than we expect, dusty vintage empties on a shelf, the clink-clank of the sour-faced proprietress washing glasses & a smoky back room where old-timers play heated, cutthroat hands of cards. When I inquired about their beer selection, she replied; “Nous avons le BIERE bière.” As in beer is beer. Red wine is indeed rouge — & cheap; the coffee strong; liqueurs few but effective & drinking essential & unencumbered.

123. Kids Sont Toujours Kids
The kids are too young to be smoking but are smoking nonetheless & precisely because of that very fact. Near their school along the Qaui des Celestins, they affect the stance & expressions & drag & puff styles of cinema4c heroes like Vincent Cassel or Jean Louis Trintignant or Kevin Bacon or Richard Widmark. Periodically they give the finger to the woman (peut être the mother of one of their schoolmates) in a blue suit with white piping, directing traffic. & they run & run away until they’re out of breath & there is nowhere else to run & they are falling all over themselves with laughter & triumphant smiles dripping off their faces. A rolled-up Asterix comic book falls out of the back pocket of one of the écoliers.

151. The Nazi Porcelaine
The old woman isn’t particularly happy about taking time off from watching her main passion, National League baseball, on cable TV. Her daughter, Madame D., told me that nothing else helps – not sedatives, not meditation, not soothing music, only baseball helps keep her within the reasonable limits of vaguely calm. But once she starts in on the story she cannot be stopped. The Nazis threw her family out of their own house & set up a headquarters here & instead of washing the dishes “these brutes,” she pointed out in near-perfect English gleaned from her many visits to America, “rather than wash our dishes — Limoge china! — they just tossed the dirty dishes out the back window. After the war, there was a pile of broken dishes a meter high.

203. L’Étude de L’Économie dans un Verre
The Pik Clops remains our HQ as long as they serve 12-F vin rouge ordinaire & continue to play artpunk-funk-anarcho-folk-post-hillbilly tapes … We – DS, HD, ND, BK, BS, MEB & CP – are here until our last centime, discussing the dictatorial imperative of speed, of shine, of order over beauty & poetic purpose – does commitment matter or is enthusiasm just co-opted by commercial forces? An American at the bar overhears us; he’s impressed, buys us a round using bombastic hand gestures. But generous is generous & free even better. & DH, in her American twang yells: “Vive les Américains!” “Mais pas l’Amérique de Bush et de la CIA,” there’s always a refining disclaimer. We’re living it up as we plot to change the sentence structure of literature from Lost to Gone Generation. Until LE notices — she notices everything except her own talent — that the American has vanished – “Il a disparu!” – skipping out on the bill. & we’re left taking Economics 101: the Big Lie, PR, Real Politik in a wine glass &, at 2:30 AM, we’re still fumbling for fuzzy, sticky centimes in corners of shoulder bags. Instead of a free round, we suddenly owed major money: 35 beers & glasses of wine as well as what the American & entourage had scooted out on, totaling some 750 francs ($125)… DH proposed calling her lawyer dad in California to bail us out. But, in the end, we came up with a heavy & painful pile of 500 francs & the bartender, valuing intent over result, let the rest slide.

219. La Poésie Contre la Vacuité Impressionnante
I stand all alone in the Place St. Sulpice. I am on time & I am scheduled to read — I check twice — & so I read 3 poems to no 1 in particular, actually no one, some people passing through who think I might be an addict or a panhandler. Someone claps although that may have been cynical. I read my poems aloud, quite loud as only alcohol & the terror of loneliness justifies this kind of volume. I am part of the Nuits de la Poésie (Fête de la Musique) in June & it all seemed so well-organized & official & sanctioned & massive. & then I take my bow for the pigeons & gaze over at the Café de la Mairie, where a couple in their late 50s, dressed like they’re in a Doisneau set piece, have just finished their kirs & are now tongue-kissing like there is no tomorrow & we will see. & as I pass the café, stuffing my poems into my shoulder bag, they for a second look up & give me that polite golfer’s clap.

253. Une Fleur dans un Vase de Cinq Toes
The boy could’ve or should’ve been me. He’s siting in the sun in a rattan chair along the Boulevard St. Germain. He & his girl have found the most glorious patch of sun between the trees & buildings. She has perfect, razor-straight bangs & is reading a book. The boy bends down to take off her sandal – 1 of those sandals that makes the foot an object of fetishism – & took his table napkin, rolls it up tightly to the thickness of a nautical rope & then stuck it in the cleave between big toe & first toe & rubs the napkin back & forth for a while. Then leaves it there, unfurls the head of the napkin so that it looks like a flower in a vase. She looks up from her book to smile at him.

270. Le Film of the Great Espoir
I hear the wet flap-flap of the sole of his shoe as we tramp Chaplin-meets-Orwell-style across paving stones & I hear that same sound to this very day & see MEB. We stop in a café to borrow some gaffer’s tape from the proprietor to tape up his boot while he does not allow reality to disturb his discussions of Bresson’s Pickpocket, Godard, Melville, Clouzot, Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud, Diva, Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord, all of which he (& sometimes we) saw in the Action Ecole, Saint-André-des-Arts or Champo, MEB using a stipend for food he receives from his ex-beloved, NJ, on le cinéma because, in her infinite generosity, she believes in MEB & considers her small daily donations to his survival as an investment in a hopeful future.

350. A Vacation Sans Bouger
It is early August & you are the only person you know that is still in Paris. MB, BW, MEB, BK, KR, RN, SU, WH, DH, ND are all out of town. Some4times a vacation is like a shirt inside out that you can wear a second day. Paris becomes a totally different, smaller, more intimate, foreign place. “The anxious ghosts have abandoned the place” is how KR put it. More solace, less land mines. I try to do nothing in an effective manner so that dreaming begins to seep into being, especially when it is too hot to act ambitious anyway. I read books on the banks of the Seine & watch young lovers inhale the scent of 1 another. A barge, the “Graceland” floats by heading back to its Germany. Was Elvis part German? Well, funny that I ask myself: Presley’s roots were mainly Scottish-Irish, with some ancestors from Normandy, some Cherokee &, yes, some German.


Bart Plantenga is the eclectic author of two internationally-acclaimed books on yodeling: Yodel in HiFi: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica, Yodel-Ay-EeOooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World, produced the Rough Guide to Yodel CD compilation and the Yodel in HiFi Top 50+ Youtube channel.

His work has appeared in over 300 media outlets including: The Guardian, Evergreen Review, Exquisite Corpse, American Heritage, American Music Center Journal, American Book Review, The Times, 3:AM Magazine, Paris Passion, Mississippi Review, Parisiana, Smoke Signals, Vokno, Public Illumination Magazine, Ambit, Urban Graffiti, and many anthologies: Nation-KGB Reader; Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican Music From Ska to Dub; Waiting for a Train: Jimmie Rodgers’s America; Up Is Up, But So Is Down: New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992; Department of Public Sound #4; Semiotext(e) SF

He writes fiction (Beer Mystic, Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man & Wiggling Wishbone (Autonomedia)) as well as creative memoirs which include both Paris Scratch and its diptych partner NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor (Sensitive Skin). He’s currently working on an Amsterdam-Brooklyn novel with his daughter.

He has been a DJ since 1986, producing Wreck this Mess in NY (WFMU), Paris (Radio Libertaire), Amsterdam (100 & Patapoe) & currently online. In 2014, he won the David Tudor Memorial 4’33” Competition. He writes, bikes, produces his radio show, & lives in Amsterdam with partner Nina & daughter Paloma Jet.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, November 11th, 2016.