Au Palais-Royal, Paris, 2019

Poem for the ambrosial young English scriptwriter found reading Down and Out in London and Paris under the trees in the Palais-Royal. Original in French, followed by English and then Spanish, and then five footnotes in English.
 

Puis-je approcher ma chaise de la tienne ?

Pregnant pixie with sprezzatura, reed pen drawing by William Eaton, 2019Puis-je approcher ma chaise de la tienne ;
Les senteurs de magnolia, désir non amarré ?

Quel adieu audacieux de notre bon Dieu :
Paris couverte d’une fine couche de plomb.

Je voudrais trouver aussi un coin dans cette ombre ;
Les jours longs et le soleil : trop forts pour moi.

Ce lieu pourrait être un dernier miracle,
Même que la sécu et la pension privée.

Elles se plaignent déjà, nos robots-phoques chères.
Tortillons les orteils dans la terre moqueuse.

 

May I bring my chair a little closer to yours?

May I bring my chair a little closer to yours,
To your hints of magnolia and desire unmoored?

What a bold farewell from the good Lord on high:
Paris now sleeping in a lead sheet of dust.

And me, too, still looking for a place in the shade;
The sun seems too strong and summer days long.

Though, along with a pension and social security,
The calm here some mornings: these are our miracles.

Robot-seal companions – starting to complain;
Help me wriggle my toes, the old laughter chase.

 

¿Puedo llevar esta silla junto a la suya?

¿Puedo llevar esta silla junto a la suya?
¿A deseos andan sueltos, rosados y tiernos?

Qué audaz adiós de nuestro buen Señor:
París ahora duerme en su cama de plomo.

También estoy buscando un lugar en las sombras;
El sol parece fuerte y los días tan largos.

Y la seguridad social y una pensión privada:
Ellas podrían ser nuestros últimos milagros.

Los compañeros robot-focas ya tienen sus quejas;
Nos refregamos en la cara risas olvidadas.

— Poem(s) and drawing by William Eaton.

Footnotes

1 (Down and Out in London and Paris): George Orwell, 1933.

2 (the lead): It has been reported that the Notre-Dame fire released more than 400 tons (yes, tons) of lead dust into the air, which dust has since descended on the surrounding neighborhoods, which might well include le Palais-Royal. Among the many news stories, there is this one, in French, from franceinfo (7 August 2019): Quatre questions sur la pollution au plomb causée par l’incendie de Notre-Dame de Paris.

3 (the robot-seals): While I was in France this summer I saw a bit of a TV show about how in the future robots were going to be taking (good?) care of the elderly (of whom I may soon be one!). Prominent in this disturbing field is PARO “an advanced interactive robot developed by AIST, a leading Japanese industrial automation pioneer.” More from the company’s website: PARO, which looks like and imitates the voice of a real baby harp seal, “allows the documented benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in environments such as hospitals and extended care facilities where live animals present treatment or logistical difficulties.” PARO, it is claimed, “has been found to reduce patient stress . . . ” Prototypes have been in use in Japan and Europe since 2003.

Robotic seals comfort dementia patients but raise ethical concerns, by Angela Johnston, KALW (San Francisco Public Radio), 17 August 2015, quotes Shannon Vallor “a virtue ethicist and philosophy professor at Santa Clara University”: “People have demonstrated a remarkable ability to transfer their psychological expectations of other people’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings to robots.” Nurses and therapists at a northern California veterans hospital don’t explicitly tell the patients PARO the seal is a robot. “They play along with questions about where it lives and what type of fish it eats.”

Vallor told the reporter that with dementia patients, the line between reality and imagination can already be blurred, but “we should worry about it with people who are in the facility for other reasons, who are lonely and who want to feel like somebody cares about them.”

4 (the Palais-Royal): The Palais-Royal is a former royal palace located in the center of Paris. In the seventeenth century it became the home of the Queen Mother Anne of Austria and her young sons (e.g. Louis XIV), along with her advisor Cardinal Mazarin. During the Revolutionary period, Philippe d’Orléans made himself popular in Paris when he opened the gardens of the Palais to the public.

Wikipedia further reports that in the late eighteenth century, sections of the Palais were transformed into shopping arcades that became the center of Parisian social, economic and social life. The Palais began the “Arcade Era,” which dominated European shopping for 150 years. Unlike Amazon, say, the new arcades came to be the place not only to shop, but also to be seen, and to escape the chaos and uncertain weather of the city streets. And by night the Palais became the haunt of libertines, off-duty soldiers and prostitutes, many of whom rented apartments in the building. Charlatans, gambling houses, ventriloquists, pimps, and prostitutes held court on the doorstep of the royal palace.

For more, see Wikipedia. And please don’t forget to donate, Wikipedia deserves our support!

5: Although I encountered the English scriptwriter in August, the poem slips anachronistically from spring, when magnolias were in bloom, and then back to the long, hot days. A Web post for French tourists Où voir les plus beaux arbres en fleurs à Paris ? proposes that in the spring magnolias in bloom can be seen not only in le Palais-Royal, but also in

le Parc Floral (ils sont notamment sur les allées de la Pinède, aux côtés des rhododendrons, coucous et autres bulbes), de Bagatelle (Bois de Boulogne), Martin-Luther-King, André-Citroën, Monceau, Kellermann, aux Buttes-Chaumont, à Montsouris, ainsi qu’aux abords de l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris, dans le jardin des Combattants-de-la-Nueve.

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