Infinite Views

Infinite Views

This summer has been very wet & overcast in the Pyrenees. I love being here no matter if it rains or shines, but some hikes require clear skies to be able to experience the 360 degree panoramic view of the Pyreneen mountain range. My friends Lori & Tom were visiting from Ithaca for a week, the skies were scheduled to be crystal clear for two days — perfect timing to get out & to the summit!

To be able to see the sun rise over the mountain range, wake up call is at 4:30am  so we can leave the house by 5am. We are on schedule, a thermos of hot coffee, goat cheese, bread & a nice croustade from my favorite bakery in Luchon (rue Nérée Boubé) are all in the backpack. Hiking shoes & stick on hand, I slam the door shut, start walking towards the car when a sharp pain enters my foot: a roof nail punctured my sneakers and my foot!

Back to the house to remove shoe, nail, socks and notice that the puncture is not too bad. Once thoroughly disinfected, bandaged and foot secured in the hiking shoes I’ll be fine and can begin the journey. We drive to the port the Balès, park the car and start the hike in the night. The moon is already gone,  the sky still very bright with stars. I am granted 3 beautiful shooting stars that I truly welcome as a healing omen after the nail in the foot!  We will not make it on time on the top to see the sun break over the mountains but still I want to get to the top to get the full view. Lori is more eager to take picture of the rising sun from the Peirahitta (you can listen to the song I wrote about that place here) plus she is concerned about my foot — which is a bit sore, but the overpowering drive to get up there and experience the view that my ancestors have been looking at for thousand of years is irresistible.


We are on top of the Mont Né mountain at 2147m or 7049 feet high. The sun is just above the horizon the colors on the peaks are spectacular, the sun diffuses strokes of light slowly revealing the contours of the  mountain range’s layers. A true sense of infinity.

Troy-Ithaca: Quelle Journey!

Troy-Ithaca: Quelle Journey!

I am not sure what is the final mileage the 21st century Odysseus,  A.K.A. Douglas Rothschild, ended up walking along small roads between Troy (N.Y) & Ithaca (N.Y) but it should be pretty close to 170 miles in 8 days! Congratulations to Douglas & to Anna Moschovakis & Matvei Yankelevitch (both active members of the Ugly Duckling Press Collective).  This is how it all began for Pierre Joris & I, but it had been in the brew for a quite a while when Anna Moschovakis sent out this email in June :

A few years back, Matvei Yankelevich and I had some idle idea that it would be fun to make a film of Douglas walking from Troy to Ithaca. It just seemed obviously like a good thing to do. This summer — soon, in fact — we’re going through with it.

We’re calling it an Experiment in Potential Documentary. But you could also call it a Constraint-Based Happening. In any case, the basics are simple:

— Douglas takes one week at the end of July to walk from Troy to Ithaca, on backroads determined primarily by the “walk” function on a GPS mapping software.
— Douglas wears a mic the whole time, so that all of his speech — including talking to himself, if there’s any of that — is recorded.
— Friends of Douglas’ join him for portions of the walk. He will know which people have been invited (though we will add some surprises too), but he won’t know which people to actually expect or when.
— People who can’t join in person can indulge instead in a desultory phone conversation with Dug as he walks.
— Much of the proceedings are filmed in HD video and with a variety of other means. Douglas, too, has a camera. Visitors, too, are handed a point-and-shoot video camera to employ as they wish while with Dug.
— The journey culminates at a Banquet and Poetry Reading in Ithaca, co-hosted by Catherine Taylor and Stephen Cope at an arts venue, to which the local community will be invited.
— Homeric overtones may be explicit, implicit, or cast aside altogether — though certain episodes dear to Douglas (e.g., the trip to the underworld) will be incorporated and we will ask each person who joins Douglas to bring a copy of the Odyssey (in any translation, or in the original) and to read a portion of it to the camera.

We hope YOU can participate in some way!

With many others Pierre Joris and I did. I will not tell you about the details of what happened because that is Anna & Matvei’s potential-in-the-making documentary project: they have 58 hours of audio and 11 hours of video recorded. Let’s hope they can gather all the necessary resources to play with it.  Meanwhile I just wanted to share the menu and pictures of the banquet — for the Chanterelles episode click here. The Banquet took place at the house of Wylie Schwartz, overlooking Cayuga lake and food was coordinated by Catherine Taylor, Stephen Cope, Anna, Trevor and myself, while many others helped with logistics and goodies.

At around 6:30pm —& after shooting his bow-oar through a dozen  axe head— Odysseus arrived at the banquet dressed in fine clothes, oar still in hand. A lovely band (sorry was busy cooking didn’t catch their name) greeted him and played throughout the banquet. As the sun went down Odysseus Rothschild (or Dugysseus, as Pierre called him) told us the tales of the journey. Hermes read beautiful messages from far away lands like Brooklyn, we also heard Homer’s writing in Greek, songs and passages of Charles Stein translation of  The Odyssey until deep into the night & after moving the party twice with our last being the harbor of Catherine & Stephen, until the wee hours, I don’t remember what time we left!

Cheese platter: Syrian cheese, brie, local cows milk hard cheese, grapes, hummus & pita, lamb burgers, marinated olives, garden greens, feta salad, cucumbers, white & purple carrots, (from Anna & Trevor’s garden), artisans breads, baklava and plenty of ouzo, wine & other liquids to wash it down!

Eric Paul brought an amazing sausage from a local Ithaca’s charcuterie. We owe thanks to Lori & Tom who let us take over their kitchen to prepare the lamb burgers.

The poets have decreed that Odysseus can now rest. He met enough people and told them all about oar & sea. A shrine has been built & sacrifice have been  performed. He is all done & can now return safely home, write more poetry and travel for pleasure as it pleases him!

Shikaakwa City Report

Shikaakwa City Report

Logan Stepping on the City
From the Logan Monument

I am back from Shikaakwa or ” Stinky Onion” or as we call it today Chicago. The name Chicago is believed to be the French deformation of what the Miami-Illinois called the wild onion growing along the Chicago River. As expected, the weather was cold but I was prepared for it and it didn’t bother me a bit, au contraire. I convinced — or rather lured— Pierre into some mega walks along Lake Michigan. He didn’t regret it. As for me, they:


Impress memory

North Shore:
Sky    water    cityscape

Jade   turquoise   mauve-gold

Lincoln walking from his chair
Meeting with Schiller
Three mermaid boys & three cranes
at the Bates Fountain

Mist moist lost
Urbs in Horto

Tropical gardens?


Town Shore:
Mi’kmaq memoirs
tethered sways
Rippled reflections
Magalie’s fluo yellow
That’s a wake up call
Logan rears up
Lincoln sits down
Vulva building opens
To sharp German poetry.

South Shore:npchicago
Ice   ducks   republic
Gris    black & white    gold again
Rounds  & sharps
Ice creaks   ducks call
Republic alone
Fathoms the White City
No looking back at plastered Beaux Arts
Or Palace of Fine Arts
Science and Industry to prevail?

*  *  *  *


We had a marvelous dinner at Turquoise, a Turkish restaurant in Roscoe Village. Both my Patlicanli Islim Sarmasi  ­—Braised lamb shoulder wrapped in eggplant and lamb jus, and rice pilaf ($ 17.95) and Pierre’s Kusu Sis Kepab —Lamb seasoned, skewered , grilled, served with vegetables, rice pilaf, and yogurt sauce ($ 17.95) were exquisite. A delicate tomato sauce topped the skillfully folded and perfectly cooked eggplant filled with fragrant marinated morsels of tender lamb. The rice pilaf was fluffy and buttery. Pierre’s kepab was equally perfect. Upon arrival we were offered delicious home baked bread with a complementary plate of what I think was Patlican salatisi —Smoked eggplant, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, scallion and roasted red bell pepper. We were also offered each a Kazandibi — Caramelized butter, sugar and custard served with vanilla ice cream as a complementary dessert. We sat at the bar to catch the end of the Football game and Pierre ordered a Raki; it turned out to be on the house as we were the last ones and the register closed! Never had I experienced such generosity on visiting a restaurant for the first time.

After the wonderful bilingual Chicago Review reading at the Goethe Institute of Berlin poets —Christian Hawkey, Uljana Wolf & Monika Rinck — we had a good meal at the Armenian restaurant Sayat Nova. After Pierre’s reading at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago we had a not so good meal at The Italian Village but the company was beautiful & the conversation with poets Jennifer Scapettone, Natanaëlle (Nathalie) Stephens, Dan Godston & Jennifer Karmin very inspiring, so it didn’t matter. Dan, Jennifer, Pierre and I had a cozy nightcap at South Water Kitchen where we returned the next day for a light dinner before taking the train back to NYC.  There was also the rowdier night with Magalie Guérin a lovely French-Canadian painter. Magalie led the way to a bar/restaurant tour that began for cocktails at the Palmer House, to a fair Japanese restaurant  & to end with night cap at a Bar called Exchequer where we spent time trying to befriend a fierce Lithuanian waitress and comparing our accents!

*  *  *  *

npchicagoOn our first night in town we walked by the symphony hall and noticed that Pierre Boulez was conducting one of his 85th birthday concerts. We walked to the box office and got lucky enough to grab 2 of the last tickets! Watching Pierre Boulez conduct the orchestra is mesmerizing;  so elegant, so minimal I would dare to say almost liminal. The offering started with his own composition Livre pour Cordes, followed by Bartók’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra and Stravinsky’ s The Firebird as the last piece. We read in the program that two nights later The Chicago Art Institute  presented a  Conversation with Maestro Boulez. “Mr. Bulless” —as the attendant who sold Pierre tickets called him— was reflecting on modernism with Phillip Husher, the CSO program annotator. Here are just a few of the notes I took during the talk:

— Importance to enhanced self teaching.
— The first “modern” composer was Beethoven.
— Paul Klee’s book on the Bauhaus lectures has been essential to his development.

—”Without Teleman I can live. Without Bach I cannot” —

*  *  *  *

And last but not least were my extended visits to the Art Institute & library educating myself in XIXe century sculpture and architecture with a focus on Augustus Saint Gaudens (1848-1907). The museum collection is a great place for me to absorb and contextualize the works by and information on his predecessors & contemporaries. The Art Institute owns beautiful ASG works, among them his bas-reliefs of Violet Sargent, Jules Bastien-Lepage & Amor Caritas.  There are also four of his major public art pieces in Chicago:
Lincoln Park: The Standing Lincoln  & The Bates Fountain —on the last one he collaborated with his former pupil Frederick MacMonnies.
Grant Park: The Seated Lincoln —behind the Art Institute—
The General Logan Memorial —Michigan Ave & 9th Street—

An other important fact is that Augustus Saint Gaudens was advisor on sculpture for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair —a.k.a The World’s Columbian Exposition or encore, The White City. He didn’t make any special work for the exposition but the first Diana that had been too big for the top of Madison Square Garden II found a home on top of the Agriculture Building designed by McKim, Mead & White.

The first version of Saint-Gaudens’ Diana is on top of the Agriculture Building, left.

Voilà the report for the Chicago trip. The train ride in the roomette was wonderful, we had no delays and the food was totally acceptable. I loved the interaction with the train personnel. The one thing I really dislike is the toilet in the roomette. That is the silliest invention ever, I would much prefer to have more space and a public john in the corridor. There would be many other observation to report but that will have to be  for another post. Thanks to all the welcoming people we met, hope to come back soon!

Au revoir Paris, but no Regrets!

Au revoir Paris, but no Regrets!

coquilles d'huitres

My last night in Paris was a good transition to return home. I first met up with a friend from my teenage years that I had not seen in 30 years! Bélinda and I reconnected via Facebook a few months ago. What I find totally fascinating in these reconnection stories —and that happened more than once this year— is the re-collection of my own forgotten memories. Bélinda de-fragmented my hard drive revealing a few events that I am sure glad to have recovered.
The first one was a luncheon at the famous Paris restaurant Chez Coconnas on Place des Vosges with Roland Dhordain.  Roland is a radioman —now long retired— who had been general manager of Radio France in 1965. He became a close friend of the family in the 1970’s. Bélinda also remembered us having Lunch at the Eiffel Tower with my parents the day  Jimmy Carter won the presidential election, so that was November 2nd 1976, I was 16 & Bélinda 18! Bélinda always wanted to be an English teacher and she became one! She loved purple and still does, though I didn’t notice her wearing purple mascara anymore! It was lovely to see her.

Around 7 PM we took off to rue de Rivoli to meet up with New York poet friends Yuko Otomo & Steve Dalachinsky. They had been on a European tour and they were reading at 59 rue de Rivoli for the  “Grand reopening of the Squat / Art Music Poesie”. Steve & Yuko kindly invited me to perform a few pieces. The set up was not an ideal situation for a poetry reading. Lots of people where going in and out to watch the multilevel art shows and there was no microphone. Despite the conditions, Yuko’s beautifully crafted bilingual (Japanese –English) haikus soared through the noise and fall gently into attentive ears.


Steve mesmerized the crowd with his rhythmical & entrancing poems; an improvising accordion player called Claude Parlé accompanied him. Claude improvised on my pieces too. Once again my Gascon Southern French accent drew more attention in Paris than in NYC. So I took the opportunity to declare my allegiance to the Southwest — be it Southwest Brooklyn or Southwest Occitania — and proclaimed my self-declared nationality to be Gasco-Ricain! I performed “Things fall where they lie,”  “Cranes” and “Outer outer edges”.


Bélinda returned home after the reading. Steve, Yuko and I had a lovely walk back to my place in the 6th. When we passed the inviting outdoors oyster stand of Bistro de La Grille I couldn’t resist getting some to take back to the studio. On the video below you can see Steve skillfully carrying the mayonnaise and the shallot vinegar through Rue Guisarde. The oysters highly recommended by the écailler were Fine de Claire Nº2, I didn’t get to ask the  exact provenance; the transaction to take the oysters home was a little out of the ordinary but once I called onto the wonderful Thierry —manager for as long as I remember the place! — things eased up and we walked home with all the trimming I mention above, plus an overload of bulots, rye bread and beurre salé de Bretagne (j’ai pensé à Claire!). The oysters were delicious, very meaty and firm, not as green as the one we had in Angoulême but that was the specificity of that type of oysters. As for wine, I had bought a red Alsace wine. It had been recommended by the sommelier of the wine shop at the marché St-Germain. I asked for a light red that would go well with seafood or a light meal. He highly recommended a €10 biodynamic Alsace Pinot noir called “Lunatic”. With a name like this how could I pass. The Estate Barmès Buecher is located in Wettolsheim and totally dedicated to biodynamic  growing; this is what they say about it:


” Wine is made on the vine and not in the winery”
…We work the vineyards bio-dynamically, that’s to say with activated preparations, according to the influence of the planets and the apogee and perigee of the moon. No synthesized chemical product is used, neither in the vineyards nor in the winery.
The aim of this is to keep the initial balance of the grapes undisturbed, and not to mask the effect of the vintages, so that the wine can show its “terroir” to the maximum and to preserve the energy it has acquired (from the bio-dynamic culture of the vines).
The soils are ploughed and hoed between November and July and then we mow the grass from August to the harvest.
The vines are planted
closely at a density of 6000 to 8000 plants per hectare to create maximum competition for the roots. This forces them to delve as deeply as possible.
No weedkillers or chemical fertilizers are used. If needed, we just use compost we make ourselves…more click here.

Many would argue about pairing red wine and oysters, but what can I say other than: this simple, clean, straight and dry red wine with a subtle tinge of red berries enchanted me! I loved it and so did my guests! Au diable les conventions!

Voilà! we ate, drank, talked into the late night — voir early morning— and when time came to separate I did something that is very Parisian among intimate friends: I gave them the trash to deposit downstairs! Now I am back home and as the song on the video says, I had a great time but  no regrets to leave Paris!

Piano: Yuko Kishimoto
Voice: Nicole Peyrafitte
recorded at Bender Studio by Sten Isachsen
May 2004

Spring Meditations Places in NYC (I)

Spring Meditations Places in NYC (I)

No need to go faraway, nor to spend a lot of money, to feel a total change of scenery when you live in NYC. My childhood friend Marika was visiting from Toulouse for two weeks and I wanted her to grasp the contrasts of the megapolis. The last post, Limulus Polyphemus, came out our long walk on the beach of to Coney Island. Friday after walking over the Brooklyn Bridge we headed to Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn.

Green-Wood opened in 1838. It is the resting place of 600.000 New Yorkers and among them some famous ones: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein, Lola Montez, George Catlin, Horace Greeley, Steinway and Bernard St Gaudens.

Bernard St Gaudens, was born June 26th 1816 in the village of Aspet in the French Pyrenees. This village is only 20 miles away from my birth town of Luchon. After spending time in Carcassonne, Paris, London and Dublin as a Compagnon du devoir, Bernard emigrated from Ireland in 1848 with his wife Mary McGuiness and their six months old infant: Augustus. Bernard became a successful shoemaker in NYC and Augustus Saint Gaudens (1848-1907) became the most famous American sculptor of his time. Last year I was commissioned to create a documentary performance for the 100th anniversary of Augustus Saint Gaudens death and got to do extensive research on his life and especially his French Pyrenean family. With the help of the Saint Gaudens National Historic Site staff I was able to find out where was Bernard’s final resting place.

Under a very simple white marble tombstone lay the remains of Bernard the father, Mary McGuiness the mother, and Andrew St Gaudens, the younger brother. Only Mary’s name is barely decipherable, thought she was the first buried there in 1875. it is a bit of an enigma why neither Augustus nor his brother Louis -who was also a very accomplished sculptor- didn’t erect a more significant tomb stone or plaque for their parents. Especially that Augustus and Louis made a beautiful tomb for the Stewart Family (Isabella Gardner’s father) in the very same cemetery! (see the picture below). Anyhow this is not a post about the Saint Gaudenses, though I love being carried away on that subject, and it is why I got to discover Green-Wood where I keep returning for guided tours, by the very knowledgeable Jeff Richman, the cemetery’s historian and author of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery: New York’s Buried Treasure, or just for walks like Friday with Marika.

One of the big project of the cemetery is to mark the graves with specific gravestones for the nearly 3,000 Civil War veterans buried there. Among them the Prentiss Brothers who fought on opposite sides. They were wounded and reunited on the same battleground and brought to the Armory Square Hospital in Washington where their nurse was Walt Whitman. Below is a sample –with a beautiful French name– of the 3,000 gravestones that can be found close by the Saint Gaudenses grave.

Another interesting fact about Green-Wood is that it was the very site of the Battle of Brooklyn (A.K.A. the Battle of Long Island), the first battle of the American Revolution fought on August 27, 1776 by General Washington. The Minerva below was erected in 1920 to commemorate the Battle of Brooklyn. Minerva salutes the Statue of Liberty across the harbor. This clear view is being threaten by commercial developers. The website “save the vista” provides some info.

and below is what i am looking at:

I will conclude my post today with some views of the blooming grounds of this very peaceful place. Next post will be about the Chinese Scholar Garden in Staten Island.

Photos Marika Frioli & Nicole Peyrafitte

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