17 Feb - 1 May 2018
“One must love during an instant… as one loves the crimson hues of the sun at the moment when it disappears below the horizon.” -Valtesse de la Bigne
I arrived on February 17th, in the year of our godforsaken ‘Tit-Rump, from sunny and warm San Luis Obispo, California, to catch the tail end of a Paris winter. It was cold and snowy, and an even colder front was coming soon from Russia. And then the internet went out. I spent time in the neighboring cafes, using what wifi I could find for WhatsApp plans, feeling a little lost and disconnected.
Within a short time, I’d managed to get a French SIM card and phone number, and the apartment had new fiber optic cable wifi installed, with the help of the fabulously generous and patient Elizabeth Hansen over the phone and friendly wifi technicians in person. I met some neighbors in the elevator, a lovely couple who invited me in to see the architecture of their apartment (a number of garrets combined into one) and offered their assistance, should I ever need it.
And then it was spring, and I was reading at the Luxembourg Gardens or picnicking in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with friends. And— these friends! What began as a few American poet acquaintances in the city ended as a community of supportive, engaged friends, always going to readings, inviting me along, hosting literary events, inviting me to their art studios or out for wine or dinner. I felt instantly welcomed into a remarkable group of women poets: Jennifer Dick, who invited me to read at the Ivy Writers Series; Lisa Pasold, a friend I knew from New Orleans; Carrie Chapelle, another New Orleans connection who became a close friend; and Christine Herzer, artist-poet who I met at the Ivy reading and former Trelex resident. And everyone knows Laura Mullen, of course, and everyone knows Cole Swenson, too, and I'm sure I'm forgetting others.
What a brilliant, loving community I was lucky enough to be welcomed into, with the help of the Trelex residency! And in the meantime, between the readings and literary events; the hours spent at the desk in front of that dazzling view; the books bought and read from Berkeley Books and The Abbey and Shakespeare and Company; the nights wandering the streets, feeling alone and safe— in the meantime, I lived and wrote in Paris.
Never again will I have the chance to live in a beautiful apartment on the Left Bank with such a generous, luxurious stretch of time and no responsibilities to get in the way of writing, reading, and thinking. I thought about what it means to be an expat, what it means to migrate, what it means to be privileged in this particular way. I read Sylvia Beach’s memoir and took note of the addresses for the original and second locations of her bookstore, Hemingway and Joyce’s hangouts, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ apartment— all within walking distance of the Trelex residency. I realized that every time I walked down Rue de Fleurus to the Jardin du Luxembourg, I had passed the Stein and Toklas home, and the plaque on the wall commemorating it. And another American expat, Natalie Clifford Barney, who, for sixty years, held weekly literary salons at her "Temple of Friendship" on Rue Jacob, also just down Rue de Rennes.
I worked on a chapbook of poems I like to call “Je déteste mon président,” because I do, and I tried to say this to everyone I met, in my stilted French: “Je m'appelle Kristin, je suis Californien, je suis un écrivain féministe, je déteste mon président.” The response was either, “Yes, how could this be?!” or “Ours is just as bad.” Or, as one American poet reminded me, “Honey, a country is not its president.”
And in the darkness of this political moment, I loved. I loved in an instant. I loved because it was easy to love what I could hardly comprehend. I loved because of the female statues throughout the city, the very feminine quality of it, a city imbued with intellect and art. That I couldn’t comprehend the conversations around me, that I didn’t always know exactly where I was, that a map on my phone told me which Metro line to take to arrive at the exact right spot and on time, that I found and lost a French lover, that I found others still, that I fell in friendship-love with my girlfriends, that I wrote in the midst of it all— only served to remind me of what it means to be a poet: someone in love with the world.
A reminder I needed, we all need, and for which I am eternally grateful— especially to Elizabeth Hansen, Nina Rodin, and Abi Box