Porte d’Aubervilliers, 1932 by Henri Cartier-Bresson

hcb porte  d'aubervilliersHenri Cartier-Bresson snapped his images inside what he called The Decisive Moment, operating on instinct, capturing the essence of life.

Somehow he knew.

Somehow we can know.

That is all I know.

 

 

 

 

Here is my prose-poem from Vignettes & Postcards From Paris inspired by this photo:

Escape

Based on the photo Porte d’Aubervilliers, 1932 by Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

The boy was the poorest of the poor in Paris between wars. He stopped and his feet slid inside worn shoes, which sank with an ooze in the mud. Underneath a grimace of gray sky, he leaned against the tin wall of the hovel he called home and listened to the chaos within.

Scraping, clawing, scuffling. Yelling, screaming, crying. Bumping, knocking, thumping. The last vestige of hope drained from his body; soon his father would come for him. The cold metal clawed his shoulder through an overcoat that weighed down his frame.

Panic spread from his stomach in escalating surges, poisonous petals growing with each pulsating push to grip and twist his bowels. His lungs were afraid to admit air.

He sought escape from the maelstrom with every vibrating atom of his being. He waited. And waited.

He reached out his empty little soul. His face took on a concentrated intensity. His eyes focused, unfocused. His chest slowed its rhythms, his mouth fell slack. His hearing slowly muffled, the violence became silence. The cold metal released his shoulder, and gloom gave up its quest to permeate. His dirt-caked body felt clean—and then he left it behind.

In this moment, though he did not know it, the boy instinctively practiced the ancient art of Transcendental Meditation.

Sunlight crept along the filthy slum, glinted on the window’s jagged glass, and turned the mud a tawny tan. It moved as if seeking him. It snuck over the folds of the boy’s soiled cap and rippled down his arm. Wave upon wave of warm, liquid love infused the center of his chest and rolled through his veins.

The sunlight was gentle, like a hand blessing him.

 

HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON: “The photo takes me, not the other way around.”

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, French photographer, 1908 – 2004

Henri Cartier-Bresson taught me how to reignite my intuition—to follow the inviting urge to meander in concentric circles until meaning becomes clear, to take a startling encounter with the Greek statue Winged Victory of Samothrace (never italicized to me) seriously enough to write a book about it, and to be attuned to signs and premonitions.  He taught me how to live.

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A photo tacked to a periwinkle wall: A seven-year-old, knobby boy-knees braced below shorts.  Shock-still, attention riveted down to the box he grips.  He’s poised to snatch something like a firefly in a jar; some image has dazzled him and his mouth lifts in a victorious smile—he’s about to trap it.

A soft cusion of sleep one winter night in Paris: swirling dream-shapes, dark, misty objects, night’s silence.

“Henri Cartier-Bresson,” a man’s voice said.

My eyes popped open.  I had heard this; my eardrums had vibrated.  The air still rang with sound.  But I was alone in my apartment at 3:30 a.m.

I knew with certainty that Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Parisian photographer of previous decades, whom I had only heard of, had a message for me.

—“Don’t Think” in Wings

Thus began my romance with Henri Cartier-Bresson.  As in the story “À Propos de Paris,” He’s French, but he speaks to me in English.  He died in 2004, but to me, he  is in present tense.

Henri is my mentor in a strange way.  Uncanny synchronicities often happen to me related to him, and sometimes it seems he’s inside my head.  Henri reappears with a message every so often.

Here is a photo Cartier-Bresson took in 1947.  WHICH famous author was this???

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WINGS Book Launch Events

The initial Wings book launch tour was sizzling!  Thank you to artiste Anna Elkins for joining us with her gorgeous, colorful sketches and effervescent presence. Here are a few highlights:

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Our first event was at BOOK PASSAGE, and “the Bay Area’s liveliest bookstore”  was crowded with champagne lovers and eager readers.

 

 

 

Special guest, mentor extraordinaire, Georgia Hesse, dishes about the deeper aspects of France.  You can find out more about this “grande dame of travel writing” here.Wings w Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Taste of This Place” transported everyone through revolutions, wars, reigns and riots.bp signing black and white

 

 

 

 

 

University Bookstore in Seattle was our next stop, where we sampled IMG_8834Jurassic Cheese and celebrated “Bastille Day on the Palouse”, followed by an exquisite private event in Seattle.

 

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Kings Bookstore in Tacoma gave us a warm welcome, including flowers.

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A private event in Auburn was a chance for a pink champagne toast and “Coasting Beyond Boyhood”, a story about Normandy.

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Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane with its vibrant atmosphere packed them in and included an introduction by Christina Ammon and an appearance by my travel writing guru, the boisterous aIMG_8938nd brilliant Tim Cahill, who spoke about the origin of our stories and why thIMG_8915ey can reach the universal.

All through this tour, Anna Elkins and her work added pizzazz and panache.

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f is for…

le croissant et cafe au lait

Le Croissant et Café au Lait*

I felt so feminine in my fuchsia scarf as I read to a full audience from my new book about France.  The cover is pink, the pages are pristine and filled with beaucoup d’expressions Françaises.

This was my initial book launch. I read my story about baguettes, which presents two aproned boulangers eliciting perfect French before bestowing their treasures, and I roll out my foreign expertise: “une baguette, une croissant, un millefeulle,” I say, to their delight.  It was a thrill to read it straight from the book, the ink still freshly set.

As I stood atop my pedestal knowing I was making a flashy first impression, a flashback occurred:  During the final editing process, with my fledgling Français, I had frequently consulted my bible, my crutch, my linguistic sustenance, a dog-eared, yellow French dictionary, which had been my trusted companion for a decade, having rattled around in the baggage hold on Air France and jiggled in my clutches on the métro.  Vin rouge, Champagne, and café stains on its cover had lent it an art noveauesque appearance.  At home, as I frequently flailed about—seeking spelling, accents, and, that which most easily fled my mind, gender— it waited within arm’s reach of my computer.

The final fine-tuning of any story had always found me in a frenzied fear of failure, scratching through my beloved dictionary, which had so often restored my dignity after instructing me to change a le to a la, or a ma to a mon, or even an une to an un.  This time, with an entire book manuscript at stake, my forehead scrunched in terror, I moved the little book ever closer on my left side; it was à gauche so that I wouldn’t be thought of as gauche, always nearby to lend a helping hand (une – no, un!! coup de main).

Memories of a Junior High class paper with a bold, red “F” circled at the top swarmed my nerves.  I thought about a story in the book, “Cézanne’s Salon des Réfuses” (accents, plural, only one “s”), in which Paul Cézanne’s fear of Failure (capital “F”), instilled in him from an early age, drove him to extremes.  He never could get beyond it, thus his eyebrows snarled over a constant frown.

Now, speaking into the microphone as members of the audience tilted their heads and smiled, my confidence flew.  I loved all things French: the culture, the history, the language, and most of all, my parfait book.

The next day, the first text I received was from a close friend who traveled frequently to France and was often taking over the aproned ladies tutelage, patiently and sometimes humorously correcting my pronunciation of peu or pleur or hystérique, or (just as my yellow confidant did) informing me of gender  If she did it in writing, she’d enclose the correct phrase in quotation marks, just to set it apart.

In this text message, my friend asked, “Are you munching on “un croissant” this morning with your café au lait?”

Un croissant? It was une—I was positive I’d checked.  The only thing I hadn’t confirmed was the spelling of a main street in Paris that I’d been so sure I had correct, I hadn’t checked.  Indeed, as this very friend had pointed out then, I’d flubbed that one, but had caught it just in time to fix the manuscript before it went to print.  The more I thought about it, the more I remembered that I had been sure croissant was masculine, but had been informed in print that it was the reverse.

I rushed into my office and there it was, now languishing a full foot away from my keyboard, with its blue stripe lending the cover an authority that few would challenge.  First, I did a quick Google search to confirm that the buttery bitch was indeed masculine.

Pages fluffed; I stopped, my thumb highlighting croquant at the top of page 81.  It was there, near the bottom of the right column:

croiss/ance [krwa’sã:s] f  growth: ~ant [‘sã]

There it was, the f  I’d relied upon so fervently!  My face flushed with betrayal, my heart burst with a true cri de coeur, and I plummeted from my pedestal, sans confidence.  I hurled the dictionary across the room with a “f@#*!” and it flounced to the floor.

But when I picked it up I noticed the rest of the entry.  I rarely looked beyond the initial f or m in my quest for correction, but hidden in a birds nest of scratches and scrawls, italics and brackets and abbreviations was: su./m moon: crescent; cuis. croissant.

Hasty impressions can indeed be deceiving, as my faux pas proved.  But, when one thing is lost, another is gained, for as I realized that my own precious book, and by extension myself,  were far from perfect, along with femme, fi! and fou, I added to my repertoire of French words a new one, similar to the English, only seeming to come that much closer to the true meaning that it occurred to me it might be worth it to struggle with a foreign language: faillible.

I said it aloud and smiled.

 

 

*Photo credit: www.itineramundi.wordpress.com

 

The Taste of This Place

Here are a few menus from the siege of Paris.  The first item is precious Pain du Siege as described in the Wings story, “The Taste of This Place.”

Le Civet de Kangourou, mmmmm… Kangaroo stew!!Siege-menu1 Siege-menu2 340px-Menu-siegedeparis

WINGS Sketch Artist, Anna Elkins

Meet l’Artiste!

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Anna Elkins is a traveling poet and painter. She earned a BA in art and English and an MFA and Fulbright Fellowship in poetry. Her writings have been published in journals and books, and her paintings hang on walls around the world. She has written, painted, and taught on six continents. She is the author of the illustrated vignette, The Heart Takes Flight, the novel The Honeylicker Angel, and the poetry collection The Space Between. Anna has set up her easel and writing desk in the mythical State of Jefferson. www.annaelkins.com

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3b Route des ChateauxThere are over 100 gorgeous sketches by Anna in Wings, many of which come with addresses so that readers can find the bistros, cafés, inns, châteaux, villages and other sites.

Recently, we traveled to Morocco and France together, and visited many of the sites she had sketched.  Here are her impressions:

The most recent trip I took to Paris was a kind of pilgrimage. I had spent seven months the previous year creating over one hundred illustrations for Erin Byrne’s luminous book, Wings. Many of her stories are set in Paris. I had been to some of the sites I drew, but others I had only “met” through photographs.

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My birthday arrived right after I did. Erin suggested we meet at Le Bistrot d’Henri—one of the very first Parisian sites I had sketched for her book. I had first encountered this charming spot in her story, “Two Boys in a Bistro”—long before I knew I would one day illustrate its exterior, let alone celebrate my birthday inside. I will always remember the moment my friends and I found the address. We had taken a wrong turn and finally made it to Rue Princesse. And there it was: the bistro just as I had imagined it while sketching it, with Erin waiting inside to welcome us.

It was like that for every place in Paris—known and new, from the Luxembourg Gardens to Les Editeurs. At every turn, I felt a shiver of delightful recognition and a sense of being welcomed inside the stories the sketches were based on.

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The illustrations in Wings are invitations to the stories. They beckon you inside. They say “welcome.” 

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View Anna’s images here

Joseph Campbell on Travel, Adventure, and Magical Guides

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If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you. If you say, ‘Everyone’s going on this trip this year, and I’m going too,’ then no guides will appear.

Your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior. If you are ready for it, then doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else. And you must have courage. It’s the call to adventure, which means there is no security, no rules.

—Joseph Campbell, A Joseph Campbell
Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

WING: Gifts of Art, Life, and Travel in France is a book about how I was changed by traveling around France with the ghosts of artists and historical figures who shared with me their guides to living.

Soon I will introduce you!  First up will be the photographer known as “The Timecatcher of the Twentieth Century”

Interview, Rolf Potts Travel Writer Series

vagabondingI’m so excited to be a part of this fascinating interview series!  Read about how I get started writing, my biggest challenges on the road, inside tips from my collection of stellar mentors, and a reading list of travel books that will incite your wanderlust.

When you are finished with mine, peruse the archives for interviews with the best travel writers from all over the world.

Thank you so much to Rolf Potts, whose books Marco Polo Didn’t Go There and Vagabonding are in places of honor on my bookshelf!

http://www.rolfpotts.com/writers/index.php?writer=Erin%20Byrne