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Two Footnotes (2020, the Vision Year)

1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

This is a point worth repeating, since it explains a lot about my decision to clone my novel. By sheer coincidence, sometime around 2016, I came across an old French film that has become a classic: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

This iconic film (a musical, in effect) stars the captivating French actress Catherine Deneuve in the blush of her youth, and is a statement on love that is remarkably Gallic (I think). That is, the director takes a gushing love story and ends it on a melancholy, ironic note in which the two lovers drift apart and marry others. The final touch is an ironic coda in which they meet one more time, and barely recognize each other, nor do they seem to care. Some love story, eh? For whatever reason, in my own melancholy state of mind, alone far from home (a feeling just about any GI who has served overseas will understand, even without combat experience), I took a certain literary and emotional twist with On Saint Ronan Street. Saint Ronan Street happens to be a lane in New Haven of personal relevance and emotional resonance to me; and I like the name.

Similarly, years ago, the poet in me found a certain resonance in the name Cherbourg. The 1964 movie title alone floored me and continues to cause emotional tingles for me. Who knows why. I may have been to Cherbourg once or twice while crossing the English Channel (I don't remember for sure). I have no personal stake in the place emotionally. And yet the title contains that delicious irony: cher or chère in French means beloved. The etymology of the name actually has nothing to do with love, but one could squeeze one eye shut, and pretend that Cherbourg is Love City. And for me, again as a poetic trope, I remember finding the movie title thrilling as a pubescent teenager in the 1960s, with a criss-cross of emotional images of rain, umbrellas, urban landscapes filled with possibilities, young romance, young idealism, hormones, and yes, at least one angelic, stunning, perfect French blonde (Catherine Deneuve, about twenty years of age).

Without unduly telegraphing my plot, On Saint Ronan Street has an ending less bleugh or bleu than Les Parapluies de Cherbourg but captures some of the melancholy. My novel ends with a dazed young man watching his angel leave ("She's gone.") I think the Umbrellas movie gave me the kick I needed to think of sitting down one afternoon, cloning the Word file, and creating a whole new/same old novel that I have titled Paris Affaire. When I reached the final stages of Paris Affaire, a crazy thing happened. I changed the ending (hint: a stunning, surprising kiss in front of Notre Dame de Paris while the bells are hammering away enough to make everyone deaf, like a symphony with cymbals). One more hint: the amazing catalyst of that transformation was latent the entire time from 1976/7 in On Saint Ronan Street. I was simply not experienced enough as a story teller to slap myself on the forehead back then and say "Oh my god, what have I overlooked!" But in Paris Affaire, I got it (several 'its' actually, in terms of key plot elements). With that, dear reader, I leave it up to you. If you are curious, you'll need to read preferably, ideally, both novels and the accompanying poetry (with On Saint Ronan Street only) to have a fulfilling experience. Over and out.

2. The Terrible Fire of 2019

As mentioned already, I think, I woke one morning in 2019 to find the television news ablaze with a shocking, devastating story: Notre Dame de Paris, situated near the official geopolitical center of both Paris and France, was being consumed by a ghastly fire. This is a cathedral I have often visited over decades. It seemed like a permanent, unalterable fixture… and then it suddenly becomes a skeleton of history, a reminder of how fragile both human life and human history will be. Almost immediately, I reissued the identical story text under a new title (The Bells of Notre Dame). And, in a total anticlimax, about a year later I reverted to the original title Paris Affaire. I mention this to explain in case you come across a novel by me, titled The Bells of Notre Dame, and wonder what that's all about. It's the same novel, with a different title. I've played similar strategies with a few other books, hoping to jockey for better reader recognition.

The true effects of the 2019 fire are not yet entirely certain. President Macron quickly and appropriately made a courageous promise to devote a great amount of resources (money, labor, scholarship, etc.) to restoring this 800 year old treasure. His five year plan for restoration was probably hopelessly ambitious as it was well-meant. The kiss of Marc and his woman at the Point Zero marker (of France and of Paris) before the cathedral during a storm of bells hopefully will resonate forever in our memories. Hopefully, the great bells will ring again one day soon from a sound, restored structure on its way toward its thousand year anniversary. With that, dear reader, I say merçi and adieu and Happy Reading.

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