Winter on the Seine, Lavacourt

You know there is this idea in the world that the French think very little of the Americans: Rude. Boorish.

When really, it’s just that our people often lack enough respect to learn to say, “I am sorry, but I don’t speak French,” when speaking to a French person. In France.

Two Stories–

How we got to be so fortunate as to get to be Meridith’s parents is beyond us. As a college senior she was awarded a Watson Fellowship for her project to paint as a contemporary woman in the footsteps of Cezanne from Paris to Aix en Provence.

While in Paris, on the street by Notre Dame, Meridith, or as she was also named when she was born — Mimi — was struck by a hit-and-run motorcyclist. A friend she’d made called us. I speak no French. Julie speaks just a bit. She called the hospital, said that her French was poor (in French) and was told not to worry. Julie then inquired about Mimi. “Oh the little red-haired girl. It’s very serious; however, the surgery has gone well and she will be fine. Please do not worry. We like her very much.”

We flew to Paris. We went to the hospital, said we were the parents of Meridith Ridl and want to take care of things. “Oh no. There is nothing for you to do but take good care of your daughter.”

“Thank you, but I mean that we want to take care of the cost.” “No cost. We care about the people who need us.” Pause. “Oh, I’m sorry. There is one thing: $25 for copying fees.” For her ambulence, her surgery and several days in the hospital.

Once Mimi was feeling well enough to walk, though for a while she felt panic at each curb we crossed, she and I went to Sainte Chapelle, the cathedral with the stained glass that seems to soar into a heaven.

We sat on a little green bench while about a dozen Americans were arguing, shouting at the woman who accepted the entry fee: “What the hell do you mean you don’t have change?! You have to have some god damn change!” It went on.

I turned to Mimi, said, “We don’t have the correct change.” “Don’t worry, Pere, we’ll speak French. All they had to do was apologize that they didn’t.” And we entered the wonder of Sainte Chapelle, change in our pocket.

A couple of days ago my sister returned from ten days in Paris. Almost every French person she encountered said to her, “We are so worried about you, about what is happening in your country. Sometimes we are scared of (45). Are you?”

Monet’s “Winter on the Seine, Lavacourt”

These blues were never in the world.
He would have had to let his palette

find this benign freeze, this landscape
still as a stoic’s paradise. The ice must

have lain beneath his frayed gray gloves
as he thrust his brush stiff across

the canvas. His red spreads from the sun.
Nothing else moves. In this infinity

of cold, this pitiless lucidity of fading light,
the dead walk across the river into town.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Mid-American Review

Published in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Yes, preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

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18 thoughts on “Winter on the Seine, Lavacourt

  1. Dear Jack, You don’t know me. I live in Douglas, go to DUCC, support Garn Lewis and went to your writing workshop at church last spring. I am a nurse who has worked in that capacity since 1975 and I continue to do so. I am happily married to a wonderful man but I didn’t get it right the first time which makes me even more grateful for it. I have four children, two step children, and seven beautiful grandchildren. I tell you all this to give you a glimpse of me and to say that I feel so much despair about the state of our country that you so eloquently express in your column. Your writing gives me moments of solace in this craziness and for that I want to thank you. Your poems and blog bring me something for which I am deeply grateful. I watch you and Julie from afar and respect you both so much. Remarkable people. Sincerely, Linda Page McWebb

    • Oh Linda. I just swept away some tears. This from dear you is
      such a lovely and loving comment. My gratitude is beyond gratitude.

      I DO know you, but alas, from a bit away. How about tromping on
      up at church or somewhere and let us meet.

      The way this little project has been responded to has been overwhelming.
      I wasn’t sure that offering distraction in the form of helping people stay
      with what matters to them would make a difference. I’m floored that it has,
      that it has followers from every continent. Well, not Antarctica, yet.

      And your use of the word “moments” is wonderfully precise. That’s actually
      what I meant to give, moments. That’s all we can have every day right now,
      but we must not ever neglect them, those moments that matter, that hug
      from your husband, that look in a patient’s eyes.

      Thank you. Oh my, thank you soooo much,

  2. Jack,

    Very beautiful, and acutely timely for us trying to make it to Nov. 6th!

    I really needed to read your personal story, and your tender delicate poem today.

    All the attempts to suppress the truth, and preventing voters from being able to exercise their civic duty, has my dander up!

    We undoubtedly need change in this country. And create the opportunity to promote a better world, fashioned around philosophy and poetry.

    I love the world you always create in your metrical compositions, thanks for making my day seem a little brighter.


    • Hi Nick
      Oh yes, oh my yes, to your response. Thanks as always.
      I so admire you, and for what you so deeply care about.
      Dander up. OMG yes. And I hate that feeling. It makes it
      so much harder for all of us to care about what deserves
      our care.
      I love your “seem brighter.” Yep, it’s all compromised now.
      PS. I wouldn’t know metrical from from a stove pipe!!!!!

  3. Nearly 60 and I have only ever been out of the country to Canada. Were I to ever move it would be to France. I would listen until I understood the language (which for me might be a very long time) but I could paint, and write, and absorb as much as this ol’ thick soul could. My imagining tells me I could die there and already be in heaven. Thank you for this poem, Jack.

    • Let’s all move there! But of course they too are going through a frightening time.
      Your “ol’ thick soul” sounds dancing young and vibrant to me!

    • It was terrifying to have Mimi so far away and with a life-threatening injury.
      You, ole wonderful baby sitter would feel for us all. Of course you would
      and still do–a great good gift to us.

  4. France still miss this red-hair little Lady and her parents 🙂 I am glad you are keeping a good memory of this scary part in France. And glad we have many others…

  5. Oh Jack, you touched my heart tonight. My old brain is struggling to learn Japanese but I know how to say excuse me. I’m working on the phrase to tell the sweet grandmother who arranges flower buds on the steps to her apartment that her flowers are beautiful. Tonight I said Konbanwa (good evening) to our neighbor and her little boys and their delight made me glow. You are so right. When we reach out, the world around us reaches out too. Thank you for sharing your story and poem.

    Hugs to you and Julie

    • Nancy, tis you you you who brings joy into a heart.
      I was there. I was right there with the grandmother
      and with the neighbor and her boys and the glow
      YOU gave to them.
      Hugs in any language

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