Each day a new section of David McWane’s Modern American Gypsy will be posted. Todays stories will take us across France.
To get from Krefeld, Germany, to Paris, France, we drove on A7 to E40 in a small white Sprinter through Belgium, passing small villages packed with small white houses with red clay curved tiled roof tops and continued up and down it’s damp hilly landscape, passing crumbled castles set high atop unreachable cliffs, then on through to A2, where the land looked like an endless bed sheet in the wind, then connected to A1, where you could look down from the road onto ancient churches centering small villages and adding grandeur to the farmlets and their fields of bound wheat, to finally connect with A3 and reach Paris by mid day. The windows were wet.
Most of us men still had the unfortunate remembrances of our lousy drunk from the night before. We tried to sleep it off in the hopes of properly starting the process over again by morning, but the Sprinter we drove was packed uncomfortably tight. There was no way any of us could fall asleep, our heads bouncing against the glass and our legs twisted in our bags and instruments.
I gave up sleep and stared out onto the yellow fields of rape seed. It was warm, raining, but warm. And the windows left down let in the warm air and light rain, allowing everything inside the Sprinter to float and dance. It was slow motion; it was what I imagined magic would look like. The sun reflected on everything it could reach, softly and kindly blinding us. We talked quietly about Paris. We talked quietly about women. Germany had made us slow and lethargic, but with each mile we gained on France we became more alive. My friend talked excitedly about how he was going to meet a Danish girl he had met four years prior and had been writing every week since. I was happy for him. He needs a woman even more than me.
Five out of the eight of us men decided we wanted to court a good woman sooner than later during that conversation. Too many scorpion kisses that taste like bitter warnings had touched our lips. Now is the time to stop looking for a flower in the dry forest with a torch. In that moment, in the van of dancing napkins and loose paper, with warm rain on my face, I had turned a chapter in my life – ‘Bring me miles, bring me Paris and awaken me so that I can find what it is all men search for, so I can find – her.’
We take a moment in Belgium to stretch and air out our clothes at a petrol station. Rain clouds hover over muddy grass fields where cows sleep together bowling the earth down. Mist whirls and wets our coats black and makes them slick, as we enter the station and stand around a high table discussing karma over hot tea and biscuits.
There were times that us men held our breaths too long for happiness to find us. But now we have all become the creators of it, giving it to each other and allowing us all to relax in laughter whenever there is a free moment.
We drive on.
Entering Paris we pass a small café where young people laugh and flirt, then continue on to where the business people and shop workers are just starting their walks home. We all sit up straight, try to comb our hair with our dirty fingers and begin showing off what little French we know as we take a right onto the Quai Mauriac, a road named after Francis Mouriac, a French writer from the 1800s. Just before reaching the Bibliotecha National France we take a dipping right onto a small road parallel to the river called La Seine, to the Quai where the boat Botafar is docked.
Tonight we are to do seven interviews and a concert in the bowels of the boat. It is nice to be back in Paris. It is nice to hope for a woman. I worry about my health this day and my life, and I wonder if I still know how to flirt.
Us men all work together well after twelve years of travel. We unpack the bags, the beer and wine, the instruments, our album recordings, the spare tire and all the trinkets — stickers, patches and pins — we have to sell. I call us – the Modern American Gypsies to the men. And the men like that.
It was a big day for France that day. Not only was it the national holiday, ‘The Eighth of May’, the day La Revolution freed France from German occupation back in WWII, but it is a very important election day. Francois Mitterrand, after fourteen years of rule, is to step down as president of France. A Nicolas Sarkozy was the suspected new president, but it is not to be official until the votes are counted and that was to be in a couple of hours. France felt like it was waiting to sneeze. Our French friends from Metz and Nancy who are also playing with us at the Botafar came up to us and we greeted them with strong overcoat clenching hugs. Yet our friends from France had to excuse themselves to talk with loved ones on phones about the election. I am told by my friends Seb and Yul that they are all fearful that Sarkozy would win the election, for they disagreed with all he says. These were global times of questionable leaders.
As I take a minute to drink a warm German beer by the edge of the water, away from the happenings, I think it all to be lovely…a few boats bumping against the docks, their ropes pulling tight and then easing again, the smell and sound of the water, young Lovers of the Sound hovering, smiling and waving, beer and smoke, bread and cheese, wine and winks, a day you could sit and someone curious would chat you up into a new lasting friendship. A good day. A safe day.
Nadia, a ripe girl with long brown hair, sleepy eyes and a closed mouth smile, works the door, taking your money and handing you a ripped ticket. Her nose is in piles of books and folders. She is studying for her exams scheduled early the next day, she tells me, sighing often, longing to join in the day.
Down in the belly of the boat the concert is mad. People sway the boat back and forth, left and right until water splashes the portholes and it is impossible not to stagger about. Instruments crash, amplifiers topple over, I, with others jump into the crowd and swim on them while we all float and bounce under the water line. The ceiling drips. Lovers of our Sound hang on pipes and stand against the walls that are slick with sweat. Lovers of the Sound reach and pull at the microphone making me drown in a sea of believers. Lovers of the Sound cheer and I cheer. Lovers of the Sound scream and I scream.
When it is over, the outside dock is filled with us all. I sit with friends on a thick rope fence; the water behind us. Red wine is poured in small cups and handed about. I breath in the laughter and stretch my shoulders and neck back. It’s smell is sweet. With my eyes closed, I still see the pretty smiles and wonderful eyes of kind men and beautiful women all around. I exhale. Open my eyes. And join back in moment. A young man makes his way to me, moving with intent, he speaks to me kindly in French, knowing I do not understand. My friend Yul translates after the young man hugs me and takes a photograph, Yul relays that “he says you helped him.” We drink and smoke like men do when they are truly happy, I admit, that I bit into this night with the need of flavor and now the juices of it run down my chin and I would have kissed any girl who kept me a stare, a wink or a smile.
Our English friends who had played a show the night before arrive on foot and tell us we are all going to a new place for more cheer. I greet and catch up with a good friend named Neil, a trumpet player with a colorful mind. We begin to walk together, the Englishmen, our French friends, the Lovers of the Sound that want more and us Modern American Gypsies. I spend most of the walk with my arm around Seb. His election was lost. And while the people of my country are coming together with the hope and hearsay of a new leader that will pull us out from darkness, his hope has only now eclipsed.
As it grew late, young ladies, with luscious lips, roll and lick cigarettes tight, as they laugh and lightly bat their long lashes, looking over as they light them. I was proud to take Bebette on my other arm; she is undoubtedly the kindest of them all.
All forty of us walk down La Seine where the moon dripped milk on the canal’s wavering waves, back up to Quai Mauriac, where I have now lost my direction, to finally end up on Rue de Chateaudun passing the Syphax Café where I had drunk once before, moving still atop the stone streets, along narrow walkways, the Ligne twelve passing us with a roar, all forty of us singing, swaggering, some kissing, wrestling, some happy in their silent smile and all the while I had Bebette’s hand in mine and my arm over Seb telling him the election would be alright and to hell with Sarkozy.
A Gypsy Girl
Without eye contact,
a gypsy girl stood
in front of me.
on my directionless,
My red Converse sneakers
gave away that I
was an American.
The gypsy places
a small card two inches
still looking the other way,
to read it.
My words are spoken
slowly and out loud,
I read her words,
It told me that
her father died
she was hungry,
‘please give money.’
I grab some coinage
and she goes for them,
with her eyes
But I hold on,
I asked her,
if she would
just for a moment
and talk with me
how my father
we could both share,
she did not.
Sudafed & Wine
I have a drink,
finishes up work.
I’ve been a dud lately,
a bad cold.
The wine I think
has made it.
important to me,
cut off cars
over and over
and over again.
in the empty
April In Paris
One carousel spinning empty,
Big black umbrellas covering,
all the little people below.
we all look,
walking as a wonderful one.
The dark green canal,
from the damn wind,
and that grey sky sulking up there.
Everyone distasting everyone
and just waiting
for the opportunity
to express it.
An Alarm Sounded
An alarm sounded,
‘Everyone get the hell out, quick!’
A man’s voice
came on the loudspeaker,
at the same moment
I finally start feeling
the lousy booze,
the Eiffel Tower bar’s
A Jamaican girl
“Not to worry Sir,
stay seated, jew like
another do you?”
Then gave me a refill
– no charge.
just like each other
Three glasses of wine
I sit at a small table,
on the secondfloor
of the Eiffel Tower
in the bar room.
I order three glasses of wine
from the waiter,
he explains to me,
that in France
“you order one glass,
sip it, enjoy it,
and most importantly
I said, “that was beautiful,
but it will still be
Dark Drinks On The Canal
Well, what do you know?
For some reason
In this Paris bar
A Croatian girl
Dark Drinks Under The Midnight Moon
the best part is
no one even asked her
the six of us sat at Syphax Café,
on 52 rue de Chateaudun
at a wet table
under a table umbrella,
with pretty French and Czech girls,
steaming frites and
under the midnight moon
with a sleepy Paris sky above
it was all
that makes joy
I watched the French waiter,
bring the other umbrellas down
and I can see the owner of the restaurant
through the doorway, behind the bar
corking us two bottles of red wine to go
newly rolled cigarettes are licked
while high up
dark yellow lit windows,
of fourth floor apartments,
hold young friends framed,
also drinking, talking and smoking in the night
and when I put my feet up on a wet chair to sit back
the Paris sky yawned
telling us it was getting late for her
one of the girls from Prague
“the only place you can get a hooker there,
would cost you thirty Euros
just to get in the room!
and that doesn’t even get you a girl…
…and that’s shit”
Locked In The Louvre
I want to be locked in the Louvre
With twelve cases of wine
Have us a drink by the sarcophagis
And nap by the Stele of King Marduk-Zakir-Shumi
Poke fun at the Portrait of Charles VII
King Louis XIV could be in our band
Let’s hug and squeeze Pierrot
And tell him he looks smashing in drab tan
We’ll pretend to eat Grapes and Pomegranates
And avoid dining near the Skate
We’ll tell scary stories under the Tree of the Crows
And at the tomb of Philippe Pot The Great
You could wear the Bird Mask
And I the Fish Mask
Then try and pour wine
Into an ancient Egyptian flask
Make love to you by The Bolt
And hold you like Mercury did Psche
Or like the Lub People: Headrest
‘Cause I love you and you me
Clean Jesus’s cut rib
On each and every piece
Paint over the nail holes
So poor Jesus can sleep
I want you to cast a pose like Diana the Huntress
And I’ll be your dog
We’ll shoot arrows out the windows
And laugh like snorting hogs
Is not Gabrilelle d’Estrees
And One of Her Sisters
Not fun kinky paintings, and say
Who’s that knitting behind her
You’ll joke you are Magdalen
With the Night Light
With my head on your lap
We’ll both feel quite right
Midnight we’ll play cards
With Georges de La Tour
And let him cheat as he would
We’ll cast our eyes to the floor
We could bathe with The Bather
And have Morning Coffee with Boucher
While the paintings all whisper
“Go on boy, just smooch her”
I want to be locked in the Louvre
With twelve cases of wine
You’d be the most beautiful piece of art
Just you, the love of mine
Kittens & Chickens
The bender started as soon as I hit Paris.
I had been drunk for forty-eight hours
and us men were now making our way
To Metz and then by morning
moving along to Switzerland.
But for now
we bounce in a small Sprinter
and we’re pulling off the motor way
to Nancey, France
for a roadside petrol stop
to fuel up and stretch.
In the shop
I move through an aisle with silly authority,
swaying this way
with a wide eyed smile.
I grab two bottles
of red wine
– Vind Pays de la Meuse,
a liter of water,
and this pad of paper
that I’m writing on now.
The pad has
a grey kitten on the cover,
lying on blue
and it says,
“I Love You” in English.
I spin my smile about the shop,
find the cash register
and the French woman attending it.
I tell her, “Could you wrap me up one of those chickens?”
“Poulet,” I repeated with a point.
It was then that I realized I had no money.
I dropped my Bank Of America card down – Visa
and the woman spoke fast, harsh French
Then she unwrapped the chicken
and put it back
under the heat lamp again
and then looked square at me.
that the chicken
could only be
paid in cash
dropped my smile.
I stood sad, with a drunk’s pout
staring at the steaming chicken under glass.
Yet my smile lifted once again
as I thought,
you can charge wine, water, and a kitten
but you just can’t charge a chicken.
Standing with my hands out
making kissy sounds,
the black and white
I take in the smell of
April’s French rain.
The rain struck the Sprinter’s roof top like bullets. Relentless and furious. It was the loudest sound surrounding us, making it hard to speak over, until the front right tire exploded.
All nine of us men got out of the van, because if one is to be wet, we shall all be wet. Dale facilitated simple jobs and messy ones. My knees pressed deep into the mud and my hand sank in two inches deep, making it look like I had one hoof, as I crouched near Dale holding the flashlight for him to see. Some of the wing nuts cooperated while others became traitors. After some time, many ideas, and mercy from fate, we got the spare tire on and were tightening her up. The rain had abused us, the thunder jolted us, the lightening disturbed us. The mud puddles became small streams and the rain picked up even heavier, it made you drink it down if you spoke. That’s when Dale got the call. He excused himself and jumped in the van. By the time we had finished the job and the spare was sorted and we finished putting the tools away, Dale was finished with his call.
His girlfriend of five years had phoned him to let him know she was done with him and that she was packing his stuff and bringing it to one of his mate’s houses and for Dale not to come home.
Dale hollered to us over the thunder as the rain fell into his mouth and we all sank into the streaming mud. “Apparently she was waiting for me to leave, so she could have it easy moving me out. Met another bloke, she said.”
There was a problem with the spare, so we wouldn’t be able to get to the E-Tap by midnight; we would have to find a garage. Dale knew of a petrol station off the motorway that was open around the clock. Because the men weren’t mechanics, we all worked on the tire together; yet Dale submerged himself in the work the most to keep from thinking.
By the time we were back on the road we still had two and a half hours to go; Dale had been driving since 8:30AM that morning. His face color was grey. Expressionless. Tired eyes. Melancholy. As men look when they are working out confused looped thoughts.
When we got to the E-Tap there were some problems with checking into the mechanical entrance way. We stood outside hunched over our bag in the rain hoping the problem would sort before all our clothes were drenched. It didn’t. Once inside we all undressed in silence; there was no humor in anyone. We had three small rooms, each only the size for three men standing, not moving, at once. I remembered I had one last German 22 oz bottle of beer in the Sprinter and also something Dale had told me the night before. I headed back out into the rain to fetch it.
I knocked on room 17, Dale’s room.
“Right?” Dale said answering.
I pushed the beer into his hand and said, “Isn’t it your birthday today?”
“Cheers mate, yes it is,” he said and gripped the bottle.
Women know what is wrong with women,
but not what is wrong with themselves.
And men don’t have any thoughts like that of any kind.
A man’s job rather
is to understand a woman
and support her when she is broken
and she is down,
while a woman fights her thoughts
of leaving her man
when he is broken
when he is down.
Thanks for reading! I will post 10+ pages tomorrow. You can find Modern American Gypsy here: http://www.davidmcwane.com/store/
And check out the bonus Poems below.
Bonus poem 1 of 2
oh when the saints come marching in
the baseball game gets out
the sox won
and all the drunk suburbans,
dance down newbury street
the drunk girls do their famous,
with marlboro light cigarettes in their left hand and
bud light beer cans in the other
the boys smash rearview mirrors of parked cars
and there’s a scuffle outside daisy buchanan’s
a drunk boy pisses in my alley
as his friend tells him his puke was ‘a false alarm’
in the distance the laugher of a drunk woman in her forties
takes the center stage of sound
and I sip my whisky
with both my cats, sitting on either side of me like living gargoyles
I look up at the prudential sky scraper and notice the only cloud,
small and red moving quickly and separating, like
god was spreading it on the toast of the sky
then a young man is thrown out of a bar
he’s held back by two friends
as he screams in drunken rage
“I fucking went to war for this country,
I went to fucking Iraq for you sons of bitches
and I can’t have a fucking beer
this is bullshit
this is fucking bullshit,
to all of
Bonus poem 2 of 2
you’re an animal
you’re an animal, it’s not your fault
things make you mad
your mood shifts
you begin to hate
the people at the baseball game smiling – piss you off
the couples walking and laughing – make you sick
your brow is low
and your muscles are tight
eyes dash scanning for starved, fevered sights
to hate upon
you don’t want to join them
you don’t want to feel better
you don’t want to dance
you don’t want anything other then to exist in this world by
your God damned schematics
you’re an animal, it’s not your fault
lick your canines
and growl at me
‘oh when the saints come marching in’ & ‘you’re an animal’ are from the book Biting Lightening, Bloody Mary which can be found here: http://www.davidmcwane.com/store/