Ah, Yes! I remember it well … Atlantic Avenue, reading coffee grinds, and the French novelist and woman of letters, Colette

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954)

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth and, without pity, destroy most of it.” Collette, Casual Chance, 1964



I remember it well: my first encounter with Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Picture it.  Brooklyn. A Lebanese restaurant someplace on Atlantic Avenue, ambiance of the Middle East, redolent with fragrances of cinnamon and cardamom and the mouth-watering smell of lamb roasting.

It was 1958. We had just seen the movie, Gigi, starring Leslie Caron, which is based on Colette’s novella of the same name.  You might remember that in the early scenes Ms. Caron wore a wide-brimmed straw hat with a ribbon tied in a bow. The ribbon trailed gracefully down her back. I had such a hat and suffered the illusion that I looked just like Gigi in the film. This illusion was strongly supported by the fact that Gigi is my childhood nickname. In fact, from that day on and until her death, my mother would tell everyone  – as she did at the restaurant on this occasion – that I was Gigi before Gigi. I knew it wasn’t true. I’d read in the newspaper that there was a book written in 1944, which would predate me by six years. I was hungry to get my hands on it.

As the adults talked, I mentally replayed scenes from the movie and imagined a woman sitting at her desk writing the story that became the movie. I might have felt smart and pretty and even glamorous and certainly rather grown-up, but I would soon be relieved of my illusions. My mother allowed one of the restaurant patrons – an artist – to do a picture of me. Much to my dismay all he saw and drew was a scrawny olive-skinned kid with a rather gauche hat that sat too far back on her head. Nothing at all approaching the light, elegant, grown-up beauty of Ms. Caron. Then our supposed* distant cousin, Julia, the restaurant owner, worked her special magic.  She told fortunes by reading the sludge left in the cup after drinking Lebanese coffee. Julia would provide this service . . . “reading” coffee grounds . . . for her favorite (i.e., frequent) patrons.

*Note: Honestly, everyone we met from Lebanon was pronounced a cousin, so I’m skeptical.  Cousin in spirit and language, maybe. Blood cousin? Not so sure. 

At Julia’s my special treat was one cup of Lebanese coffee with my baklava. On this day, Mom let Julia do a reading for me. It had none of Julia’s usual romantic niceties: “You are like the sun and the moon. He is the sun that warms your heart. You are the moon that reflects his strength.” Or, “I see a key. Many doors will open for you. And, see there?  There are two bells entwined with a string.  There will be much love shared.”  There was to be no romance like the fictional Gigi’s for me. No. No.  For me there was: “See that, Gigi. Two books. You must keep up your studies. Therein is your happiness.” Maybe Julia did have something of a seer’s eye. I turned out to be better at reading books than reading men and I’m content with that.


“Then, bidding farewell to The Knick-Knack, I went to collect the few personal belongings which, at that time, I held to be invaluable: my cat, my resolve to travel, and my solitude.” Colette, Gigi, Julie de Carneilhan, and Chance Acquaintances: Three Short Novels


As for Sidone-Gabrielle Colette (a.k.a. Colette), the Nobel nominated (1948, Literature) French novelist, actress, and mime, this was my introduction and the beginning of my appreciation for her life and work.

Colette was a prodigious writer of many popular literary works. The Claudine stories were the first. For La Belle Époque, Colette’s writings were racy but – perhaps unfortunately – by today’s often jaded tastes, not so much.  While Colette’s life was too much on the wild side for me, I appreciate her courage and honesty and I do love her writing, so full of an appreciation for life and so rich in perfume, color, and humor, occasionally wry.


Publicity still of Colette for Rêve d’Égypte at the Moulin Rouge.

Quotable Colette

For the romantics among us:

“I am going away with him to an unknown country where I shall have no past and no name, and where I shall be born again with a new face and an untried heart.”


The story of Gigi is about a young Parisian who – in her family’s tradition – is being groomed for a career as courtesan. A handsome, wealthy, and well-placed young man is targeted by her grandmother (Mamita) and aunt for Gigi’s first relationship. For the movie version, the story is sanitized to get by the American censors. It was 1958 after all.


“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”


Colette’s life and work are honored in film, song and story by (among others) The Year I Read Colette (YouTube video) by singer-songwriter Roseanne Cash, The White Rose by Truman Capote (describes his first meeting with Colette), and the movies Colette and Becoming Colette. Les Vrilles de la vigne is number fifty-nine on Le Monde’s 100 Best Books of the [20th] Century. When Colette died, she was denied a religious burial by the Catholic Church because of her divorces but the French people justly honored her literary significance with a state funeral.

If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view these trailers from two movies about Colette.

© 2019, words, Jamie Dedes; photo credits – 1.) Colette’s photo, public domain, 2.) Rêve d’Égypte photograph copyright unknown (probably in public domain), 3.) the different types of Arabic coffees with the Hejazi / Najdi golden coffee seen on the left and the Levantine black “qahwah sādah” (plain coffee) on the right 

RELATED


ABOUT

“Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir” by Truman Capote with the lost photographs of David Attie … not just for my Brooklyn peeps

Truman Capote (1924 – 1984)

“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.” Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s



by Truman Capote (Author), David Attie (Photographer), George Plimpton (Introduction), Eli Attie (Afterword)

Of the books I read this year, this birthday gift from my son and my daughter-in-law is by far my favorite … and not just because I’m from Brooklyn and it’s a bit of nostalgia and a stellar homage. I’m a Capote fan and a David Attie fan and Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote With the Lost Photographs of David Attie brings the writer and photographer together in the most delightful way.

“I live in Brooklyn by choice.”

If you’re a Capote fan, you’ll learn about his life in Brooklyn and just why he loved it. There are two photographs of a young Truman that some fans might find worth the price of admission. One is on the book cover (above) the other is included in the video below. The photographic collection in this book was originally commissioned to use as a promo for Capote after the publication of his novella, Breakfast At Tiffany‘s (1958).

Capote captures the essential Brooklyn in his writing, the singular gentility of the time and place, the grittiness of certain quarters, and the ways in which it could be excentric. Attie’s  photos – taken in 1959 – document the tenor of a time now alive only in the memory of a generation that is slowly passing.

David Attie’s photographs were never published and thought to be lost. When Attie’s son Eli found them, he merged them together with Capote’s narrative and they were published at last, a visual feast, engaging for Brooklynites, Capote fans, literary history and photography buffs.

Photo credit: Jack Mitchell under CC BY-SA 4.0; signature is public domain.

The short video below gives a brief overview of the book and includes many of David Attie’s photographs. If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view the video.



What would you find pleasant or helpful on The Poet by Day in 2019?  What have you found helpful to date? Link HERE to let me know.




ABOUT

Testimonials

Disclosure

Facebook

Twitter

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”


The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

 

Summer in the City, a poem

IMG_4576

“Even so, there were times I saw freshness and beauty. I could smell the air, and I really loved rock ‘n’ roll. Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams. I liked movie theaters, the darkness and intimacy, and I liked the deep, sad summer nights.” Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance



The warmth and longer days now in Northern California bring to mind summers in the City of Ultimate Bliss.

The heat rose that summer, as it did every year,
in thick nauseating sooty waves from red bricked
buildings, black asphalt and gray sidewalks,
the unrelenting humidity trapping us in sweat.
Brooklyn it seemed, that younger heaven,
had slipped into the Hudson and found its way
out to the great Atlantic and on to some tropic.
We so yearned for an air-conditioned escape,
cold sodas and chilled bowls of ice cream.
Cool back then could be had for the purchase of
two red tickets, one for my mom and one for me.
Only fifty-cents each for air-conditioned movie seats,
heart-throbbing honey-dreams and sugared
drops of sultry lives and deftly stirred emotions.

© 2016, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved


ABOUT

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writing.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.

 

Brooklyn, In Memory Most Green, memoir … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

Brooklyn Bridge, looking west from Brooklyn, July 1899


The courageous immigrants of the elder generations cast the shards of their hopes and dreams across the landscape of this continent as prophecy. They worked hard and long for their visions. These people included my Lebanese maternal grandparents with their first-born children. They arrived in New York in 1897 on a boat from Syria. They petitioned for citizenship in 1925. Included also was my Turkish father who arrived here alone in 1919. He was just seventeen, eager to make good and to earn dowries for his four older sisters. The distaff side eventually settled in Brooklyn. That’s where they were when I was born and that’s where I was raised.

These were people who came to America in “the days of sail,” as the great New York writer, Irish-American Pete Hamill, would say. Today’s immigrants can and often easily do visit their countries of origin. They connect with their families and their linguistic and cultural roots. This was something that was generally not available to the people of my grandparent’s generation and before. Among the many reasons for this was an often crushing poverty. In Ireland “American wakes” were held for the sons and daughters who left for the United States. Heart-shattered parents knew it was unlikely they’d ever see their children again.

The immigrants I knew growing up worked hard. The immigrants that I know today work hard, often holding more than one job. They make real – though generally quiet – contributions to their communities, work places and their new country. They serve in the military. They make sure their children are educated.

Because of parents and grandparents who were resourceful and brave enough to come to this country, we had as children, not just economic opportunity, but a wealth of artistic and educational resources. On occasion we went, for example, to the Leonard Bernstein‘s Young People’s Concerts at the New York Philharmonic. I remember Mr. Bernstein with his charming and contagious enthusiasm calling our imaginations to Peter and the Wolf. We didn’t have to travel far to have access to talents like Mr. Bernstein or to visit museums, cathedrals, art galleries, music venues, theater (movies and stage), parks and so much more. It was all right there, ready to be plucked and savored like so many sweet and juicy summer plums.

Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World (1886) by Edward Moran. Oil on canvas. The J. Clarence Davies Collection, Museum of the City of New York. (Public Domain)

The schools were good, whether public or private. The libraries were ubiquitous. I will ever and always be in love with the Hudson River and the incredibly beautiful and historic Brooklyn Bridge. To my child-self, everything was magical, mystical, mythological and monolithic. Brooklyn’s proximity to Manhattan added to my enchantment. The Cloisters. Central Park. The magnificent Statue of Liberty, symbol of our highest ideal.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

I’m sure that had I been born in the mountains of Lebanon or in rural Turkey, these places would have offered their own joys and charms but I’m grateful for my Brooklyn, New York experience.

I too lived – Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Leaves of Grass

With a nod to Isaac Asimov for the post title.
.
© 2009, text, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Originally published in “Brooklyn.” Photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum and likely in the public domain. 

WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT

This week’s prompt is “immigration.” Write in prose (up to 750 words) or poem about your experience or observation. Your work doesn’t have to be about immigration to the US. It can address or illustrate the refugee experience if you prefer.

There are so many on the move – and on the run – right now, historic numbers, and the world is fraught with anger and meanness on this topic. It seems a good subject to tackle through Wednesday Writing Prompt, though please know that I won’t publish and will delete anything encouraging of violence or hate.

Leave your prose or poem/s or a link to them in the comments section below. All work shared on theme will be published here next Tuesday. If it’s your first time coming out to play for Wednesday Writing Prompt, please send a short bio in the body of an email and a photo of yourself as an attachment to thepoetbyday@gmail.com for use as an introduction. You have until Monday evening, 8:30 p.m. PST, to respond to the prompt. You are welcome – encouraged – to join in no matter the status of your career: novice, emerging or pro.


ABOUT THE POET BY DAY