moments of illumination in the city of light

005 : Claire Oldman at the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore, Marais
Born in 1976 in London, UK, Claire Oldman currently works as Writer Why Paris? It’s just better. She digs the following Paris bits: 1. The sound of water cleaning the gutters in the morning. 2. That flânerie isn’t perceived as unfocused time wasting. 3. The soft “bong, bong, bong” announcement sound at Gare du Nord 4. The Parisian insistence on having a proper lunch every day. 5. Pierre Hermé americano pamplemousse macarons. She is, however, a bit miffed by the asshole shop assistants, forgetting which (different) days museums/bakeries/laundries are closed, getting inhibited about speaking French - badly-, the communal changing room at Isabel Marant, and let's not forget the rude, conceited, asshole shop assistants. For more info on Claire Oldman you should send an email or visit Lola is Beauty.

“Someone handed me a plastic cup of white wine and I sipped it so I didn’t have to make conversation”

I had invited myself to a poetry reading — don’t ask. I already felt like a cliché but I had just arrived in Paris, was going to be there for a month alone and I didn’t know a soul. The bookshop[1] was just a short walk down the street — otherwise I would’ve bottled out.[2] Along rue de Sevigné,[3] past the Pompiers[4] who never flirted with me but apparently did with everyone else. Across rue St Antoine at dusk; busy with traffic, people buying vegetables, bread and wine on the way home; then nervously sauntering down rue Saint Paul, the archetypal charming Parisian street. The bookshop was packed full of humans, most of whom seemed to know each other. Someone handed me a plastic cup of white wine and I sipped it so I didn’t have to make conversation. The reading began and I settled awkwardly, flushed with wine. I can’t remember any of the poems. There was a man with a beard reading some kind of freestyle beatnik stuff. A blonde woman came next I think. Then a girl about my age started reading. After a while I became aware that I couldn’t breathe properly and my vision had clouded over with tears.

Blinking will release them so I try to tilt my head back a bit. It was at the point when she read, “Because no one can help, because filling out one more form is too much effort, because of the parking tickets, the aspirin prices, the mail taking too long for the bills.” [5]

It was London; it was something to do with being so tired of everything. It was Paris; it was fear of spending a month alone in a place where I suspected the natives of being unfriendly. I bought the book and chatted to its author. She told me the poem was about seeing someone jump in front of a train. That shook me up, though now when I read it, I see only that. They invited me for a drink around the corner with everyone. I went, drank more wine, laughed and talked like those people you see through restaurant windows. 

referenced works

  1. The Red Wheelbarrow, 22 rue Saint-Paul, 75004. Takes its name from the 1923 William Carlos Williams Imagist poem: so much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens

  2. To bottle out: British English expression meaning “to lack courage to do something.”

  3. Street in the 4th arrondissement (the Marais)

  4. French firefighters, best known not for putting out fires but for throwing massive parties on the eve of the 14 Juillet.

  5. “What Holds the Body” in Fluorescence, by Jennifer K. Dick. (University of Georgia Press, 2004). Reprinted with permission.

location information

  • Name: the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore
  • Address: 22 rue Saint Paul 75004 Paris
  • Time of story: Morning
  • Latitude: 48.855426
  • Longitude: 2.361803
  • Map: Google Maps



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