... Et pour cela préfère l'Impair — Paul Verlaine  
  Premiere Edition, 1 November 2010  
Art, Music & Female Genital Mutilation

By Louis Martin

Guó pò shān hé zài ...

(The) country (is) broken, mountains (and) rivers remain ...

(Dù Fǔ)

Qiān shān niǎo fēi jué ...

Thousands (of) mountains, birds fly not at all ...

Lǎo de shīrén, old Chinese poets, word paintings. But where are the new ones? ...

De la musique avant tout chose ...

Something New

By Louis Martin

I arrived back in Shanghai in early January. Daytime temperatures were down around freezing, night-time temperatures dipped lower. My life as a "refugee" was not quite over. For two weeks I lived at "Captain International Youth Hostel" on Yan An between the Bund and the Old Chinese City in Shanghai. I picked it because its location was ideal for finding an apartment in the Old Chinese City, where I had lived before.

It had been four months since I had left Shanghai, largely because of a visa problem. The first thing I noticed heading south on Sichuan, then west on Fangbang to the Bank of China, was that the pace of construction had not abated. As before, I found myself stepping over broken concrete where sidewalks were being replaced and skirting piles of construction materials and staring up at the scaffolding on buildings that were either rising out of nothing or being remodeled or given a face-lift. "Expo 2010" was coming and the Chinese, always conscious of "face," wanted to present a good one....

By Louis Martin

After three months on the streets of Paris, I became a refugee on the run. I went here, I went there, calling no place home. I was alive, however, and ever busy devising the next step. Strange! I must have thought there was a future.

I went to Spain again to visit my daughter for a few weeks, then I went back to Paris for a day to move some of my stuff to a cheaper locker on rue Cardinet. Lockers in Paris are not cheap. The cheaper one now costs 64 euros per month, down from 90. But there wasn't a good alternative; it was too expensive to move my stuff to another city. The airlines are charging an arm and a leg for everything. Then I flew to San Francisco.

Or actually I flew to Dublin, then to Chicago, then to San Francisco. These days on economy class it is nearly impossible to get a direct flight....

dans le rue à paris, épisode 2

By Louis Martin

"Having been kicked, insulted—called a "bitch" for some reason, rather than a bastard—and robbed by the Arab guys in Pigalle, I decided it was time for a break. I took the night train from Gare Austerlitz in Paris to Latour de Carol in southern France. My daughter picked me up and we crossed the border into Spain. In Puigcerda near the border and in the Pyreness Mountains I relaxed for a few weeks, walked around the lake, watching the leaves turn yellow and brown, then fall off the trees. The colors were as beautiful as fire at night but also depressing. It was the season of dying. I returned to Paris only partly refreshed.

On my first night out on the street again there were five incidents. Four were minor, such as blocking my way on the center island of rues Clichy and Rochechouart....

dans le rue à paris, épisode 1

By Louis Martin

At 5 o'clock in the morning the rats come out. At 6 the pigeons drop from the trees and the roofs of buildings and the rats go back into the shrubbery of the center island of Boulevard Clichy. It is the pigeons' turn to to pick over the garbage. At 7 the city workers show up for cleanup. By 8 the area has been picked over in various ways and a few tourists show up out of nowhere. It will be hours before the sex shops open for business but the day has begun. How do I know all this?

I am hanging out there every other day—or should I say night?—as a cost-saving measure. I can only afford to stay in a hostel every other day. At least I am in Montmartre, a nice part of Paris, once frequented by artists and now, with the Moulin Rouge just up the street, coveted by tourists. I don't know how long this will go on. "Business," I read, has begun to recover. Buy my business has not....

Picking Up the Pieces in Paris, Part 2

By Louis Martin

"You have a wonderful resume," she said. "Your teaching demonstration was the best I've seen; it was really vivid. But," she added, "you're too old."

She was the young Chinese girl who was interviewing me for a job teaching English.

She had been impressed by the masters and doctorate degrees from Stanford University in a way that I no longer was; and she noted that I had not just the TESOL certificate but the "advanced" one. Many of the teachers they hire don't have the teaching certificate—it's not a "fixed" requirement—and some don't even have four-year college degree. Mei you wenti, not a problem, so it seems, if you're under 30 and female.

"I wonder what Lao Zi would think?" I asked.

"Huh?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said.

I'm not ancient but I'm not a youngster anymore. I have taught in Shanghai before ...

Cockroaches, Speaking in Tongues

By Louis Martin

When the cockroaches in New York City heard about Jesus Day (1) in Texas, they declared Bush Day in the sewers of Manhattan.

(1) One of George W. Bush's "achievements" as governor of Texas was the signing of a bill that proclaimed June 10th "Jesus Day" in Texas.

Bush is out of office but the Bushmen are still there, dreaming up the next war and the funding scheme that will benefit their business associates.

If you were robbed on the street and you knew who did it, would you not go to the police to report the crime? In politics the robbery is considered to be "water under the bridge"—unrecoverable. Bu hao, not good! Why not go after the real estate industry and its accessories, the assessors? Simple answer: They are the biggest contributors to political campaign funds.

Cheney the sportsman? Seventy pen-raised pheasants left dead on the ground on a single day—beaks in the dust, eyes glazed, buck-shot broken legs and wings, drops of blood on downy feathers, beauty destroyed—Cheney the killer....


By Louis Martin

Xing Xing comes by today. She wants help with her visa paperwork for Paris. She is a first-year university student, and like a lot of university students, wants to visit that great city in the Summer when she is out of school. Also, Paris and Shanghai are officially sister cities; they have a connection. This does not interest her so much as it does me. I am always looking for connections, anything that links one thing to another and makes more sense of them. And did I mention that both Shanghai and Paris are officially sister cities of San Francisco? That turns me on because these are some of my favorite places on earth. But back to Xing Xing and her trip....

Coffee and Donuts, Glory Days ...

By Louis Martin

"The girls?" I asked. It was Monday afternoon. I was sitting at a booth at a "coffee bar" on Hangkou Lu (road) near the Bund in Shanghai practicing Chinese with Xiao Ping, a waiter there. As a young woman walked towards the fancy doors at the rear, he casually remarked, "The girls are starting to come in."

We were talking about the word for culture, wenhua in Chinese. I guess the girls were part of that.

Actually, I was not surprised. One of the street pimps had pointed out the place a few days earlier and I had put it on my list of curiosities.

Xiao Ping is 23 and has been in Shanghai for two years. But he says he hasn't seen much of it. He works seven days a week, 12 hours a day. "Sometimes I smile, sometimes I cry," he says.

I ask him if he has a girl friend. He says he has many. But then I realize he doesn't mean the same thing by girlfriend that I do....

Zenme Shuo ...?

By Louis Martin

It was a very tiring day of travel: San Francisco to Beijing, then Beijing to Shanghai. Security was even worse than usual. Because I bought my tickets at the last minute, I was targeted by airport security. I guess terrorists also buy their tickets at the last minute. They took everything out of my carry-on luggage and confiscated the cork screw I had bought in San Francisco. The last time it was my Swiss army knife, which I had had for twenty years and which had, among its many useful tools, a cork screw. I could get a new cork screw pretty easily but the Swiss army knife was beyond my means these days. "Screw the bastards," I muttered under my breath....

On Just About Everything

By Louis Martin

"You touched me," she screamed. I was standing in the narrow passageway between the door and the bar trying to get out but being blocked by the manager. It was a setup. I had not touched her; she had grabbed my hands and placed them on her. The idea was this: I had had a lap dance with her and now owed the club, named Cabaret, 85 Euros. Times were desperate, I guess.

"Ce n'est pas raisonnable," I said to the manager.

"You touched me," she said again like an injured party in a dispute. She was a tall, rather odd-looking black woman. I had gone in for 10 Euros that included a drink to "see the show." There wasn't any. Or I guess she was the show. When she asked me if I would buy her a drink, I said no. When the drink came anyway, I decided there was a problem and got up to leave....

Picking Up The Piece In Paris

By Louis Martin

I am sitting at the Royal Custine in Paris. The bar is long and clean; it is well polished. I am not royal but I have begun to feel like a person again. I begin to remember things, piece by piece, my mind wandering over the fragmented remains of the last three months in Shanghai, China. "Ladies, shut up," shouted "Senior Academic Teacher" Blaire Greasly at a group of students laughing in the hall. Blaire was an ex-military guy from Australia and seemed to like his title a lot. He put it on every document he wrote and personally signed it. Unfortunately most of these documents showed up on the desks of the English teachers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and amounted to new orders or rules and regulations. No behavior seemed to be beyond the scope of Blaire's rules. One might think giving a test would be a simple matter but not when Blaire got involved....

Teacher, Teacher: Yi, Er, San, Si ...

By Louis Martin

"Teacher, teacher," my students said when they discovered that I did not know how to count in Chinese. The drilling began immediately: Yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi ...

I had come to China to teach English at a summer camp in Shanghai. I needed a break from Paris, I needed to get away from the "girls" in Pigalle. Shanghai seemed like a fine escape. There would be fewer language problems in Shanghai, as my knowledge of Chinese was extremely limited, unlike my knowledge of French, which always seemed to be getting me in trouble.

We had just come back from a field trip to Shen Shan (Shan means mountain) where it had been extremely hot. The kids had been dripping with perspiration, their clothing soaked....

Le Bon Moment à Pigalle

By Louis Martin

"Don't say I'm nice," she said angrily, then looked away. I said I meant it. She had just told me how things worked at the Le X-Oh. It was one of those small girly places off the main drag in Pigalle. I liked this one better than the others. There were more "girls" and it was friendlier. You could buy a drink and talk, and there wasn't the pressure to go in the back for "sex." She had been working the trade for eight years, she said. She rotated between London and Paris: six months in London, where she was from, then six months in Paris. Her name was Somali. She was a British citizen of African descent. She was actually promoting her friend to me, who did not speak English. She told me the prices and informed me that her friend would go home with me if I wanted. "How much?" I asked....