Walking Paris in ‘What’s Left of the Night’

I’ve been slacking around these parts lately on account of a new job, but I aim to get back up to full speed ASAP. As I do, please ruminate on this stirring excerpt from What’s Left of the Night, Ersi Sotiropoulos’ soulful  and erotic account of C.P. Cavafy’s 1897 visit to Paris, when the Egyptiot Greek poet was 34,  still unknown, and finding his creative voice.

Exquisitely translated by Karen Emmerich, What’s Left of the Night delves into more than Cavafy’s personal experiences as a man struggling with his same-sex desires in restrictive era. It shines a light on far more universal debates about the nature of art in an ever-changing world. Does art bring people together or form a barrier? How is artistic success defined? And when does artistic desire become obsession?

These enthralling topics aside, I’d like to call out Sotiropoulos’ masterful description, and Emmerich’s resonant translation, of walking through the city.

As someone who spent 12 years in New York, where walking is a way of life, before moving three years ago to Atlanta, where the car is king, this passage sparked pangs of nostalgia for the biped life.

Here, for your enjoyment, is that excerpt. It takes place just as night falls across Paris and a young  Constantine Peter Cavafy takes a solo stroll. While the backdrop’s the City of Lights specifically, the vibe translates to any bustling urban environ:

“He soon began to feel better. The current of the crowd flowed in the direction of the grand boulevards, over wide sidewalks dotted with cafes, beneath awnings and into arcades where strangers’ silhouettes fleetingly took shape, then vanished again.

A blind river pulled him into its current. He inhaled deeply and followed that vibrant ripple in the hum and dust. Crowds overflowed the intersections, lingered at shop windows before indolently setting off again beside stylish coaches and one-horse buggies that clattered away into the lilac night. Newspaper boys on street corners bellowed out the latest news. Where the road met Rue des Pyramides he stopped and stood as if hypnotized. Faces rushed toward him, shattering as they passed. The traffic began an utter crush at Rue di Rivoli, where the arches of the Lourvre loomed like a domed seawall. Groups of friends disappeared down side streets. Their stroll would no doubt take them, later on, to more remote districts, off the beaten path. Secret, ill-famed neighborhoods. Shadowy doorways and basement rooms, he though, feeling a flutter within.

A mob of musicians was just ahead of him, lurching this way and that, laughing and shouting drunkenly. One of them was dragging a monkey by the hand, dressed like a soldier with a little cap. He increased his speed so as to overtake them. Light flooded the paving stones, spread over the facades of the buildings, trailed over the silvery roofs — a fluid, shadowless light. As he walked, the lines of a poem he was writing came to mind. Every so often he would pick it up, poke and prod, then let it be. He had looked back at it recently and had been satisfied. Very satisfied. It didn’t happen often. The musicality was flawless, the rhyme effective:

The city will follow you. The roads you wander will be

The same. And in the same quarters you’ll grow old, and see.”

What’s Left of the Night is out now from New Vessel Press, an independent publishing house devoted to translated literature and narrative nonfiction, and I’m happy to add it to All the LGBT Books Around My House.

Found in The LOC: Buying Flowers in NYC, 1900

With Easter right around the corner, what better time to feast our collective eyes on some shots of New Yorkers buying their holiday bouquets in Union Square circa 1900? See fifteen more, all found in the LOC, after the jump.

And for more “Found in the LOC,” click here.

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Arthur Singer, Bird Man

Birds were Arthur Singer’s bread and butter. For five decades, the New York-based artist provided avian illustrations for an array of books, magazines, U.S. postage stamps and even commemorative plates, creating a collection that rivaled his idol, John Audubon. But his images were so much more than spoonbills and grosbeaks, flamingos and finches; they were about his subjects’ struggles, their grit and determination. Giving them personalities and relatable perspectives previously unconsidered, Singer made his animal subjects remarkably human, remarkably relatable.  As David Wagner wrote earlier this year, “[Singer captured] what might be called the ‘inner consciousness’ of avian subjects…. [He] shows us what they must endure and negotiate as birds trying to survive.” And it all started in the unlikeliest of places, that urban jungle, New York City.

 Well, Washington Heights to be exact. That’s where young Singer spent hours studying and then depicting the neighborhood’s stray cats. Later he was enraptured by the animals at the Bronx Zoo, where he spent even more hours honing his eye to see beyond the fur and hides to the hearts and minds behinds the beasts. It was therefore no surprise to his family that Singer enrolled in Cooper Union, the famed arts school in the East Village.

Following his studies, which were punctuated by trips to Harlem to listen to and later befriend legendary figures Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, Singer went to work in the ad business — and perhaps he would have stayed in that field had World War II not upended his and the rest of the globe’s existence. But even in a war involving millions, Singer was unique: part of the small, elite “Ghost Army,” his mission was to deploy inflatable tanks, fake radio calls and other deceptions that confused the Axis powers, providing cover for their allies to sneak across borders and front lines. His equally creative compatriots included Bill Blass, Ellsworth Kelly and fashion and music photographer Art Kane.

 

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