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Mermen & Merwomen à Paris

Updated: Feb 27, 2019

I sit in Shainez, on Rue de Clignancourt this evening. A loud television blasts above my head. Feeling – bof. A new acquaintance, mon ami, the attendant of the salon floats around the space. Ladies who giggle in leather jackets poke at his sides. They giggle together. Hair on my forearm pricks. It is a comfortable place. And I am bonnie in the moment of seeing such ‘love’ in what some call the city of ‘love’. Fish that smooch in shades of blue.

I sit cross-legged, sipping sugary mint tea. A slow blink between the merspirits in the moment. Spirits of all the other fishes who swim someplace. Spirits of the onlookers who have loved these living moments in a chicha den, or ’round the maypole. The wet cement paths we walk in Paris.

Mon ami at Shainez is from Algeria. I tell him “I will visit Algiers one day”. His eyes light up. He asks me if I am Italian. Am I Italian? I tell him I am from Armenia by way of America. I speak some French but I am not from Armenia. He shakes my hand and gives me his card. Upon my next visit I am greeted ‘mon ami’. Another warm handshake. For my friend and I we say ‘salut mon ami’ and end with ‘ciao’. When I sit there the space lightens with ‘as-salamu alaykum’ and TV shouts.

“I am living just south of the Porte de Clignancourt, a door to another world”

A tall man of opposing industry and nature tells me it is an unusual area for a tourist to call home, when in travels. African. Middle Eastern. Place de l’autre places. It is a city component, adulterated as any other place.

The tall man and I share our creations, sipping coconut milk lattes. Wet bits of dates squish on my teeth. I sit at the bar in his cafe Inspire, on the foot of Montmartre. His name is Charles, he is tall. He serves bowls of granola to an old woman with a béret and a big black coat. She eats her granola in peace, often stealing the smirks from the children in the corner. Outside shape-shifters with scarf bundles and canes, present their eyes. Polluted behind the veil of time.

I pass softly from Charles to the cobblestone way, where I am set to walk. Blinks of à bientôt, or rather best wishes for another day to catch that old woman steal those smirks.

I cook ‘New-Armenian’ cuisine in the 19th arrondissement. Belleville, a hill with merfriendlies I kiss. The same food I made in Yerevan. The same I made in Detroit. The same I will bring home with the same sense of train-thyself sameness I’ve raised my hands to craft. I am told ‘Armenians are good with their hands’. I am good with my hands. Swift reaction, mindful movements. Though I’ve never been one for blood in the kitchen.

The skies here are welcoming. Gray skies, splintered in the sun. A similar shade to the Armenian autumnal sky. A colder gray than the skies of Bogotá. “Buenas shades of gray” I say. For I like you, maybe more than the merpeople whence I’ve walked. Five scarves in my tiny backpack and Israeli sandals for the but once a day sun.

Thoughts of wetted mermen swimming on the sidewalks. Some scales, some splendor. Steps over dog piss that will not wash away. Persons swimming up and downstream. Persons pissing, there they are. Swimming thoughts past le cimetière. I waltz with the swimmers. I believe my swishing linen waltz to be a swim. Maybe one day I can be one who swims along these sidewalks, swum. But I do not know those who sleep in the tombes below. Hum hum.

As I walk in the wetness I see mermongers floating in their narrow stalls. Black eyes that share the same sun splinters in the sky. The scene is not unlike the opening of Perfume, with the babe born under the slaughter. The large-breasted-merwoman who sells her cheese. Chop goes the head of the fish. Flop goes her bare breasts above a scale. Crack goes some distant laughter. Wet neighbors chatting. I feel the rain as it is wrought in the puddles that I kick.

My host is a woman with bright eyes. Big red sweater. Ukulele songs at her hands. Her apartment is full of books. Genres of ‘America loves their guns’ in her study. She is an audio journalist, who tells stories of autre places et autre personnes. Her eyes are brightest when her hair is wet. She takes breakfast as I do – salted butter and tart jam. Sweet notes as a preamble to the tunes she strums for me. I am warm on her sofabed. She is one of mes amies here in this world of water.

I sometimes wonder of the pains of those who swim the sidewalks of Paris. Their hurts they shan’t lick away. The rare song on the lips of the undefined. Articles of feat. Articles I’ve read. Articles that speak of autre places in sunny spots. Other people I may never see. Am I in these places? I wonder as I walk, should I walk along this walk, should I wonder of these pains.

These mermen and my plates of food would surely conspire on such an evening walk such as this. Already, they have conspired. The merpeople and I, “bisous” I say to chances in the dank. Chance to see these other people I may never know. Sidewalk and graffiti of sameness. Aptitude of some shift shadows come my way. Gaunt scarves of mystery-in-the-moment. Undoubted. Gluttonous.

If not Coleridge with his luminescent ‘sunny spots of greenery’, or the wetted merpersons swimming then swum, then surely some other creature of the sea will keep me.

For just a moment, I think I’ll chance it.

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