Of Life and Pain (Tradition) in Paris

So I had to haul myself out of bed after crying my eyes out yesterday (us writers are sensitive, we cry a lot), for reasons I shall expound on if and whether the mood strikes.

I weave past and greet the painters in the corridor who stop work to say “Bonjour, allez-y.” I walk to the end of Rue de la Faisanderie with my petit Monoprix shopping sac to get pain tradition, confiture de fraises, coffee, and red wine. Along the way, two military guards with machine guns, in the aftermath of Je Suis Charlie, return my quiet smile and nod solemnly. “Bonjour madame,” they say, as we pass. This district houses a cluster of embassies, diplomats, international law firms, and a liberal university. I now intuitively sense the energy and temperament of different arrondissements of this city. Like how ordering dessert first can disrupt a whole kitchen and serving staff into mild confusion. Etiquette and protocol are extremely prized. And for that, I do love this culture.

Of course I run out of la monnaie (change) because the lady at the Tabac passive-aggressively does not want to let me use my bancaire (debit card). In all my months in Paris, I have yet to experience a Tabac that does not accept a bank card. D’accord, pas de probleme. I’m not a local in the district yet, I cannot expect such privileges. I just have to dig in my purse to find 7 euros in change before going to Franprix next door to buy prosciutto. I am too fatigued to argue or run to an ATM. But I don’t back down, backing down and scuttling away humiliated just means I haven’t lived here long enough. My Parisian friends would probably have argued with her over that point. Mais j’ai la chance! I have the seven euros after sifting through Singaporean and American coins.

At Franprix. Of course the lady made all of us wait in line while she stocked up the fridge…un minute..deux minutes…trois…Customer is not king in Paris. Me and the African guy behind me await patiently, seasoned enough not to be too offended or too accomodating, as he yells something to his mother and little sister who are waiting quietly outside in West African dresses and headbands.

One has to understand that Paris and all its boulevards, metros, boulangeries, and cafés have a rhythm somewhat like a metronome, but at the same time, has its volatile moods, its honored traditions, its unspoken customs and bubbling tension. Like New York City, everyone is tired in Paris. Everyone. As they say, metro boulot dodo (subway, work, sleep). So it’s easy to understand the clipped attitudes, aggression, or passive aggression.

Once at a McDo (one should always try McDonald’s once in every country outside of the USA, most times it is absolutely delightful, I kid you not), a Parisian-Asian friend and I ordered sparkling pamplemousse (grapefruit) just to use the free wifi. The counter person at the McCafé served everyone before us, then on seeing our faces, swiftly turned around and proceeded to stock the shelves. I was unfazed. I was used to it. I don’t think it is truly racism, I think there are many other factors involved, which I will delve into next time. She made us wait 5 minutes, while my friend asked, incredulous, “Excusez-moi madame?” Turning to me, she muttered, ” She’s doing it on purpose!” To which I responded with a shrug, “I know.” Then I proceeded to be polite and kind to the counter lady when she finally gave us attention. No point getting mad. I’ve found that graciousness in the face of hostility can many times bridge people. Note I said many times, not all the time. Not to a demented crazed meth addict trying to grope your crotch on the E train coming from Jamaica (Station).

So I proceed to the boulangerie right next door to my flat. I just want to stuff fresh pain tradition into my mouth and crunch down into soft doughy goodness while eating prosciutto, confiture, and cheese. I am starving. But upon arrival, I realize I have used all my monnaie at the tabac. And it would be ludicrous to use my bancaire at the boulangerie for a mere pain tradition which costs €1.35. The boulangere might bar me from entering again for being an annoying tourist/non-native. I live right next door. I can’t afford to make enemies, not least my local boulangerie in the 16eme arrondissement.

Alors, I go back upstairs to look through all my bags for euros. Nothing. Finally I find two euros somewhere in a purse. It feels like a miracle. I mean, once you have lived in cities where there are 24 hour 7-Elevens, it is a little difficult to adjust to somewhat rustic slower living in Paris. But when you get into the groove of Paris, like Rome, or Istanbul, things get wildly interesting.

I go back downstairs triumphantly and burst through the open boulangerie doors and chirpily say Bonjour! Without too big of a smile, of course. You have to adjust your smiles in Los Angeles, New York City, and Paris, accordingly. Then I quietly wait in line and drool at the various quiches, and a noisette-orange pound cake that is €22 per kilo. I am sure it tastes every bit as good as every cent it is worth.

I take my pain tradition and return home, a small victory! Then I warm up the bread slightly and bite into it.

Je suis deçu. (I am disappointed. But don’t tell them I said that! ) So far the best pain tradition I have had is from this tiny sleepy French North African boulangerie in Bagnolet, or this other bright boulangerie in my old neighborhood of Belleville. I guess tomorrow morning warrants a trip to Belleville (which is really now China, or Flushing in NYC) to get pain tradition for my two guests visiting from London.

There is a centredness, doing one or two things a day which you enjoy are luxurious triumphs, time is prolonged and magnified, a few fruits and herbs in your shopping stroller, crisp summer dresses and going to the park at 8pm since the sun is still burning, and fizzles at 10 or 11pm. A brisk laziness. Such is summer in Paris.

All of this, and more, I just wanted you to know, and I’m sure you know, that when you died, I was just learning how to live.

(In memory of Joanna, sister, friend, saint. 1984-2015)


Jiang Qing Was Not A Dog


Cadence Collective: Long Beach Poets

tree circles 4

By Charlotte San Juan

A concubine’s daughter, yes.
A blackened peach in the palm
of her father’s blistered hands.

Leader of the Gang of Four,
Mao’s widow. Mao’s third wife.
She, the Great Flag-Carrier
of the Proletarian culture,
who at sixteen, too poor for underwear
fled her mother for a Beijing theater group.

Later, a lonesome patient in some
Moscow hospital with throat cancer,
they say–how serious, they don’t.
Her husband refused to visit.

Later, a withered prune woman
haunting a cell, turning up a wrinkled lip.
Batty, old Maoist, muttering:
“This is not the Chairman’s
revolutionary line.”

She, who rode with her cruel
ambition, dressed jewels in
private jets and sex-politics,
hounding death on the fools
that once scorned her. Aggressive,
beautiful and twenty-four, then–

Then, at seventy-seven,
was it really some mute suicide
that stole her– she who
Heaved watermelons
to the ground, refused by
her only daughter.

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Goodbye My Friend (I’m Sorry)

If you had told me

I would have written a poem for you

Before you left

Or a short story

About a girl who tried her best

And didn’t know how to be alone

I’m sorry I couldn’t help

But it’s strange now

That I can’t call you`

Or hear your voice

Or sit down and eat with you

Just because we wanted to.

I’m sorry you were in pain

I am in pain too

I can’t hurt for you

But you had a lifeline

And you chose to give up


I hope you are at peace now

I hope you laugh

I hope you dance

I hope you feast at the table with saints

and I will light a candle for you

Every time I think of you.

You were brave, and you were splendid.


I ❤ good poetry.

Eunoia Review

If I could I’d be your therapist,
playing smooth jazz through the morning,
one eye on the clock, another on your folder.

I’d browse through all those cries
you scribbled using watercolors
while waiting for a ring, to usher you inside.

My hands would shake in yours
like swarms of moths around a lampshade
until you grab a seat, and look me in the eye.

There wouldn’t be any questions
or reasons to be worried,
just nameless music for our solitude.

Roberto Carcache Flores is a 22-year-old Salvadoran writer who’s just beginning to step into the wilderness of the literary world. He has no formal training but is schooled by the tradition of his legendary tocayo Bolaño. His fiction has so far been featured in publications like Alliterati and The Voyager.

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BOP: Perth

The wrong woman and the wrong man;

untouched, living, absolute, dying–

This is the first draft, the first draft.

It is May 1937, deeper. (Deeper?)              Deeper.

I’ll never see you again by the post office,

still alive who you love.


Pain is good, she says,

It means you’re broken,

broken means it still works.

They say with the greatest loss you will start to live;

get hurt and get hurt elegantly,

pull out all the stops, on repeat.

Then say Stop! Don’t do it! You’ll hurt someone!


Still alive who you love.


Sleep on me tonight, lie with me,

there is no courage for the truth;

I am careless with my life;

you don’t know how, I can’t say too much: 

but something still works, everything, everything still works.

Still alive who you love.



Alicia Khoo

BOP poem experiment,

Poetry Lab, Long Beach.

September 2013

Born Again

We pay high prices to gain
Smoke and wind;
When all you know is
brick walls, and dead ends,
That’s all you will decide
To choose.

Days like these,
When some were born
And some weren’t,
I imagine my body
Breaking into pieces and
To the ultimate tapestry,
some call it
Nirvana, some call it Paradise.

In our hearts we all long for Eden,
Where we came from,
The forests, drums, oceans
Stories, kisses, touch,
Mourning together
And dancing in joy.

What is human life but
To be known
And to be loved;
Lack of condemnation
And shame;
A world where everyone
Can be trusted;
And our jars never run out
Of oil and flour.

Believe it or not,
We have been lied to:
We really only have today
And the earth is abundant
For us to receive and share.

If you are in the prison of
And the hell of yesterday,
Come on out, my friend.
I’ll walk with you
From this earth
Into eternity.