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Travels with a pen and a camera.

The Dancer and the Poet on Chicken Street

FRANCE | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [969] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry

On Rue Poulet – Chicken Street – at the base of Sacré-Cœur, a poet, his memory fading and his mind a blank page, ran into the street yelling incoherently and dressed in pajamas. Afternoon crowds watched the old man wander down the block. The police picked him up, and he was placed in a nursing home, where he aged quickly and passed away within months.

This is the story I hear from his upstairs neighbor and closest friend, a retired dancer that turned to writing after his death. We meet in the building's courtyard; the dancer taking out her garbage, and I sitting there locked out of my rental apartment. She invites me up to the poet's abandoned apartment to rummage through cardboard boxes overflowing with books.

In a small square room, lit by a single-bulb lamp, I sit cross-legged looking through the left-behind library.

“Toward the end, he could not remember anything he had written,” she says, and we're both heartbroken, holding his books, sitting in a room full of words – both his own, and those that inspired him.

Other than the books, the room is bare and the yellowed wallpaper is limp and peeling off the walls. I imagine bookshelves that must have once filled the space. I wonder which book was his favorite, and whether it ended up on his nightstand at the nursing home.

“You are more than welcome to any of the English books,” she explains, her accent is soft and barely grazes her words. “But I'll keep his personal work as a memory.”

My suitcase is full – with only room for five days of clothes – so I cannot take any, but I hold each book, hear the delicate spines crack open, and watch the book sigh as dust floats up. These are not just weathered pages bound by faded covers, but pieces of a life that slowly disappeared. The box with his own work contains the words that his memory erased. He's gone, but parts of him remain in the empty apartment, clinging between spines and in the care of a grieving friend.

After I look through each box, the dancer ushers me back through the dark hallway to the front door. I thank her and step out to the landing. She closes the heavy wooden door and it echoes down the spiral stairwell. I realize I never asked her name, or the poet's, but I hear her footsteps retreating back into the apartment. They are nameless strangers in a foreign city, but I remember them more clearly than the view across Montmartre. So I leave them here as the dancer and the poet on Chicken Street, characters who keep a story alive.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

Comments

1

Love it. So touching and ethereal.

  thebluegnu May 20, 2014 3:46 AM

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