About jamesfromtheusa

Poet, musician, storyteller, teacher

The Bastille: Vol 4

Happy to get the news that a short poem I submitted way back in December 2015 was accepted for publication in the next edition of The Bastille. The launch is scheduled for May, so that ought to mean I can find a copy for sale at Shakespeare & Co. bookstore when we pass through Paris this summer. Yay!

Love Electric

I finally got myself out of the house on a Sunday, took a stroll down Broadway Ave. and reached the Green Mill in time for the Marc Smith’s Uptown poetry slam. I used to come here from time to time when I lived in the neighborhood before moving north to Edgewater.

Here’s a recording of my few minutes on stage. Near the end, Marc says there are a lot of working-class intellectuals like James wandering the streets of Edgewater.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night B4 Christmas,
and across this great land
all the moms and the dads
had their heads in the sand

They shook their big asses.
They twisted and wiggled,
and with doe eyes wide open
the kids whispered and giggled.

What was it that happened
to the country that year
that caused the adults
to quiver in fear?

Abroad, wars were raging
and changing each day.
At home in the streets
cops got carried away.

So Mom in her nightie
and Dad in her lap
simply settled right in
for a long winter’s nap.

But they couldn’t sleep well.
Their dreams were absurd.
They paced late at night
without saying a word.

The kids in their beds
heard those old floorboards creaking.
One said to the other,
“Must be Santa Claus sneaking

around in our house
to give us good stuff”
even though they both knew
they had more than enough:

iPods and iPads,
a big house to be living in,
gadgets and gizmos,
enough to be swimming in.

Still the bright kiddos squealed,
“Santa Claus must be here!”
They dashed out of their bedroom
full of mirth & good cheer.

A jolly old elf
is what they expected,
someone blissful and free,
someone whom they respected.

They thought they’d find Santa,
these two cheerful childs.
What they saw were their parents
wearing tire tread smiles

and standing in darkness,
neither looking quite right.
“Merry Christmas,” Mom sighed,
“but it’s late…so…goodnight.”

Bicycle-Sharing Provides Cheap and Convenient Transportation for Tourists

On a three-speed bicycle that reminds me of my father’s old Schwinn, heavy and responsive to even the lightest push, I lunge forward and climb a gentle slope. Red steel beams surround me as I rise above the brick tenements of Brooklyn. On the biking and pedestrian corridor of the Williamsburg Bridge, I pass a couple walking and holding hands while a man on an electric scooter passes me. From the bridge’s lower levels, the rumble of an M train joins the constant echoes of car traffic. I can see glimpses between the bars of the East River and of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building against a cool grey sky.

This is my favorite way to visit a city, and I’m thrilled by how easy it’s become to find public bicycles while traveling. Bicycle-sharing stations have been popping up all over with an estimated 900 bike-share systems in operation worldwide. Taking advantage of this convenient form of transportation is a fun and inexpensive way to discover a new city.

The stations are often located within a few blocks of each other, and they’re easy to find after downloading each city’s bike-sharing app. Tickets can usually be purchased at a bike station with a credit or debit card at a price that’s better than any alternative way to get around. A 24-hour pass in New York City costs just under 10 dollars. In Boston the same pass is six dollars. In Paris, a seven-day ticket can be purchased online for eight euros.

I discovered bicycle sharing in 2012 when visiting Paris. I found I could check out a bike at any time of the day or night, and it became my way to explore the city.

Bicycle-sharing programs are designed for quick trips, and checking out a bike for longer than 30 minutes can become expensive. A 24-hour Divvy pass in Chicago costs $9.95, but on any single trip riders are charged an additional two dollars for the second half-hour, six dollars for the following half-hour, and eight dollars for each half-hour after that. The best way to manage longer journeys is to return a bike within the first 30 minutes and reuse the same bicycle for the next leg of the trip.

It’s necessary, of course, to be comfortable riding on city streets. Protected bike lanes are becoming much more common, but it’s impossible to avoid sharing roads with car traffic. I use hand signals whenever turning or moving around obstructions (a quick wave will get drivers’ attention) and I always look over my left shoulder even if I’m sure the street is empty. Helmets are almost never available although perhaps this will change over time. It’s more work to bike, of course, than it is to jump in a cab or an Uber car, and sometimes when it’s cold or raining, I might choose the subway instead.

I’m just as likely, however, to bike regardless of the weather. It’s often easier for me to ride 20 minutes with a cold wind at my face than it is to bother with other means of returning to my hostel or hotel. And in decent weather, nothing beats the pleasant feeling of bicycling outdoors and the exhilaration of navigating by bike in a foreign city.

The bike-share boom is changing how locals commute and visit friends. It will change urban tourism too as more travelers discover this convenient and inexpensive mode of transit. This is an exciting time for those of us who like to explore by bike in the city.

Chez Gladine’s

Party like a Parisian at Chez Gladine’s

One of the best ways to discover how Parisians enjoy a night out is to visit Chez Gladine’s. Situated at the base of the charming Butte aux Cailles neighborhood in Southern Paris, this lively hangout specializes in hearty Basque salads and service with an attitude.

Come early to avoid the crowds, or party like a Parisian and arrive later in the evening. Most locals don’t finish work until seven o’clock, so wait times begin around eight and last through the night. Offer your name, grab a drink and head outside. You can roam up the rue des cinq diamants and explore this quaint area, or roll a cigarette and strike a pose against the graffiti walls with the young crowds standing by for their turns to come inside.

With its simple menu and time-worn habits, Chez Gladine’s is practically an institution. Prepare to be seated with strangers, and don’t worry too much about your order. Choose one of the five salads, served simply in large, stainless steel bowls. The all-inclusive salade des cinq diamants, a Chez Gladine’s specialty, is stuffed with tomatoes, eggs, potatoes, liver, gizzards and two types of cheese.

This restaurant hasn’t changed in decades. A large Basque flag hangs against a dirty wall. Barrels of peeled potatoes sit in water in a far corner. Through a small, secret door at one end of the bar, servers rush in and out of an underground cave. The regulars are welcomed warmly. The tourists are tolerated with a cool shrug and a smile. Spend too much time choosing a wine and your server will make the decision for you. Don’t be surprised to find a sign in the bathroom, hand-written on a sheet of paper, that reads, “Utilizez le couteau pour l’eau” (translation: pull on the butter knife to flush the toilet).

No one is made to feel rushed at Chez Gladine’s. Bread and water will be refreshed until you choose to go. Your table mates will want to get to know you. After perhaps a brief shock, you’ll embrace the no-frills attitude at Chez Gladine’s and enjoy sitting back to talk loudly for a long time with new friends.

To reach the original Chez Gladine’s in its Butte aux Cailles location, exit at Mètro Place d’Italie in the 13th Arrondissement and walk five minutes along the Avenue Auguste Blanqui. Then turn left and walk one block up the hill to 30 rue des cinq diamants. You can also find newer Chez Gladine’s restaurants in St. Germain, Halles, Batignolles and Charonne.

In Muddy Water

I noticed a contest announcement through Rose Metal Press and used this as motivation to complete a collection of 1000-word flash fiction stories which I submitted on December 1st.

The manuscript is titled In Muddy Water. I had the title first and then chose pieces that seemed to fit thematically, looking through stuff from the past few years but especially from work I’ve done during the last couple months.

The chapbook hopefully strikes the right balance between humor and darkness. It has a smattering of sex and drugs. Space travel. A detective story. A fable. Some family stories.

Last sping, I blurbed a colleague’s book (In Lieu of Flowers by Rachel Slotnik) with this title, In Muddy Water, associated with my name. It left me with a challenge. I had a different book with the title in mind, but I discovered that it will take much longer for that to be ready. So I really wanted to complete SOMETHING called In Muddy Water, and I’m pleased to have realized this goal. Now I have a collection that I can add to, take from, revise, tweak, etc. – assuming it isn’t selected for the contest as is.

Here’s a screenshot of my blurb from the back cover of In Lieu of Flowers

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Money

Here’s a recording at Culture Rapide in Paris from September. The first half is comedian Fred Eyangoh. My thing starts midway through.

There’s a story behind this. A woman had a large sack of leftover bread, which she’d brought from her new job at a boulangerie, and she was passing out the loaves, boules and baguettes to everyone at the bar. She said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if money were a perishable item?” The idea was that everyone would have to give away what they had at the end of each day. I thought it was a sweet and brilliant thought.

Paris

I’ve been in France all summer with about a month spent here in Paris as a “troubadour étrangère.” Playing music, telling stories, reciting poetry. I’m leaving tomorrow for Dublin, and then the next day it’s back to Chicago.

Once I’m home, I’ll post some of the stuff I’ve been presenting here in Paris. It’s been a great time and I’m already looking forward to the next visit.