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Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Philip Larkin’s “The Trees”

April 10, 2014 | by

daffodils

Photo: 4028mdk09, via Wikimedia Commons

It is spring now, and very hard not to feel in clichés. Especially with daffodils everywhere—and very cheap they are, too. “Telephone flowers,” a friend of mine calls them. I buy them by the armful; don’t you?

When I was thirteen, I wrote my first and last piece of fiction. It was about an old woman in a nursing home suffering from dementia and planning her garden through the winter. It was called “Living Time.” Even by thirteen-year-old standards, it was mawkish and I knew it. Because—the silliness of that act of ventriloquism aside—what new is there to say about spring? Read More »

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Growing Up Together

March 11, 2014 | by

Love through the lens of Fellini.

Giulietta-Masina4

Fellini and Masina on the set of La Strada, 1954. Photo: Studio Patellani

Among the central occupations of Fellini’s work is what he wants from the women in his life. Near the end of , his alter ego speaks of a kind of Ideal Woman: “She’s beautiful … young, yet ancient … child, yet already woman. Authentic, complete. It’s obvious she could be his salvation.” Between the breathy declaiming and ’s famous layers of metafiction, you get the idea that even Fellini sees this isn’t exactly a healthy attitude.

Still, throughout his work, the search for an ideal of womanhood is represented in a series of large and buxom temptresses: Anita Ekberg, Sandra Milo, Eddra Gale in an especially memorable dance sequence as La Saraghina. But pulling his films off the shelf one by one, my wife and I agreed the problem was most nearly solved, onscreen and in life, by his wife and best collaborator, the tiny and brilliant Guilietta Masina.

For any of this to make sense I’ll have to say a little about what Lola, the woman in my life, is like. To start, she’s French. She’s small and she likes to refer to herself as my little wife, but she’s solid too, and fit, with strong legs: in the WNFL she’d be a halfback. When she gets excited she bounces on her toes and hugs me around the waist, looking up at me. She’s far from graceless but she sometimes moves with a child’s gracelessness, like Masina—that physicality, impetuosity of expression and utterance, a mischievous delight in small wonders and small triumphs. On the other hand, when she has to enter or pass through a dark room, she stands for a moment at the threshold looking in with narrowed eyes. Anyway, I’m guessing the comparison to Masina will please her; she’s herself an actress, the kind whose outsize physical presence lends to rather than diminishes the subtlety of her performances. She comes from a family of film people, and all manner of moving image can transfix her: Tarkovsky, or Ozu, or Maya Deren. She sleeps deeply, dreams bodily, and uses cuddle as a transitive verb, one of the few early solecisms she’s done me the kindness of preserving. She cuddles me. Read More »

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Child Mortality

June 20, 2013 | by

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“I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about death lately,” my friend Kate said. It was early September and she and I and some others were crammed into a red leather booth in a bar that had once been a gas station. It was still warm outside but it wouldn’t be much longer. “I think it’s because my grandmother just died,” she said. “I don’t know—I’ve never really thought much about it before now.”

As she spoke, the upper half of my body slumped out and across the table, empty glasses clinking as my elbow nudged them aside. “Tell me what that’s like,” I said, eyes wide, as if imploring her to recount some illicit rendezvous. She laughed and everyone laughed and the waitress came over and we ordered another round. Read More »

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Getting Caught

January 31, 2013 | by

toilet-paperBefore our fathers lost their jobs, before the kid at school collapsed on the practice field, before our grandmothers forgot our names, before the first big uprooting, the tug of bourbon, and the crises of faith, there was a shameless season along the cattail-flanked pikes of northeast Nashville, a season as tough to fathom now as it is mortifying to confess, when our biggest concern, at least on weekend nights late, was whose house to roll with toilet paper.

We were restive, brother. We were hemmed in by hills. There were no wars to fight. High-speed Internet had yet to invade the South. So under cover of catching a movie or playing pickup in the church gym, we pooled pocket money and raked the grocery clean of twelve- and twenty-four-packs of tissue. The cashier women could have tipped off the cops. There was no mistaking our intent for a collective case of irritable bowel syndrome. Still they shooed us through the sliding doors, perhaps wagering we might repay their clemency by passing over their cul-de-sacs.

We rolled Laura, the sweetest girl you ever met, and Tyler, the most likely in our class to find a cure for cancer. We rolled whole blocks of strangers. We rolled our next-door neighbors. We rolled Laura again. And in one ballsy feat not likely to be bested this millennium, we rolled our high school basketball coach, a Brobdingnagian who, when he got to shouting, sounded like Darth Vader passing a kidney stone in an echo chamber. Read More »

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Hear That Lonesome Gasket Blow: Part 1

December 11, 2012 | by

In the aisle of the Boeing 737 sardine tin, a wild-eyed, whiskered man—late twenties—held up the smooth flow of Seattle-bound passengers with frantic attempts to stow his carry-on. The impedimenta in question seemed to yours truly a destination-appropriate one: secured to his bulging backpack with yards of duct tape, a skateboard jutted. As he stooped to unwrap the thing, provoking more than a few pursed lips from the jammed queue, he bickered with the flight attendant.

“Can’t I just keep it in my lap?”

“If you can’t fit it in the overhead compartment, you’ll have to check it plane-side.”

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Drink the Water

October 11, 2012 | by

Liquor has never touched my Middle Eastern father’s lips. Or so he claims. In the late sixties, when he lived a spell in Munich, embarked on spontaneous sojourns to Italy, and dated a Finnish broad named Helvi I once saw in a faded wallet-size photo—activities that made him sound so much more alluring than the stern killjoy I remember—I like to think he nursed a few carefree beers just like any lonely expat. When he made his way to New York a few years later, renting a dingy studio on the upper reaches of Broadway, when he was still the man my mother fell for—an Arab version of Adrian Zmed with a rustling gold chain around his neck and swarthy looks that back then meant you were handsome, not a possible terrorist—he used to smoke cigarettes, my mother tells me. Perhaps he also took nips of whiskey from a flask.

But the only father I know, the real one, returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia when I was eight years old a sudden gung-ho Muslim. He was no longer the aggressive moderate who was content with me just saying Bissmilah at the start of each meal. Now, every moment he wasn’t holed up in a Hilton for work or stuffing fried eggplant into pita bread at the dinner table was spent hunched over a miniature Koran, recapturing the lost Islam of his youth, of his family, of the native Syria he hadn’t called home for more than two decades.

Freshly brewed mint iced tea. Distilled water from the Poland Springs gallon bottles that lined our laundry room. Dr. Pepper, when its effervescence became a salve for the wheezing that permeated my bronchitis-ridden childhood. These were the beverages welcome in our teetotaler home. Although my mother, a Catholic girl from Queens, didn’t have religion propelling her consumption habits, she harbored something worse: distaste for even innocent bubbles. “Champagne burns my ears,” I remember her whining—and she rarely invited company over for anything more than a cup of Earl Grey.

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