Paris, January 1997
Going to Paris to meet up with my father and, for the first time, my half-brother
Call from Paris to Germany, December 31 1997
My father David returns my call from somewhere in Paris. Says he'll wait for me on the second of January, to call again so he can arrange things with his nephew, and to pass on my regards to my grandfather. Says he and Patrick, the half-brother I have never met, will meet me at the train station.
Now I'm standing on the cliff's edge overlooking the shimmering harp-sea. Behind me are dark heavy pines and a blanket of shadows, a musky, crisp cold kept at bay by my black woollen coat. There is a big drop, a drop I can't fathom, and then there is the other side, a tanned rocky hilltop with an ancient olive press carved into its flank, the lowering sun painting its contours pastel pink and gold.
Outside the Montparnasse cafe where my mother and father met in 1965
Paris poster advertising Hannukah, 1997
Flea market, Paris, 12 January 1998
The Paris file is closing. Tomorrow I'll head eastwards on the train back to Venningen, and away from the city where my life began. There's a sense of closure, a sadness that hangs like wet washing in the frosty air.
David is bored, restless, and itching to get back to Israel. "There's nothing here for me now", he says. He's finished digging up evidence of his past life - La Select, Doctor Rosenzweig, Patrick. A life that has slipped forever from reality to archaelology, buried by the tough, hard-faced city that has replaced the carefree, shapely young Paris so keen to embrace him thirty years ago.
Today we visited the flea market in Porte de Cliquot. We browsed through rows upon rows of stalls selling shoddily-made merchandise and overseen by grim, cold people blowing into their hands and eagerly looking out for customers. David stopped at the leather shops; he was looking for a shoulder bag to carry his papers and wallet. I scoured the book stalls for a find like the 1690s Guide for Priests I'd uncovered at the market in 1993. David watched curiously as I sifted through a pile of French novels. "What do you do with the old book?" he asked, "you can't read it."
We made our way to the fringes of the market, where rows of illegal immigrants sat with pathetic piles of wares spread out on dirty blankets in front of them - worn old clothes, ancient magazines, broken radios. David hobbled through the area, keeping his eyes peeled for a working camera: "Here's the Arab," he stated. "Look, they're so dirty, putting all their things on the floor."
A police car drove up into the street next to us. In a flash the vendors gathered up their goods, stuffed them into cheap plastic shopping bags and took off. By the time the police made it to the lane it was almost deserted. David and I turned around and walked under a railway bridge; on the other side, out of the gendarmes' sight, we saw the same sellers spreading out their blankets on the pavement. A sad game of hide and seek.
"We're lucky", I said to David. "Some people have to live like this". David laughed in a thin way, as if to say "that's reality for you." We stepped inside a grimy cafe overlooking the market. Looking out over the stall I said "I feel sad about this life - it's like a game" and took a sip of bitter black coffee. "Yes, that is the life" replied David. "Once I have the big car, earn so much money, have plenty girlfriends....but, you know, it's not so good now with the money, but I am positive for the future. I wait and then something new will come." He downed his coffee, tallied up and we continued our walk through the market.
A few minutes later we stopped at another bag shop. Suddenly a fracas started between two stallholders; among the yelling and shouting, I picked out the word "juif".
"You hear this?" David said, matter-of-factly. "That man called the woman a dirty Jew". I looked over and saw the woman, her skinny, drawn face red with anger, a large Star of David around her neck. We kept walking on. A minute or two later we passed a group of African immigrants. "No, I'm not racist" David volunteered out of the blue. "I think everyone should be in own country. The neger there, the Arab - if born here, sure! They're French, but the immigrant, they are too many."
He stopped at another bag stall. "You want to buy a bag?" asked the dark-skinned merchant in French. "I have very nice ones, just in." "Ahh... just looking" he responded, his eyes focused on the inside of the carrying pouch he was holding. "Where are you from, friend?" David smiled, answering evasively with "Ahhh...from here and there, you know..." He checked the lock of a vinyl carrying case. "You are from Israel?" "Yes..." he answered, an uncomfortable tone in his voice. "Very good. I like the Israelis. Very good at business. You want to see our new line?" "Maybe later. Come on Stefan, we going."
We continued on, occasionally stopping at stalls until finally David saw one he liked, a leather bag with a long carrying handle, pockets and a bright golden clasp. "What you think? You like this one?" he asked me. I said yes. He haggled with the trader "180 francs...this price is good, yes?" he said to me after the deal was struck, looking at the bag's lining. I agreed, happy that we could go home now. He took the rubber band off a wad of papers and bills, handed him nine 20 Franc notes. We left the stall and headed for the Metro station, cold hands in our pockets, the new bag slung around David's shoulder. "What do we do now? You want to go drink coffee?" he asked half-heartedly, looking around at the wintery streets. Maybe later, I said. "You think I can get the plane back early?" he asked. "This place, now there is nothing more for me. What I doing here? Just walking and drinking coffee. Everybody has gone, it's not the same. I think I try change the ticket." We reached the station and headed down the stairs.