Issue 124, Fall 1992
Street Scenes II
After lunch, the Sunday strollers boil
on the pavement, two miles from Belleville,
which may be the upcoming quartier
now that fashion’s priced out the Marais.
Stretch-silk jeans, antiqued American
patchwork quilts (hand-sewn, but in Taiwan)
rag-doll black girls and rag-doll Uncle Sams
are sold in what still was the Hammam
Saint-Paul last year. There, Jewish matrons, girt
with goosefat, had their nails done, had dessert
and some discreet attention to their hair,
had tea and time to gossip in lounge chairs
on steaming tiles beside the pool, or nap.
There, granddaughters and foreigners swam laps,
sweated, were flogged with twigs, were rubbed and rolled
over, kneaded and pummelled, doused with cold
water, to join them, panting, on the tiles,
or risk the verdict of the eight-foot scales.
The Jewish matrons were Tunisian
Jews. The French Jews mostly disappeared
in forty-two: the Vélodrome d’Hiver,
Beaune-la-Rolande, Drancy, then the trains.
Their street is being frosted to a myth.
The cowboy-boot boutique rubs doorsills with
a new shop selling Yemenite cassettes
and hand-painted Israeli seder plates.
Ben-Simon the butcher co-exists
with an architectural palimpsest
of doors and windows: heavy oak and brass
four hundred years old, filigree and glass
of the last fin de siècle, fresh concrete
pavement of this one, widening the street
so international pedestrians
can loiter. Re-dispersed Jews seeking roots,
they price the impossible purple snakeskin boots
and queue for lunch at the falafel stands
with sallow cousins in ageless black coats.