by Jacqueline Feldman
People talk about the beauty of this city’s rooftops, but not as often about its windows.
Every window in this apartment except the one in my bedroom opens onto the courtyard. The apartment grays as the days shorten. My window opens onto rue du Temple. Across the street is a jeweler’s. A short man in a long white coat makes jewelry in the window across from me. For a few days I thought he was writing or painting by candlelight, then I noticed his goggles (and the jeweler’s sign) and realized his craft used the flame.
My desk is by the window. I write at my desk and the man works at his desk and sometimes we happen to rotate toward the window at the same dull moment and are startled to lock eyes. I was unused to this intimacy. I learned to remember to close the blinds after a shower.
I saw an interesting exhibit on Saturday, “Hommage à Edward Hopper,” at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art & Culture. (I went there for a concert by the two Fulbrighters who are musicians, Cathryn Gaylord and Katy LaFavre, who play bassoon and percussion, beautifully.)
The artists, a duo named Clark et Pougnaud, produce photographs after Edward Hopper’s paintings. (There is currently a well-advertised Hopper exhibit at the Grand Palais.) Pougnaud makes 1/12-sized sets that resemble the paintings. Clark photographs actors posed as Hopper’s people, and also photographs the sets.
I’m including some of the photos far below, taken from the artists’ online portfolio.
Of course Hopper is interested in windows. I became interested in Hopper a couple years ago, when I was directing a sparse, sweet play of Sarah Ruhl’s called “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.” Ruhl recommends Hopper in her notes to directors. I started to think about light in green and yellow shades, long beams, still and mournful light, and what it fails to illuminate when it smacks you in the face.
The homage to Hopper is not quite overly literal, even as it approaches the uncanny valley. It works because Hopper (like Ruhl) seems concerned with boundaries between real and imagined — you have to wonder what his people are dreaming about — and how one might transcend the bounded world. Clark’s deeply colored, hybrid photos transpose Hopper’s private, anxious figures into a storied loneliness.
I stepped out of the exhibit onto avenue de New York, on the Right Bank, and felt in my stomach how the Eiffel Tower looked at dusk.
I came home at night to find a crane stringing Christmas lights across the street and was awed (elves at work).
I was moved by the words to get rid of ripe mangoes at the Belleville market: “They are honey! They are amazing. They are not expensive! They are free! Three for two euros! Try them, my brother! Try them, my cousin! Try them, my beauty! Taste the honey! Taste the sunshine! Eat! Eat! Eat!”
This morning, there was some commotion outside. I went to the window and looked down to the street, where a knot of pedestrians argued with some cops. I looked up. The jeweler and his colleagues were standing at their window, too. They smiled. I smiled back. One jeweler waved. They laughed at me.