Gary's New Leaf Journal
May 21, 1999
I just dropped off the first of the three leaves that Suzanne gave me on the steps near a fountain of a pig at the end of Ikuta Road (under the railroad tracks) in Kobe, Japan, about 10 pm. This is right in the middle of downtown Kobe; the streets are full of young people out for the evening on a very pleasant Friday night. Lots of small restaurants, bars, and shops, the kind that young people can afford, a fair amount of neon, and street musicians here and there, young male teenagers with guitars mostly; altogther pretty bustling.
Stayed nearby long enough to see a young women (20ish) going up the steps with her friends bend down, pick it up, look at it, then flip it over and show it to a male friend. She then placed it back on the step where she found it (Many Japanese may feel uncomfortable taking it, though I suspect it will be gone before the night is over). Many will pass and see it. Perhaps its gone now (11:30). I like to think so.
May 23, 1999
I dropped the second leaf in Manila today.
The waitress in the CPK (California Pizza Kitchen) restaurant in Makati
does not go to Luneta Park. She lives about 2km from here, a well-to-do
business and shopping district where the Manila Peninsula hotel is located,the really swank place where I am staying. "This is where everyone goes for nightlife", she says. The waitress's English is very good, since English is spoken very widely here (the Americans after all occupied the place for the first four decades of the century).
I show her the leaf. "If you leave that in Luneta Park, someone will just
take it and make a display of it in their home." I tell her that's the
idea. She does not know the idiom, "to turn over a new leaf", so I explain
that it means to get a fresh start. She says, "Someone will pick it up,
but the may not get the meaning".
Makati, bright and shiney, is the New Asia, as my fellow passenger in the
cab last night said. I decide to leave the leaf somewhere else where I hope
someone very poor will find it.
I head for Luneta Park (the other name for Rizal Park), which will be
crowded today, Sunday, with people strolling. I get out of the cab well
before there, at Remedios Circle on Adriatico, and walk to Roxas Boulevard. A block or two towards Luneta Park, I pass a dirt alley leading to a construction site on the right that is lined on both sides with squatters shack's. Just ahead on the left, in a strip of grass between Roxa and a service road, there's another wood and corregated metal shack. I put the leaf down on the sidewalk and keep walking. Across Roxas Boulevard is Manila Bay. A fancy hotel, the Manila Diamond, is very close by, but right here, poor people live on the street.
No one will see it right away. I hope you do not ever hear from anyone
about this leaf again. I hope a poor person has found it and will use it as
decoration, and to show to his or her neighbors in the other shacks nearby.
May 28, 1999
Dropped off the last leaf this morning in Guangzhou in Yuexiu Park at 6:30 am. It's been raining, just a light mist now, with the streets wet.
I walk uphill along the wet asphalt street from the South Gate on Jiefang Road into the park. Three old women walking up the hill backwards, touching hands together first behind the torso and then in front, precede me up the hill. The park is filling with people doing their early-Saturday-morning exercises.
There is a stone gazebo on a terrace just above the road on the right, where the path from the Sun Yat Sen Monument crosses the road on the way to the Sculpture of the Five Rams. A half-dozen 60ish older people practice Tai Chi. A man in a sleeveless underwear shirt plays the flute seated on a stone. A shirtless, shoeless man, about 50, strolls past singing. I sit on the stone bench in the gazebo, watch and write.
This is a good place. It's dry and covered, in case the rains come again before someone picks up the leaf.
The old woman doing Tai Chi closest to me makes strange croaking sounds. I put the leaf down on the bench beside me, stand up, take a few pictures, then walk back to Jiefang Road, past people sweeping the sidewalk with rough long-bristled whisks, back to the hotel, and out of China.
June 6, 1999
Hi Carol -
I placed a leaf at a bus stop on a main street in Sulzbach, Germany, at the foot of the Taunus Range, on a late Sunday afternoon . I walked just a few minutes to get here from my hotel at the edge of town, trying to shake off the time change from Cincinnati and the cool gray sky that greeted me here before starting the business week tomorrow.
The hotel, a Holiday Inn, is bordered to the west and south by farmer's fields, and across the street to the north, between it and the town, sits an abandoned drive-in theater. At the corner, where a pick-it-yourself strawberry field and the town meet, I choose to walk into the residential area instead of along the more busily travelled road past the lumber yard towards Schwalbach.
Just a few people blocks away as I place the leaf down on a low wall behind the bus stop sign, marked with an "H" in a circle (for "Haltestelle", if I remember the German word correctly). I set the leaf discretely on end. There is nothing else out of place on this well-tended block of neat flowerbeds and small well-groomed yards, but I don't suppose the standing leaf will be seen until Monday when the commuters and school children queue up for the morning bus. I decide to walk a bit further into Sulzbach. From a half-block away, I turn back towards the bus stop, and see two old gray-haired ladies have come out of a house nearby. I turn around and continue my walk.
In the center of Sulzbach, not much of a center, anyway, everything is closed. I pass a few people here and there out for a stroll. No one says "Guten Tag" unless I do first. A block or two past the Rathaus, I follow a narrow street into the park which is split by the railroad tracks and a small stream. I follow a wide path past some community gardens, where neighbors exchange greetings. I am rung out of the way by the bell on a bicycle once or twice, but the feeling is of being in a town that's napping away the day.
I reach the main road to Schwalbach where the path crosses beneath it, and head back towards the hotel, keeping the town on my left. It starts to rain as I near the strawberry field once again, so I wait under one of the smaller trees lining the road for a few minutes, watching the cars, motorcycles, and scooters pass, watching the strawberry pickers across the road in the field, and watching the clouds for when the break will come.
While it rains, I think that I need to go back past the leaf to record more
about where I have placed it. I was too out of it with jet lag to even bother finding the name of the street, or read from the schedule on the bus stop sign what time the first bus will come in the morning.
A small wooden shack, shutters raised to form awnings, topped by a large red and green plastic strawberry and a tall white banner fluttering in the strong wind sits on a dirt road in the middle of the field. It's started to rain more heavily now from the low ragged clouds blown in by the cool wind from the far-off North Atlantic. The harder rain drives the last strawberry pickers from the neat low rows to shelter under the raised shutters of the shack. I still wait. Blue sky to the west promises a break in the rain soon. Waist-high, seed-heavy grass grows under this tree and the others lining the road.
The rains stop. The sign on the entry road to the strawberry field says "Frisher Spargel", and "Frieland-Rosen aus Stein-furth!" I turn left back on to Bahnstrasse. I follow the red brick sidewalk past the radar-controlled sign advising drivers "Sie fahren _____ km/h". It's hardly 50 meters from the corner
when I come again to the Finkeweg #802 Haltestelle, Umleitung Sulzbach, at the corner of Bahnstrasse and Finkeweg. The leaf is already gone.
June 8, 1999
I left New Leaf in a niche in a gray gothic stone railing fronting a late
17th-century building that's now a museum on the Grand Place. The railing backs a stone ledge where I and many other people were sitting in the sun, watching the mix of tourists and local people in the Place. The ledge faces the flower market set up anew each day in the middle of the Place. You can't miss it.
I walked around to the other side of the Place, near the building with the swan over the door, just to see how well you could see New Leaf from there. It's sitting on its side, painted side out to the Place, not quite as shiny as the gold leaf on the front of some of the other old buildings here, but it shows nicely against the gray stone.
As I watch, a tall thin man in his mid-twenties, mop of black hair and a thick black mustache, wearing a blue blazer and gray slacks, walks up to take a seat where I was sitting a minute before. He sees New Leaf, takes it out of its niche, sits down, turns it over, and considers it for a few minutes. I stop watching and walk away.
I left a leaf in the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere last Thursday evening. I placed it on edge lengthwise on the top step of the fountain in the middle of the Piazza. There were lots of people sitting on the steps, mostly in twos and threes. You could see it clearly from the outside table at Sabatini's where I had dinner with two travelling companions. When you get there, you will see just where it was.
My friends and I waited and watched over wine and dinner. Many people came and went, sitting just in front and beside the leaf, but no one paid any attention to it. Too busy talking and laughing and watching other people in the Piazza, I guess.
We finished dinner about half past midnight and took a taxi back to the hotel. The leaf was still there when we left. The crowd had started to thin out. Some young adults, among them one long-haired young man playing sporadically an instrument that made a sound like a didgery-do, took up places on the lower steps below the leaf. To its right, a teenage couple embraced and kissed fiercely.
Why is the male always over the swooning female, arms around her, as she leans back? How would a kiss between a woman and a man feel if she were to take the stronger part?
June 12, 1999
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Ancient Neptune has one made of stone. Durer's Adam and his Eve have them. Reuben's Eve has one, too, though his Adam only sits with his shy poem coyly concealed. I leave a leaf for the Naked Maja, but hope she will not wear it.
June 16, 1999
Kicking Leaves in Paris
I placed a leaf on the sidewalk where I could see it from my seat at our table
outside the Auberge de Jarente, a Basque restaurant in Le Marais, last night at
about 9. Three of us sit at a four-person table that takes up all the short
space from the restaurant wall to the curb of the narrow street.
There are dozens of people sitting at outside tables at four or five other
restaurants just out of sight around the corner a few paces away on Rue Caron.
Rue Caron is a pedestrian street. Rue de Jarente where we sit is a narrow
one-lane street. People entering or leaving Rue de Caron from our direction on
Rue de Jarente will have to step right over the leaf. It is very near the sign
pointing to the Place du Marche Ste Catherine. You'll know where this is too,
once you see it.
Across the street from our table there is an entrance to a courtyard of a
building with small neatly-ordered signs for "Pedicures/Podiologue", "Horalogie"
(a watchmaker), a sign for a doctor, a pediatrician, and a sign with a
line-drawn cartoon spider on it advising the presence of a place called
Ignacio sits with his back to the leaf. Anne sits beside me facing the corner
where I have left it right in the middle of the sidewalk. Within minutes, a
woman in her late 40's, kerchief in a triangle on her head, black hair showing
around it, a white blouse, and black stretch pants, a bit wide at the hips but
not too fat, huries past our table and in a second spies the leaf and is upon
it. Never pausing, she looks down at it underfoot, and accidently steps on it
and kicks it. She disappears from view around the corner,
The leaf now rests against the wall just a foot from where I had placed it, but
no longer conspicuously in the way. Small distances some times matter a lot.
This is not good a good place for it, as we watch other people pass by now,
never noticing. Ignacio, who has been with me for many leave plantings, moves
it back to the center of the sidewalk.
Our waiter comes to take our order. He has seen Ignacio reposition the leaf in
the sidewalk, so we show him the other leaf we have. Anne explains in French
that it is an art project.
Very quickly after that, happening so fast that I did not see clearly who it was
or just when it was, there was a clatter as the leaf again met a foot. A man is
his mid twenties, backpack, red baseball cap with a shallow crown (is he gay?),
and a blue and white shirt (was it just white?) has the leaf in his hand, and
studies it as he keys in the passcode at the entrance to his apartment next door
to the restaurant just behind Ignacio. In an instant, he is in the door and
gone, leaf in hand. (I have made up some details I do not remember: Anne asked
if it was the man wtih the backpack. I do not know, but decide that it was).
Ignacio asks me, "Is that the first time I have seen someone take a leaf?"
"No", I say. "I left one in Brussels in the Grand Place, and as soon as I had
crossed over to the other side, a young man had taken it".
Over dinner, we talk about Jane Austin, and how Charlotte Bronte in Anne's view
is a better writer than Emily,about Borges and the Irish Christian Brothers who
taught Ignacio, We cover Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls and the Sun Also
Rises, a favorite of Anne's (Ignacio's elderly relatives in Barcelona, one
Fascist and one Republican, still fight the Spanish Civil War, he says). We
discuss core Humanities courses, Ignacio and I sharing admiring smiles for the
ancient Greeks. Anne says you can't condemn completely all literature that is
sexist or racist, some of it is great literature, neverthess. Toni Morrison
arrives in the conversation, Joseph Conrad, and the Beats.
Ignacio and Anne prefer Barcelona to Madrid. We discuss what we know and don't
know about Gaudi.Ignacio and I explain Borges's "ficciones" to Anne, the Alef,
the Immortals, the hexagonal cells of the Library of Babel (1). Paris is
beautiful in total, but the architecture of the individual buildings tends to be
all alike, unlike Barcelona, Anne notes.
Anne tells us how the heavy-drinking Hemingway considered Scott Fitzgerald a
drunkard, and how Zelda was crazy, Yet they seemed to live and write on nothing
in Paris, going from cafe to cafe. I'll have to read "A Moveable Feast". We talk
about the Hemigway house in Key West, "Too commercial", Ignacio says. "But he
had a great place to write," I say, "Across the catwalk from his bedroom, in
that building out back, what are those called, the places over the garage?"
"Outhouses", Anne suggests, but of course she's joking, and I simply never
remember "carriage house", but that may not be what it was, either.
We talk about journals and writing (and I have been scribling in mine in front
of my friends to capture the scene before it fades from memory). and how the
discipline helps. I ask Anne if she has a novel in a drawer, and she says she
has at least part of one. She wrote quite a lot when she was younger, but has
set it aside for a time, gaining more experience with life to write about. I
say I am embarassed too by the angst and immaturity of some of the what's in my
journal, and how repetitive the crises can seem, but I am learning to ignore
those passages now.
We are surrounded by buildings with garrets, one of my writer's-life fantasies,
but too expensive to live there and sell nothing now. Ignacio and I,
businessmen, talk about the choices and compromises we have made, how a friend
of his, once his writing partner, still works as a journalist for not much money
in Argentina. He talks about the allure of a certain material standard of
living, and of course, for us, it is business that has brought us here tonight.
We all note the absence of cafe society in the United States, and speculate
about why it thrives here: the small apartments, how density makes for more
livable city streets. First one pitcher of wine and then another disappear, and
all our dinners, too.
It was Anne's first day on the job today at a translation company here in Paris,
after nine month's teaching English to uncaring French teenagers. The day went
well, not too busy, she explains to me. I admire her red hair and delicately
engraved gold-rim glasses against her pale skin as she talks.
It's hard to take even the first day of a job here too seriously, as more than a
game, she says: "I keep thinking, I'm in Paris! How can this be more than a
game?", Here small office is very international; her coworkers having lived in
many countries and speaking many European languages.
She had always wanted to live abroad, and made her chance to come here, where
she rents a room from an elderly piano teacher in the 8th arrondisement near the
Gare Saint Lazare, It's not like the posh neighborhood around George V, also in
the 8th, where Ignacio and I had a meeting in a ritzy office with suspendered
and starched consultants today.
Le Marais, where we are just now, is one of her favorite neighborhoods, and Le
Place de Vosges, a park in a square between here and the Place de la Bastille,
one of her favorite parks.
We finish the wine, and turn to desert. Ignacio and I have coffee. Can there be
a better way to live than this, enjoying the street life on a warm night, making
our own cafe society of three?
We leave the restaurant, and I pause to write down the address where New Leaf
has gone to live: 7 Rue de Jarente. Grafiti on the wall says "Va Mourire Le 25
Januar"."Does that say we are going to die on the 25th of January?", I ask.
"Yes, but 'mourir' is mispelled", Anne replies. How differently should we live,
knowing the day but not the year of our death?
Anne guides us through back streets to the river. I'm glad she has decided to
stay with us a while longer. We cross Rivoli, and then the Pont du Marie heading
towards Ile St Louis. Tour Boats pass beneath us, we wave from the railing, and
in the first boat, many people wave back.
"You know, maybe I should drop the other leaf to the people on one of the boats
as they pass beneath us, but the wood is hard, I'm afraid I might hurt someone",
The boats pass rapidly. I ask, "Are these the bridges we would have slept under
last night if we could not have found a room?"
Ignacio pauses to admire an Apilia Pegaso 6.5, a beautiful Italian motorcycle
design of silver and circles. "Your next one", meaning for me, he says.
The moment and the boats pass. We walk on to Ile St Louis and along the Quai du
Bourbon, admiring the houses with wrought-iron railings: As Anne says, all more
or less alike and unadventurous, but together quite stately and charming, A
thin crescent moon and Venus, two hand spans up in the sky ahead of us in the
direction of Notre Dame, are the only celestial objects to be seen. City lights
must be blocking the stars and the rest of the planets.
We get to the Pont St Louis, where a fire-eater entertains the tourists in the
middle of the bridge "And now I will tell a French joke", he says in English. We
do not pause to listen, but go along the Quai de Fleurs on Ile de la Cite.
We reach the Pont D'Arcole on the way to the Hotel De Ville. A boat is coming,
and I decide that it would be fun to drop a leaf. "Yes, do it!" Ignacio urges, I
try to think of how to drop it gently. I search in my black bag for the leaf,
but it's not there. It's gone. "We left it on the table at the restaurant".
Ignacio says. And so we had, forgotten during our conversation about our
different lifes, among our empty wine glasses.
We walk on to the Hotel De Ville where we part. Anne takes the Metro back to her
apartment, Ignacio and I to walk the streets a bit longer on our last night in
Paris. We go back up Rivoli, then wander along side streets back past the Place
des Vosges (and the little bar where we had our first beer of the evening before
dinner). We go to the Place de la Bastille, and settle in for a final drink at a
sidewalk table of a still-crowded bar. We sit and talk about business and
choices we have made until 12:30, then walk back to our hotel on Amelot near the
St Sebastian Metro stop, and prepare for our separate trips tomorrow, he back to
Madrid to meet with four friends, and me back to Cincinnati and home.
(1) A footnote: Borges's critic Eduardo Aleman says that Borges imagined the
Alef while sitting at this very cafe, which during his time in Paris was a
center for Argentine intellectuals. Aleman says it is not known whether Borges
ever met Hemingway here. From this place, Aleman says, it seemed to Borges that
everything was visible; all choices were knowable; all books to be read and
written imaginable; and all lives possible: lives in Paris, in Buenos Aires or
New York, in Madrid or in Prince Albert north of the prairie in Saskatchewan.
He later changed this to become the story we all now know. Others dispute this
story of the imagining of the Alef, claiming that Borges had made it up just to
please his Parisian friends who were acquantences of the owner of the cafe