Posted tagged ‘Plaid umbrellas and existentialism’

Exposition Universelle And Summer Olympics (Paris, 1900)

August 4, 2012


Exposition Universelle and Summer Olympics (Paris, 1900)

One likes to imagine
crepes, jam seeping through thin
lace crusts onto delicately curved
fingers, then into those moued-mouth lips
that are somehow
formed by speaking French, as
couples stroll the Tuileries, all of
Paris bobbing with fair.

Though the truth is eating was not for
streets in 1900 and what the delicate fingers
gripped were skirts, scooped slightly
to avoid the underslog, parasols truly
parapluies (umbrellas)–ribbed armor against
sun’s slay, walking sticks (if the fingers men’s),
and chapeaus (hats), even more omnipresent than
the chevaux (horses) that pulled the black-boxed carriages, pleated
hansoms, dusty carts, through the zig-zagging throng
of boulevard and rue, where too,
the marathoners dodged that summer, mis-chased (the favorite forfeiting,
after darting into a cafe for a few beers
against the heat), as much an obstacle course, if
random, as that arranged for the swimmers across the
Seine (up slippery iron poles and across ships’ decks).
Somewhere to the side of the obstacled route submerged
the underwater swim, a questionable treat
for spectators, though relief perhaps
from the pigeon shoot, where bursts of gut-clotted
plumage turned out not to amuser.
In some stray field, far
even from the Left Bank,
the first event for women (croquet)
unfolded, with one lone ticket sold
to a (presumably nice) man
who had just come up from Nice.

Oh, the wonders!  Balloons pumped up and
down on heated air, a competition
in firefighting, and below the
copper-blue roofs of Paris, that filigreed arc
of sky, a moving sidewalk
where people could step up and just
glide by.

Old footage
shows them: some men and boys
greeting the camera with proud smirks, doffed
hats, backtracking
to stay within its frames, a woman
who also jumps in, then shyly lowers
eyes beneath the shade of her
perched brim.

All gone now, gone maybe just a few years
later, World War I – the boy with
the shiny glasses whose shiny smile only half makes
the camera’s view, the lady with the
big plaid umbrella whose bright squares
nearly upstage the curved iron swoop
of the Eiffel Tower overhead,
the light-eyed man who mockingly
holds his arms out to his sides
not to bow to the camera, but to pretend
a charge as one might a bull, gander
or barn-proud cock.

All gone, remaining perhaps only
in that faded flickering, their
caught snickers and downcast
eyes, or, like the man
from Nice, in the records of
a ticket stub.

Who knows why we are
here and what
we will leave
behind, the bold plaid
that we carry overhead
to shield us from
too much


I wrote the above draft poem for dVerse Poets Pub’s “Poetics” prompt, hosted by the indefatigable Brian Miller.  The prompt asks for a poem that somehow goes back in time.

The Paris 1900 Summer Olympics (called the Games of II Olympiad) were held in conjunction with the Paris World’s Fair.  It appears to have been rather a wild Olympics with new (and one-time only) events such as obstacle swimming, pigeon shooting with 300 live (soon-to-be-dead) pigeons, live game shooting (only this was done with cardboard cut-outs), and non-official sports such as firefighting, delivery van racing, and, allegedly, poodle hair-cutting.  The first women’s only event was inaugurated there, croquet, with one ticket sold.  However, in a mixed (i.e. “co-ed”) event–two person sailing–Helene de Portalèse won the first gold medal ever won by a woman.

Have a nice weekend!  And if you have time, check out my books – poetry, GOING ON SOMEWHERE,  (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco).  Or if you have time, check out  1 Mississippi -counting book for lovers of rivers, light and pachyderms, or Nose Dive, a very fun novel that is perfect for a pool or beachside escape.