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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 701 Response

The Rue de la Paix

with Gary Inbinder

In Marjorie Sadin’s “Down the Rue de la Paix,” if the lovers had such a good time in Paris, why would they never go back?

[Gary Inbinder] I can’t answer the challenge, and that may be the problem with the poem. It lacks context, and the reader has to fill in the blanks.

The Rue de la Paix or “peaceful street” was opened by Napoleon in 1806 and originally named the Rue Napoléon. It was renamed in 1814 to celebrate the “peace” of the Bourbon Restoration. For more than a century, the street has been the location of fashionable and pricey shops, most particularly jewelers.

In any number of historical contexts, the name “peaceful street” could be ironic. The Picasso Museum opened in 1985, so the “shootings and bombings” couldn’t refer to anything prior to that time, for example the May 1968 riots. I’m guessing the reference must be to more recent events, such as the Bataclan massacre. I doubt anyone visiting Paris during such times could would want to return to the city any time soon.

[Don Webb] I can’t answer the question, either, because I’m not sure where the poem leads. According to a sardonic proverb, “If it doesn’t happen in Paris, it doesn’t happen.” However old the proverb may be, it was coined too late: it has been true for more than a thousand years.

Marjorie Sadin’s poem begins with a stark contrast: the “peaceful street” juxtaposed to “shootings and bombings.” The rest of the poem is devoted to the city’s monuments of art, culture and urban life. Both views represent simultaneously the Paris of world history.

The ending of the poem is ambiguous at best. “We made love in Paris, / never to return.” What does that mean? “There’s nothing like making love in Paris”? If so, point taken.

But, taken literally, “never to return” is sad. And is it even possible? Oscar Wilde saw and said it clearly: “When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” Another proverb applies, and this one can be taken literally: C’est la vie.

Copyright © 2017 by Gary Inbinder
and Don Webb

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