The French-American film Round Midnight, directed by Bertrand Tavernier and starring my late husband, Dexter Gordon, as a jazz musician in Paris in the late 1950s, premiered in New York City 30 years ago today. As I near completion of Dexter’s biography, Dexter Calling: The Life and Music of Dexter Gordon, memories of the film come flooding back. They are bittersweet, as many of the performers have since passed away, most recently Bobby Hutcherson (1941–2016), who died this past summer. Bobby plays Ace in the film and delivers one of its most memorable lines. In the hallway of the Hotel Louisiane, Ace is holding a bowl of jambalaya as Buttercup walks past. He says, about living in Paris, “It would be the best city in the world if I could just find some okra.” Dexter loved that line, and whenever he repeated it to Bobby, they would both burst out laughing.
Annie Proulx’s new novel, Barkskins, takes on a vast subject: the destruction of the forests of North America and, by rapacious extension, the world—even of life itself on our sizzling little planet. It’s perhaps an irony that a whole forest must’ve been felled to produce the paper pulp the print edition of this 700-plus-page epic required. In this case it was worth it.
One of my ESL students, a Saudi, once mentioned a man had followed him on his way to class and yelled racial slurs. When other students shared similar stories, I recognized his relief that the burden wasn’t his alone. I told the story of my airplane confrontation, after which a French student uttered a reply I had heard several times before: “Good.” She explained how in France a new wave of immigrants was coming up from the south. They were poor, and with them came crime and violence. She said we were not those people, and such stories as we shared were a small price to pay for safety.
We’d been planning our Thanksgiving-week trip to Paris for months, so imagine our dismay—a deeply uncomfortable mix of horror and annoyance—when we heard the news, on November 13, of the terrorist attacks there. Should we go or cancel? We talked and talked about it for several days before opting to stick with our plan. Friends were encouraging us to go—the stepped-up security would make Paris safer than ever, they said, and the Parisians would be so glad and grateful to see us—but what really decided me was remembering the days following 9/11 in New York.