worlds end -- 12/31/21

Today's selection -- from I Wonder as I Wander by Langston Hughes. In 1937, Langston Hughes was traveling back to the United States via Paris after serving as a war correspondent in Spain for the Baltimore Afro-American. On New Year's Eve he serendipitously met Seki Sano, a Japanese theater director who had been expelled from Japan. They rang in the new year together at a small, mostly empty café: 

"After the Opera, I had intended locating a party that some Martinique friends of the French Guiana poet, Leon Damas, a protége of Gide's, were giving in the Latin Quarter. But when I started down into the Metro, I found that I had left the address of the party at my hotel. Rather than go back to the hotel and get it, since it was nearly midnight, I decided not to go to the party. Instead, I walked down the almost deserted Boulevards toward the Madeleine, I noticed a slightly limping figure approaching me, head down in his overcoat collar for it was cold. I remembered that limp from Moscow. It was Seki Sano, the Japanese theater director I had met at a Meyerhold rehearsal. We were surprised to see each other. To exchange news, we went into the glass enclosure of a sidewalk café and ordered drinks. All but one of the tables on the glass-encircled winter terrace were empty. At the table a rather pretty woman sat alone. Through the glass outside we could see the lights of the lonely boulevard, for very few people were passing in the chilly darkness. Quite unlike New York on New Year's Eve, downtown Paris as midnight approached was very quiet. The French remain home on holidays.

Paris in Winter by Henri Rivière

"Seki Sano said, 'I read a year or two ago in the Moscow papers about your being expelled from Japan. I'm sorry that happened to you in my country. But I am expelled, too. I cannot go back.'

"'I'm sure someday you can go back,' I said, 'and I, too, if I want to go.'

"But Seki Sano was not so optimistic. 'There are too many people wandering around the world now who can't go home,' he said. 'Lots of them are in Moscow. More are in Paris -- people from the Hitler countries, from the South American dictatorships, from China, from my own Japan. No exiles from America -- though I wouldn't be surprised if the day didn't come.'

"'That's one nice thing about America,' I said, 'I can always go home -- even when I don't want to.'

"'Bonne année!' said the waiter bringing our drinks. 'It's the New Year!'

"Sure enough, faintly, somewhere out in the Paris night we could hear bells tolling the entrance of 1938, so we lifted our glasses. But the woman at the nearby table suddenly began to cry.

"Seki Sano said, 'Pardon, madam, but won't you join us?'

"The woman sobbed thank you in an accent that was not French. Russian, maybe? Or German? We did not know. An exile, too, like Seki Sano? We did not ask her. She had been drinking coffee. The waiter brought her cup to our table as she rose.

"The woman finally managed a smile. She sat with us quietly until the bells stopped ringing, then thanked us again and said good night. She disappeared alone down the boulevard toward the Madeleine. Seki Sano and I shook hands and parted at the corner across from the Café de la Paix. He was going to the Left Bank and I to Montmartre. 

"Slowly I walked through the lightly falling snow that had begun to sift down over the Paris rooftops in scattered indecisive flakes. The streets were very lonely as I passed the Galleries Lafayette and the Gare Saint Lazare and turned up the slight incline leading to Montmartre. Even the little clubs and bars along the way were quiet. 

"Where could everybody be, I wondered. How still it was in this old, old city of Paris in the first hour of the New Year. 

"The year before, I had been in Cleveland. The year before that in San Francisco. The year before that in Mexico City. The one before that at Carmel. And the year before Carmel in Tashkent. Where would I be when the next New Year came, I wondered? By then, would there be a war -- a major war? Would Mussolini and Hitler have finished their practice in Ethiopia and Spain to turn their planes on the rest of us? Would civilization be destroyed? Would the world really end?

"'Not my world,' I said to myself. 'My world will not end.'

"But worlds -- entire nations and civilizations -- do end. In the snowy night in the shadows of the old houses of Montmartre, I repeated to myself, 'My world won't end.'

"But how could I be so sure? I don't know.

"For a moment I wondered." 

Tell us about your endings and your hopes for the New Year over on our Facebook Page. Happy New Year from DelanceyPlace.com.


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author:

Langston Hughes

title:

I Wonder as I Wander

publisher:

Hill and Wang

date:

Copyright 1956 by Langston Hughes

pages:

23-25
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