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= Cloned 2017: Paris Affaire =

The Adventure Continues. More than forty years after writing On Saint Ronan Street as a young U.S. Army soldier stationed at Panzerkaserne ('Tank Barracks' dating to Hitler times), and finally being able to publish the novel in 2016, I had a glorious impulse.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. One day in 2017—after On Saint Ronan Street and its companion volumes Cymbalist Poems and 27duet were live—I happened to be watching that classic 1964 French musical romantic drama film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg directed and written by Jacques Demy and starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo. For some unknowably obscure poetic reason, the title had fascinated me since early adolescence in New Haven, CT. Other than that, there was no connection when I wrote my melancholy romantic novel in that 1930s Wehrmacht barracks in K-Town. I was in a head space of my own, nostalgic for lost loves and life in New Haven—romanticized of course by the ache of remote distance and unreachable loss. In fact, it's probably fair to say that I romanticized New Haven as much as many romanticize Paris. Both places deserve a certain romantic water-color overlay—but anyone who has been in either place as often & long as I have will know the realities versus the fantasies.

Paris was a four hour train ride or VW bus drive away from K-Town—I went there often. I had been In Paris as a child with my mother, visiting my father when they were separated and he was stationed with the U.S. Army in Paris (early 1950s, before DeGaulle threw NATO out of France in another of history's grand tragic sagas. In fact, my grandparents (in Luxembourg) had their honeymoon in 1921 in Paris, of which I heard them tell stories when I was a child in Luxembourg. Today, I have dual U.S.-Luxembourg citizenship (therefore also E.U.), and I'm told today it's a two-hour journey by TGV trains (Train Grande Vitesse or 'high-speed train'). I loved going to Paris, both for the art and history, and to get away from both the Army and Germany for a weekend now and then.

Melancholia With Ghosts. As I mentioned, our old GHQ at Panzerkaserne (lit. 'Tank Barracks,' built by the Fascists in the 1930s in a populist style) was perhaps haunted. For one thing, there were many echoes of the German soldiers stationed there through World War Two, including their rifle racks (now empty) still in the corridor walls. For another thing, the complex was occupied by French Army troops after 1945; one of them, who had been a French soldier stationed there and, in the 1970s as a man in his 50s, was now a German citizen employed by the FRG government. Typical of the mix in that border region, R. had been French with a German name. We were an hour's drive from the French border at Forbach. Nearby is Saarlouis, a small city in Germany (Saarland), whose name is of mixed German (Saar R.) and French (King Louis XIV) pedigree.

Oh, and there is a cemetery along the main Mannheimerstrasse between the U.S. and French Army barracks, with a reddish almost purple sandstone block wall—which, like many locations around West Germany, was still pockmarked from heavy machine gun slugs dating to the battles of 1944-5 as the Allies roared into the Occupation period, in which both my father and later I served. We were, in fact, in the French zone of occupation.

Back to ghosts: I'm not much for ghosts (as attested by my scholarly, objective research in the 2000s on the 1892 true crime & resulting ghost legend in Coronado, California) but many of our G.I.s at many such barracks across Germany claimed to hear spooky noises at night, working late and alone as I often did. I figured it was just the wind, moaning through the darkened stone corridors gleaming faintly with moonlight…

Cloning A Story. The remarkably downbeat (blahh) French ending of the movie The Umbrellas of Cherbourg reminded me of my own novel On Saint Ronan Street, whose melancholia was not French in origin but just plain human—lonely young G.I. stationed far from home for five years. I didn't know how good I had it , actually, but I did make the best of it. On a whim, therefore, in 20017, I cloned the novel. An afternoon of globals, followed by a professional edit (courtesy Sarah Dawson) and I had an entirely new novel titled Paris Affaire. It's important that I tell you: I added a non-melancholy, non-Gallic ending that makes Paris Affaire worth a read all of its own. All the locations from On Saint Ronan Street became locations in Paris and other locations around France.

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Jean-Thomas Cullen's novel and poems written at 27 in Europe while in the Army in 1976

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Postscript to the 2017 Cloning. As it happens, the glorious new ending of Paris Affaire involves a smashing romantic kiss by the two lovers—on the parvis (at the heart and zero-milestone marker of France). Any words they might speak are drowned out by the sonorous rolling thunder of the great Notre Dame Cathedral bells. And then, one day, in 2019, we awakened to learn that the grand cathedral had been consumed by a horrible fire. Thanks to the skill of Paris fire fighters, and the support of thousands of horrified onlookers, the cathedral was sufficiently saved so that it can be rebuilt. I retitled my novel The Bells of Notre Dame, but the sound of that title was lost in the fog where most fine writing and poetry go, so I reverted to the original title Paris Affaire later in 2019.

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