In the City of Paris, 1985

Think you have it hard?  Nope.  Nothing like the dogs of Paris.  Though you may be a “good dog”– intelligent, well-trained, attractive, educated, pensive, philanthropically minded, self-sacrificing– doesn’t matter.  If you are a dog at all, you will always be denied entry into the parks of Paris.  Even on a leash.

Cats, doves, unicorns, peacocks, saints, helicopters, hippopotami, ladies of by-gone times, fairies, and yes, even children on leashes will be admitted, but dogs are always and will always be “strictly forbidden.”  Or so author Hannah Green tells us in her book for the dogs.   In the City of Paris basically lists of every  sort of fantastical and banal creature imaginable in a “Yes this, not dogs, yes that, not dogs” format.  And how colorfully artist Tony Chen paints it for us…

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Hannah Green is a well-renowned novelist, famous for her slender work, The Dead of the House.  It took her the better part of 20 years to write.  Upon her death in 1996, her husband said of her that ”she never wanted to let go” of what she working on.  Her second and final novel– a story about the martyred 12-year-old girl who refused to renounce her faith and was put to death, inspiring a cult that continues in France– also took her 25 years, though she died before she had what she considered a final copy.  It’s called Little Saint and has been published posthumously.  When Green found something, she stuck with it.

Something similar can be said of her only children’s book.  As France inspired Little Saint, it must have birthed In the City of Paris.  The two texts are linked by the illustrated book’s final page in which a non-sequiter account of the history of St. Denis makes an appearance (perhaps further evidence that Hannah Green allowed a theme to infiltrate her life).  Perhaps, just as the story of the Saint had struck her, she felt real pity for the poor dogs sitting on the sidewalk while the beauty of the park raged on outside of their reach.  And she brought justice to the idea by repeating it, over and over.  The cadence of this book seems to mimic Green’s very style of composition, hammering again and again at some idea until it conveys what it should.

In In the The City of Paris, Greene accomplishes such a full-spectrum view of a singular moment.  It’s monotone cadence allows it a sort of rhythm, one which swallows each of it’s components into an organized whole.  It’s choice of pace enforces this.  Instead of introducing more and more unlikely characters allowed into the park in contrast to the dog, she introduces fairies then cats then hippopotami then pigeons.  There is no build up.  She doesn’t get grander and more elaborate with each new entry, but lumps them all together.  It’s a democratization of the imagination.  It’s the chorus of a song reappearing after each new stanza, holding you to the theme, but changing your view of it at each step, unsettling your expectations.  And perhaps the fullness of a democratic understanding is simply the effect of spending a long time with a single theme: eventually, you must see all of the angles, and in no particular order.


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