It's the contrast that counts. If Paris were uniformly beautiful I would have tired of her long ago. It was an almost perfect evening, spoiled a bit perhaps for being the last night of this visit. We were reluctant to be leaving and it showed in the way we were making our way home by the longest, most romantic route we could think of. The Panthéon came to mind as the 38 bus approached the Luxembourg stop and impulse drove us from the bus onto rue Soufflot. The lit dome of the Pantheon as you turn the corner from Bd St Michel is majestic and dominates the scene. We are in an old part of Paris and can feel her age and grandeur as we walk across the open space of the Place du Panthéon. The streets narrow as you walk past Eglise St Etienne du Mont onto rue de la Montaigne Ste Geneviève. The feeling here is different, closer, more intimate. It is quiet, so quiet you can hear the sounds of history. Ste Geneviève died in 512 and her tomb is here under the Lycée Henri-IV. I often walk down this narrow street alongside the church. It is like a pathway back in time but tonight it is being used for something different. Paris is alive, people live here, and it is in the daily conduct of life, that Paris reveals her true self to me. The earthiness of this scene pleases me here and yet, in the place where I spend most of my life, I would be outraged and cry “merde!” I think it is the differences, the contrasts that count. It is not that the beauty of Paris is not damaged by this earthiness but rather it is the contrast that enhances her appeal.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Paris is a layer cake full of edible moments, so real when you experience them that the taste lingers, reminding you, always, of what you saw, what you felt, and what it meant to you at that moment. Paris is a city of statues, the great, the powerful, the intelligent, and many quite ordinary people and things representing the lived culture of the city. It is a city of light with a special glow at those times just after the sun sets and just before it rises. The icing between the layers is when the rain has just ended and the street lights have come on. It is a city of reflections. You see yourself in it if you are lucky. And if you are luckier still there is someone you love standing next to you. It is a city where perfection mixes with flaw as if one is using the other to its own advantage. A perfect shiny globe on a distressed and maybe even damaged table somehow seems just right, like the Japanese concept of wabi sabi. The flaw that shows you the way to perfection. And always in the background, like the layers of cake between the icing are the ordinary things, the posts that mark out driveways across the sidewalk, the million varieties of building fronts, balconies, railings, and doorways that tell you you are in Paris. It's cool and kind of gray today on rue Daguerre. We've just finished a quiet lunch at La Chope Dagurre and the street is almost deserted, I am looking into this window and suddenly feel it looking back at me. I can see what it means to be here, in Paris, free for now from the cares of normal life, enjoying the cake. This image is with me always.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
One of the charms of Paris is the way she surprises me. Not just once in a while but every day. For instance, there is a Rodin sculpture of Balzac at the intersection of Bd du Montparnasse and Bd Raspail. I frequently stop to look at it, one of my touchstones in Paris. Imagine how I felt once when I couldn't find the statue! I was disoriented, feeling lost, had I come to the wrong place? I walked to the next intersections looking for it and finally realized that the large statue was gone. Later I discovered that it had been taken away for repairs and cleaning. The next year it was back.
Sometimes I can capture these surprises. Walking through the Tuileries is a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Paris. Many people are out walking in this beautiful park. There are two large fountains here and we always stop to sit at the edge of one of them to rest, to think, and to absorb the things going on around us. This time we were greeted by a new sculpture. This stark white dead tree, planted in the lake, outlined by a dark, ready to storm sky was not here the last time I walked through the park. I don't know how long it will be here, so I sit and let it work its magic on me. The seagulls form a constantly changing image around the tree. It was cool for an October day and breezy. The cool breeze on my neck and the contrast between the tree and the dark sky lent an eeriness to the scene. I wanted to stay yet I wanted to leave. This is the image I captured but many more remain in my memory of that day in Paris.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
My images are of Paris but what they are really about is the power of place. Maybe your place is not Paris. Wherever the place is that makes you feel at home, draws you out and at the same time brings you closer to yourself, that is your Paris. You will know it because you feel more alive, happier, there than anywhere else. Happiness is made up of moments and memories. You can be happy in the moments and yet not happy in the memory. Perhaps you've spent two pleasant weeks somewhere, each moment enjoyable but not much different than the moments before or the moments after. You were happy then, but in your memory it may seem boring as you look back on it. That is not your place. Paris is mine because it brings me happiness in both the moment and the memory. It is a place where things keep happening. I don't just mean now but in the past and in the future. The foundation stones under the wall behind this metro station have been here for 1,500 years.
I stand here looking at them, perhaps for the 1,000th time in my life. I can recall this moment at will. In some sense it will push me forward into the future, a future for me or perhaps someone else, standing just here, looking at this wall, in whose past I will reside, one of the many who have stopped here to talk, to perhaps say good bye before descending into the Metro, or perhaps to emerge from the Metro into the arms of a lover. Each of us has such a place, go find yours. Use the moments in this special place to build the memories that become the happy past and the light of your future.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
It used to be a dreary métro ride on Sunday mornings from Place Maubert to Porte de Vanves but now, with the Tram, you can take the 38 bus to Porte d'Orléans and ride to Porte de Vanves above ground. The buses keep a good schedule, even on Sunday morning, and the 38 takes an interesting path through the 14th. After this above ground ride, the flea market at Vanves seems more relevant, more integrated.
I used to look here for things to remind me of Paris. Somehow, items from the flea market had special meaning. They had been handled and used here, some for many years, by the people that make Paris what it is. Then I came to realize that the people and process of the market would make better memories. Poking around among the tables is like having a window into Paris life. Each item triggering the imagination, did this sheet music spend years hiding in a piano bench, who played it, look at the illustration on the cover of Paris life in the 1920's. Watching others doing the same and wondering if the things that have taken their interest remind them of days gone by, handled gently, some reluctantly put back down, some purchased and pocketed, maybe to end up back here with more memories attached.
It's bitter cold so we buy two cups of very hot espresso and poke our heads through the crowd to see where the piano music is coming from. We watch, transfixed like the child in the black coat. This day was made of up hundreds of little experiences, happinesses of brief duration, forgotten forever. What remains of the day is this image, the sound of the music, and the taste of the hot coffee on a cold morning in Paris.