For twenty years now I have been looking out the window of the 85 bus on Friday evenings at this sign on my way to Brasserie Nord Sud or Café de la Place. “What is Duluc detecting?” Is he even still here after all these years or is it just the sign that remains? Each time the bus turns the corner I am almost afraid to look. Is Duluc still here? It has become a kind of touchstone for me as I am also a detective in Paris. Looking for changes, small and large. The small changes let me know my city is still breathing, the big ones always scare me. Sometimes, at home, far away from Paris, I will forget and get up from my chair to head over to La Hune to see if there are any new books I need to own. I remember with a start that La Hune is far away and then I begin to worry. Will it be there when I come back? I have lost so many places over the years. Café Madeleine on rue Royal, my refuge on the Right Bank disappeared one year and the space became the entrance to Le Village Royal. One year Balzac disappeared from his perch on rue Vavin; thankfully he was just in for a cleaning and was back the next year. My Carte Orange is just a memory. I suppose one has to accept changes but it is sometimes sad. Our apartment is being sold and our next stay there will be the last. I won't give up on Paris and each time I round the corner on the 85 bus I will hope to see Duluc, still detecting. I know I will be, until there is nothing left to learn from Paris.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
I've spent most of my nights in Paris in the same apartment. It is on rue Maître Albert and looks out on the street with an immediacy and an intimacy that one cannot find in a hotel. We leave the windows open and listen to the quiet heartbeat of Paris. The street is narrow and has been in existence for over 1,000 years. Up until about the 16th century it was called rue Perdue. It has survived all the changes that Paris has undergone during those 10 centuries. Even Haussmann left it alone. Because it is narrow it gets little traffic but magical things happen in it. The bells of Notre Dame echo in the street, the sounds more like a mob than a symphony, playing a tune no one could hum. We can hear the bells of St Severin as well, they are more disciplined, almost harmonious. From time to time the knife sharpener walks up the street pushing his grinding wheel and ringing his bell. He doesn't like to have his picture taken and I respect his wishes. We have heard the clop clop of horse shoes as the gendarmes take a shortcut from the quay to Place Maubert. At night the lights from the Bateaux Mouches flash faintly on the wall across the street calling us to the window. We can see the street above the quay and watch the moving shadows of the trees, cast by the boat as it passes Notre Dame. We've had small bands perform under our window, two drunks with slide trombones playing way above any reasonable expectations, and today, a bagpipe band came by. This is Paris as I know her, predictable only in the sense that she will continue to surprise and please as long as your window is open.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
I came to Paris reluctantly. I had heard that she was a dirty, expensive city with rude inhabitants. Yet, in only a few hours I was in love with the city. It took me along time to figure out why. At first it was like any love affair. Paris could do no wrong and I could not see her blemishes. When I did begin to see that Paris is just a place I began to look for the reason behind the special connection I have with her. I read everything I could about the city. I walked in endlessly in her streets. I began taking pictures. It was the images that finally brought me to realize the answer to my question, why Paris? At first the images I made of her were pretty but obvious and banal. I could look in any Paris photo book and see the same images. Yet, the images began to change. What I wanted to capture on film became illusive. As I looked through my contact sheets and finished prints I could see the change. At about the time I started to visit Paris I also began a philosophical practice of life as Art. The Art of introspection and self-improvement. And then suddenly I knew what is was … Paris is my model for tracking progress in the Art of Life. I set a goal of achieving harmony, beauty, and integrity in my life. Paris had become a way to track my progress because she has those features. I picked her for those reasons and I come back every year after making changes in my life and I measure myself against the ideal. Is Paris more like me than it was last year? Am I more like her? Do you have a place like that?
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Paris is, among other things, a place to think. She just keeps coming at you with new experiences and new emotions. It is hard to ignore her. Eventually it just fills you up and you need time to let it all find its place in your mind. You can't see it in this picture but I am sitting on an old wooden bench in front of Shakespeare & Company. This is a good place to sit in the early morning. It is emblematic of Paris. The oldest church in Paris, St Julien Le Pauvre is just to my right. In the Square Viviani just behind the church is the oldest tree in Paris, held up by concrete crutches. I lean back against the wall of Shakespeare & Company and look across the Seine at Notre Dame, no youngster herself. Newer, yet still quite old is the Wallace fountain standing just in front of me. I don't know when this one was placed here but I'll guess around 1885. When I first came to Paris in 1989 you could still get a cot and sleep for free at Shakespeare & Company. It is not the original Sylvia Beach bookstore but it was a refuge for me in my early years here before I could read French. I bought many books here and got the store's imprint on the first page. As I got more comfortable here I drifted away except for these brief moments of rest and thought. The light is especially nice today with that special vividness apparent when the sun light sneaks under the dark gray rain clouds. I don't remember what I was thinking about this day but of the many hundreds of times that I tried to capture this image, on this day it worked for me.