It seems generally warmer this December in Paris than I am used to. Tonight, however, is different. It's quite cold and windy. Just the right kind of night for stroll along the Seine and perhaps a few minutes spent on Passerelle des Arts. This foot bridge over the Seine is, to me, one of the most romantic spots in Paris. It links art and literature, two features that make Paris a special place in the world. At one end of the bridge is Académie française, home of a learned body on matters that pertain to the French language. It is hard to overstate the obsession the French exhibit on matters of language. I have seen perfect strangers correct each other's grammar! On the other end of the bridge is the Louvre, home for many of the great pieces of art created by man. As I stand on the bridge I see a scene that reminds me of an opera stage set. The lighting is dramatic and there are two men, there on the quai, one could almost image sitting in the audience waiting for them to sing. Then I begin to think, think about the objectivity and subjectivity of Paris and how each of us creates our own subjective version from the same objective elements. There is another bridge here, one between me and my comfortable apartment and those two men on the quai. I'm pretty sure they plan on sleeping there tonight, something I can barely imagine in this cold. And just up river a bit, there are people dinning at Tour D'Argent where a side plate of asparagus costs more than I will spend on my dinner tonight. Two ends of a bridge where I stand in the middle, perhaps not understanding the Paris that others live in.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
How do you see Paris, or any place in your world, with new eyes? Show it to some one else! Take them on a tour of your world and watch their faces as they see it for the first time and see in that expression of joy, once again, what you saw the first time. And catching that feeling, begin to look farther, look deeper into what you are seeing a second time for the first time, because, even though you have seen it before you are now different, changed in some way from the person you were. It is Christmas time in Paris and old friends who we have not seen in many years are here in Paris for a few days. We spend those days wandering around the city. They have been here before and have seen and done the obligatory things so we have the luxury of going a bit deeper. We take an evening stroll through Luxembourg Gardens and behind the Pantheon, through Place de l'Estrapad, down rue du Pot de Fer with all of its restaurants, but we are headed for our favorite, Le Mouffetard on, of course, rue Mouffetard. The next day we visit the market at Jules Joffrin , eat lunch at Brasserie Nord Sud and ride the Montmartrebus to Sacre Coeur. Tasting the vin chaud twice, just to verify its warming effects, we tumble down the hill to the Abbesses neighborhood. It is an almost warm night and everyone seems to be out and about. The Christmas village at Abbesses is lively and we stop to listen to an organ grinder singing along with the traditional French melodies. Our friends stop for a moment to take a picture and this is what I see as I wait, life in the streets Paris.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Paris is a great place to contemplate both place and time. There is a strong sense of both here. The area behind Notre Dame has the oldest streets in Paris. Time: not a few hundred meters behind me as I stand here in rue des Chantres is the daily hurly burly of tour buses, crowds of tourists, and dozens of souvenir shops leaving no doubt that is a day in the 21st Century. With just a little change of view and viewpoint I am now here, on this tiny street, perhaps only 8 feet wide but not now, rather I am back in the 12th century walking this street, a few meters from the Abbey where Abelard lived and walked this street with thoughts of his beloved Héloïse. I think, 900 years later, on a street so close to Notre dame, about whose footprints may have been left here, of what thoughts were thought here, of what dreams dreamt. I am startled by the sound of a motorcycle and need to press close to the wall to let the 21st century speed by. My time warp is over, interrupted by modernity, but I am still here, in this space in Paris wondering yet again what gives her this strong sense of place and time. It is an urban setting and has been for a long time. Perhaps it is how each of these urban locations present themselves to us. I think of the difference between a supermarket and Place Maubert where I go today to buy my supper. The supermarket has a linear, almost proscribed course one takes which guides ones motions and emotions. It feels like a chore. At Place Maubert one wanders from market to market, never in the same order and guided by who I am today.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
One sees Paris in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Yet Paris has a soul made up of it all; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related. We see Paris piece by piece, as the cafés, the bistros, the monuments, the parks, the people, the stories; but Paris is a whole, of which these are but parts. I make my way through Paris at random, it is too large, too grand, for me to presume to have a plan. In Gibert Jeune the other day I bought a copy of an Inspector Maigret story called “Maigret et le corps sans tête.” I related to the title, wandering plan-less in Paris as I do. All the action takes place along the Canal St Martin near rue de Recollets. Maigret spends most of a day in a café described as below street level alongside the canal. As I crossed over the Canal on the foot bridge by rue de Recollets I saw this: La Cantine de Quentin. I can see immediately that I am about to add more parts of Paris to my experience of her. I am disappointed to see a hand written sign on the door: “Complete” meaning the restaurant is full. I look in the window and by chance catch the eye of the owner. He flashes me ten fingers so we sit at one of the outside tables and wait. 20 minutes later we are seated in a corner near the window where I can see the foot bridge over the canal. The food is excellent, the wine perfect. The windows fog over from the inner warmth. I make eye contact with the next table, a brief nod tells me we are sharing the poetry of Paris.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Back in Paris after a year's absence, it is both a joy to be back and sadness to have been gone so long. You can't seize it all at once. You learned that the first time you came here so why is that lesson lost on each return? You promise yourself to go slow this time. You unpack and carefully arrange your things. You promise yourself: “No pictures today, take a day to settle in.” It starts out well. A round of the markets at Place Maubert. Hello to the baker (Kayser on rue Monge), you need two baguettes, one to eat while you are walking home because you've been waiting a year for it and one for later to be eaten with the cheese you are about to buy. Tell me: how you can spend $70 in the cheese store? Then of course the wine and almost as an after thought coffee and jam at the Huit à 8 (it has been remodeled, I had to search for the coffee). Time now to settle in and get ready for tomorrow? Not me! It's raining, it's dark, and it's Paris, where should a photographer be? How about Buci market? How about a nice pasta dinner at DaPapone on rue St Grégoire de Tours? The lasagne there is always good and seems to ease the jet lag. After dinner you can walk through the market, it's always busy. Tonight is no exception and the Holiday lights make it even better. The Bar du Marché on the left is crowded as usual. It is only a short walk to the LaHune bookstore. I browse the shelves until I can barely stand up. The 86 bus takes me home and I've overdone it, as usual, on my first day back in Paris.