06 February 2010

Paris, je t'aime

As the mindless, over-processed noise I would only grudgingly call music wanders through my floor and into my chair, programming seems somewhat infeasible. So I'm taking a mental walk across the border and into last weekend in Paris, where I'm sure I can find peace. 

Normally I attempt to recount stories chronologically, but this one is more a series of impressions, and the order is unimportant. 

In a bookshop, I asked directions to a café. The clerk drew me an impressively tidy map of the path I was to take. After finishing his drawing, he held it up to the light and admired his work, saying "If you still get lost, even with this, then I'm afraid I don't understand anything anymore." I bid him good day, and left, returning a minute later to collect my forgotten umbrella.

On the Rue des Archives, I found a lovely flower shop. Upon asking the florist if I could take pictures of her shop, she said I could only take them from outside, but then hesitated, saying with a smile that since I was nice enough to ask, I could take whatever pictures I wanted. I tried to take her picture among the hyacinths and lilies, but she ducked behind the counter again.

Shakespeare & Company is a surreal and magical establishment. Hiding in a rather quiet corner on the narrow cobbled Rue de la Bûcherie next to the Seine, it welcomes passers-by with baskets of weathered, obscurely titled books. Upon entering, I realized that ordinary social rules did not apply. Personal bubbles do not exist -- there is not enough space. Books of all colors, subjects and languages fill every nook and cranny with knowledge and opinion. The tiny staircase at the back, leading up to the Reading Rooms, can only permit one-way traffic, and so strangers exchange smiles and laughs as they get in each other's way. At the top I found a piano, which was being held hostage and only intermittently played by a girl in a mustard-colored jumper. As I entered the room to listen, she stopped, not moving to look around. I left her alone. The notes began to tinkle melancholically again, and I picked up a book of stories by Mark Twain, bright red on the shelf among many dark blues and browns, and sat down on a dusty beige cushion. Someone's dog snooped about the room, and found the attention it was looking for in my corner of the room. The waning, white sunlight glinted across its glossy black coat and friendly amber eyes. This was a living room for my retirement -- a piano, soft in the background, a myriad of stories to read, children playing with an old typewriter, and a nice dog to keep me company. But for the missing fireplace, it was peace at its purest. 

Outside the shop I sat on a bollard with my Macadamia Nut Brittle, not bothered that my hands were freezing. I looked down the street at a bright green building and the sign of the Hotel Esmeralda in front of me and tried to frame the photo I would take when my ice cream was gone. A couple subtly flirtatious friends entered the scene. The boy was anomalous with his smart grey coat, unruly ginger curls and ill-suited thick-rimmed glasses. His thin friend with her insufficient jacket and artsy hat took his picture against the wall, telling him to leave his glasses on because he looked good in them. 

The kindness of the Bryson family gave me an exceedingly comfortable bed, as well as rich French food, good red wine and my latest discovery, the Tarte Tatin. I hadn't slept that well in months.  

Châtelet metro station was filled with the passionate singing and playing of a band of Russian buskers, complete with accordion, double bass, and some exotic-looking percussive string instrument. I stood to listen and take in their profound enthusiasm. 

At the Musée Zadkine, I discovered "how much a man's life can be changed by a pigeon-house or a tree." The sun brought the little sculpture garden to life, and painted shadowy pictures on the walls. This little courtyard in the city could only hear the leaves rustling and the birds singing among them. I listened to the curators philosophically discuss the work of various artists, and wondered at how I was able to read the facial expressions of the cashier despite her having almost no eyebrows. 

On my wanderings I passed two old ladies laughing so hard they were oblivious to everything around them and could no longer walk straight. An old man walking in the opposite direction returned my smile in acknowledgement of the comedy. 

I escaped the foreign blithering of the clumps of confused tourists at St Michel metro station, finding a quaint sidestreet off of St André des Arts. The quiet was refreshing. And here I found my favorite two characters in all the giant play surrounding me. Exhilarated squeals emerged from a shiny blue helmet, and the two-wheeled creature wobbled along its wildly meandering path towards me, and with such a smile as you've never seen before. The smile was mirrored in his father's face as he chased after him, ruddy with the chilly wind, the exertion, and the pride. I walked slowly to enjoy the scene, and my eyes filled involuntarily with liquid joy. I hope they will remember that day as well as I will. 

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