5 days. Solo in Paris.

Months before I arrived at the little hotel with its red geraniums, I was in Paris on an assignment for the Travel section of the New York Times. I had five days and a headline: “Solo in Paris.” The story was up to me.

To find it, I went walking. Each morning I left my hotel in the 9th arrondissement, just east of the apartment where Proust wrote much of Remembrance of Things Past, and didn’t return until I had gone some twenty miles in whichever direction whim and croissants (and olive fougasse and pistachio financiers) took me. It was April, and like any tourist I saw monuments and statues, naked nymphs, and gods among the roses. But alone, with no one at my side, I was also able to see le merveilleux quotidien, “the marvelous in everyday life”: a golden retriever gazing at a café chalkboard in Montmartre, as if reading the daily specials; boxes of pâtes de fruits arranged in grids like Gerhard Richter’s color charts. The city had my full attention; I was attuned to the faint whir of bicycle wheels and the scent of peaches at the street market.

Although I was traveling without friends or family, each day brought passing companions: bakers, maître d’s, museum greeters, shopkeepers, fellow travelers. The hours were unhurried and entirely mine, like the “limitless solitude” the poet Rilke described in a letter to a friend; “this taking each day like a life-time, this being-with-everything.”

Only, it wasn’t a lifetime—it was five days. On the last morning, I slipped through a gate on rue de Rivoli into the Tuileries. Sprinklers flung water into the air. A man with a wheelbarrow bent over a bed of long-stemmed tulips. John Russell, the British art critic, once wrote that the rue de Rivoli seemed to say to mankind, “This is what life can be . . . and now it’s up to you to live it.” That’s what those days in Paris said to me. I wondered when, or if, I’d see the tulips again.

On assignment, I would play detective; partake of everything, get up early, record the details, do the things that felt strange and uncomfortable. But the assignment was over. Months passed and back in New York, the days grew shorter. Yet my head was still in Paris. It wasn’t a matter of missing cream confections flirting in the windows of boulangeries. I missed who I was in Paris—the other me, Stéphanie with the accent on the “e”: curious, improvisational, open to serendipity.

Finally, I took a long weekend to think about why I couldn’t let go of that particular assignment, why alone in Paris time seemed to be on my side; why my senses pricked up; why I was able to delight in the smallest of things and yet failed to see and feel with such intensity at home. Friends loaned me their empty house near a bay on Long Island where on an autumn afternoon I stepped off a bus with a week’s worth of reading and Chinese takeout. Without car or television, I spent days orbiting between a bench on the front porch and an oversize pink wing chair at the head of the dining room table, like the one at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in the 1951 Disney film, eating vegetable lo mein and reading about different experiences of solitude. I plumbed newspaper archives and Gutenberg.org. I ordered used and out-of-print books. I wanted to know what scientists, writers, artists, musicians, and scholars thought about alone time, how they used it, why it mattered. Sometimes I walked a dead-end street to the bay. Other times I would lie on the wood floor in a patch of sun, staring at the ceiling, trying to deconstruct those solitary hours in Paris. There was something there; some way of living that I’d failed to fully grasp, let alone carry with me to my own city.

~ Stephanie Rosenbloom, from her “Introduction” to Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude (Penguin Publishing Group. June 5, 2018)

Morning Exercise (1, 2, or 3?)

#1:

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#2:

ice-swim-cold

Or is it #3?

[Read more…]

I just don’t see the connection

Paris-the-newyorker-red-blood-terrorist

Once he heard the gunfire stop, Matthieu made his way back to the restaurant. “I saw a lot of women dead on the ground,” he said, his voice catching on the “f” of “femmes.” “It was mostly women that I saw.” He found one of his friends, a Brazilian studying in Paris, lying in the middle of the street. She had been seated across from him, and was shot in the chest. Matthieu sat on the ground and held her legs, feeling her shallow breathing. She would survive.

People were running through the streets in an eruption of panic, shouting as the police arrived and tried to establish order. The scene couldn’t be secured; Matthieu worried that the shooters might return. Next to him, a man without injuries held his girlfriend’s lifeless body in his arms. Then, without warning, he ran off. The woman was about twenty-five and very beautiful. Matthieu searched for words to describe her perfect, uncanny stillness. […]

Last week’s victims were normal people doing normal Parisian things: eating and drinking together, going out at night to hear a concert or watch a soccer game. After a few days, the rhythm of Parisian life returned, but a new fatalism hung in the air. People seemed resigned to the idea that more attacks would happen, maybe soon. […]

I remembered that when Matthieu and I first met we’d discussed our upbringings, and religion had come up. His family was Catholic, but I couldn’t remember if he was religious. “I’m more agnostic than Catholic, though I come from the Catholic culture,” he said. “In any case, this isn’t really a moment when I’m thinking about religion. When I think about religion, I always think about it in connection with what’s beautiful, what’s good. But never in connection with evil. I just don’t see the connection.”

~ Alexandra Schwartz, Letter from Paris: The Long NightTerrorist attacks and a city changed.


Illustration: Arc De Triomphe by Christoph Niemann in The New Yorker

Did you feel this too?

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After great pain, a formal feeling comes—

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—

In the days after Paris, Emily Dickinson’s poem kept ringing through my mind as I tried to figure out what I felt—and, surprisingly, didn’t feel. I did not, as the facts emerged and the story took its full size, feel surprised. Nor did I feel swept by emotion, as I had in the past. The sentimental tweeting of that great moment in “Casablanca” when they stand to sing “La Marseillaise” left me unmoved. I didn’t feel anger, really. I felt grave, as if something huge and terrible had shifted and come closer. Did you feel this too?

[…]

I feel certain that in the days after the attack people were thinking: This isn’t going to stop.

~ Peggy Noonan, Uncertain Leadership in Perilous Times


Image: The Economist

Riding Metro North. Vive la France.

moving-train

Monday.

2:45 am.

How quiet it is.
Too soon to wake.
Too late to stop the mind.
A hamster on the wheel, spinning.

Duras: “How quiet it is,” […] “Who’d believe our nights are such an ordeal?”

3:30 am.

Up.
Pre-dawn.
In the Quiet Zone.
Ascending to de Botton’s higher consciousness. Or somewhere.

Alain de Botton: “Perhaps late at night or early in the morning (when there are no threats or demands on us), when our bodies and passions are comfortable and quiescent, we have the privilege of being able to access the higher mind …We loosen our hold on our own egos and ascend to a less biased and more universal perspective, casting off a little of the customary anxious self-justification and brittle pride.”

I do feel that ascension. Now if I could only park here.

6:51 a.m.

Father and his daughter walk to train station.  It’s 45° F.  “It’s cold Dad.” I look down at her bare red legs pockmarked with goose bumps: “Why aren’t you wearing nylons?” She snaps back at me: “Really Dad? Nylons. Nobody wears Nylons anymore? That’s creepy.

So, now I’m on the wrong side of 50 and creepy.  OK, so it wasn’t a focus area. And, it’s not that I haven’t looked at women’s legs. And there you are, a flat stone skipping silently across the water, jumping decades of fashion revolution. [Read more…]

Instantly we are scanning Twitter, calling out estimates of the dead.


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Notes:

Paris

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Peace for Paris (Thank you Rachel)

Haut Vol (68 sec)


Climax at the finish…

Malland. Murals. Magnificent.

Seth Malland

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You MUST check out more at Seth Globalpainter’s website at GlobalPainter. (Especially “Walls”).

“Julien Seth Malland’s murals revive crumbling walls with vibrant images of children immersed in galaxies of color. The Paris-based artist, who also goes by the pseudonym Seth Globepainter, adds depth to flat, brick-and-plaster walls with a palette of vibrant hues that seem inspired by a crayon box.” (Source: mymodernmet)


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