I recently returned from a trip abroad. I’m still processing the deluge of images, beautiful and wild that have assailed my senses and only now are becoming clear enough to reinterpret. Should it come across vague, just know it’s because the creative waters are still churning- so I will do this the best way I know-how- as a journal.
A poet I admire once said “fate may leave you an amputee, but still whistle in our favor” . This scentence, more than anything, has informed this journey.
My ideals high, I board a plane on December 4th right after a tumultuous workday. The world was lost in Christmas commercialism, but I barely noticed. All I wanted to do was to get to my hotel, pull over the covers, sleep off the jetlag and wake up to commence my adventure in a city after my own heart. These ideals met a heady end when I get to Orly Airport. The whole of the city- railways, busses, the famous Metro, have come to a cease. There’s a mass transport strike- apparently the most severe in decades. The roads into Paris are at a virtual standstill. The shuttle I had pre-ordered has been canceled and I’m left in the airport, utterly clueless, and navigating a series of unscrupulous taxi drivers who clearly smell blood in the water.
Fortunately, I find a bus to take me into the city at a mere 12 euros ( 13 dollars) that’s a considerable discount from the 90 euros the cab drivers offer to not even take me to my hotel. Apparently, there’s yellow vests in action- the French workers who are protesting the decrease in pensions. I had heard of these strikes back home, but brushed them off, thinking the waters would settle in a day or so. However, this is the last straw for far too many. Even some teachers and airline employees were walking out. In the city, there were demonstrations, riots. Police brutality and chants to take down the government. Its this backdrop of madness I enter into- a far cry from the pastoral by comparison Paris I last encountered a mere 5 years earlier.
On the bus, I meet up with several Americans girls. One, a girl named Aroura, is traveling through the city for one night, and then it’s off to housesit in Greece for a month. The other two are friends and one has a small child. Normally a person could take a train to our quadrant of the city. But as fate would have it, the Gar’de Norde area where most of our lodgings are located, are in the thick of the demonstrations. Even taxis hesitate to tread into the area. Fortunately, we manage to find a driver brazen enough to go it and take us all. Hauled up in our Uber, I feel like an artistic refugee as the car snakes through streets gridlocked in traffic and livid protesters-their yellow vests glowing in the Paris light. The streets of the city are beautiful still. Even the manic din of sirens and honking horns and police whistles cannot dim the beauty of the Champs Elysees or the fountains of the Place Des Voyages.
We languish in the car, making the smallest of small talk- our singular commonality is that we are all Americans with limited French who are tired, hungry and horribly vexed by all that’s taking place around us. Finally, we choose to disembark, the girls going one way, Aroora and I go another. Ironically, we go faster on foot. Passing a great square that I’m certain I saw before, the full scope of the situation becomes hideously clear. The statue is marred with graffiti, sirens blast. Windows of posh stores lay vandalized or broken. I survey this, jaw wide open.
How is this Paris?
Hotel Alane lay at the end of Magenta Ave, across from a 14th-century chapel with an impressive likeness of Jeanne de Arc and a small shrine dedicated to Saint Margaret. At the border of Paris and Monmarte, land of Lautrec and Amelie, I choose the hotel due to its low key set away ambiance, its hearty breakfast, and the name-Alane -being not only my middle name but similar to Alain Delon, French New Wave icon. Aroura comes with me and we check into my hotel. After a change of clothes and a brush-up, we locate her hostel and she gets settled in herself. We both havent eaten in hours, so we locate a little cafe just around the corner from both of our establishments and take a deep breath over glasses of Bordeaux. After such a chaotic reunion, Paris and I are finally getting reacquainted. After dinner, I walk back to my hotel, freezing in the cold and pull the sheets over my head- feeling as though I’m in a dream.
I wake up at 3 am. My internal clock semi maladjusted. With an abandon only jetlag can summon-I make a series of phone calls to friends and family to let them know that I am alright and having been mugged and beaten to death by rabid protesters. I turn on the tv. It’s CNN France. Prime Minister Edward Phillipe, haughty as ever, is debating some irate woman. Macron,stately and stoic and ever unflinching- rolls the parchment his way.
The ruling class, I think.
I settle into the deluge of protest footage, after a while losing its sting and becoming obtuse, glossy background noise. I’m about to go back to sleep when I notice the light outside. No point now. I rip open a tube of nescafe provided by the hotel and make a coffee. Outside, the rain has fallen and slowing starts producing an immaculate rainbow- as though the sky itself is saying ” you’re where you need to be. Stop. Observe. Make no sudden moves. Marvel when you must. Be fed. Most of all, breathe.”
I think I chose the right location. Outside, I hear cathedral bells. Even the distant sirens have a dissonant cerebral quality that brings me somewhere I need to be. A place safe, deep and sacred. Paris is different by daylight. No chaos. No mania. Bicyclists going to and fro. Taxis going up and down the boulevard. A million little “rues” to slip into and get wondrously lost in. Some thick with private mossy gardens of respite. Others, a place to dry striped boater shirts and stockings. I shake off the dust of yesterday like a ragged dog.
I’m here, and that’s all that matters now.
In spite of everything, my imagination glows.
My soul is home.