I wake the next morning fatigued but exuberant. I’m in Paris after all. The fever dream of last night is over. There’s sights to be re acquainted with. Tastes to rekindle. Steps to tread again. The divine miasma of Parisian streets await me. The sun is barely up, so I nurse my Nescafe and await the arrival of dawn while listening to spoken word poetry videos on my phone. An exercise I developed to get the blood cells flowing. My bed was thick, juicy and plush-plenty capable of resting me well, but the breakneck pace of the day before and the external restlessness of the city I was in hindered me from total surrender. After a bit, the sun is up. I switch off the BBC news and reluctantly dress for breakfast.
I hate dressing up for breakfast. The morning repast to me is a casual affair and being forced to dress my best for some cheese and croissants while being surrounded in the awkward silence of ambivalent strangers seems forced and tiresome to me. It reminds me of period films where some jaded aristocrat must dutifully rise every day, be swaddled in clothes by an army of servants and sat at an endlessly tapering table loaded with fare, but is hardly able to enjoy the meal, as all eyes gaze on him.
Still the coffee is excellent and in spite of the madness outside, the porters in the hotel work hard and briskly. I appreciate their services, even though we barely are capable of communication. I partake of some chocolate croissants and brioche, mull over some newspapers ( in French, naturally) and look at my phone. No signal. No surprise. I know a sign when I see one. Time to unplug.
Alright world, time to engage.
Emerging from Hotel Alane, Paris is already bustling with life, even though the day is thick with fog and rain. Smartly dressed men and woman bustle to and fro, a stray nun walks by. Bicyclists- dozens, parade up and down Le Boulevard Magenta. I like this humble pocket of Paris. Its quaint, demands no attention, is chic enough, but void of pretense or over stimulation. Almost suburban. When I chose to come here, it was reluctantly. I had wanted Saint Germain, yet it was well past my price range for even the most modest accommodations. Still, with streets lined with cafes, a nearby HSBC for quick cash transactions, a lovely 15th century chapel just across the street, and Cafe Richard, a brasserie dated back to 1819 and a quaint tobacconist that serves excellent espresso next to that- I’m left wanting for nothing.
I venture to the chapel as the bells toll, passing a young businessman just rushing out, perhaps getting in a morning prayer. Right away, I’m greeted by that most exquisite smell. Wet stone and frankincense, coupled with the indelible imprint of both stories and history. The smell of the chapel! Though I have no religious convictions of my own, chapels, cathedrals, monasteries and holy places have always captivated me, internally and aesthetically. The human story, marvelous myths and gods monsters, prayer beads and scapulas- all calling me on to the tune of an incense censor, swinging delicately back and forth. Recessed in the center of the alter, several brothers, robes and all, chant the morning hymns. I watch this in stillness from an alcove, feeling something deep stir within me. Something older and wondrous. I take a moment to sit at an old wicker chair in front of a massive alter of the Madonna and child dating from the Baroque era. I think of my grandmother. She was a devout Roman Catholic. I remember going with her to mass.
When I was younger, it felt forced. I hated the itchy clothes, the mechanized rituals, the interminable psalms- none of which I ever related to. Yet I remember one thing. Her face. Her devotion. It meant something to her. Something deep and poignant my young mind had not yet grasped. It wasn’t rules and regulations. Deliverance and damnation. It was passion. It was heart. I saw it in her eyes. I often feel her when I go into churches. I don’t feel her here though. This place is much older, a bit more cold, more solemn. Then I realized how silly I was. Because she’s always with me. Passing Jeanne de Arc, I light a candle and make my way out.
With no Metro to in action, I’m forced to walk Paris. Not that I mind. I walk everywhere anyway, and Paris, like New York, is a city you can access rather quickly if you can hone in on a few landmarks and know how to pay attention to the signs. I have no real plan of action today. Just getting re acquainted with the city. Its a unique time to be certain. I wonder if I will wander into any ” manifests” or riots. So far, however, the day ahead seems languorous and pleasurable, interspersed with occasional rain and numerous pit stops seeking that perfect photograph and ideal espresso. Perhaps I’ll bump into Juliette Binoch or Carla Bruni, Louis Garrell or Micheal Pitt. There’s a Marie Antoinette exhibit taking place. I think about going. I never really thought about the ill fated queen much, and then I was cast in a play about her life and death. Playing the role of Axel von Fersen, her Swedish paramore, I got a crash course in the life of this woman. An ill fated pawn in the wrong place at a tumultuous time.
As I walk further down, I pass ethic hair shops, extremely well kept fast food restaurants, innumerable gift boutiques with gouache artifacts such as multicolored berets, scarfs that simply say “Paris” and Le Chat Noir place-mats. An impressive likeness of a sphinx flanks the boulevard where Notre Dame de Cathedral stands. She is fenced off, naturally, but tourists still crowd her for selfies and snaps. Even caged and in disarray, she is a wonder to behold. Powerful and resilient. I cry looking up at this stronghold of the human story, just as I cried watching the news of its burning. How I heard that the fire could be seen through Paris. How the inside was almost gutted. Had the bells toppled, the cathedral would have as well. Yet the bells remained, and with them, this transcendent work of visual poetry.
A few blocks later and I’ve arrived at my favorite place in the city- and possibly the world. The Place des Vosges. The area is a complex of 17th century architecture, offset by a park and a fountain with an impressive statue of a statesman on horseback, looking serenely over the area. Up and down the avenue are impressive colonnades boasting intricate details dating back centuries. The namesake of course would be the residence of author Victor Hugo, so it is fitting I see this just after Notre Dame. The area is also open to art exhibits, and I once saw an impressive collection on the work of filmmaker Agnes Varda here. Sadly however, its closed for renovation. I find some consolation in some wine and frites at the conveniently placed Cafe Hugo- resting at the end of the colonnade. I adore this place. The charming staff, the excellent cuisine. A nice place to drink, write, smoke, ponder and dream.
I break into my new Tartan style notebook. A damn shame I haven’t used it before now. Too engrossed to recollect I suppose. My hand too excited with the surrounding sensations to interpret anything that doesn’t look like frenetic scribbling. I glance over and the girl beside me is crocheting. Such a delicate, contemplative activity, and I’m almost lulled to sleep. It lends itself to my rain and wine induced semi euphoria. There’s something about this city. Perhaps thats why it’s produced so many poets, artists, visionaries, filmmakers , designers, vagabonds and brilliant dreamers. Nothing can touch it. To those outside, its vague, laden with pretense. Hauteur and cold. Thats merely a perception. You have to feel it. The feels and sensation that make this city grand. The rest of the world sees. Paris however, I believe feels.
The seen and the unseen. The people that are like felines. They warm to you when you respect them and are ready to do so. The seduction of the oblique and abstract. Centuries of history embedded in every cobblestone, grand fountain and sculpture. Paris is a city of divine juxtaposition. The not immediately accessible. The obtuse. Perhaps that why artists seek it out like a holy land. No city mixes the profane and the sacred more exquisitely. One second you observe the face of a tortured martyr etched in stone, the next the refined cut of a designer suit in a window in the Saint Germaine. The brusk yet noble and sturdy workers, the opulent fashionistas, the artisans, the business folks. A cornucopia of human experience that never ceases to make my heart beat just a bit faster and in turn make my pen move quicker and with infinite purpose.
The Seine before me, I stop and rest a beat- in spite of the rain. There’s no shame in walking in the rain in Paris- a little lesson I learned from a Woody Allen flick. Watching the river roll by, the Seine so majestic. I look up. To my left Notre Dame rises, and to my right, the Eiffel- cloaked in the descending fog. like a bride. The dock looks welcoming. I realize I’m on the famous Left Bank. Well, no time like the present. With each step, I feel my smile grow all the more. Another divine juxtaposition. No broken glass. No sirens. No madness. Just me, and the river.
Where am I going? I wonder. I realize I don’t care.
I’m just happy.