“I turned sentences and nights into words”
The last morning in Paris.
There is no pre dawn opera this time. Simply the rain, pure as it is, pouring down upon the streets of Paris, purifying the city best it can.
In spite of it I still go into my day- knowing it will pass before noon. I have a farewell breakfast at the Brassiere Richard and get a farewell pack of Gaulious at the Tobacconist where nobody speaks English but me. I’ll miss this cafe, charming even by Parisian standards. Its turn of the century news prints framed on the walls, etched glass and nouveau finishes.
The night before I pick a small hotel by chance called Coulorus Sud, right near the city square. It seems charming enough and has decent reviews. At the advice of the hotel staff at the Alane, I take a taxi to the bus depot.. There is fortunately no strike in place. I bid the beautiful receptionist Caroline up front so long. Emerging onto the street, I see a bus pull up where a fight is breaking out. The people are crammed like sardines and the whole scene is one of condensed chaos. Not exactly the parting view I wanted to see as I left Magenta Boulevard. The rain pelts the car as we pass the Bastille remains, where the Marquis de Sade was housed and he composed his infamous 120 days of Sodom. A wispy chilled rain heavy yet passing clouds. French rain. I feel an inexplicable chill. The lingering eerie whisper of the man for whom sadism took its name.
I booked a bus that is scheduled for Roche, the nearest town to Charleville. The wait at the bus depot is interminable. Me, with my peacoat and clunky suitcase and a slew of frustrated tourists who look weary, oblivious and quarantined. Its cold, dreary and wet. Everyone is anxious to be somewhere else. After hours of waiting , my phone battery dying helplessly before me, the Roche bus arrives. I’m encamped next to an old Romanian woman who insists on coughing loudly without covering her mouth, and a young guy coated in cheap cologne I can smell from my seat. The wifi connection is dead, so no chance of contacting the hotel to let them know I’m coming. So be it. I look out the window. Black lingering stillness fills my eyes as we snake though the French countryside. I had wanted to read Enid Sarkie’s sublime biography of Rimbaud, to serve as a guide of sorts- but there’s no overhead light unless the bus is parked and I don’t want to burn out my phone- so I think about him instead. In this three hour sojourn, with its rues that bend and hills that yawn like a giants maw forever, nothing can be identified. I can make no trace of a distant chapel, a small fork in the road ( a place of in between- which mystically minded Arthur would appreciate- as he held a profound interest in Cabala, and occultism) or even a farmhouse. Bleak stretch-less nothingness veiling our eyes like a war widow.
I read once that Arthur, filled with a youthful cocktail of wanderlust, agitation, angst and abandon, walked this whole path himself- right into Paris. I can only imagine him, wandering by day, sleeping in a grassy knoll by night, until conjured again by the rising sun. No bread in his pocket- fortified only by guile, stubborn effort and will. The ride seems to go forever. I use the drive to reflect and think of my coming time in Charliville. A very differant world than Paris.
The bus then twists through the narrow streets of Charleville, having finally arrived-its dim lights illuminating chilling puddles over the aged cobblestone streets, rues and alleys. I don’t know this place- I’ve only pictures of it in books. That aspect of travel I find the most arresting. To have a perception of a place to what you think is the last detail, only to have it quashed by the reality standing there in front of you- its insignificance or magnificence- for better or worse. We finally pull into the bus station. Its freezing and raining. The drag my suitcase out of the compartment beneath the bus and to to a nearby taxi waiting. “Bonjour- Colorus Sud ?” I ask. “Oui” the driver replies and point across the way- where the hotel sits. Well there you have it. 16 euros saved.
Hauling my suitcase to the hotel, a small boutique style hotel that most likely either once served as a residence or a school, I see the face of Arthur, gazing pensively at me from the front desk . The girl speaks virtually no English. This is the countryside, and its not really expected here as in the city. However, seeing my reservation, there’s no issue. I pocket my key and head to the lift as the girl heads back to the conveniently placed bar downstairs. I love the feeling of these old world hotels. The worn rug, the rich woods, color choices off kilter though charming. Outside my room is skyelight of textured glass, cascading the orange shadows of the town to the tapering stairway leading to my room on the top floor. 333. Its cozy, with a plush white bed and a window overlooking the nearby park where a bust of Rimbaud is said to be- yet in the dark of night I cannot make it out.
I’m tired but hungry and I dont want to just turn in after such a long and anxious journey. This would not simply be a place to react of my poet of choice, but to cultivate words, feel my creative marrow refill and regroup after the mania of Paris. I dont even bother to unpack. Shoving my eye in my pocket, I go into the Charleville night. The rain has long cleared and the lanterns brings forth an unparalleled mystic glow. The smell of the rains and the icy air informs my senses and I seek to get acquainted with my home for three days. Next door to the hotel once stood the famed “Rimbaud Bar” a favorite of blue color country worker folk until it was turned into a brassarie by a couple from Paris. I start walking up the boulevard. Im the only one out. Its a winter night in the countryside- nobody bothers to stay up. My stomach is rumbling and I realize I havent eaten since Cafe Richard. In front of me stands an enormous statue of some great citizen, waters trickling loudly from the fountain surrounding it- I’ve arrived in the center of the town- and I stand alone.
Looking to my left there’s a small cafe. Its rather refined- not the stew and potatoes sort of place I was seeking, but I’m too hungry to go seeking something else out. Inside Im greeted by white and red. Red roses, red hearts, red wine. White tablecloths, white napkins, white lights tracing all the way up to the inaccessible stairway above. The waiter is shooting the breeze with his compares in the corner when I come in- it must be a slow night. He whisks over and in barely perceptible English, gets my order. As I sip on some much needed wine, I look at the walls. Arthur. Arthur. Arthur. He’s all around. Images of him in Charleville. Sketches of him in Ethiopia. Photographs of his poems are framed on the walls. Rimbaud famously hated Charleville. He sought to leave his whole life and whenever he returned, he plotted to leave again. Here, under the firm hand of his strict mother, he seethed like a beast- longing to see the world- to have the sweet liberation of being free. So I find it comical that Charlevilles most reluctant son has become its favorite tourist commodity. You could almost laugh, yet I feel young Arthur, ever ready to call a bluff- would certainly sneer.
After dinner, I stroll through the surrounding neighborhood. The Christmas lights are few and dim. There’s laurels and garlands packed tightly for the next day’s holiday pageantry and parades. Yet now, it’s only I, walking along, silently in slippery boots in this city that a poet scorned-and I already love. With each foot fall, each step through a chilled puddle, each trace of my hand along the alleys and rues of unpronounceable names and countless causeways- I feel a sense of obtuse joy. Joy in the fact I am here- removed from the chaos of the city and the world. Obtuse in the sense that its a place that my poet longed to leave. Regardless of the source, I’ll have it. How appropriate to arrive here by nightfall, when the town’s soul is laid bare.
How many times did Arthur wander these tapering streets in his troubled youth? How many times did he pitch an imagined tent in the town square under the watchful eye of a corrupted endeavor preening gracefully, cautiously looking on so as to escape his mother’s firm and hellish hand? Did he write here? Or simply seethe? Gather momentum. Watch. Feel. Sense. Perceive all around him with the willful eyes of a rouge feline? Questions I have no answer to, but wonder all the same. The streets are empty and I take numerous paths. Countless causeways with no real intention. The crooked and aimless path of the poet.
Returning to the hotel, the front desk now closed, I toss off my hat and pull of my boots. The bed looks particularly sumptuous after such a long day. Yet something pulls me to the window for a glance. The clouds have broken and reveal a streak of light tracing park nearby my window. they illuminate the bust of a young man. Arthur. My ragged mascot. He is already waiting to be my guide. Come morning, we shall finally speak.