MILES FROM PA R IS By Ali Smith.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Culture -

It was the spring of 1979. We were on a four-day-long school trip from In­ver­ness High School to Paris – well, to what turned out to be a hos­tel 30 miles out­side Paris. And four days was re­ally two days, since it took a full day to get there on train, ferry, and bus from the High­lands of Scot­land, and a full day to get back. Never mind – we were near Paris, we’d be in Paris for two of the days. Paris! The place our French as­sis­tant teacher came from, who’d taken a shine to me be­cause she thought I was clever and had given me books she’d bought with her own money, a gift, be­cause, as she said, she thought I’d get it. The Myth Of Sisy­phus by Ca­mus. Nau­sea by Sartre. (I hadn’t opened them yet, but I would, soon, as soon as I stopped be­ing scared that I’d find out, if I did, that I wasn’t clever enough for them.) The city of all the coolest films I’d seen at our lo­cal theatre on Sun­day nights when they did the films with the sub­ti­tles. The cap­i­tal of chan­sons. I liked chan­sons a lot, and French jazz too, but it wasn’t the kind of thing you told many peo­ple in case they thought you were try­ing to be pre­ten­tious.

We un­packed our ruck­sacks on our beds. My school­friends were dress­ing them­selves the way that was all the rage right then, like Olivia New­ton-John in Grease – scraped-back pony­tail hair, high-bal­loon­ing 1950s rock ’n’ roll skirts, bright bright pinks, yel­lows and whites, whiter-than-white bobby socks. These were clothes I’d never wear, partly be­cause I’d look ridicu­lous in them, I knew, and partly be­cause I was 16, I was shy, I wasn’t in­ter­ested in clothes, I was read­ing Ca­mus, okay, or would be soon, and any­way, the real fash­ion­able thing was to be jaded about fash­ion. I’d packed my own ruck­sack with my Elvis Costello This Year’s Model tour T-shirt and, on im­pulse and with­out telling my mother, an old white work shirt of my fa­ther’s that had been folded on the top of the pile of washed and ironed clothes wait­ing to be put away up­stairs.

The girls put on their Grease cos­tumes; I put on mine: my jeans and my dad’s shirt. Its tail came down be­low the backs of my knees. One of my friends made a daisy-chain from the daisies in the lawn out­side the hos­tel while we were wait­ing to get on the bus and gave it to me, and I put it on my head. Then the bus took us to the city.

The shirt felt great, hang­ing long and open, shoul­ders half­way down my arms. It flowed. I’d never get away with wear­ing this at home, in our home town, I knew. I’d never dare. But it was sunny, un­be­liev­ably warm in France, never like this in April where we lived, or if it was, it never lasted.

Later, on the fi­nal day of the trip, in the bus on the way back to the High­lands, I ac­tu­ally got given the teach­ers’ Award for Best Dressed Girl on the Trip. I’ve never known whether that was a joke or not. But who cares? For ever I’ve got the mem­ory, me cross­ing a road in Paris, traf­fic on ei­ther side of me, a ring of flow­ers in my hair, the white shirt I shouldn’t have been wear­ing lit brighter by the sun­light of this other coun­try, the breeze catch­ing it like that’s what I had, wings.

Cot­ton shirt, Em­po­rio Ar­mani. Cop­per shirt studs, Alice Made This.

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