Lonely Paris

Wan­der­ing and mus­ing in the city

Chic & Country - - Contents - In­sta­gram @arten­fleurs

Ever since I was a child, Paris has been a place of awe and a spir­i­tual des­ti­na­tion. My mother spent her early child­hood there and she al­ways would de­scribe it as a lost par­adise. She would tell us about her fam­ily gath­er­ings and mag­i­cal evenings at Christ­mas time.

Her aunt, a glam­orous plat­inum blonde who lived in a Hauss­man­nian apartment, taught her all the in­tri­ca­cies of French liv­ing. The heady notes of jas­mine and rose of her Mit­souko per­fume would linger in my mother’s mem­ory like Proust’s madeleine. A per­fume cre­ated in 1919 by Jac­ques Guer­lain, its name means Mys­tery in Ja­panese and it has an in­tox­i­cat­ing in­ten­sity. My mother’s grand­mother would also be present at those gath­er­ings. She was an aris­to­cratic lady with an ad­ven­tur­ous past who was as in­tim­i­dat­ing and mys­te­ri­ous as the per­fume. Then there was my mother’s favourite un­cle, the charm­ing Mar­cel, a young bach­e­lor who, like a Cary Grant char­ac­ter, would come back in a tuxedo in the early hours of the morn­ing. He would some­times sur­prise my mother with a small gift, telling her that he had found it in the bins of Paris (no, he wasn’t a thief, just a bit of a teaser). My mother grew up be­liev­ing that there were ac­tual trea­sures to be found all

around Paris and, even as a grown up, she would still furtively glance at the ground and in bins ex­pect­ing some­thing shiny to catch the light. It was ac­tu­ally quite sur­pris­ing when, many years later, she found a beau­ti­ful enamel brooch on the pave­ment in a street near Tro­cadero. It was al­most as if Mar­cel was mak­ing sure she never lost faith. I was in my teens when I first went to Paris. I dis­cov­ered all the art in the mu­se­ums which I had only seen in books and movies. Although I was dis­ap­pointed by the small sized La Gio­conda (whose fa­mous smile was ob­scured by the many tourists) I loved Rodin’s sculp­tures, Monet’s wa­terlilies and vis­ited most land­marks, lov­ing the Eif­fel tower, the Place des Vos­gues and the Sainte Chapelle...

Since then, there have been many trips. Like ev­ery sea­soned vis­i­tor, there are places I like to see time and time again. I don’t have to go and visit mu­se­ums or monuments. I just like to walk, aim­lessly, mainly around the Left Bank. I don’t mind the rep­e­ti­tion, I never get tired of the win­dows with their ex­te­rior shut­ters and the cob­bled court­yards and I love the flow­ers. There is some­thing quite unique about

Parisian flower shops. I have no­ticed that they rarely dis­play flow­ers out­side. It´s the plants that, in bloom, cre­ate the il­lu­sion of there be­ing flow­ers. It’s only when you go in­side that you dis­cover the cut flow­ers, which are pre­served in the dark. And the colours. Whether on doors, shop fronts or cafes, colours are al­ways bal­anced: never stri­dent, never bor­ing. Some­times the mem­o­ries are just like small lights that fade in the dis­tance, other times they are as in­tense as the scent of that Guer­lain per­fume: my mother and I in the Tui­leries Gar­den in De­cem­ber, cov­ered by snow. My vis­its to my great aunt, now her plat­inum hair white. My year learn­ing and work­ing and fi­nally my Eurostar es­capades from Lon­don… And here I was, once more, this June in my lat­est es­capade. Back to a city full of mem­o­ries and ghosts from the past, yet a city to which I did not be­long and where I was now a to­tal stranger. This time, I was there stranded in life, alone, walk­ing down the same streets I had walked down in hap­pier times. I took out my cam­era de­ter­mined to find my way through the rub­ble of my mind, to cap­ture the beauty in the ar­chi­tec­ture, to ex­plore the many de­tails, the re­minders that this or that artist lived

I re­alised how I had man­aged to take pic­tures with no peo­ple in them and how the only peo­ple I pho­tographed were alone, like me.

here and there, and so I crossed the Seine and reached the Tui­leries Gar­den, a sum­mer gar­den this time, and sat by the foun­tain to watch the ducks like any Parisian or tourist would do. There were even goats graz­ing and flow­ers ev­ery­where. Such a dif­fer­ent place from the mem­ory of the frozen park un­der the snow. Yet how beau­ti­ful that mem­ory was. De­spite all the light and colour sur­round­ing me, there was only si­lence and win­ter in my mind.

At some point, I no­ticed a bride was be­ing pho­tographed in the dis­tance, her white wed­ding dress sweep­ing the dusty stair­case. A fa­ther and his small daugh­ter were fly­ing a kite. Life was all around me yet I felt left be­hind. I looked at the sym­me­try of the tree av­enues and tried to cap­ture them, the time­less sight of the old maples, the white sky, the empti­ness be­tween the branches. As I down­loaded the im­ages onto my com­puter that evening, I re­alised how I had man­aged to take pic­tures with no peo­ple in them and how the only peo­ple I pho­tographed were alone, like me. A Parisian man walk­ing his dog, a cy­clist…and then on my last day, there was the mo­ment an old lady asked me for the pizza I had stopped eat­ing. “Did you not en­joy it?”, she asked. I said I was full and she care­fully wrapped it in a cat­a­log.

One comes across many tramps or ‘clochards’ in Paris and even though there are tramps in all cities, here they seem to be as much a part of the city as ev­ery­thing else. They are tes­ta­ment to the dark side of a hu­man­ity who rev­els in the beauty of build­ings and his­tory and en­joys shops and food and mu­sic and dance, but ignores the pain and suf­fer­ing of fel­low hu­man be­ings. Paris, I thought, is like life, full of won­der and full of sad­ness at the same time. Like a heart pound­ing with the heav­i­ness of Les Mis­er­ables. I won­dered whether I would end up like that lady one day. Whether my life would go so wrong that I would need to ask for a piece of dis­carded pizza from a tourist en­joy­ing a sunny day. As my life laid un­com­fort­ably un­cer­tain be­fore my eyes, I could not rule that out. What leads us to a des­tiny of de­spair and sor­row? Is it, like in the Greek tragedies, due to our char­ac­ter flaws? Or is it the in­dif­fer­ence we feel to­wards one and other? As she left, thank­ing me with a smile, I felt ashamed of be­ing un­happy. Yes, I had suf­fered but I still had a fu­ture ahead of me, it was my choice to go and find a trea­sure some­where, even in the waste my life seemed to have be­come. Un­cle Mar­cel was right af­ter all.

Colours of Paris Whether on doors, shop fronts or cafes, colours are al­ways per­fectly bal­anced.

Dis­cov­er­iesPierre de Ron­sard roses at StephaneChapelle’s florist shop;a typ­i­cal boulan­gerie; the court­yardin Merci; a paint­ing spot­ted in an an­tique shop.

Mo­ments A pizza at Pizza Chic in Saint Ger­main­des-Prés, the en­trance of Le Saint Ho­tel, an à pro­pos sign with the name of an art gallery.

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