The effort of travel, of moving around so much, despite the adventure (or because of it), I was more then glad to come home this time. Relieved, happy, exhausted – how to integrate it all? Looking back at this year of travel, a year of bounty and saturation of experiences. No wonder this last trip pushed me. But I relaxed more too, seeing all this, realizing why I felt a lot of physical and mental resistance this time. It’s like I can only absorb so much, how to digest and get a good view? And as much as I wanted to get home again, I am now (of course) going to miss Paris. A feel for the place has got under my skin.
I spent my last days in Paris mostly ill, and unable to visit people I would have liked to meet with. I mostly sat at one of those wonderful, ubiquitous Paris cafés. In a yellow and red stripped wicker chair, sitting outside in the October rain, bundled in my coat and hat, an awning sheltering me from the rain. I loved at least to do this, writing in my journal outside, drinking my déca / noisette, watching all the Paris peoples go by. Just sitting in a café, nowhere else to go for now, waiting/wanting to go home, getting a friendly nod from the waitress as I returned each day. It took all these trips until I got t/here, to this café. The Café des Dames – perfect, at la Place Coloniel Fabien. Not very far from the attacks would take place only a few days later. I think of that now, my proximity, and distance, to those sad and terrible events.
“We will understand nothing from this trembling, troubled archive, without recollecting the history of war in the century scarcely past, and especially the history of the one we have called the second world war, the war that remembered the First and announces the Third, the hinge between the two pages of the century.”
Hélène Cixous, Poetry in Painting, 2012, p. 84
I often feel how Paris is a kind of archive—archive of the West, its art and its wars—the city itself, the streets, museums, cathedrals, cemeteries. The many people, descendants of another time, out in the streets and cafes, or hidden inside apartment homes, alive and working in this city of art and love. I took a picture of the grave of Marguerite Duras in the Montparnassse cemetery (Sartre & De Beauvoir, Beckett, Baudelaire, & Mavis Gallant, are also there). Her grave is decorated with fresh pots of flowers. Small, colourful heart beads are attached to the largest potted plant, a small tree, whose perimeter holds offerings of pens stuck into its potted earth. Duras’ writing storied the French resistance and Paris at the end of WWII, in transition. I read her work with great, captivating interest. She went on to write many more works, often on the topic of forbidden love affairs and their effects (Hiroshima, mon amour). Her writing is like a clear bell into hearts and minds of that time, now spilling over into the living city, an echo.
Sitting in the Café des Dames, I write very quickly of something I just witnessed in the Metro. Twice in the days before, I got onto the Metro with the intention of going to various places (probably la Madeline & the Musée d’Orsay—one last time). Both times I would ride for a bit in the usually over-crowed Metro car, and realize quite quickly that there was no way I would be able to keep standing, let alone walk around upon arriving at my destination. I just felt too ill and dizzy. So I’d get off, walk over to other side, and go back to my original stop (and this café, where I could find myself writing). Story is, while standing on a crowded, rush-hour Metro platform, waiting to go back to my original stop, I found myself watching a young couple who were talking to each other casually, with their sweet small child standing between them. They were lovely to look at. I was just enjoying seeing them there in easy communication, the little family, when it happened. They leaned into to each other, very closely, and took the most sensual, loving kiss I have ever seen in public (or in a movie for that matter!). Their eyes closed, as lips reached towards and met the other, in a slow, tender, loving kiss. They took all the time in the world, in absolute devotion, as if no one else where there, only their small child cuddled between them. And so, sealed with such a kiss, the world went onwards, and into the arriving Metro car.