|Me at the Pompidou Centre (the modern art museum) studying a blue canvas, |
hoping to "see" something beyond just blue. No such luck.
(Picture compliments of Liza Mattison)
Today my mind is in Paris. Floating along the Seine. Sitting in the shadow of the Sorbonne as the day cools to evening. Rambling the cobbled streets on Isle St. Louis as the shadow of Notre Dame lengthens and the sky turns a deep amber. My memories are warm, idyllic.
I tend to forget the day I trudged beneath scorching sun for what seemed like miles to the Louvre only to find it closed. (So what was left for me but to trudge back from whence I came?) I tend to forget when I took a wrong turn in the Jardin du Luxembourg and nearly lost myself in a maze of avenues. I tend to forget the intensity of the writing residency in which I was participating: Workshops. Lectures. Museums.
Yet it was the mandatory (I hate that word) walking tour that sent me nearly over the edge.
Our group of about ten walked inside dim, cool churches whose names I made no effort to remember. We saw Hemingway’s flat he shared with Hadley and the café he frequented on Rue Saint-Germaine. We saw the original Shakespeare & Co. building. We stood outside the hotel where Oscar Wilde dropped dead in the lobby. I felt a loud pressure building in my head—too much information, too much heat, too much. Too much!
Finally we ambled onto the Pont des Arts—a pedestrian bridge standing as a homage to eternal love with the many padlocks secured there with their keys at the bottom of the Seine—that my toes eeked out over the lip of the ledge and my head screamed, “enough!”
I looked over the padlocks, over the Seine, toward Pont Neuf and decided I needed to be alone. Alone in Paris.
I thanked our guides. I left our group. I stepped off Pont des Arts and onto the crowded sidewalk. I sidled along book merchants and tables of cheap souvenirs on the Quai de Conti. As I pushed forward, knocked shoulders with passersby, I found myself walking slower. Forcing my mind into thoughtfulness, awareness of that within as well as without.
The smooth French language being strewn around me—little of which I understood except the occasional oui. The whish of cars flying past. The thud and scrape of feet on pavement. The rustle of leaves in the branches above. The pulse of my heartbeat at the base of my throat. The heat of the sun on my back and the trickle of sweat between my shoulder blades. The realization that I walked the same avenues, peered in the same windows, as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali, Van Gogh, Stein. What pieces of themselves had they left for other Paris sojourners? What pieces of myself would I leave behind? Or would I only carry forward the memories, the experiences, the tastes and wonders of this magical city?
It brought to mind one of the greatest ending lines of literature penned by ex-pat Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Reread that. Go ahead. Roll it around in your mouth for a second.
When my lonely walk ended, when I finally met up with my friends at our favorite café nested at the feet of the Sorbonne, I felt I had recovered a sense of calm, a centered appreciation for the place I occupied, and an eagerness for all that lay in wait for me to uncover. So it's no wonder that my memories of this time in Paris are sweet and amber-hued. The City of Light had romanced me, whispered of its secrets in my ear, and I was (and still am) smitten.