Madame Pleasure has quite a reputation. You all know what I mean. Those endless warnings of the troubles she’ll bring you. The menacing reminders of what might happen. The dire ditch you are sure to find yourself in. Should you give in. Allow yourself to embrace her sweet silhouette. To snuggle up with her. To feel good.
It’s all quite undeserved. These salutations against her. Against Madame Pleasure.
There’s someone who has a worse reputation. It’s Monsieur Change. Poor Monsieur Change.
We all desire him. At some point. But he’s reported to be difficult. Too hard to achieve. Impossible to maintain. Yes ladies there are such things said.
But When Mr Change meets up with Madame pleasure. Well that’s a whole different story. Then things really do heat up. Things start to happen.
Paupers Paris. I found it the other day. It was my first guidebook to Paris. The yellowing pages still promising to show me how to spend more time without spending more francs in the city of light.
Earmarked is that first hotel. The Grand Hotel d’Harcourt.
A one star establishment on 3 boulevard St-Michel. Most importantly it was in the Fifth. Described as a very lively area. Central to everything. Facing the famous St-Michel Fountain. A short walk to the major attractions. It boasted that the rooms were recently ‘redone’ and emphasised ‘with a lift’.
These days there’s a 4 star Great Western Hotel on the site. Their online site says pretty much the same stuff.
Times change. Budgets change. We grow older. But essentially some things stay the same.
Proust warned me. I didn’t listen. I was younger. I just liked the idea of sitting somewhere by the Seine with his books. It was a romantic notion. Searching for lost time. Contemplating tea and Madeleine’s. Of wasting time. In Paris if possible.
Recently I’ve been reading him again. I’m older now. He is making more sense. About the lost time. And the remembrance of things past. The questions of how to find time. And of how not to waste it.
After all how we spend our moments is in the end how we spend our lives.
I think Proust was talking mindfulness. Only they didn’t call it that back then. There wasn’t a fashion for it.
The First Arrondissement. This is classic Paris. Her royal heart.
Grand. Glamorous. Gallant. Think of it as the Paris of grand visions. Big ideas. Lofty aspiration.
It was though the lens of my camera that I first truly saw this beating royal heart. Clearly. It made for a perfect last day.
I’m not a morning person. So it was an effort to drag myself from bed. Before the sunrise. I wanted some photographs. With no crowds. And the soft light. Something more personal than postcards. I’d just spent several weeks alone in Paris. I was homeward bound. I felt different. It had been a golden daydream of sorts. I wanted to take some of that home.
On that day as I stared down my lens I learnt something about photography and seeing and Paris. The light was soft and luminous. I had the Louvre gardens. The arched courtyard. The young pyramid. The Palais Royale. The Bruen Columns. The Tuilliere Gardens. All to myself.
The city still sleepy. The Seine so still I could see reflections of myself on the grey-green surface. Paris was there too. Shimmering in the background.
I remember I felt unburdened. Untroubled by worldly concerns. Everything was sort of magnified. Expanded. Enlarged. Inside me I accessed a space that seemed freer. Wilder. More imaginative than usual. My spirits soar upwards to the ancient arches above.
I experienced though the camera lens a way of seeing that was reminiscent of when I gazed at my baby sons all those years ago. I felt very present. In flow even. Later I found my photos to have a quality I’d not seen in them before. I believe now it was a sort of love. The presence of something bigger then myself.
It was a lesson not just in photography but in looking the way an artist looks. In how to see. That’s why I’ve chosen these videos by french artist Felix Aberasturi. He is as you might know a favourite of mine. His images evoke for me something of the experience I’m describing. His art is created overpainting old photos and postcards of Paris. It is his unique vision. Yet at the same time he expresses timeless and classic ideas.
So my suggestion is this. Go on a photo hunt. To uncover the heart of Paris. Wait till your last day. After you feel something about the city. Have experiences to bring along. Go early or late in the day. Let your heart lead.
You might make a list of prompts. Like these. A grand door or portal. Sacred sculptural shapes. Built beauty. Columns against arches. Palatial perfection. A black and white statement. A metro moment. Formal follies in a garden. Golden daydreams. Angels versus Devils. Secrets of the Seine. Stairways to heaven. A flight of fancy.
You get the idea. Take it up a notch. Use imaginings and dreams. Be playful.
Your aim is to capture your own vision. But also to enlarge your view. To imagine immensity for yourself. Find your own expression of beauty. Your own light. To be opened up to other ideas. To difference.
Most of us are not that grand. Or glamorous. Or terribly sophisticated. Our everyday lives are filled with ordinary concerns and struggles. Sometimes sorrows and pain.
When we find ourselves stuck. Caught in a net of the small things. Or even paralysed by bigger griefs. Discontentment . Regrets. We stop dreaming and playing. We lose touch with imagination.
But we all carry within a world that has immeasurable capacity. We are limited only by what we are able imagine to be possible. We need to be reminded of these bigger possibilities.
Paris is a place where the ordinary and the grand rub right up against each other. They exist together. Illuminate each other.
The First Arrondissement offers many moments of pure magnificence. The Louvre and her gardens invite us to open to greatness. To see beyond the everyday. You don’t need to be a history or art geek to uncover this. Just surrender yourself to the experience of a bit of grandeur.
Nourish that potential to be a bigger better version of yourself.
When you are done. When the light is too bright. And Paris is awake. When you are back on the earth. Oh wow.
It’s time to head over to Angelinas. But not into the tea room. You can buy the famous spicy L’Africaine blend of hot chocolate from a take-away kiosk just outside. Take your treat back into the Tuilliere gardens. Find a green metal chair. Settle in. Take your time. Inhale. Drink up. Taste the very opulence you have just seen.
You will experience beautiful visions here in the First Arrondissement. So be inspired to bring home truly gorgeous photographs. Personal mementos of what you experienced.
But also a key. An antidote to feeling small and stuck. A knowing. That to move forward in the face of regret or pain or sorrow you can enlarge the space which you carry them in.
That is what a bigger better version of you actually is.