Mr G and I were recently lounging in our bed. Reading. You know those lovely lazy Sunday mornings. When time slows. Then he wistfully lamented. I miss the little boys. Time froze. Yes oh yes me too. In the long moment that followed our empty nest an aching void we held between us.
Later I weep. I’m listening to Patti Smith weep too. As she reads. It’s a piece from her wonderful memoir ‘M Train’. Her prose so lyrically articulates the particular sting of this pain.
‘We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother’s voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small, feet swift. Everything changes. Boy grown, father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever I say to the things that I know. Don’t go. Don’t grow.’
In those moments I think. Yes. We should have frozen our little boys. Somehow. So they could stay forever. Always eight and six. Caught those golden curls and the sweet cherub mouths. The agile limbs and giggling delight as they tumble ahead along the sandy path over the dunes down to Tallow Beach. This particular image is forever etched deeply inside me. Sunny and shining. Like a faded colour Polaroid.
Perhaps if I had thought to call out. No don’t grow. Don’t go. Please stay forever. And don’t decay. Don’t age. Or shrivel. Or break in any way. And never ever melt away.
There’s a heartbroken human in our home at the moment. So my heart hurts a little as well. I see the pain in the posture. Feel the sadness behind the gentle grin. When there is weeping I think of Glenn Close in The Big Chill. Naked and weeping on the floor in the shower. I remember when I too wept in the shower. Because we are all at some point in our life heartbroken humans.
Sometimes a woman wants to be the mistress not the wife. I know you know what I mean. And these qualities are not cultivated in those tasteful stiff sort of places overlooking grand monuments. No something a bit edgier dare I even say seedy is needed. To reawaken this inner goddess. So what better location than the former playground of the likes of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso and Josephine Baker. The ninth arrondissement. Where striptease was invented. Et du famous quartier de Pigalle. The almost former red-light district whose old hostess bars and massage parlours are being replaced by artisanal cocktail bars, vintage everything shops and edgy boutiques. The “pipole” are now hanging out around here. That’s French slang for hip beautiful or famous. C’est parfait.
I’m not sure when it was exactly but somewhere along the way I realised I’d married the wrong man. It may have been in that time between the wedding and the having of kids. Anyhow at some point I knew for sure he wasn’t the prince I’d been conditioned to expect. Or a knight. There was no shining armour or even a white horse. No hidden fortune to be bestowed. He was’t going to rescue me. Give me answers. Complete me. Nor was there a get out of the childhood damage and live happily ever after card tucked in his back pocket.
Once upon a time I wrote a short story. It’s about a midlife woman who found her heart on the lounge room floor. Neglected and hidden amongst a pile of art books. She hadn’t even realised it had gone missing. Her first impulse was to hide the thing. So she wrapped her heart carefully and put it under her bed. This was where she kept those special private things.
However on some days when she was alone she started spending time with her heart. Maybe doing art making or sewing. Sometimes just sitting with it. Later she started taking her heart out on daily walks. It was on one of these walks that she realised she needed to get away. By herself. Well not exactly by herself. It was to be with her heart.
Of course it’s about me. And mon cher couer. My dear heart. This was the beginning of My Paris Story. And after that all sorts of things started happening. And changing. Still are. It’s actually a little bit magical.
Here is a Paris Story. A real one. The one that tells the truth. It starts in a moment when you are out of sorts. Disgruntled. Uncomfortable. Disappointed. It’s a story of the wrong weather, aching feet, annoying crowds and too many monuments to be seen too quickly. You remember it exactly because it’s the very moment when you tumbled out of fantasy Paris and into a real city.
It was just after the waiter was terribly brisk and cigarette smoke was definitely violating your right to clean air. You realised the real reason to have learnt some French is to curse and swear effectively. Like you wish you could right now.
You have a mild headache because it seems a decent coffee can’t be had for any amount of money. Whats more the cute little poodle has just pooped on the path and Madame isn’t one bit bothered. Not like you are. There’s way too much pooping and rubbish lying about for a fantasy city. And that smell of urine in the metro earlier is still stinging your nostrils.
The first time I saw ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ I didn’t like it. Not like I do now. It was because it was too close to home. Painfully close. I felt like the director was making fun of Muriel. And therefore of me. Well I didn’t think that as clearly I write it now. I had distanced myself from her nervous mannerisms and naive expressions. I didn’t want to have a terrible dysfunctional family. To be that provincial. I experienced an uncomfortable mixture of embarrassment and pity watching her. Even as others laughed along and loved her.
I couldn’t actually bear to think I was Muriel. With her weight issues, low self-esteem and appallingly limited ambitions to be a bride. Later in the film I cringed at the sight of her in that white satineen jumpsuit. Dancing so delightedly to Waterloo. She was way too fat to be wearing that. I thought I was ashamed for her. But it was for myself.
The Eight Arrondissement is the luxury end of Paris. Some say its boring and empty. To avoid it because only the truly wealthy and la terrible tourists are to be encountered here.
It’s true that it’s very grand. That there are those swanky hotels like Four seasons Hotel St Georges, Hotel de Crillon and Hotel Plaza Athenee. That most of us will only ever fantasize about staying in such places. That the so-called Golden Triangle of Avenues with the high-end designer stores the ilk of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Chanel cross it. That the Champs Elysees the most famous avenue in the world is now overrun with tourists taking selfies against a backdrop of chain stores and the Arc de Triumph. But to focus on that would be to miss out on an essential part of the Paris story.
Sometimes all the photo taking that is going on really irritates me. It seems that we are all so intent on recording we were physically somewhere (especially when it is somewhere other than home) that we risk not actually being fully present at the time. That the photo evidence that we were happy or having fun or having an experience substitutes reality. That till the picture is posted the experience is not completed.