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.
Once upon a time I went to Paris. It was to do a creativity workshop. In the months before this trip I’d written a fairy story about a woman who unexpectedly found her real heart on the floor one morning and ran away to Paris with it. I imagined it as a piece of magical realism. An Amelie for the older woman. Actually I’m still working on it. I reckon it has the makings of a sweet Paris movie.
Anyhow enough daydreaming. What my fairy story foretold was that everything would change after that journey. And it did. Best of all the depression and grief I was dealing with got that much better. Not just because I went to Paris. It was because I decided to make it into a story.
I don’t want to be the party pooper. But your New Year resolutions are destined to fail. You are wasting your time. Sorry to have to say that.
Did you know that people who have suffered a serious health issue like a recent heart attack don’t manage to make the changes they need too. Even with the threat of possible death to motivate them.
These people know it’s time to lose the weight, get fit and change to a plant-based diet. All that stuff. Yet after an initial phase of enthusiasm and motivation the majority return to their old ways. Recognise something of yourself here.
The truth is that the brain can change. But it doesn’t really want to. It’s wired to keep the status quo. It likes things to stay the same. That’s how it keeps you safe.
I grew up listening to my parents talk about ‘the communists’. I wasn’t sure exactly who they were. Yet I was certain they were evil. That they were to be guarded against at all costs. In my childish world the communists were the Russians. Bad Russians. Americans on the other hand were the good guys. They were leading a war against the evil forces. To be honest I wasn’t exactly sure why it had to be a ‘Cold War’ or what that meant. The most important thing was that we were on the right side. The good side.
By the time I was an adult the focus had changed. A few times. Like when Saddam Hussein and Iraq were acting badly. Something needed to be done. And we all know how that’s turning out. Now there’s the war against terrorism.
Here’s my problem. It’s with this enemy thing. It seems that as soon as you get rid of one enemy another turns up. There’s a constant need for this war. A battle of the good against evil.
The battle ground has changed. The enemy morphs. The rhetoric stays the same.
‘Before you know what Kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth….’
There has been no good news this week. It’s all a bit crap. A lot crap actually. I’ve got the ‘Sads’. And it’s more than the usual seasonal affective disorder. So I’m reading poetry to cope.
You see its winter here in Australia. A time when you watch a bit more telly. Right. Well. I wish I hadn’t. I thought it would be OK. The election was finally done. Thank goodness. I turned the ABC back on.
That’s when I saw it. Perhaps you did too. Horror. Really confronting footage. It was of indigenous children being brutalised. By the very people meant to be caring for them.
I gave up religion a while back. I hadn’t considered going to church. But my sister had looked up the actual times. Had her heart set on attending Sunday mass at Notre Dame. So I went along. I wanted her to enjoy her Paris experience.
It was early as we walked towards the River. A moment of quiet. We were staying with two other sisters in an apartment on Rue Jacob. It was a very social time. Sitting up later to the night. Talking. As a full moon hung over Parisian rooftops.
The silhouette of Notre Dame soon filled our view. We admired the spires piercing the soft blue sky. The gargoyles. Stood on the circular plaque in the cobblestones. Point Zero. Then joined the short line of people moving inside. A hymnbook was offered. We were directed to pews. I focused on the woman kneeling in front of me. On the rosary she held. There was a profound sense of reverence. Incense burned.
It reminded me intensely of kneeling before the altar as a child. To receive communion. When it was still magical. Scared. Special.
Not all who wander are lost. It pays to ponder this some days. Those times when you are walking the Upper Maria.
The third arrondissement is quite a small area but it can still be tricky to navigate. It avoided the Haussmann rebuilding of Paris and hence retains a labyrinth of narrow streets, aged sandy buildings and pretty squares.
It’s a wonderful area to wander about. Still quiet somehow. Poke your nose into whatever takes your fancy. There’s trend setting boutiques, contemporary art galleries and Paris oldest covered food market. Marche des Enfantes Rough. An old Jewish Quarters along Rue de Rosiers where you can indulge in what is said to be the best Falafel you can get anywhere. There’s playful street art up side alley ways. As well as the museums housed in elegant buildings left over from a grander past.
And did I mention Jacques Genin. No 133 Rue Turenne. On the corner. So I guess I should fess up at this point. His sweet creations are a small obsession of mine.
” This is what you must do on your very first day in Paris. Get yourself not a drizzle but some honest-to-goodness rain…….The rain is very important. That’s when Paris smells its sweetest. It’s the damp chestnut trees.”
So Audrey tells us in her role as Sabrina.
It happens to most travellers eventually. The rain.
It happened to me one April in Paris. For two whole weeks. It poured down. It didn’t stop. That’s how I found out about Paris in the rain. About the luxury of the rain in Paris.
Sometimes it’s cold as well. Grey and gloomy. Melancholic. When the rain gets inside you.
On these days it’s best not to be determined to stick to the iteanrry. It’s better to be flexible. Have a different approach. Slow up. Be unbusy for a bit. Make space for surprises. Or the unexpected. Let time stand still.
In Paris it’s time to head into the Second Arrondissement. To wander the ancient covered passageways. With some Regina Spektor on your iPod. And your journal in your pocket.
To give yourself over to these oasis of calm charm. Be cocooned for a bit from the general hubris. The commands and noise of life.
This is what saving for a rainy day is all about. Savouring. It’s a mindfulness technique. Being present and focused. Absorbed. Soothing yourself is an antidote to the grey. To boredom. What’s more it’s something that can be practised.
Savouring is a way of practising happiness. Whatever the weather. Inside and outside.