‘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.
It was in the Sixth Arrondissement that I very nearly became victim to death by chocolate.
Patrick Rogers main chocolate shop was close by. I was planning on going there next. I wanted some of his lemon-grass and basil infused bars. I’d seen them in the window display. So sleek and shining. Almost sinful. I swear could taste the cocoa and herbs on the base of my tongue. Though the glass.
At the time I’d been ingesting small quantities of high quality chocolate for about three hours.
So I may have been a little delirious. Intoxicated.
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.
Photography is a visual language. But a lot of us only speak autofocus. Or iPhone point and shoot. It’s a bit like knowing just enough French to say hello. You can get by well enough. But imagine how much richer your experience might be if you managed to learn to speak more fluently.
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 schedule. 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.
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.