Sunday, 22 April 2012

Paris, je t'aime

Writers, artists, creative people if you're feeling that your soul is being eroded by everyday life (i.e. by that thing called a day job that pays your mortgage or whatever) then I recommend a trip to Paris. Many a morning I've fantasised about hopping on a plane and flying off here so a few weeks ago that became a reality - I packed my case and took off alone. Halfway along the runway I did have a niggling feeling of; hmm I'm going to a city I've never been to, alone, me, of no sense of direction; is this a good plan? But I survived to tell the tale and I'm pleased to report I only got 'lost' once when I couldn't figure out how to get across the road to the other side of La Seine outside Musee D'Orsay. Trust me, it's more complicated than it looks...

The photo at the top is my vision of Paris - spindly trees and old fashioned lamp posts that evoke a sense of stepping back in time. I took that photo when I was on La Batobus sailing down La Seine (a very relaxing way to travel and it gives you good views).

One of the first places I headed to when I arrived was the Louvre and standing outside this place is amazing, never mind venturing inside to see the art. The architecture and sculptures outside are awe inspiring; the pyramid in the centre reminded me of a Dali painting; a futuristic structure in the middle of classic images.

I'm not sure if it was because I was too tired when I visited the Louvre, but I did get the sense that the art/sheer size of the place was too overwhelming for me and I had a much better time at Musee D'orsay. After my visit here I've become a big fan of Jean Francois Millet - I could have looked at the painting 'Le Printemps' for hours; See it here. This online image doesn't do it justice as the light shining from it was mesmerising. I also loved the Pictorialism Photography section (where the artists create an optical blur, mixing photography with engraving and drawing to create an ambigious, dreamy image). I particularly liked the dark and mysterious images of Edward Steichen.
The Art Nouveau section was also amazing - walking through living rooms and bedrooms furnished by great artists like Gaudi. I love the delicate and intricate Art Nouveau style and how it's embedded across the city. Even the metro signs in Paris are pretty...

One of my favourite 'parks' was Jardin de Luxembourg and on my walk to the entrance I had a strange feeling of de ja vu, like I'd been here in a past life. I like how seats are left out in the parks in Paris, inviting people to sit by the ponds and fountains and watch the world go by. I enjoyed watching two old men play chess on a bench, a little girl squeezing her head through the gap in the bench, studying them intently. I also noticed an old couple walking hand in hand through the park- they must have been in their late seventies- and the old man suddenly pulled her to him and kissed her passionately. It was such an unexpected gesture; it filled me with a sense of hope or something.

My hotel was two minutes from the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop. One of my favourite films of all time is 'Before Sunset' and the film opens with a scene inside this book shop. Sadly I didn't find Ethan Hawke inside but I loved this place so much! Wall to wall books; little nooks and crannies where you can sit and read, old fashioned typewriters hidden in corners. Upstairs takes you to the reading library, dedicated to Sylvia Beach, who owned the orginal shop (and used to let Hemingway borrow loads of books on credit according to his accounts of Paris in 'A Moveable Feast'). There were lots of people sitting reading in the 'library' and a table overlooking the window was set up with an old typewriter, giving the sense that some literary ghost was sitting there...Next door were two make-shift beds (which poor writers can apparently make use of) and an old piano (and of course more books...). A boy sat down at the piano and started to play music which added a nice atmosphere to the place. On my way out I'm sure he started to play what sounded like Nirvana's 'Smells like Teen Spirit'. Just outside this room a girl sat in a corner sketching images from a book. The wall above her head was covered with post-it notes, adorned with comments from visitors from all around the world. One had a passport photograph attached of a very dramatic and serious looking couple (I'm sure they must have been Italian).

If you ever visit the bookshop make sure you browse the Shakespeare shelves along the back wall downstairs. You might find a note hidden in amongst the books, penned by me. I'm hoping someone interesting finds it and follows my instructions to email me about what they love about Paris...

One of my favourite streets was just around the corner from Shakespeare and Co: 'Rue Galande'. You'll find quirky little shops, a great creperie and a small cinema along here.

I was lucky enough to visit Notre Dame Cathedral when a service had just started. Hearing the choir singing in such as magnificant building, watching as a cloud of incense snaked upwards towards the sunlight streaming in through the stain glass windows gave me goosebumps. As I wandered around the cathedral I also saw an outline of a man through the confessional screen, standing talking to a priest, gesturing in such a serious manner I wondered what sins he'd committed...

It's difficult to capture in words the effect Paris can have on your mind. Every corner you turn there's something which fires your imagination. Artists line La Seine; even set up home in the museums (one woman was painting a Pierre Bonnard picture in Musee d'orsay stroke by stroke- an eerily accurate replica).

One image which will stay with me was seeing a young Japanese woman walking along a winding street in Ile St- Louis, dressed in a black leather jacket, a white wedding dress underneath and the happiest smile on her face. I couldn't see anyone who might be her husband with her; she looked like she was in some sort of a trance and a part of me wondered if she had put on the dress and was wandering the streets of Paris, marrying the city. I told you; it's difficult to put into words the effect it has on your mind...

Monday, 2 April 2012


Recently I watched the film Perfect Sense. In the film the world is ending, with people across the globe catching a bizarre virus; sufferers firstly display an extreme emotion (sadness, rage, joy...) and then are depleted of a crucial sensory perception (sense of smell, taste, hearing and then sight). The leads, Michael (Ewan McGregor) and Susan (Eva Greene), fall in love as the world falls apart. The whole way through the film I couldn't decide if I was actually enjoying it, mainly because I couldn't decide if I liked the two main characters; Susan was very cold and unfeeling and something about Michael made my skin crawl a bit (I have the feeling it was Ewan McGregor that was making my skin crawl and I usually like him - but there was something shifty looking about him in this role). But that's getting off the point a bit...what I definitely did like was the idea and the sentiment behind it all (oh and I did love the closing scene and closing lines). It made me realise how scary the world would be if we found ourselves trapped alone inside our heads without any way of interacting with others and how even losing one sense would take away so much.

Co-incidently enough I had just started to read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which for anyone who is not in the know, is a book dictated by the once editor-in-chief of French Elle , Jean-Dominique Bauby, who after suffering a massive stroke finds himself the victim of 'locked-in syndrome'. His mind is fully alert but he is completely paralysed, save for the ability to blink one eyelid. It is through his blinking and the use of his speech therapist's specially constructed alphabet that he dictates this book (such an amazing achievement as it is beautifully written). Throughout the book Bauby reminds us of the simple things in life, all with an admiral upbeat humour. In one chapter he recalls the best sausage he has ever eaten. He can no longer eat - food is transported into him via a tube. His memories are what now brings him some happiness. I loved the line, 'For pleasure I have to turn to the vivid memory of tastes and smells, an inexhaustable reservoir of sensations....Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories.'

Again, the book made me think about the importance our senses play in enriching our lives. Then I got to thinking how the more our lives are played out online (the irony is not lost on me, I am aware I am typing this on a blog) we are effectively destroying our memories; a smiley icon doesn't replace the sound of laughter; if I can only smell my own perfume as I interact with someone online then I'm not forming a memory of them- I'm forming a memory of myself. It's kind of a scary thought. So on that note I'm singing off...goodnight.