Friday, November 21, 2008

The City of Light, Part I

On the balcony, Paris, day of arrival. Our room is excellent – fifth floor overlooking a Latin quarter street lined with cafes. A steeple rises to the east, and on all sides French rooftops, windows, balconies with iron railings and pots of trailing plants and flowers, clay chimneys, the bustling street coursing with pedestrians, shoppers, buskers, tourists, shopkeepers, waiters, delivery men, and the people who live here – men in suits, women in dresses, immigrants from within Europe and from without (the Turkish candy shop at the corner!), the rich and the poor, the average and the unique. Notre Dame and the Ile de la Cité two blocks away, the Louvre just downstream on the opposite bank. The sun shining through thin clouds. Gardens and statues and bells. Music and leaves and restaurant awnings flutter in the breeze.

How is it that Paris carries with it so much romance, loveliness, loneliness, and sorrow? It’s not a cliché, it’s truth. Our hotel – St. Severin – sever – I feel severed. Severed from home, from my friends, even from my family. I don’t really know my brother. I’m years away from my parents, though they’re just down the hall, and I’m learning to understand them more. I wonder how they’re beginning to understand me.

I wonder how I’m beginning to understand me.

The hours are falling into darkness and the sun will set on the city of lights in a few short hours. Now the wind is warm, but it will blow cold across the Seine tonight. A late rain is expected. I need more tobacco. I need more wonder.

As I write this an old man across the street and two floors below me is on his balcony, watering his plants. Above the building’s entrance is carved the date 1860. Just around the corner, in a small park, is a tree planted over 400 years ago, and tended all that time.

People grow complacent and comfortable at home and it’s important to shake them from their complacency and comfort once in a while. It’s vital to self and to one’s own values to confront the “other” in order to compare, contrast, understand. Sometimes I feel an intense desire for the familiar – not just while traveling, but at home, too – and sometimes I feel a great boredom and sense of anomie. Traveling has a way of making me want to adjust my life to fit my needs and wants better – not in major ways, through there are some – but particularly in minor ways, in the day-to-day. I want to reduce routine and discover more. My material needs are simple and largely met. Now to work on self – as always.

One more cigarette and if no one stirs I’m hitting the walk-about for half an hour. The bells are ringing a quarter past. Paris beckons.

Copenhagen and Amsterdam were rainy and it felt like fall. I want to buy a sweater here. And I want to see this city, this city especially, under snow. What happens in winter is as true and as revealing as what happens under the skies of summer – but frost and snow make for a deeper hue wherever color is splashed.

I think of two paintings in the Rijksmuseum – van Everdingen’s “Woman Warming Hands over a Brazier” (the woman represents winter), and Lepère’s “Montmartre in the Snow” (actually, in the Van Gogh Museum). Then there’s that Monet and the Caillebotte in the Orsay, no more than a fifteen-minute walk away…

I made a comment to Dad earlier today about the democracy of trains – especially true here in Europe, where trains are such a central aspect of life, a bridge between cities as well as a common denominator between cultures. Time to walk that culture.

1 comment:

  1. Jason,

    A wonderful piece of writing. You captured the essence of travel -- not just what you are seeing and experiencing, but the effect it has on you, how it makes you look differently at yourself. Your specific voice comes through, true and clear.

    Michael C. Morton