Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Paris - Impressions

If it took me almost half a day to compile an easy and cut to the bone log of the days in Paris, how long will it take to write down the impressions and feelings about it? But what is said is said and so I shall nevertheless trying, in random order, to write them down.

First of all, Susanne. It was the first time ever I got to spend so much time with her. Yes, we have stayed even longer periods "generally" together in Rome, but I always had to spend a good third of the day, at least, at work. This time, we were uninterruptedly together, except for about 90 minutes on saturday, from monday morning to sunday afternoon. It was simply great. Sure, there was some minor attrition over the week and the occasional moments of insufference, more or less well hidden, on both sides and definitely the fact we have both quite some, shall we say, definite characters didn't help, but considering that I blame most of those short moments on the tiredness of the very long days, generally I'd say things were very, very good.

Secondly, the French people and the tourists. Gee, I could write chapters and chapters about it, starting from the lack of decent directions at the train or bus stations, where the signs for the airports connections are tiny or nonexistent altogether, to the superabundance of explanations, but all rigorously in french only, at the museums. I could continue narrating from the over-friendly bohemian shop-keeper of rue du dragon who started a consultation with the owner of the shop at the other side of the street (obviously, without crossing the said street, so that the whole neighborhood ended up knowing what we were looking for, what color, why, since when and for whom) about where to send us for finding a given dress to the absolutely insane other female shop-keeper who didn't hesitate to roughly re-arrange a dress over Susanne's body touching her in a way, in such places and with such rudeness that made me wish to take her from her neck and throw her out of her own shop. Or the ones who simply lean to the metro holding poles, preventing anyone to reach them? Or the restaurant owner who tried his best, and in a totally successful way, to not hide the fact that, yes, he had to serve us, but that he didn't really like that, for whatever reason that was, and that as soon as we would had moved away he would had been happy? Or the other restaurant owner, in this belle-epoque style place called Chartier (pic to the right), and re-named by Susanne "the factory", who refused to bring our (German) table-neighbors a bottle of wine unless they were taking food with it? Or...

Third, breakfast. Why you can find the croissants, cakes and everything you could wish for breakfast in the bulangeries, but no coffee or anything to drink with, while you can find those drinks in the bars, which in turn have nothing to eat? How much of a illumination does it take to realize those two things should go together?

Fourth, lines. Why everyone complains about the italian way of arranging and keeping a line, and no one mentions the fact that at least we have one, while French people don't at all and even worse sometimes they have queues (for instance at the Eiffel tower) that start with 4 distinct lanes and that end in a single lane only with the concrete risk of either a brawl erupting among the squeezed and by then pretty nervous people or some of them being smashed against the hard obstacles the other lines end abruptly against?

Fifth, maps. Everyone has some moments when he never manages to take the right direction, even if he has spent all his life reading maps. The problem is that this "moment" for me in Paris did last a whole week. It was embarrassing! I do not know how many times I turned right when I should had turned left (but I absolve myself about doing that in Versailles, it turned out my map was outdated and the gardens had been re-arranged to more closely match the late XVIII century's layout) and all that for the hardly hidden amusement of Susanne.

Sixth, the plan and the achievements. Being my third long visit to Paris, I had just a very few things I meant to see this time, well knowing that most of the time would had been spent showing Susanne, at her first visit, the city. Well, I missed all of those. The Cathedral of Saint Denis is a bit off the usual beaten track (which is also the reason I didn't manage to see it the previous two times I was in Paris) and even this time I couldn't find the time to be there. The gallery of the Renaissance art objects at the Louvre was closed, just like the Halls of Battles and half the Halls of Mirrors at Versailles, together with my favourite space in the garden, the "Ballroom" and finally, I still have to realize how did it happen, also the boat trip along the Seine river was missed. Ah well, I suppose I shall have to go to Paris again.

Seventh, real estate. It's depressing if I think about it: I found out I could go and buy myself a decent, 60 square meters. place in downtown Paris (like in the good areas of Montmatre or not too distant from Chatlet) at a price for which in Rome you hardly get 40 square meters in the very far and badly connected suburbs of the city. Did I say depressing? I was wrong, disheartening is more like it.

Eight, the metro chansonniers. I regret not having taken pictures of them, but the point is, every single morning when we got on the metro, Susanne and me were "blessed" by someone coming on the car and singing, with skills varying from the "accomplished throat killer" to the "animals producing such sounds would be put out of their miseries". The highlight was this huge black guy sitting in front of us almost dying by trying to hold the quite probably explosive laughter inducted by this other guy trying to sing (butchering would be the right term), by reading the words from a bloc-notes, a half-rap version of "oh Champs elysees". Over the week-end things improved tho, as the singers were replaced by trumpets and accordion players which were actually pretty good.

Ninth, metro meetings. Something that really caught my attention was this little episode that would be worth of a better narrator than I will ever be. This bald, anonymous looking man in his fortys, dressed in a suit with this terrible (and very french) unmatching striped shirt and no tie, was sitting in front of us in the metro, with his gaze fixed somewhere out of the window pane (which would be reasonable on a train, but in a metro where on the other side of the window there is only blackness and concrete...). The doors of the car opened and this, shall we say, interesting woman in her mid thirties, wearing the most classic "frowning-bored-vaguely annoyed" expression that is kind of a trademark of the french female population, walked in and sat next to him, carrying an unidentified book with her. A moment later, the "I'm going towards middle age and I'm so insignificant" icon that had been the man in front of me turned his eyes down, I suspect to check the woman's legs barely covered with a skirt that had risen quite a bit, and noticed the book... and suddenly came back to life.

What followed was a no more than 10 minutes story that encompassed every single expression a human face can show with the exception of those in the anger and passion fields. As the man addressed the woman about the book she first showed annoyance, which turned to hesitation at what must have been a witty comment from the guy, whose hand gestures were a proclaim of greatness for either the author or the book. His expression had in the meanwhile turned from the total emptiness of before to a friendly smile, an oddly intriguing one actually, which in turn brought the first signs of relaxation over the woman's face and composure.

Two metro stops later, the man pulled out a bag from under his seat, opened it and produced another book and the talk became even more animated, the wide smile of the man being now matched by a knowingly, self-conscious smile of her female counterpart who for the first time had moved her hands away from her knees and, while for a moment she had kept her arms crossed over her chest, was now gesturing as well. The most obvious body language followed as the man brought himself very slightly, yet unobtrusively, towards the woman and she in turn bent slightly her head, while the hands of both drew intricate patterns in the air.

Then, as suddenly as the encounter had started, it came to an end as, at the fourth or fifth stop, the woman suddenly looked at the station's name and stood, with a hurried goodbye rushing out of the car as the closing door howled his unpleasant sound. The guy followed her with his eyes as the train started moving then, almost as some kind of spell had been broken, he smiled to himself once more and then went back to his inanimate expression of but a few minutes before, as nothing had happened.

Tenth, the Paris effect. Why, whenever I go to Paris, and especially when I have been at the Musee d'orsay, I come back wishing I could draw, paint or generally have an artistic side? And especially that I could draw in the art noveau style (here in Italy called "liberty")? Who knows, maybe over the week-end...

1 comment:

Eugene said...

Reading your description of your recent trip to Paris definitely brought back memories.

Anyhow. . . you read correctly. It's form|code (the words form and code separated by a pipe, i.e. a vertical bar, '|')