Paris, la muse
Radiohead brought me there last Tuesday and I had the pleasure of staying with Mark for three nights. We were among the first to the gig and I was so happy to be there I didn't even mind paying €8 for Heineken. Money doesn't last long in Paris, a flaw I'm willing to overlook for now. The concert was brilliant, probably the best I've seen of them, but I won't go on about that. Back to Paris…
I ran to Jardin des Tuileries just behind the Louvre on Wednesday – the training never stops – and can honestly say it was the most scenic run yet, albeit the most challenging with every pedestrian I met going the same way I was as I was trying to get past. Their left to my right and vice versa ad infinitum. Jaysus, my Latin's improving…
Opposite the Louvre, someone had written on the pedestrian light: "Je suis la muse qui l'ouvre." I am the muse that opens it. It works better in French.
The garden had chairs, lots and lots of chairs, occupied by sun-worshippers stretched out in reverence to that otherworldly giver of life. There were people of all shapes and sizes, all backgrounds, all ages, all reverent and completely relaxed. Kids were playing football to the side, their excited yelps adding to the snatches of French you hear as you pass. It's like the city's song. Traffic tries to stifle it but Paris keeps singing.
The footpaths are flooded with chairs, they're not just in the parks. Chairs almost spill into the streets, catering for the national pastime – sitting and talking, or simply sitting and watching the beautiful people go by, the pretty side of life.
There's also the less pretty side. Paris is home to a lot of homeless, contradictory though that may sound, and you'll often see them stretched out in sleeping bags beside a café or club where oblivious revelers bask in the enjoyment of their own private worlds. Some worlds are better than others.
A sex worker freaked out because some dopey tourist took a photo of her, or her shop. There was a big hullabaloo with both sides yelling for the police until it more or less broke up when a guy who had nothing to do with any of it decided to go in and have a swing at your man. Feelings were running high.
There was another incident with a woman chasing another guy who must have stolen something from her. He'd been at my table just before, either offering or looking for something. I guess he was looking. Anyway, she was chasing him up the street, shouting as he was walking away. Two minutes later followed an oldish fellow rolling up his sleeves like a scene from Asterix.
I'd wanted to follow in Beckett's footsteps, literally, but I'd no idea where he'd been so I just walked and walked and walked. No doubt our paths crossed somewhere. I kept walking.
After strolling up to Sacré-Cœur – which is marshaled by soldiers with machine guns now, as are the metro stations thanks to France's self-imposed "state of emergency" (never mind that Brussels too was marshaled by machine gun-toting soldiers before the attacks there) – I took a stroll to République, where I found lots of moving tributes to the victims of the November Paris attacks.
A man with a great big shock of grey hair stood there with his head bowed in front of a load of candles, candles like the ones we left in Berlin. I kept walking, down to the Bataclan, still boarded up and closed for business. I didn't know what to think, just sadness.
One day we ate at a very French place, Chez Paul, where it started with a row between two of the staff, a thin man who was pissed off to be working Saturday, and a huge woman who was explaining that they were all tired. It reached the stage 20 minutes later where the man said they couldn't possibly leave the place in the hands of two other (presumably) incompetent staff.
The woman, who seemed to be doing all she could to prolong the row, eventually came over and took our order and later turned into the star of the show. Two people came in and needed a table for five. Cue consternation until the woman grabbed a chair from another table and stuck it at the end of a table for four. "Ta daa!!"
She teased us for licking our plates clean. "The food was horrible, huh? You should try the desserts, they're really horrible."
In between jokes and hugging babies at another table, she barked orders at the incompetent underlings. She was really running the show. The food was great of course; we left with full and happy bellies.
Nearly all the cafés are jammed with people sitting at little tables, enjoying expensive drinks, and chattering as if their lives depend on. They all look perfect, not a button missing nor stray hair out of place. I was a freak with my uncontrollable mop.
One night there were three girls sitting at the bar sharing a cheese platter, each with a glass of red wine, chatting without a care in the world.
We walked around Pigalle, enjoyed the exotic blend of cultures, found a few Spätis – yes, Paris has Spätis! – though of course they're not as cheap as Berlin's.
I saw an old man wearing a beret with a baguette under his arm near Ile de la Cité, where again I visited my old friends the gargoyles atop Notre Dame. Esmeralda and Quasimodo were there too.
I told Mark I'd like to live in Paris for a while, maybe three months or so. He said that was long enough. Of course Paris has got its problems, but if you like something enough you tend not to see the flaws. And Paris is a muse. I have to go back, I'll go back.