Paris is bewitching.
A thought which is far from original, but nonetheless, truer than the day is long. Throughout history, many a poet, artist, musician or otherwise have looked to and inhabited her for inspiration. The images and recollections are countless. I love to think about what life may have been like in the Paris of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce. A talented, young and “lost” lot living along her two banks and lingering within her cafes. They came to her seeking the mental freedom and imagination with which to carve their places in literary history.
Ernest Hemingway once said of her:
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
A moveable feast. A veritable trove that leaves a deep and lasting impression. One that be called upon whenever and from wherever when you need a dose of inspiration. That is solid gold.
I had been to Paris once before, over a decade ago. But when I arrived this past July, with a prepaid 5e address, plenty of time and impressionable offspring, it was an altogether different experience. This time it was Paris in the summer. This time I was thirstier. This time she affected me.
I pulled up to her table, watched carefully and became forever intoxicated by what I saw.
I saw her feast.
Strolling along the narrow streets of Montmartre
Sunning in the Parc de la Tour Saint-Jacques in Le Marais
Clowning across the Pont des Artes
Performing in the Place de Tertre
Reading at a café in the 5e arrondissement
Mooning along the Rive Gauche
Standing behind the Sacré Coeur de Montmartre
And reclining in the Jardin du Luxembourg
Sure she contains amazing buildings and more famous art than you can shake a stick at. And the food, well it makes a girl scream with ecstasy. But, for me, the real moveable feast lies in her stories. Those etched forever in her mortar and written upon the faces of her people – both native and immigrant.
Wait, who is that? She’s not a Parisian. How’d she get in here? My oh my, she has more lines around her eyes than I remember, especially when she smiles. Looks like the girl hiding behind that cotton candy became a woman while no one was looking. Then fell in love with Paris in the summer. She came looking for her own kind of mental freedom and was lucky enough to take the feast with her.
Summer is long gone and it is now the dead of winter. Mental freedom has given way to something more akin to the Twilight Zone. One continuous abstraction with absurd twists, copious doses of reality and a touch of the macabre. It seems the girl with the newish laugh lines now finds herself standing in the mud out in the pouring rain. But perhaps the rain is not real, only imagined. Maybe it’s just a technically-sophisticated special effect in the new plot line being filmed on Soundstage 4. Maybe there is an escape hatch just under foot or a vintage Monte Carlo around the next corner, gassed up and ready to play the getaway car. Maybe, just maybe.
Weeks back, I wandered around the Dallas Museum of Art for a bit. The first work I laid my eyes upon was a print by the French artist, Félix Buhot, entitled Winter in Paris (1879). I studied it closely.
Such a very different era. One with horses not cars and stuck stagecoaches being pushed through the deep snow. Life in a by-gone Paris in the dead of winter. I stood motionless before this timeless work and was struck by its intense melancholy. But mostly I stood transfixed by the woman in the elegant coat holding her young daughter’s hand, crossing the street and looking straight at me. She was and remains part of the feast.
Then I remembered the feast I took with me. The one that lives inside me, for all seasons. Which now serves as my summer’s winter in Paris.