There's always a sense of revisiting certain things in oneself when seeing a place for the first time. True enough I've been to Charles de Gaulle airport before, but up until Saturday morning that was about as near as I'd got to Paris itself. In the twelve years that have elapsed since I'd previously passed through the airport on a changeover for Geneva - the day after my father was cremated - that same building might well have changed beyond recognition.
Still, as we blearily made our way through the bustle and turned a corner to where we would take the escalator to the exit, my breath momentarily left me, so taken aback was I by how the escalators crisscrossed in sequence, each sealed in its own glass tube, to and fro - and up and down - across a central, circular atrium: because this sparked a vivid memory very much generated internally, from a dream maybe two or three years ago. Amazing how one can sculpt a space in the recesses of one's mind, and subsequently find such a close counterpart in the outside world.
Given the fact that I didn't exactly feel fully awake anyway, after a week of wading through treacle and catching up on lost sleep - and then beginning the day at 5am - then the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere evoked by the collision of the external and the internal was particularly strong. The more down-to-earth sensations of fresh mid-morning air and the incessant revving of car engines, as we headed through the exit to grab a taxi into central Paris, served to prod me back into the realms of the here and now.
We had two days and one night, and we damn well made the most of them. Here on the other side of that wonderful, enriching, nourishing experience, I still have no overall sense of bearings as far as the central districts of the city are concerned. We weren't there long enough for me to establish a clear sense of its geography, but I'm glad of it - it adds to the sense of having been in an absolute whirl throughout the whole time we were there.
What sense of perspective I did gain, was more about what impacted on me internally - a reorientation, a reminder of what makes me tick, of the things that should still be possible. A revisiting of familiar and most welcome territory, thrown into sharp and vivid relief thanks to being in a new place in the outside world: on this occasion Paris. With all it could possibly offer in such a relatively short space of time.
So we did the complete and utter tourist things: starting out taking in the Louvre, and thinking: well, we might as well see the Mona Lisa while we're here. It would have felt a little too churlish not to - but what really did it for me was the huge work by Cimabue which I've known for years thanks to the various art books I've perused and owned. Such a familiar image still had capacity to surprise, almost to shock, such was its commanding presence. And again, that sensation of experiencing something familiar whilst being there for the first time.
The crowd snapping away like paparazzi at the more famous painting - most famous painting - mentioned above, were thankfully not too much to prevent us from negotiating a path through to get a reasonable view. At such times though, faced with something like the Mona Lisa, I experience a certain blankness - what am I supposed to feel, to gain from seeing something which is already indelibly imprinted on my brain through numerous reprints of it in books, on slides, tv - not to mention Duchamp's own bastardisation of it?
Been there, done that and perhaps, for the time being, not much more. And not enough time to linger anyway.
The weather was perfect for our purposes, since we intended to spend a lot of time exploring on foot. Though the sky was grey there was barely more than a hint of drizzle, and it was very pleasantly mild. Ideal for walking.
Having exited the Louvre and not even managing to find the coffee shop in there (if there is one) we took a stroll along the banks of the Seine towards Notre Dame, stopping at a cafe on the way. Coffee certainly helped to bring me round a little more, and the croque monsieur was the best I've ever had. Mind you, it was also the first time I'd ever had croque monsieur, so it would have been rather worrying if it hadn't been the best.
In fact, it would have been time to start asking some very grave questions indeed. For how could it have been second best in any way?
Erm, anyway. Enough about the croque monsieur.
I'm not even going to try and describe Notre Dame, I'll just descend into cliche - but it did pretty much knock me for six. I still was having to remind myself at this point that I was in Paris - after all, we'd flown here earlier in the morning, gotten straight out of the airport and into town, and had already spent two or three hours being bombarded by pretty powerful visual information and experience - and we wouldn't even be checking into the hotel for a while yet. But Notre Dame moved me - its sheer size and scale, and spectacle. We lingered, and at this point felt unhurried. Time for the dust to settle just a little.
Sometime on Saturday evening we were wandering down the Champs-Elysees. By this time, after seeing more sights and wandering here and there we had checked in - had a little time to get rested and refreshed, and to give the stamina a boost for more walking and exploring. The morning seemed a long time ago already, since we had managed to fill so much of the time with what might otherwise reasonably take a couple of days.
I was feeling by this point like I was coming to terms with these new surroundings. Just previous to this, in the Tuileries Gardens, I did what I often do: I found the space in which to break away from my companions for a little while. Not far away, not even out of sight, but just enough to be out of earshot. In the late afternoon light, the Gardens were tremendously atmospheric, and I wandered around at a leisurely pace, absorbing the scene as much as I could.
By now I could tell that I was feeling that I had banished everyday concerns - I felt very much enveloped in the moment. I could react to what I could see around me with fresh eyes and ears and a fresh mind - not just because it was new territory, but because the preoccupations of everyday life, those things which all too often allow subtlety and nuance to be reduced to little more than a dull thud, had shrunk away back to the deeper recesses of my mind. So now, little events - shadows cast, lights playing against the trees, people walking by - now took on a greater sense of melody, of more finely-wrought texture. I felt liberated again, back to a very welcome place.
In other words, to echo what I've said in a previous post somewhere, I felt like I was home again at last.
Later there would be many more things to do and see, to converse over a few drinks and to reflect. But this for me was the moment I needed more than anything else.
I've written enough for one evening, though if you've scrolled down here before reading it, I'll provide a summary:
I had a bloody good time.
Hope you enjoy the pictures, I may post some more.