Postcard Series – Paris

I’m stepping into a picture that is made of paper and ink. I walk amidst the dusty aisles, running my fingertips against titles, new and old. So many words in one tiny space; I soak them in one by one.

Paris, July 2010

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I’ve taken to writing (myself) postcards when travelling. I’ve this image in my head, of me, thirty-forty years down the line, going through stacks of yellowing postcards, and thinking about the good old days, a cup of hot chai in hand.

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Padlocks on the Bridge

I’m on a bench in the middle of a footbridge on the Seine. After four hours at the Louvre, I’m exhausted, but it’s the last ten minutes in the Sun that are more telling. There’s no shade here, and the bench has no back rest, but it’ll do for now. I plonk down, abandoning any pretense of (Parisian) elegance; I feel the heat soak into my feet and tumble around.

I share the bench with an artist; he is trying to replicate the view from the Pont des Arts – the river, the Louvre, the trees, the lampposts, in water colours. When I pull out my journal and pen, he gives me a slight, sideway glance. I’m tempted to say, “No, I’m not copying.”

A few feet away from the bench, another artist has abandoned his work for a smoke and a chat. His project is more ambitious, and in oil. He has bits of paint in his short beard. From a distance, it gives him a distinguished look, but the paint trail across his pale blue shirt, eats all away any advantage. His laugh rings out, as do a few ring tones, but in this still heat, it’s the murmurs that sit in the air, like a thin wafer, crisp and threatening to crack.

Couples, young and old, sit along the chain-link railing; their fingers are entwined, their voices soft. Some kiss, other nuzzle, there is an air of forced romance, triggered by the clusters of padlocks, love-locks, along the bridge.

Not too long ago, a number of locks were broken free and removed by local authorities – eyesore was one of the words they used. It’s obviously not taken long for reinforcements to arrive; I don’t think Paris can ever be rid of these padlocks, metallic water hyacinths invading the urban landscape.

There are a few ‘old-looking’ ones still around, weather-beaten, using time as a medium for romance. They are almost lost between the shiny new lot -the brass and silver shine offends, especially when it catches and releases a glint of sun. The new ones carry the same patterns of branding as the older ones – some wear initials, others have hearts, pink lips and even bits from love songs. The locks are latched along the fence and the keys are (usually) flung away into the river – a chance at eternal love. There’s poetry to it, but for me, this locking-and-throwing just conjures up feelings of claustrophobia. I turn away from the locks and look, past the water, at Paris.

Postcard Series – Paris

There’s a person in a gorilla suit running about the base of the Eiffel, a hairy black blur between the metal of the tower and the colours of summer. The gorilla poses with kids for a few Euros parents are willing to shell for a novelty photo. The rest of the time it offers to pose for a few Euros or chats with the armed cops and vendors, always running and hopping, waving its hairy arms, wearing a phantom smile. It must be hard having that job during a heat wave.

Paris, July 2010

*

I’ve taken to writing (myself) postcards when travelling. I’ve this image in my head, of me, thirty-forty years down the line, going through stacks of yellowing postcards, and thinking about the good old days, a cup of hot chai in hand.

A Tale of Two Towers

The Eiffel Tower

My feet hurt.

I keep shifting my weight from one foot to the other, juggling the pain rather than confronting it evenly. I count down stations to Bir-Hakeim with an urgency that betrays my exhaustion. I can spot the tower from the gaps in the compartment. I should be more excited.

I don’t hate it.

I like the way it pops up everywhere, and in some silhouettes and landscapes, I find it very impressive. But sitting here on a bench at the base of the hulking tower, bits of scaffolding obstructing my view, I am intrigued more by the gun toting military officers, the knick-knacks on sale, and the one person running around in a gorilla suit; it can’t be an easy job that.

There’s a white-blue-red plastic bird in particular that catches my eye. As Vivek heads off to get us some water, I wait, camera in position, for the vendor to flip the bird in the air. It’s a very warm day. The back of my dress clings to me and my hands feel clammy. He  flip it up and I click, click, click.

People walking towards the tower, walk with their heads tilted up. Those walking away from it walk side by side peering into their camera screens, going through the set. As yet another vendor tries to sell us an Eiffel Tower key chain in Hindi – there’s a large contingent from the sub-continent  present here – we shake our heads, get up and head to the other side, across the bridge to the Trocadéro.

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Tour Montparnasse

It’s our last evening in Paris.

It’s 10:00 pm. The evening is bright, the cafes are full and the air smells of crepes and tobacco. We survey the stalls along the road, making mental notes for where to stop on our way back.

From the outside the Montparnasse Tower is forgettable and we have a little trouble finding the entrance. But once we get to the terrace all doubts melt away.

The sky is a pretty yellow-pink-purple. The city lights haven’t all come on yet but already there’s a line forming along the terrace wall. Cameras are posed on the ledge and tripods are set up.

Vivek holds down a great spot right in the middle.

I walk along the walls taking in the various landmarks we’ve ticked off the list over the last few days in one swooping glance – that’s where we had the to-die-for macaroons; that’s where we had that delicious white wine; that’s where I found the metallic Eiffel Tower bookmark.

In the bare centre, a girl in a bohemian pink dress sits cross-legged with a sketch book. She doesn’t draw the views, but the people who’ve come here for the view. She’s not very good. In a corner an older man teaches his younger companions the finer aspects of photography. He directs them around, correcting them and encouraging them before the big show.

Everyone waits for darkness.

When it comes, it doesn’t disappoint. In a space of minutes Paris is lit up and even more spectacular. At sharp 11, a collective “Ooh!” is heard across the terrace as the Eiffel puts on a bright, bright show. “Sophie, forget the camera and experience the moment!” a mother advises her daughter. “I will.”

The camera(s) continues clicking.

Pictures are taken. Smiles are exchanged. Words are whispered. Hands are held. All the Paris/Eiffel Tower clichés come true on the top of Tour Montparnasse under the spell of darkness.

The Sound of Paris

Paris sounds like trouble. There’s always a piercing siren call about. I can’t tell whether it’s the cops or the ambulance till they pass me by, the little blue light swirling around in manic urgency.

My first few hours in the city were punctured with bouts of anxiety. I’d look away from my guidebook (or my pastry) and wait for the sirens to get closer: cop or not? I wondered who was hurt, who was in trouble, and if it would all work out in the end.

But one learns quickly to adapt to place and to accept the background tapestry. Over the following days, these sirens blended into one another, fading, becoming familiar and less distinct. Now, I could sip on white wine at a snooty cafe, and not be bothered by that incessant noise. It was all very Parisian.

On our way out of Paris, we were held up by slow moving traffic in one of the city tunnels. Around us two wheelers used the gaps between lanes to speed away. One such bike came rushing at us and violently knocked (and cracked) the side mirror on my side out of its hold. The thud was pretty loud; I wouldn’t want to be the hand that caused it. On either count, there was no siren to be heard.