Friday, March 26
i did go to the pompidou but rather than go through it i decided just inside was enough and went to walk outside instead, eventually to reconnect with folks in the 16eme. so i took a picture of the big stravinsky fountain lips as proof, bought a few sundries, and made for the river. in micro-crisis mode. the solitude was good; mostly i found myself getting worried about money.
the problem with money, if you have it, is knowing when and how much it's worth or justifiable spending to avoid discomfort or disappointment or less-than-optimality. i do my best and i do good business. i'm young and healthy and self-denying enough to put with a considerable amount of unpleasantness, and that often seems easier than worrying about whether or not it's okay to spend money on what i could survive without, especially in these exorbitant foreign lands. lately i wonder what i do it for. i know that money exists for spending, and not just for survival, but sometimes i have difficulty with that.
so the explicit goal number one for the walk was to purge those thoughts. it got better once i had some in my wallet and new batteries for the walkmen and catastrophe in my headphones. (belle et sebastien should be an honorary french band, don't you think? like stereolab.) i suppose it was pretty cold and windy - paris was markedly chillier than the uk (you know i'd go back there tomorrow) - but with my hi-tech earmuffs and as long as i was properly ensconced in my scarf i really barely noticed it.
first i wasn't sure if i should expose myself to the big totalizing, soul-crushing, modernist orthagonality, but it felt right once i was in front of the louvre, looking out at the manifest trajectory. it's not so lonely when you make yourself a pawn of the axiality. i cut steady diagonals through the preposterous tuileries grid-forest. they diminish you to a (gated, check)point in order to continue along the axis. but - do you realize how difficult it actually is to just walk out those doors and wander down the champs-elysees?
i gave up and returned seineside as the sunset for good. i was looking up and to the west as the eiffel tower put on her shimmering suit of lights. the flyboathouse leashed three hyperactive vertical searchlights, in futile competition with la tour's one steady-sweeping horizontal, even brandished its own blinding sparklesuit, garishly flooding its little portion of the river with white-hot.
explicit goal number two of the walk was to get a crêpe - by now i was past the übertouristy sectors with crêperies on every corner, but i figured i'd find one near the base of the tower… well, it took a bit of looking, and what i finally got was pretty crâppy and ov€rpriced, but whatever. (i didn't know then that it was going to serve as dinner that night.)
back down to the quais in earnest, and this is where the river starts to get interesting. i looked in the windows of the super-fancy houseboat restaurants, neat and tidy and ready for business, with two knives and two forks and two goblets at each place setting, as if the clientele consisted of two-headed monsters and siamese twins. for some reason all the tourist-aimed riverboats have american names (mississippi, tennessee, columbia), and many have american flags as their principal design motif.
how quickly those pedicured docks gave way to brute industry - muck and mud and rough asphalt to walk on, most of which i presumably wasn't supposed to. for a good third-of-a-mile stretch i was sandwiched between a wire fence and the concrete bank of the river, sharing perhaps a meter of space with a massive flacid red rubber hose, and at one point the fence extended perpendicularly to the edge of the bank, so i had to hold on and swing myself around.
and of course i lost count of bridges and went too far in my adventurings, ended up amidst highways past sight of the tower and time. for some reason they still have a few handy pedestrian-scale maps and signs there even though there's no reason anyone sensible should be walking here. so, i turned tail, skipped back to "roy walker," and retrod my steps at high speed through a few little refineries and plants. in the cement yard right after my wrong turn, a video crew had set themselves up, without any more apparent sense of legitimacy than me. and soon enough i was through my little adrenaline stint and back to pont mirabeau.
then the real problem started: i went to the apartment and after somehow mightily annoying the doorman with whom i'd had a decently coherent french conversation that morning failed to elicit any response from the floor 6 bell. i went out again in search of an open tabac to buy a phone card (contrary to the placards on the phone booths, i couldn't make my credit card work for calling) and rang the flat - still no answer.
the understanding had been that i'd call when i was done at the pompidou and we'd make further plans for dinner and the ellen allien show - at this point it was only around 9 at the latest, a litle more than three hours since j and i had parted ways; and in any case she said she'd be in all evening, so i'd thought i'd be in the clear. no. i sat on the cold marble stoop for maybe an hour and a half, waiting for someone to return, wishing i'd brought more comfort music with me (the best i could do was c'mon miracle on loop - though that is plenty comforting.)
last time i was in paris, i kept company with nori; this time i had nory instead, but i had to keep alternating hands in pocket and holding the book open. my scarf wasn't enough to fend off the cold in the windy private drive. i stuck my hand deeper in my coat pocket and found the lone sharples mint which i had been saving for nearly a week. this was what i'd been saving it for, a crashing down low. that, and thinking of laud saying "…smile?" were good consolance. thinking how i'd feel when i find that very good friend of mine.
but i couldn't be stubborn and friendless and miserable forever, so eventually i gave up and went to the hotel across the way. i got a room key, went upstairs and soaked my feet in the bidet, then got in bed. i left phone messages, but nobody was calling me up for favors, except thomas who came in not much later, and i just slept until the morning, left the remainder of my euro notes on the bedstand (it ended up being just less than half of the single-room rate but more than fair considering how much use i actually got from it) and did the things i already wrote about.
*[part i: wednesday]
"the way i see it," he said, "if my week off was in some ways just like your typical spring break, even staying on campus - with late mornings, leisure reading, ramblings, catching up with friends, and undemanding cultural excursions (going to the national gallery is the art historian's version of being indulgently touristy) - then france was the equivalent of an overextravagant and somewhat onerous (perhaps debauched) weekend trip with people you only sort of know (that's a spring break mainstay, no? i feel like i find myself in these situations.)
at least that first night, crowded in the luxurious top-floor apartment, belonging, inevitably, to somebody's mother's ex-lover, which means we get to live it up but on some level it's just pretend and we have to be careful not to be too disruptive. it was fine, really, cheese and pastries and alcohol and cigarettes, getting successively more surreal as each group of alumni showed up at the obstinate door. the sort of people i never really expected to see again, but it was sort of nice anyway; we talk much more, than we would have under most other circumstances; some of them are friendly, others at least acknowledge me.
first it's [a] and (flatsitter) [s] home from the louvre and real madrid game; [b] and [v], with whom i had a nice talk about spanish art; unknown [a] and unremembering [t], then shaggy [n/(t)] - my ca, once upon a time, who flashed a surprised smile, and eventually [t], in whose hotel room i would eventually catch my scant five hours of sleep. the sort of people i never really expected to see again, but it was sort of nice anyway. they talk to me more, much more, than we ever would have under circumstances. they're trying to be a good friend of mine.
as the tenor of the evening got further and further away from the casual ease of just me and jolly, reading katzenellenbogen and cooking curry with cowmilk instead of coconut, the air got smokier (windows closed cause of the cold), it got substantially late, i got tireder and less amused.… it had been an intensely long and full day, even with an hour lost: i was up around 8 to meet alex at st. pancras > luton > degaulle > stade-plaine de france. we figured we'd be able to walk somehow from that rer stop to the church (after all, it said "st-denis" under the stadium name on the subway map.) and yeah, it was doable - on a nice day it would have even been a pleasant walk.
anyway. we did the church. jocelyn arrived just minutes after we did; alex's french and gall, along perhaps with my stoddard, proved useful in getting us into the crypt and chevet without the stupid fee. we quenched our hunger at a neighborhood boulangerie - there didn't seem to a menu, so we made do with the tripe they brought out. then an achronic detour to st-chapelle before notre-dame (thanks jolly.) all lovely spaces, to be sure - but, just like the story goes, they pale indescribably when compared with chartres.
oh man, chartres just blew me away. it all came together for me there. just like the books say - i was using stoddard as a sort of tour guide, so that probably helped/didn't help matters. just the sheer intactness of it (over 90% of the original glass is still there!), the unity of space, the lack of modern hoo-hah - aw heck, i just wrote a seminar paper about it (and i've got another one coming up very soon) - you can read that if you really want to know. i just wished i had michael with me so i could really see his enthusiasm in context. instead, i wrote him a postcard right after.
getting there (this was the next day) happened later than planned, (it also involved me walking around instead of waiting in the apartment for a half-hour, for some unclear reason that wasn't very friendly-feeling) so i didn't get to catch the musée picasso back in paris."
i felt unfettered and alive…