"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Paris Recap: From a Writer's Notebook

 I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately. Some of it is required for my May Term: typing up my Paris journals, trying to fit my experiences into concise paragraphs. Some of it is personal: A letter-writing project my friend and I are embarking in our year apart (she's studying abroad next semester, I'm studying abroad in the spring). Either way, there are times I wish I could bottle memories rather than sifting them through my brain and onto the page. Understanding events in your life takes perspective, which often requires distance and time. The problem is, the longer I wait, the fuzzier the memories become. Over the past few days I've been re-reading everything I wrote in Paris: journal entires, notes, lists, and observations. I'll be sharing my thoughts on other aspects of Paris here in the coming weeks (I promise), but for now I want to share with you some of the things I wrote while I was abroad.

My Favorite Things About Paris: (an ongoing list that I added to throughout the trip)
- Little French children in a adorable outfits
- Accordion players on the Metro
- Old man on a scooter in a maroon colored pinstripe suit and rainbow socks
- Colorful doors that lead to secret places
- Gigantic roses (seriously, though)

On Shakespeare and Company:
I am sitting in the reading room of Shakespeare and Company. The window is open and jazz music wafts in from below. The floor is a mess of hexagonal tiles and the room itself, not to mention the whole building, feels a little like it could topple at any moment. A white cat doses on one of the only unoccupied chairs. In the hallways just outside of the reading room there is a cubby hole where people can leave notes. This place feels timeless, or rather like it makes time stand still. You walk into the bookstore and you have entered a world where the only thing that matters is the written word, where words are literally holding up the walls. It is a bit dingy, crowded, and cramped, but I would expect nothing less. For being in the center of a major tourist district, it still feels remarkably isolated. As I write this the bells of Notre Dame are ringing...

On Versailles:
My first impression of Versailles, similar to most people, was the gold. Gold detailing is everywhere, and not just in the Hall of Mirrors. The gold on the front of the building is almost blinding, which seems only fitting considering Louis XIV was known as the "Sun King." The next thing I noticed was the lushness of the fabrics. Everything is so ornate, and every single surface is covered. I found it really interesting how none of the rooms were fully private spaces. Even the bedrooms were places where people could gather, with only a railing separating the king's bed from the rest of the room. My favorite part of Versailles, and the part that put the whole rest of the chateau in perspective, was the Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette's hamlet. Both of these spaces felt completely different from the palace. They were quieter and smaller, with less abundance of gold and ornate decoration. They were still beautiful spaces fit for royalty, but I felt like I could breath there. If the chateau in the 18th century was anywhere near as crowded as the modern-day palace crawling with tourists, I know that the Grand Trianon and the hamlet would have been a welcome change from all the suffocating grandeur of Versailles.

On Paris in general:
My favorite places in Paris are the quiet ones: the old roman arena, the churches, the little courtyards I stumble across, the reading room in Shakespeare and Company. Even in a bustling city it is so comforting to know that around every corner is the possibility of seeing a church or a garden that I can slip into. It is as if the whole city is built around these contemplative spaces, and they are inviting you to sit and ponder or read or draw. When I see someone bent over their phone in a Paris garden it breaks my heart. 

A poem I wrote for class. I'll probably end up revising it, but here it is in its original state, as it was scribbled in my notebook:

Ode to an Old Man in Rainbow Socks

Paris is the old man in rainbow socks
that I saw weaving between traffic on a scooter
perfectly at ease in the ever-changing geometry
of the street. His pinstripe suit, the color of wine,
is perfect and unwrinkled.
On the metro I examine the feet of strangers
ankles bare or woolen, bumpy or smooth.
We are in a submarine and the old man
is a maroon fish, his helmet glittering like a single eye.

At 5pm the light slants, as though the city
were a glass of water, tilted and held up to the sun.
Blink, and the light shatters on the stone
floor of the cathedral.
Blink, and the city smells of rain and roses.
The sun warms your neck but you hair is already drenched.
Blink, and the man in the rainbow socks kicks off
from the pavement, a whirl of color at his feet.

Blink, and the city is itself again --
the smell of cigarettes
your bag digging into your shoulder
your hair damp with rain