Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Paris Runaway - Part One

The night was a most wonderful thrill, from the minute I found the journal I had inadvertently left on a counter in the bar Polly Magoo on the Rue de Petit Pont, breathless as I arrived to retrieve it, and then stowed it into my satchel for a while, the fountain pen zipped away, and made for Quai de Tournelle.

A bronze statue in Place de George Cain

Before leaving for Paris, I had bizarre symptoms which I don't want to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say that for a few months I had suffered severe chest pains, for which no explanation could really be found, like a vice around the heart. Tests proved that there was nothing wrong at all, no heart disease or cancer, although I was found to be anaemic. Perhaps the pains also were somehow in my mind, for in summer, the pains began to migrate to the wrists and I imagined blood pouring out, these visions unbidden, almost like hallucinations. Earlier in the year I had hoped that I could get a fatal illness; the picture of my psychological health was not good at all for the first half of the year. I decided to go to Paris in a kind of 'nothing to lose' spontaneous decision. Surely anything would be better than the frequent complaints at home that I was in pain and could end up in hospital. 
    The decision about Paris, was not so much a mediated, intellectual decision, as one that was driven, and I don't know where a 'drive' comes from so I won't speculate about that. I am not an analyst, so I will not begin to try. I can write about it, but cannot explain only set it all out on paper and then reflect, writing in a sense becoming looking-glass, partly in the context of a very protracted process through which I will eventually access psychotherapy, but only after a wait of about a year. Anyway, I could not risk sinking further down, and day, after barely any trips out during this year, I went to Hampstead Heath swimming. And somehow the moment when I dived into the pond there was hope… 
    Sometimes it is best to keep it all quiet. Since talking about Paris, I met with detractors. With critics who seem to think that I placed myself in a vulnerable position and often when provoked, when pushed like this I will say - no - don't pathologise that matter, this is twisting it into something that it's not. PARIS.... The experience felt almost like a pre-written, perfectly composed story unwinding as I followed it around like a trail of clues, one place leading to another, or a thread that led me round the city, the pivotal point of the stay, an encounter with the pure puissant energy, the ripple of muscle, and the somnolent French of a man with arms strong as the wings of an angel, wrapping me in like a precious gift on a hidden bench towards daybreak as we awaited the pouring peach juice of the sun over the river Seine, knowing I would then move on, Northwards towards Pere Lachaise but nevertheless just sucking up each moment like a bee draws pollen from a flower.
    I had a whole route planned, and, whilst willing to skip the night-shimmer of the Café Charbon, on Rue Oberkampft, I felt as compelled to pursue the rest of the way, as you would wish to get to the top of a tree you had set about wanting to climb in order to see the view. And anyway, I am not the kind to cling... So although, by mid-way though that August night, I was already enamoured with the dark looks of my Frenchman, born in Paris, grew up in Guadaloupe, engineer for the SNCF, with a penchant for writing hip-hop inspired by Jacques Brel - a heady combination, it would surely be fair, and even (perhaps) objective to say... n'est-çe-pas? - an actual Parisian ouvrier, a skilled worker, in the context of a sultry climate - I declined (and perhaps this is the real madness!) the invitation to his 'banlieu' (suburb for those who don't speak French) apartment, unwilling to put a train ride between some remote dwelling and the transport I had arranged to travel home... And I do feel a pang of guilt to have left him barely hiding a crestfallen sulk, but I could not have everything. Daylight and cemeteries, canals and Parc de Belleville, or a few brief hours of pleasure I would never forget but at the same time would one day just file away with other flings. There are, to be honest, few of those; I was just trying to sound 'cavalier' for a minute! but I am not sure I am convincing however, being mainly a rather held back individual with barely a chance to get out!
      Paris... I will treasure every minute of the trip and even what seemed like a malnourished solitude that bordered on the mascochistic, but since return I have divulged an edited recount of what I got up to in the form of an earlier version of this fragment of written work, and it is is all rather strange. Not quite the most accurate words to use for the assertive voices of the 'detractors' who have read an earlier account, but I can't quite describe how I feel. Unnerved perhaps. It has been suggested even, that I had some kind of a 'death wish'. Why else would you stroll the deserted banks of the Seine at night? Why would any sane woman put herself to such risk unless she was hovering on the brink of a depression pushing her right to the edge. What madness! What foolhardy risk say the critics but they just don't seem to 'get' that I felt like I had landed in heaven, that remote rain-sluiced stretch of the riverbank where we met not in fact a death-trap but quite the opposite, and had I done different I would have been limited to a far narrower range of options such as checking back into the hotel with the grim floral wallpaper in the hallways, or another little hotel perhaps somewhere on my 'route', Paris far from over booked; if not settling for coffee (several) at the Café Charbon on Rue Oberkampft, the intended destination, over-wired then by the morning on that sweet dark fluid, and what would I find to inspire in such a place? I could write about the gleam of chrome furniture, the handsome waiters adorned in black aprons, the neat shirts, their clean shaven servile countenance. But in Paris I found myself lamenting in my diary that no writers were to be found writing alone in the bars, that I was a solitary example, and why do I persist to do it? Why this self-torture as an onlooker with just the sparse covering of my diary for comfort, everyone in 'a group' except for me, because 'writers', as far as I know, are actually inclined to live first, and not only write about writing on a café table ? I could invent a story, that is true, from imagination, but is not imagination best reserved for long, cold winter days at home? And when you don't have all Paris at your feet and it stays warm all the night and is dark for such little time that you can see it darken and lighten again in what seems like minutes and not hours, time kind of intangible, no clocks required but the morning bells to stifle the flow of experience. Whilst in Paris I wanted as much of it as possible, not the bleak quadrilateral of a hotel room I would accustom to like it was a prison cell after a few hours, the logic of each glass and fold of curtain, light bulb and bedside piece of furniture soon an indelible imprint in my mind's eye, even when I briefly left, not the interior of hushed museum galleries or even the floral flower beds of the gardens, but the outdoors and preferably those remote, rather darkened corners of Paris where you feel it as a match for the liminal fraying edges in the mind's hinterland... off track, off piste where you can be and do as you please as no one is watching least of all yourself. Not that I am often at liberty to wander in Paris and I had not been alone abroad for some twenty years, so my vision of this stillness, this quiet dark cloud of unknowing floating as some ethereal vapour into which I would somehow find myself immersed, the sparkle of sun or moonlight on the wrought iron balconies and pewter roof a distant background beyond somehow cradling it in, was a vague idea based on very infrequent past experience... Or perhaps it has come out of poetry and reading novels set in Paris.

Discussing the trip with a friend of mine, one of the readers, in fact, of this blog, and a man who came on board from the relatively early days of writing it, I mentioned the sheer wall up to the right, the rats skirting the trees, in the intervals I was taking from writing a poem about the night depicting the red stain of light bleeding off the pleasure boat into the shot silk of the river waves... 'And that's when I realised the danger of entrapment,' I said. 'How I left myself without escape from a potential adversary, my only exit via the deep river to the left; but look, no worries and let me reassure you it was all just fine because the man who I chanced to meet that night was sweet as an angel, and protected me all night from all harm, and instead of wasting time on pretentious posing around in some all night-café, writing pretentious poems, superfluous to the requirements of the literary world, I had a wonderful adventure with a Frenchman aged twenty-six to my forty-eight who could not have been more charming. We shared a bottle of Muscat under the ink dark midnight sky. Just so perfect. An unforgettable night.'  
   Silence for a while. And then a message. And suddenly you find that a near flawless memory (of the kind that you cherish the whole of your life, taken out like a favourite piece of treasure or jewellery from a velvet lined box, like a story that you made, or somehow found, like a found ready-made in your path, that you turn to over and over thinking at the times when your life is reduced to typing and editing and drinking tea, yes I have lived, I lived when I had the chance and this was the best that I could find to do in the small glimpses of unfettered time that I had to play around with on my terms) is as if some bad spell is cast, into a site of almost academic debate, like some dialectic is at play that you had not given thought to at all. And you start to field ideas about what is safe and how to navigate the border between danger and reasonable risk. And I began to see it through another kind of lens, as if my innocent vision of an almost prelapsarian kind of Adam-Eve state there had been shattered with some new knowledge. So perhaps the night-time is not my domain?  
   I began to think back to when they put me in hospital. When they said I had gone 'psychotic' and began to think that the mechanisms even of perception perhaps were somehow damaged so even that thought could perhaps be invalid. Potentially no thought was real. And I felt the ground become unstable and this is how I feel about the questions raised about this Paris trip; the terrain, the nature of the debate is being pulled out of my hands as if there are other remits, other rationales and my perspective is flawed and to be somehow pathologised.  The message:
re: you and 'dangerous' personal view is quite strong ... anyone - especially a woman - who puts herself knowingly in harm's way - is very foolish bordering on stupid... unless they have a black belt in something or are accompanied by a trustworthy friend/s ... even then not wise depending on the degree of potential danger... I do think you allow your romanticism or something more psychically acute to potentially influence you a tad more than is wise in such situations... written in good faith and your best interests at heart! 

As a girl I was a tree climber and mountain climber, lost, on more than one occasion, on a wind ravaged mountainside in Wales or the Lake District with nothing but a compass and a damp Ordnance Survey map once I was a Sixth Former, and once back on route I would unroll my sleeping bag in some mountain hut beside a total stranger bedding down, never once taught to inculcate a fear about possible murderers or unpredicted dense fog in which you could lose your way. So I don't have a sense of fear about the night. In all fairness, however, and to concede a little way towards the 'death-wish' idea, I wonder if the absence of sensed risk until the last minute, or the way I settled for a higher risk quotient than I usually would when I walked forth along the apparently deserted bank of the Seine, fearless, even a little thrilled beneath a ragged lace of leaves over head, and the swoop of water to my left like a false floor on a stage that could so easily part to let you fall down, down into the hidden world beneath the deception of as sealed surface that could part as easily as a silk robe, had a kind of caution-thrown-to -a-storm facet, so perhaps they were right.

The diaries of the run up to the Paris trip reveal a borderline depressive state and yet lit up as if with a fairy light of hope here and there...

31st July 2016
I start the day feeling wretched like some sick poison is running through my veins, the same sickness and same nausea I felt last night coming over me in waves. I wonder if this is caused by my new disciplined approach to nutrition, kind of a detox process I don't quite understand, consumption limited to yoghurt, an egg and lentils for supper. Occasionally I permit the luxury of Goldenberries in addition from Waitrose covered in raw chocolate.

1st August
Again I wake up feeling appallingly bad. I don't love aloneness, my own narcissistic company and get sick of myself to the point where I want to destroy it, like I have lived with the same person (me) for so long that it feels like a burden I have to carry round thinking, why won't she go away? Perhaps I should go to Paris. Just somewhere that distracts me from here....

For months I had suffered from a range of unwanted and quite bizarre and unexpected physical and emotional symptoms....  suffice it to say here (this is an edited version of a much longer piece of work) that there came a stage where I did not want to risk sinking any further down. So one day I forced myself to leave my local area after weeks of barely going out but for the shop, bank, school or the doctor's surgery, to go swimming in the mixed point on Hampstead Heath, a leafy area in London, not far from South End Green, (a side of me somehow dragging the rest out) and from that day I found that I stopped crying quite so often, and although I still awoke every day feeling desolate, there were occasional positive thoughts in the diary entries I wrote - the mention of the Goldenberries and the idea to go to Paris, too new glimmers that show I was not seeking a way out of life. 

2nd August - and the street door slammed shut, sudden as a scissor cut through an umbilical chord. and then I was out and looking straight ahead, East, towards the tube station at Holborn.  On the tube-train, all too rapidly passing stop after stop of the central line - St Pauls, Liverpool Street, Bank, Mile End... somehow no time at any point to make a decision to exit and reverse the trajectory, I stared at my reflection thinking no way back for the duration of two whole days, and the tube is sucking me further and further from home and somehow I cannot reverse the direction I decided to take, cannot coerce myself to spring out through the swish of an opening carriage door, and cross over to get the West bound tube back the way I have been, although in theory, this is so easily done and the children are far behind and left there without me, without mother...  and if I keep onwards then soon I will set a tube ride, a car-ride, a whole sea, a mesh of motorways and then the Paris suburbs between me and the beloved offspring... 

A shoal of early morning thoughts swimming through my mind and then the tube pulled into Stratford and I descended and exited the tube station into the greyish dawn light. 

The driver (of the internet booked ride-share) arrived after a flurry of further texting on the lines of - 

Where should I wait?
at the escalator/taxi rank
Are you sure there is only one escalator?
Yes, near the taxi rank.
Sure? I don't want to miss you because I am in the wrong place.
I'll be there.
Where are you?
Seven minutes away. Traffic
- how much longer now?
two minutes. driving up.
I'm wearing a red and white dress, just so you know. You can't miss it.

Waiting, I tracked every Nissan Prius (his car) as it swung into the taxi area, checking for a man who matched the profile-photo on the website. I reflected on the tall intriguing building ahead of me, some kind of work in progress. What is it? The sculpture was almost statuesque, like some contemporary sculpture deposited in the urban grain of morning Stratford, the surroundings dotted with commuters rushing to taxis and trains. Essentially my mind was captivated then by something outside of myself (this surely a purpose of travel of any kind, however brief the intended vacation).

The driver's name was Francis. (The same name, as chance had it, as the first-name of my eldest boy, a young man of almost twenty, left to run the home whilst I was away for those two days, and the fact of the same name seemed to me a most happy kind of coincidence). Francis is French and has African parentage, and beside him in the front seat a French-Carribean girl of about twenty-two with cork screw black curls and doll-like big eyes talking about the items stowed in the back and some delivery they had planned. At the end of the trip she offered us each a bag of crisps which seemed rather a going-home-present kind of gesture after a rather wonderful party. A man sat to my left, an Algerian who ran a restaurant, but I cannot remember anything more about him, and we waited a while for another woman, French, and then the taxi sped across England, the morning landscape a muted greenish grey streak in the window as Véronique and I began sharing every significant detail of our life stories, lost for seven hours as if in the meandering streams of a conversation, as the muddied river of my mind began to clear as if flotsam and detritus was being washed aside, the two of us like detectives or amateur analysts trying to figure out the reasons for what had before been unexplained, and finally as if through clear water, her story woven into the space between us like a fabric with little mirrors on reflecting facets of our lives I could look into the past and understand. Strange parallel between her father's story and mine, how he lost his dream work and finished up in a hospital with dinner served to his cell-like bedroom on plates of food pushed through a tiny square gap in a wall, although when I was in hospital I had meals in a canteen and not served to my room. 

As Paris approached, I took a couple of photos... 

Francis on the right in the driver's seat..

This is the dress I wore for the trip which is red and white and has a bodice fastened on to the skirt section and a ribbon that ties at the back.

The outskirts of Paris...

The Bois de Vincennes

Pont de Bercy, adjacent to the Seine. And the driver dropped me off here, as a favour, the intended alighting point the Biblioteque National, but when he offered to take me right to the Seine, I said, yes, please do. I intend to walk along the Seine to my hotel on the left bank. I then had to leave the comfort of that transitional car- space, for the rainy riverbank, alone, and this is where I had to start to make something of this Paris trip or just sit alone at café tables writing fabricated stories as a substitute for the unbearable emptiness that can be life...

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