Friday, 21 October 2016

Paris Runaway Triptych - Part Three


The Notre Dame bells awoke me at nine, such a complete relief from being disturbed at around 8am every morning, except one day, always a Sunday, by the loud demolition work in London (a local sorting office being gutted near my home only the listed outside to be preserved whist the interior is caved in, requiring hour after hour of loud machine damage day after day)...  I tried to count but wondered if I had missed the first few peels. I lay there perhaps for an hour after that, writing, and reflecting on how this experience of being woken by the sonorous, timeless sound of the bells, must be carried with me, within me, so when the demolition work starts off every morning I shall have the memory of an alternative, and some hope of resilience in the face of the urban nightmare of building destruction.

The night before, I had slept without a single disturbance. No adolescent buzzing at the intercom, keys forgotten, or takeaway food delivery summoned by one of the children or anything else by way of rupture to the quietude. No gangs of friends or child awaking in the night and clattering around the galley kitchen leaving that kind of disorder you view with that ambiguous, 'well, at least they can cook, they just need to learn to clear away now,' kind of feeling as you set about restoring the place to its former state. Anyway, I had not slept so soundly as that for many years. 
    That morning I wrote for about an hour. And once I had written the entry (each one is headed with the time of day unless I did not know what time it was, in which case I had to guess) I dressed, brushed my teeth with the Colgate I had remembered to bring, teeth brushing, the one thing I do with vigilance and frequency, ate nothing and wandered around to the bookstore, creaking up the narrow stairs and playing the piano for a while, a few pieces from an Associated Board Grade Three collection on the top of the piano with a slew of other music... I shuffled through, then hesitantly played a rather nostalgic rendition of a Grade Three piece I remember playing as a child at my father's house, when when the lid had not been locked, that is, with the little well hidden key (mentioning no names in case of reprisal but it was not my father who did this), my frequent arpeggio practice perhaps tiresome, I wasn't sure as the piano-locking was never explained. I turned round then on the stool, and met 'Sandy', presently based in Hungary, her son in China with his father whilst she teaches and travels in Europe.
    'Did you live here?' she asked. 'Yes, I stayed on this bench here, where I am sitting now,' I said. 'It's lovely to  be here again, in a place once my home.'

The map-sketch of the walk to Montparnasse

Outside the bookstore

A few photos then taken on my cell-phone - aware of the fact that I had only forty-eight hours in Paris and no time to loiter - I then set out on the trip that was my main reason for the stay in Paris, filling up a bottle with water at the fountain, and embarking on the route to Rue Cabanis, the destination: St Annes Hopital Psychiatrique... I will explain this in the memoir when finally it is put together, the reason for the trip and what happened in the past, as far as I understand it, that is, and remember, and for now, just a brief summary.
  Until that point and I had consumed nothing, so decided to order three 'tranches' of toast with some salmon fumé near the Musée de Cluny with some parsley sprinkled on and then coffee and croissant at a café called Le Sun Café on Rue de la Sorbonne, glad for this one euro offering. I then made my way, stopping briefly in the Place de la Sorbonne...

covering the length of Boulevard Saint Jacques on foot,  turning left by a railway line and right off this wide street, with a greengrocer where I bought a plum, and next right to St Annes in Montparnasse, the map I had inked out the night before, perfectly comprehensible and I found the place easily entering via a supervised desk. It is 'interdit' say the signs (not permitted) to take pictures in the grounds or vicinity of any of the wards, set out on Allées around the site, each named after a writer. The hospital museum was closed, so I feel I must return again in the autumn, but at least I have few pages of notes already to hand and I feel like I retraced some of that journey that day by ambulance...

At the café beside the bookstore drinking home-made lemonade with my French friend (from the ride-share) she asks me about the book I was writing and I said, 'The book is called Forty-eight Hours in Paris, and I happen to be forty-eight and I am writing a diary entry every hour and trying to recall something that happened for every year of my life as I wander round and memories of the past are triggered...' She leafs through. We talk for around two hours then decide to leave. 'Shall we go?' we say, and then we cross the bridges to Le Marais. Numbers and formula, structuring devices and constraints seem secure and grounding, and I rely on them I think to curtail the anxiety of too much choice, although later I often abandon the criteria which were the starting point.
    She left me to continue alone without confidante then except for my diary, as she disappeared into the Metro station.

I enter a church, the Church of St Gervais, not religious yet taken up with reflections on my Catholic stage, I won't (for purposes of concision) dwell upon here. How strange, anyway, to leave the Church so far behind me and avoid attending mass as if taking the eucharist is the sin instead of not, and yet feel almost nostalgic for the aesthetics and the liturgy and the refuge from the outside world. In the church there is a statue, Notre Dame de Bonne Déliverance, apparently found in a house at 22, Rue de Roi de Sicile, on the night of Pentecost, 1528, the head of the madonna and the infant damaged by a 'fanatic Huguenot', says a booklet on the church history, Francis I arranging a procession to bring her to St Gervais for restoration and display. That day I became almost obsessive about historical details, however random and apparently irrelevant,  a distraction of a kind, and every distraction is a wanted tangent away from myself, and away from the unfinished memoir that lies unfinished still in London, that third of a million words across three volumes, not yet properly ordered or checked... away, crucially from the self I no longer liked, had never liked all that much, and could forget about with a constant flux of new historical facts to somehow wonder at and patch together. It seemed a meaningless kind of activity, like a jigsaw of a kind, but then different as there was no picture on a lid I was following and this was about a collage of the random, and a path back, in a way, through different stages, but then out through all these doors, forward as they swung back behind me leaving me not turning back, but continuing as if on some pre-laid out trail.

Notre Dame de la Bonne Déliverance


After the church, the street is a blast of light again. I don't know where I am heading and have no plans, but dive soon into a vintage clothes store on the corner of Rue de Roi de Siçile, the door open onto rows of stacked felt trilbies, and racks of knee length ball gowns, voluminous taffeta skirts and little bodices, shoes with pointed winkle-picker toes like my mother wore as a girl. In Paris, one of my rituals has become vintage clothes shopping, it does not really matter where, the arrondissement is irrelevant and it is more about change, this habit I think originating in the purchase of a green dress for ten francs, on one of my early trips to Paris form a stall at the Port St Ouen flea market, worn for my poetry reading at Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Another Paris ritual - seeing films and Paris is the place where I first saw Wings of Desire and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Often I reflect on that title. Is it our unbearable lightness, and the flightiness of our minds that creates such intense desire to pin it down?
    At the vintage shop, I purchase three tops from the '3 euros' an item box. My entire summer wardrobe has cost me quite little this year, partly thanks to these finds, (the only other two purchases from Urban Outfitters in London, one of those items a black vest top which laces down the front), last  worn on a visit to a friend's house with black shorts and hold-up stockings with bows on the front, having become tired of the many weeks at home, writing, hour after hour and almost without reprieve of any kind, generating a third of a million words, but still to be edited, the afternoon chez lui (under the pretext I would help with the spring cleaning) all entirely perfect, I felt, in contrast to the months as recluse, except that the next week we were, once again, estranged, another derailment (so it seemed) of carriage from track, which somehow, at the time, shattered everything, flagging up bringing me down for a while as if from a height suddenly to ground level. Perhaps these early derailments will serve to make a later reunion all the more poignant, or maybe I just needed time alone, as if something lay still incomplete. As if I had some mechanism in me still had to repair perhaps, and had to work out how to fix it, before it was going to work out... always some theory that it will work, that it can work if somehow I change myself. My mistakes and never his. My apology. My attitude doubt a barely disguised grovelling whenever I feel I need comfort. Though I have resisted for months at a stretch. I have tried.
   Anyway, in the shop I am at least distracted by the racks of clothes and this idea of re-invention and I feel like I did at nineteen or twenty back in York Vintage with the rows of dresses and the boxes of old jewellery, items to rifle through whilst you compose another self, like a piece of music which has not a note on the stage and you are starting from a tabula rasa. And I think those early trips to clothes stores set a precedent in a sense. I like the yellow silk blouse. Hadn't Baudelaire worn a daffodil? And daffodils are yellow, so does not the blouse then tenuously connect me to Baudelaire? Does it matter? If, on our heads we are Baudelaire reincarnated, who is to steal that 'madness'? It is benign and harms no one but perhaps ourselves... And, there are times where almost any tangent is on the good scale and not the negative, that leads you beyond the walls of a myopic, self-hating state, so in Paris I just followed any random idea of non-sequitur because I have two days to do as I please. The red dress, had to be left, as it didn't fit.

I continue, passing number 22, where the madonna statue had been find, to give some rough sense of direction before venturing further into the unknown streets north east of the Beaubourg, vaguely planning some future novel and scouting for locations where it would one day be filmed, and addresses where the characters would live. The memoir in fact is starting to feel like it is finished, and like I was stepping out of it like a dress that was falling about me to the floor... Perhaps when I pick it up again it will feel different, and I will remake it in a slightly different way, like an outfit could be reassembled in a different way, but still has the same essential components.

A window in Rue de Roi de Sicile

A side street in Le Marais

A bronze statue in Place George-Cain

At Café Le Sevigne - nothing I really want to eat, not even the Filets de Hareng or the Parmentier de Canard.  I considered the expensive Salade de Mer, with crevetttes, petrouches (scallops), grapefruit, pineapple and papaya.. Anyway, I feel I must wait until I have sold at least one novel or play for such extravagance... And of my hates is eating alone. I'll order another coffee; my main sustenance of the day being sugared coffee. Trying now to get on the internet thinking, perhaps I should message a friend? How much more solitary life as 'flaneur' before I start to feel a little tired of always being the one alone... I cannot not get an internet connection... 

Fated to being on my own, taking off then towards the Beaubourg but shooting past it to Boulevard Sebastopol, I am lost then and start to drift around unsure of how to get back to the bookstore-hotel-'jardin' opposite the hotel that is the base that is home for those days. Back at Isle de la Cité after the trip around le Marais, I rush over the bridges as I wanted to go to the cinema. I start to feel obsessed then with getting there on time to see La Tortue Rouge, which I had noticed advertised, and which I thought meant Red Torture...  for a kind of of veiling of my unrelenting and all too visible solitude for a kind of veiling of my unrelenting and all too visible solitude and sorrow in the velvet lined interior and escape for a while, the dusty velour and the timeless interior, the blending and fading into a background where no one can see me at all... Unable to find the cinema, I double-back to Polly Magoo. I bought a glass of wine, attempting to overcome my paranoia about being so visibly alone when no one else was. No lone writers anywhere that I had seen.

On Pont de Marie, I pause on the edge of a kerbstone, alongside a few others, a slight and conspicuous gap that perhaps will be filled up to join me to the rest of the crowd, to listen to a string quartet (playing I love Paris in the Spring...) thinking, how cute in that Paris kitsch way you can tire of within a day - I need some adventure to happen, I want to wander in the oceanic cloud of the night, forget everything and just somehow escape, even if only for a night... 
    On my way then to Ile Saint Louis.
    One of my favourite places so far in the world; I would go there, to the place where we had drunk wine, George Moore, the poet, and philosopher professor from New York, singing with his guitar and a bottle of dark red wine passed round like our own version of dogma-free communion. My mind was spiralling away, and I decided to take some notes, but then I looked down to my side thinking that the diary was there, and found that it had gone! I must have abandoned the journal somewhere earlier on, at a guess already twenty thousand words scribbled roughly down. a summary of thoughts and events and conversations that had unfolded since the trip to Hampstead Heath and I felt so lost without it, because it seemed like it was all I had, the only minor achievement to my name, although probably it counted for nothing to the random person who perhaps had picked it up and had no value to anyone but me. It was, in fact, a muddled piece of work in terms of lay out and legibility, but to me it seemed a kind of life-line, a traversing from one state of mind to another. I had started it the day I went swimming on the Heath a week before, that scissor blade slash through the silk-surface of the waves, the decisive moment when I stopped crying about how depressed I had become since being unwell with anaemia, but not only that. Anxious and unhappy without the book, my state of mind suddenly on the edge of bewildered, I retraced my steps, calling in at little stores where I had briefly been to buy bread, camembert and fruit, thinking back to the last stage I had written, surely at Polly Magoo?... 
    I turn then onto Rue de Petit Pont, entered, ascending  swiftly upstairs. The diary! Oh my God, what a relief! On the counter upstairs where I had left it when I went to the bathroom. I had felt divest of a child, devastated, like a part of me had gone, but at the same time, I did not feel that surprised that it was there. She'll return, they must have thought. I gathered up the diary and the loose sheets and bookmarks and postcards within, and left the bar as it was by then growing late and I had lots of ground that I wanted to cover on my walks around Paris and a bar in mind where I wanted to write.


On leaving the bar, the twilight sky darkening from the colour of blue to blue-black Quink ink, the like the ink in my mother's ink bottles when I was a girl - I wandered the Quai de la Tournelle,  swimmers stripping down to boxers and diving into the Seine, getting out and shaking off droplets of sparkly water like puppies, and dancing and madly cavorting on the river bank, two male swimmers like capsules of exploding delight as they French kissed and danced on he bank, guitars playing into the sultry night, warm then as a velvet cloak, the warmth as if seeping in and melting down all hostility and angst as I wandered on to Ile St Louis.  
    I had intended to walk northwards to Rue de Oberkampf, and spend the night in Café Charbon (open until five), whiling away the hours on writing and drinking coffee, then swapping to a bakery that opened at 5am and served coffee and croissants, seeing daybreak, and in this way also saving on a night's hotel fee, just checking in if I really had to, as the hotels seemed far from full. It did not seem a crazy plan, but just a common sense way to save some money. The night before I had slept for ages, after all, at least nine hours, I would not need sleep as necessity until the car-ride home, and by now I know (far more than before) how to conduct wakefulness and sleep to my advantage. Moreover, I had not wanted to deplete reserves at home in London, and felt my sojourn was self-indulgent enough without the luxury of two nights in a hotel. Somehow I would get by in all night bar, with the diary as a kind of retreat/defence and accessory to my writer persona which served me well at times as an identity. Is the critical at least surprised gaze that we sense at times coursing over us, as we wish that the night time belonged to women as it seems to belong to men, imaginary? Is it our own paranoia perhaps? Or are we judged as defenceless and therefore unsuited to night-time wanderings and bars? 
     I did not make it to the café. 
     I spent most of the night with a French man, Michel on Isle St Louis. His opening words, 'Be careful you don't vomit,' when he saw me look with horror as a rat scuttled right by my foot there on the rain-sluiced riverbank footpath that led along the south side towards the Western tip. Why should it matter? I wondered, as it will be washed away in the rain... I felt a little disconcerted then on seeing the man in front of my path the dark, darkness of the night river to my left and a wall to my right.  Had I not realised by now to think ahead? The River Seine lay to my left, my only escape. Ahead of me, a random stranger, clearly twice as strong as me, in my path... 
    Fortuitously, I liked the man, and once our eyes met and he spoke I could see at once that the man was benign and not a threat in any way.  I was out with my cousin, he said, in French. Do you want some wine? And we shared the remains of a bottle of sweet pink Muscat on a stone bench. I felt quite drawn to the fact he worked for the French railway, that he rose early and went to the gym and he was young and had proper French kind of work and was not just a student drifter of the kind I had met before who somehow just 'drift' and remain nostalgic for other pasts, wishing they could replicate how it once was, or fixating on the lives of dead writers, constantly discussing the past as if there are not writers presently in Paris, as if they cannot be those writers because they just don't have those kind of lives... 
     'So you go to the gym as well?' I asked. 'Yes,' he said. 'You want to see?' and he pulled off his t-shirt and it fell to the ground onto last years' threadbare leaves showing the kind of body that only regular weights and protein shakes and press-ups can create, not that I have a body-type that is my preference. I am open-minded and feel that this is fair, as no man should be under pressure to have the body type that today's fashion houses tried to make fashionable, no man or woman should feel enslaved to a stereotype. At the same time I liked that sense of his pure visceral strength... We established then our age. He said thirty-six and I said forty-two. He then admitted twenty-six and so I came out as my age, and the gap then widened but this did not matter. I liked the chance to practise French, discussing Jacques Brel and Françoise Hardy, as we wandered, off the island for a while, then back to my hotel as I wanted to retrieve a jacket, but finding the hotel was completely locked up. Perhaps there were no other residents and the owners had gone home or gone to sleep, although they had said I could ring anytime. 
    The fact of the locked, inaccessible hotel, placed me a little further into the company of Michel, but I considered him a protective kind of angel in fact, and expected he would walk me over to the Café Charbon. Anyway, we whiled the hours away talking in Polly Magoo, and then back over on Ile Saint Louis, the mute waves of grey and black and the moon like a yacht sail up above, the silence between the songs that rippled across the Seine from the other bank until four o'clock in the morning, the night like a passage into a liminal borderland state, edges between items and place, between the ground level, or the treetops or the river and the sky somehow dissolved, blurred into a bluish shimmer under the starlight falling through laces of leaves. 
    What is it about the night-time outdoors?  Finally freed from that anguish of our sense of separation, self somehow disguised in the all forgiving night finding us, somehow in the darker, more remote places, merged into it, aloneness masked beneath the rustle of foliage and bird-life in the moonlight, we see/perceive with all senses, eyes resting as sound and smell is stirred into hyperactivity, the world suddenly, in the dimmed light becoming multi-sensory in a way that daylight denies through illuminating visual side of experience which somehow becomes dominant then, unlike at night when we feel, in the dark, intuitive and as if the link between item and perception has shifted and become blurred. To have that sense of the ground wavering and to leave grip of the quotidian I think is a way to cast off the self, to break it apart. And I wonder if I wanted to reverse the terrors of that night in the hospital by somehow bidding for freedom when I had the chance, for I only had two days it could hardly be put on hold.
    Michel appeared attracted to me and was attractive to me, so then we were, at the time like magnetic surfaces, his arms like strong wings on the stone bench, as the sun rose casting petals of confetti light into the waves, but I rebuffed this young man's invitations to go to his apartment as why set up some attachment with a man I was unlikely to see ever again? Although at that point I had begin considering what it would be like if we were married, as my mind does tend to race ahead like that and I have to try to keep it in check. Anyway, when eventually I saw the sun rise and the sky faint to pale grey and then blue, this was actually like a kind of cold bath in terms of ending the secluded magic of the night before and I said I would have to continue on. No time to get to the Café Charbon and no regrets about that, as did I really want to sit awkwardly in a corner seat, pretending my jacket was an invisibility cloak and no one could really see me, the glass of wine into which I stared alone, like a pond reflecting Narcisse gazing into dark waves. And I had not seen any other lone writers in cafés.
   Sometimes I wonder what I would have done if the person ahead of me had not been Michel but a murderer who had attacked me and pushed me in the Seine. Or he could have come for me and caused me to leap into the river as my one escape. I failed to factor in any fear or measure any risk on the run up to the riverbank only hit with it once I was almost at the stone bench where we used to gather in the past, propelled, I think, by nostalgia and a wish to relive the past. to somehow reclaim what I had seemed lost for so long. 

After parting from J.M at first light, I walked up to Parc Belleville and back to the hotel via Pere Lachaise and Bastille. The diary charts the walks (between sunrise at 6:30 and around 11am, but I don't have photos of that time because the cell-phone had crashed, just the notes, and the sketches of houses and apartments and bars frequented by a cast of characters somehow appearing like friends to me, as if perhaps I knew them, or was on of them, and perhaps fiction fills in the gaps and we learn to invent to somehow make sense of solitude.  After Pere Llachaise - barely time to reflect on that vast Momento Mori, as a passerby called it, a man fresh back he said from Constantinople as he perched on the edge of a grave to read poetry (there is always someone like this I think in Pere Lachaise), I returned to the hotel, and I collected my things, and bade farewell to the owner of the hotel, and when I descended the metro this really was when that Paris bubble had to burst and I left that dream for reality. At Porte de Neuilly I met another driver, Jean Paul, climbed into his BMW and set out for home. 
     London bound and those two days as a Paris Runaway were over.

Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.
Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici:
Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,
Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

Pendant que des mortels la multitude vile,
Sous le fouet du Plaisir, ce bourreau sans merci,
Va cueillir des remords dans la fête servile,
Ma Douleur, donne-moi la main; viens par ici,

Loin d'eux. Vois se pencher les défuntes Années,
Sur les balcons du ciel, en robes surannées;
Surgir du fond des eaux le Regret souriant;

Le soleil moribond s'endormir sous une arche,
Et, comme un long linceul traînant à l'Orient,
Entends, ma chère, entends la douce Nuit qui marche.

— Charles Baudelaire


The Scandal of the Flaneuse
How scandalous, if at all, is it to be a night-wanderer by night? And should we need to carry diaries in order to feel less like we look as if we could be a prostitute, when a man can just wander with a cigarette or wine bottle because the night somehow is theres, it is assumer that it belongs to them and no suspicions are aroused if they are out alone. Should we make it safer by being confidently 'out'? Or remain safe at home and in our hotel rooms? What if the story we are writing requires that we cover that distance, that location at that time, even if we don't quite know why?
    My limit would perhaps be a war-zone. I would not walk into war-zone late at night by myself because this would carry a risk factor slightly too much tipped towards danger. Does the fact that one of my children is almost twenty and two are adults change my attitude? Possibly. When they were little they were in my arms and I was within their vicinity as if some invisible glue held us together. They are growing up and I cannot sacrifice my every freedom without the sense of self-imprisonment, which can lead to depression (in my case) and which would definitely jeopardise my abilities to run my life as a mother.
    Not that I wish to cultivate an addiction to borderline 'danger'. To do so could be rather like treating lat night-time wandering as a drug - the drug of the unknown - the adrenalin perhaps of stranger-danger - of areas that permit little to no escape. I don't intend to go on that route again, the walkways adjacent to the riverbank and with high wall to the other side could lead to entrapment and it is just something to bear in mind. Yes, it should be safe, yes, we want freedom to roam, but I just feel that some areas are more hazardous than others. The Isle St Louis 'adventure' was (I think) about nostalgia and a reversal in a sense for events of the past (that I don't want to get into here...) It was a 'one-off' but I would not want to be without that night, and sometimes we cannot resist that sense of compulsion that seems to decide for us, as if a story is pre-written and you just have to find it, live it out, and write it all down.

Fear is a great oppressor. Although to some it would seem that fear keeps us safe. We have to decide I suppose on how much of it was want... what dose of it will give us the protection but the liberty we require?

The envy behind the objection
Overnight I started thinking, why? Why do they mind me being free? Is it envy?
Yes, I think it perhaps is. So let them be envious about my fearlessness and I shall go forth!

It happens to almost every writer that some particular story seems outer-willed and effortless - 
it is as though one were a secretary translating the words of a voice from a cloud.
Truman Capote - 
Other Voices - Other Rooms

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Paris Runaway - Part Two - III, IV , V And VI (edited extract from an unfinished work)

The wallpaper in the narrow halls, an oppressive black and pink floral design 
did not endear me too much to the tangible surroundings, but relief of a kind was granted from the mad florals by the framed engravings of Esmerelda


Pont Tolbiac, adjacent to the Seine - my alighting point that day. The driver had intended to drop me at the Biblioteque National, but when he offered to take me to the Seine, I said, yes, please do. 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. I alighted then at Pont Tolbiac, crossing a quiet quayside road, and descending to the rain-wet bank that edges the Seine, the passing flow of settings shifting. altering before my eyes, like the variegated patterns in a child’s kaleidoscope, there for a split second then gone with each move changing what you see. I felt at once dazzled and entranced by the unfolding scenario, and, as far as I remember, it really was that quick, the trajectory out of depression, and somehow I forgot the recent past as though that first glance of Paris was a shot of drugs.
   And I went then down to the quai, the Quai François Mauriac, delighted at once to sense the rough cobbles beneath my soles and hear the water plashing against the péniches, and I wandered down the river bank taking pictures here and there distracted by what lay around, no reason at the start for the photos, but no reason is required to make art, or image or a phrase or poem, at least you don't need to know it at the start. It is playing at it, bricolage, invention, experiment and later you will often find the reason if there is one at all. I hate that feeling of being walled in by the words I have written - a third of a million over a few volumes of a memoir I began in 2012, and have yet to finish, a fact which creates a sense of failure I have to lay aside everyday if I am not just to abandon the endeavour - walled in, as if sliding between high, towering waves, so I look for ways to make the process less arduous, more fluent and sensory. The pictures float like little rafts. Or like gaps in tiles pulled off to change the pattern, something beneath the surface like a raw wound beneath plaster, even though I only take point and shoot photos with a cell-phone of what is before my eyes. And I stopped at a deserted table here and there at the closed up bars, quiet in the afternoon, as if abandoned, but a bartender or girl here and there were busy, prepping tills, or with the polishing of chrome surfaces and arranging of chairs. I had an expresso coffee and started to write.As I alight at Pont de Tolbiac, descending to the rain-wet Quai Françcois Mauriac edging the Seine, my note-taking swaps immediately into the present tense - I think because I am immersed so much in 'the present' (the passing locations altering before my eyes every singular moment, like the different patterns in a kaleidoscope perhaps, there for a second then gone, each move or shake altering what you see).  Keeping up with the unfolding scenario is a new kind of challenge from the second that I touch down on the Paris riverbank. 


I take a photograph, no reason at the start for the pictures - but no reason is required to make art, or image or a phrase or poem, at least you don't need to know it at the start. It is playing at it, bricolage, invention, experiment and later you will often find the reason if there is one at all. I hate that feeling of being walled in by the words I have written - a third of a million over a few volumes of a memoir I began in 2012, and have yet to finish, a fact which creates a sense of failure I have to lay aside everyday if I am not just to abandon the endeavour - walled in, as if sliding between high, towering waves, so I look for ways to make the process less arduous, more fluent and sensory. The pictures float like little rafts. Or like gaps in tiles pulled off to change the pattern, something beneath the surface like a raw wound beneath plaster, even though I only take point and shoot photos with a cell-phone of what is before my eyes.

Paris, like an old friend or putting on a familiar, loved garment you realise how much you have missed. That feeling you know her ways, quirks and temperaments. And I barely even feel like I need actual friends as I walk along the riverbank through the strewn about chairs and tables of various bars with signs up for cocktails such as Seabreeze and Pornstar, like a lone figure in a deserted film set. Later a cluster of boys spray-paininting tags beneath a concrete arch. 
   Further on, three men looking rather like they could have strolled off the set of Godard's Le Weekend unload instruments from the back of a van, flared trousers, hairstyles a tumble of red and turquoise green waves, jackets appliquéd with Peruvian designs made of felt and embroidery silks, this peacock like attired contrasted with Doctor Martens. They are all in the same boots, but with different coloured laces, a whole pastiche of fashions from the decades of my childhood, long before they would have been born, and perhaps, as a guess, only, a random thought, they are making for the symbols of expression and rebellion and collating all this together in a kind of random assemblage, tired perhaps of the constriction of brand labelled off the peg clothes and even attitudes that seemed to prevail in their childhoods. I wander on, each cobble felt through thin shoe soles, and the sound of rippling water and occasional patter of rain, a gauze of it but I don't mind... I am glad to be out of the wrapping that is home, but after as while I want to leave the riverbank, unsure, however, how to get up to the road. 
   Then, after passing the old clock of Gare du Lyon to the right, adjacent to a row of vast metallic buildings, which says four o'clock, I notice a narrow flight of around fifty stone steps up a slope ragged with grass, weeds and wild flowers like campion and poppies, and a gate at the top that looks locked. I decide to mount the steps, that I must get to some café, or source of nutrition, and at the top I have to climb over a padlocked gate (unsure how else to reach the roadway from that area of the riverbank), traversing a roundabout then to the Jardin des Plantes, my route (spontaneous and unplanned) crossing the garden to Juisseau. In the garden I remember my children as infants on the merry-go-round riding on the painted dodo and dinosaur... (I cannot entirely forget them and so often some random event or association recalls them to mind) and I remember that trip where the roads around that park were full of 'monsters' as their father called the cars, as if to inculcate required caution through a children's book kind of metaphor, whilst I held them firmly by the hand, envisaging the cars then with sharp teeth and mutant monster-metallic bodies, never again seeing traffic in quite the same way in fact, since those days, Paris (in that phase with little ones), almost a nightmare of dangers to navigate!


6:30 pm
Once in the student district West of the garden I find a café on Rue Jussieu and settle in behind a formica topped table to eat crepe with purée de marrons (chestnuts) and chantilly. 

A football match playing on a large screen but no one is watching it, no other customers as I spoon the chestnut flavoured cream into my mouth, Bob Marley playing on a radio as I eat my way through it, suddenly able to eat and regard it not only as some laborious inconvenience I have to do to stay alive for the sake of the children who are relying on me being there, the support structure of the home. I finish it and start writing the diary.
Opposite are university buildings, had we not been to a student canteen in the past? Sara S. Long Pre-Raphaelite hair. The two of us seeking out cheap meals in the university canteens, trays shunted along the serving aisle, students sprawled across the utilitarian furniture, then back at the bookstore retreating to our own corners again to read. I had been happy there, until (in June, 1988) it all came prematurely to an end... so I have come here, to Paris, to try figure out what happened. Why the hospital? Why did they take me away? And the past is seeping back to me out of the surroundings, comprehensible in situ whereas trying to work it out in a room with just paper and pen would have been impossible and anyway, the solitary writing had made me extremely ill in the sense of isolated and anxious about going out and fraught with chest pains perhaps from being at a desk typing day after day. And the 'just write' advice I have fielded a few times, as if I won't get to where I want to be unless I am chained to my desk and pen day after day, I'm now starting to think is the worst advice ever as sometimes the answers are not in your own living room or bedroom and they have to be tracked down and found... it takes travel, and random encounters and probably hours of solitude and perhaps you write very little but you find out the answers to the questions or at least the questions you really should ask...

Don't let them change you, or even rearrange you...

At seven thirty I reach the little 'jardin' near the Seine and the hotel, and it feels like home, the same circular flower bed in the centre ringed by four archways adorned with red roses, and in the centre a bronze sculpture of interlocking figurines and deer. And I wonder about the artists. Rodin perhaps... I feel tired after the few miles of walking, then check into the hotel Esmerelda, arranging my sparse belongings... I like the feeling of my own place to set things out. I lock the door. Then I exit and swing round the corner to the bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and within minutes I am climbing again that same narrow staircase as so many times before beneath the same familiar quotation as before, to the library -
Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.

The desk on in the front room of the library seems (to me) like it had long awaited my return, and I went to it as if to greet an old friend and set out my books and fountain pen in the space, the typewriter, still there, on which many many summers before, I had typed up a brief autobiography, leaving the seven typed pages behind, when suddenly I was taken to a hospital, a piece of writing I later found published in a small volume entitled Tumbleweed Hotel Volume One.
The editor, George Whitman, had added a brief note -  On her last night in the bookstore Maria had a noisy argument... that woke up the neighbours. The next morning she had disappeared. A year later when she was working in Waterstone's bookstore in York, England I received the following letter... (and then there is a brief letter that I sent).

Back in the hotel bedroom, a few items unpacked from my small amount of luggage, a black woven basket on a long leather strap, and a shoulder bag - a black patent leather satchel style which survived about four years wear and tear so far - swapping a skirt to dress, the one option I had with me by way of getting changed into something else, I sprawl then across the double bed, writing, each diary entry, headed with the time (approximately), the ringing bells my main guide as to the time. 
     Almost midnight, I add hold-up stockings and a cardigan to my attire as it is turning a little cold. I look out of my window.  Huge filthy rats scuttling on the pavement's sheen and rustling through the railings of the garden before the Hotel Esmerelda. I shiver at the random suddenness of their motion, unpredictable as I step into the street, the long straggle of their tails trailing behind.  I lock up my room and head out into a warm night, no rain, the intermittent rain of the day has ceased for a while, but the rats are all over, three or four in sight as I swing left towards the river, striding assertively through, whilst inwardly shuddering thinking do not entertain fears and doubt then to cower only in your room, just deal with it ! as one perks up on its haunches with a leer. I pass, next, beyond the bookstore, the very young looking booksellers battening windows and doors behind locked shutters then sitting beside the drinking font for a while, but no sign of any red wine or guitars as I remembered form the past. I can't help but reflect then on how young I must have seemed in the past and how worried they may have been by my insomnias, and apparent instability. And maybe the bottle of sleeping pills I carried round was seen as some kind of red flag. I don't know. I just wish they had explained first, said what was happening and why... I will perhaps write about this in my novel. No time to say anything else here.
   Rue de Petit Pont,  and I want to sit again in the Polly Magoo, the same striped awning and name emblazoned on the front, in my mind back there, black, sugared coffee set before me, and across the table a young Irishman, Finbar, a young man, with a floppy fair fringe, attired one of those timeless cotton shirts, off white after years of wear, and, quite possibly, several owners, that you want to touch, the two of us invited to read at a young person's poetry event. I had written seven poems handed to George one night, the night we had gone to dinner on his motorbike, and I think he had read over in his room, before saying we must hold the event. And because of what happened at university when I was about to read from my poetry collection one night, and I had rehearsed and was all prepped, but then they took me back to the hospital in Norwich, somehow it seemed significant, just a poetry reading, not exactly a book launch, but I had gone from that hospital ward to the bookstore and an audience and to me it really mattered... Finbar I can visualise still in my head. I want to go in, but that night, twenty-eight and a half years later, and the bar is packed out and everyone in groups, spilling right out on the pavement around tables around which they gather, leaning in, an overlap of laughter and bodies, and a loud football match playing on a huge screen, and it is all the more striking as I have not seen friends for weeks, except for some newcomer who had messaged me via the internet and wanted to meet me at The Garden Gate in Hampstead. We met a few times, though as can be the case, the exciting 'fantasy world' we had engaged in on-line did not seem reflected in the half ciders set out on a semi-hidden heavy table, and we spent the whole time discussing what we could do whilst just talking and drinking and very little else. 
    Other friends somehow had disappeared or I had all but forgotten them, whilst unwell in the winter, so maybe this is why I felt the presence of all this happy banter more acutely, and wandered on, trying not to look like I was even considering drawing out a solitary chair, attempting to look like I had some purpose and was going 'somewhere' although I had not purpose except to cover the area I had roamed in the past because I could not think of any other purpose in the middle of the night except to sleep which seemed like opting out of Paris entirely. What was the point of being there if I was cloistered in a room?
   Anyway, unwilling to enter that fray, I crossed Rue de Petit Pont, passing the numerous kebab stalls on Rue de la Huchette, where some of the impoverished 'Tumbleweeds' had eaten in the past, slices of meet shaved and felled off the huge skewers, and the men with the air that they could do this without thinking after so many years, and then covered the familiar Rue St André des Arts, gazing for a while into the same little jewellery shop with the window I always saw as such a treasure chest, but then feeling struck by a sense of panic as if I could see my isolated figure from the outside, and I wished to get back inside, instead of lingering in a purposeless way. So I made the way back, buying three Lebanese honeyed, flaky cakes, flakes of it spilling on the bed sheets back at the hotel room. I wanted to get to sleep to shut out the rats and the solitude which sometimes seems to wear heavy. I know - the theory is we should love the hours that we have alone to devote to art or writing or whatever and up to a point, the stillness and the time to think, and I know that those with rushed, busy lives in offices or institutions envy us, thinking that writing and art is some excuse perhaps for a life of halcyon barely structured days, of the choice to wander at will, and take up, dilettante like with some new obsession or other that we miraculously 'make into art'. I have heard - I envy your solitude. Or I wish I had the time to write poems, but at times I wonder why I find that live like this, no one to go around with or why I am such a masochist that I to choose to parade this isolation, seeing it inversely reflected by the prevalence of couples and clusters of friends, instead of retreating at home... Too much solitude and it wears heavy, and awkward and we are aware of it all the time like we have a visible disease, but too little and there is no time to think let alone to write...
    As for the hotel, well I did not see another soul in the place the entire time I was there, except for the two Frenchmen, interchangeable guardians of the front desk and the panel of room keys, although I stayed for only one night, my second day and night finding me much more as if a distant satellite, heading into other galaxies with the hotel just as a base and the option of a kind of refuge, that is, the foyer and the washroom on the landing. The idea - to save money by reserving for only one night, and, as good fortune had it, I was able to store belongings at the concierge, and access them at will thanks to the concierge who seemed to have little else to do but open and close the door to the little storeroom behind his desk, happily discussing the history of the hotel, and fielding my questions as I rummaged through my things for a map, or hairbrush or mascara, fountain pen cartridge or other item before stowing the bag away... So why is the hotel named after Esmerelda in the Victor Hugo novel? Have you read The Hunchback of Notre Dame? How old is the hotel? 

The wallpaper in the narrow halls, was an oppressive black and pink floral design that did not endear me too much to the tangible surroundings, but relief of a kind was granted from the mad florals by the framed engravings of Esmerelda, creation of Victor Hugo, shaking a tambourine and for some reason, in the picture, dancing with a goat. I have not read it so I don't know about this scene and I like the timelessness of the rough hewn stone of the walls of the entrance foyer and the way it looks onto the small garden between the hotel and the River Seine. And its proximity with the Elise St Julien de Pauvre. That night I lay there awake for a while. Finally I had made it; freed at last from domestic tasks, that four or five hour ritual a day of sweeping and washing dishes, shopping and cooking, supervising homework, giving medicine to the sick child, signing forms and making birthday cakes and turning music down after ten pm because of the acoustically sensitive neighbour. Away from the noise, chaos, banter, stress and commotion of home.
    Twenty years since the last trip out of the England alone, I wrote, summer of 1996 and it seems so unbelievably strange and somehow just so kind of wrong at the same time to be so far away. I feel like a 'runaway' like I did as a girl, running off for two hours or so, then going home, somehow irretrievably changed by the gloom of the twilight hours alone in some remote backwater of the villages, the bank of the river Ouse or interior of an empty church, perhaps just in need of some quiet looking-glass away from home and that secret reflection, those hidden hours carried home and around with me then like some precious knowledge of my own. Impulsive, self-thwarted attempts to leave home, nothing more than a pound note in my pocket.
     1996 - the last time I went been to Paris on my own, Francis Angelo in the 'green room' awaiting his debut on the stage we call life, that is,  'in utero'; much of that five day stay whiled away lying on a bed resting and gazing at the duck egg blue sky in the window and the clouds that reminding me of a Maurice Utrillo painting and listening to the thrumming, plummeting of rain drops of shiny black vehicles, whilst stressing about whether I would actually get the baby out of me alive or would I fail also at that?  There I lay, alone through the nights, checking heartbeats and wondering if I would be able to lactate. Would I have any inkling at all what to do?  Occasionally I ventured out, (always alone), wandering the Bois de Vincennes and around the streets of Montmartre, in the vicinity of my (inexpensive and very basic) hundred-francs-a-night hotel, already then sequestered from my previous Paris life of red wine and early hours music by the Seine. Slowed down and much altered by the condition of awaited motherhood, a kind of impasse at the time, and many years went by until I returned to Ile Saint Louis where in the past we had gathered to sing and drink until the early hours.  
   Francis Angelo was duly born - and twenty years later, I left him, now a young man, to take care of his younger two brothers, sister and the cat (the youngest at Grandma's in York), strict instructions to turn the music down at 11pm.  But will he have turned the music down? Will the neighbour have been disturbed and come down to berate them? 
   I began to wonder, a common fear when away from home for longer than a few hours, if the house was burning down, but at the same time I knew that if so then there was nothing I could do about it, and this fear was bordering irrational, and to let it take over my thoughts would be pointless. I have return to the hospital grounds tomorrow, I wrote, and I must get back to Ile Saint Louis where I have not walked for so long even if it is late by the time I reach that much loved location, even if by then it was dark. I wondered about the silence and the absence of church bells in the night. Made sense because it was night. My mind then seemed to wander over the river to the islands, to Notre Dame, picturing the vast now deserted chambers of the cathedral, and beyond to Ile Saint Louis. I must have fallen asleep as the last line degenerates into nothingness and breaks off and the pen is still on the bed....
 NB. The sequel to the first entry is in process and will include a write up about my night time wanderings on Ile Saint Louis and other city exploration during the forty-eight hour trip... Quite possibly the Paris material will be developed to appear in a longer work.

And just to say here that it was a transitional/ transformative experience and I arrived back in England deeply revived. Presently I am making arrangements for a return trip to Paris on 1st November to see the Oscar Wilde exhibition and hopefully visit a museum located in the grounds of a hospital.