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.

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