During the Summer of 2000, a year and some months after our wedding, my wife and I backpacked around Europe. Paris was on top of the list. What follows are ten anecdotes from that city. I carried five rolls of colour film.
Nabila ran her eyes down the line of companies listed on the slab of black granite. She carried a bag in a two-toned soft leather slung over one shoulder. In her hand she clutched a soft cloth purse. Her usual clear brow was furrowed. She had an appointment and she was running late. She had missed the connecting metro from Place de la Nation to La Défense because of an errand her mother had asked her to do. If only she could find which floor the firm was located on quickly, she would still be able to catch Thierry for lunch.
Mathilde took a left at Rue de Grenelle and headed down Rue Fabert in the direction of the École Militaire. Little Hercules trotted behind on a long leash. Preoccupied with the arrangements for the dinner guests later that day, Mathilde hadn’t yet felt the hot afternoon sun on her sleeveless arms. In fact, once under the shade of the trees that lined one side of the avenue, her favourite spot was just a few metres ahead. Little Hercules knew it too. He wouldn’t have to be told to wait as his mistress stopped for a minute and took in the view.
M. Arman’s morning shift was over. He wasn’t ready to go home yet. Not today. Today, he was off to a game of boules on the Champ de Mars. In any case, the tiny flat in the 15th arrondissement would be empty save for Hervé. And Hervé could look after himself. M. Arman had been married to Mme. Simone for 44 years until her death last year. She was 16 and he 23 when they had first met. Tomorrow Annette, his daughter, was bringing his grandchildren from Le Havre to visit him. The first anniversary wouldn’t be so lonely after all.
Exiting the small, fenced park at Place Salvador Allende, the twins, Clarisse and Cléméntine, followed their nanny home to No. 92 on Boulevard de la Tour Mauboug. The park hedges, trimmed and shaped into cones, were a poor imitation of the slender form of the steel and iron structure in the background. At least the fountains were on that evening and the kids had a great time chasing each other through the spray. A few more minutes was all they were allowed. By the end they were happy and hungry and their maman was waiting.
Solène was in no mood for excuses. Arms folded, head tilted slightly, her demeanour amply conveyed that. From a distance the couple, perched as they were at the top of the stairs leading to the Place des Degrés, briefly mimicked the buildings that framed them in conversation. To be fair, Julien wasn’t entirely to blame for his tardiness. This was his first visit to La Défense. It was also the first time he’d been so far from the familiar environs of Clichy-sous-Bois on the eastern edge of Paris. Besides, La Défense was extremely confusing for a first timer with its wide avenues and gleaming glass buildings.
Pauline’s legs ached. It was a while since she had last shown the sights of Paris to visiting friends from the US. How enthusiastic they were too. Paris had to be done on foot! Or, as much as poor Pauline’s aching feet could take. Here they were at Place Igor Stravinsky after a morning tour around the Île de la Cité and the smaller Île Saint-Louis. The square, named after the Russian composer, was packed with people from all parts of the world. Finding herself alone at the water’s edge, she stretched out languorously, oblivious to the playfulness of Niki de Saint Phalle’s animated sculptures in the background.
Slowly as if emerging from a fog the shape and patterns grew more defined. As he bent over, his eyes tried to get a fix on the tiny cropped figure in the bottom corner as it surfaced from the solution. “Ahh! What’s this…,” he said to himself. Lifting the dripping print, a smile slowly creased his face. CNIT. Yes–and more. The lines of its sloping roof viewed from this angle looked like wings reaching up to the sky. And the rows of steps from the stairwell at its front. All encapsulated in a woman’s tee. Then the thought occurred that he was probably seeing too much into this, and he let his eyes wander over the rest of the picture.
The Esplanade stretched out for four kilometres in front of them. From their vantage point at the base of Le Grande Arche, Raoul and Mathieu could just about make out the other more famous arch at the far end. They had been sitting at the top of the steps for close to ten minutes waiting for a friend to join them. Finally, he arrived, somewhat breathless. Thierry had an apology and a request to make–someone, well a girl actually, if they must know, had unexpectedly dropped by…for lunch…and could they go on without him?
As an intern at the Louvre, Antoine had access to the exhibition floors every day of the week, sometimes including Tuesdays when the museum is closed. Today something drew him to the tall windows overlooking Cour Marly in the Richelieu wing. Maybe it was the light. The glass ceiling cast shadow lines that angled down the wall of the opposite wing, crisscrossed the upper deck where “Mercury Fastening His Heels”, by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, in black marble commanded one corner of the court before slipping down to the lower level and tracing an almost parallel path with the stairs.
“Why is this man laughing?” The thought could have crossed the mind of any casual observers. But Marius was unaware of anyone watching him. He had the second half of the day off. The metro from Pigalle would take him to Concorde, six stops away, where he’d catch the connection to La Tour-Maubourg. His thoughts went back to the telephone conversation he had with his wife, Céline, earlier in the day. The antics of his two daughters always brought a smile to his face. He looked forward to seeing them awake for a change.
All photographs were shot on Kodacolor 200 film. Black & white conversion was done in Photoshop.
The stories against each picture are a work of fiction. Names, characters, events and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons or actual events is purely coincidental.
I am forever indebted to: “Pauper’s Paris”, “Toujours Provence”, “A Year In Provence” by Peter Mayle; “Paris Was Yesterday”, “Paris Journal 1956-1964” by Janet Flanner; “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway; “Long Ago In France” by M F K Fisher; “Paris, Paris — Journey Into The City Of Light” by David Downie; “The Seine — The River that Made Paris” by Elaine Sciolino and undoubtedly many others.
Note: If you buy any of the above books using the link, Macfilos will receive a very small commission payment to help with publishing costs. Macfilos is a not-for-profit private publication.