Friday, March 30, 2007

rue des solitaires...[part I]

On a refulgent Sunday morning in early April, the streets of Paris are near empty. A few intrepid souls are wandering about, perhaps on their way home from a long night out, or on their way to early mass. Some may be compelled to do both...
Not you, however. Proudly mounted on your brand new wine-colored vélo, you try valiantly to keep up with the even more intrepid ML, who is riding hard on his well-used blue bike. You are not sure where you are going; you can only follow behind, and happily, the only cars on the road are parked ones.
ML indicates a northeasterly direction, towards the 19th arrondissement. But first cutting through the 10th along the Canal Saint-Martin, criss-crossing over its many short bridges to faire du léche-vitrines (really only pressing noses onto the glass!) of an atelier on one side, and then that of a little shop on the other.
The rippling surface of the slim waterway reflects the fresh greening of mature trees lining it on both sides. This shady ambience emphasizes the stillness of the setting, a setting that bespeaks the distinctive and intimate flavor of this particular neighborhood, which seems an era or two behind the grand boulevards and the cosmopolitan crowds of le Paris chic not so far away.
Here, the inhabitants carry on seemingly unaware of the formal dressed up city that the world knows so well. Here, too, life slows to the murmur of the flowing canal...
In the pale green glimmer of the dewy air, a trio of old men sit on a bench dozing off after le petit déjeuner, only to be rudely awakened by a troupe of pre-pubescent boys setting off fire-crackers into the water and then running away amidst shrieks of laughter.
Yelling after them is an artisan with a cigarette dangling from his lips and looking more than a little worse for wear. He has just settled into a sunny spot outside his workshop to nurse his coffee and his hang-over. Two teenage girls walk quickly by arm in arm and giggling loudly, eliciting a friendly leer from the grubby artisan.
These glimpses of la vie populaire in the numerous "villages" of Paris are what impress the most... this perceived dimension that entices and insinuates its essence into your memory.
Only in Paris, it seems, do the ordinary details of street life somehow manage to emote a staged or at times, dream-like quality... surreal, if you will, and you can see how the Surrealist spirit took flight from the vital and immanent reality of this strangely esoteric city.
Having read George Melly's 'Paris and the Surrealists' [1991], you wholeheartedly agree with his observation that "The streets [...] seemed in Paris to be the place where life was lived, friendships and enmities forged, where lovers recognized each other at first sight." And it is this " 'Mystery and melancholy of the street' which lay at the very centre of Surrealist inspiration..." [and] " their haphazard yet deliberate strolls through Paris the Surrealists, when in each other's company, were open to signs and portents concealed behind the banal surface of everyday life..."
Riding eastwards now past the sprawling site of the Hôpital Saint-Louis towards the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, (which Melly had noted as one of the "various 'chosen places' revered by the Surrealists, [...] that astonishing pleasure ground, hallowed by nineteenth-century suicides, which occupies a long section of Louis Aragon's 'Paris Peasant' [1926]...", from which Melly had quoted Aragon's wry comment that "The great Suicides' bridge which, before metal grilles were erected along its sides, claimed victims even from among passers-by who had had no intention whatsoever of killing themselves suddenly tempted by the abyss...")
Hmm... certainly a dangerous provocation worth pondering over before approaching such a disagreeable bridge. You hope that all those hardy joggers and Sunday strollers are well-informed of this assertion and will know to avoid the cursed bridge, come hell or high water!
No riding is allowed within the park, so you walk your bikes for a while, passing a large group of elderly women practicing tai-chi together in an enclosure, like so many awkward flamingos at the ménagerie. Feeling slightly disconcerted by so much determined effort, (and by the thought of all those sad and gullible souls lost in the, well, gully), you head out of the park and wind your way down towards a nearby working class neighborhood around the Place des Fêtes.

[excerpted from 'Rue des wistfully explored by Mme.V" by g. verster, 2004]