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The Taste of a Whisper

October 3, 2010

            I was lonely, so I went for a walk.  I wasn’t experiencing the same kind of loneliness that I had felt years before.  I wasn’t sad.  Or scared.  Nor even angry.  I was just alone; it was rather peaceful, and so I went for a walk.  Not too far from my apartment.  Just a stroll really.  I went walking a lot then. 

            I found myself sitting for a while on top of a short stone wall.  I sat there quietly as I rested my feet; I was wearing a new pair of brown leather boots.  I would have called them shit-kickers, had I been home in farm country.  I had bought them in one of the underground shops so common in the marketplace, Châtelet-Les Halles.  My metro stop, if I didn’t mind a little bit of a hike.  The boots, fantastic.  They were heavier than my other shoes which I then carried in the box under my arm, but quite comfortable.  A good purchase.  Bon rapport:  qualité–prix. 

           Little lights shone through holes cut into the stone work of the wall where I reclined.  In shape, the wall undulated like a wave on the beach.  (I’ve always enjoyed interesting shapes in architecture, provided that they made sense or seemed at least somewhat practical.)  A few yards away, a strangely angled pyramid stood off-center to the stone-covered area.  I wonder what it was meant to be.  My hometown certainly had no public art.  It probably never will.  No matter.  This was Paris and time would tell.  And it did.  A giant sundial[1], not activated by following a shadow, but interpreting light that passed through slits at the top of it.  The little lights in the wall, they marked the hours.  I sat there for a while.  Another of the little lights had lit up by the time that I had moved from the spot. 

           After a bit more window licking[2], I decided to relax for a bit on the St. Eustache parvis[3], my head in hand, listening to the cooing of the pigeons.  Place René Cassin.  Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1968.  Man is not always good, but given the right conditions, he can transform ill will into recognition of the dignity of man.  Commissioner of Public Instruction before the war ended.  René and I related well to each other. 

            Me in a light sweater bought at the Freeses Department Store before it closed in Bangor—the one in royal blue and black where if you looked closely enough you can see the face of a lion.  And jeans, some of the only jeans I had ever owned.  They were rugged ‘city pants’ which hugged my backside nicely.  My knapsack next to me.  My camera in a black pouch strapped to my belt.  My head in hand, listening to the children play nearby.  Listening to the parents who warned not to climb too high.  To the footsteps of people too much in a hurry to sit and enjoy the sunshine, despite the obvious chill in the air that reminded me of winter.  So glad I bought these boots.  They will make walking in the city easier when the cold really hits and the ground is covered in slick black slush.  A shriek of pleasure from a little girl who just made her way all the way to the other ear. 

            An ear?  A magnificent irony.  If I hadn’t been alone that afternoon, I would have asked my friend to get a picture of me as I relaxed, my head in hand, listening to the cooing of the pigeons.  Seated next to me a giant, seventy ton sculpture of a head resting on a hand, known as “L’Écoute”.  It had been listening to the same sounds as I was enjoying for almost ten years before I got there.  Peace. 


            St. Eustache, my neighbor and friend, a crown jewel of late Gothic architecture, was a fantastic place to meditate.  Catholic and ostentatious.  It resembles in no way the church in which I had been as a child.  Over 100 feet to the top of the arch that soars above the nave.  8000 pipes in the organ, some of them four, eight, sixteen and even thirty-two feet in length.  Berlioz’s Te Deum and Liszt’s Christus resound against the stone walls and stained-glass windows in summer.  Paintings by Rubens.  Molière was married here; Mozart held his mother’s funeral, July 4, 1778, the main altar in the background.  (July 4, 1778; my country was only two years old when Mozart lost his mother, and there was already a cathedral built on the spot.  It had been there almost a quarter of a millennium by that time.)  One tower in the Renaissance style; the other a truncated stump reminding us that even masterpieces are never quite finished.  Used as a barn during the Revolution.  You can just sense history and smell creativity. 

           I had been alone most all day.  Several days really.  I had lived in Paris once before and knew my way around.  I had my book of maps arranged by the various arrondissements of the city.  Raphi had insisted it was the best one to have.  I could find any street and every metro stop.  I just hadn’t broken back into my old circle of friends yet, or they lived too far out of the city just to call on the fly.  So much to do, just no one with whom to do it.  Snap out of it.  Get out and see something familiar.  Walk to some place new.  Or stay in and enjoy the city lights as they dance over the rooftops of the city. 

           Rue Coquillière.  Sixth Floor next to the older gentleman who doesn’t have a toilet of his own in his apartment but who uses the Turkish hole out in the hall W.C. instead.  Every night as you sleep.  Clang.  Bang.  Click.  Click.  Click go his locks.  Click.  Click.  Click.  He secures his place against intruders.  A short pause and then Whoosh!  The water comes.  When he is finished, the same in reverse. 


          Alone still, I sit in my apartment measuring a mere ten square yards all included.  A photo of my parents’ home on the door letting me know I am home.  I get ready to relax for the evening.  The dinner dishes are washed and put back on their shelf, right under the other two shelves which served as my pantry.  Old New England habit of having enough to survive the ‘big one’.  Cans of tomatoes, white beans, tuna; shaker of four kinds of spice.  A pretty decent, and cheap meal at the ready. 

           Over the door to the sink cabinet hang neatly the two linen dish towels.  One white with a blue stripe and thin checked pattern; the other the same but in green.  I hadn’t yet accidentally set the green one on fire, scorching the edge of the tri-fold I insisted on every time.  The burn on the edge almost doesn’t show if you fold it toward the center.  The hole in the middle though, unmistakable. 

           No room for wasted space.  My large suitcase takes up every inch under the desk where my clock radio, computer and telephone sit.  From the corner where I had my dictionaries and other books stored comes the sound of music.  A simple pair of headphone-sized speakers attached to my CD walkman allow me to enjoy Enya In Memory of Trees or the new one by the Beach Boys, Cruisin’.  The small tabletop oven which Bernadette had loaned me sits neatly on the two-drawer dresser where my portable computer printer also lay poised to create a document on 8.5X11 inch paper, despite my professors repeated request for A4. 

           My shower taken, the area wiped down so to control as best I could the humidity.  The table, draped in a speckled blue fabric purchased at the Mecca of amateur tailors, the Marché St. Pierre, hangs on hinges along the wall.  When not in use, it could have been folded up against the wall above the two wooden stools, uncomfortable and wobbly on the uneven red tiled floor.  That hideously uncomfortable green couch which was supposed to also be my bed also covered in a speckled blue and white striped fabric nicely complimenting the table linens and swag curtains I had hung.  In retrospect, I should have brought them back to the States with me, but I rather hoped the next person to rent the place would think they went nicely with the light blue carpet remnant on the floor. 

            Lonely and tired. Snap out of it.  Get out and see something familiar.  Walk to some place new.  Or stay in and enjoy the soft light of the big white candle bought earlier that afternoon chez Tati.  Warm up a mug of milk, stir in a couple of sucre vanillé, sit back and warm your hands.  Drafts from under the door to the hall keep the flame of the candle dancing.  Light twinkles and bounces off the two large windows looking out over the city.  The neighbors across the way aren’t home this evening.  Their apartment is so much larger and but not any more cheerfully decorated. 

            Suddenly an echo.  A sound of a familiar voice.  My voice.  A mug of warm milk, a piece of Belgian chocolate in the shape of a shrimp or some sea shell.  My favorite.  Enya.  Flickering candle lights dancing on the walls.  Life is good, the echo repeats, life is good.  Another bite of chocolate, white and dark mixed.  A sip of warm milk.  The taste of a whisper in my ear, letting me know that the past is behind me and that the future is restless but patient.  L’Ecoute.  Listening. 

[1] Henri de Miller’s “Cadran Solaire” is not far from the covered public pool of Châtelet.  Glass pyramids cover at least one side of the pool from above; I never got the chance to go swimming there as I couldn’t afford the membership.  Miller would also design the sculpture in the park near St. Eustache church called l’Ecoute, Listen.  The sculpture was placed in the square in 1986. 

[2] Faire la lèche vitrine in French means literally to go “window licking”; in English we just go window shopping. 

[3] A parvis is an enclosed courtyard or space at the entrance to a building, especially a cathedral, that is sometimes surrounded by porticoes or colonnades.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 31, 2010 12:18 am

    my sister loves table linens because she says that it is easier to clean than cotton ~

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