Tag Archives: Notre Dame

P- A Different Perspective of Paris…A-Z Challenge.

“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

Ernest Hemingway

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re off to Paris, a city with a big name and enormous reputation.  Indeed, if you were ever looking for inspiration, you’d head to Paris if you could.

Paris Rainy Street

Paris also has its rainy days. Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street;Rainy Day. Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection

However, all that glitters isn’t gold. So, it’s hardly surprising that the realities of Paris could well be very different to the Paris of your dreams, especially if you linger beyond the tourist traps. After spending six weeks in Paris in the Summer of ’92, I felt it was no coincidence that Paris has spawned revolutions, along with philosophical, literary, artistic and fashion movements.Indeed, for me, it was both a city of incredibly dazzling bright lights, but also a city of equally dark shadows and despair. Potentially, it’s this juxtaposition which fuels her creative flow. Creates a gripping tension spawning ideas.

writing in Paris

Writing on the Window Sill at the Hotel Henri IV July, 1992.

Indeed, when I reflect on my time in Paris, I often wonder why so few connect the city of love with the city of heartbreak. After all, isn’t it inevitable? Well, at least, that’s how it seems to me, and I’m sure anyone else who’s ever been dumped in Paris would agree. Indeed, I used to follow a band called Paris Dumper, and if you’re still in any doubt, just watch Casablanca. Things didn’t work out for Humphrey Bogart in Paris either.

Rowena Paris motorbike

My quest for the meaning of life continued

Over the last few years, Paris has also been the scene of horrific and very tragic terrorist attacks, along with mass movements defending the freedom of speech and fighting to overcome such  racism and bigotry.

Meanwhile, the people of Paris live alongside all this storm and drang, and somehow they go about their business like rows of ants carefully circumnavigating all this drama. After all, the people of Paris are just like people anywhere else on the planet. They also need to eat, work, love and sleep.

View of Nore Dame

Johan-Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891). “Notre-Dame vue du quai de la Tournelle”. Huile sur toile, 1852. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

It has taken me quite a few days to get my head around Paris. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll already note that my travel series isn’t just a series of checklists of what to see in each place. After all, such travel information is only a click or two away, and there’s no need to replicate all of that.

Picasso Notre Dame de Paris

Pablo Picasso, Notre Dame de Paris 1954. 

Rather, I wanted to share with you was what it was like for a 22 year old Australian to spend six weeks in Paris, where I had some kind of finger on the pulse. After all, I wasn’t just there for a couple days frenetically speeding through my checklist like a crazed ant. Rather, we lingered over a continental breakfast at our hotel, the Henri IV on the Rue Saint Jacques, just across from Notre Dame.

Rowena Luxembourg Gardens

My Feet Hanging Out at the Luxembourg Gardens, which were absolutely delightful. We spent quite a lot of time there. 

Indeed, we met a couple of Americans over breakfast at the hotel one morning, and one of them had lived in Paris before and became our impromptu tour guide. I particularly remember him taking us to the Musee Rodin where we could not only see, but experience those incredibly sculptures, especially The Thinker and The Kiss. Wow! They truly electrified my soul, and moved me so much more than the famed Mona Lisa at the Louvre. They were absolutely incredible, and also became something of a photographic feast.

However, as a bunch of twenty somethings, we also had our daily pilgrimage over Pont Neuf into the Latin Quarter where we hung out at the Boulangerie St Michel. You could people watch for hours there, if that’s what you were inclined to do. Moreover, like the great French philosophers who exchanged ideas in the cafes in Paris, we also philosophised. After all, we were young travellers wandering through Europe with the wind. There was so much to think about and I’m pretty sure the absence of any kind of anchor or routine, wasn’t entirely good for the psyche either.

Jim Morrison Grave

Jimmy Morrison’s Grave. 

We were the only flotsam and jetsam wandering through Paris either. Aside from the cafes, we also gravitated towards Jimmy Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in a never-ending vigil. “Tumbleweeds”  also hung out at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where proprietor George Whitman offered somewhere to crash out in exchange for working for a few hours in the shop. I think I also read something about having to read a book a day as well, although I couldn’t be entirely sure, because I didn’t stay there.

Shakespeare Bookshop

The Shakespeare Bookshop

However, you won’t be surprised that I found my way into the Shakespeare Bookshop. By this stage, I’d spent three months on the continent and the Shakespeare was the only English-speaking bookshop in Paris. I was craving for the written word in my own tongue. Indeed, I clearly remember reading those words in my guidebook. However, what I suspect was missing from the guidebook, was the possibility of doing poetry readings at the Shakespeare and I might have heard about that from my American friend, Chris, who, as I said, had lived in Paris. Either way, a rather naive, young Australia who had self-published her anthology of poetry: Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth fronted up to George Whitman and asked to do a reading.

Poetry Reading

Me & My Notebook…taken during my solo reading upstairs at the Shakespeare Bookshop

To put you in the picture, from what I’ve subsequently researched, having an unknown, young poet from distant Sydney, Australia approach the great George Whitman about reading her own poetry at THE Shakespeare, was very much along the same vein as young Oliver Twist holding out his bowl and asking: “Please sir, can I have some more!”

Obviously, I was a complete and utter upstart. However, ignorance is bliss and I knew none of that at the time. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know terribly much about the Shakespeare’s incredible history and how it was a haven for literary giants like Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin and Henry while they were in Paris. Somehow, Rowena Curtin of Sydney who’d performed at Sydney University’s International Women’s Day Festival, the Reasonably Good Cafe in Chippendale, Gleebooks and the Newtown Street Festival didn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Degas Ballet at the paris opera

Degas: Ballet At the Paris Opera. The Art Institute of Chicago.  

However, for some reason, he gave me a go. Not only that, he gave me a solo reading, which also meant having to draw up my own advertising poster to go in the shop window. Talk about cringe-worthy. In hindsight, I’m telling my 22 year old self to put that notebook back in your backpack and drink some more coffee…you little upstart!!!

However, if I’d done that and stuck to the tried and tested, I wouldn’t have this incredible and very unique feather in my cap. Despite everything I’ve been through since, nothing and nobody can take this away from me.

From what I now understand, my experience was truly remarkable. Apparently, young poets didn’t get a look in at the Shakespeare, and were strictly audience only. George Whitman wasn’t a soft touch either. I still remember meeting him and he was quite gruff, which is quite understandable now I know just whose footsteps I was treading on and what an extraordinary opportunity I had. Indeed, it’s an experience well beyond the scope of this post, as I’ll need to dig up those travel diaries once again. However, I’ll have to write about it soon. Indeed, I can’t believe I’ve left it so long.

paris_pont_neuf_001

The City of Lights By Night. The light dancing across the inky waters was rather alluring in those early hours of the morn. 

However, Paris had quite a heaviness for me, and I clearly remember writing poetry at two o’clock in the morning beside the River Seine just near Pont Neuf . Clear as day, I remember looking across the river and there was a group of young men with their ghetto blaster and while I should have been afraid, I was locked inside something like a bubble of grief where either I didn’t care anymore. Or, believed I couldn’t be hurt anymore. Just let me say, there’s a reason why there are so many bridges in Paris and it isn’t just to get to the other side.

Arc de Triomphe by Night

Robert Ricart, Arc de Triomphe by Night.

“Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be

here…the French air clears up the brain and does one good.”

-Vincent van Gogh letter to Horace Mann Livens from Paris September

or October, 1886.

So, you can probably understand why it’s taken me quite some time to write about Paris, and why I couldn’t simply write some stereotypical tribute to all it’s sights and wonders. I have crossed known its dark side, wallowed in it and thanks to my very best friends and the grace of God, survived. Indeed, they got me on a train back to Heidelberg where my friends there picked up this crumpled bird and very slowly helped me regain my strength. The spirit of Paris ran me over and almost destroyed me completely. Indeed, for me, it is a city to be approached with a great deal of caution, particularly once you start carving a path beyond the roads most travelled.

Patisserie Paris

Paris could also be exquisite and incredibly delicious. 

I wonder if anyone else has had similar experiences in Paris? Or, perhaps in another time and place? I’ve also experienced a similar vibe in Byron Bay, which also attracts travellers, seekers and along with it’s incredibly natural beauty also has its darkness.

Best wishes,

Rowena

P.S> I would like to add that I didn’t experience all darkness and gloom in Paris, and that experiencing the heaviness of life isn’t all bad. That it’s often during times of struggle that we actually grow the most. Have our eyes opened to the enormous realms of possibilities which are always just out there waiting for us to stick our necks out, take a risk and have a go.

 

Ghosts on the Run…Friday Fictioneers 7th June, 2019.

When the Ledoux Family rented out their home in Antibes, they had no idea a couple of famous ghosts would move in along with their heads.

Louis and Marie-Antoinette had evacuated Notre Dame toute de Suite after accidentally sparking the fire which almost turned their beloved Lady into a pile of ash.

Of course, it wasn’t Versailles. However, they loved the beach and their new found freedom. Louis could barely keep his hands off his beloved Queen in her alluring bikini, although didn’t like wearing budgie smugglers* at all!

“Mon Cherie, nobody would ever think to look for us here.”

…..

Don’t ask me where the inspiration for my take on today’s prompt came from, except to say that I was quite taken by the stairs at the front and floating to the top. Stairs like that are not kind to me. By the way, Budgie smugglers is an Australian slang term for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear and the term received a lot of press thanks to our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was often photographed wearing them. He is a volunteer lifesaver.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s prompt was provided by C.E. Ayr. Thanks, C.E.

We’d love you to join us. Every week, Rochelle posts a photo prompt and we respond in 100 words or less and I’ve been quite amazed at what we’ve been able to accomplish in so few words. Makes me ponder the need for the novel.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Slide Night…Dumped in Paris.

Wafting.

Dreaming.

Absent friends.

Screaming.

Waves that thrash.

Skies that roar.

Your corpse still dangling

at my door.

 

Fingers swing,

dangle,

drop.

Hard-hearing hands…

tick-tock,

tick-tock.

 

Illusions,

screens,

all my dreams…

crack and drop.

Drop with each

tick-tock, tick-tock.

Plip-plop, plip-plop,

Dangle.

Drop.

 

The bell has finally tolled.

Our love is dead.

There’s nothing’s left.

Even the vultures have gone.

 

Alone,

lights pirouette

across the Seine.

It’s murky depths

absorb my pain

‘til I am stone.

My heart is numb.

 

Soon,

swooping gargoyles

kiss my lips.

Hold me tight.

Sing me off to sleep.

Mon ami,

I’m no longer afraid

of the dark!

 

Yet, tick-tock time

is moving on.

My train’s just left

Gare de l’est.

Au revoir, mon ami!

You’re now nothing to me,

but a postcard from Paris.

 

Yet, one day,

I know I’ll be

flicking through

the touched up slides of memory…

Le Tour Eiefel,

Le Musée du Louvre,

les Jardins de Luxembourg,

Cafe de Buci…

 

Moi?

Non,

je ne regrette rien.

Rowena Curtin 24/7/1992 and 6/12/2016.


scan10538

My feet in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, 1992.

Twenty four years ago, I wrote this original version of this poem sitting beside the River Seine near Pont Neuf sometime after midnight. I was completely alone, aside from a couple of Africans across the river listening to their ghetto blaster and dancing. If I could write a letter to this 23 year old self, I’d be telling her to get her butt back to the hotel. That no one is worth dying for. Nothing is. Tomorrow is another day and the sun will keep on rising, even if you choose to ignore it.

Paris is called the “City of Lights”, the “City of Love”. However, where there is light, there is darkness. Where there is love, there is also heartbreak, rejection and terrible anguish. Surely, we’ve all been there, even if it wasn’t in Paris.

In many ways, this is a fictional poem. I didn’t actually have a romance in Paris and wasn’t actually dumped in Paris either. However, the heartbreak was real and that is what I lived with in Paris.

I don’t know whether some of the greatest heart ache is caused my semi-requited love. Or, when that precarious balance between friendship and lover goes out of whack and feelings go haywire.

For better or worse, the usual “dance” intensifies when you travel.

In 1992, I spent much of the year theoretically backpacking through Europe, although I spent 6 weeks in Paris and lived in Heidelberg much of the time. Be in the one place, provided the opportunity to get to know people and naturally, certain people better than others.

I met an older guy at Church and we never even touched each other romantically. Yet, the fallout for me was catastrophic. I wonder if it’s easier to move on when such relationships run their course, rather than getting chopped off before they even start.

So, rather than a physical relationship, we ended up with an emotional, mental connection and added to that the vulnerability of travel and being on the other side of the world (I come from Sydney, Australia), the fallout was horrific. I really do remember walking round Paris with no idea where I was in an absolute wiped out daze.

Twenty-four years later, I can be quite philosophical about all of this. Married with children,  two dogs and we’ve been living in the same house for 15 years, I am well and truly loved and grounded, giving me the ability to go back and really ramp up the horror in the original poem. I couldn’t resist adding those dreaded gargoyles, which you see poised on the roof top of Notre Dame. They’re a horror movie in their own right!

What’s your view on flirting with the dark side in your writing? I’m a pretty upbeat person most of the time but there’s a part of me, which really thrives on it. It’s also a great form of catharsis. Letting the pain out in a more constructive way than so many of the alternatives.

After all of this, I need a good, strong cup of tea!

xx Rowena

PS After returning to Sydney, I stumbled across a great band ironically called: Paris Dumper with lead singer Dominic Halpin. Here’s a link: https://dominichalpin.bandcamp.com/album/paris-dumper

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