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Published: November 6th 2018
A Sombre Reminder
Walking through Paris today, in a market near where I stayed, this reminder that in 1750, 2 Parisians were arrested for homosexuality and burnt alive. This was the last time people were executed in France for this.
Paris is like an new friend who you want to spend more time with, but there’s others you know you need to go and be with. I want to go home, but it would be nice to stay. I think it’s called escapism.
It’s mid afternoon in the Shakespeare and Co. Cafe, at Rue de la Bucherie on the bank of the Seine. My window faces Notre Dame Cathedral, and tours led by yellow umbrellas, mysterious looking men I presume to be French, walking in slow motion, and the constant sound of motorcycles , ambulance sirens, and car horns, are all overshadowed by this church. The cafe is warm from the smell of savoury snacks and sweets, and berry crumble that you can get with a coffee for €7; don’t ask how I know. It feels cosy and inviting, and I’m in no hurry to leave. The sun is beaming down, and the people have come to play.
A mother and daughter are seated outside, about 2 metres away; a pane of glass and the noise of coffee machines, waitresses, and French speaking customers are the only things that separate us. I started out just staring into the distance,
I didn’t intend to visit there, but I walked past my turnoff and there I was. Not a bad mistake to make.
but then found myself watching their interactions and expressions , and I’ve realised that, without hearing the conversation, you can gauge a lot from laughter, eyes, sideways glances, and the expressions, that sometimes say they don’t really believe what they say. When one turns away , the look in the unseen glance is very powerful; it can be love, distrust, amazement, or “ I want to jump in the Seine now.” face. You see past the words.
These two are friends. On holidays, by the look of the camera around Mum’s neck. They are replace by a solo Chinese woman. She has the berry pie. It’s good.
Coffee is popular, and the berry pie is walking out the door. Buying a few books and people watching on the Seine seems a good way to pass my last day in Paris.
I bought the novel, A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey.
Ironically, I’m a Long Way from home, and the home Carey references is Bacchus Marsh, my home as well. Some of his stories leave me cold, but a quick scan through this tells me it might be worth the money, and my time.
This morning I took the advice of Theo, our host for the last few days, and walked from near Gare de L’est, to my hotel opposite the Luxembourg Gardens. It took a couple of hours because I detoured, became lost, diverted back on my path, before finally reaching the side of Paris I’m reasonably familiar with.
I didn’t really get lost, I just turned up random streets and laneways, confident I was heading in the general direction of Luxembourg. Very few streets in Paris don’t have some sort of pleasant surprise. It could be a glimpse of a monument like the Eiffel Tower, or a landmark that I hadn’t visited such as the Panthéon. Military presence, with soldiers back to back, or slowly patrolling popular tourist areas, machine guns at the ready, is another surprise that is unfamiliar to me. Hopefully I’m never used to that sight.
Paris is a place of no hidden emotions. I’ve seen lovers embracing in parks, not improper embracing mind you, young couples in heated discussions, with the young man usually on the end of a determined threatening pointed finger, and it‘s not common to see it in Australia.
One area I
haven’t visited today is the block of eateries located just behind the Seine, on the opposite side to Notre Dame. Tim refused to go there, declaring it ground zero of expensive, shit food. I never saw it as expensive, but he’s possibly right on the other point. I prefer to call it filler food. It just fills you up. And a coke afterwards acts as a biological degreaser, so what’s the issue?
I ate at the local brassiere, had risotto, ice cream, and coffee, and it did feel like a real meal, eaten in a nice place. Advice taken, Tim.
Back at the hotel, l have just paid my city tax of €0.99, and this entitles me to use the City of Paris’s water and sanitation facilities for a day. My conscience is clear.
Motor scooters are constantly buzzing up and down the road, 6 floors below me, and cars are the soft background noise to these screamers. The French only know one speed and reach it with maximum force. Large bikes are rarer, so the scooters rule the road.
Everything is organised for a 6am start tomorrow. An hour train trip to the airport, a
three hour wait, and 25 hours in transit, and I’m home. It sounds easy in a sentence, but I hate the 25 hour bit. It’s one of those times I’m glad I’m not 6 feet tall.
By the time I arrive home I’ll have been away 50 days.
This trip was locked in 2 years ago, but has taken on a new significance, as a way to get away and reprioritise the path I’d like to follow in my future.
I’m not sure if that worked out but I’ve learnt a few things along the way. Some of these are, in no particular order,
You use one tube of toothpaste on the camino, if you brush twice a day.2 disposable razors are more than enough.You should only have to replace your deodorant once.Take safety pins instead of clothes pegs. They
do the same job.Humility is very underrated. People I’ve met, and situations I’ve seen along the way, make me realise how fortunate I am. Spain is a magic place, steeped in history and tradition, but it’s people do it tough at times. But they are still happy, optimistic people.Coffee is not just coffee. You really appreciate a good one when you get it. San Martins was about the best out there. In Australia, it had better be good or you’ll go bust.Travelling alone on the Camino opens up opportunities to meet and mix with a wider range of people. I think sometimes people embrace individuals, as they don’t feel like they’re interfering with a group. Maybe it’s just out of pity for the sad, lonely folk wandering by themselves.Sue is now a legend of the Way. After telling people what she went through in
2014, Camino folklore has her almost crawling to Santiago on crushed glass, with 2 broken arms. Maybe I cranked it up a bit much, and the legend was born. Still, l‘m sure there’s people who believe St James’ bones lie in Santiago. I saw a documentary where even a priest lay doubt on that story. The story of Sue is true.Whatever it’s all about, I made some great friends, met diverse, interesting people, felt pain, felt affection, felt lonely, felt selfish; I felt many things that we all are, but I had hours of quiet time to think about them. And that’s important.Something I haven’t learnt is how to stop these bloody numbered points appearing. Number 9 and 10 should just be paragraphs. I might need to do another Camino to discover how. To all those people I have contacts for, I’ll keep you in mind to visit when I’m in the neighbourhood. And I’m still going to work out how to send olives to Arizona. Bye
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