Observations and not very high ku from the streets of Paris

3. Dans les rues de Paris

3.1) I love Paris . . . in sub-zero

Ah, the opposite
of tropics: snow flaking
like dessicated

Constant Gardener and I were scurrying to the Galeries Lafeyette to do a spot of shopping, when we started seeing spots: a sudden, exquisite snow shower. The toasty Galeries is vast, a Louvre for clothing. Loooking up the atrium in the ladies’ wing, we admired the glorious dome of Belle Epoque glasswork. It’s not the Louvre, it’s a cathedral, for Notre dames. And imagine if it was a gigantic snowdome. I have:

3.2)The streets of Paris

So how can you tell me you’re lonely, 
and say for you that the sun don’t shine, 
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London 
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind. 

I’ve always found Ralph McTell’s song patronising, its pity faintly smug; still, it’s unforgettably a classic, hitting its mark with unsubtle force. But as he has confessed, it was inspired by les rues de Paris.

In this weather there are not many homeless around; we’ve seen a dozen or so — there was one in rue Buci on a bustling sunny Sunday, getting in everyone’s face and and gibbering in lingo.

The one who was absent, a metre pile of material marking hisher bed. A Cartesian display of a wheelie case, boxes and a check laundry bag was snugly fitted into the niche in the wall above.

The one with a mattress on the sidewalk, its bottom lined with a cardboard box, two corners and a flat end serving as a bed head. Apart from exposed pantlegs, the recumbent was smothered under a single thin blanket. The bundle was shivering.

The fella lying in the sunshine over a pavement grate.

One night we saw a figure sitting on some steps, legs swathed in blankets, torso bulbous in a puffer jacket so that he looked like a Michelin Man down on his luck, treads gone full bald; the only protusion from the tubular fiolds was the promontory of his grand gallic nose. Flapping above him two large banners advertised an Andy Warhol exhibition within: “Making Money Is Art.” If true, the poor man wasn’t even a Sunday painter.

 3.3) Hot cop

Lost in the freezing twilight, map and iCompass offering no succour, arguing about directions, I finally approached a young cop standing at the corner.

— Excuse moi, sil vous plait, parlez vous anglais.
— Ay, non, désolé, la-yada, le-yada, ya da da da…

Evidently fresh from the provinces because he didn’t comprendre l’anglais, a rare condition in the centre; and he couldn’t point us to the Seine; ie north. In fact, as we discovered, he sent us in the opposite direction.

Of course, the reason he had been at the corner all that time was to stand over the pavement grating which was issuing great gouts of hot air; the city’s extravagant ducted heating.

 3.4) Paris, 2001

“Unrelenting elegance” — Constant Gardener’s pinpoint description of the Paris streetscape is predicated on the French rage for order — the consistency of the quality in design and construction (beautiful, excellent) and height, buildings in agreement at 5 or 7 or 9 stories high for the length of a street. A consistency almost an affront to an Anglocultural — British eccentricity, American individualism, Australian perversity et al. Which is why, one grey afternoon, crossing rue de Rennes I was startled to see a giant grey shaft on the horizon at the vanishing point. Seeing that, like a manifestation of the monolith from 2001, made me believe for a moment.

When the Montparnasse Tower — the only skyscraping competition to the Eiffel — was built, it resulted in a ban on future skyscrapers in the city centre; its serene isolation is assured. The Eiffel is a friendly marker in comparison; we saw it from across the Seine one night — for ten minutes every hour it goes into a random fury of flashing lights — a chaotic frenzy that made me think of an epileptic seizure.