Thursday, July 22, 2010

Where am I?

Rain is rain.

A simple concept...a cliche...the sun shines everywhere on the turns to night turns to day...rain falls from the sky.

Yet, somehow, due to my romantic? gullible? narrow? mind, when rain fell the other day, it was a fell whomp of familiar and Oh! and I am in Pareeee all at once.

Why should the rain do this?  Why not the sound of the children's voices in the courtyard?  Perhaps because the "foreign" language suggests distance.  Why not the sound of a door closing?  Honestly, the sound of a door closing tends to be different.  Different mechanisms, different doors...and then there is the ubiquitous process of needing to press a button before passing through a, no, door entry/exit not profoundly universal.  Why not the sun upon my face?  Um, that *is* different...a more northerly parallel stretches the "magic hour" beautifully, and even if I didn't have a filmmaking background, I'd be struck by the quality of light.  Why not the huff of perfume on my wrist?  Dare I point back to how my Poussiere de Rose seemed to smell different?  No?  How about I stick to my one shop experience so far, where my limited language skills were most vexing.  NOT universal, not for me.

But the rain.  The rain, it grounded me, and seemed like something new, all at once.

It was gentle, just beyond a drizzle, and didn't last for long.  Didn't really do much to alter the pleasant but clearly summer temperature, either.  It did alter the light, it did act both as a soundtrack and sound damper, and it entirely brought a new focus to my senses.  I was in Paris.  It is raining.  I am on someone else's fifth floor terrace.  I am among someone else's plants.  I am among plants.  I am outside, in the rain.  All the ways in which I was alien and familiar burbled and then settled at once.

I mentioned magic hour to some friends, and one asked if I was wearing L'Heure Bleu.  Entirely logical. It does not happen to be one of bitty decants I brought, so no, I was not.  And I wasn't even sure if I wanted to...I knew that if I had, if I do, L'HB will forever in the future be strongly Paris.  And I love so much what it is to me now, I don't know if I can give that up.  Maybe I'll run into a Guerlain shop toward the end of my stay, and spray some.  For now, I have the rain as my bridge between what I know and what I don't know, locating all in one moment.

Other such connections, not quite as "vortex of all experience in one":

Household dirt.  I spent some time cleaning the charming apartment we are using for our stay.  "Surface dirt," as my mom would have said.  Vacuum the floors, dust/clean flat surfaces.  Okay, and wipe down the tile walls on the bathroom.  All of which yielded results which were sufficient enough to veer beyond "satisfactory" into "um, I'm really glad I did this."  And why was this so important to me?  I don't know. Yes, I do.  I am not fond of surface dirt.  I'll tolerate it in my house, of course...just try to stay ahead of the dust bunnies and dirt in a house with gas forced air heat and two cats and one dog and lots of books and teens galumphing through and a gardener trudging in and out.  It's almost as if there is something personal about dirt...would I rather share a home with my own dirt?  Hmmm.  And, lest you mistakenly get the impression I am staying in a place en désespoir, the linens in the closets are all ironed.  ALL of them.  And everything is in its place, and there is a lovely amount of "stuff" (books, art, etc.)--which I love having about--without having so much that it starts to feel "noisy" or overwhelming.  Nope, it was more the feeling of...somebody else not having a chance to attend to that element, and then handing over the key.

Anyway, why do I bring it up?  Because, honest to Pete, the dirt was...different.  A different dirt to dust to grease ratio, which could have everything to do with this being a more urban environment than I usually clean in, combined with no screens on the windows, plus the proximity of the kitchen (and cooking issues) to the rest.  Scientifically, I remain skeptical.  In my heart, I know that stuff I was wiping off the walls was blacker and "threadier" than what I clean off my own house.

When I do, that is.

The walkability of this city is awesome.  Really.  I am still a little puzzled by the street layout, which I shouldn't be, because there is a certain logic in the radiation of the boulevards and such.  Heck, I grew up in a city whose grid was laid out by L'Enfant.  It's just...well...for one, the lack of a hard edge.  Where I grew up, the river was a hard edge, because it was an international boundary; where I live, the lake is a hard edge, because, well, it's big; in New York and San Francisco and Seattle, other cities I've gotten to know and love, water gives a hard edge.  Here, the Seine flows through, and physically speaking, you can flow back and forth...though yes, I am full aware of the cultural distinction between Left and Right bank.  Which are south and north, incidentally.  Which perhaps is the second factor in my confusion.  Really?   Where I come from, we have these east-west lines, too.  Mason-Dixon line, Michigan-Ohio, North Dakota South Dakota.  But left-right is for things like the Continental Divide, the Mississippi, East Side West Side.  Things that are left, or right, according to true north.

And it's hillier than I expected.  Well, roll-y.  Well, something in between.  European street proportions, combined with the necessary sharp angles on street intersections because they were carved to fit contours.  I dare say this out loud, though somehow I suspect there is a Great Work of Literature that is absent from my reading that one of you will point out and say "Hey, graduate student of Literature, how the heck could you not know that?  Haven't you read X?"  That, or some basic piece of history that shows how Napoleon had to run uphill three ways when he came home to smell Josephine which should have suggested to me the contours of the city.  But no, I didn't have it in my pre-impressions.

The best smell so far?  Food smells have been great, of course.  But I have to say, my favorite to date has been stumbling upon that rose plant outside the fleuriste, followed by the unmistakable smell of old books and dusty wood in a used book stall inside a charming arcade by the Bibliothéque Nationale.  Making the scent of those few blocks a floral with an unusual but pleasant drydown.


Rose said...

you sound like you are having a wonderful time! I know what you mean about LB- but on the other hand it is SO Paris. Rain in Paris can be like that, it's the same here, I've also known it pour down in Paris though, as if it will wash your clothes and finally you away- and still it somehow seemed exotic

flittersniffer said...

Your fresh angle on the city, prompting minute observations - even on cultural nuances between French and American dirt in your "appartement" make fascinating reading. For the most precipitous Parisian peaks, I recommend Montmartre (of course!) and the lesser known Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19e.

Wow - even the captcha is getting into the Gallic spirit! ("raccou")

flittersniffer said...

Oh pardon! Où est passé Monsieur le hyphen?

ScentScelf said...


I am! Like the American waitress would say, "my dogs are barking"--my feet are yapping up at me about how much walking I'm doing--but I am thrilled to be here.

Word is drenching rains of the type you describe are plaguing folks back home. I guess the "exotic" twist could be the twisters that are coming with them. Tornadoes. Now there's a kerfuffle.

Be sure to let me know if you want to run over... :)

ScentScelf said...


(With my dogs barking I can't think clearly above the noise to say all the syllables...)

Montmarte. I can see it from one of the boulevards just a few blocks from mon appartement, and have of course been espying it from atop the various "up places" I've been (Eiffel Tower, top of the Pompidou). Today is actually the day we thought we would go...son the younger is battling a bout of something, so we shall have to see what is in store. Nonetheless, yes!, I plan to go. In fact, riding the funicular is on the "must" list...Funiculars being a touchstone for DH and me ever since riding the funicular to Fløyen in Bergen many, many moons ago. Thanks for the tip on the butte in the 19e. (Though buttes don't have tips.) ((Argh.))

Yup, that's me...providing the dirt on dirt. There'll be more of that before the trip is done. Still haven't, erm, cleaned up on that topic yet.

flittersniffer said...

That's an impressive list of "up" places, and you are absolutely right that the butte is on the unpointy side. Mind you, through half closed eyes you could almost imagine yourself in a washed out Sedona... And you did say it was raining.