Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Our First Week

We got off the plane and all at once the wonderful smell of Europe – difficult to describe but completely unique, fresher and earthier perhaps.  Maybe it’s the centuries I can smell.  Maybe it’s all in my head.
At any rate we made our way to our new apartment, which we are borrowing from a friend – she’s been so incredibly helpful.  We asked directions of a group of green-overalled, swarthy Frenchmen who directed us in the right direction.
Suitcases safely stashed, we’ve walked around most of the week.  
Day one we stumbled upon a man singing the most spine-tingling opera under an ancient stone archway, his Napoleonic great coat hand painted with gold designs, his breath misting in the icy air.
At night, the sky a perfect indigo, the ornate beige buildings blurring, orange street lamps a soft contrast to the myriad of neon lights advertising.  And I think ‘I need paint!’
To market on the weekend, where we bought the perfect lunch: handmade frois gras, local salami, olives a la Provencal (which is to say preserved with lemons, cumquats and maybe some rosemary, yum!), a soft, sweet goat’s cheese in ash and a fresh, warm baguette.  All of which we wolfed down around ear-to-ear grins.
Walking through quiet cobble-stoned streets, an old man greets us from a first floor window.  Grim 70’s tower blocks each balcony sporting its unique array of laundry and garden.  Walls decorated with enormous murals to humanize the whole thing.  The fire-blackened police station looking like the victim of a terrorist attack, big white police trucks serving as temporary  office space for the officers.  The big boulevards teeming with crowds from every corner of the world, people squeezed so tightly into the little bars, sitting at the tables like sardines in the fleeting Spring sun.
Our first exhibition opening last night, a tiny gallery off a windy street in the Butte aux Cailles, the crowd a score of wealthy Texans who’d flown over for the opening of their good friend’s show.  Many cards handed out and our nascent American audience potentially greatly increased.  Good to speak English because we’ve been practicing, but our French is still as broken as Melbourne’s train network.
Metro trains thundering underfoot, and carried overhead on huge 19th century arches.   Carriages rattling.
A gypsy playing accordion on a bridge between bouts of Spring drizzle.
Gnarled babushkas and crooked men on crutches waiting beside the ATMs, their cardboard seats soggy after so much rain.  But apparently the ATMs are warmer than any of the nearby alcoves.
The Seine so wide, and soaring over it the bulk of Notre Dame – so heavy and so airy-light at the same time.  Still no sign of the Eiffel Tower from this side of the City of Light.

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