Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Little Bit of Paris

Feeling depressed at the thought of leaving Paris in a month, I did my usual walk-the-streets therapy. Paris almost always offers some entertaining encounter or entrancing glimpse to brighten my day. Quirky only-in-Paris moments that I have been chronicling for a few years now.

This time, the Paris-strolling had the opposite effect. It made me even more morose. "Departure" seemed stamped in black on every scene. These charming tidbits of my day, one month hence, wouldn't be at my doorstep or even the next bus stop. All I could register was impending loss.

Every step, I ruminated. How can I leave Paris? How can I wrench myself from this place that has fueled my soul, my mind, my creativity and joy? Then I chided myself: Whoa, girl, halt the pity-party and stop being so melodramatic! I knew these rhetorical questions had far too many reasonable answers, from "it's the economy, stupid" to "fambly is fambly." I kept trying to rationalize that most other people on the planet would be thrilled to spend just one month in Paris. Call me a drama queen, but I could only view my upcoming final month as awaiting execution. After that, Paris will be guillotined from my daily existence.

Orchestrating a departure from Paris is to me like planning a break-up with someone you're still deeply in love with, but you know the relationship just won't work. Each infatuated moment together is bittersweet at best.

I cannot descend into this overinflated sentimentality, I thought. Must pull self up by bootstraps and carpe diem. To no avail: spirits were soggy and flagging. I caved in and indulged in a premature pick-me-up going-away present. Heading homeward I stopped at Librairie Fontaine at Duroc and purchased a copy of "Un Peu de Paris" [A Little Bit of Paris] by Jean-Jacques Sempé. After all, I reasoned, my decades-long admiration for Sempé and his amusing vignettes of French life had contributed to the ardent francophilia that propelled me to live here. And I have the rest of his books in storage in the US. So what more fitting souvenir of a city that I'm permanently besotted with?

I can justify any purchase, eh?

"On ne se trompe jamais avec Sempé," said the sales clerk as she led me down the spiral staircase to the beaux livres section. ["You never go wrong with Sempé."] I agreed.

Back at the apartment, I stretched out on the sofa with a cup of tea and began leafing through the Sempé drawings. This was both a huge mistake and a very smart move.

They took my breath away: Sempé had captured MY Paris! All those quirky moments, little ironies and joys and frustrations of daily life. And I found it impossible to merely flip through the pages. Most of the drawings are so richly detailed or subtly expressed that I hovered over each one for minutes. He got it all. I alternately hooted with glee and sniffled with wistfulness. Then I simply had to shut the book for a while. Killing me not so softly with his images.

Most of the drawings are black and white ink with gray wash. Sempé captures the essence of Paris, the nuances of gray, and flecks them with the bright funny moments or ironic twists that comprise daily life here. Irate drivers blocked in traffic protesting the banner-waving protestors. Weary commuters huddled together under the bus stop in a downpour. The dynamic between a young hipster on her cell phone and a matronly dame d'un certain age as they face each other on the bus. Paris-Roller. Hordes of panicked jaywalking pedestrians. A tired gentleman exiting the stairs of his apartment building with an hors-service sign subtly drooping on the elevator. Joggers outside the gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg waiting for opening hours. Sometimes intimate views, sometimes with bird's-eye omniscience. Always witty, perfect infinitesimal Parisian moments.

If I had only one way to wrap up Paris and take it with me when I leave, it would be this.


Anonymous said...

Oh Polly, I am so sorry to hear you are leaving! I have only just arrived and was hoping to take you for a coffee soon to thank you for all of your kind help. I wish there was something I could do to help you least the $ is getting better, non?


M said...

I can only imagine the sense of loss you must feel inside. I visited Paris for the first time this year. It was only for two weeks, but the sense that I have left something of myself is as strong today as it was when I boarded the plane. I will go back, I have a plan.

I found your blog not long after my return and consoled myself with the idea I could pretend to live 'vicariously' in Paris through you.

I have seen some of Sempé's work. I must look for more.

Iota said...

Sorry to hear you're leaving - I've only recently discovered your blog.

Will you be back?

lady jicky said...

I have not lived in Paris but have visited a few times and everytime the leaving is so hard. Its as if I was "meant to be" here. I guess , if I believed in "past lives" - I must have been a parisian!
So - I feel your pain but life can be very strange - you never know - one day you may be back in paris living the life of a Parisian.
Never give up hope but enjoy where ever life takes you!

Mo said...

Sorry to hear you're leaving you sound so heartbroken. Will you be returning to Boston?

blueVicar said...

Dadgummit, Polly, you're making me hurt all over again. No, leaving France is never easy; I've done it twice now and don't relish the thought of reliving the emotions. But when you are parting for good reasons, it does help.

Knowing that someday you'll be back in one capacity or another helps. My first return to Nice after moving back to the USA offered much reassurance that life had gone on without me.

I too am sad for you to go, but excited for your new adventures!!

Meilleurs voeux!!

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I'll always have Paris in my bones!

And I'll keep blogging about it, about searching for Paris-equivalents in the US, about return trips.

I have so many half-written blog posts about Paris (with photos), I can just keep finishing and publishing for a few years.

Get me re-write!

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