Sitting Around Paris

photo: bench, pont des arts

Paris is not deserted - the bench is free - so grab it
while you can.

Take a Load Off Your Feet

Paris:- Friday, 5. May 2000:- After yesterday's club meeting, I walked down to the opening of the 'Nudes' show in Montparnasse. After I got back, I worked half the night doing the 'club report' and replying to emails from readers.

The last sunny day in Paris was on Monday; glorious May Day. Since then, there have been gloomy skies, but it is not cold. I think today may be sunny, judging from pin-points of light coming in through my steel shutters.

Before even getting out of bed, myself says to me, "Don't go and 'see' anything, don't ride the métro to the far corners, don't walk anywhere today. Find a place to sit down and sit in it." While having some orange juice, a somewhat peppier myself says, "While sitting, try and think poetically."

You see, I am very jealous of the 2379 Paris writers who have set down book's-worth of carefully-crafted, or off the tops-of-their heads, prose about Paris. Some of it is elegant and a real pleasure to read.

I think I don't re-read Metropole because I just put down words in any old way. They are serviceable, but they have neither elegance nor are than lighter than air. My note-books are blotted with sweat instead of tears.

Ooh, fake poetry! Tears indeed. My keyboard may be blotted with tears from monitor eye-strain, but this is hardly romantic. It looks like grunge.

I seem to be right. I need to go out and sit. No walking today. When walking starts it never stops, so don't let it begin.

I don't 'let it begin' by taking the bus 38. It is pretty full and I get to stand. After going one stop, it takesphoto: chairs at luxembourg on all the passengers from the previous bus 38 that has broken down. Instead of walking, it is like being in a tin full of sausages. The bus hardly moves forward.

Elegant 'not-moving' is easily accomplished in the Luxembourg garden.

The sound-system clears its breath and the bus's driver says we are taking an unplanned detour on account of the street demonstration that is somewhere in front of us. Luckily this always seems to happen about Luxembourg - which is a place to sit.

The only walking I have to do is to cross the street; threading through the armada of stalled cars. The closest gate to the garden is closed, so I have to walk further - but not far.

Inside the gardens people - a lot of people - are sitting on benches, chairs, and the grass. The trees have their spring green fully now, so there are choices of light and shade for sitting locations. I am surprised so many sitters have chosen shade.

I amble around checking the best sitting spots to see if the like-minded are taking advantage of them. It is almost like summer under the trees and the beer-garden chalet has a good house in the dappling of light and shade.

Out in the vast open area where the basin is reflecting the sky, sun-baskers are liberally littered about. There are lots of empty chairs left.

All is peaceful. A troop of kids coming around the basin almost look like little figures in a vast drawing of a marching army scene in Egypt. The space is immense and it is edged with a line of trees, which hide everything of the city except the - Tour Montparnasse.

As has happened before, I've forgotten it is there; so incredibly out of place that it is shocking. There may as well be portable-phone ads splashed across the facade of Marie's château. Oddly, there also seems to be an aqua-colored mini pitch-and-putt layout right in front of the building - but it doesn't look like a telephone ad.

It is, in fact, part of a current exhibition at Luxembourg - both inside and out - of our earth, in photos, called 'La Terre Vue du Ciel.' The outside 'pitch-and-putt' is really a huge map of the earth. The exhibition lasts until Sunday, 18. June and there is no entry charge.

Over in the deeper shade by Marie's fountain and along the sides of its basin, some people are sitting in the best places in the park. The fountain is not splashing or gurgling, but the basin's goldfish or carp are quietly doing the sitting equivalent of swimming.

They are not looking around for food handouts. This annoys a lady beside me who has brought some for them. I amble - note: I am not walking - off to get away from the discord. The gate I want to leave by is locked so I have to go up to the one I entered.

There is a true monster 'bouchon' of a traffic jam up towards the Panthéon where the bus went. Watching this for a few minutes makes me forget that I forgot to sit down in the garden.

The café terraces across the way are full of sunlight andphoto: lux grass, flowers sitters. A gallery next to them has some great paintings - actually they are cartoons; and only prints - and I go inside to have a quiet, free, look at them.

50 metres from the photo above, more elegant 'not-moving,' but in near solitude.

One's caption is, "I tore up my press card when they put the news on TV." The two people in the gallery say goodbye when I leave even if they didn't say hello when I came in.

Down near Odéon a bookshop's window causes me to break out in a rash of bookfever, when I only stop ambling for a second to see if there were any masterpieces for ten francs in the outside stalls. From the window, I find a hardcover one with Paris prose in it; for the cost of another hot meal I'm not going to have.

Before leaving I tell the fellow there to hold all the rest of the books in the window. He knows one of them is worth two meals, so he says, " Heh, heh," because he knows I have no deposit money.

At the Buci corner an abandoned shop is acting as a display for Taschen's photo books and I still have the fever. A lot of signs say one of Helmut Newton's books was auctioned for a million somethings.

Along Buci all the chairs on all the terraces are full of sitters in the sun. Kind of looking for Taschen's own shop, I amble along. I am not too worried because I know I will sit either at the Palette café or on the Pont des Arts.

The Palette's terrace is full of sitters. It looks too complicated to find a place - not impossible, just complicated - so I have a glass of water standing at the bar.

Just to be sure, I check out the billiard room, which is unchanged butphoto: cafe facing luxembourg all its seats are totally empty. One of the two waiters sitting down having lunch tells me the toilet is the other way. Everybody from Naples to Moose Jaw knows this already.

Across from the Luxembourg, some terrace-based 'not-moving' - a lot of it.

Further down the Rue de Seine a young lady is taking photos of lithos lying on the narrow sidewalk. The light is fine for this but it's tricky doing it without a tripod.

While waiting for her to finish a shot, I notice the poster for the upcoming Saint-Germain 'open galleries' event on the gallery door. When the litho-shooter goes inside, I photograph it.

This causes me to get involved with the gallery's owner; who leads me down the street to another gallery - to give me some invitations to the event's vernissage and a poster. With the other gallery's owner, we discuss whether there should be music or not, and I tell them about the '50's-style group at the Chemin du Montparnasse opening the night before.

Now with my new book, my invitations and my new poster, I amble on to the end of the Rue de Seine and check out the benches in the little park. This is a little oasis behind the Institut de France, which also screens it from the racket of traffic in the quay.

After about two minutes I have the entire park to myself, and the choice of any of six stone benches. The fountain is also working, so its gurgle is a positive audio plus to offset the sappy cooing of the pigeons.

The Quais de Conti and Malequais are like a waterfall, only briefly held back by occasional signals from the green man. I take one of these to reach the safety of the Pont des Arts.

This, for a pedestrian bridge, is wide. It has a line of tidy benches down its centre, and some of these have relaxed sitters catching the light spraying over the Seine.

The bridge's wooden surface is attractive to squatters, so some of these are doing this instead of formally sitting. There is no particular 'bridge rule' about this.

From the bridge, both upstream and down, it is possible to see a scattering of sitters on the banks of the Ile de la Cité, outside of the western Square du Vert Galant. A number of others line the right bank Quai du Louvre.

Sitting on the bridge over the quiet river, it must be one of Paris' better sitting places - even if the rivers of traffic on either side are somewhat intense they are a bit muted in the middle.

Along the Quai du Louvre this is not the case at all. Getting to the Pont Neuf isn't much of an improvement. It seems as if thousands of fuming tin cans, mixed with a few jerrycans of buses, have escaped from a broken case.

One of the stone sit-niches on the bridge has a sleeping man and a few others have resting shoppers or visitors. For tranquility, the Pont des Arts is a clear winner.

The fast way out of this circus of nonsense is to cross over, cut past the Taverne du Henri IV and sneak into the Place Dauphine and its benches on the ocher sand under the lines of trees.

The three cafés that are together on the south side of the place all have terrace sitters. All the otherphoto: square g pierne cafés in the place seem to be deserted, and there is only one couple using one bench. If you ever have a headache in the centre of Paris this is the place to get rid of it.

At the end of the Rue de Seine, in the little square behind the Institut de France. No swimming and don't drink the water.

On the Quai des Orfèvres, down by the water, under the trees, there are a few couples being romantic. They are nearly invisible from above; from across the river, who cares?

Crossing the Pont Saint-Michel normally produces no great poetry, but I amble across it just as a wall of storm cloud is overhanging from the east, being held in place by hazy blue sky to the west - which gives the island, the Pont Neuf and the Pont des Arts in the distance - a wash of Monet's light.

The air is changing and in the Place Saint-Michel it feels sticky. There are a lot of people sitting around the fountain; maybe taking a bit of spray from it.

The métro hole is here and in it I drop, to catch my ride up to the 14th. The air is heavy here too. No sense in more than ambling back to the office.

Plug in the camera for the download, turn on the switches in the back, switches in front and hit the main one. Then I sit down to see the flash-screen coolly wink its 'sucker' grin at me.

See the 'Café' and 'Au Bistro' columns for other 'sit-
down' photos taken today.
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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