I have been here a month and by now the fantasy has crossed my mind that I might not come home again. Would it be possible, the fantasist goes, staring at the ceiling before she rises in the morning, to actually disappear, to leave behind all obligations? My sister tells me she experiences this anytime she’s been anywhere that moved her, or where she has had such a great time she’s ‘forgotten’ herself. It’s all about forgetting ourselves, no matter where we’re based. So, PARIS makes me forget myself. I write every day, I also ‘play’ in some form every day, whether it’s wandering around, going to see something, going to yet another French movie (there are so many), catching an opera, or simply shooting the breeze with a few friends over yet another bottle of blushing Hippocrene. Settling into any foreign city is not easy. But the funny thing is, it never seems lonely. One is often alone, but that’s a different matter altogether. Aloneness in a city is one of the most healing things I’ve ever experienced. All my life I’ve had great moments in cities, where I’ve been pleased or excited, or peaceful or startled – sometimes disturbed, but no more so than I’d be at home on the aul sod where there’s always plenty to disturb your peace of mind. Even so, in Paris it’s hard not to observe how many elderly people are literally on the street and apparently homeless. Some are carrying a sign with the words ‘J’ai faim’ written on it. Some are very ‘respectable’ looking, if a little faded, so it makes me wonder what are the circumstances that have led so many to be without a roof over their heads. Irish people behave nowadays as if they were the most scourged race on the planet. It isn’t so. Things are very hard for many people in France right now. We don’t notice it at home, given that Sarkozy and Merkel are usually doing the Euro-Swagger from city to city, mouthing economic wisdom of one kind or another – you’d think they ran perfect nations themselves, but the fact is they don’t, and France and Germany have been hugely affected by the world recession. But enough. I’m loving Paris. I have a roof over my head and enough change in my pocket to get by and a city full of wonderful bookshops. How good is that?
Speaking of books, Shakespeare and Company is one of those lovely bookshops that makes you feel as if you’re a) not suspicious; b) free to browse; c) totally at home. They even have what Linda Fallon their manager/boss describes as ‘the tumbleweeds’, the kids (or adults), who come to stay for a few weeks, on condition that they work a few hours in the shop each day. It’s a free bed, basically, but it’s not a hostel. Your bedroom is a room of books upstairs, quite unlike any bedroom in the world. Because it isn’t a bedroom, of course. It’s just a place to lay your bones for the night, covered invisibly by the warm wealth of a couple of billion words all around you.
Quite early on during my stay, Lisa Hannigan sang in the bookshop. Yes. LISA HANNIGAN of the blissful voice and sweet lyric gave an adoring audience all the could have wished for, and more. There we were (I was definitely the granny among them), seated on our cushions on the floor at her feet. It was one of those evenings … Jeanette Winterson also read today, but I didn’t attend that much as I admire Winterson’s work. I’ll bet it was packed though. Instead I went to a UGC film presentation – the movie ‘Le Fils de l’Autre’, which focuses on what happens when an Israeli family and a Palestinian family discover that there was a mix-up in the maternity ward after the birth of their sons. Well actually, they were evacuated during the ‘troubles’ there, which was why the babies got mixed up. The result was really interesting as two very different families attempt to forge links and do what they can to blur the edges of dissimilarity that separate people. They succeed too, in startling ways. The film gives a lot of visuals on the rel between Palestinians and Israelis, especially at the checkpoints. And that wall that has just destroyed so much of Palestine is quite a presence. It’s never alluded to, but it’s there. Reminded me of all kinds of things: the Berlin Wall obviously, the border between the North and the Republic of Ireland, the Great Wall of China – anything in other words that has been devised to separate people for religious, tribal or other reasons. But I digress.
Now – am I going home again or am I staying in Paris? After a life generally led with rigorous absences of fantasy, I always allow myself plenty when I travel. It’s the other side of the coin, and maybe it isn’t so far from reality as one sometimes imagines. I guess I’ll go home. I’d have an awful lot of explaining to do if I didn’t.