Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chapter 5: Things You See in Paris at Night

For those of you who have ever read Edmund White's The Flâneur, or for those of you who know what a flâneur is (an idler or, according to Charles Baudelaire's usage of the word, a person who strolls around a city to experience it), you'll know the main way a person gets to experience Paris is by walking, particularly at night. I've been doing this myself. A lot. Without much loyalty to quartier and with little sense of purpose. Kind of whorishly adrift, frankly. I've turned, you might say, into a bit of a flâneusie. And here are some things you might see if you were a flâneusie, too.

An iron bridge covered with thousands of locks. Each lock with the name of a couple, the key thrown into the Seine.

The last store on earth that sells Polaroid cameras.

Policemen advancing on a small knot of young men who tense, turning to negotiate with each other about their next move.

A café full of North African men smoking hukas.

A young man asleep on a mattress covered with dung pellets, two small black rabbits beside him, each wearing a leash, one of them eating slices of apple someone--maybe the young man--cut up and left in a dish for them.

An elderly man in black toreador pants with green and gold vines stitched up each leg trying, with dignity, to ignore his crying wife.

Groups of extremely beautiful young black women in high heels and leather jackets smoking outside a nightclub on rue de Charonne and laughing. None of them, to your admiration, has straightened hair.

Shops that sell antique ivory book covers and calling card holders chiseled out of whale bone.

A man grumpily dragging an IKEA bag full of laundry to the lavarie.

A chocolate shop display of an enormous chocolate gorilla and a set of chocolate pencils.

Fifteen college students playing boulle and smoking.

A group of Americans walking along the Canal St. Martin. One of them says to the others, "I'm half-Lebanese. But I'm not committed to that or anything."

A store that specializes in pest-control with a window display of taxidermied rodents.

Graffiti of sperm. Graffiti of names. Graffiti upon graffiti.

A metro station that contains little glassed-in dioramas of astrolabes, of steam engines, of interlocking wheels.

A young, curly-haired man clutching a bloody handkerchief to his nose, his friend walking alongside him, yelling.

Families sleeping on mattresses next to the Bastille Opera House.

A shop full of elegant black and white pants, shirts, vests, kimono-tied blouses and coats. It looks like the fall Jil Sander collection until you get up close and realize it's a waitstaff and culinary outfitting store.

Knots of high schoolers picnicking in the stone parks along the quays.

A tiny tea shop that sells "writers' tea."

Two young men laughing as they speed past on their motorbike. They are laughing because they sped up just to see if you would start running across the street. Which you did.

A store that advertises Tampons Industriels. It doesn't sell what you think it would.

Women standing, in a line, looking at a Dior display.

Badly translated movie advertisements.

A parked car with an English sign "You hit it, you pay for it" adhered to its back window being nudged forcefully two feet further down the block by the nose of another car, whose driver is trying to carve out more room for himself to park.

A police entourage for the prisoner's van being driven through the 10th. As they pass, the prisoners, not chained or buckled down to their seats, jump up shouting, banging on the glass, yelling at the people on the streets.

A perfectly renovated white 1950s FIAT.

Crowds of teenagers and couples in St. Germain-de-pres staring at an 18th century fountain overflowing with bubbles from the laundry detergent someone poured in as a joke. On the other side of the street, a group of EMTs standing outside a cordoned off area at the entrance to an apartment building, waiting to take the body, or bodies, down.

A rat the size of a ferret running across a park.

A man with a little sign that says "Cherche nympho" who smiles at you and holds it up as you pass.

Parades of young black and white mixed couples on the streets, in the cafés. In the back of the FUSAC English magazine you find later at the Irish bar, three French ads written by middle-aged men for "une femme asiatique."

A taqueria.

A cemetery.

More ambulances than you remember.

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