Language comes back to you--it’s a truth universally known, but often forgotten. You can also pick up conversations where you began them with cities previously visited.
For some, Paris plays the part as “city of lights” with the romance tropes that we who hunger for meaning might find under any rock we upend so long as it’s in the Tuileries. I tend to think of Paris more as a place of awakening.
On my second trip to Paris and with only a handful of days to breathe in the aroma of freshly baked bread from the nearby boulangerie or to “lick the windows” while window-shopping, I set off on my own as a single woman traveler. The hotel had been procured for its prime location near the opera house and because Oscar Wilde had darkened its doors. I had been in a bit of a crisis and felt a trip to Paris would sort it all out. Then again, I am often in these crises when I haven’t been writing.
Stowed away in my carry-on, I toted a small book of poetry by Rilke, a journal, blank postcards and colored pencils that would be my prompts to get back into the process. During this season of life, I had become obsessed with trying to find my writing voice and tried to will it into realization. Of all the prompts I had packed, the one I knew would be most important was the city itself. So, I planned loose adventures leaving room for inspiration to strike and move my feet in whatever unexpected direction was necessary to spur the muse along.
As the sun began to set the first evening, I wandered over to the square by the Louvre and noshed on a still warm crepe sighing from the weight of nutella inside. Its crisp edges gave way to chewy middles- just what I had remembered from eating crepes in the South of France years before, but had not been nailed in America just yet. I wiped my mouth with a napkin and tossed the paper crepe wrapper in the rubbish bin as I set out for my second visit to the Louvre.
Traveling alone let me set the pace. So, when I had heard that the Louvre maintained evening hours on Fridays, I leapt at the chance to see the art in a new light literally. The Mona Lisa had been moved to her own quarters with a fuzzy brown guardrail keeping gawkers at arm’s length. I wondered what it might be like to be the grand dame of the museum or at least the one that like a siren, called forth the flocks of tourists. After a nod in her direction, I paused in front of the giant David painting of a raft of people that spanned the length of a city block. I had studied this painting in art history and remembered that in spite of the melee of bodies crushed onto the raft, no feet were visible, which the artist accomplished with deft skill.
From there, I moved onto the Flemish painters, my favorite section, apart from the incredible relics from Egypt. Here, I could find my favorite van Ruisdael with the sweeping sky and pastoral setting, even as several black birds dotted the sky, flying off toward darkening clouds in the distance. In another room, I tarried, as I always must, in front of Rembrandt’s “Bathsheba” whose hand is flung in desperation, holding a letter that has just informed her of her husband’s death. The emotion (Regret? Shame? Longing?) Rembrandt captured in her face and eyes has always bewitched me.
Crossing from one gallery to another, the sun began to outline the buildings as it began plunging into night. Armed with my slew of stories (No feet! Regret! Shame! Longing!) I eventually wound my way out of this beloved museum and by way through the corridor of mummies. (Another story to snip off and carry away).
I had mused that a visit to Paris alone might be terribly lonely, experiencing all of its sights, sounds and wonders. But this practice of observance, of drinking the city in by footsteps through one arrondissement to the next grounded me with ideas and the truth of my own existence that might spill over into character sketching at a café while sipping a noisette or colored pencil drawings for my memory to pore over years later. Sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves, we need the challenge of being alone with ourselves long enough to remember our voice has accompanied us all along.
Annelies Zijderveld hails from the Lone Star state, but has called San Francisco home for over a decade. Her work can be seen in Blind Pen Journal, Web del Sol, the Huffington Post, Arthouse America, and Sated Magazine among other publications. She is the associate editor of Poetry International, a journal dedicated to showcasing emerging and established voices from the international community. Alimentum Journal selected her food and poetry blog, The Food Poet, as one of their favorite food blogs in 2013. She taught a workshop in mixed media poetry at New England College in the summer of 2012, from which she has an MFA poetry degree. An exhibit of her food poetry displayed at the Abbey in Santa Cruz in 2013. Connect with her on twitter, facebook, pinterest or join the Google+ food poetry community.
Words by A. Zijderveld; Photo by D. Alvarez