Sunday, January 30, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Not far from the Boulevard de Clichy at the foot of Montmartre but a short walk from the Moulin Rouge there is a place invisible to most visitors to Paris. It is a small cemetery; a magical place. It is not seen by the majority of foreigners that flock to the city each year, yet it holds for me what is the essence of that great city. It is the resting place of some of that city’s greatest artists; that made Paris such a drawcard for the world.
The main entrance is hidden down a side street, the Avenue Rachel, although you can reach it by one of Paris steep staircases from the Rue Caulaincourt Bridge which spans the south east corner of the cemetery. Once you enter, you visit a wondrous world.
Immediately the street sounds are hushed and you are confronted by a tranquil oasis where those in that corner sleep. Most of the memorials are built on a grand scale by families who pack their relatives in these stone mausoleums that dot the walkways like sentry boxes.
The first name I recognised was Emile Zola, that novelist whose heroes and heroines were influenced by the fateful blood and passions of the Rougon Macquart family. A little further on is the tomb of Hector Berlioz whose Symphony Fantastique was inspired by his love for an Irish actress who he later married.
On the same path is the elaborate tomb of the painter Jean Baptist Greuze whose social commentary paintings in the 17th century warned of a revolution that was to come.
But a few paces from there is the resting place of Jean Honoré Fragonard, a contemporary who painted the idyllic France that existed only for the elite. Who can forget his painting “The Swing” showing a young man on the ground admiring an amused girl on a swing as she reveals her petticoats as she swings above him?
While we were walking around the cemetery we had this feeling of being watched. We rested on our climb up the steep paths and slowly when these were cleared of visitors the true residents of the cemetery emerged. From behind the tombs, from out of openings came the owners of that patch of Paris. Quietly we observed the cats of Paris emerge from hiding to stalk and play and rest in the weak October sunshine. As we rose again to walk on they just as quickly disappeared not wishing to have contact with us.
At the cemetery’s high point close to boundary wall there is a massive family crypt; it bears the name “de Gas”. On it is affixed a medallion showing a man with a long nose wearing a floppy hat. Here lies Edgar Degas, impressionist painter and master draughtsman who is ever immortalised by his paintings & crayon sketches of ballet dancers. His hands were able to create the movement and expression of their every action, capturing on canvas all the excitement of the dance, the stage and the swirl of muslin.
Seeing the tombs of these heroes of France is a most moving experience and our rest stops were many. The names went on; Leo Delibes and the Flower duet from Lakme, Jacques Offenbach and his music of “Gaité Parisienne’ echoing the nightlife down the road and now here is Stendhal and his novels “The Charterhouse of Parma” and “Scarlet and Black”.
We were approaching the overpass bridge again and the sound of traffic could be heard once more. To our right was a box like tomb some steps from the path. It was that of the family “Du Plessis.” Interred here was Alphonsine du Plessis a beautiful but tragic heroine. She was Dumas’s Lady of the Camellias, and Marguerite in Verdi’s “La Traviata”. She was real!
As we left the cemetery I felt we had seen more than a collection of graves, we had been in touch with the artistic spirit of France.
On looking back down over the cemetery from the Rue Caulaincourt which wends its way around the back of Montmartre like a comforting arm, I saw the cats emerge again to reclaim their territory.
Illustration "The Swing" by Fragonard
Sunday, January 9, 2011
I often walk in the park. No, that is not true, I walk to the park and I sit down on a bench and I think and observe and occasionally if I remember, I might feed the birds with a crust. When I am breaking it up and throwing it to the urban bird life that really have no right to be there getting free pickings, I often think that the crusts would do me more good than the spongy moist bread that is in the slices that I do eat.
Today as on most days I see the usual park dwellers like me; the walkers and the joggers; the skateboarders and mothers with babies or toddlers. I don’t wave or say hello to them or they to me they are but the natural makeup of the park, just like the seats and the kiddies’ corner and the fountain and the gardens and the grass and the trees. That is all except Maisie. I am sure that is not her name, it is just the name I have given her. She dresses down for the park. She looks permanently cross and she holds an unbent wire coat hanger in one hand and drags a large trolley with the other. The trolley is filled with reusable bags half filled with an assortment of bottles and cans and plastic containers all of which can be redeemed for 10c a piece at the recycling depot. We have little such debris littering our street and parks and waterways, it is just too valuable. Even if you don’t want the 10c Maisie does and hundreds like her. There is an army of scavenger ants in Adelaide clearing the city and suburbs of this waste.
As I sit there unnoticed Maisie will approach the waste bin near me and using her improvised tool will fossick for treasures in the garbage. I however notice her. She has dressed especially for this task. She has dressed down. I don’t think her best friends would recognise her, if she had any friends. She wears a hat that shields her face and protects her from the sun and it is held on by a chiffon scarf of doubtful cleanliness tied with knot under her chin. Her clothes are ones Opportunity shops would throw out. They are foul and her shoes are of course sneakers of a size that would probably fit me!
At first I would ignore her and she me. One day something allowed me to study her more closely. Hiding behind her façade was a very sweet face that appeared when her grimace was relaxed. In that fleeting second I saw a different Maisie, I saw a young girl thrilled at receiving her first kiss, I saw a blushing bride proudly gazing into a young man’s eyes, and I saw her with tears in her eyes as she cradled her baby. It was at that moment I looked at Maisie in a different light. In doing so I got up off the park bench and stopped feeling sorry for myself and took a walk in the park.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
“Do you know what I hate?” Mel asked. He, puzzled for a moment, somehow had to think of a good response, just in case she was about to criticise something he had done or not done, said or even thought. She knew him so well.
Luckily she went on before he opened his mouth, with the real risk of saying the wrong thing. “Thank Heavens!” John thought, “It’s is a rhetorical question.”
“What I really hate is progress.” She finally uttered.
“Is that it?” he thought “Or is there more to come?”
“Haven’t you ever thought that for every wondrous advancement, every fantastic achievement and for some every super must have gadget, device or whatever that comes on the market we actually lose something too?”
“The things that we lose are things that we will remember in times to come and regret their passing and wonder why we were such fools to let them go.”
As Melanie prattled on, John looked at her and loved her even more. He saw her lips move and wanted to kiss them. He wanted to touch her face and run his fingers down her neck and hold her tight. He wanted to lie down with her and feel her warmth against him, to hold on to her bare calves, and to count her toes and to kiss her soft tummy and feel secure with her as she wrapped him in her arms and hugged him tight and rocked him, while he breathed in the scent of her body. She loved him drawing pictures on her back and having to guess what they were.
“Don’t you think so too?” she asked.
John, awoken from his reverie, looked back at Melanie’s face. She was smiling and said, “You haven’t heard a word I said, have you?”
“Mel, my darling, precious little flower, you are absolutely right, but everyday of our lives some things change. I think we are tricked into believing that some of the changes are in fact progress. Some however are inevitable. The important thing is to be able to share your life with someone who you can trust, to talk to, to play with and to laugh with, and all the rest? What does it matter as long as we have each other?”
Mel had a tiny smile on her face when she considered all that.
“You are only saying that because you want to go back to bed, aren’t you?”
“Yes” John replied.