Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Here is the view from my balcony on the sixth floor, over the high plane trees in the square St André des Arts, just behind Place St Michel. The trees are swaying in the wind this morning. The leaves are almost fully out but they were just buds when I arrived ten days ago for my writing retreat. I've never had such a close relationship with the tops of plane trees before. I didn't even know they had globular female flowers. There are about nine trees in the square, sharing the space with a metro entrance, a large restaurant which sprawls under them, parked motorbikes, and various vagrants, one of whom sometimes raises a small tent from poles at night. Bye-bye trees of Paris, bye-be sparrows who cheep on my balcony demanding more crumbs. Bye-bye Easter at Notre Dame and Emmanuel, the Bourdon bell only rung on Palm Sunday, Easter day, Christmas and when peace is declared or a pope dies.
Every time I come to Paris I discover something new. This time it was Sainte Chapelle. How could I have not known about it? I was born here. Last time it was the catacombs. It's as if Paris, which is built on limestone, opens up more of its caverns on each visit. I went for a walk in the Luxembourg gardens yesterday evening, for the first time as an adult. I must have been there as a child, riding on a stag or giraffe on the old-fashioned carousel, or launching a toy yacht on the pond. I can't really remember. But what I do remember vividly is playing in the sandpit in another square, just behind where we used to live on the Boulevard de Grenelle. I went to see that sandpit again. I walked in the footsteps of a six-year-old, along the side of the park and sat and watched children playing in it. They and their parents looked happy, normal. That sandpit was the place I learnt to be an artist, a sculptor at first, then a poet. In it I created my world, a retreat from well, whatever it is I had to retreat from. I will always be grateful to it and to that simple material, sand.
Sand and leaves. So simple they are hard to comprehend. As for Sainte Chapelle and its fifteen fifty-feet high stained-glass windows, epitome of High Gothic, how do I grasp that? Or the inside of Notre Dame, and its three rose windows, which I braved often on this visit. Or the ritual opening of the central portal, when I happened to be at the end of my first tour, just by the huge main front doors, which are always closed, when the cardinal and the congregation turned around, and the ritual was performed right under my nose, at the front of the cathedral, and after the organ had boomed out nine knocks, the bolts were drawn back and sunlight streamed into the incense-filled nave.