Thursday, 9 March 2017

Robert D's Paris

And so, which just so you know has become my favourite saying, as it has of others, and which I believe could even be attributed to the broad and continuing appeal of Kurt Vonnegut for its pause-making similarities, I find myself in Paris.
I arrived by boat and train, less than three days ago, after the usual mishaps which have dogged me ever since I stepped outside my provincial town.
What befell me this time around? I shall tell you, in a succinct manner for this is not the objective of this narration.
First, the berth assigned to me on the boat was not sound for I was plagued by a trickle of water which the boat's engineer tried to tell me in heavily accented English was 'no-fing to vorri yours 'ead 'bout' and that it came from inside not out. This, however, did little to alleviate my worries, and, in fact, only increased them. Then, after this worrisome but largely uneventful voyage, I was not met by my friend's friend whom had offered a guided tour and one night's bed and board, admittedly to my friend whose place I filled, but still, I had expected him to show, and so, when he didn't, I had to board a shuttle to the harbour-town, and there, track down reasonable accommodation, where I passed a fitful night: two tom-cats yowled, I presume, at each other or the full moon that split my room into zebra-like stripes.
The next day, however, passed off as planned: the train to Paris came on time, and so, here I am. In this Picture Post world.
In a piece of the globe I've primarily viewed through the lens of other, less risk-averse people, who are now, for the most part, decreased, though their art has by no means neared its last breath. Their classic black and white images of Paris existed when I wasn't even a blob of cells, and then, when I was more material than blob, I came to them a quarter of a century late. I actually wailed when I realised these pictures and I had existed side by side for twenty-five years and that fate had not intervened sooner. Now, a further quarter and seventeen years on, is that Paris still there?
That, is what I've been hoping, rather naively, since I arrived in this great city to discover. I'm almost scared at what I might find, for I don't want my Paris bubble to burst, nor for the back-catalogue of images I retain to be ripped to shreds, and yet it would be a waste of my friend's money if I stay holed up in this hotel for another day, trying out my dismal O-level French on the staff who answer me with an insufferably quick tongue. I have no idea what they're saying and can only reply with the following: Non, Oui, C'est combien?, Merci; or if I'm really struggling with whatever lamentation they're telling me, their mouth a stream of foreign words, a sympathetic or indignant C'est la vie! All, however, seem to suffice and they either grin broadly at me or go away with their frowns smoothed.
But today, after what has become my habitual croissant with apricot jam, I steeled myself to leave my current abode armed with a map and a compass, because, as you might have guessed, I'm..., well, I don't easily throw caution to the wind, not even if the direction it's blowing in is favourable, unless I'm pushed by a pig-headed friend or some 'strike while the iron's hot' force. In this case, it was the latter, and quite frankly, after staring at walls, as well as wooden doors and patterned floors, I was bored. The slow elevator was even failing to excite me.
Paris called! And I was determined to trace, at a walking pace, Robert D's pictorial twentieth century representation. The D stands for Doisneau, but my pronunciation is poor and, has at times, been a laughing matter, and so, to save my blushes and stammers I shortened it. Robert D. makes him sound like a friend, a very good friend, and he has been to me, unwittingly, but still. And so, of course, the first place I headed to was the big open space of the Champ de Mars, where the world's first hydrogen-filled balloon was launched by Jacques Charles and the Robert Brothers. A little fact I gleaned in my teens from a history doc, that would in time lead to Robert D. and this famous backdrop, which is where I now stand watching a very French-looking man take the air with a leashed white rabbit.

Picture credit: Champ de Mars, Paris, 1943, Robert Doisneau