Friday, August 7, 2015

Body and soul, partie 2

This is the truth, what she really looks like, the Seine at dusk. No retouching, no magic wand, no beauty aids. 

It is evening, early August. Outside the air is just the right temperature for strolling without a jacket. Many people are doing just that; walking along the river, across the river on the Pont Neuf or one of its sisters. Some of us finding the stone stairs right down to the water itself, where you can pass close to the houseboats and the floating bars with terraces, their chalkboards listing the offerings du jour. 

The open decks look inviting. Most of the boards offer libations; they all look good, but I'm burning off the wine from dinner. Another reason to walk: the thought of sitting alone, with a view fit for a king or queen and no one to share it with. 

The river draws a multitude, but no one from my life. It feels really strange to be alone. On the other hand, the apartment is off-limits tonight. Jean-Baptiste is throwing a huge bash for his girlfriend's birthday. It's a bacchanal, with food, drink, loud music, strangers. The excess shows that he loves her, or maybe that they're so young. I'm staying away.

After a few minutes, I find a worthy spot and sit there on the edge of the Left Bank, watching the dark river. Watching the light of the day fade slowly, slowly. On the quay there are families with kids, couples, a few singles. Many languages being spoken. But there's no tourist queue to grow old in, no sweaty and unruly crowd to wade through, no gaudy souvenir stands with stuff made in China (Le Chat Noir! Le Tour Eiffel!).

The soul of a place can't be bought and taken someplace else, taken with us. It is not a thing. These few moments watching the river, watching the sky and the buildings between river and sky, this might be all we have. 

The word exists in French: passe-temps. The Romans who settled far from home in the boondocks of Lutetia, they must have done this simple thing. The peasants who wrought their fury in the Revolution, the artists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Many whose names are known only to a few, maybe only to their families. All of us.

The sky gathers colors and transforms. Sightseeing boats drift by, several per minute, quickly, as if they have someplace else to be. The larger ones look like they might have casinos and dance floors and other luxuries. All are lit within, giving a good view of the people on deck and at tables in the dining rooms. Some of the boats have external floodlights that they shine on the river banks and the undersides of bridges, even at us. 

The lights swing around, the people change one position for another on the boats. We sit there in the almost-dark, part of the backdrop. We sit there taking it in.

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