Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Europe 2013 - Notes From The Dark Corner Of Yet Another Sunny Room

Notes From The Dark Corner Of Yet Another Sunny Room… Fast-Paced & Snail-Slow… Safety & Danger Within Two City Blocks… A Different World Beneath The One You See…

Whilst here four years ago, I wrote in a note to friends back home, ‘So, Paris… fast-paced and crazy, a good place to visit, but more than a week or so and you’d lose yr mind, leave it on a café table with the dregs of beer and the red wine, never to be seen again.’

And so now my mind is gone. Left on said café table a good week ago, seven days into a three week Parisian stretch. I am a local now. I know the lay of the land and I know where to tread, lightly or otherwise. But still, I have no mind.

View From Sacre Coeur
Perhaps I left it on the steps of Sacre Coeur, lost amongst the hawkers and the tourists, throngs and throngs. Or perhaps it’s somewhere on Boulevard De Clichy, stretching from Rue De Clignancourt right along to the rather inauspicious Moulin Rouge, a street lined with seedy sex shops and dry, withered old women, eyeballed by fat tourists hoping to see more. Or perhaps it’s in the hushed surrounds of the Musee de Orangerie, propped up against one of Monet’s epic murals. Indeed, it is not where it should be.

We regularly roam the streets, immersing ourselves in whatever comes our way. Sometimes we shouldn’t be where we are, but before the cover of darkness we’re as safe as we can be, although not too sure sometimes. One minute you’re amongst local Parisians, shopping and eating, drinking and smoking, always smoking, bistros and bars, elderly and young, all in between.

Lines From The Notebook
Then, the next, you’re in a ghetto, or close to, sidewalks narrow and cars seem to pass faster, the noise increases and people look at you like they know, and you know too, but to keep walking at a swift pace is the key and before you know it, you’re lost in a surging riptide of foreign humanity, cameras swinging and maps flapping, flapping, always there, accents and languages drowning out the yell from the street behind you, the actual street itself, ‘I know!’, and you know, but you just keep walking fast.

In Montmartre, the cobbled streets lay where they fell, no method to the madness, up stairs and around curves, trees lining streets and cafes and bars abound. Artists and writers, painters and actors, everyone tightknit, or as tight as you can be in a vast place like this one – once a thriving Avant Guard scene, now quite gentrified, but if you look a bit deeper… you find the grime and the grit and the creativity, we delight in immersing ourselves, coming up for air gritty and raw, feeling like something is real in a city where so much is becoming less so.

Beneath the streets of this ancient city, beneath the bustle and the style, the arrogance and the buzz and grind, is an entirely different place, a place of dark noise, screeching metal against metal, heat and steam, vermin run free and the smell of piss stains the back of your throat. Five minutes until the next train, sound booms back off tiled walls as a sea of people gurgles, ebbing and flowing, the train arriving and a heave forward, filling a long steel tube which beeps and bumbles, doors slam shut and you’re pitched forward, black, lights flicker on, hot air blows through open windows and the pace is frenetic, we must go faster! We must make up for any lost time!
Occasionally, you're the only one...
In the gloom through the windows, old brick walls covered in haphazard graffiti, a tunnel branching off in another direction, a black hole where good men should fear to tread because no one knows what lies in there, unafraid of booming steel tubes, throngs of people encased within, then, like a fucking shot from nowhere, back into the light, more sound slamming off yet more tiled walls, out with the flow, forced down stairs, along airless corridors, up stairs into the sunshine which you greet with a crumpled face, the sun scorching your eyeballs, welding them to the back of your skull, and you’re back topside, back to normal, slightly winded, covered in sweat, wondering what the hell just happened and where it was you left your mind.

On the platform at Strasbourg St. Denis Metro station, carried off by rats into a subterranean tunnel from which it’ll never emerge.

Indeed, one of the most intriguing places on the face of the earth. Above ground, and below.

Samuel J. Fell

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