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We, Too, Have Paris

Everyone knows there’s something about Paris, something eternal. 10 years ago today (or thereabouts) I flew to Paris. Which makes it 9 years and 11 months since I was last there. Time flies.

ratatouille-1I first spent a night in the city of light back in the mists of the Millennium. It was very much a

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Paris 2000

stopover as I had no real desire to visit, but somehow the 24 hours I spent wandering around Montmartre and the Champs Elysees, the Place de la Concorde and Napoleon’s tomb got under my skin. The people were colourful, friendly; not at all as rude as the reputation that proceeds them. Like London, it felt international. A city that belonged to the world.

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Euro 2005 Travel plan

Five years later (10 years ago today, or thereabouts) I flew back to Paris, buttressing a month in Europe with two five-day stints. I loved it. Fell for the Ile de St Louis. Saw someone dragged from the Seine. Visited the flowers left at the spot where Diana died. I wrote about it last September in Songs of September if you wish to know more. Suffice to say what happened changed me, for better or worse (I choose better).

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Rescue on the Seine

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A tribute

My seven year old daughter sees something special in Paris. In fact, she recently asked if we could go there one day, together. Of all the places in the world it seems an interesting place for her to fixate on. Better than Disneyland. Excellent. Love my girl.

SouzaMaybe it’s the place Paris holds in popular media. She loves Home (full of Paris). Adores the Triplets of Belleville (not Paris, exactly, but a hybrid of Franco/US excess). Delights in A Monster in Paris (a wonderful film for kids full of cool non-Hollywood music). And last weekend we watched Ratatouille with its representations of Parisian streets so precise I could say to my girl (who has a French name thanks to her Francophone mother), “that is where I sat and ate meringues by the Seine as gendarmes leaped over me and my, er friend, waving pistols to keep us to quiet”.

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It’s not just kids’ movies. On my writing course last week we talked about Midnight In Paris discussing what age we would most like to visit. I had to resist blurting I was watching the third series of Vikings (a series I love so much I wrote about it) where the attack on Paris is so stunningly realised it takes up 3-4 episodes of the 10 part series. To see Medieval Paris, such an unbelievable treat!

Paris

Even Vikings heart Paris

10 years is a long time in any life. Even when it seems like yesterday. I remember almost every meal I ate. Every surprising sight. Every fight. Every reconciliation. Every ridiculously romantic moment.

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Pre-smartphone travel plan 2005

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Meringue by the Seine

I was going to let the anniversary of that September go by without note but this morning I read a great short story by Lorrie Moore called ‘You’re Ugly, Too’. It’s very dark and funny. A history teacher from Maryland tries to teach complacent, uncurious Mid-Westerners in Paris, Illinois about history. Just the idea of there being a place called Paris, Illinois is mind-bendingly awful, and funny.

Today, I remember Paris, and look forward to my next visit when I will go with my girl and we will do whatever the future may hold, be it meringues by the Seine or whatever she may fancy. Paris is like that. Always there. Constantly defying expectations.

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Leaving the Building

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I love being in a town when no one knows you’re there. Not that I’m avoiding anyone but there’s something magical about wandering with no plans, seeing what you see, being a stranger in a strange land.

Maybe the quiet and anonymity is made more delicious by not having the constant 5 year old with me….free of the burbling chatter and desire to climb on my shoulders I feel light and invisible.

This ‘strange land’ is my old home town, which I left nearly 20 years ago. I visit it many times a year even though almost all the strands of my family have also departed. I have friends and memories I need to revisit and grow.

They say you can never go home and that is certainly the case when the city you grew up in is smashed by a cruel and unexpected shrug of nature.

Christchurch has looked like a 20th century war zone for over 2 and a half years; the central city especially so. Life is creeping into the empty spaces with all its quirks and colour but it will be decades before it functions again as it once did.

With a couple of hours free before I have to work then fly home, I’ve come to the Lyttleton market, looking for coffee and an artisanal snack. But it is too early so, like the handful of other tourists, I am loitering, watching the stalls being set up.

For many years I had a job setting up the market at the Arts’ Centre. I could write a novel about what I saw. Maybe all markets are so. I feel the ’90s flooding back. It’s a bit much.

A coffee chain place was open so I’ve grabbed a macchiato while I wait. The barista asked for a name even though the only others in the cafe are a mother and daughter, probably touristing, too, as they have full make up at 08:30 on a Saturday; it is too fresh to be from an all-nighter.
Latching onto my feeling of anonymity, I said the first name that came to mind, Elvis. That made the daughter look.

So, with caffeine fixed into my system and these words tapped out of head and into my device, this big fat Elvis will leave the building, buy some pastries for lunch then head into town to wander the erstwhile ‘red zone’ of the central city, taking photos of the broken, beloved Cathedral & have a real coffee at C1 (the best cafe in Central Chch, recently re-opened).
That is, once I try a Vietnamese pork belly sandwich.

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Well, C1 was looking pretty flash in it’s post-quake building (the old Alice in Videoland…in an old Post Office building).
It sits amongst a sea of empty lots and broken buildings where the city used to be.
There’s always plenty of parking in Chch these days thanks to all the stony gaps.
However, the queue in C1 was massive so I headed on to check out more sights.

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As I stood by the fence surrounding the broken, ubiquitous symbol of my home some tourists were arguing over which way was west. It felt nice being able to put them right, reassuring them the cathedral was indeed laid out on the same axis as all other cathedrals. That it didn’t fall because they put it up wrong.

I could say so much about what it felt like to stand in the Square for the first time since the earthquake. In one word, it was ’emotional’. Not unlike viewing the body of a loved one. Familiar but wrong. Reassuring and disconcerting.

Afterwards, I went to see the temporary Cardboard Cathedral. Funny, it looked more plastic from the outside. But the giant cardboard beams are beautiful.
It is very light inside and, as the old Rev who approached me pointed out, the concrete floor is heated, unlike the beautiful mosaics and tiles of Christ Church Cathedral.
It is warm and looks out on the green of Latimer Square where an elusive horse has been seen grazing, he said.

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When the old Rev asked me where I was from, I said Christchurch. I considered saying the town where I live now. But this is my home town. It has changed (as have I); more buildings have ‘left the building’ than have stayed.

I feel sadness, loss, hope and happiness. A stranger amongst the new and familiar. A visitor with an assumed name.

I wish I was staying the night.