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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paris, Sacré Coeur

I love it here because I live close by and I can use the quiet streets to jog there and then relax, just hang around. When I was still living there instead of visiting family on a regular basis, I used to go there with my favorite music playing if and when I needed time to think. The music was there because it reminded me of what I was thinking of in the first place, why I was so attached to the whole matter (usually, if not exclusively, people related) and the walking and jogging . . . well, regular, repetitive exercise always exerted a calm, soothing effect, not to mention, most of the time, if I didn't exactly get the solution, I at least started feeling marginally better. There's always something that puts things in perspective, some passer-by, something that happens to catch your eye, even some random stranger coming out of the bakery.

They tell you that tourist places, like crowded city trains, attract unwanted attention. While my dad, when he was alive, staunchly maintained that if he hadn't made it clear on that day in Manhattan that I was with him, the pimp next to me would have taken me, here, the worst that can happen is a pickpocket or some unwanted attention from someone, who, on the spur of the moment, decides that you're just his type and will follow you home (anywhere between 16-35 will usually do, which isn't to say the Northern side at the end of the spectrum doesn't get its fair share but at that age, they still seem willing and naive, then again, they really do target all ages). It should be mentioned here that my dad wasn't saying it to scare me in any way, he knew I was interested in the darker side of human relations and merely wanted to share his observations. I knew better than to talk to strangers, already at that age and after what my dad told me, I felt intrigued, more than scared. I wanted to see the man but he'd already gone, reason for my dad telling me what he'd been thinking in the first place. But back to Sacré Coeur.

People from their respective countries (and various regions) and the various demographics are highly visible, when you know what you're searching for. Their behavior reflects the cultural clichés they have been taught or are trying to implement. The group of young twenty-somethings, mostly students, gathering on the steps around a singer with a guitar, humming along, while those who know the lyrics pick up the melody. The group of small town retired Germans, stomping their way to the top, barging into people and then complaining loudly when people dare to actually reprimand them. The Polish believers, who want to see this church of churches, and meet their friends, the painters a few feet away, looking for people they can scam. The group of American ladies, also of retirement age, from another small town, who almost gets a heart attack when someone addresses her, asking what time it is. Until it turns out that the person asking is also American, which immediately evokes a sense of trust. These are all clichés of course, one in a million and (probably) therefore all the more fun when they do come true, though it is true, there is a large abundance of youngsters sitting on the steps and even some middle-aged couples, happily singing.

We used to sit on the steps as well, when we were tired or lazy, or when we just felt like it, usually with a coffee, and always with cigarettes. Not because we were trying to live up to or create an image but because we felt that this moment without coffee and cigarettes was just not a moment, was not even worthy of being taken in. I liked that I had basically grown up there, that despite all the moving and traveling, this was my Zen place, the place I could come to, the place I could relax in, the place I knew would always be there, even if we were, once again, far away. Some of my friends had little trees that they hid by, secret little caves, others made caves out of mattresses in their homes, found secret hiding places. Me, then as now, I lose myself in the crowd, weaving in and out of various groups and gatherings, blending in, losing myself in them because I can look like them, I speak their language. There's a Hungarian saying that you have as many souls as you speak languages, and I can see how that came to be by, almost without noticing, adapting a new persona, another personality.

And when I am ready to come out of hiding, I leave my little spot on the hill and on the way down, stop by at a café, where I know I can chat to the owner or at the very least, run into a friend.

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