Sunday, March 27, 2005

Keeping The Rhythm

March 22, 2005

Last week I moved from the Marais to the 15th arrondissment, an area around Convention, and settled in temporarily at my friend Louise Thunin's sweet little pied-a-terre. A much more residential neighborhood than the Marais, quieter in some ways, and with a different rhythm -- a more quotidien rhythm, I would say.

One "guards" -- or "keeps" the "rhythm" here. On the metro quai at Concorde there are colorful signs on the pavement reminiscent of those 1950's-style dance-step guides -- footprints showing how to step. They provide instructions -- or is that encouragement? -- on how to let others descend from the train before boarding, how to board, how to disembark, and all the while "keep the rhythm" -- keep moving in the flow of pedestrian traffic. I've gotten better at this, myself, at moving in pace with the crowd, with patience and also with energy.

It's a kind of collaboration, riding the metro. If one is walking through the corridor and hears a train that might be one's train, and if those in front of one begin to run, one also runs -- though sometimes it's a false alarm, wrong train, and the person in front of you turns to apologize for having made the mistake of running, and causing you to also run.

I ran for a train in the metro the other day and when I got to the quai, the train was standing there with the doors just about to close. So I leapt -- literally leapt onto the train -- just as the doors closed behind me. Someone said "brava," and someone whistled under his breath, and we all smiled.

I remember last spring, catching the SNCF train to Colombes with Andrew -- and those trains only run every fifteen minutes, so we were making a last minute dash. I squeezed into the car with Andrew just behind me, but the doors started closing as he tried to get in. The other passengers pushed the doors aside and literally pulled him on board.

I don't know if the idiom exists in French that "we're all in the same boat," but we're all in the same boat here. And I enjoy the company, enjoy being a person among persons, and keeping the rhythm.

It's a ten-minute walk -- much of it uphill -- from the metro at Convention to Louise's pied-a-terre on rue Vaugelas. Along the way, one walks up rue Olivier de Serres. From the first day I took that route, I noticed a beautiful little bar each time I passed, Le Petit Bar. I could see through the big front windows that it was all polished wood and mirrors inside and, at night, all warm light. And somehow it looked so friendly, so welcoming, and the people gathered at the bar so "genial," that I kept wanting to stop in for a drink, though I'm not usually comfortable going into bars alone.

So on Friday night, coming home around midnight, I stopped. I could see from the sidewalk that there was a crowd inside, but when I tried the door, it was locked. A man reached over from his bar stool, cracked the door, and told me "c'est ferme'." But then the bartender, a big platinum blonde waving a cigarette in one hand while she poured drinks with the other, said something to him in a gravelly voice and waved me inside. I stepped into a tiny space -- not any bigger, really, than my kitchen in L.A., and the man who had told me the place was closed immediately moved aside and offered me his barstool.

I felt as if maybe I'd walked into a private party. The bartender asked me what I wanted to drink , asked me my name, poured me a glass of red wine and started introducing me to everyone. The man who'd given me his bar stool told me the bartender, Veronique, was his wife. Then another woman walked up and took the stool beside me, and he introduced her, Katya, as his second wife. Before long, he was introducing me as his third wife. And Veronique was yelling that there were thirsty women at the bar, ordering the men to buy us drinks, opening a bottle of champagne and declaring it la fete des super femmes. She was also demonstrating techniques for applying blue eyeliner and lending her makeup bag to the women -- there were only a few of us -- at the bar. Katya told me that, no, it wasn't a private party, just a Friday night at a place where a lot of friends came to gather. "C'est genial, n'est-ce pas?" she smiled. And I counted myself lucky to be included.

This is the kind of neighborhood where the woman at the boulangerie recognizes you the second morning you come in, knows that you're just getting your breakfast bread at 11 a.m., remembers that you love the warm wheat rolls with raisins and nuts.

I've been reading Jennifer Dick's gorgeous first book of poems, Flourescence, as I've been moving through Paris these past few days. And I've been asking myself what it is about these poems that makes them so perfect for reading on the metro, in line at the post office, sitting in a cafe waiting for a friend. Somehow, though the poems are in English, the book seems to me deeply Parisian. And I've decided it may be their jagged rhythms, their luminescent fragmentedness, mirroring the rhythms and fragmentedness of life in Paris. One is always moving in and out of other lives here, in and out of conversations, celebrations, daily dramas. It's not that one's never alone -- Parisians seem to respect the privacy of the individual more than it's respected elsewhere -- but that one seldom feels isolated from the flow of life.

In the metro, a young man with a large musical instrument case is dashing through the underground corridor, and everyone steps aside to let him pass. Where two corridors converge, a group of Ukrainian musicians has set up to play. People stop to listen, to smile and applaud, maybe even to dance. A woman pushing a baby stroller stops at the top of a flight of stairs, and a passing man reaches over to take hold of the front of the stroller and help her lift it down the steps. And the rhythm is kept.

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