Makeshift memorial near the Bataclan concert hall.
“Do you know where you are?” the young woman who stopped me on Paris’ Avenue Parmentier asked, her voice edged with worry. A resident of the neighborhood, she was on her way to her boyfriend’s apartment when armed attackers started firing on nearby restaurants. There were rumors of continued shootings in the Paris area, and she couldn’t understand what I was doing outside.
She asked me again: “Madame, do you know where you are?”
I knew where I was. It just no longer bore any resemblance to the Paris that I know and love. Reporting on the terror attacks, I had rushed over to the city’s 10th and 11th Arrondissements shortly after word got out about explosions at the Stade de France and gunfire at several restaurants and bars.
As I made my way toward the besieged Bataclan concert hall, what struck me most were the empty streets. Off the beaten tourist path, the city’s vibrant and ethnically diverse eastern neighborhoods around Canal Saint-Martin and Place de la République draw a range of fashionable, young creative types. On Friday nights these areas are usually packed with revelers looking to kick off the weekend in the neighborhoods’ numerous bars, restaurants and clubs.
However, last Friday these areas were virtually deserted. Bistro owners hastily locked down their establishments, heavily armed police patrolled the area ordering everyone inside, cordons were set up, and all around me the shrieks of emergency sirens cut through the brisk November night.
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The exterior of the Chateau de la Solitude.
I spent Sunday afternoon slinking through the ruins of an abandoned Neo-Gothic chateau on the outskirts of Paris. The Chateau de la Solitude was the former home of the head of a chocolate dynasty, and was briefly a convent and a women’s college before falling to ruin.
Today only a shell remains of the once stately property, but the crumbling interior and the quiet woods that surround it have resulted in a haunting beauty that draws urban explorers, photographers, and the curious.
The Pantheon on a late-winter evening. © Erin Zaleski 2013
Once again, I’m here in a Paris beset with mood swings as the city transitions from one season to another. The days are getting longer though, and a few evenings ago the sky had a striking, Maxfield Parish-ness to it as the last of the light faded away.
Autumn light in the Luxembourg Gardens on an October evening. © Erin Zaleski 2012
I finally made it back to Paris after nearly four years of being away.
If I had forgotten how bleak October in Paris can be, the past two weeks have reminded me.
The morning sky is dark until 8 am and a thick canopy of clouds can linger for days, obscuring the sun and imparting a romantic, melancholy quality to the city the gradually becomes less romantic and more melancholy with each successive gray day. Fortunately, I was so caught up in the intensity of re-immersing myself in the city and reconnecting with old friends that the gloom became an afterthought.
On my last evening, still tipsy from a long, wine-soaked lunch, I stumbled (quite literally) into the Luxembourg Gardens, where the last moments of the day had given way to a blaze of light that was almost jarring.
It was a fitting conclusion to a trip during which dreary moments mingled side by side with florid, intense ones. It was also a reminder that more than two decades since my first trip and after nearly four years away, the city still has the ability to tantalize, seduce and surprise me.
I’ve booked a return trip for the spring. See you there?
Another jaw-dropping example of the exquisite use of natural light.
Alex Grazioli’s “C’etait un Rendez-Vous” evokes a scene from a Jean Rhys novel- Good Morning Midnight, perhaps?
There is also an undeniably cinematic quality to this shot that makes my inner ex-cinema student turn to mush. Not suprisingly, Alex has a film background.
In his flickr profile Alex says photography has “become the vehicle of his need to do something more personal and direct, the way to remember, narrate and fully experience the past and the present, and at the same time his link with the fascinating world of cinema.”
I am impressed, inspired and looking forward to seeing more of Alex’s work in the future.
- Courtesy of Richard Goerg, istock
My poor, neglected blog! Like so many other elements of my life, it has fallen victim to the almost perverse amount of work I have to do between now and late-summer.
So overwhelmed am I with the working, writing, editing, teaching, visa acquiring, ticket-purchasing, apartment hunting, proposal drafting, project completing, loose ends tying, and various day-to-day minutiae (minutiae-ing?), that even the idea of drafting a detailed to-do list is causing mild heart palpitations.
Not that that’s any excuse or anything, of course.
In the meantime, if anyone has any foolproof suggestions for conquering stress (that are somewhat legal and don’t involve copious a.m. Cab consumption), please send them my way.
Considering mental afflictions as signs of intellectual superiority
“Parisians value intelligence more than happiness. In Paris, happiness is the sad symptom of an atrophied brain, the curse of the stupid, the limbo of the ungifted.
Mechanically he who is not happy is gifted, he whose brain does not agree with the world is intelligent. The more brutally unfitting the person is, the more gloriously superior his brain is. In this undeniable logic lays the utter privilege of the crazies: that of being looked up to by the Parisian.
The inability to handle the vicissitudes of life testifies to the Parisian eye of an acute perception of the incertitudes and difficulties that make up life. Knowing that life is about incertitudes and difficulties is pure intelligence to the Parisian. Therefore, if they were to choose between being an irremediably unhappy creative genius or a perfectly happy nobody, most Parisians would opt for the grandiose life of misery.”
This blog by witty, Parisian sommelier Olivier Magny has had me laughing so hard as to nearly spit out my Cabernet Franc in mid-swill. It is smart, well-written and full of bitingly funny insight. Bien joué, M. M!
Tuileries on a mid-December morning. © Erin Zaleski
I took this in mid-December in Paris several years ago. It was unusually sunny, but I was feeling melancholy for numerous reasons. Mostly because I had to fly back to the States the next day.