Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Long Weekend of Paris and Poetry

Ten days ago I went to Paris for a long weekend. I think it was my sixth visit (between the age of seven and, er, now), but my first in a few years, and Paris is never not worth visiting. I was with a friend from London and we also met up with one of my good friends who lives in the south of France, and one of her Parisian friends. Over the course of four days there was much amazing food, speaking French, wandering and taking photos, a wonderful visit to the Louvre, bookshops, a ramble round the base of the Eiffel Tower (the queue was too long to go up), and more.

There were, of course, poetic moments. I had thought to make a Paul Celan pilgrimage to his grave (in the outskirts of Paris) and maybe his last address on Avenue Emile Zola, and the Pont Mirabeau, but in the end I just wasn't in the mood for the sadness - and I would have been reluctant to drag my friend along. The Celanian pilgrimage is still on my list to do another time, though. But as always, there were the bookshops in St-Michel, especially my favourite, Gibert Jeune. Their 'livres poche' section is to die for. I bought poetry collections by Paul Eluard, René Char and André Breton (after my recent post about liking Spanish poetry more than French poetry...I felt this was a good time to act). I could easily have gone crazy in their poetry section, and I slightly wish I had, but honestly I have more than enough French poetry at home to keep going for a while.

We also went to the lovely Shakespeare & Company, where a pianist played jazz upstairs and we squeezed through the narrow aisles packed with books. I was a little unnerved to see A Cypress Walk, the correspondence between Alun Lewis and Freda Aykroyd (my great-aunt), displayed in the war poetry section. (I still haven't read it....) 

 And there was Walt Whitman, in French, outside the shop...

In the Île de la Cité, I came across Edmond Fleg, who I didn't know. All I have learned so far is that he was a Jewish French writer who wrote much work, including poetry, closely based on the Bible and his Jewish beliefs. I'd like to learn more.

We were staying in Montparnasse, for which my mother had given me a few tips from her student days in the '60s. The hotel was pleasant and there was an amazing crêperie where we feasted a couple of times. Also notable, of course, was the Montparnasse cemetery, across the road from our hotel. We walked through shortly before collecting our bags on the last day to go to Gare du Nord, and I wanted to see Baudelaire's grave. As I craned my neck to find the exact spot, having only a rough idea from the cemetery map, a middle-aged man walked by smoking a little cigar, smiled, and wordlessly gestured at the grave of the Baudelaire family.

And of course, there were many other places and moments with their own poetry. I love Paris. It is a city that wears the darkness lightly.

 Photos © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2014

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