Monday, October 8, 2012

The Residents of the Quilt

I said a while back that I would do a post extracted form Screen Saver.

I said that because it seems to me that these words – written three years ago - seem to be a logical precursor to The Croissant Fairy.

Here it is.

There was not much difference between them and me, I realized. Really, the major difference was that I had a roof; they didn’t.

I lived in a third floor apartment at 8 Cité d’Alma; they were my neighbors and lived in an alcove doorway in front of the post office on Avenue Rapp.

They were always there.

There were two of them, although sometimes one or the other would be briefly absent. They had a quilt spread out on the pavement, taking up a little of the public pedestrian thoroughfare. It was similar in that regard to the sidewalk tables of Paris’ countless cafes. They were the only two occupants and they always had the same table reserved. They had it reserved day and night.

When I passed them on my way to where Rue St Dominique joined with Avenue Rapp to get my morning baguette and croissant from my favorite boulangerie on Rue St Dominique they were always there, having apparently spent the night, no matter how cold it had been. When I passed them in the waning light of a Paris late afternoon trip to Le Dome – not the famous one, but the one on Avenue Rapp at its juncture with Rue St Dominique - they were there. Whenever I walked from Le Bonaparte down Boulevard St Germain to its junction with Rue St Dominique and down Rue St Dominique to its junction with Avenue Rapp and took a right down to Cité d’Alma, or from Café du Metro, across Rue de Rennes, down Rue du Vieux Columbier to Rue de Grenelle, past des Invalides to Rue Cler and on to Rue St Dominique and Avenue Rapp to Cité d’Alma, they were there.

And their being there was not just a fact; it was a reason for being.

They had a small cardboard box set in front of them toward the outer front edge of their domain. In the box there were always coins; many were one and two euro coins. Next to them closer to the wall of the building-edge of their domain were a couple of very large plastic water bottles filled with what I assumed to be a type of wine.  But it was a type of wine that I didn’t know where to buy. I had never seen wine of that particular yellow orange color. It had to be wine because the two were always obviously drunk and I frequently saw them take drinks from the bottles, allaying other ideas about what the bottles might contain. Or, perhaps, pointing to a horror I preferred not to consider, I guess they could have been like Yosarrian’s roommate, the soldier in white, just switching the bottles of in and out; but I chose to think otherwise.

They were drunk but fully participating in life such as they knew it, or such as they appeared to be able to define it.

They talked to each other incessantly.

They frequently recognized and greeted people walking by.

They frequently  had good looking Parisian sandwiches laid out beside them.

They frequently had people join them on the quilt and lay out elaborate meals for them, and join them in eating those meals, although those contributors never joined the two in drinking their wine. Frequently passersby would put some coins in their box. Often these contributors would stop and talk for awhile. The two on the quilt on the sidewalk sheltered by the building alcove of La Poste were long term residents. They were known to other local residents and were accepted, and even – apparently -  valued as a normal part of the population of the quartier. They had a life and a routine and a sort of livelihood.

They were professional doorway dwellers.

Over almost four winter months spanning three different years that I lived there, they were there living, drinking, talking, sharing meals with passersby and collecting euro coins and centimes. They were part of the essence of that part of Paris at that time.

And except for my roof we were similar.

The key to that similarity was that they loved their lives.

Odd as it had seemed to me, that love of life had been obvious to anyone who ever paid any attention to them. Their conversations, drunken though they might have been, were also joyous. Their greetings of acquaintances were joyous. Their discussions with the people who occasionally provided and shared meals with them were animated, and – yes- joyous. All they had lacked was a roof. But they had companions. They had many companions.

I had a roof, but I had no companions.

But I had the same joy of just being there.

I had no companions, but I had wine, just as they did, and I had the joy of sipping it – under my roof - and looking out the window at Paris.

What I saw out that window varied, but it was all joyful.

There was the nighttime scene. It was possible to stretch out the open apartment window and see the Eiffel Tower lit up like a Christmas tree. Sometimes the tower was draped in a fantastic mantle of flashing lights. Sometimes it had a bright green isosceles triangle near its base; sometimes it had a rapidly rotating search light at its apex; sometimes it had an illuminated figure of someone – I supposed it to be Christ - at that apex.

Then there were the daytime scenes. Looking out at just the right time in the morning, to the left, it was possible to see a mother and her child walking through the Cité, the child carrying his school books. To the right at any time of the day it was possible to see the ornate black wrought iron gate to the Cité, its huge lock permanently unlocked.

That lock stood as a reminder of a much earlier time.

I had the joy of being at Café du Metro - my quilt on the sidewalk - hearing the sounds of the city enveloping me and the sights of the city entertaining me from the nearby tumult of Rue de Rennes as it hurtled toward its junction with Boulevard St Germain.

There were many sights on rue de Rennes.

There were the stylish young Parisian women who walked arm in arm, or who had encountered one another unexpectedly, seeing one another on the street after an absence, exclaiming and kissing one another on, first the left and then the right cheek.

There were the tourists, mystified by their whereabouts and stopping to unfold their map from Galeries Lafayette. Part of their spatial disorientation was frequently the result of having the map upside down – the loop of the Seine where it wrapped around the Eiffel Tower could be seen, even from the distance of my table in the Café to be pointing toward the sidewalk; it needed to be pointing to the sky.

There were the young people, endless clouds of them, rushing by laughing and talking like  flocks of happy birds.

There were old people.

The old men all wore suits and ties, and no matter how slowly they needed to walk, they were walking; they were mobile; they were alive. And the crowds gave them space; the crowds yielded to their slowness; the crowds seemed to accept the obligation of assuring that these ancient vestiges of another time were treated with respect and were accommodated in their slowness. 

The old women all looked as if they had been going to the opera. They were dressed and groomed like movie stars from another era. They often stopped at Café du Metro for a visit with an old friend or acquaintance and a chocolat chaud. They sat and talked and contributed an air of elegance to the place.

As with our other similarities I had the joy of Paris to share with the residents of the quilt.  And my similarity with them has been – ever since I first perceived it – a valuable and leveling perception.

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