Qui a marché ici ?
Note: This is an update of a post I wrote in 2006 at Flickr, shortly after my second visit to Paris. I also posted it at Blogger, and lately, I have been going through that site which I’d long ago forsaken, and selecting a few that I thought worthy of editing and sharing here.
When I am in Paris, I try not to get too taken in by the popular sights despite their very obvious presence. In fact, the first photograph I took of the Eiffel Tower was intentionally was taken from a spot in Jardin des Tuileries where the tower was barely visible.
While I create a lot of panoramic images of the popular places, I tend to prefer the less-populated spaces. My interests lie in the narrow streets off the tourist-beaten paths.
Galerie 88 was one such place. It is a very narrow salon de thé along the Seine, not far from l’Hôtel De Ville. Until I entered here, I’d not entered an eatery in which I didn’t think I could rely on my English. On this trip, however, I was hoping to actually use some of the little bit of French I’d learned, and not rely entirely on the likelihood that the people to whom I would be speaking knew English. It remains a daunting task for me as words don’t quite roll from my tongue with the ease I’d prefer. The time it takes to put only a couple of words together in French seems like an eternity at times.
If I have one regret about my stay, it’s that I didn’t request of my friend Phil, with whom I stayed, that he only speak to me in French. It would have been hell for him, no doubt, but it would have forced me to use the language more than I did.
How did this stray to language? It was about small places!
Ah, yes… I entered Galerie 88 wanting to see Anne McAulay’s photographs and decided to sit and have a salad and a beer (two actually!). I expected that it would mean that I’d have to speak in French. As it turned out, I didn’t have to speak much as une salade grecque and une Carlsberg bière sound much the same in English as they do in French! Still, there is that whole approach/avoidance thing that occurs — that moment when we choose to take the safe route or choose to leap forth. This was one of those moments for me. Of course, alas, some English was spoken. I really wanted to see Anne’s photographs, so the discomfort was a small price to pay.
As for the title of this essay (Who has walked here?), it is a consistent thought as I visit very old places — I wonder about those who have come before me. “Whose footprints have my feet just now retraced?” Famous or not, I wonder what kinds of lives have tread on these same floorboards or on the same cobblestone paths I’ve wandered. In a place like Paris, it’s difficult to not feel something other than the stone or wood beneath my feet.