10 October 2016

Paris is for Loners

I’m sure that you are reading the title again, thinking that I have accidentally put the wrong consonant in that last word. Of course, you will think, I meant to write “Lovers”, especially considering the photo of the lovers’ locks on the bridge. But no, I didn’t. Allow me to explain.

I spent a chance evening in Paris with a friend this past weekend. Chance that we discovered that we were both in Paris — and had even been on the same flight from Montréal without knowing it — and subsequently arranged as a meeting. While we were having a cocktail, she asked me what is my Paris, and that set off a reflection that is leading me to write these words.

It goes back to how I met Paris in the first place. I came on a trip to participate in a meeting of AIDES in my capacity as president of the organization of which I am now director (COCQ-SIDA). We had a quick trip to Rouen for this meeting and then returned to Paris. After a brief meeting at the organization’s headquarters in Pantin, I was liberated to spend a day and a half discovering the city. My colleague met with a friend she hadn’t seen in a long time and I really went off on my own.

A day and a half. Actually a half day and a day, in that order. The full day was the day that museums are closed, so for me it was not in the cards to try to take in the Louvre or any of the other multitude of museums in the city. Just not enough time. I also didn’t know if I would ever come back to Paris, so I made up my mind to make a memory for myself rather than to rush around trying to do and see everything I could.

I have written about my project in French elsewhere on this blog, but I’m allowing myself to tell a shorter, less illustrated version of it in English now.

I went to a wool store and bought some red wool and knitting needles. I made my way to the Place de la Concorde to begin the knitting project, a choice inspired by Madame de Farge of Tale of Two Cities fame, she who knit messages into her projects as the nobles were executed by guillotine. I then spent my time moving about the city and knitting in front of some of the notable buildings, dutifully writing down which rows I knit where, eventually casting off across the street from the National Assembly and returning, past the Place de la Concorde, to the Tuileries, to sit and contemplate my oeuvre. Then I made my way to the Pont Neuf, descended onto the Quai des Orfèvres, and tied my knitted red ribbon around a boat-mooring ring there, with a message in memory of my first friend to have died of AIDS a few short years before effective treatment would have saved him. You might say I wrapped the Pont Neuf with my message, as Christo wrapped it years before, with a message that remains meaningful to me today.

I go back every time I am in Paris, not to knit, but to attach a red ribbon to that same ring under the Pont Neuf.

So my whole first experience of Paris was a solitary project conducted in the middle of millions of people — residents and tourists — going about their own purposes, sometimes alone, but often in pairs or groups. I had interactions along the way, of course — I particularly remember a group of Japanese tourists who found my knitting on a bench in front of the Tour Eiffel to be so amusing that they needed to take their own photos of me at work. But the essence of that meeting, Ken with Paris, was a man making his way around the city and taking it in with his own vision and his own twist.

Time has changed an aspect of that first visit. I know now that I will be in Paris again, and have had many occasions to be here in the past several years. Sometimes I am engaged in activities with colleagues and friends, one time (so far!) with one of my nieces, with whom I got to share an experience of Paris for a whole week. I love sharing this city with people I like and people I love. But I also enjoy it as a place that I can be comfortably alone, going about my own affairs and watching others going about theirs. Paris is a beautiful place, and I don’t feel a twinge of regret for being able to enjoy it alone, even as I am able to enjoy it with others.

The locks at the top of this post might be some people’s demonstration that Paris is for lovers. My own affair with the city tells me it is also a city for loners.


Greer said...

Lovely and so true. I love the mental image of you knitting.

Lubin said...


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly agree.