Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Proximity



When I first moved to Paris, I didn't actually move to Paris. You see, Remi chose our apartment before I arrived - one that was close to the prestigious Gamma Photo Agency that he had been working with for years. We lived right on the other side of the Périphérique, the ring road that surrounds Paris proper, in a quiet suburban neighborhood (one that was shockingly so for this former Manhattanite). It was a ten to fifteen minute walk back to our flat from the metro, depending on which line we had taken, our moods and the weather. I remember strolling arm in arm on the way home from one of those rare evenings that we had spent in the City - for we were quite poor then - and looking with surprise at all of the apartments lining the boulevard with such strong overhead lights shining out of the windows (something that I still find odd) even in the finest buildings where chandeliers were quick with a wink. The figures inside showed up as distinctly as guests on a television show or figures in a Hopper painting, moving about their evening lives. "Don't they close the curtains?" I asked Remi with a nod upwards. "Eh, no," he responded. "Pourquoi?" Why wouldn't they? "Um, for privacy?" I asked again, my voice pitching upwards on the last word. Remi turned to give me one of those bemused smiles that we would often share in those early days, when the train tracks of our cultures would cross over and then part directions. 

Somehow that memory flooded back to me this evening as I dashed around and then through the puddles, umbrella gripped and my grocery bags pulling down my shoulders. Certainly with the rain, this tiny little village had already retired for the evening and as always, the lights were on and everyone was home. I am still prudish in the American way at such proximity, as if they could feel my stare and perhaps they could if I lingered long enough as so many of the houses hold their kitchens and living rooms on the ground floor, mere steps from the street. But I did pause to catch two separate glimpses both in overly remodeled homes with shiny floor tiles and yes, neon bolts of bright white overhead. In the first, at a house where I often see chalk drawings in the alley out front, I saw a small boy, already in his pyjamas but with a yellow bib still around his neck, seated at straw-thatched chair of children's height, low to the ground. In his hand, he held three cards and regarded them studiously with a tilt to his head as if the answers to all the world were within his grasp. I turned the corner and a few houses down, in one that had been newly rented this summer and where the Mother returned my only attempt at a "Bonjour" with a suspicious raised eyebrow, my glance was caught by a blur of movement. For there in the glow of a blue computer screen, also on a lower level to the floor, danced another boy, slightly older. His longish hair flew as his arms splayed wide, then overhead. He did a soft, unformed ballet leap. How pleased I was to know that happiness did in fact reside where I thought that it did not. 

These moments, seen so closely as if I had been simply remembering, were gathered gratefully as the rain fell down around me in the cover of night's dark.


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As I was editing the above, I suddenly had a palm slap on the forehead of "Aha!" for I recognized and had to give credit where was due as Jaques Tati had already expressed this idea of modern French life on display long ago! Here is a tiny bit of "Playtime" a true favorite in this house, one that extends beyond language but is, as are all of his films (if only he had made more!) a fitting diorama of contemporary culture. 



Yes, you guessed it, in my weird little way, this is my Thanksgiving post. Sending much joy to all of you that will be celebrating it on Thursday...and actually to those of you who will not as well.


34 comments:

  1. Ah, oui. How absolutely solid a picture your words paint today, Heather. How utterly lovely. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving!

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    1. Thank you but as you know, it was just a normal Thursday here. :) We had a nice dinner though!

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  2. Two very different pictures come to mind: My apartment in a Haussmann bldg., in 16th, on cherished 2nd floor, which always was the floor with the width of the building balcony*, of the six French doors that opened to the balcony, only the one in the bedroom had a curtain, this on a narrow one way street. * it was a revelation and sort of inside joke when I had lived in Paris long enough and had seen endless Haussmann buildings to realize the uniformity ...well, they are tract housing.

    Here, another Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and retired Diplomat, experts in non Thanksgivings and turkey less Thanksgiving, and I are hosting a Thanksgiving Lunch for six homeless people who'll be chosen for us so we've no idea of age, gender, or anything. We smile at ourselves as we prepare with more care and butterflies than we had for events we've hosted or cohosted for rich and poor around the world. Because as special, warm and welcoming we want this to be, it is a disgrace that we have such a homeless population, have the money for a live in shelter, with training and other services, and nobody wants it built even in their extended neighborhood, let alone backyard. Something to think about when they camp out, some in luxury tents, outside Best Buy to be first in for the Thanksgiving Day, now, sale....bigger screen, you know.

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    1. I do know and am appalled to see that this year, Black Friday has come to France. Which is just as sadly ridiculous as anything I can think of.

      I have been thinking of you and hoping that a really good Thanksgiving was had by all. I would love to hear about it if you have time. Grateful for the goodness in you, Joan. You are an amazing woman.

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  3. We will celebrate on Saturday since Thursday is a normal working day here. Happy Thanksgiving Heather. I loved this glimpse you gave us of life in a small French village.

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    1. Loree, does your husband get homesick every year? I still do...

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  4. When I lived in Washington, DC during and after college I used to love strolling in my Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan neighborhoods peering into the elegant row houses and imagining my grown-up life.

    Here in Rome every window is shuttered tight, curtains drawn, doors swiftly shut. I can listen to the rhythms of my neighbors daily routines (Romans are not shy about making noise), but I almost never catch a glimpse inside.

    This will be the first Thanksgiving in almost 2 decades we will not celebrate with a turkey and a crowded table. This is the first year with my son away at college I just can't muster my usual festive spirit.

    Wishing you the happiest of days, celebrating or not.

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    1. I understand Gillian, even though I am not a Mom. Know that I am sending you a warm hug. I hope that you did something special to celebrate yesterday, no matter how small. We ended up making what sounded good - roasted chicken! - nothing fancy but it was still a nice meal. Some years I do the whole thing just for us two but this year I didn't feel up to it either.

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  5. I adore that photo.................thats NOT Remi's arm is it?I adore looking into peoples windows............I always say to GIAMPY when he is driving I love being so tall in his truck and being able to look around!Who is GILLIAN.......does she have a blog?I need to know her......I think!I understand her lack of MUSTER!But Ellie's cookbook got me in the spirit!XOXO

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    1. Lack of muster?! You! Truly it sounded like you cooked the most amazing Thanksgiving dinner of anyone - ok, maybe save for my Sister who cooked a turkey for the first time in her life and we all know that she gets points for that. :) And yes, Gillian is really lovely and she does have a blog called Gillian's Lists and posts wonderful photos on instagram. She is definitely someone that I know we would both get along with!

      No that isn't Remi's arm - that was taken quite some time ago in Arles when I was working on a series of night photos that I (don't think) I ever did anything with so here it is. :) And yes, I love riding up high all the better to see...

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  6. Superb, Heather, Superb! Happy Thanksgiving from beautiful Kauai to wonderful France .. and all places between. Aloha!

    www.kauai-to-paris.com

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    1. Mahalo, Bill. Sending much Aloha to you back (the more I learn about Hawaii the more I think it might be one of the places for me) and I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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  7. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Heather and Remi and your 'wee ones' with the fur coats~

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    1. Merci Jackie! I hope that you both had a great Thanksgiving!

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  8. I LOVE that this is your Thanksgiving post. What a beautiful, transporting picture you paint here with your words. One of the things I've always loved about walking around Paris after dark are those little glimpses through bright windows that make one wonder what would happen if life suddenly transported you in to the world behind them.

    Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, Heather. I'm thankful for all the paths you allow us to wander with your phots and words! XOXO

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    1. Merci Jeanne! I see from ig that you had a lovely Thanksgiving? I hope so! And I know that you are grateful for so much in your life...it shows in all that you do.
      Bisous.

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  9. The warmth of home and family is glimpsed in these word portraits of yours. They echo the gratitude I feel in my heart for my home, my family and my place in this world. We won't be celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday since we did that in October already. But every day is an opportunity to be thankful, and to share. Thank you for sharing this tiny sliver of life in France with us.

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    1. Lorrie, I am so very appreciative of your responses here, always. Your "place in this world"...that is wonderful and food for thought. Merci!

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  10. A true autumn-winterstory to dive in or rather getting pulled in! I can see you walking through the rain.
    It is nice that this post came right after "Down the rabbit hole" because it seems you changed the roles. You tell those little storys one can easily get lost in.

    "... my only attempt at a "Bonjour" with a suspicious raised eyebrow ..." – Really I am so sorry that you need to make those experiences after all those years in France. But you have probably found a way to deal with it...

    I saw it rains a lot chez vous. Keep warm!

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    1. We are Silke. Happily, the heat in this new house works wonderfully with big old iron radiators plus a working fireplace! And as for the people, it is a little like the politics that we have talked about...there is one third of people here who are super nice, one third polite and one third very reserved about "new people" - it is fine. I have learned to kind of to look and see if they are going to say hi first.

      Thank you for the amazing compliment!

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  11. This makes me think of New York City, of course, where my bedroom looked out onto the back of an apt. building - I could see into many apartments, and they into mine! Even in the country I still find myself pulling down the shades to change - *someone* might see me! (who, deer?). I'm glad that you saw some happy French scenes and that you were grateful for having seen them. I'm grateful for many things - among them that I got to spend beaucoup de time with my sister this summer!!!!! Will be missing her/you very much tomorrow, but you will be here in spirit for sure! Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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    1. Sister, I was missing you and everyone there so much yesterday - and to be at your table the first time that you made a turkey? I can't believe that I missed it! But, because you are my Sister, you made me laugh out loud with your question about the deer peering in...maybe they are!
      I love you. :)

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  12. Waving my drumstick from afar! Wishing you joy. xox, V

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    1. I hope that it was a slam dunk humdinger of a tday for you, Ms. V. It certainly sounded like it would be!

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  13. Dear Heather, Thank you! I have always loved strolling neighborhoods where people had their curtains open and lots of lights on and you can just feel the love and warmth inside! That is my wish at any rate, for peace and love at the holidays and all year long!

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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    1. And to you! What wonderful wishes you are spreading Karena...

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  14. Dear Heather, I am very busy this last period of the year but I always like reading your posts and I really think you should write a book.
    Have a nice
    Thanksgiving day!

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    1. Thank you Emilia. It was a quiet but a nice day and with a very good meal - cooked by Remi! I really, really appreciate your encouragement about writing a book...

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  15. Dear Heather,
    Delightful and beautifully written. Thank you so very much.
    Happy Thanksgiving!
    Best wishes from Boston.

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    1. Hello Carol and Bienvenue! So happy to have you here. There are actually quite a few Bostonians who are regulars and they all have something in common...their excellent character. :)
      I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well.

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  16. Thank you Heather sharing us your first glimpse of Paris.

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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    1. Thank you Edgar! I hope that yours was filled with joy.

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  17. We keep our blinds up all summer, but the winter draft means they get good use for the darkest months. But we live out of sight, so that's hardly sharing our lives. I remember when we had a town residence: my son and his friend were playing at crowd surfing their imaginary audience and had accidentally removed the whole curtain rail. After a week a neighbour asked me if I wanted her old curtains. It was partly kind and partly because I was making the street look untidy. Eventually the cold made me fix the rail. But her bafflement at my lack of care for the sanctity of the curtain still makes me chuckle. Happy Thanksgiving :-)

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