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Liminal Spaces and Identities

Paris, France: A Place to fall in Love, Get Naked and Recover

FRANCE | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [935]

“We don’t usually learn map work. We don’t use maps. It’s all Sat. Nav. now” explained my eight year old niece on the eve of my spontaneous departure to Paris. Her voice came to mind as my frustration mounted trying to read this mangled map of mine whilst trying to avoid being trampled by a barrage of busy bodies embarking the RER C train at the Invalides station directed towards Gare de Montigny-Baeuchamp. Little did I know that navigating the unruly underground and spoke shaped streets of Paris would be so stressful you’d fall in love with any person who gave you simple directions, be them spoken or signed.

I spied a serene spot where an elderly gentleman sat. A kind face and slow paced gentleman adorned in what could only be described as his Sunday’s best. Pocketing my notepad I seized the occasion to ask if I was in the right place to catch a ride to Champs de Mars Tour Eiffel as well as satisfy my curiosity- where might he be going in not such a hurry. Seventy odd years of experience running the rat race of modern life taught him the virtue of patience through planning. “Next train- Eiffel”, he said and signalled, will have space for us both. His instinctive response confirmed he was just as aware of and curious about me. This connection set the scene for an eventful day where I learned how to love and get naked once more having struggled and survived through the heartache and depression of my past. Family and lost loved ones, we agreed, are often the source of our long-distance travelling, journeying and escapes. Constantly running is not an option. There is a need to just be and this can only be achieved by overcoming our unconscious and often paradoxically paralysing fear of time running out. 

There it was, the Eiffel Tower in all its ordinariness. Having no one to share my lack of excitement, I marched the short walk from the station towards the tower deeply lost in internal conflicts and thoughts of my past. “How much you pay?” yells a young, fit Senegalese curio seller who was a former hotel manager. Startled, I laughed and responded “How much you sell”? Five Euros for a key ring was worth seeing the excitement and happiness of this young man’s sale shown by his impromptu dance and joyful singing. A feeling I am all too familiar with came back to me. The feeling of ‘home’ in Zimbabwe and South Africa where vendors struggle day in and day out within a context of high unemployment to make a measly amount for their struggling families. Yet they manage to remain hopeful by cherishing each single success of everyday.

The true price I pay experiencing my fractured self in Paris: uncertainty, insecurity, loneliness. Strangely, paying the price of this cocktail of emotions enlightened notions of universal moments, continuous energy and a shared humanity within me. Though experienced separately, divisions are transcended through story-telling and universal moments such as these to the extent that belonging, compassion and happiness results. Shared observations and stories become meaningful within this place of freethinking and higher states of consciousness regarding the sameness of the self and other. They bring us together and make us the same. Who was the foreigner in this instance? Here, everyone becomes I. We climbed the tower by holding my key ring tight and I no longer felt alone. Upon my return to the station, I signalled good bye in passing, but not forever, as he unlocks and locks my home each day and night, reminding me to ask myself “How much you pay” today?  

“You want to have some funny?” asked the young, single and adventurous Italian-French owner of the apartment I rented via Airbnb, a useful online site for last minute accommodation. Laughing excitedly I replied “Oui”. Lunching al fresco together on the edge of Canal Saint-Marie amidst other youth with graze and grog provided the perfect place to share stories of our student escapades most of which were all too similar. Between fits of laughter our future plans, hopes and dreams were shared openly and supported by our promises to keep in contact and support of each other. The anxiety of my uncertain future dissipated with each sip and bite of the rich wine and cheese we had packed. It was here, in the reflection of the river, that the Law of Mirrors came to be experienced. If you want to have some ‘funny’, believe in yourself, your ideas and aspirations as well as those of others by sharing, story-telling and realising them through each other.

Just as J.R.R. Tolkien suggests, all we need to decide each day is what to do with the precious time given to us especially with the knowledge that round each corner there may wait a new road and new experience. I decided to risk blowing my budget by purchasing a last minute premium ticket to The Royal Fireworks show at the Château de Versailles. Amidst such awesome splendour and spectacular musical, electric and explosive displays it occurred to me that I could be anything at all in Paris. Who would have thought I could not only experience but belong in such diverse cultures, characters and contexts within one day? I had to take it all in and took my time wondering the expansive, beautifully lit gardens and fountains until closing time. Upon reaching the station, it came to my attention that the last train back to central Paris had left. In a slight panic due to the eerie early morning emptiness of Versailles I made my way to and sat at the night bus stop. An odd lanky man with a half shaven head of hair, leather cloths and countless piercing, not to mention tattoos, approached me. Oh dear I thought, this could be trouble. His well spoken English and great humour eased the tension.

Remember, we want to have some ‘funny’ and as Björn Ranelid suggests, to live is to swim from the shore I to the shore you in the ocean we. Plunging right in I asked if he could suggest any early morning activities. The beauty of this moment was captured by a single rather romantic phrase. “May I take you on a walking tour of Paris by night?” he asked taking my hand softly yet securely. We explored the streets of Paris, alone but together, bathed in sensuous moonlight whilst surrounded by a rich history of architecture. It was then I divulged and described my secret past battling with clinical depression in such a way I never thought possible. After buying fresh food and coffee from an open barista, I embarked the metro headed back to my apartment. It then dawned on me that I not only fell in love, I allowed myself to be naked that day.

As James Baldwin explains, love takes off our masks we don in fear, allowing us to grow through adventurous journeying and meaning-making. I reclaimed my heart and was able to give and experience human compassion by being naked. I opened up my soul to ‘strangers’ who experienced and assisted me in exploring my spirit, thoughts, fears and dreams allowing me not only to become the artist and writer I am today but to continue travelling with a new zest for life and recovered sense of self. I formed my other life. 

Tags: love, naked, self and other, stories

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