I don’t know about other parts of the world, but summer is still very much on the program here in Paris. With this balmy weather, I was lucky to take a day off last Friday. I found myself near the Jardin des Tuileries, overlooking the Louvres and the Seine river, a few steps away from… the WH Smith bookshop.
Of course with all this free time on my hands, I couldn’t resist the lure of new English books, and I yielded: not only one, not only two, but three books!
- Philip Kerr, If the dead rise not: this one had been very high on my list ever since I reconnected with Bernie Gunther over the summer.
- A collection of poems by Carol Ann Duffy: because reading poems in the sun is for me one of the most beautiful activities when I take a day off and definitely relaxing.
- Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed.
Right, maybe it does sound a bit surprising, after I’d been less than enthusiastic about Eat, Pray, Love. Maybe I should blame the hype backlash? All this frenzy and adoration (not to mention Julia Roberts) about Eat, Pray, Love had created in me a mix of high expectations and high distrust, a dangerous mix to assess properly any book, all the more when a book is openly targeted at young women. But I can’t deny that I love the comforting, funny, bubbling voice she has and her ability to create a fuzzy, intimate circle of friendship between the character in her book and her reader. I recently melted when I heard her TED talk about creativity, so Committed kind of leapt from the shelves into my hands (not to mention it was cheap).
I could have done much much worse than just 3 books, but luckily for my bank account WH Smith in Paris didn’t stock any Sarah Caudwell, Kathryn Miller Haines or Pema Chodron. Not surprisingly, as soon as I paid and crossed the street into the gardens, I found a chair and started all three books!
Lots of tourists were passing by, shooting away with iphones and cameras at the Tour Eiffel and blue sky, limetrees and fountains. Not so many Parisians actually spend time here, especially during weekdays. But it was delightful for me to enjoy my own city on a lazy pace, borrowing for a few hours the enamored eyes of strangers.
At the turn of the river the language changes,
a different babble, even a different name
for the same river. Water crosses the border,
translates itself, but words stumble, fall back,
and there, nailed to a tree, is proof. A sign
in new language brash on a tree. A bird,
not seen before, singing on a branch. A woman
on the path by the river, repeating a strange sound
to clue the bird’s song and ask for its name, after.
She kneels for a red flower, picks it, later
will press it carefully between the pages of a book.
What would it mean to you if you could be
with her there, dangling your own hands in the water
where blue and silver fish dart away over stone,
stoon, stein, like the meanings of things, vanish?
She feels she is somewhere else, intensely, simply because
of words; sings loudly in nonsense, smiling, smiling.
If you were really there what would you write on a postcard,
or on the sand, near where the river runs into the sea?
Carol Ann Duffy