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Article: Mehmet Altan
A Writer’s Poetic Paris
Paris is a city where you can find whatever you are looking for in every tone and every nuance. And the Paris you find will be in proportion to the depth of your own appreciation of its elegance and refinement. But the most wonderful thing about Paris is that it appeals to all five senses at once.
Below Pont Mirabeau
flows the Seine
And our loves
If remember I must
Joy always followed after pain
So begins ‘Le Pont du Mirabeau’ by my beloved poet, Guillaume Apollinaire. And in speaking of this unforgettable city, this city of ‘not forgetting’, he is subtly telling us that Paris is more than just the Eiffel Tower. Reading it, one realizes that even a bridge can inspire a work of art and asks oneself why one loves Paris so much.
Naturally everyone has his own reason for loving Paris. And for me there are so many... First of all, Paris is one of my best childhood memories. The culture into which I was born and grew up, the records played at home ever since my childhood, and of course, its impact, despite everything, on the intellectuals of that period - they have all engendered in me a feeling I would describe as my ‘first period’ love of Paris. When I consider why I love Paris now, I line up photographs of all the other cities I love next to those of the French city on the Seine. Heidelberg, for example, and Bruges, even Damascus. Cities so distant and different from each other that they seem to belong to different planets. Then I consider what the common denominator is that draws me to them, The river of my mind joins the flow of time and I say to myself, it’s the Middle Ages! These are all medieval cities. At the same time they are all modern cities that are moving apace into the future. In 21st century Europe, it is still possible to see medieval spectacles with fire-eaters, jugglers and people walking on stilts in the streets and squares of Paris. This concept of modernizing while remaining true to the medieval spirit in all its streets, bridges, buildings and other enchanting aspects makes Paris a city that feels lived in. If you know how to look at it, Paris is a city of such depth and richness that you can find everything you’re looking for there. Just like a symphony orchestra. A polyphonic orchestra in which a vast ensemble of instruments all play the same tune in different ways but in which each separate instrument with its own unique rhythm is nevertheless part of the same harmony, the same melody. That is why Paris is so spectacular. It is a city where you can find everything you seek in its every tone and every nuance. And the Paris you find will be in proportion to your own appreciation of its elegance and refinement. The most wonderful thing about Paris is that it is capable of appealing to all five senses at once.
THE CITY’S ENERGY
This is a different city because it is open to every lifestyle and every form of vital energy, harboring in its many layers a manifold of energy, diversity, sounds and tastesun. Paris is a place that a person sees through his own bank of knowledge and experience. If a narrow street in Paris is crooked rather than straight, it is said to be a relic of the Middle Ages. In a period when dueling was rampant, streets were laid out crooked so that one party could not spot his rival from afar and shoot him down in cold blood. If you visit the place where Balzac drank coffee you will get a whiff of one of the most important literary geniuses of all time in streets redolent with the aroma of java wafting up from the cafes on the banks of the Seine. And a little further ahead at the Conciergerie you will find Marie Antoinette’s final letter, written to her sister-in-law.
And of course the Latin Quarter... Saint Germain des Prés where I spent my student years, and the Latin Quarter’s other broad boulevard, Saint Michel. The teeming crowds of students on this boulevard with its cafes, cinemas and giant bookstores signify another aspect of life in Paris. And anyone going to the city should definitely be advised to see them. But for me in my life, it’s still the Luxembourg Gardens that I regard as one of the most special spots in Paris. One of the readings we were assigned as an example of French literature in the language prep class at Saint Joseph Lycée when I was a boy was a book written by Anatole France when he was 41 years old describing the Luxembourg Gardens back when he was only seven. Years later when visited the Luxembourg Gardens, those readings were my implicit compass and roadmap, and I realized how consciousness of time and space preserves the soul of a city.
THE EIFFEL TOWER
And then you come to the Eiffel... To the Fourth Arrondissement, one of the city’s oldest areas of settlement. Although it has been called by some a heap of iron and no work of art at all, this gigantic tower is for me an expression of bold courage. The courage to build a structure of this magnitude out of iron for the first time, making something that had never been made before. It is only fair that this tower, erected on the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, one of the turning points in human history, is the symbol of one of Industrial Society’s most illustrious nations. How appropriate is it, however, that this icon alone should symbolize the capital of a country that is struggling to cope with the chaotic structure and dynamism of post-industrial society? To see Paris it is not enough to roam its streets. Paris is a city that comes into focus the more you look at it... And as you look, you see that it is also a city of love and loneliness. The stark contrast between its external brilliance and the sadness of its inner life is evident in the city’s face, making that loneliness all the more poignant. Perhaps it harbors sadness in its heart, but because it expresses that sadness in a riot of mad color it whispers the lines of a completely different poem in the human ear:
L’amour s’en va comme cette eau courante/Love goes away like running water flows/L’amour s’en va/Love goes/ Comme la vie est lente /How slow is life/Et comme l’Espérance est violente/And violent like Hope/Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure/Night comes the hour chimes/Les jours s’en vont je demeure/The days pass, I remain.