Isn’t it strange how you set out to look for something, and you find something else?
Richard and I rarely decide ahead of time to write about and photograph a theme, unless it’s a scheduled event, like a parade. Otherwise we stumble upon our subjects. Serendipity, or whatever you want to call it.
But yesterday, we thought we’d go to our local market, and show you how it’s done in France. We arrived at the market on rue Mouffetard an hour after it opened. While it’s usually thronged, there was almost no one there. How odd. A few vendors had set up shop. But there were almost no buyers.
Why? We noticed that a funeral had begun in St.-Medard, the fifteenth-century church right where rue Mouffetard begins. Perhaps people didn’t want to mix life-giving food with death. There was a hearse parked between a vegetable stand and the church. Flowers being stacked in front of the church entrance. But no market, if market implies both buyers and sellers.
Then we realized that we hadn’t reckoned with August. The Parisians—doctors, lawyers, butchers, bakers, shoemakers, tous les Parisiens—take their month’s vacation in August, and the town is eerily calm and quiet. One local joke: You can shoot a cannon down any major boulevard in August and not hit a single French speaker. Unless it’s a Belgian, and they don’t count. (Belgian jokes here are like Newfie jokes in Canada.)
We walked back through Place Monge, which had its own skeletal food market going on, and saw the first yellow and orange autumn leaves. Last week it was too hot in Paris to move, and now, autumn is blowing in? Strange.
When we returned home, Richard processed photos and I worked on a short story.
Richard showed me a photo he’d taken in Place Monge of some eels, displayed with tails in their mouths, like an ouroboros, the ancient representation of things come full circle. But there is something terminally Irish in us that begins to play with words at the slightest opportunity.
“Let’s cut across the Eel St. Louis to the Maison Europeenne de La Photographie,” I suggested, when we had finished our work for the day. “Maybe we can do a post on one of the photography shows.”
And so we did. One floor was full of fashion photos by Alice Springs. I used to see her and her husband, Helmut Newton, around the swimming pool of the Chateau Marmont when I stayed there as a traveling art dealer, and did my daily laps. They seemed infatuated with fame. Besotted with it. They would make great characters in a Chekhov-like story about character. When someone’s conversation revolves obsessively around one thing, you are seeing their character in action.
Then we looked at an exhibit called “Charlotte Rampling, Albums Secrets.” There were a number of photos of her by famous photographers (Cecil Beaton, Bettina Rheims, Alice and Helmut, and others). The most astonishing one was by Peter Lindbergh. She was wearing an African outfit of sorts, and with short hair, the length of her neck made her look like an African animal, maybe an antelope.
In another room, we listened to Charlotte Rampling’s beautiful, low voice in French and British English talk about beauty. People say it fades, she says, but it just changes.
There was a series of slide shows from her life, many featuring her three children. I watched them in fascination. Why did I never have children? I wondered. I never had the desire, yet I love children, and am always surprised to hear or read about women about to become mothers for the first time, who worry that they won’t know what to do. I feel I’d know instinctively what to do. I was the oldest of five, and loved reading to my younger siblings, directing plays and magic shows for them. And yet.
Everyone I know who has ever had the notion of past lives seems to remember exotic ones. I seem to recall just two (and this is, of course, nothing but fantasy); in my last life, I was a mother of nine, and a good one, too.
As we left the show, Richard said, “It’s hard to take photos of photos.”
“Unless you approach it like Emily Dickinson, by telling it slant. But I know what you mean. It’s hard to write about them too.”
As we headed for Mexican food, the wind came up. For the first time in months, I needed a sweater. “Summer’s over,” I said.
“Oh no, just wait,” said Richard.
Today, it’s hot again. Summer in the air, but leaves swirling in circles all along the Boulevard St. Germain.