October 7, 2006
joie de vivre
The Joy of Life
One of the innumerable phrases to have across the English Channel. And for no doubt. If the English are supposed to be stiff, the French stand out for how they seem to enjoy life!
When I reached Paris, one of the first things that struck me — Goddam! I have never seen so much beauty around. On both counts, I usually like to add.
I didn’t see a bare wall — everything was full of graffiti. Thankfully, no pictures of politicians as we Indians like to paint. It all seemed to be words scribbled on the walls in a calligraphic font. What was written, I could not make out. But then, it is these moments that one feels blessed for not knowing the local language — my appreciation of the graffiti would go down if the graffiti happened to be political. It’s amazing that one can just keep peeping out of the window in the RER (a train), and keep enjoying the view, the lush green glass, and whenever the concrete happens to come and block the view, you don’t feel flustered since you can appreciate the calligraphy.
What also strikes you about Paris is the "intimacy" that people don’t seem to mind displaying. At first, it almost strikes you as a culture shock! It’s probably something in the weather, since even the tourists seem to behave equally intimately! And then gradually your pupils dilate and you get used to the sudden flash of freedom, of the fact that yes, it is a difference in culture, and nobody would really mind it :P
As you walk on the streets, the history of the place, the art and architecture really strikes you. Everything is just so ornate — the roads, the bridges, the towers (eiffel!), the fountains, the lamp posts (Our very own Laloo Yadav would be happy!). Everything seems to have a story, a history that they have been witnesses to and part of, of kings and queens and soldiers and noblemen. Of great archiects, possibly artists more than architects. It strikes you as a welcome relief from the boxy cities we have started building in India, imitating the US. Glass palaces without a life. You heave a sigh of relief — art is just not sold in galleries, but on display where everybody can touch and feel it. Perhaps this is the way art should be — what’s the point of just visual appreciation?
One is thankful to the French for not having built on those pieces of art and architecture to make it look like a hap-hazard application of modern day construction to make it a pastiche which we have made our wonders in India. It perhaps reflects our confusion about what’s right and what’s wrong, what to pursue and what to leave, where our destiny lies. I hope we find it fast!
And you walk along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, arguably the most beautiful avenue in the world, the high street of fashion. And you realize that the French have not just preserved their architectural wonders but built upon them. You seem to be in heaven — trees of different hues lining either side. Cafeterias burgeoning with people, unreachable riches on display at the shop windows, almost tempting, almost ridiculing. The street reaches its apt denouement with the famed and now fabled Muse de Louvre, the home of the Mona Lisa. You walk inside, inside a dream, the dreams of artists for centuries before you. It’s amazing to see once again how well the French have preserved the work of art of not just their own, but of cultures far and varied, of the Egyptians, of the Greens, of the Moslems. And your thoughts fall back to a king’s palace in Calcutta, tucked away in a small lane lined with spice shops. Although no comparison with the Louvre of course, in its length and breadth, it houses some exquisite paintings, sculptures of Queen Victoria almost 30 feet high, single piece Belgian glass mirrors lining whole walls, of amazing paintings, whose only visitors and admirers are pigeons and sparrows. One feels ashamed. There is a lot to learn!
In contrast is the Notre Dame cathedral, equally beautiful, equally exquisite, but which the Rector has had to open to tourists in order to meet expenses. The Sunday mass goes on, and the tourists walk in and out, admiring the walls, the stories in the windows, the shrine, clicking pictures. I almost feel as committing sacrilege, but the Father continues his sermon nonchalantly. There are candles you can light for Euro 2.00, casettes and memoirs you can buy. I haven’t been to too many temples in India, but for some reason I felt that they are more places of religion and tourism. And I felt relieved.
Back to more mundane things, the Parisian metro system is just amazing — considering the fact that a person like me who doesn’t know the place neither the language, could navigate it so easily. And your thoughts fall back on the Autorickshaws in Bangalore, with the drivers always ready to fleece you. Frustration once again!