I love Paris in the Springtime

It’s Spring in Melbourne! After the unusually cold winter we had in Melbourne this year – we were treated to an extended version of Winter this year, that continued on through most of September – Spring finally seems to have arrived, and with it the renewed energy and lifted spirits that longer hours of sunshine and warmer temperatures bring. Hurrah!

Unfortunately Spring is also to blame for why I’ve already sneezed twice since writing the word It’s about 1 minute ago. Perhaps Spring also accounts for the large, slow-witted blowflies that mysteriously find their way into our house in droves at the moment and then proceed to fly in a slow and wobbly manner, around the house at shoulder height, as if they are stoned and paranoid about heights.

Anyway, it’s Spring, the time when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of cricket, now that the football season is over. Spring, when the buds start budding, the blooms start blooming, and my eyes start running. Spring, when we all get Spring fever. Spring, when we all….Spring clean. ?

I’m afraid I’m not really into cleaning, especially Spring cleaning. Who ever decided it was a good idea to devote an entire 3 month period – arguably the nicest 3 month period of the year for being outdoors –  to cleaning?

When it comes to cleaning, I begrudgingly allocate a small amount of time now and then to cleaning things a visitor might reasonably be expected to encounter on a tour through my house – dishes, cups, cutlery, floors and surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens, for example. (I have only one kitchen, so I’m not sure why there is a plural kitchens there). I allocate proportionally less time to things only the discerning, or pedantic, visitor will ever look at – the dust on the bookshelves, or behind the toilet, for example – and basically no time ever to wiping, sorting or tidying the junk that accumulates inside cupboards or wardrobes or in the junk room study, so if you ever happen to drop in to my house for a surprise visit, please don’t look behind the couch, or inside the vases, or even into the junk room study. (that could prove difficult if you’re staying overnight, as you’ll be in there on a fold-out bed amongst the junk.) In fact whether it’s a surprise visit or not will make no difference, I still won’t be wiping out cupboards for you.

This afternoon is a case in point. My parents and one of my brothers are coming over for lunch tomorrow. Things I need to do before that lunch could be divided into 2 categories, much like skills and experience on a job application:

  1. Essential – clean up the dirty dishes currently in the kitchen, go shopping for ingredients, prepare the lunch and dessert so the guests have something to eat when they arrive.
  2. Desirable – clean the bathroom, mop the floors, clear the table, set the table for guests.

Today I was out all day until about 3.30pm, and I’m going out again at 6pm. At about 4.30 this afternoon I calculated that I had 1 1/2 hours, and 2 possible paths to take in that time, namely either:

  • The Road Less Travelled/The Path of the Well-Prepared Host. This path involves shopping for the required groceries today, and perhaps even making a start on some of the food preparations, thereby making tomorrow morning more relaxed
  • or
  • The Road Quite Frequently Travelled/The Path of the Unprepared Host. This path involves getting out my laptop and settling in to spend the next 1 1/2 hours, or, basically, right up to the moment that I’m planning to leave to go out again, writing a post. The consequences will be to spend all of tomorrow morning doing all of the above mentioned tasks in order to have the house, and the lunch, ready by midday, probably feeling a bit rushed and stressed out while doing so – but hey – that won’t occur until tomorrow, right?

Was there ever any real doubt about which path I would choose? I opted for number 2, The Road Quite Frequently Travelled, (at least by bloggers)- so here I am.

Yes, the dust is gently accumulating on the floorboards, the rhubarb I’m intending to stew for dessert tomorrow is still sitting in bunches down at the Fruit shop, and I don’t recall when the floor was last mopped, but I’m here at my blog.

In my defence, I’m attempting a Spring clean of sorts. A literary Spring clean, if you will. I’m continuing on a personal mission to clean out some of the 19 Draft posts I’ve accumulated over the past few years, by shaping them into something decent and then posting them. I purged one just the other day, by turning it into a silly post about doing the laundry at night.

Today, the challenge is tougher than finishing off a half-written poem about hanging laundry. Today’s challenge is to devise an introduction that will nicely segue into a draft written two years ago, after an overseas holiday, about being in Paris. Now, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a simple task. A topic like this is difficult to resurrect 2 years later, because when the writer is not in, and has no particular claim to any expertise on, a particular place, the timing of the post is crucial. Having now lost the immediacy of being written right after being in Paris, there is a high risk that a post about Paris, written by an Australian woman from her awfully dusty house in Melbourne, will come across as trite, superficial and cliched.

Looking over my original draft, I fear that some of the writing was pretty trite, superficial and cliched anyway. Witness the following lame sentence: “There is, of course, a lot that could be said about Paris, and I am not going to try and cover it all.”  Did I really think that was worth stating?

In the spirit of Spring cleaning, this draft has either got to be salvaged, or  thrown out for good.

I began this exercise quite ruthlessly, chopping out the first 4-5 paragraphs of the original draft with not a blink of the eye. Ruthless – this is how  you really clean things out. (If only I could do this as ruthlessly in the physical world.) There was nothing astounding in those paragraphs anyway, just some trite and superficial writing about how great it is to travel and how pretty Paris was. No wonder I refrained from hitting the “publish” button!

So after consideration, this is the only part I’m keeping. It’s about a little tradition I began, and try to uphold when ever I’m lucky enough to travel.  That is, to buy a book about the city I’m in.  I began this tradition on my very first overseas trip some 16 or so years ago, when I landed in San Fransisco, and headed, (not literally straight from the airport) to the famous CityLights bookshop, where I purchased a collection of short histories of San Fransisco. Reading the book later, back home in Melbourne, was all the more enjoyable because I was able to reminisce about locations I’d been to, while also learning more about the history of a city that I’d immediately liked and felt interested in.

It doesn’t have to be non-fiction. In Edinburgh, Scotland, I purchased a second hand copy of Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh. In Dublin, Ireland, I bought a copy of Dubliners, by James Joyce. I don’t devise my whole itinerary in each place around hunting down such a book, and there are plenty of cities I’ve visited where I haven’t managed to come across a book that was emblematic of the city: I failed to find just the right book when in New York, Hong Kong, Montreal, Edmonton, Cork, Nice, Venice, or Barcelona, for example.

 

Shakespeare and Co. bookshop, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Shakespeare and Co. bookshop, Paris

In Paris, the legendary bookshop for any English-speaking tourist is Shakespeare and Co. I imagine every single English-speaking tourist who has ever visited Paris has dropped into this shop at some point during their stay. In fact, I think they were all there on the perfect Spring afternoon that I visited, because it was so crowded that I couldn’t turn around, or walk anywhere without……well, I just simply couldn’t turn around or walk anywhere. It was quite unpleasant, actually, as the store is tiny. To make matters worse, it was a warm day,  I was flying out that day, and I had already checked out of my accommodation – therefore, I was wearing unnecessary layers of clothes including a cardigan and thick rain jacket, simply because I couldn’t squash more clothes into the suitcase. I was also carrying my bulky backpack with me. I felt like the Michelin Man, trying to squeeze his way through a store full of young, thin, literary type-Australian students discussing the French-speaking Politics class they were taking at the university. (true)

Thus, once in Shakespeare and Co, all I wanted to do was get out as quickly as possible, so instead of spending time enjoying the atmosphere in this legendary store, famously a hang out for all sorts of literary figures through the years, including Beat poets, and Anais Nin, I made a quick decision – I saw a small history of Paris, so I shoved my way through to the counter, purchased it, and got the hell out of there.

I brought my newly aquired tome back to Melbourne with me, and read my way through all 600 or so pages, detailing the history of the city from the 3rd Century BC when the Parisii tribe set up at the site then known as Lutetia, and fought Julius Ceasar’s armies, through to its incarnation as the city it is now – or was when the book was published about 3 years ago.

As I learned from my reading, a city is a constantly evolving thing, with many layers of history hidden underneath the streets, below the ground cover in its parks; its buildings are demolished or repurposed, its physical boundaries are ever expanding.

In that sense, as it turns out, this post is a bit like a city.

 

Interior of the store: imagine approximately 400 people buzzing around and one large fat Michelin Man stumbling through them all.

Interior of Shakespeare and Co, obviously taken after hours. Imagine about 400 people climbing over one another, and one large fat Michelin Man stumbling through them all.

 

Pics of Shakespeare and Co store courtesy of Wikipedia.

For a concise, 1 page history of Paris, as opposed to 600 pages, try this useful link.

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8 Comments

  1. Great post, love the idea of getting a book (or trying to get a book) that resonates with the city that you are in. What an original idea and what a great collection you must be getting. Wish I had thought of something as unique to do on our little JWalking trip (https://jwalkingin.wordpress.com/). Brilliant thing to do.

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    • Thanks Jonno! I haven’t got as many as I’d like but it is a good theme. I see you’ve done some walking around in Brisbane – funnily enough the first book that comes to mind that is set in Brisbane is Johnno, by David Malouf! You should look for a copy!

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  2. Your cleaning routine sounds a lot like mine!

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  3. Loved your post and I can resonate completely with your cleaning regime. I justify my untidiness by regularly glancing at the poster on my wall. “Creative people are rarely tidy”. Or the other one “Craft Forever – Housework Whenever”
    However just yesterday the fridge screamed “clean me” and thus I spent several hours (could have been 4!) extracting everything, tossing a whole lot and scrubbing every square inch. The last half hour was spent working out which shelf went where, and it now sings when I open it. Well not really but my mind does when I see its sparse white shiny surfaces. Hmmmm there just might be something in this spring cleaning thing, but once head is out of the fridge and scans the rest of the house…. nope I think I will take myself off to my very messy but creative studio and toss around some more fabric. Or perhaps I might get around to writing a post on MY blog!

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    • I agree Mel – I can’t see how creative people could bear to give up large slabs of time on cleaning and tidying? There is not enough time in the day, to give up hours that could be spent writing (or tossing fabric) to scrub the skirting boards, hose down the weatherboards, dust away all the cobwebs in the hard-to-reach places, and iron the pillowcases. x

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    • I should add that my freezer has been screaming “defrost me” at me every time I open it for about a year, so now I have to get things out really quickly and close it again quick smart!

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  4. The trouble with cleaning the home is that you do it and then, barely a decade later, it needs doing again. It’s a thankless grind. William of Occam had the right idea: don’t bother with what is superfluous to requirements, be it razors or vacuum cleaners or flat irons.

    My lovely partner, Tigger, is a hoarder. In consequence, our already small living space continually diminishes as bric-à-brac accumulates to fill all available space. Cleaning would therefore require the operating intricacy of a surgeon or watchmaker. It seems hardly worth the effort. I’ll rephrase that: it isn’t worth the effort. As long as my 4-dimensional world (bed, kettle & teapot, toilet, computer) remains clear, I am content.

    I am well acquainted with the blog backlog (‘backblog’? ‘blogback’?) having fallen well behind as a result of two trips in close succession. The problems you mention (not remembering clearly or even at all what you did and where you went) are agonizingly present in my mind. I feel as though I am permanently living a month behind everyone else.

    I have always had a problem with deadlines. For some reason, having to do a task by a deadline paralyses my abilities to do the task. I consequently keep finding reasons not to do it and I substitute other, often unnecessary, activities in place of it. The anxiety about getting the task done then builds up and up but this only strengthens the block. Eventually, fear of the consequences of not doing the task overcomes the block and I rush through the job without adequate time to do it properly. This caused me to nearly flunk my degree at university and seriously compromised my professional life, which is one reason why I ducked out of a professional life as soon as I saw the chance.

    Shakespeare & Co sounds like the stuff of nightmares to me. I hate crowds and crowded places and regularly daydream about living on a deserted island. I did work in a busy bookshop for about four years but swapped this for the public library which I enjoyed a lot more.

    Oh yes, the rhubarb. Well, I’d leave that on the shelf, if I were you. If you have to provide a meal for people, take them to the restaurant. Let someone else do the cooking and the washing up. It also obviates the risk of someone running an accusatory finger along the dusty bookshelf…

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    • I just wrote a really long reply to your comment and somehow my computer ate it!

      That housework just has to be done again within the decade is definitely a very large bore. I’m surprised there isn’t an app on an iPhone that does the housework for us yet. Hurry up, Apple!

      Your description of the hoarding of knick knacks that would require intricate cleaning made me picture rooms full of wobbling stacks of junk with someone cleaning them very carefully with a fine brush, the way an archeologist might dust a large rock to find a fossil. It was kind of an endearing image, perhaps because my mum is a hoarder too, for her, cleaning is a bit like a deadline is to you: something she worries and talks a lot about but rarely does any of.

      Deadlines cause a lot of people anxiety. I”m sure I’m not the only person who puts off certain tasks at work because I don’t like them, and then end up more anxious because there is a double-edged sword – the task is unpleasant, and it’s also now urgent, and/or in danger of not being completed in time. Oh dear.

      Writing a blog, I seem to create self-imposed deadlines, whereby I feel pressure to publish a post at least fortnightly, so I often hit publish just to meet this imagined deadline, even when I’m not quite happy with the post. On the other hand if I”m not happy with a post and I leave it as a draft, quite often I lose interest in it, and can’t seem to muster up the interest to ever finish it off.

      Shakespeare and Co was actually quite ok to be in the first time we went there – at 10pm on a week night (I took artistic licence on leaving out the fact I’d been there already, since it was irrelevant to the story at hand) – at that time it was no busier than a busy book shop in Melbourne would be in the day time! Stupidly, though, I couldn’t decide in that first trip, what book to get, which is why I was back there, blundering through the Saturday afternoon crowds a few hours before we flew out, determined to buy a book about Paris in that shop before I left!

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