How to be Parisienne: Off the radar

Anna Hollingsworth 16 May 2016

Paris is a city that dazzles. Parisiennes live their lives pirouetting under the glare of its spotlights. Spinning incessantly. Relentless. Beautiful. Exhausting. The Parisienne is modern, busy, connected. Such dizzying movement should result in a bitter crash, but for one thing: the Parisienne’s tender attention to self-care. Her ability to stop the clock, dim the lights, be still. She listens to her own voice above the opera crying out around her.

A simple, Parisienne therapy: ’Off the Radar.’                                   

I settle into a wicker chair at a pavement table. It’s early evening; the sun is getting lazy. I contemplate why I am here. According to my guide the Parisienne will disappear to a pavement café, order a coffee, and draw catharsis from her anonymity. Phone off, she shuts herself off from the world by engrossing herself in it. She sits and observes: seeing people, seeing moments, seeing herself. She isn’t there to do anything and isn’t bound by a schedule. She will stay as long as she likes. Acknowledgement of her freedom is the key.

My waiter smiles from the corner of his mouth. With silent, delicate movements, so sacred you daren’t interrupt, he slowly sets down the coffee but in a moment is gone. My merci trails behind him. A light breeze caresses my neck and tells me to breathe. Pushing my world from my thoughts I look out to the world which, at this moment, I actually inhabit.

To my right a middle-aged couple. Both wear long, black coats. He has blue jeans, she a little grey scarf. An almost empty glass of red wine and a half full beer. Colour confined to the bright lighter upright on the table. He talks. She nods. I am taken away by their subtle beauty. He lights the thinnest cigarette I have ever seen, pure white from tip to tip. The coarse smell of smoke floats towards me but for once doesn’t entangle and choke but hangs back, playfully teasing.

To my left three men stand, their beers poised proudly on a large barrel. The conversation is impassioned and those crisp French ‘r’s roll to my ears.

The couple are leaving. Confusion over the bill ensues. No accusations, no drama. A brisk discussion with the waiter and glance at the menu will suffice. He shrugs his shoulders in acceptance. The nonchalant shrug. So symbolic it should be on their passports. All with the cigarette hanging in the left hand. It is sharp now, burnt down into the shape of a pen. I am reminded of an adage: ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’ All that is literary is in this moment.

He swallows the final third of his beer. She is already at the road. She hasn’t looked back.

Beyond the arches that protect my refuge lies a busy road, on which expensive cars fly by. Closer are the zebra crossings, upon which people dart or dawdle to their destinies.

My observations fall into musings fall into deep thoughts. I forget about time and deadlines and sadness. I pull out one of my favourite books, the one that was granted grace to take up baggage weight allowance. I read a few short segments. The author confides in me: “I believed I was real.”

A sausage dog usurps the zebra’s territory, stopping traffic. A cyclist races precariously close to a sightseeing bus, screaming out to someone unseen. Tourists clutching purchased paintings and Starbucks Frappuccinos, a young woman all in black with a green pendant, a steam-pressed couple pushing an old-fashioned white pram, four little fingers, people attached to phones, people attached to lovers pass by.

A woman sits down at the next table. American accent, earphones in, she complains on the phone: ‘He’s a jerk.’ She chatters, orders a cosmo, he’s a jerk. ‘Anyway, I gotta go, I’m calling from France.’

When the Parisienne wishes to escape from the hurricane of her world she does not flee from it. Instead, she sits down in its eye and meditates. The gold has melted to a bright navy and the breeze is starting to gently nip.

I take one final look at the traffic light overhead. It continues to glide through its steps. Blinking orange to orange to red. I don’t know why it is there, facing the opposite direction on a one-way road. Who is it giving instructions to? It never turns green. Blinking orange to orange to red. As if it’s telling the world, ‘careful, slow down, stop.’