Paris:- Tuesday, 16. July 1996:- This morning, when
I went out to get the paper, it was a bit windy - but the
sky was deep blue from top to bottom, edge to edge; the
kind of sky that is at once solid and miles deep. No clouds
anywhere and a feeling that none were coming. It has been a
long time since it was like this.
Ideas cooked up unasked for; I made notes, studied the map, checked the métro routes - jotted it all down on the back of a page from last year's unused calendar, and bolted up the hill to the train.
In this light more ideas cooked up on the train - there are some practical chores to do and I should do them first because they are on the way. Passing above Puteaux, I thought I could see to Austria - which made me think, that the view from the Arc de Triomphe would never be better. Someday sure, but when? Then today it is; because its on the way.
Off the métro under Etoile and looking for that short-cut to the centre bit on top, back and forth, follow the signs that keep pointing up to the Champs-Elysées and then back again and ask. I am wrong, it is up that way. Right, I remember this extra tunnel, so dim, that you can use to underpass from the Champs to the Grande Armée - yes, and here's the stairway to the top, the base of the Arc.
The ticket lady relieves a kid in front of me of his empty cola can and I ask her how many she collects a day. Sign says the elevator is for invalids so I take the stairs - and I have no memory of ever doing this before - and they spiral up and up, round and round, behind a large gentleman and his lanky son. He says, "Do you need a rest?" and before the kid answers I say, "No, keep going," and he does, nearly to the top.
In stone dimness, there is the museum. Inscriptions
chiseled in stone, glass cases, scarves, the audio-visual
room, and I finally find the way out to more stairs, but
not too many, to the open sky. It is like a hammer. A blitz
of light. Stunning.
Truly, there may only be one day a year, or every two years, with this light. Toss away your glasses! Gloom's over! You can see to Hungary, you can see to Ireland. Fantastic.
After all the photos I've taken in the métro, I worry that this light will overwhelm the poor camera - there's only light and a lot of it - to shoot, so I cross my fingers and do it. What you see with this article - knocked down to fit the Web pipeline - is as close as I can get, working from the most perfect images this thing has ever captured. People up here today, with good lenses and high-resolution slide film are going to get stunning photos, if they hold good and still and ease the shutter release down ever so gently.
Now I remember being up here before but I have no idea when it was. I know it was not as bright as this. This super-day! Hit the streets everybody; today is a super-day! Open your eyes and get a good long look. Get up as high as you can - Montmartre, the Montparnasse tower, the terraces of the department stores, the Grand Arch at La Défense, get up on the highest hills you can find with a view so you can see as far as in the mountains. See the bone-colored city under the glassy sky.
A day like this makes you feel rich no matter what the
finance company thinks - those moles, cranking out overdue
warning notices - and down on the pavement on the
Champs-Elysées, for one of my little chores, because
its on the way - the avenue looks like somebody painted it
in fresh color overnight and everybody looks good; even
those that are not taking this rare chance for a good see
and are peering closely at guidebooks and maps and whatnot.
Look up! Look up before it's gone.
I feel so good I know I need to get new shoes. Walk in this light, I should have clean shoes and what can be cleaner that new? Not a minute to waste and seconds later I am back up in the light at métro Tuleries, and this is so light that instead of going straight to the shoes, I go into the gardens in the other direction instead.
The giant ferris wheel and the antique merry-go-round are still here and the white of the ferris wheel against the one-in-a-thousand sky is... etched against it. I do the backup photo of the merry-go-round and I forget to do one for this feature because I must go over to the trees and the light and the shade there. I am looking and I don't have enough film for this but the counter goes past 24 and keeps on so I must have put in a 36, and it is like a small win on the Loto. Light and shade and people in chairs facing the light and even a few in shade doing the same, but others involved, as if nothing special is happening.
The shoes! Up past the Marché St. Honoré - under construction and what a thing it is, unfinished, but a five-six story glass house. In this light? It will need an air conditioning monster; but when the glass is cleaned, later, if it is a day like this - this will be a thing to see. See through I guess; see so many reflections that the building won't be here. Ricardo Bofill's name is on this.
Try to cut through the streets sideways, try to angle away from the angle of the rue de l'Opéra, towards the Capucines, and my light is lit because I come out right where I want to be - in freezing winter this could never happen - and I go in and get the white ones; the beige look nice but not with those black soles. And not on sale, the good ones are not, but even though the chic mademoiselle is handling me, the monsieur I saw last week tells her ten percent - you know, Paris is really good sometimes.
But I think the secret is, if you are going to see the light in this town, you should take the stairs if you don't really need to take the elevator, and you will be rewarded for it, here and now, in this life. That's as good as it gets.
And if it gets that good, there's no better place than Paris to get it in. Try it yourself.
Afterword: on Thursday night I found the notes I made before starting out to 'see the light' on Tuesday. It's not a bad idea I had; and I will do it one day.
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