Having witnessed the cultural phenomenon of la rentrée in France, in which the populace returns en masse from their vacances, shops open, streets and markets come alive, Paris is reinhabited by fabulously arrogant Parisien(ne)s, and posters and TV commercials abound recommending ways to make the great return douce or moins chère, having felt just a little of the excitement of all that, I’m facing my own pale shadow, my re-entry. But before girding my loins, here’s a blog post of snippets.
• In Manhattan you can buy eyelash extensions.
• There’s a hamburger place opposite the Port Authority Terminal in New York that boasts that it’s the only one with its name, that it was founded in 2008, and it has served fewer than a billion burgers (so far).
• In Lyon, I was approached in the street by an unkempt man speaking in rapid (and therefore incomprehensible to me) French, holding up a euro coin in one hand and extending his other palm empty to the passers-by. I dipped into my pocket and gave him a couple of coins – it could have been anything from 50 centimes to 2 euro – and walked on. He called after me: ‘Monsieur! C’est pour manger ou pour boire?’ It sounded like a serious question: he was asking me to tell him whether the money was for food or drink. I called back, ‘Pour manger!’ ‘Pas d’alcool?’ he called back, like a little boy making sure his papa was really forbidding something he knew he shouldn’t have. ‘Pas d’alcool, oui,’ I said, then added by way of mitigating this sternness something that probably translates as ‘Me no myself drink any alcohol.’
• I know everyone goes on about the different light in Europe, but when I walked the dog this morning I kept wondering why everything looked so clear, the greens so brilliant and the sky such a sharp blue. Then I realised I was back in Sydney, in spring and this light that the first settlers thought so harsh and unforgiving is for me the light of home.
• A visit to Paris at the end of summer makes it much clearer what all the fuss is about than a visit in March, when all the trees are like dark, mutilated skeletons.
• The Eiffel Tower sparkles all over at 10 o’clock at night.
• M Eiffel built a kilometre long bridge to carry a canal over the Loire at Briare, and it’s a very pretty thing.
• It’s illegal to sell cheese made with unpasteurised milk in Australia, which means we miss out on some fabulous, richly stinky delights.
• In certain lights, the power lines to the southeast of Saint-Gervais (Gard) appear to be supported by an army of Hello Kitty silhouettes coming over the hills.
• One of the main delights of travel for me is being in an environment where the language is different from at home. I get far too much pleasure from deciphering untranslatable puns in shop names, like the bookshops Mona Lisait, or the restaurant (or resto) in Rue Mouffetard that’s called the Mouffe’tôt Mouffe’tard. This delight is just as strong in places where the language is English. In Brooklyn, for instance, a car full of young dreadlocked men drew alongside my taxi with its radio turned up loud, and instead of the undifferentiated bass beat I expected I was treated to a crystal-clear rendition of ‘No Woman No Cry’, and the next day, a car pulled into the street where I was staying and the whole small block was filed with Aretha Franklin. I know that’s not strictly language, but it’s communication.
• The prayer ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ must feel completely different in a place where the custom is to go out each morning and buy just enough fresh bread for that day, from where you buy a sliced loaf on the weekend and eat slightly mouldy toast on Friday.
Jet lag has been intense this time, but I’m feeling almost human this morning after two nights’ sleep. Normal broadcasting may resume shortly.