The value of looking up

Paris Luxembourg GardensE may have French fever, but poor C is sick with the flu. She’s burning up at 103 degrees. We’re in Paris, in the middle of our week here, and we’re housebound. Flat-bound, I guess. The girl is clammy and pale and has hardly eaten a thing since Monday. We’re doing what we can for her, which is to keep the flat dark and draft-free, and sit and rub her feet.

Still, we’re in Paris. We’re taking turns going out. M is out now for a second visit to the Shostakovich Center and a walk through the Luxembourg Gardens. When he returns I’ll take S and E to climb the Eiffel Tower. Later he’ll take the girls to a place where people make wooden jigsaw puzzles by hand, and bring one home for us to do tonight while he goes to the opera to see Lucia di Lammermoor.

Berlin’s weather has caught up with us, and there’s a slight chill in the air and the skies are overcast and a little ominous, but we’ll go out regardless.

Before anyone else was up this morning, I walked up our street to buy some brioche. I knew there was a boulangerie about a block and a half from our place. I don’t know what it is about our neighborhood, but every day there are fresh piles of vomit dotting the sidewalk. I counted three by the time I made it to the bakery. And I thought, Jill, what the hell, you’re in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and you’re counting piles of vomit. This is ridiculous.

Walking back, I told myself to look up. And I did. I saw geraniums in clay pots hanging from iron balconies. A woman in a white nightgown watering her plants. A Parisian man dressed for work flying by on his black bike, an orange scarf flying behind him. A tiny Fiat making its way down the narrow alley. I felt better about life. I forgot about the vomit.

I’ve noticed this back in Berlin, that once I learn a route, I stop looking up. My eyes are on the sidewalk and my thoughts are far from the apartment buildings and cars in front of me. I stop seeing. This must happen at home too.

Last week I saw a child in a stroller pointing up at a building around the corner from our flat. The mother was staring up with her child. What caught their attention was unclear to me, but suddenly I saw the ivy climbing up the facade, and how wonderful the purple and orange flowers on a third floor balcony looked in contrast to the dark green of the ivy, and how stunning it all looked against the creamy color of the stucco. The effect was gorgeous. And I had stopped seeing it.

There is value in looking down, too. S stepped in a pile of vomit on the subway our second day in Paris. And I knew there were piles to avoid on my short walk this morning. I saw one coming up, and a man’s damp shoe prints leading away from it. I picked my way around it and thought about C, camped out under a duvet cover on the couch. Just steps away from her couch is our tiny yet atmospheric balcony, and I should be able to keep a good eye on her while soaking up the ambiance of our neighborhood from the fifth floor. And keep an eye out for the beauty of Paris instead of the remnants of someone’s bad night.

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3 thoughts on “The value of looking up

  1. Muddy River Muse

    When I visited Paris in 1978 as a teenager it was magical. When I visited it again in 1992 as a young woman, I experienced it as crowded, expensive, and dirty. I like your post because it captures a truth that is somewhere in between.

    Reply

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