I came here first as a tourist, a weekend break with my dad. We stayed in a tiny apartment that reminded me of An American in Paris, the old Gene Kelly musical – well, maybe ours was slightly bigger. We didn’t have to pull the bed out of the wall, for starters.
Anyway, we got to this tiny apartment late at night, although if it weren’t for the dark you wouldn’t be able to tell. The streets were just as alive as they would be during the day. The Latin Quarter. The owner, Christophe, gave us keys, and we crammed into a tiny triangular lift to get to our temporary home. We opened the windows and leaned out into the air of the night, breathing in this new city, the narrowness of the street, the way the buildings leaned towards each other, and we could see right into the opposite apartment and hear people in the nearby bars.
I found an old radio and tried to tune it. Through a monstrous crackle of static was a French jazz station. Django Reinhardt’s Minor Swing. The first song I heard in Paris was a cliché used in every film about the great city, but in this instance it was completely incidental, no cliché attached. If I ever remembered my first visit so clearly, it was that moment with that song. I breathed in deeply, as if I could inhale the melody. I did that a lot, that first weekend. Inhaled. Tried to absorb the essence of the city that had stolen my eyes.
I’m originally from a big city – not as big as Paris, but I’m pretty convinced that nowhere is – in England. Manchester sprawls, but more like a fat banker collapsing on his sofa after work. Don’t get me wrong. It has it’s own beauty, in ways. I suppose because when I grew up there, I grew with the longing to travel, the need to see more than my own city. So the beauty escaped me. If I went back – if I could go back, now, after everything – I would try harder.
On the way to work I’d have to change trams, and I’d be stood on this platform at seven in the morning, staring out at the city with sleepy clarity, and lyrics always appeared, projected onto the sky with artistic harshness. The same lyrics every time, or at least from the same artist.
This great city of great solitude.
This is where the writing ends. Maybe I’ll carry it on at some point. Let me know your thoughts.