First, I felt the wind, running through my fingers. Then, I lifted my arms and greeted it. Hello! I said, making more space between each finger so that the cool air would gush out of me.
It was raining tiny drops of rain, and I enjoyed how my clothes were getting damp even though I couldn’t see the droplets.
My intention in leaving the apartment was buying bread, and yet, as it had been with my walks in the last few weeks, there was no telling where my gut was going to take me.
I was rediscovering my relationship with my gut; I was learning to follow it instead of the navigator in my phone. I was getting lost often, seeing new angles, discovering new streets, and making new connections in my very own neighborhood of four years. Four years seemed like enough time to know a place but the pandemic was convincing me otherwise. My body was spatially mapping out this place for the first time in its life.
I was “walking with no aim”, even when there was an aim. My aims had become excuses to be outside, by-products of wandering around in the streets for a tiny pocket of time.
The wind pushed me through the corridors of my neighborhood. I arrived at the bakery and allowed myself to continue walking till the end of the street, where I saw the arched passageway I had seen before many times. As always, it looked inviting. Pass through me, it whispered. This time, I decided to accept the invitation.
I crossed the street and walked through the silent and deserted arch to find myself at a big courtyard, an impasse. I wondered what courtyard (that leads nowhere) would have such a mighty entrance.
My eyes traveled around the space and settled on the building in the far corner. As I walked up to it, the building twinkled at me with a sign on its wall, with letters printed on a metal plaque:
Because they were born Jewish, in the courtyard of this building, a few hundred people were arrested in the 16th of July 1942 by the French Vichy Police, from the neighborhoods of Belleville, Couronne and Ménilmontant, during the Vel’ d'Hiv’ Roundup, to be sent to Auschwitz and be victims to the Nazi barbarianism.
I stood in front of the sign for a while.
I practiced opening my heart to grief.
I walked back to the bakery with a deeper internal silence. I picked up our bread from the very friendly lady selling it, along with a colorful little fruit tart to treat ourselves on this quite Sunday. I started walking home, mindfully, my arms and hands full of bread and sweets, attentive to every step, and every movement of my body.
As my ears tuned in to the grief of Philipp Glass, my memory took me on a trip to a rainy evening on Stromboli, when I had left my lover behind at the hostel, and gone on a walk under the rain, adoring the many crazy beautiful flowers of this lost Mediterranean island. I allowed myself to miss how fresh the earth smells as the rain subsides. Here I was smelling the Parisian sidewalks instead.
As I approached my apartment, I came across a tree with pink petals strewn across the pavement around it. I laughed - what a mess it had made! What a beautiful mess! The pavement, almost entirely in pink, looked momentarily relieved from enduring the dust and wind of its usual human and car traffic. It was being adorned with flowers instead.
I made my way up the hill and I said Bonjour Madame! to the lady who always sits in front of Monoprix, and who always says Bonjour Mademoiselle! to me in a whining voice, which is still much kinder than directly asking for money. I watched her as she looked through the sewage grates, not hearing me, for an important thing she must have dropped. I thanked the weather systems for being warmer - at least she wasn’t cold today.
As I turned the corner, my feet were back on my street, and I had run out of excuses to be outside.
Confinement or not, opportunities to enjoy life were many, including the excuse of going out to buy bread.
The wind, the rain, the secret passageways to history… My walking legs, the city streets, Philipp Glass… The bread, the sweets, the lady at the bakery… My memories of the past, the pink petals on the pavement and the lady at Monoprix… were all there - unmistakably - to find me and touch me.
- What small moments of your days have been getting bigger, more meaningful and more memorable to you lately?
- What has been finding you and touching you?
- What excuses do you make to enjoy life?