Monday, 5 August 2013

"How about Paris ..."

Introduction ...

As we journey through life it is not uncommon to encounter situations that have a profound impact on us without ever fully understanding why, and most of the time there is no need for us to know what hides behind.
However, when something keeps on coming back like a haunting emotion when least expected, one cannot help but question it ... with hope of finding the answer.
I was about eight years old when I watched a documentary on Edith Piaf's life and was moved to such an extent that I could not stop the tears. Though the more powerful emotions were still to follow.
As the film came to an end, my crying became deeper and out of my control.
I remember kneeling down and pouring my eyes out for nearly two hours while freeing those wailing sounds from my chest, just like a mother over the body of her dead child.
I have to say that I was a sensitive being and it was not uncommon for me to shed tears during a sad movie. However, this experience was definitely much more profound and hard to explain.
Though unaware at the time, this was a beginning of my love affair with Edith Piaf.

Before sharing with you my recent adventures in Paris, I would like to take you back in time to the year ...

Bruxelles, July 1982
I was working at “Le Grand Café” preparing spectacular ice cream desserts decorated with nuts, fruit, wafer, chocolate sauce, cream etc. and served in those big fancy shape glasses with a long spoon.
As the selection was rather extensive, it demanded its own menu filled with colourful photos as well as some kind of magical power that seemed to transform many adults into children in seconds.
Most of all, I enjoyed observing the “freshly fallen in love” couples gazing into each others eyes and seeing their hearts melting together with my carefully created piece of art, now transforming itself into an illusionary tropical cocktail with a paper umbrella casually leaning out of a glass.


It was then, that I finally understood a purpose for the paper umbrella as I watched the illusion becoming a reality in the lovers' eyes.

 Little did I know that one particular day while still working at “Le Grand Café”, I would experience just the opposite.
My days off used to be Monday and Tuesday, but the manager decided to change them to Tuesday and Wednesday from the following week.
As per new roster, I arrived on Monday for my 11 am start only to discover that they had decided not to go ahead with the change and simply sent me back home.
Back home ... ?!
No, I wasn't in a mood for going back home! ... but what could I do?
How about an overnight trip to Paris?” ... (popped into my mind)

The idea was great, but there was one little problem...
My savings were stacked away at home and the small amount I had on me wasn't going to be enough. A trip back home would definitely delay the whole thing and spoil my spontaneous idea.
I decided to approach one of my colleagues at work for a two day loan and I was very lucky that his wallet contained more than mine. Please note that in those days a “scout honour” was still as good as a legal document and my pleading puppy eyes hard to resist.
I was now set to go ...

With a little handbag over my shoulder, sunny weather by my side and my inner child jumping up and down with excitement, I was looking forward to my first rendez-vous with Paris.

Before too long I was standing on the main road heading south of Bruxelles and with a touch of shyness began waving a piece of paper with “PARIS” written on it.
Until this moment “hitch hiking” was something I had only seen in movies.
It may have been about 20 min. before the first car pulled over.
The car was small and the driver was a male around mid to late 20's. He wasn't going all the way to Paris, but offered a partial lift in that direction. As his proposal sounded OK, I hopped into the car and about 45 min. later hopped out, still a long way away from my destination.

By now I was a bit more comfortable with waving my sign.

While watching the cars going by for entertainment, a big black antique limousine with an old “aristocratic” looking couple drew my attention.
This was also something I hadn't seen in real life before.
As my eyes followed it down the road, I noticed that the car started to slowdown and then veered to the side lane about 70 meters away from me.
I was a bit curious why they have stopped in the middle of nowhere?
And then a moment later, my curiosity was replaced by surprise when the distinguished gentleman stepped out of the car and waved at me with his white gloved hand.
So what did I do? ... (a stand up comedy!)
While being well aware that I was the only human being within his range of vision, I turned around to see if there was someone else he could have been waving at.
O well, I guess I should go up to them and see what they wanted.
I was simply shocked when they offered to take me on the next part of my journey and almost felt like saying ... “But I am not dressed well enough for your car”.

The next 45 min. in the company of this lovely couple has took me back to the era of black and white movies.   

As I waved farewell to my “back in time” automobile I was filled with great anticipation for the next episode to unfold.

After barely enough time for one commercial, my next form of transportation pulled over. This time it was a VW and the occupants were a young couple (actors) on the way to Lyon for their theatre performance. They were very happy to take me on board and drop me off in Paris.
Their offer sounded great, but a little bit unrealistic as the back seat of their car was piled up with suitcases, bags and a guitar right to the top. It looked just like a gypsy caravan.
Well ... “when there is a will, there is a way” and after a few minutes of reshuffling fuelled by their great determination, they were thrilled to offer me a space on the back seat.
Now, try to imagine me seated (or more like being suspended) for the next 2 hours with one leg over a suitcase, the other over something else while holding onto the guitar.
I must have looked as if I was given a role as a clown.
Despite all, this was definitely a very joyful ride and if only I had more days off I would have probably gone with them all the way to Lyon and then ... (who knows).
We approached the streets of Paris greeted by bumper to bumper traffic.
Yet another goodbye as I jump out of my gipsy wagon and made my way into this much talked about city.
As I walked up to the nearest street sign my heart stopped beating for a moment and then it begun pounding like a wild animal. I was standing in the middle of Place Edith Piaf. 

It was a reunion I had never dreamed of.

I felt the sound of her voice and made my way into the nearby corner bar.
She was everywhere. Her face was young, old, happy, sad or deep in thought.


Her passionate sound had awaken every single cell in my body and a heartfelt ecstasy started to flow down my cheeks. While embracing a glass of rose with my trembling hands, I was lost in the vibrations of her soul.
But I wasn't the only one. There were old men sitting quietly and mostly alone; beret, scarf, beer and eyes focused on the distant memory.
She was loved by more people than she could have ever imagined and I was only 8 years old when our hearts became one.
With a last sip of wine I followed her smile into the unknown streets.              
The streets once covered with footsteps of my mentor ... the mentor of passion, of life lived to the full.

Link to ...

Song "Non, je ne regrette rien"

Photo of black limousine taken from the framed picture (author unknown)
Photos of Edith Piaf from the Google search "images for Edith Piaf"
Remaining photography by Olga Kulanowska
Drawings by Olga Kulanowska