Friday, September 14, 2012

Le Flaneur - Wandering in Paris, Part Two

  After my coffee break, I crossed one of the many bridges and continued to wander along the Seine.  I enjoyed watching the little boats with their load of tourists slowly making their way from sight to sight.  I was glad I was on the shore.  One of the things I love about Paris is the leisurely one hurries...I could get use to this!  Paris really needs to be experienced on foot. I wondered if my friend was enjoying her boat trip, viewing the sites of Paris from below.

   Back on the Left Bank, I browsed the booksellers.  I loved the old prints and vintage magazines and I wished, not for the first time, that my French was better!  I was having quite the literary afternoon but that was fine with me.  Books are a vital part of my life and I have resisted the need to buy a Kindle.  I love the feel of a book in my hand and looking at these lovely old volumes I am sure this form of reading will not go the way of public pay phones.  Technology could never replace the feel of a leather binding in your hand.

    I wandered over to the Place de St. Michel because I knew that I eventually had to take the Metro back to the Gare du Nord to meet my friends.  I smiled up at the statue of the saint and recalled the wonderful trip to Mont St. Michel two days before.  I often have these sorts of experiences of "coincidence"...St. Michel was following me around it seemed or, more likely, I was following him!

   It was at this moment that I decided to sit and just "listen to the landscape" (or, in this case, the cityscape).  I hadn't had the time to do much of that on this trip and my heart's GPS said I was where I was suppose to be so I sat down.  The sound of the water in the fountain was a lovely counterpoint to the noise of the city and made me think of the ocean at Mont St. Michel and Omaha Beach.  My Father's first name was Michael and although no saint to be sure, after seeing the D-Day site he was a hero in my heart.  It was then I heard it.  Softly at first, but distinctly, liturgical music was coming from somewhere and it didn't seem a sound I would normally hear on the streets of Paris.  Then I looked up and saw its source...a procession was crossing the bridge bearing a statue of the Virgin and Child and followed by hundreds of people!

    Police cars had blocked off the boulevard traffic and their red lights bounced off the silver statue in a rather eery way.  I remembered that this day, August 15th, was a national holiday in France, the feast of the assumption.  This was a procession from Notre Dame!  They came right up to the plaza where I was sitting and, after a brief ceremony, turned and walked back towards Notre Dame.  I found myself swept up in the procession and we walk slowly back to the cathedral. The music was rhythmic and solemn.  I didn't understand the chants but I felt myself a part of a much greater whole and I thanked my internal GPS for keeping me there to witness it.  Had I listened to my head and not my heart I would have been on a train to the Gare du Nord!  After I returned to the States and listened to the podcast by John O'Donohue, which I posted previously, I realized that the experience of the procession demonstrated that at times there is a collective heartbeat that unites people, however so briefly.  Walking in the procession gave me a glimpse into a wonderful sense of unity that I've rarely experienced.  It was a highlight of the trip for me.

   I didn't go into the church but turned to cross back over the bridge to find a Metro stop to take me to the Gare du Nord and then I saw him.  I had to stop and watch the captivating sight.   There are lots of street performers in Paris.  They do it to earn money but this young man had no bucket for coins at his feet.  Well dressed and well-to-do (his ring and watch were clearly expensive) he was just standing there feeding the tiny birds.  He would sing softly to them and they fluttered around him, landing on his hat and his shoulders...dozens of them.  He reminded me of a modern day St. Francis!  He held the tiniest piece of bread in his fingers and most of the birds didn't even bother to peck at it.  They just seemed content to be near him.  I was too.  It seemed a fitting way to end my wanderings.  Sometimes we need to do things just for the sheer joy of it and not to reap any tangible benefit.

   I finally made my way to the train station and I was aglow with my afternoon's experience for days!  I realize that this is a much longer than usual post but I wanted to share this incredible day with you all.  I also want to remind you to always follow your heart's GPS wherever you travel whether it be nearby or far away.  I promise you, it will never lead you astray!

   I will be starting a  weekly post of my PhotoTao Cards next week.  These are little prompts to facilitate your photographic explorations based on quotations from the Tao te Ching. You can copy them and print them out to keep in your camera bag, as I do, to use whenever you feel the need to try something new. I hope you will find them useful in your journey as a contemplative photographer!

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