Monday, 31 May 2010

Bonjour Paris

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A rainy Thursday in May, so much for springtime in Paris

In Charles Stross' The Merchant Princes series of books the characters are divided into clans and because these books combine science fiction, alternative reality and general all-round nuttiness the device these characters employ to move from one world to another, known as world-walking, seems entirely plausible. They stare at a design called a clan knot and before you know it they disappear through a portal and end up in who knows where.

I was reminded of this knotwork device last week as we were about to board Eurostar. We'd printed out our tickets at home and had to hold our own knotwork (otherwise known as a bar code) against a reader before we could pass through our own portal called security and passport control. Our train was on time, comfortable and included genial neighbours and was over before we knew it. Honestly, it takes longer for us to get to Newcastle than it does to Paris and in that sense Paris does not feel as though it is in another country.

Earlier this year I'd enjoyed reading Marta Szabo's account of her recent trip to Paris which you'll find here and it is a fascinating read as it was her first trip to the city. This was definitely not my first visit - and I'm beginning to feel as though it could become a second home - in that it has that comfortable old pair of slippers feel. We were staying with friends from Canada who every year for the last four years have rented the same small apartment in the Latin Quarter and they generously lend us the sofa bed. Whenever we see them, either in the UK or France, we always pick up where we left off. I hadn't seen them for two years but it might as well have been two weeks ago - there's always plenty to talk about.

We always buy a two-day museum pass and belt around the city on foot wearing ourselves out and now I am back home in London I'm recuperating by writing this while camped out on the sofa. One place I have never been is the Conciergerie. It began life as a palace and ended up as a prison that had the reputation for being one of the toughest. It held many people the State regarded as dispensable during the French Revolution including the Queen, Marie-Antionette and Charlotte Corday who murdered Marat in his bath. Most prisoners were there for only a short time before being sentenced and dispatched but Charlotte Corday was there long enough, and was presumably wealthy enough, to have her portrait painted before she waved farewell. Perhaps it took her mind off thoughts of the guillotine.

Only the lower part of the medieval halls exists now and it is a large space with vaulted ceilings built in a warm coloured brick. It is uncluttered by monuments and you can simply sit in it and soak up the atmosphere which is calm and peaceful, nothing like a prison but oddly more like large church.

Anyway, bye for now and more of our trip another day.

Friday, 21 May 2010

It's taken me five years to get to West Ham!

I'm wearing my denim skirt, flat suede shoes with bare legs and I've just done what I've been trying to avoid and that's get stung by a stinging nettle. It reminds me of when I was a little kid and my parents banned me from exploring some rough ground near where we lived. I just had to go and see this place for myself and my legs got stung from top to bottom.

Anyway, today I am exploring East London Cemetery and trying to find a way of getting to the Memorial Park which is next to it without having to go the long way round via the main entrance to the cemetery and the road. I am out of luck and have to retrace my steps. Along the way I gawp at the elaborate memorials that a lot of local people see as a fitting way to remember their loved ones and I ponder that some of these marble and stone fantasies must cost as much as a house. It strikes me that selling memorial stones might be a good business to get into.

My reason for swanning around this part of London is that it is very close to West Ham station and it is the next stop on my continuing drawing project following stations on the Silverlink/North London line. I began this project nearly five years ago. I have 23 more stations to cover and if I want to finish this project in my life time I had better get a move on.

The drawing above is from Memorial Park facing the line of trees beyond which is the cemetery. My mother-in-law made me a present of some watersoluble sketching pencils which I haven't used before. I found working out how much water to use both tricky and intriguing and I've ended up with a drawing which is more lively than the park actually is. I'm off to Paris next week so I'll have another go with them then.
Au revoir.