Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Here we are

Recent experience suggests that the worst possible way of moving halfway around the globe is two consecutive red-eye flights separated by an eleven-hour layover in Newark. However, we survived, and we are here, in our tiny studio on a narrow, winding street near the Grand Mosque of Paris. I had forgotten how strikingly unified the architecture of Paris is -- Haussmann's plan is evident everywhere and the mansard-roofed apartment buildings, built in the nineteenth century, are ubiquitous. The effect is tremendously evocative -- wherever you go, Paris looks like Paris -- but also odd, as if the whole city had been created at once, which is even less true for Paris than for other cities in which I've lived. It's an ancient city; on a walk today we came across a Roman amphitheatre and a fragment of twelfth-century city wall. But it is also, if not the first modern city of the Industrial Revolution, then at least the first city to recognize and represent, even glorify, the experience of urban modernity: the anonymity of crowds on the street, the shop windows with all their goods on display, the tension between seeing and being seen. The latter identity is more visible than the former, which has to be sought out in oddments which have survived modernization, or been restored. Soon I'll start remembering to carry the camera, and there will be pictures, I promise.

In the tropics, the sun goes down with a crashing thud every night around 6.15 (winter) or 7 (summer). There is no twilight to speak of and no significant variation in the length of days. Tonight, the sun went down around 9.30 PM, and there is still another month to go before the longest day. We had a late dinner followed by a Cardinale (blackberry sorbet with creme de cassis), and a long walk back home in the fading light.

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