Solitude, Somnolence and Baguettes (Paris)


It’s already well into the New Year and I’ve only just managed to publish my second post. To be fair I’ve had a lot of distractions, like moving out, which admittedly only took one weekend, but still…

Moving on.

Francophiles will be pleased to read I’m going to reminisce about my stay in Paris at the turn of 2009. The purpose of my journey was to draw inspiration from this particularly renowned urban jungle and focus on finishing my novel as I had been wasting too much time blaming Life’s inevitable disruptions and my motivation was lacking. I rented a cosy apartment in Montmartre, the bohemian little hill overlooking the City of Light. With its artist market and buzzing atmosphere I would live a solitary writers existence, descend further into my alternate reality and return home with a fully fledged masterpiece (that was the plan). I decided on a Parisian getaway to fuel my imagination, to allow me to think of nothing else beside the story I’d been slowly chipping away at for a few good years. I figured if the movies, magazine photographs and stories about the romantic city and its way of turning the tap on creativity were anything to go by I couldn’t fail. And Paris was just as I had imagined, which is funny as places often surprise you with the 180 degree of difference they display against your presumptions. I mean, every other person sauntering along the cobbled streets was carrying a baguette. No, really. Apart, of course, from the foreigners who lumbered along looking perplexed but trying desperately to blend in.

I walked along the Seine, visited but a fraction of museums and galleries dotted around the city, tasted French cuisine and ogled the Eiffel Tower… Yes, this is where I would find my literary joie de vivre and write!

One page, or rather, a prelude which didn’t quite fill an entire page in 1.5 spacing and 12 point font is what I achieved in a month living/loitering in Paris. But hey, I had plenty to keep me occupied.

View from my apartment window

I found myself reading a lot, drawing more inspiration from other literature than from my surroundings. Admittedly, inspiration was more along the lines of the enlightening and over-thinking kind, not so much the frantic-writing-a-masterpiece kind. But I think reading always serves a positive purpose whether providing a distraction from your goals or not, at least that’s what I tell myself as my goal of winning a Man Booker Prize becomes funny even to my accomplished and now haughty envisioned other. One of the books I read was Amin Maalouf’s Balthazar’s Odyssey which I picked up from Shakespeare and Company, the super cramped but endearing English book store located on the left bank of the Seine, where you can wander through the rabbit warren of book-lined walls and little nooks and get lost among the wealth of stories surrounding you. The book store’s definitely a milieu for the dreamer.

I was first introduced to Amin Maalouf’s work when I picked up The Gardens of Light at my local library years before. On a constant philosophical odyssey of my own, I found this story edifying in a very personal (wankerly existential) way. Then, in Paris, reading another of his stories of a man on a crusade to uncover a profound historical secret made me wonder about my own journey—what was I doing in this vast city with little to no knowledge of the language (tip: most people should know this but do yourself a favour and make an effort to speak even a little French if you visit and avoid quiet French profanities directed at your ignorance), and with nothing but good intentions to write my best seller. Well, to at least finish a draft of my soon-to-be published novel… um, by an independent publisher? Alright, I just wanted to finish the damn thing even if that meant being read and generously critiqued by my family alone. That was nonetheless a lost aim of my stay as wanderlust gripped me and became my only objective. I was left to ponder and selectively forget my motivations as I explored the city.

So, why didn’t I really return home with my finished work? It may have been all of the distractions (I get distracted a lot, huh?) I was drawn to, or the fact I was consuming gluten daily, being intolerant of the stuff generally means you should stay away from it. But come on, I was in Paris: baguettes, croissants and the multitude of other pastries on offer meant my resolve wasn’t much of a match for temptation. I’m intolerant not coeliac, I kept justifying to myself. So, walking around feeling like a sleep-deprived, fuzzy headed dope fiend and nursing a constant headache was the price I paid for a chocolate hazelnut crepe. Daily. Or maybe I simply wasn’t ready to write? I think many writers need a certain amount of Life experience behind them before feeling comfortable with their work. There was a period when I first started writing my manuscript where words poured onto paper from the sheer excitement of discovering my story, and *ahem probably because I was forced to write it for a unit at school. Then the words stopped. My imagination seemed blocked by my lack of experience, or so I thought. That’s not to excuse oneself from writing as a daily practice regardless of the uninspired tripe that may mar ones notepad. Sure Martha Gellhorn stamped her career as a journalist in her early twenties, and there are fantasy (with absolutely no disrespect for the genre, love it) novelists out there who barely exited puberty before being snatched up by a publisher. But, some of us take our time. That’s all there is to it really.

And that said, written rather, I’m going to start forcing myself to scratch that neglected tripe onto paper as opposed to merely punching out a different kind on my keyboard here.

‘Til next time, keep hacking through those jungles.

Books read on my journey:
(N.B. I won’t provide my own reviews of books I mention in these posts, but hope it inspires you to read some of them)

Balthazaar’s Odyssey by Amin Maalouf

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (one of the choice of books waiting on the apartment shelf)

The Egyptian by Mika Waltari

Brida by Paulo Coelho

A few snapshots of my roaming about in Paris

Blog-Paris-Thumbnail2  Blog-Paris-Thumbnail3  Blog-Paris-Thumbnail4  Blog-Paris-Thumbnail7


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