When you visit a place on holiday, you go there primarily for the scenery, though when you move to that place, you become a part of that scenery. Eventually anyway. I said back in February that I hoped I’d never get used to the sight of soldiers in the street here in Paris, only earlier today I realised I hadn’t even noticed them when I jogged past. They too have blended into the mise-en-scene as we’ve become desensitised to their full potential. I even wondered for a moment if they’d stepped down amid an easing of security concerns, though that was a preposterous thought, and it only lasted a moment. There they were with hands wrapped around killing machines as I meandered back up the Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth.
I realised I’d become a part of the scenery about a month back when I walked through a Jewish wedding in Belleville. Soldiers were also stood outside with attractive tilted mauve berets and massive guns. Or at least there was a shift in my perception that I was no longer an interloper but someone who actually is a part of this city. I had my guitar on me at the time, which I hate carrying in the street because I think other people are thinking I’m thinking “look at me”, when the last thing I want them to do is look at me. But Claire had made me come out of “retirement” and write and perform a song for our friends Tim and Anna-Marie who were leaving Paris, so I dragged myself out of bed and did a painful little turn in Buttes Chaumont that wasn’t as excruciating as I thought it might be.
On the way back I came across the random matrimonial gathering avec les soldats and I thought to myself, “this is what a Jewish wedding in Paris looks like in 2015”, especially when it’s in a multicultural area made up of Arabs, Chinese, sub-Saharan Africans and bobo whites. But then it occurred to me that anyone else watching the scene might have thought “there’s a Jewish wedding, some soldiers and a bellend walking through the middle of them with an acoustic guitar”. Suddenly I was playing a bit part in the narrative, and not merely the observer any more. I tried to tell this to my friend John Doran – who was visiting at the time – but he looked at me bemused and asked where he could buy some peanuts. It was a profound moment for me, though to anyone else it probably had all the gravity of someone relaying one of their acid flashbacks. Anyway, my mariachi days are over. I prefer the feeling of being incognito, floating around the streets innocuously, an ombré blending into the brickwork. One day I might join in.
It’s a cliche that the streets of Paris are deserted in August, but it feels really empty here right now. It’s Ascension Day today, so even Jesus has fucked off. It might be a sign the economy is picking up, because last year it seemed like a lot more people stayed at home, perhaps because of financial restraints. This year the cafe below us is closed, my handsome hairdresser and Jean Dujardin lookalike is probably sunning himself in the South of France right when I most need a coiffeur, and it’s particularly difficult to find a boulangerie open. Premiers problèmes mondiaux!
The easy streets are blissful though we won’t be enjoying them for long. We’ve been away and we head to England again next week. I figure I should update people on my latest health status if they’re at all interested, if only so people don’t start thinking I’ve got a touch of the Munchausen’s. Chemotherapy has been stopped for the time being, and my next appointment regarding surgery will take place in September, then they’ll make a rendezvous to slice me open at a later date, and after that I expect to do another three months of chemo. Fun times.
Right now I’m enjoying the freedom, though freedom comes in pockets, and one doesn’t know how deep they’re going to be or when they’ll offer themselves up again. It makes you appreciate all those things you take for granted, although I would much prefer the luxury of taking stuff for granted and not being aware how lucky I am to be honest with you. Returning to England doesn’t feel particularly eventful – it’s just another place you sort of almost live in, as if France and the UK are blurred into one – or at least they are in my perception, and all it does is really makes you want to travel more. The quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “every man has two countries – his own and France” is quite literal in my case, and it serves me right for being greedy and land grabbing more turf. Right now I would love for us to just take off and explore the world. We might have to be content with doing it in stages, health permitting and all that.Follow @jeres