May I borrow your something blue when I’m feeling old
Stay my withering with your Spring songs
Hold my back straight against your indifference
Keep your blinding brightness in cool places
So my words may cast unfamiliar shadows?
One of my favourite things to do in Paris was chiner – a word that doesn’t seem to have a precise English translation. It means bargain-hunting but for antiques or curios in flea markets (brocantes) or antique shops (some links below). I loved the unexpected discoveries, glimpses of lives that were pressed softly into objects over time and have left marks like iridescent shapes tossed about by maple leaves in the winter light.
A dizzying magic, an invitation to listen to the soul of a thing.
I spent many a Saturday afternoon at the Rue du Marché Popincourt and have brought home random things, from stray wooden rabbits and old mismatched buttons to postcards written in beautiful cursive manuscript.
I come from a place where new is always good, always better than old. We raze memory-laden landmarks and homes to build road tunnels. We don’t buy or sell second-hand anything unless we have no choice or it’s an antique that would fetch more with time. Newish bicycles, photo frames and microwave ovens are abandoned without thought. There was a hollowness in this place which I didn’t understand, until I lived in Paris where old things were cherished for their patina of stories.
Respecting and cherishing stuff beyond newness and utility. The Japanese believe that man-made things have spirits, tsukumogami, which could refer to any object “that has reached their 100th birthday and thus become alive and self-aware.” I find this belief system fascinating, and I’m persuaded it’s true.
Sharing some links if you like to chiner a.k.a story-hunting in Paris:
If we were having coffee, I’d wish that we’d be having it in that little cafe in rue de Thorigny, after a slow afternoon meandering through the Picasso museum. I would have a crème – avec plus de lait svp – because I’m not a real coffee drinker and I like the aroma of it more than the taste. The coffee is really the excuse for the cupcake.
I would ask you to tell me your story, the places you’ve left your heart at, the lives that are all twined up with yours even though you may have said goodbye a long time ago, the dreams that make you feel strong in the morning and make you cry at night, your favourite poems and what they mean to you. I would listen to the music of your tale, forget myself in the shape of your words, let my coffee get cold. Maybe I would be able to share your loneliness, by showing you mine.
Summer 2015, canicule (heat wave) Driving in a white Fiat, rented at the Aix-en-Provence TGV
The journeys were worth as much as the destination – those long drives beneath the billowy clouds and that famous Provencal light, chancing upon fields of beaming sunflowers, listening to our favourite tracks, eating overripe apricots and chips, talking about the past and the future, and the hot, beautiful present.
The destinations were mostly tiny sleepy villages in brilliant Provençal colours, silent and secretive in the summer light.