It is a few minutes shy of 11h and I am walking in the Jardin du Luxembourg, near the kaleidoscope waters of the Fontaine Médicis. The pale corpses of leaves sink slowly, and a few yellow-billed ducks stretch their necks in the shadows of the wall. The beauty is gratuitous, and I am trying to slow my movement, to catch at something more tangible than blind glances.
The sky is a glacial blue and the light hangs heavy in the air, substantive and breathable. A pigeon pads through the downed leaves on pink toes. My shoes are powdered with the crumbs of brown leaves, fallen too soon and torn too quickly. Inside my shoes, my toes curl tight as the tension within my stomach, my head: restless.
When I feel sick or sinking or exhausted or panicked—when I feel anything at all—then I wander. I walk and I walk and I make myself believe that this movement will make everything okay. I don’t know if it’s true. Even here, by the patterning surface of these dark waters, I have trouble stopping the litany of thoughts that fills my head. (It’s what I’ve done)—(where I’ve been)—(what there is yet to do)—(what right do I have to put pen to paper)—(will that homeless woman with the long skirt be warm enough tonight)—(this is fall, after all)—(it’s not the fall I know)—(the fall I know means every roadside turned into wildfires of color, burning bushes with teardrop berries that shed their concave skins and stain my fingertips)—(fall is the musky scent of death spread like perfume in the air and celebrated)—(Paris fades into l’automne with a fickle coquetry, with something different)—(I don’t know if moving through this city is saving or scarring).
Keep walking. That’s some kind of answer. By losing myself in the streets, I gain some nomadic sense of peace or belonging, forming my own geography. Maybe it’s just respite. My feet trace out living rooms and hallways, places to rest, across the sidewalks that I follow for hours on end. (Everywhere must be home because nowhere is wholly home. I have a hard time with the word home.) If I move, if I wander, if I never stop, there must be some form of arrival.
There is a French word, flâneur, which became prominent in the late 19th century; a handful of letters accumulated at the back of the throat to signify a poet or thinker who observed people while walking. Within the crowd (of people; of leaves; of pale wrought architecture), the walker experiences a metropolis in a stateless condition of movement. He or she is always barely separate from the mass of humanity, elbows tucked in and feet averted so as not to touch others, and in observation, the walker sees that there is no real “mass” of humanity. There are individual people—fragmentations of building façades—a sign with green letters, a few starry points of illumination on the metro map of Line 9—cuttings of hours, days, footsteps that weave in and out and around. Onwards. Maybe I move on. Maybe if I look often enough at the fitful images of myself, distorted in dark shop windows and erased in a few hurried steps, I can observe myself in Paris just as I observe the streets in Paris.
So I keep walking. Around the runner-riddled perimeter of the Jardin du Luxembourg today; down the jaundiced Right Bank in the sun-soaked evening; round and round the white ribs of the Parc des Princes on morning runs; by the street lamps and street harassment of the Champs Elysées at 3h. The boulevards are substantial and the people more so. It belongs equally to the Midas-gold statues atop bridges and the sleeping bags in métro corners, this city. I am driven by the need to walk to see it.
I don’t have precise paths or enlightenment, or even destinations. Part of the composition of walking is turning around and around, craning my neck to see a high placard bearing a street’s name; crossing the road, eyes catching on the early-morning lights of cafés and forms standing in the shadows. It is a pattering and patterning of feet, driven and spontaneous and insensible.—I come to my feet again and pass beneath the unfallen leaves, their thin twigs nearly eclipsed by the sunlight. The infinitives of verbs become here my maps: to watch, to experience, to expatriate myself again and again from that which is too familiar. To look, to go, to lose.
And maybe, sometimes or in some streets, I find.