Sunday in Paris.
The street in which I live in Paris is littered with history. Picasso lived five doors down during the Second World War and, over at number 8, Louis XIII received the sacrament just hours after the death of his father, King Henry IV.
It’s so French.
Had the laundromat not burned down almost a week ago, I could have claimed that I was off to do my washing next door to Louis XIII on Sunday, but instead I headed to ‘Juice Laverie’ a further five minutes away over in Rue de Seine, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Although, the Hotel La Louisiane at number 68 is famous for having accommodated many notable jazz musicians and writers, including Miles Davis, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and, in the French novel La Duchesse de Langeais by Honoré de Balzac, the aristocratic character Marquess Armand de Montriveau, lived in Rue de Seine as well.
Not so drab, after all.
I began typing this piece from the cafeteria at l’Institut du Monde Arabe – the Institute of the Arab World, at number 1 Rue de Fossés Saint Bernard in the 5th Arrondissement and just a short walk from home.
Almost ten days since I arrived back in Paris after two months in the sun, my once tanned skin has begun to slowly turn purple again, and the chill in the air is almost too much to bare. Each day, I layer myself in the warmest of woollens and I am further saved by a sweet pair of pink angora gloves given to me by my sister, Edwina, for Christmas.
Having just been less than savoury abut the weather I will add, that unpacking has been prolonged by the sheer beauty that is the Parisian landscape framed by a winters haze, and just as the sun begins to set later each day, it is also beginning to rise at a near normalised dawn. The birds sing a different tune at this time of year, flirting with the idea that spring is just around the corner and walks along the Seine, bone chilling as they may be, are incredibly special in this late February light.
Yesterday, I woke feeling newly organised and with a new found skip in my stride after spending Saturday in ‘organise mode’ where I found myself buying filing systems from Muji, storage boxes from Monoprix and packets of biros from my local newsagent.
By Sunday, I was ready for an expedition.
L’institut du Monde Arabe is an organisation founded in Paris in 1980 by the French alongside 18 Arab countries. It’s purpose is to research and disseminate information about the Arab world and its cultural and spiritual values. It is said that the institute was established as a result of a perceived lack of representation for the Arab world in France, and it seeks to provide a secular location for the promotion of Arab civilisation, art, knowledge, and aesthetics.
Housed within the institution are a museum, library, auditorium, restaurant, offices and meeting rooms.
And, a cafeteria where I enjoyed a delicious fattoush salad paired with an equally delicious glass of vin rouge while tapping my toe to the beat of the fine tunes of A’Amer Farhkom (thanks, Shazam).
Before lunch, I explored the permanent collection spanning seven floors – an exercise I’d been meaning to undertake since first discovering the institute last summer on my way to Piscine Josephine Baker (for more information on this expedition see the earlier post, La Piscine, June 22, 2017).
The seventh floor allows a ‘preamble of the Arab World,’ its great landmass and languages of many diverse origins, such as Aramaic, Amazigh (Berber) and Kurdish, with an emphasis on different ways of thinking; value systems, cultural perceptions and collective imaginations anchored in the distant past, in different environments and through a variety of founding experiences.
Each floor speaks to a different theme- the sixth of the sacred and the divine, and the forth, the expression of beauty and where I read about ancient trade agreements and the introduction of craftsmanship to European markets, such as glass blowing and ceramic techniques, dating back to as late as the tenth century.
There was mention of quasi monopolies on the production of certain spices and aromatic herbs, and the fact that the domestication of the dromedary (the Arabian camel) and its use as a means of transport in around 1000 BC, led to the development of long distance trade.
Original nomadic and sedentary populations established over a long period were ‘most certainly’ coloured by African influences as well as those of the Fertile Crescent (stretching from the Nile to the Tigris). In western and southern Arabia, numerous cultural indicators (writing names and surnames, masonry and types of ceramics) give a fleeting glimpse of the ebb and flow of merchandise, populations and ideas in even the earliest times.
Which brings me to now, typing on a MacBook Pro in the year 2018, musing on how short our memories have become, in a world where we are becoming increasingly inept at reading anything longer than a few simple characters, and where the death of King Henry IV of France in 1610, is comparatively ‘just yesterday’. This is also a time where we hold court on social media, and contradict ourselves on a daily basis.
I feel on one hand, we’re so advanced and on the other, a bit sad at the pace in which time whizzes by and where we (seemingly) increasingly hold little regard for yesterday.
We are now deep into February and the end of 2017 feels like just last night.
From here, I will publish a post each Monday and Friday with regular Instagram updates in between- if you’re not already following on Instagram, you can find me @pinningmywords and would love your ideas and feedback, I invite you to email me with any suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I proof read and take in the early morning light after a brisk walk in the freezing cold, I am listening to Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli sing ‘Perfect Symphony’. Don’t laugh, I love it. Google it.
With love from here,
Pictured: the beautiful l’institut du monde arabe under a perfect blue sky.