Ernest Hemingway is quoted in his memoirs of his time as a young writer in Paris as saying, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” But that is an often-quoted line. A less quoted line from the same memoirs is this: “I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”
So when I took a weekend trip to Paris this past weekend, I decided to skip the regular sightseeing or endeavors that characterize Paris. Instead, I walked around with a notebook and pencil, and observed. And I wrote down things that I observed, that I found especially interesting. Because Paris, like New York or Amsterdam, enchants with its people and streets.
And that is why Paris is a moveable feast.
A plump, red-faced old man in a khaki fishing jacket, dark blue jeans, and old, detailed black leather loafers steps on the tram with his accordion playing a slow, walking tune. He has a satisfied half-smile on his face and moves his head to the rhythm of the music as everyone on the tram goes about their business. I, on the other hand, pay full attention to him, and he gives me a nod. The tram passes over the river Seine and the man exits the streetcar at the next stop.
Ten young Parisians sit in a circle at Parc de la Villette. There is a festival going on and everyone at this stage is standing, bobbing their heads to a young woman playing futuristic electronic music and singing softly in French, almost as she is speaking rhythmic poetry. But the ten friends sit near the back, in the middle of an upright, throbbing crowd listening to the music. I notice they are all wearing some kind of hat, are either rolling a cigarette or pulling one from a pack, and the middle of their circle contains bread, cheese, wine, and playing cards.
Further along the river Seine, I walk under a bridge. The bridge is arcing as a half circle does, over the river, and when one walks under there is a large stone wall, previously gray, to the left. I walk under the bridge and see the gray wall turning to a rainbow of different colors, and a man dressed in all black standing atop a ladder, painting his mural. He is currently finishing the profile view of a woman’s head. She is wearing a multi-colored bandana around her head, and looks at the passersby with bright brown eyes. I stop and watch the mural being painted. Crowds of people stop and watch, with arms either crossed or behind their backs, with the river behind them and art in front of them.
I board the metro at Republique. As I walk down the stairs to the platform, I see two men dressed in bright, traditional African garb, and hear one playing a xylophone and the other a pair of bongos. Now I wait on the platform for my train, and listen to them play. Suddenly, four policemen walk down the same stairs that I walked down, and they confront the two percussionists. I am not sure what they are saying, but the two men get defensive and hand the policemen a sheet of paper. The policemen aren’t satisfied. A crowd gathers around the scene. The xylophone player is now screaming at the tallest, bald officer. Now, onlookers from the crowd are joining in on the side of the percussionists, making passing comments to the officers and some coming more aggressively to their defense. Eventually, the officers give them back their papers and go about their business.
I board the metro. It’s dark underground, and the only lights in this train are the ones hanging at the conjoining point of each car. The light emanates outward from there. I stand near the door where I walked in, and notice a young guy about my age furiously scratching at a notebook. He’s wearing glasses and his eyes are wide, but seem even wider through the lenses. He’s wearing a red sweater and his leather notebook is a bright red too. Every ten seconds or so, he will look up at the crowd of people near the doors, and then look back down and start scribbling again. I watch his hand motions and determine that he is drawing something. We ride four stops while he looks up, then looks down, drawing vigorously what he sees. As the train is coming to its next stop he stops drawing, looks at the page for a moment, and closes the notebook and sighs. He puts it in his shirt pocket and exits quickly from the train.
I keep wondering what he was drawing.
Guest Author: Keegan Roembke
I am a student and writer from Indiana currently living in Ghent, Belgium, working on a Master’s in Global Studies. My passion for writing and poetry stems from travels and constant curiosity about the world. I write poetry, social commentary, and travel pieces on Medium and Vocal, and recently graduated from the University of Southern Indiana, where I studied German and International Studies. I have travelled to 22 countries throughout Europe and Africa by train, bus, and foot. Read poetry and commentary at https://vocal.media/authors/keegan-roembke