There are five letters that are attracted to each other. Their curves are intersected by lines, their lines lay on top of their curves. They sleep together, dream together, form words together. They chase after each other. A P latches onto an a, which holds onto the r, which rubs against the i, and the s is barely hanging on for the French refuse to pronounce it. Paris. Such a small word: never simply crafted, but emblazoned across the page. It is stretching out its limbs, waltzing sur la rue, constantly moving, feasting on itself, whispering a moveable feast.
And what a city for feasting it is. We come to Paris expecting not only the feast that Hemingway created for us, but the one we can taste. We seek out the perfect baguette, croissant, foie gras and escargot. We walk around Paris full, satisfied, and sleepy. We walk from café to café, seeing old buildings that that open and close like flowers, casually revealing their past. At times we do not notice them, we walk too swiftly, too full, too tired. There is a simple problem that exists in visiting a city like Paris: it is too old and we are too young and we are far too satisfied, our bellies too full. So let us empty our bellies, let us feel our hunger and let us find, just as a young and hungry Hemingway did, our senses heightened.
When you wake up in the morning, you will hear the sound of the rain. It is November in Paris — there is nothing but this sound. It will beat constantly; moving from hard to soft as the wind howls in harmony. You will want to sing along. When you open your mouth only sounds will pour out. You will push the r next to the a and then the i as you chant the beginning of the word: Raaai, Raaai, Raaaai. Eventually, you will finish the word: Raaaaaain. The word feels so much longer in English than it does in French. The silence of the e makes the rain sound crisper. Pluie. This is exactly what the rain is like in Paris: crisper.
When you walk, your feet will sound out the rhythm of the rain and your heels will fall into the pockets of the street. You will feel as if you are a part of that street, and of Paris. But you are not. There is a gap between your feet and the street that is created by the heel of your shoe. You walk above Paris, not with it. You need ballet shoes — their sole is only a thin piece of leather, and as you walk your feet will arch and curve, moulding to the shape of the cobblestones. Still, there is that gap. Your hunger has sunken deep into your body. It has fallen from your stomach to the bottom of your feet. It rests in that gap between the ground and your foot, between Paris and you. Your dance becomes the dance of hunger. Your feet: tendu.
Your movements will compose an act that was once reserved for aristocracy: the ballet. As you chassé across the floor, your feet will slide and then spring together. In the moment when your feet hover in the air, you will feel gravity pulling you towards the earth, towards your origin. You will pause to think about of Catherine de Medici, wife of Henry II, who brought with her “the peculiar eyes of the de Medici family” and ballet from 16th Century Florence. You will shift your body from one position to the next, and you will think about where exactly that you are shifting your body toward. Of the titles that have shifted in positions of power. In a city where the titles of noblemen are able to shift as swiftly as a pas de chat, you remember the way Louis XIV shifted his title from King to Sun King through Jean Baptiste Lully’s Ballet de la Nuit where he danced as Apollo, the Sun God. You will wonder what changement you perform in your daily life.
The moment when your feet arrive at the gate of the Luxembourg Gardens, they will be held in a closed position. You will stand in awe of the spiked black fence that is capped in gold. You know you cannot sauté that high. You will see the trees in competition with the fence, their leaves scattered upon the floor, attempting to claim the garden as their own. When you finally cross over the fence, your feet will open, accepting the garden in an échappé. You will have escaped. There are trees that look like boxes, and a grand palais that is now the home of the French Senate. There is something highly unnatural about this garden. Draped across the facade of the palais are whispers of a childhood in Florence. These are the memories that Marie de Medici — wife of Henry IV — yearned to reclaim in its design. You will think of your own childhood. Concealed by red and orange and yellow there will be a patch of dirt. The leaves will lay on top of it, glued together by the rain. You will get closer to it, imagining if this is the same sand that the Romans, or Hemingway, or Gertrude Stein may have walked upon. Your lungs will expand, you will breathe in the air and the rain and the dirt. Your tongue will hit your teeth as you exhale, and you can taste the earth for smell accounts for the majority of taste. It will taste like burnt almonds and mint leaves and the colour purple. You will assume that the dirt in Paris is far tastier than the dirt elsewhere in the world, for every other surface of the city is covered in candy and surely the sweetness will have seeped into the sand. Your belly is empty.
The moment the rain licks your skin, you will search for a place en dedans. You will pick up a single leg, slowly spinning counter clockwise. Your leg will hover above the ground. You will feel the distance between the earth and your toes seizing your legs.When you walk in the direction that it lands, your feet will move you toward Musée d’Orsay — the former train station that once connected central Paris with Porte d’Orleans — transporting you from Paris into the world of Van Gogh or Monet. As you stare at the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the world, your hunger will sit in the palm of your hands. It will burn like a piece of the sun. You will walk past several paintings that are too famous: they will not inspire you. When you come to Cézanne’s paintings, you will pause and wonder whether or not the grumbling in your stomach will help you to understand his work better. Stare at Cezanne’s Pomme vertes. The green is intense. It is full. It is shifting. The colour of emeralds. The colour of grass. Eventually, the room will empty and the colours will whisper to each other. You will hear them chant, sing, howl, bellow. This is what the colour green sounds like. Hemingway suggested that Cézanne painted with a peculiar sense of hunger. Perhaps it was hunger for sound.
The moment the autumn leaves hit your face, you will hear Joseph Kosma’s Les Feuilles Mortes bellowing through the halls of Palais Garnier, the former Opera house. You will remember the moment when you sat, perched over the edge of your seat in the highest level, resting your head on the balcony captivated by the ballet that it was originally composed for: Roland Petit’s Le Rendez-Vous. You will remember the grandeur of the building commissioned by Napoleon III that served as inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. The marble floors, the grand staircase, the bronze busts of famous composers: Mozart. Rossini. Spontini. You forgot about the beauty of the building the moment the lights were turned off and replaced by a single spotlight. In the darkness, you found one of the single remaining sparks of a bohemian Paris. On the stage, you saw an assemblé between Petit, Kosma, Picasso and Brassai, the photographer who designed the sets. The lamppost cast light revealing the shadows of the dancers, of the singers and lovers, the beggars and the workers, the flower sellers and the drunks. You will remember Brassai’s famous photo Couple d’amoureux dans un petit café and the way the mirrors sliced and reflected the looks of anticipation in eyes of lovers. You will remember the way the shadows of the dancers were sliced, into several pieces, each one reflecting a different part of their movement. Your stomach grumbled to the tune of Les Feuilles Mortes as the singer bellowed. It was as if he was calling out to your hunger. You will remember the feeling of your hunger moving from your stomach to the tips of your fingers and then to the points of your toes. It was chasing the lines of the dancers, hiding in the shadows cast upon the stage. Your hunger was melting.
Your belly is empty. Your belly is full.