On what was then the hottest day of the year, Easter Saturday, I was in Paris. And I was wondering why. There were travel advisories as a result of the heat generated by both the weather and a renewed vigour to the gilets jaunes protests. Their feelings of economic injustice had been fuelled by flash-funding fury following the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris the previous week.
With this in mind, I had chosen to stay at a hotel outside the city and to take a bus into the city centre. I was going to meet friends at Rue Saint Maur for the Atelier des Lumières Van Gogh Starry Night projection, and we had timed tickets for the late afternoon. The bus was stopped twice by police; the driver questioned, the vehicle checked. After an hour’s journey, we came to a halt at Opera.
I was ready to walk, having no intention of using the Metro; which I dislike. What I wanted was a calm route through Paris (I know, right? I also want to win a major cash lottery prize); away from building injury porn, running battles between police and protestors, and tribes of tourists. So I walked through business districts, closed for the Easter weekend, as endless streams of police vehicles drove past.
To the soundtrack of sirens, I then walked via Les Halles, through the Marais and on to Square Maurice Gardette, where I found a cafe in the shade and took a late lunch. I drank a large carafe of mint lemonade and reflected that walking is always the answer, whatever the question. I met my friends and we went to the novel, overcrowded, film show.
Afterwards, we walked on together up through Belleville towards Buttes Chaumont, punctuated by my stopping to take pictures of walls. We sat, as guests, to take in hazy, panoramic views of the city from a private hilltop garden near community vineyards while drinking ice-cold water provided by our bemused (we were strangers to him) host.
After we’d eaten well, and cheaply, at a packed Le P’tit Resto in the 20th to the sound of Da Capo Duo, I was offered a lift back to my hotel. The roads were clear, the drive was smooth. I arrived feeling content at a day well spent as I realised that I’d enjoyed a day in a Paris with its people quite different to any before. And I was no longer wondering why.
Leaving Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and arriving at London Gatwick airport early on Easter Sunday.
There’s this brave, witty, sometimes oddly petulant, man striding around in an occupied territory knowing and then not wanting to know that he’s bound to die and to die painfully. And in the middle of it all, to say things that have never been said, and are still not said, about love. As a model of what human behaviour can be like, it still stands supreme.
Dennis Potter, in Humphrey Carpenter – Dennis Potter: A Biography (1998: p. 246)