As if by necromancy or some occult adherence to kabbalistic signs, I am pulled through the same Parisian streets that I aways walk. They are the streets I knew and lived in years ago. It is as if a forced walking cure obliges me to confront the past every couple of years through the new filter that a couple more years of life gives me; each time a new distance to what held me in thrall years ago. In Paris, something to do with the culture there, every one is held in thrall. One day I will attain emancipation.
This time I am staying in ‘jourdain’ which is astride the 19th and 20th arrondissements. It is on a hill and is a kind of Montmartre without the tourists or the kitsch. ‘She’s cake’; purveyor of, yes, cheesecake. Now,though, I tread through the customary axes, take coffee in my customary cafes and pop into my customary shops and parks, intent on exorcism. They should give me an encroachment order for the rue vieille du temple or put an electric bracelet on my ankle so that i am electrocuted every time I step over the threshold of the’pick-clops’bar. It might also delay the onset of Alzheimers.
The Eurostar have upgraded since last year, they have a screen in the aisle now telling you about the journey. There are some attractive cartoon characters showing you how to go about stowing your luggage or plugging into wifi. These characters are wafer thin and mince down the aisle like ballet-dancers. The girl character who has hair the colour of raspberryade has poorly stowed her valise and the male character with his trim and trendy beard has a slight mishap. The minor accident brings the two together, as in some charming romcom moment. Another female character applies her seductive lipstick in a mirror on the back of the seat in front. In the next scene the girl with raspberryade hair is nimbly typing a document on her ultra slim laptop. All the cartoon characters are smart casual in a range of buoyant pastel.
Needless to say, my journey is not quite like this. I compare the legroom on the monitor with my legs jammed against the seat in front, where a bulky seven year old is rocking backwards and forwards. The scene on the telly seems to be taking place in a half empty train (Eurotunnel would have been bankrupt years ago if that were true). We are all packed in and there isn’t a wafer thin body in sight. Not much raspberryade hair either; mostly grey, mousey, balding, some honey blond French women. The kids have nice hair but they are all fat. There are Japanese families like little military squadrons. At St Pancras I sat near a dad who said something that was spontaneously applauded by his offsprings as though the trip were a political convention. I search in vain for the mirror on the back of the seat promised in the video to check my travel face. There is none, just a black plastic mould that holds no pleasures. A heavy man walking down the aisle falls into a sleeping woman and wakes her up. This does not bring them together as the minor mishap of the video had promised. They do not know what language to try and speak and just scowl at each other. Why can’t people be more like cartoons?
I happened to see the last couple of minutes of The Saint with Roger Moore on the telly today. The Saint was a Sixties crime series that I remember liking when I was little. In the couple of minutes I saw Roger Moore saved a girl from a burning building and defeated a baddie. He exited the building after the fist fight with the baddie and escorted the girl back to town and, presumably, his bed. He left the baddie in the burning bilding. Saving him would have complicated the narrative. I remember watching an old adaptation of The Day of the Triffids from the early Seventies quite recently. In that production most of world is rendered blind over night, nearly everyone except the hero and his girl (handily). There is a scene near the end of the film where the hero abandons a group of blind people to their ignominious fate at the tendrils of the Triffids. Again, it would complcate the narrative to have him saving a bunch of blind people. These kinds of neglect are unthinkable in narrative in 2016, narrative complication or not.
In general, it is important for the tone of overall narrative not to condone unpleasant behaviour, although this does not mean that the main characters have to be blameless in their action.If that were the case we would have the anodine narratives of children’s and totalitarian literature. However, if you feel there is a gap between what the author seems to be thinking about his protagonist and what we think of the protagonist then we start to think that the author is not in control of his material. We can see this in some action movies. I remember seeing a film with Sylvester Stallone where he is on a bus and someone refuses to stand up for an old lady and he beats the refusnik into a pulp. We might feel (and I did) alienated from the stand that the author/director wants us to take. A film, or a novel, always has a moral centre, even if the characters are immoral. Without that, it is difficult to see what is being done by the author on a technical level.
Summer is here. A thousand little signs tell me so. The Tour de France on the telly, persisting with its culture of the pre-1950s. When you get the yellow jersey at the end of the day you mount a little podium and put it on and then get a coy peck on the cheek from two models dressed in yellow dresses; same for the white jersey but with white dresses and the other jerseys with other dresses. It is an idiotic throwback to dumber, more oppressive times. The British Open Golf Championship. A festival of tedium commented on by stuffed shirts who keep asking each other incredulously how it can be that golf is losing its popularity with the younger generation. The players sport the kit of their sponsors. A cap with KPMG on it; a shirt with Hugo Boss on it. Yuk! Then there is the cricket test match against Pakistan. As a boy I watched hours of cricket over the summer. I was a willing student as to the value of patience in the building of an innings. I’m afraid that now, a little like the England middle order, I would throw my wicket away by going for the big one over the top. My patience is shot.
Boredom is big in the summer, I find. But it is permissable, guiltless boredom. Somehow, when it is sunny, you allow yourself the freedom to potter around, to trail from kitchen to living room to fetch a glass of water as if that were the main chore of the afternoon. The little jobs of looking after the basics of your own body loom large. Your mind empties. You read a bit. You get a bit of sun. You make a fruit salad. Those are the jobs of the day done, more or less. In the background the Tour de France and, like the golf and the cricket, the relentless male obsession with statistics and charts and strategies and figures and averages and aggregates. All these blokes on the radio working out the world in their own personal matrices while I shuffle from room to room with a bit of melon.
Most people have a number of basic back-drops against which their lives are played out. These are the leitmotifs that surface automatically, constantly, unavoidably. For a sick person it is their sickness; for a short person it is their height; for a poor person it is their financial plight; for someone with a big nose it might even be that. We all have a number of these. For me, issues with my back come to mind. Even the most handsome, cleverest and healthiest amongst us will have them. He or she will have weaved it into his sub-conscious out of nothing: an ancient, minor failing or deficiency spun into complexity by a secret spider. Sometimes over the period of a life time we manage to wash the back-drop clean of its florid markings, but even as the stage-hands of the mind are busy hoisting this out of sight, others will be lowering another back-drop into place, equally lurid, equally ghoulish. As we get older insecurities are replaced by illnesses, anxieties by scars, fears by traumas. There is no escaping; it’s part of our mechanics. The young fear the old but then the old fear the young; the have-nots envy the haves but then the haves envy the have-nots. Even a former hunchback looks fondly back to his hump as it sits quivvering and bloody on the edge of the operation table.