Notre Dame’s bells are ringing a lot today. They are reminding us that Mary’s body rose straight to heaven. Over a skype to cell phone connection, my brother Norman is able to identify the row of trees filling my 2nd floor view as British plane trees. As we talked, he collected seeds in a new growth forest in southern Ontario from an endangered species of Butternut that has somehow self-seeded itself in a now, very unhappy developer’s property. There is something very layered that I like about all that. How much can be happening at the same time? I can’t actually see Notre Dame Cathedral from my room because of the plane trees, but I can hear the bells ringing . It is Assumption Day and although France is a secular society and has been for a really long time, any occasion seems reason for a holiday. It is Mary’s day every day here, but the only bodies rising today are the odours from Paris plage, kneaded and wafting like one huge bread under this hot sun.
Can it be that there is a more humane or what appears to me, to be a kinder acceptance of the homeless in Paris. What in Montreal is perceived to be a problem, is here, just another way of life.
I am inserting an image of the front terrace of La Cite, the building where I live. It is so spotlessly shiny, I could slide from one end of it to the other with absolutely no resistance during the day, but the minute the afternoon starts to tip, another world collects there. Sometimes, coming home late at night, I have counted as many as 20 bodies, each in their specific choice of sleeping arrangement: tents, sleeping bags, cardboard, sheets, plastic, mattresses, with dogs and some with bicycles. Every morning they are gone. Some of them move on to other cities, some to the benches across the street and others I recognize panhandling on Rivoli Street. Others go to jobs. Jocelyne pointed out a curious lodging under Sully bridge on the Rive gauche the other day. Someone with two dogs on ropes is living in a tiny space there. I could see clothes hanging along with pots and pans; there is a mattress on the floor and there is even electricity, as the telltale blue glow of a television flickered in the background. Early one morning, I saw three men shaking their rumpled bodies and bedclothes out of a hole in the wall under the road on the Rive droit.
Everyday, men from the city, dressed in bright green clothes visit the tiny square in front of here to do one or all of the following, by hand and/or by machine : wash, sweep, empty garbage and water the plants. Everyday cleaning is necessary, as I have also seen many penises emptying into the bushes and trees and pants down with asses to a corner, oblivious to the windows above their lives.
The other day, I watched a city worker driving a small tractor with a line of sprayer nozzles washing down the sidewalk. He was very carefully spraying out all the dead leaves and paper garbage that had collected by the trees and under the bicycles along the fence. Having seen some wicked attacks by tractor drivers in Montreal, I held my breath as he neared an open suitcase with its clothes spilled onto the sidewalk. But no, in the very last second, the line of hoses swerved to avoid the half-abandonned heap.