In C.S. Lewis’ Science Fiction trilogy, each planet in our solar system is ruled by a spirit, (a reference to the biblical idea that Satan is ruler of Earth). “Out of the Silent Planet” is the title of the first book, “silence” referring to the fact that Satan has become “bent”; out of communion with God and out of communication with the other spirits of the universe. The idea that spirits could be associated with physical, geographic points was not original to Lewis, but he developed the idea in such a way that it made sense to me.
It became personal in 2006 while in New York City. If you care to dig backwards in this blog, You will find an entry describing my encounter with the “Spirit of NY”. I have felt the spirit of other places too . . .some are pleasant, some are not.
Here’s the point: I feel nothing in London. Nothing. Perhaps it is because my heart is still not here, and so my capacity to feel his presence (I’m guessing it is a ‘he’ for some reason) is inhibited.
I really like the place. It’s such a cool blend of the old and new, not too hectic, but by no means realized either. But I feel no soul here.
Currently typing while on the Eurostar heading East to Paris. I’m waiting to see if Paris reaches out to greet me. . .
. . . Back on the Eurostar, waiting To return to London.
Got grifted by a guy on the sidewalk pretending to find a gold ring and then . . . Well, the point is, he earned the 5 Euros I gave him to make the awkwardness stop.
10 minutes later, a couple of street punks (douche bags really) postured a bit and made to come after us. Turning around and staring at them seemed to be adequate motivation for them to change their plans.
10 minutes after that, a woman tried the exact same grift on me. I guess I have one of those faces.
Wound up buying 30 Euros worth of desert at a very nice cafe so that one of my kids who shall remain nameless (her name rhymes with ‘bobbin’) could use a bathroom. It was nice though. We felt Parisian for about 20 minutes.
I may have previously mistaken a European aversion to public bathrooms as only a London phenomenon. We will see.
We lost our tour group due to a cell phone auto-time adjustment (Paris is one hour ahead of the UK) and so found ourselves in a mad dash trying to find a cash machine, to get more Euros, so we could pay for a cab to make it to the train station to get back to London. Managed to land a great cabby who got us there in no time (tipped him nicely) then stood huffing and puffing in front of the enormous departure board, only to discover we were an hour early.
No, Brenda and I at no time exchanged blows, and we mostly laughed at this point.
Crammed down some sandwiches (offsetting the strange yellowish hotdogs wrapped in a bagget, consumed at the foot of the Eiffel Tower amidst a murder of deformed crows . . . Read Jump Seat Pixie’s blog to get the details on THAT little bit of surrealism) three, no FOUR-way stooged our way through immigration, customs and security, listened to a slightly manic Aussie woman go on about her trip and how difficult it is to survive in France when no one will speak English (not kidding).
And that brings us right here: exhausted, smoothly rolling through the French countryside . . . Westbound.
I have no clear answer regarding the spirit of either great city. I know that the sight of Notre Dame stirred something in me . . . Something very very old, almost silent inarticulate, but powerful. I felt a strange affection for the grifter and the three card Monty dealers who hide their equipment as the police approach, thrust their hands in their pockets, look skyward and begin to whistle like they’re in a Charlie Chaplin movie. I felt an adrenaline rush and real hostility looking into the eyes of the kid, young enough to be my son, who was contemplating some sort of malevolence toward my family.
I felt a lot today.
My favorite feeling was Brenda’s lips as we kissed with the Eiffel Tower in the background, and the girls had to stop averting their eyes long enough to take our picture.
Once I figure out how to do it, I will post that pic here.
My working theory is that these very old places have begun to go silent, like C.S. Lewis’ silent planet, the further away from their One True King they move.
Both cities are filled to the brim with the art, place names and architecture that was built to shout his name. But the living tissue of the city has not been a part of that proclamation for literally centuries, now. The very tension of living things that don’t worship, scurrying through a landscape designed for worship, strangles the spirit of a city so that it cannot be easily heard . . . Especially by an over-busy man waiting for his heart to catch up with his ass.
New York was built to worship freedom. L.A. To worship progress, Seattle to worship self. These cities infrastructures, people and culture are still in line with their founding principles. Right, wrong, or indifferent, their spirits are clearly discernible and can be heard.
London and Paris are beautiful and mute.