The Street Walks In, Or, Paris is Porous

My title, And The Street Walks In, is from a passage in Good Morning, Midnight, one that comes to mind on my visit to Paris. It is one of the most arresting moments in the book.

In this passage, Sasha, the main protagonist, is wandering about the narrow streets near the Panthéon. When it starts to rain she goes into a Tabac for a drink. A scene, like many in the book, about thinking too much, and feeling out of place. Trying to maintain an illusion of respectability, yet identified for what she is. A woman of a certain age, alone at a bar, who wants a drink. Or several.

Sometimes somebody comes in for stamps, or a man for a drink. Then you can see outside into the street. And the street walks in. It is one of those streets – dark, powerful, magical. …

‘Oh, there you are,’ it says, walking in at the door, there you are. Where have you been all this time?’

Nobody else knows me but the street knows me.

The street walking in, a striking image. As though the street were coming to summon her back, to reclaim her.

Like other great writers, it is for the beauty of her prose I admire Rhys the most. For its singular quality and elegance; for its closeness to experience and an often discomforting directness. There are moments in her prose where the boundaries between the inside and outside begin to break down. Often this is about the spaces she writes, the hotel rooms, cafés, and streets. These are the passages that can open up what can feel like a very close, claustrophobic text, and where boundaries shift between inside and outside.

Paris is porous: ‘Now a landscape, now a room.’ (Walter Benjamin)

Parisians inhabit their public gardens and streets as though they were salons and corridors, and their cafés face the street and overflow into it as though the theater of passersby were too interesting to neglect even for the duration of a drink […] Streets turn into courtyards […] Everything – houses, churches, bridges, walls – is the same sandy grey so that the city seems like a single construction of inconceivable complexity, a sort of coral reef of high culture. All this makes Paris seem porous, as though private thought and public acts were not so separate here as elsewhere, with walkers flowing in and out of reveries and revolutions. More than any other city, it has entered the paintings and novels of those under its sway, so that representation and reality reflect each other like a pair of facing mirrors.

Rebecca Solnitt, ‘Paris, Or Botanizing the Asphalt’, Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

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