The landscape leaves its marks, draws its way through my veins, like the road running through tree-lined stretches, where trees tunnel over us. This is how I remember it, etched in, and layered with buildings. The dark river, which is high at this time of year, winds through Hebden Bridge. The town is lit by lights, winter blue. In my hand a shard of ice.
Looking back through my points of surfacing in Quartet, a book filled with references to sites across Montmartre and Montparnasse, some of which I have visited and explored here - through streets, hotels, cafés - the different views of the city. Through these locations I have crossed into some of the imagery and ideas in the book: the bars and nightlife, the concealed and invisible populations of migrants and stateless people, the elegant façade of the grand buildings and sites of justice and respectability, the life of the back streets, their poverty and hidden places, the dark river flowing through, the city as labyrinth.
On my visit, I entered the church and found myself alone. I wasn't expecting to feel the depth of emotion I felt on closing the door and standing in the interior of the church. Once inside I felt a surge of what I might describe as reverence, that made me pause and stand still. The atmosphere was dark, quiet, hushed, the sense of time standing by. Something hard to describe, a moment of breathlessness that I wanted to hold onto.
The sense of unreality that comes from walking within an invented form, a tangle of signs and symbols, and all the time knowing that it isn’t real. The labyrinth is part of the circle of time, of finding myself back at the place I started, of living within an illusion, a figure of the imagination. The streets are not really a labyrinth, and at the same time when I look at a map, they appear circular, so that walking around and the names of the streets create a sense of repetition, like being caught in a recurring dream.
Now I follow the Rue de Rome towards the old port. Everywhere the buildings with shutters, white and pastel, as if the sun has drained and turned everything a faded white. The harbour lined with boats, their sails blue and white; in lines they point upwards, their forms definite and leaving shadow. The reflections in the water are gentle ripples which turn them back to trees, they are branches bending gently with the movement of water. There is a big wheel circling slowly and up into the blue. I take photographs into the sun to see how they are drenched by light, as though the sun has pulled all the colours out and left only reflected lights.
This is the first of Rhys's Paris hotels and I have chosen my location well. I am staying on Rue Constance, on the next street along from Rue Cauchois; both streets are just off Rue Lepic. The streets join together and I can walk around the corner into Rue Cauchois.The hotel of the universe is inhabited by people of many different nationalities, reflecting the area's status as a place of arrival. It was a part of the city Rhys explored when she first lived in Paris, and she is able to draw on this area in writing Quartet.
I have been dreaming I am in New York. Looking out across the harbour to where the bridge begins and ends. With a paperback of poems to carry as I walk, walk across thee. Waiting for the sun to set, I follow the steps upwards to the bridge where time spans like birds in flight.
My starting point is to try and locate Café Lavenue. I have found a photograph, by chance, which suggests that it lay on a corner, an intersection somewhere along the Boulevard Montparnasse. The photograph shows where the street meets or is crossed by another street, and that there is a metro station in front. Lavenue looks to occupy the building, in typically grand Parisian style. I have a hunch that I may be able to locate the intersection and that the building itself may be unchanged.
I knew then that the streets had already started to seep under my skin. It is something to do with motion, and the repeated retracing of steps. In the same way I keep returning to Rhys, and to the way she has infiltrated into my own experience.