Once again the prompt, “ what do you see from your window” gives this writer the easy option of describing personal experiences. However he also includes a view from his ‘mind’s eye’ inspired by distant memories of Paris and LeMarais.
Tom Robson is the author of a patchwork memoir, “Written While I Still Remember.” He also has had various short stories published and is struggling with a romantic novel because he hates rewriting, even when it is essential.
It was already in my mind’s eye. I imagined the view from our third floor apartment overlooking the Rue des Rosiers in the LeMarais district of Paris. If I had to meet the challenge of describing the view from a window I would wait for our week’s celebration, in June, at the apartment in Paris.
My imagination was stimulated by a friend’s description of that street, a canyon betwixt ancient, tall buildings, some dating back almost 500 years, with store fronts, business entrances, cafes and those impressive doors offering access to courtyards where you would discover very little, unless you had the keys or the codes to the apartments behind the doors.
LeMarais was, traditionally, an enclave in which the jewish population, expelled from old Paris, had settled. At the time of that Jewish expulsion, LeMarais was outside the city. Opposite our apartment I was told I would see the ultra orthodox jews heading into and collecting outside two of Paris’ s oldest synagogues.
There are three falafel restaurants within paces of our courtyard entrance. I imagined other coffee shops and patios where the flamboyant gay crowd contrasted with the black-clad Jewish congregation, for LeMarais was an area taken over by these multi-lingual, multi-racial challengers to tradition and sexuality; couples who brought dimensions perhaps not as freely displayed elsewhere in this city. Not surprisingly there are also many boutique fashion houses.
Through the windows of my mind I picture a joyous and ultra-tolerant assembly, in motion from early morning until the small hours of the next. It moves, yet its fixtures remain, ignoring the threats of violence already perpetrated on gays elsewhere in this city of romance and disinhibition. I imagine the spontaneity of the flamboyant and hoped for the tolerance, despite the inabilty to comprehend, of some extremists.
Buried deep within this street scene that is reminiscent of a painting by Michel delaCroix, is the fear. Jews, mixed races and homosexuals inhabit the cobblestones of Rue des Rosiers. Three groups, plus summer tourists, offer targets of maximum international potential. But this fear cannot emerge to shatter the idyllic picture my mind imagines before I even set foot there.
Alas, the picture I envisage remains unconfirmed by the planned visit. The trip to celebrate a significant milestone on life’s journey, as well as a wedding anniversary, was sabotaged by varicose veins and a card game.
Varicose veins can be kept in bounds with knee-length compression socks. To force these constricting tubes over the toes and heels when you are tall and leftover middle-age spread already limits you, requires the flexibility of a contortionist and the ability to stay wound up like a pretzel for the lengthy time period required for adjustment. Neither are features of eighty year old bodies. Something has to give and, in my case, it was the lower back, a mere week before a Paris trip, planned and gifted by my wife.
‘Time and sensible behavior will heal.’ I told myself. Physiotherapeutic intervention was a wifely suggestion that I dared not ignore. Two days before departure it looked as if I would be able to tolerate five hours and then another four, curled up in an Icelandair plane seat and, on arrival, be capable of walking the streets of gay Paris. So confident was I, after a mobile, spasm free Tuesday, I opted to go for my regular three hour, Tuesday evening game of Duplicate Bridge. ‘Surely, the practice at sitting, then regularly rising from those chairs to move to another table, will prove how far I have come on the road to recovery?’ I argued.
As my wife has frequently reminded me since the event, the opposite occurred. Back spasms, the inability to walk upright, difficulty in walking at all and the need for help in sitting or rising, led to cancellation of our vacation.
Barb threatened to go by herself, and might have done so had I not presented such a picture of forlorn helplessness that could not be left to suffer alone, but would pay for his sins for the seven days for which the trip was scheduled. Seven days of tender nursing was tinged with more than a soupcon of guilt tripping.
About this hour, late on a wet Thursday afternoon, we would have been touching down on our return flight from Paris. My recovery is too late but is such that, for the first time in almost two weeks I feel comfortable enough to spend more than ten minutes at the keyboard to describe the view through the window by my desk.
This is our fourth summer wondering if the unkempt bank, with its mixture of planted shrubs and thriving undergrowth should have been thinned and controlled. Four refusals to interfere have left natural ferns and grasses, Coldsfoot blossoms, small poplars and two or three immature maple trees which make it a truly Canadian bank. Two yellow birches struggle to survive, their tops having been trimmed lest they fall. Two globe cedars have erupted. Hostas have thrived and spread on the upslope,after their threats to take over controlled flower beds in the front, led to their capture and disposal behind the four by four beams that limit the bank’s encroachment. In one grassy corner atop the bank, wild strawberries can be picked. At one end of the city-property-wide steep slope is a white flowering mystery shrub, matched at the opposite end by yellow flowered ground cover. Variegated Euonymous have been allowed to spread. Box yew bushes threaten to grow tall. Mother mature has encouraged the cultivated to exist with the native flora. Front and centre, needing to be trimmed back each Fall, lest they overflow onto the narrow strip of lawn that separates the private deck from the twenty foot slope, are a red and a purple Azalea. They shine through the multi-shaded greenery that gardeners’ neglect has created.
This cosmopolitan display earns its freedom from week-whacker, trimmer chain-saw and other controlling human afflictions by offering, from June to October, a beauteous curtain between us and the eight foot wall that separates us from our uphill, neighbor out back.To the right of our natural camouflage is a neighbor’s grass and weed slope, awkward to mow. On the other side is some expensive cement and stone terracing, ugly and underused, with spaces for shrubs and color, never planted. I wonder if my neighbors are jealous of our unkempt, minimal maintenance, summer spectacular bank?
In mid August, we will abandon our natural but aesthetically pleasing back property to the care of a new owner. He is a younger, fit looking man. Unless he is captivated by the beauty and variety of the summer display from the kitchen nook windows, he may be tempted to thin out, weed, denude, replant and modify natures summer mixture of secondary growth interspersed with surviving bounty from past visits to garden nurseries.
I hope our succesor doesn’t spoil the view. But, more than that, I hope I get back to Paris to confirm my imaginary window gazing on rue des Rosiers.
The Spot Writers are:-
R.C. Bonitz. rcbonitz.com
Val Muller htt://www.valmuller.co/blog/
Catherine A. Mackenzie .
Tom Robson https:/robsonswriting.wordpress.com/