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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

They say travel broadens the mind. It can also expand it into other dimensions if you’re not afraid to look at things and read more into them than is perhaps literally apparent or socially acceptable. For example, take a look at these two giant bronze lovers:

Are they embracing before separation, or in reunion? Paul Day’s massive sculpture at London’s Saint Pancras station certainly arrested my attention as I was en route for Paris the other week. As with many symbols we encounter in the course of our travels, they can take on a significance that has nothing to do with their original intention. They speak to us intimately,  if we let them. For myself, this sculpture spoke of a passionate farewell. But more symbolically and personally, it spoke of a leaving behind of hearth and home, a breaking from Anima’s siren voice, and a stepping out into the world beyond my comfortable horizons. Will they ever see each other again? And if they do, will time and distance have changed them?

It was 07:15 am, the vast space of St Pancras was hushed and glowing dimly in the dawn light. Ahead of me was a two and a quarter hour train journey. By mid-morning, I’d be in Paris. All of this was business and I wasn’t expecting much by way of personal revelation, but images stick, and travel, be it spiritual or physical, is all about making the right connections. Paul Day’s sculpture certainly changed things for me on this trip.

My first memorable connection, after taking leave of these St Pancras lovers, was in Paris, Gare Du Nord. It was a poorly dressed Algerian woman, middle aged, palms upturned and an enquiring “Monsieur?” She looked wretched and she broke my heart.

“Je m’excuse Madame, je n’ai pas d’argent Francais.”

It was an encounter my French teacher had not prepared me for. The poor woman looked at me as if I were a blathering idiot, offering such a polite rebuff to a street beggar. He could only be “un dumb Angalis”, she was thinking. But I wasn’t lying – I had no French money, other than plastic, and hey, everyone deserves respect even those who don’t expect it.

Her face remained with me, like something from a dream, briefly glimpsed, and not really understood in the symbolic sense. Was the muse haunting me? Was she already so impoverished by my neglect of her? Come on, love, it’s only been a few hours, give me a break!

I was heading for an industrial suburb, to the south of Paris, and made my way by combination of SNCF and bus. Usually my main concern when travelling like this is that my dozy head will fall behind and, by missing something, cast me into the bowels of some impenetrable maze from which there is no hope of either progress or safe return. Numbers become critical, in a literal sense of course: departure and arrival times, bus numbers, train numbers, but when you find those numbers chiming with other parts of your life you begin to sense a different kind of connection is being made. And numbers are also archetypes. 125 is one of mine, the numerological sum of which is 8, also 1881, the numerological sum of which is 9. 8 and 9, the former representing the attainment of materialistic goals by a process of quiet perseverance, the latter presaging the dawn of a new understanding. And familiar numbers catch your eye. They have you dropping out of defensive mode because it’s like the Universe winking at you, reminding you it’s intentions are never hostile, that if you can open yourself to it, then it will always lend you its protection, and teach you some interesting stuff along the way.

Home for the night was a little hotel, heavy on applejack green – a little garish for my taste, but not uncomfortable. Its neighbours were a motorcycle dealership and a Sushi restauraunt. They were laying tramlines outside until four in the morning, but they didn’t disturb me. They could have been testing rockets as well for all I know. I was so tired and curiously relaxed, even after a twelve hour day, I let the Paris night close over me and drag me down to unknown depths of dreamless sleep, from which my friendly Android struggled to rescue me.

Anima was at the reception desk next morning, nicely dressed and looking much more self-assured. She was wanting to know the word that meant “to join papers, like this?” she made a hand gesture which confused me until she clarified matters by producing her stapler. She was lovely and charming. I gave her the word “to staple”, and could hear her quietly repeating it, so as not to forget, while I finished my coffee and shouldered my bag. I noted wrily, as I stepped out into another chill autumn dawn that it was probably going to be my only tangible contribution to Anglo-French relations. But the I Ching had counselled me to keep an open mind, to fit in, to go with the flow, and I was trying.

I’d set out without expectation, but already I could feel things were different this time, at least internally. I was possibly unhinged for a start, but I seemed whole lot calmer for it, and was travelling thoughtfully at least. Nor had I left my self at home, pining for my eventual return. I had my self with me, and he was proving to be good company. And my self liked the French people he had met, liked speaking with them in his broken French, and they had seemed to like him. Even the waiter in the restaurant the night before – the place decked out like a tart’s boudoir – had failed to arouse anything but my humour when, plonking a bottle of wine at my elbow, had declared solemnly that “if I did not like, it it was not his fault”.

And in spite of his mysterious pessimism, I had liked it very much.

Whatever had he meant by that? In the literal sense, I’d no idea of course. Maybe the poor guy had been at my elbow all night asking me to taste the damned stuff and I’d been too busy explaining to my companion the wonders of the English Lake District. But metaphorically? Well, there’s a lifetime of over-analysis there, and I’m still thinking about it. Perhaps my reply should have been: “If I do not like it, I will be too polite to complain, and shall finish it anyway, as if were the elixir of the gods”?

Regrettably, I saw very little of Paris – the Paris of romance, of the Tour Eiffel, of the Moulin Rouge. But this was not unexpected. A hair-raising taxi ride across town was about my lot. It afforded me glimpses of a vibrant city bathed in autumn sunshine, a golden light permeating the air, teasing me sufficiently to make me hope I’d one day return, but on my own terms next time, and to make a more leasurely sojourn. Then I was boarding the Eurostar and being shot homeward, like an arrow from Diana’s bow.

I was looking forward to a reunion with the Lovers at St Pancras, a sort of metaphorical full circling of my journey, but the arrivals’ elevator took me away from an easy return to Anima, as I had once known her. Instead I found myself ejected into the cold, and the rain, and the dark of the busy Euston road. Then it was a slit eyed walk to meet my evening train back up north, where I found myself seated opposite the most unassuming of Gods. This was to be the man who bore the closing message of at least the metaphorical, imaginal, dimension of my journey.

The ancient Greeks believed the gods went among us in disguise, so you should always be respectful in your encounters with strangers lest you inadvertently offend one of the gods – and you really don’t want to do that. It’s a custom that fell out of use thousands of years ago of course, but in light of our current understanding of psychical parallels between Greek mythology and the Archetypal reality, it’s a custom worth familiarising yourself with, especially if you intend making much way inside your head.

It’s not often strangers converse on trains, at least not in my experience. We look askance, we bury our heads in our newspapers or our tech, even over hundreds of miles, and I’m not the greatest conversationalist, especially not five hours into a seven hour homeward journey. I don’t know what the spark was, but before that Virgin train had reached Wigan Wallgate this guy was the best friend I’d never had, and what’s curious is we found we shared a name from the past – an old colleague, alas one that had not meant anything to me, other than as a milestone deep in the early history of my manhood.

I could not reciprocate the amazing tales of his latter day exploits with tales of my own because in truth I’d all but forgotten him. Rather the literal significance here for me was the staggering coincidence that I could share an awareness of this person with a stranger on a train. As for the metaphorical,… well,..

I left him at Wigan Wallgate and sailed on into the night, me ever thoughtful and tired. It was after ten thirty now. Preston wasn’t too far away, and then there was a half hour taxi ride home, but already I was returning with a greater awareness of who I was and, crucially, who I was not.

That stranger on the northbound Virgin service had reminded me of a self I’d thought was still a part of me, and made me realise how little kinship I still kept with that formative past. In fact I’d buried it long ago. This is magical thinking of course and very much out of fashion, but wonderfully instructive if you can persuade yourself to indulge in it.

I’ve written very little since I returned – this being by way of an icebreaking piece. Instead I’ve been reading, another journey in itself. I’ve not seen Anima either. So far as I know she’s still waiting for me at St Pancras. She’ll catch up eventually, of course – she always does – and boy is she going to be cross! Are we the same lovers who took our leave that morning? No, something’s changed for sure. I know when I look her in the eyes again, I’ll be hoping to see a little deeper into things than I did before.

I trust she can respect that.

 

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I’m labouring under a bit of a cloud again – in fact I can’t seem to find any open water at all this year. I’m conscious of the fact of course that once you let the darkness in it colours your emotions, so you can’t look anywhere without feeling unsettled, like you’re waiting for something awful to happen all the time. I don’t like feeling this way. It’s unfamiliar, and usually I can see life from the sunnier side,  but sometimes one’s optimism becomes  weighted down by events and, like an overloaded lifeboat, becomes sluggish, difficult to steer, and in danger of capsizing, in danger of tipping you into the black depths of despair.

The passing of my mother in the spring is an event I’m still adjusting to. It’s a fact of middle aged life – this passing on of our forebears. We all have it to face and deal with, each in our own way. When you’re in the thick of such events though, there are so many practical demands placed upon you, you can’t always digest the emotional issues as well as you’d like. You have to put them on the back burner, deal with them in slower time, and I think that’s what’s been happening progressively this year. The darkness leaked in early on, and I’m still searching for a way back into the light. My eldest son leaving for university has also punched a hole in things, and that’s something else I’ll be a while getting used to.

With this back-story in mind, if I analyse the tormentors foremost in my consciousness at the moment, they boil down to an upcoming overseas business trip, and another aged, much loved, relative in a hospital far away, which makes visiting as much as I’d like very difficult. Oh, and my sense of smell – which had begun to return only a week ago, has disappeared again.

The business trip is a pain in the arse to be frank, and I just can’t see beyond it at the moment. If I told you I was going to Paris, you’d wonder what I was complaining about, with all that ooh la la and the Tour Eiffel and the Moulin Rouge, n’est ce pas? But business trips are business trips; all you see are the internal details of the transport systems that deliver you from one grey concrete and glass building to another, always at the expense of a great deal of fatigue and personal time, your only respite being an hotel room probably next to a dual carriage way, and a pillow you can’t sleep on. Other than that, you could be anywhere in the world.

I’ll feel differently when it’s over, and the weekend will put a different slant on things for sure, but for now it’s a hurdle to be crossed, a trial to be endured and understood. As for my aged relative, well, I’d rather be spending time with her than swanning off for three days on a trip I’m viewing as nothing but a monumental waste of my personal time – but hey, I know I’m lucky to have a day-job, and I’d be as well to just quit whining and get on with it. As for my sense of smell, it’s a short term relapse, and I know I’ll get over it.

But where’s all this going?

Well, I’m conscious of late of having been drifting, philosophically, my personal writings having thus far led me along the well worn path of alchemy and Romanticism, only to run into sterile territory where the intellectual pickings have been slim, yet where there’s also many a beguiling fool similarly run aground and spouting nonsense, and I fear I’m in danger of becoming one of them.

The wordcount is rising with two novels on the go – one of them tritely erotic, the other intellectually pretentious – but I’m making no progress on the inner, psycho-spiritual level at all, which is really the whole point of things for me. The wordcount is neither here nor there, and when I’m done with those novels, squeezed them dry for all they’re worth, I’ll just give them away like all the rest.

At such times as these, times of doubt, you have to let go of course, you have to sit back and subject yourself to the tides of the world while looking for signs, and thinking symbolically. And for me the arbiter of my fates, the dealer of the cards, is always a woman, and the most powerful of these women is never a real one.

Yes, sorry dear reader, but she’s still haunting me. I’m talking about the goddess again.

In male psychology, she comes to us in dreams as an unknown woman. In part, she’s the female half of our bi-sexual nature, the part we swallow down when our physical gender crystallizes in the womb, so we can never really escape her, any more than a man can ever escape himself. I’m not blessed with a mature approach to my goddess. I see her everywhere. I over-literalise her, and I allow her the upper hand too often, so she tips easily from being a truly inspirational creature, to the infamous belle dame sans merci, tormentor-muse of the more tortured of our poets.

As a younger man, she had me falling in love with one stranger after another, a relentlessly rocky trail littered with the wreckage of many an unrequited pining. I’m safely through that phase now, but she manifests in other ways, equally beguiling, and is no less obsessive in her possession of me. What other daemon could make me so reluctant to voyage from hearth and home but the goddess manifesting as an “anima obsession” – or in other words a woeful reluctance to leave the tit and simply go find myself out there?

I was thinking about all of this yesterday while sitting in the beer-garden of my local pub, my good lady and I enjoying the autumn sunshine while sharing a quiet drink, and watching the crowds go by. We live at a time when casual or even grungy fashion is de rigueur – a very relaxed era to be sure, so it’s rare on Sundays to see anyone in their Sunday best – it’s a thing that’s passed into the history books, along with those times when the whole of England would attend church, before sitting down to a roast dinner.

So I spotted her a mile off, this woman in the green dress, flitting in and out of the crowds, teasing my imagination. The dress was tailored and it fit this woman to perfection, accentuating her form and her movement – the turn of her hip, the elegant poise of her body. The world was in its rags and she, the catwalk model, in her finery. I never saw her face, but I recognised her at once, and with a faint grimace, as the goddess teasing me with her impenetrable language, pretty much like she does in dreams, always challenging me to make sense of her.

For some men, the challenge is simply to wake up to the fact of this woman’s inner presence, then she’ll reward them with a greater sense of peace than they’ve ever known. But it’s a difficult transition for a testosterone-pumped, macho kind of guy, and it generally only comes with age and the waning of one’s hormones, if it comes at all. But if you’re not that kind of guy to begin with, if like me, you’re not macho, if indeed you’re a girly kind of guy, she can take over your life and make you believe there’s nothing, psychically, beyond her at all that’s worth a damn. She will hold you snug to her bosom, hold you tightly there and in perfect rapture as a willing captive from the world, instead of setting you free, so you can live like a man.

All enquiring men (and women) are ultimately searching for the wisdom of the ages. In male psychology, this manifests itself, symbolically, in dreams, as the wise old man, the Gandalf, or the Merlin of literature. Yet, beyond an elusive awareness of this archetype, I feel I have no connection with it, either in my dreams, my imaginal ramblings, or my writings. But this is the guy I should be seeking out; he’s the Daoist hermit holed up in the caves on Wudang Mountain; my Lao Tzu; my inscrutable Kung Fu master; or – in real life – even a wise, living father figure. It’s the role of the goddess to introduce me to him, to subordinate herself to his greater influence, but in my case either she’s a bossy britches, or I’m just not ready yet.

Meanwhile the woman in the green dress flits through the dappled sunlight of imagination, teasing me with promises of the spiritual delights of union, if only I could catch up with her – while making me dread the wrench of parting from hearth and home, that I should be robbed of her warmth and certainty even for a moment.

But I’m also reminded the spiritual path is not a straight line, more a spiral centred upon the core of the Self. If we are tenacious in our quest, we orbit slowly, seemingly making the same mistakes, rediscovering the same old ground time and time again, as if by the turning of the same seasons, but each time with a little more clarity, a little more genuine understanding.

Come to think of it, I did meet him once, that wise old man. It was in the gate-house to a fine old city he was quitting in despair. He gave me a copy of the Book of Changes, before riding off into the sunset on the back of a mighty water-buffalo, in the company of a dancing girl.

I turn to the Book of Changes now, blow the dust off it, and ask what this upcoming trip might mean for me – not so much what might literally be in store, because that’s anyone’s guess – more psychically – how I should align myself, how I should be thinking in order to make the best of it and meet the future in the most advantageous and optimistic way.

And it says:

Hexagram 57, otherwise known as Gradual Influences, or Adapting to One’s Environment. Rather a predictable response to be honest. The keywords here are adapting, fitting in, going with the the flow, or subjecting oneself to the experience, all with a view to the longer term. The message is to go with an open mind, and an open heart, and just fit in as best I can, all of which makes perfect sense to me. But that’s it with The Book of Changes – eventually it creeps inside of you, and you no longer need to consult it as slavishly as you once did, because you already know what it’s going to say.

So, Paris here I come.

A bien tot.

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