The urn wheezes, the heater rumbles then clicks off. When I arrived here this morning, just after I had switched on all the lights, there was a sound from the hallway, like someone calling or laughing but when I went through there was no one there at all. From time to time there are brisk footsteps going past the doorway,
but there are not many for this street is off the main road, it's a few metres away from a garden where people walk their dogs and on sunny days, sit on the benches. But there is not likely to be many sunny days now, we are shrouded by the misty air of autumn and the leaves hang, discoloured and dispirited, lank in the damp air, too irresolute even to fall off the branches, still linked to the tree trunks by the wetness of everything around them, colours dust-grimed rather than bright with frost.
Afternoon I read, in The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare, harbouring a centuries-old grudge against the day as a whole, I read this on the bus this morning, the overheated and overcrowded bus, and the morning too has a feeling of being too closely packed with moisture to be comfortable in its skin, the light diffused, spread out like a greyish layer covering the bus windows and the fields outside, turning the trees a little insubstantial, and later, the walls and buildings of the city.
Yet still, something of Paris here in this early morning pavement, with cafés newly open, yes it must be that, the open cafés that remind of Paris for really, there is little else resembling it. Unless it is a memory, brought in on the damp wave of the morning, the flatness of the light, a memory of autumn in Paris, the fallen leaves slippery on the pavements, the pente savoneuse of Paris flagstones, the lit brasseries, the outside heaters, the way people are both sheltered and intimate whether inside or out, and are also involved in the theatricality of all streets, gestures, brasseries and cups of coffee on the small tables, the chairs pushed far too close together, as if all French people were midgets or enjoyed proximity to one another.
Which I can't believe, and then I remember that they are adept at another art, and just as in the crowded metro carriages, they are able to be closely packed together and yet separate, in some mysterious French way that is beyond the capabilities of other people. They have perhaps through their language, which has pores more subtle than the skin, devised a cocoon, their particular language, made of finer spun silk, more robust and strong than any other, as well as more refined, more akin to purest gossamer, than any other too. So through this invisible yet tightly knotted meshwork, the French have developed the capacity to be physically close to others yet distinct and apart, subtly aloof and sublimely separate.
I go into a café that has always intrigued me since I noticed it, but I've never been in. Café Marlayne. So I imagine its Dietrich décor, its continental charm, that mixture of Gallic suavity and Teutonic intellectual bite. But though the people are friendly, the place cannot transport me to Paris or Berlin for this city, this morning, is as vaporous as the damp mist, and I take my croissant with me, unlock the gallery, turn on the lights.