La rive gauche

The Rive Gauche (Left Bank) is the southern bank of the river Seine in Paris. Here the river flows roughly westward, cutting the city in two: when facing downstream, the southern bank is to the left, and the northern bank (or Rive Droite) is to the right.

“Rive Gauche” or “Left Bank” generally refers to the Paris of an earlier era: the Paris of artists, writers, and philosophers, including Colette, Margaret Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney, Sylvia Beach, Erik Satie, Kay Boyle, Bryher, Caresse Crosby, Nancy Cunard, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), Janet Flanner, Jane Heap, Maria Jolas, Mina Loy, Henry Miller, Adrienne Monnier, Anaïs Nin, Jean Rhys, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Renee Vivien, Edith Wharton, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Henri Matisse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin, and dozens of other members of the great artistic community at Montparnasse. The phrase implies a sense of bohemianism, counterculture, and creativity. Some of its famous streets are the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Boulevard Saint-Michel, the rue Bonaparte, and the Rue de Rennes.

I suspect there isn’t anyone who doesn’t from time to time imagine living metaphorically at least on la Rive Gauche or as is more popularly rendered, “off the grid”, implying unconventionality to a degree. Although there are those who quite literally live off the grid (that is, without reliance on public utilities such as hydro, gas, water or sewer), the gypsy flavour is normally prompted by rejection or disapproval by or of the prevailing social norms. Sometimes it is promoted by a desire to be self-sufficient or to reduce environmental impact. Grasping the idealist label may however rely more upon vicarious distinction than merited opposition. Resisting and removing oneself from the moderation and commonality which insinuates so much of our society is virtually impossible. There’s a reason for the current TV popularity of the British and royal themes; namely, escapism.

To say that I object to daydreaming is manifestly wrong. It is the consolatory anodyne of life! I do not counsel wishful thinking that reduces obligation but entertainment and distraction is up to scratch, maybe even sublime. It is possible to dilute one’s immediate environment sufficiently to disguise and insulate one’s being, including the use of jewellery, furnishings and sartorial expression. Other than that I cannot seriously believe that one can alter one’s being merely by changing a venue. I am reminded of the adage, “There ain’t no ship to take you away from yourself; you travel the suburbs of your own mind.” Though it sounds disheartening, I find it encouraging because it assures us of our worth no matter what. And if it happens to be a bit lonely on the left (or right) bank, then that’s just something that will have to change with time – as it inevitably will.  Humanity insinuates whatever the situation; we’re not living in a refrigerator.

It has been years since I lived in Paris (Montmartre) but I am inclined to suspect that like Rome much of the urban environment has been overtaken by graffiti artists and others expressing and imposing themselves on erstwhile gentility which has since evaporated to the country. The city cores of so many metropolises are between decay and re-phrasing. Cities such as San Francisco, once known for its novelty of personalities, has been subdued to more digestible commercialism. Other famous cities survive solely upon the retail of history under the name of tourism. It is commonly accepted in New York City that weekends and tourists are to be avoided.

Montmartre is a large hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement. It is 130 m (430 ft) high and gives its name to the surrounding district, part of the Right Bank in the northern section of the city.

Gradually however I believe that parks and public amusements will regain their allure as the inner cities revive their vivacity. My youthful experience in Paris involved Corrine Fleming, a young American whom I met weeks before on the Costa Brava and visited in Paris where she lived with her parents. This right bank story – complete with Teddy Bear of fureur véritable – is a far cry from the escapades of Jean Genet. Yet strangely I had my own encounters with Notre Dame des Fleurs, the mistress of my friend’s uncle who put us up while we pursued our studies at Alliance Française and who to the horror of some on Avenue des Champs-Élysées took us to see the opening of the movie Born Free.

Jean Genet (19 December 1910 – 15 April 1986) was a French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist and political activist. In his early life he was a vagabond and petty criminal, but he later became a writer and playwright. His major works include the novels The Thief’s Journal and Our Lady of the Flowers and the plays The Balcony, The Maids and The Screens.

This afternoon – a dazzling day of yellow sunshine beneath a clear blue sky – I rolled the Aviator along the customary route but not without first having washed the car and chatted at the gas station with the gentleman who I understand owns the franchise from Petro-Canada. He distinguished himself months ago (and again today) by devoting his time to the collection of debris upon the grounds surrounding the pumps.  When I first saw him doing this, it was so characteristic of a proprietary interest that I hastened to enquire if indeed he were the owner which he confirmed he was. Since that initial encounter we have regularly renewed civility when I perform my daily car wash routine.  Today we lapsed into two streams of conversation, one concerning automobiles (he is young and disclosed a typical youthful interest in cars); and, two concerning business in general (which he reported was much diminished since the advent of the pandemic).  His English is not perfect; and his accent is at times difficult for me to interpret (nor indeed am I certain whence it derives). We are however clearly expanding a remote acquaintance. It thrills me as always to watch the serendipitous unfolding of conversancy.  I learned today that he has family in the United States of America; and that they have been vaccinated. His patent cleverness leads me to suspect there is a story beneath the surface as I suppose there is with us all.