In my twenties, long before satnavs invaded the City of Light, I roamed Paris under the watchful guidance of my bachelor-companion, Monsieur Pariscope. He was a compact listings magazine, costing a few francs at the newsstand, but worth his weight in gold. He was a dapper, glossy-coated flaneur, who chaperoned me with Haussmann expertise, to the distant ends of every Metro line. We stepped out from my borrowed flat in the Marais, under the Renaissance arches of the Place des Vosges and the formalities of the Hotel de Sully, into the squalid modernities of far-flung banlieu where a cathedral lurks amongst market debris. He was cultured and eclectic in his tastes. He showed me the cluttered dreams of Redon’s artistic workshop, but was was not impressed by the dangling guts of the Centre Pompidou. He was tired after the long march we took around Versailles. He coveted the tapestries and Visigothic crowns with their rough cut gems in the Musee de Cluny. He attended organ recitals in the Madeleine and took cheap seats at the Bastille opera, and even went to the cinema every day for a whole week. He made my solitary days of scholarship in the Bibliotheque Nationale bearable, helping me plan our outings. He gave me a sense of confidence as I explored his city. He only spoke to me in French, so my accent improved under his tutelage so that even Parisians sometimes asked me for directions and thought I was allemande, not anglaise. He shielded me from beggars on the Metro. He glared at mecs who tried to chat me up in bistros, cafes or banged on phone-boxes as I called home in tears. He taught me how to be streetwise and give the finger to impatient drivers on the free-for-all of zebra crossings. We gazed at the Ile de la Cite from the prow-like park of the Jardin du Vert-Galant, as we ate cakes with greedy concentration. He stays with me, though our Paris is long-gone, his suit dove grey like the late-spring sky, his gold-topped cane glinting with past recall, like the roof of the Grand Palais.
RESCOES: FLORENCE, DECEMBER 1989
I mount the hill of time to see that week’s panorama frescoed on my memory’s crumbling wall. Some forms and outlines still hold true to its plaster foundation, like far-glimpsed cities. Others have flaked into powder,but still hold the hues of their ground pigments; lapis, siena and umber. Altarpieces blur into one gilded frame, as weary Madonnas fold struggling infants into their stiff robes.Christ children frown like stern abbots, clutch doves that yearn to fly free to cavort in porticoed squares, as I longed to. I conquered churches, galleries and rusticated palaces like a mercenary, glutted with visual spoils until I was routed and limped back to my pensione, a toppling merchant-tower, and to my high-ceilinged room, adorned with ghostly paintings of lost merchant splendour. I looked out from its deep-set windows over a tapestry of unchanged streets, bridges and stalls that clung to the Arno like a braided sleeve. So those chaste profile-portrait maidens gazed over other vistas, with their marble brows and Botox faces, brocaded gowns spread like ruffled spring meadows over the chilly peaks of their chemised breasts, as if seeking glimpses of their condottiere lovers lost to war or plague, gone to join the dance of death grinning down at them from church walls, left frozen, unconsoled by trappings of perpetual virtue; prayer books unread; rosary-beads slipping through stiff white finger-bones. But on the rising ground of San Miniato, my pilgrimage was rewarded. I saw the celestial city that toiling artists strove to capture in their bustling workshops. This hieratic scene attained its full dimensions. It came alive under the winter sun, under a lapis sky, with the stir of leaves, the scent of flowers as the drone of church-bells in the valley misted the air and muffled the bleat of sheep. And that is how I recall the Florence I saw then; echoed in the muted fragments of its silenced frescoes.
KATE MEYER-CURREY was born in 1969 and moved to Devon in 1973. A varied career in frontline settings has fuelled her interest in gritty urbanism, contrasted with a rural upbringing. Her ADHD also instils a sense of ‘other’ in her life and writing. She currently has over forty poems in print and e-journals including Not Very Quiet, Mono, Granfalloon and Poetica Review. ‘Gloves’ recently made top 100 in the UK’s ‘PoetryforGood’ competition for healthcare workers. Her first chapbook ‘County Lines’ (Dancing Girl Press) comes out later this year.