I’ll always be surprised to see a pony. Last Sunday I decided to explore the hint of a park I had spotted from my permanent seat at McDonald’s. There were ponies; in fact, there was everything beautiful and picturesque that I’m a bit hesitant to go back for fear I’ll merely find an expansive landfill or parking lot and I imagined the whole park, not a pony in sight.
It was one of those Sundays where doing the dishes and listening to music was actually considered “doing something,” and when you live in an apartment without real TV or any internet the dishes tend to be spotless. In Paris, few things are open on Sunday, but being here for such a brief time I am constantly viewing a day inside as one that could have been spent strolling the Seine and growing a pencil thin mustache. I had just shaved and this park was closer than the Seine. Often when I go out to explore Paris my time is dictated by my stomach, for once I start to get hungry I often have an hour-long window before I’m delirious with hunger: unable to hold a conversation, menstruation moody, and physically anxious. Rarely will I actually see the fiscal benefit of grabbing a sandwich where I am and continuing with my adventuring. Once home I rip into a bag of chips or bread and jam unable to contain myself for the five minutes it takes to make pasta. This afternoon I ate to hibernation standards and even grabbed some Pocky and a water bottle just in case. Viewing this as a possible means for executing the romantic visions of Parisian parks I’ve had before I packed my sketchbook and art supplies. The majestic pony is best captured via pen and ink.
Past the McDonalds is unchartered territory and away from the center of Paris so everything seemed even more foreign. “What could that grand building be over there, so pristine it positively glows,” I thought to myself, “Oooh it’s a Laundromat!” I began to notice that my pilgrimage was a popular one and I was constantly being flanked by small groups of families or smiling couples. The park has a few entrances that are preceded by large gravel walkways bordered with benches and a large wooden map, which gives the feeling that you’re entering an old-fashioned amusement park. I was greeted with ponies and small children. This park is virtually unknown in Paris and I have yet to visit the truly famous ones; I expect to walk into the Luxembourg gardens and see small jockeys riding giraffes and emus. Little kids could pay a few Euros to ride around a small part of the park on pony-back while their parents strolled leisurely next to them. Only one parent was adjusting the child for gratuitous picture taking, the others were casually talking and laughing with their children; probably some lighthearted preschool anecdotes or friendly disagreements over Sartre’s philosophies.
Unlike most of Paris, the park seemed be straightforward in its layout. A large kidney shaped lake was in the middle and the park stretched out around it, the main path encircling the lake. I thought a lap around the lake would be the perfect route to take in order to scope out the perfect grassy knoll for my Parisian doodles. The path was a virtual trip through Norman Rockwell’s greatest hits, images so heartwarming I literally made a list as soon as I sat down to draw. A little girl rode past me on an old bike, she was carrying a pinwheel high in the air. The lake featured couples on rowboats that somehow managed to row while leaning in to give each other little kisses. I passed a man who was playing with a miniature wooden clipper ship, hand-painted of course. A group of children (let’s say they were once orphans) were skipping stones by the lake’s edge. A father and a son were leaning over a small wooden bridge, fishing. These Kodak moments aside nearly everyone else who I passed were smiling couples, well behaved families or old friends with non stop chit-chat. It was enough to send Mr. Rodgers on a three-day drunken binge that ends in him setting fire to his now inferior neighborhood. I could see him waving a white cardigan, a man defeated.
I could commiserate with ol’ Rodgy; it’s hard being surrounded by such imagery. It’s a lot for one man to take. Paris’ beauty can be isolating. I often enjoy doing things by myself: errands, movie-watching, public transportation, using the bathroom; all perfectly exceptional solo activities. My trip to the Pompidou wasn’t hindered in the least by my solo status. Sometimes after going to a Museum by myself I’ll be reduced to coming home and putting on Celine Dion’s version of “All by Myself” on repeat or imagining a sort of “museum relationship” where you notice the same person over and over again until you believe they’re following you; making an exceptionally coy attempt at flirtation. Then you realize they’re merely moving from Picasso’s blue period to his cubist period, along with the rest of the museum traffic.
The happy couples aside I couldn’t help but realize that unlike the pony I, as a single individual, was a rare breed in this park. Renting a rowboat I’d be limited to humiliating circular movements. I’d look comically large on a pony, and despite my lack of Sartre knowledge, I’d be disappointed at the Pony’s silence. Paris has been testing my sense of independence with the internal conflict between the appreciation of your surroundings and the desire to experience it with someone. Public displays of affection in Paris could be given MPPA ratings; and they’d often be at the PG-13 level; although the other night in a bar I saw a couple so into their romance they didn’t notice that the woman’s right breast was hanging out, gasping for air during their suffocating make out session. Thankfully this didn’t make me feel bad for myself.
Rounding the halfway point in my lap around the lake I noticed that the park stretched out even further than I had imagined, too expansive to see an end. This was the perfect time for me to make a detour to my artistic landing. I couldn’t take any more laughing children or fresh picnic lunches; my bitter attitude could be channeled into duck and tree sketches. Now knowing that the park was quite expansive I didn’t want to go too far off the trail that I would get lost, but I also wanted to veer a little bit, away from those friendly faces. I needed a spot that both Robert Frost and Rand McNally would agree upon. I found one by a trashcan. My little sketching gave me a sense of personal accomplishment; I was finally beginning on my goal of drawing more. An individual goal that could only be motivated by myself. Or maybe, a perfect Parisian park.
The Sunday sun was starting to leave the Sunday day. My stomach was surprising me with its temperance, but I decided to forge my way back with the families and couples. A peace walk of sorts. The budding sunset was making the trip even more grotesquely gorgeous and I needed a peeing hobo or overturned trashcan to cleanse my visual palette. For a city and a person that virtually shuts down on Sundays my day proved to be somewhat eventual; I like to think there was give-and-take in my relationship with the park. It gave me a reason to walk past the McDonalds and it provided the only time I didn’t find rollerblading to be an egregious error in human judgment. I gave it a much-needed dose of individualism and infinite blog fame. I’ve started to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and while I’m just a few pages past the preface I appreciate the possibilities of Paris in terms of artistic inspiration; my sketches are barely past the doodle status and I’ll never feel fully ready without a set of crayolas, but I’ve never written so much and Film school was been jarringly hands-on. Just don’t ask me how my French is coming along. I now know how to properly pronounce Oui, and I say it with a turret’s like fervor.
Despite my seemingly well-chosen spot to sketch I soon realized I was a little lost. I looped around the walkway a bit, where the rowboats were all tied up now, and where the man with the clipper-ship was sailing, a few people were still out with their dogs (not Poodles) but the picturesque sights I was recalling acted as trail-markers and I soon found myself back at the beginning. Much to the children’s dismay, the ponies were now being packed up into the trailer. Having been greeted by the ponies I was more prepared to face their presence upon exiting but just as I was about to leave I noticed that the only one that still had a child on it was shitting what appeared to be one full month’s worth of food. It was the perfect way to cleanse the squeaky clean image I had of the park and gave me hope for a better, brighter and more inspiring future here in Paris. Mr. Rodger is putting the Jack Daniels away, finally putting a shirt on under his cardigan and realizing that he might have overreacted at Paris’ perfection.