Why Did the Girl Stand In The Middle of the Road?
The simple answer to this question, is to get one shot.
But that isn’t completely true.
The girl, being me, is a long stretch of the imagination to begin with and I didn’t take, ‘just one shot’.
Last night I was reminded by the gracious and elegant Antonia, that it was four years ago since my first New Years Eve at Jim’s.
Jim Haynes came into my life when a friend recommended that I visit ‘some guy in Paris who holds dinners in his apartment each Sunday.’
Scrunching up my face and curling up my top lip, I told her that there was no way on earth that I was going to go to some strange guy’s house in Paris for dinner.
That was six years ago, yet I have been attending Jim’s dinners every Sunday, whenever I am in Paris since.
A couple of years later was an anomaly.
New Years Eve fell on a Sunday and Jim invited a select few to attend his private party for friends and I was one of the lucky, select few. An Anomaly.
Jim Haynes has been hosting dinners in his home every Sunday night (except when he attends the Edinburgh Festival) for the past 37 years. Yep, that is right, you have read that correctly.
This kind spirited and good hearted man, who is now in his 80’s, believes in connecting people. Yes, he has met a load of interesting and famous people, attracted a plethora of media attention and even a dinner mint company made an advertisement about his dinners.
Recently, Jim and his friend Varda Ducovny were the guest authors at a literary salon which I attended.
An intimate affair held in an elegant 4th floor apartment in Montmartre.
After Varda Ducovny, stepmother of no other than the famous actor, David Duchovny of X-Files fame had finished her reading, Jim began his by letting us know that he had fallen down the stairs earlier that evening.
He made light of it and everyone laughed. However the incident had Jim falling down a full flight of slippery stairs and landing with his full weight onto his back. He later climbed back up the stairs, with the ‘show must go on’ attitude but was in incredibly, intense pain.
For the past couple of weeks he has been probed, x-rayed and sentenced to bed with a heavy dose of pain killers that have not relieved the pain.
If you know Jim, he is an ox and life must go on. On one occasion whilst partaking in his annual visit to the Edinburgh festival, he had a heart attack but Jim still carried on, in good spirits whilst chatting up the nurses from his hospital bed.
Last Sunday was cancelled.
People come from all around the world to attend his dinners and of course he was unable to contact everyone. Knowingly, he had a dinner prepared for the cancelled event and 17 people showed up.
‘What was I to do’, he told me last night, I couldn’t let these people down. That is Jim.
A short email arrived in my inbox; ‘Adèle, are you coming for New Year’s Eve? Arrive at 9pm, festivities will end at 1am.’
That was it, and of course I was there.
If you are lucky to be invited to Jim’s for New Year’s Eve, it is a completely different affair to his Sunday night dinners. Plastic cups are traded for long stem wine glasses, Antonia slaves away to make sure we are fed well and the more intimate crowd ensures a quiet yet engaging night. I hadn’t planned anything, therefore it was a lovely surprise.
I met some wonderful people, including the recording artist Angel, re-connected with Jim’s friends and for the very first time I took the bus to Jim’s.
Although, this was not the case on the way home.
The metro on New Year’s Eve is a completely different beast for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, all public transport on New Year’s Eve is free and most of the buses in the inner city area, run most of the night.
However the other, and way more interesting part, is that the atmosphere is amazing.
People who would not normally engage in eye contact or conversation, do. It becomes a very, rowdy, fun filled night, with everyone calling out Happy New Year; Bonne Année!
I think some tourists who arrive on New Years Eve assume this is the normal and it is kind of embarrassing to watch them still in high spirits, keeping up the equilibrium but no, it is one night a year when everyone lets their hair down and shouts; Bonne Année to anyone who passes by.
Although the festivies continue and Bonne Année is offered, and will continue for the next couple of weeks, I didn’t have a hang-over or a plan for New Years Day.
Now this wasn’t unusual for me, last year I had a broken toe and was on pain killers and unfortunately this year had caught the flu and was on antibiotics – two New Years Eve in a row, alcohol free is just not fair in any sense of the word.
What does a sprightly woman do on New Years Day in Paris without a hangover?
She stakes out the middle of the road of a Parisian street to get one shot.
And that woman, would be me.
The other day, I saw the magnificent sight you see above for the first time, but wasn’t particularly happy with my shots.
With the glorious weather that we have had in Paris for winter and being New Years Day, the thought of a pink and orange sunset casting a colourful hue over the Sacre Coeur and the hope of less traffic made me wonder … could I stand in the middle of the road and get that perfect shot.
Without further ado, I headed back to Rue Lafitte in the 9th arrondissement to capture my prized shot with a sense of excitement and sobriety.
The sharp cold nip in the air and the gloomy grey sky had my heart sinking, I knew this wasn’t going to be a brilliant pink sky sunset day but where there is hope, there is a possible photo opportunity.
In the past I have had the bad habit of arriving too late to a destination and while inexpertly fumbling around with equipment, missed the shot.
Today, for once, I was organised. Tripod set up, camera adjusted and nothing, rien, nada, niente, no matter what language you say it in, it still equalled; nothing.
However in the meantime, it was entertaining and amusing to watch passersby but sometimes they terrified me.
Patient but shivering, I sat on a wall, waiting for the sky to do something.
People approached me with their backs to the view, making a couple of second takes; a glance at me, a swift observation of the camera, a puzzled look, a spin around to see what I was focusing on had people letting out a loud wooah and snapping the shot.
But a number of times, whilst crouched down, consumed in my composition, with my eye at the view finder, I would have a sense that someone was standing behind me.
Within a hairs breath, standing directly behind me, with their camera arched just above my head, passersby were taking a shot. I had created a small crowd around me, but it was nice to observe that so many people may have wandered down this street without noticing the beauty that was behind them.
All of that was entertaining in itself, but did the sun actually set? In fact where is the bloody sun? Who would know. Nothing. All I see is a grey sky. A flicker of a cloud got me excited, I snapped it, but still nothing, rien, nada, niente .. nothing.
Shivering, as I stretched my gloves over my freezing fingers, I texted a friend. ‘If only you were in Paris, I could ask you to bring wine, plastic cups and cheese to sit this out with me and see if the sky does something’.
A platoon of green berets marched by, armed with automatic weapons.
I feel that kind of guilt you do when you walk pass a police officer but haven’t done anything wrong.
I try eye contact and then avoid it. Do they think that I am staking out the church in order to do something terrible to it? Earlier, I had noticed a security guard keeping a watchful eye on me. After all, I had been there for hours and the city was on high alert.
It had been at least two hours since I arrived. I start to cough uncontrollably, blowing my nose, releasing all the gunk that has stored in my body during this horrid flu and finally the street lights flicker on.
I didn’t get the beautiful pink and orange sky sunset that I had hoped for, adding a dramatic backdrop to Sacre Coeur but after lining up my tripod, only to pull it up again and rush to the side of the road to avoid cars and buses, added to the adventure of the day.
And do you know what? I actually had a fabulous New Years Day.
Shivering, coughing, observing and waiting was all part of the fun and instead of my pink sky, I got a pretty blue night sky in Paris of a remarkable sight, no matter how the sky looks.