Amber in Paris #6 An Old Moroccan Woman in the Metro Laughs in the Face of the Pride of Mankind
well, hello! hello to all the sads, all the happies. whatever you are, you are not alone. none of us are alone. i was with my friend and we stopped by the side of the road in the french countryside to take photos of an apple tree, and i climbed up a fig tree, a big big fig, and my friend took photos of my feet as i climbed, as vines wrapped around me and as i wrapped myself around the tree, looked at all its lichens, looked at all its mosses, looked upwards through its leaves and downwards past my own body and the skin of the tree to my friend below. well i climbed back down, and a little branch made a big crack, and i lowered myself into the arms of my friend, feeling strong in my own arms, feeling grateful to be lowering slowly toward the heart and whole body of another.
as we walked to the car a man approached along the road. he had his hand bandaged and his face was bandaged with fear and anger. and in fact, he was angry, white and red in the face, keeping a little bit inside him and letting the rest out towards us, us who he thought were robbers, there to collect all his apples off all his apple trees, and all his peaches and pears. but he didn’t say hello, he just got white and red. i wanted to say to him many things, like, “you know, the universe is very very old,” and “you know, it’s not you who makes the trees grow and the trees grow apples and the rain come down from the clouds,” and “man, we’re very sorry to have caused you pain, you, beautiful farmer, making things push up from the ground so we can survive,” and “à qui appartient le monde?” but i stayed very quiet. and now i imagine him as a man walking towards us and saying “you seem like strangers, maybe you’d like to come inside for a hot chocolate and maybe you could play me a song on the piano and pray for my hand which i hurt as i grew delicious apples for all sorts of strangers like you to eat.” yeah, that would have been pretty nice.
well, this is about how to win in life. i’ve still been reading the book on the rwandan genocide. the woman who writes it finds a few small ways to win, but not many. but the thing is, if you have freedom you can still win somehow. how do you live to make as many people as possible win, when you’re from a part of the world that owns the boardgame? help me figure out it.
i was walking alone this time, in the bois de vincennes, big forest on the edge of the city where The Big took my hand and led me round for a few hours talking to me about the past, the present and the future. i dreamed about this forest before i came here, dreamed about the two lakes and about listening on a public telephone to men singing barber shop harmonies, and riding round the lakes on my bike. well, i was walking through the actual forest and started seeing tents. the tents looked like they’d been there a long time, like the people who stayed in them were staying for a long time, unmolested by the police or any men coming to claim a tree as their own. so i was thinking about these tents, and missing the men i usually see on tuesday nights who live on the street or in crappy dwellings in my city.
along the path i saw a man, with dreadlocks and a beanie and dark skin and big eyes and a guitar swung over his shoulder. he said to me “hello pretty lady”. instead of keeping on walking i stopped, because i wanted to hear some music. despite the “pretty lady”, there was something about the man that made me know he was friendly, and so when he invited me to his tent i said “yes”. he was going to be practice for a festival and i wanted to listen. as we walked to the tent he asked me if i play music too, and i said yes, and asked if i sing and i said “yes, but not like an angel”, but, you know, in french.
by the tent there were bits of rubbish and bits of useful things and the man called to his girlfriend in the tent, who didn’t want to come out. he started making a fire out of coals and pine cones and asked me to sing. again, instead of saying “no” i said “yes”, and sung a song to him, to the forest, to the trash, to his girlfriend in the tent, to my friends back home, to the clouds that i’ve been dreaming about, to the future and past and present. and Ja Prince, the man with the dreadlocks who lives in a tent in the forest, made his fire, and got vegetables ready to cook for dinner. that was nice.
i sat for a while by the fire, soaking up the smoke with my hair, and eventually Ja Prince’s girlfriend came out of the tent, an old lady with just a dress and no other clothes on, with hair a little bit like my mum’s, and limbs a little bit like the limbs of someone who puts needles in. it was nice there by the fire, with sparks coming off the pine cones far into the air as those two talked over each other a little bit in a mixed argument but like they were giving up arguing all the while they were arguing. they talked about living in the forest, and the girlfriend about her rich family and all her rich friends from the past and of how france has turned to merde, and about how parisians are so stuck up. i understand it’s hard to live in a forest on the edge of the city, but at the same time, i also see it as winning, in certain ways. it’s not perverse, trust me.
there was also an old lady in the metro who talked to me for a while. she was sitting against a wall with a cup out for money, a big coat and doona falling around her like a beautiful triangular frame for her soft face. i know her face is soft because she touched my hand after talking for a while and i felt her skin, soft like my grandmother’s whose skin i can’t touch anymore. she was losing too, in a way, here on the dirty concrete of the metro, a cup out to collect money, but she also told me her secret thoughts as well, that the people who don’t give her any money are actually ridiculous, holding onto their coins as if they can take it all down to the grave with them. she made a motion with her hand as she said this, indicating the grave, and we both laughed about the silliness of this idea, holding on tight to things that cannot last.
hmm… she didn’t let me take a photo of her, even though we’d talked for a long time, which made me happy for her, and also reminded me of peter bibby’s song ‘material’, with it’s ‘i’m not your material’ refrain running through all ironic and iconic and strong. well, i finished the film anyway and took it into the lab and it came back all white, just light, because there was no battery left, and i guess because everything is made of light. i nearly cried as i thought of all the photos of all the friends i never see, and of the woman with arms stretched out across the wall of the cemetery i love, with men’s faces engraved all around, on the day when she glowed in a way she surely can’t always glow. anyway, i nearly cried, but then i realised i could give the money i would have spent on developing prints to medecins sans frontiers, going into all the world to bandage poor wretched people wounded by ridiculous wars, and in the face of that i laughed, and said to myself “i know the secret to win in the world!”
yeah. so, apples, genocide, rastafarians in tents, old moroccan women with soft skin. see you soon.