I arrived at Atelier des Lumières an hour early on Sunday. My friend, Barbara, and I had originally planned this outing to celebrate her birthday March 24th. Then life intervened. The Atelier kindly reimbursed me and, just short of, four months later, here we were: 38 rue St. Maur in the 11th. It was a glorious sunny day. People often say that Paris is grey. Certainly not these past five months.
I rode the #9 metro with my mask on. From my stop in the 16th to St. Ambroise in the 11th is approximately 40 minutes. Everyone wears masks on public transportation. We are encouraged by the 130 euro fine to be paid if we are caught unmasked. The wearing of masks seems to sober people up. There isn’t much talking, frivolity and no buskers in any of the cars. We get on, hope to find a seat which are marked so that, ideally, one would not sit next to another person, then get off.
Since I was early, I walked for awhile in the 11th. The streets are just as wide as in the 16th but the two arrondissements couldn’t look more different. In the 11th, there are no trees shading the sidewalks. Graffiti, much of it fun and artistic, grace many of the walls of buildings and store fronts. Whereas the 16th feels upscale, the 11th feels very working class. In both arrondissements, however, to support social distancing, resaurants, bistros, and cafes have taken over the parking on the streets. Some have thrown down green carpeting to simulate grass. Many have brought in small trees and plants and put them next to the tables to give the air of outside comfort. It works. It is a welcome addition to all the streets in this writer’s opinion.
We met at noon as planned and got ready to enter the Atelier. As with every other space in Paris, wearing a mask is obligatory to enter. Then we pass the sanitising liquid that everyone dollops on their hands before passing any of the staff. Our bags are checked, they make sure we actually have tickets, and finally our tickets are scanned and we are in. There are free lockers where we can deposit everything that might be cumbersome. Then we pass through two doors into the remarkable space. As we entered, the show was half-way through. Since it runs all day long, we knew we would see the beginning later.
The projections are accompanied by music, carefully picked from classical, modern, rock and roll, blues, whatever fits the creators’ idea of intent. Nobody speaks. At the end, everyone claps. In times other than a pandemic, the floor would be barely visible. Throngs of people, especially tourists, enter all day long and stay for hours. The lack of tourists is certainly fortunate for us as viewers but not so good for the museum, vendors and cafes that are outside on the street.
I’m sure a better writer than I could describe the awe with which one watches these astounding projections. The paint work is so large and real that you can see the layers of oil, one on top of the other. When projecting one of Chagall’s works, the plethora of colour that surrounded us filled me with a big inner grin, gave me reason to appreciate the minds and hearts that create these kinds of expos and helped me forget what is going on in the word. Thank goodness for videos that can give you a gllimpse of what we spent almost two hours watching!
After a boxed lunch in the park, we went to find a cup of coffee. Barbara had done me a huge favor the day before and I promised her a coffee. We sat down at a bright pink table across from the Atelier: L’Atelier de Lili. Lili turned out to be our waitress. She heard our accents and asked us where we were from. Both Barbara and I being social talkers, we had quite a conversation with Lili who is adorable, funny and entertaining. She took our photo for her collection and sent it to us.
I told Lili that we were so happy because we were finally celebrating Barbara’s birthday–four months late. Five minutes later, out came a macaroon with a little candle in it. Lili sang Happy Birthday with all her heart.
I know that the serendipitous nature of the whole day felt very celebratory to Barbara. As I rode home on the metro, I was thinking how like a normal day in Paris this felt. I actually had not spent this much time out being social in Paris, only in Brittany. I felt happy, in love with Paris and all it offers. I had to literally tap my head to remind myself that there is nothing normal about any part of the world today. In the words of Charles Blow of the NYTimes, “I think I echo many Americans, and people of the world in general, when I say that I’m having a hard time fully grappling with the gravity of this moment. It is still hard to absorb that a virus has reshaped world behavior, halted or altered travel, strained the economy and completely reshaped the nature of public spaces and human interaction. It is also hard to absorb that this may not be a quickly passing phase, an inconvenience for a season, but something that the world is forced to live with for years, even assuming that a vaccine is soon found.” July 12 Op Ed.