After several Sundays of talking with the dead (see posts on Père Lachaise), I needed to get back into my body. A run in the brisk, late-autumn air would do me well. As would also
There isn't enough grass in Paris, and this I do lament. This time, I headed for the Luxembourg Gardens, where there are several well-manicured lawns. Having hardly entered the gate, I found myself in a flow of runners around its outer edge. It reminded me of the Paris ring road, only with virus-infested exhalations instead of toxic fumes. Still, I was grateful to feel my legs working well, and my lungs filled with air. I passed up groups of women jogging only as fast as pigeons, deep into shallow conversations. I passed up those with prominent headsets, moving to someone else's beat. I passed up those with high-tech devices to monitor their pace. I passed up a florescent-heeled woman making strange strides as if she were treading in knee-deep snow. And I too was passed, by men in tight-fitting aerodynamic running gear, sleek and stylish because they live in Saint Germain des Près.
Then there was me, just running.
Well, I was up to several rounds, but getting bored of the racetrack. Besides, my urging was not only to run, but also to feel the grass beneath my feet.
On this December morning, the temperature was 5°C. I knew I would be the only one walking barefoot. Even though there were no signs to stipulate, one is supposed to know that the grass is off-limits. So I found a secluded spot behind an evergreen cypress bush and removed my shoes upon holy ground.
After a run, my feet are very warm, and I love the moment when I touch them to the cold earth. I stand, sturdy, and feel the heat of my body flowing down through the soles of my feet. I pay attention to the ground warming beneath. After a couple of minutes, I can sense with my hands the difference in temperature between where I stood and the surrounding soil. This reminds me that I am intensely alive. With all that feels so feeble in the world around me, I relish this surge of vitality from within.
A few meters away sat Archimadas, the Greek discus thrower, stone naked. Aside from his curly hair, I fancy we are quite alike. I wonder why he is naked and I am not. Maybe next time.
I had no discs to throw, so focused on a one-foot yoga pose. Knee-bent, arms stretched straight ahead, leg stretched straight behind, back straight, everything was coming into balance. My head was clear, and life was coming into focus.
That was when a park patroller suddenly appeared. Je vous demande de rester sur les allées, Monsieur. At least he didn't tell me to put my mask back on since I wasn't running.
Out of all the things that needed to be patrolled in the world that day, he was there to make sure not one of my toes should touch that grass. I suppose I could have been grateful enough to have snuck in a few minutes of fresh-footed forbidden pleasure. I walked a few more minutes barefoot on the earth and gravel paths, an oddity for those passing by. That is what it's like to walk your own walk. You cannot expect others to make any sense of it, nor even try.
Riding home, a police car suddenly turned around, put its flashers on, and came my way. I bifurcated onto a side street, just in case. Maybe they know who I am I thought to my subversive self. They lost track of me, no doubt because they were onto something else, but arriving back home, it became clear how narrowly I had escaped. My mask had fallen out of my pocket on the bike, so I had to walk from the docking station to my door in violation of the mandatory mask law. My authorization to leave home had also expired, and I had forgotten to update it before leaving the park. I had no copy of my ID with me, and that too is not allowed. In every imaginable way, I was good for a hefty 135€ fine. On top of it all, I had touched my toes to the green green grass.
Feeling so estranged in a city I love explains my need to flee. I want to be free to run upon the earth. I want to hear its beat. I want to feel its flow. Yes, now I am starting to sound like Thoreau. But I am not alone. Many of us, as much as we love city culture, feel a deep longing for nature. We need far more time in the woods. This is why I have created The Light House, a place to live and work in retreat, for one or several months each year. Maybe I will see you there?