Parisian doorways. Two Doors, One Morning

   1966  
Parisian doorways. Two Doors, One Morning
Doorways can be beautiful, some of them. Think of those elegant beauties in the apartment houses from the 1890s with marble brackets holding up a lintel overhead, below that a mascaron or sometimes a cartouche, the chestnut or oak of the double doors themselves, their glass armored in cast-iron grillwork with a sculpted head or maybe a pineapple or a bunch of grapes up top, their shiny door knobs or, better yet rings, catching the eye like birthmarks, the flinty threshold. Do they say Welcome, come in? More likely, I think, they say Look at me, and of course I do. Who wouldn’t? Perhaps if I ever lived on the other side of doors like these I would know what they really mean to say. As it is, my best guess is it’s How’s tricks? or in my case Wipe your feet. Other doorways impress me, but I don’t find them lovable. They are simply grand and meant to be taken as impressive or imposing. Beautifully finished or plain, their great virtue, in the eyes of the original owner of the house, was to let the world admire him, or his money. They are wide, so broad in the beam, that a great carriage pulled by four slightly skittish horses can pass through with more than enough room to spare on the sides and so tall that the coachman sitting on the box of the carriage need not even think about taking off his top hat as he drives in or out. You know as well as I, however, that many doors aren’t worth a first glance, let alone a second. Some were Plain Janes they day they were built and hung on their jambs, others have lost any beauty or allure they ever had because of neglect or bad luck, and some are nothing but ugly, yet could be had for practically nothing. These are as easy to ignore as the beauties and the big beasts are likely to grab you by the eyeballs. But like Judy O’Grady and the Colonel’s Lady they have something in common. They are doors, the way in and the way out. I suspect that architects, builders and the people who hire them think of doors as a way to keep people and other unwanted elements out. My own feeling is that a door is a way to let me in. Perhaps I’ve said this before, so forgive me, but one of the first things I learned about doors in Paris was this: if it’s open, walk through or if it’s closed, not locked and nobody raises a hand to stop you, in you go. Over the years, my attitude toward doors has led to some lovely discoveries, to some interesting moments, and to a very few mishaps, none requiring surgery, though once or twice a bandage was useful. The occasional brushes with criminal trespass, or an innocent desire to take a look, as I explained it to the angry man holding a hammer who accused me of intrusion illégale de propriété, were spaced so far apart that I tended not to think about them or take them much into consideration. That was the case for many years, but nothing lasts forever. I am heading straight to nowhere in particular today, but a difficult puzzle is getting to me, so I think of a park I like in the Seventh. It’s called a garden and it does have flower beds, but best of all a little vegetable patch where teachers and parents show boys and girls real live carrots and onions and turnips growing right out of the ground—imagine that! A good place to deal with the puzzle at hand which is why do supermarkets in Paris and even the street markets that sell nothing but fresh produce offer only cooked beets? Franprix and Carrrefour sell them wrapped up and peeled. Considering how finicky the French are about food, this is strange and requires the kind of Zen peace of mind needed to assemble a Japanese bicycle. But on the way I notice a doorway in a dumpy building across the street to my right. Doorway is probably too flowery. It’s an unappealing opening for a driveway, gates back. Ah, but now keep looking. Way beyond the big square hole in an ugly wall, there’s greenery, some objects that could be sculpture and what looks like a gazebo. What would you do? Exactly. It’s a fairly large park in the middle of a Parisian block and I’ve never seen it before because the solid gates have always been closed when I passed. If you know how to read a map and are looking for it, it shows up pale green, but unlabeled. Two-thirds of it is a large lawn with shrubs of one kind or another around it. Off to the left, there’s a strip of grass separated from the main lawn by a typical dust-and-pebble footpath. What I saw from the street are a stele, a bell and what I think is called a lantern with a pagoda top all honoring Korean, and a few Vietnamese, martyrs to the faith. This is a very Catholic park: the gazebo has Regina Confessorum blazoned over its entry, and on the wall are the lists of those who died, going back to the seventeenth century, all duly certified as heaven-bound by Pope John Paul II and accompanied by a slightly doleful BVM who needs a dusting. And so quiet. Not a sound from the street gets in here. The garden sides of the buildings, the headquarters of the overseas missions in Paris, are much more elegant, and much cleaner, than the sides facing the street. Too open to be a cloister, it is still a place I hope to come back to when I need to think about cooked beets or anything else where contemplation will help. But now is not that time, the beets having faded in my excitement over the hidden garden. And of course the gates are closed—and of course…
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