COVER LOGIN HOROSCOPES FEATURED ARCHIVES ABOUT PHOTO Cosmic Confidential :: The 12th Annual of Planet Waves :: 2010

Photo by Danielle Voirin.

Aquarius Moonwalk


AT 3 A.M., ILE DE ST-LOUIS IS QUIET. Paris shares with most of Europe a quality curious to my American sensibilities, a state of peace and calm at night. I slide through the dark quietly as I can, down the spiral stairs of my building, past the open courtyard, and push the button on the electronic lock. It ticks softly, and I pull open the metal gate. Passing through a chilly little tunnel, there's another button, which I tap, and the large wood front door, about three meters tall, clicks unlocked. I pull it wide and step into the street, a tiny, ancient canyon bordered by buildings five to seven stories high, heading west toward Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame Cathedral.

A momentary thought passes through my mind, that of being off the network, unreachable and out of contact and as a result, free. My cell phone is upstairs. Great feeling.

The night is soft and a little cool. There are still a few people on the streets here and there, and we wish one another bon soire, which seems at once a gesture friendly and reassuring.

Two islands exist in central Paris along the Seine, connected to one another by a wide bridge over which cars cannot pass. I live on the smaller of the two. The larger, Ile de la Cite, was first settled by Celts, called the Parisii, in the third century B.C.E., the earliest known settlement in this area. Beneath the great plaza in front of Notre Dame, there's an underground archeological crypt where you can find interwoven ruins dating back to between the 1st and 19th centuries: the first wharfs ever built along the Seine, constructed during Roman Empire; cellars of homes and shops; remnants of ancient Roman heating systems, called hypocausts; stairways that whisper with the souls of previous times.

I reach the place where the two islands meet and turn right, toward the north, before the bridge crossing onto Ile de la Cite. In the little plaza where four different streets and the bridge converge, the sidewalk cafes that burst into the streets during the day have disappeared entirely. There are a number of motor scooters parked on the sidewalks: nights with lovers.

Still on my island, I move toward the river, and turn right along the water, walking along a street high above the current. Numerous apartments have their shutters drawn, indicating that people are out of the city. Across the river, I can see and hear that people are gathered in little clusters along the stone embankment. These seem to be remnants of Paris Plage, an annual festival for which the riverbank and a little expressway along the right shore are closed for a month each summer. Bocce courts, a swimming pool, sand beaches and volleyball are brought to the riverside as well as to the streets and plazas above. The city and its corporate sponsors provide umbrellas, canvas reclining chairs and a long, wide place to play every day and night for an entire month. There are nearly no advertisements to tell you who's paid for the whole thing.

Music and singing call me across the river, so I walk toward a bridge, where the round face of the Moon floats high above the water and softly lights the city beyond. I cross over and follow the right bank, backtracking to the west, and descend some stairs to the water level, where groups of people are gathered. It seems like a long walk, but I'm learning to move slower in this city. During the day I remind myself to move, think and breathe at about half the usual pace I would in an American city or, for example, London. As a New Yorker, one is taught to walk at all times as if traveling to a specific destination on business, as a preemptive defense against mugging. An unwritten New York cultural rule dictates that one is never allowed to saunter along the streets of the city, as if taking pleasure in living were an invitation to attack.

In London most people walk giving the impression that unless you think they are in an enormous hurry, they'll be troubled with guilt. In Paris, I'm learning to move around as if I have no cares at all, ambling and noticing the abundant scenery.

Photo by Danielle Voirin.
Something similar happened to my writing schedule the moment I arrived here. Between the heat -- it gets hot here, unlike England in early summer and unlike the Pacific Northwest at the time I left -- and the fact that the Internet is much harder to find here, I had to make do with less work. This was a big adjustment at first. Plunged into the energy field of France, my entire system geared down. As a result, I learned to get as much accomplished as I could every day, as early in the day as possible, stop worrying about the rest, and move on from there. One thing I can say about England is that the place gets a lot accomplished. The people I met were hardworking, ethical and emanated trustworthiness. There is an extremely high value placed in responsibility and not being a burden on others. And the newspaper culture says a lot about the level of attention paid to communal issues; London has, I believe, most of the best newspapers in the world on any local newsstand, which means its people are intent on being part of the world community. (London also loves astrology. We really have that in common more than anything.)

But it's felt really good to get off the world crisis dimension for a little while, where it's so easy to get overwhelmed with seemingly hopeless, pathetic politics. One result of increased time plus decreased focus on the news has been a stream of consciousness into my personal notebooks, which after many boring seasons have suddenly become quite a bit of fun.

My notebook project continues along the Seine this evening, where I had converted my Maglite into candle mode (by screwing off the head to expose the bulb, and using the head as a base into which to stand the light) and sat on some stone stairs writing. At that moment, a woman of about 25 floats over from the group behind me, her skirts swaying, and circles around to my right and is suddenly looking into my eyes. She asks me where I'm from, and whether I'm a poet. She says she likes my light. Her name is Raphael. I recognize her by her tribe: her eyes and skin color and the angles of her face, and her long, curly, black hair: Magdalina. She was born and raised in Paris but her English is perfect, spoken with a strong accent I don't recognize. She then disappears toward another group some meters away, where men are gathered around one playing some kind of guitar I've never seen.

In a little while I walk over there and sit down near her. A group of Arab men are singing very old folk songs in a strange minor key as the guitarist plucks out a melody on what looks like a 10-string guitar. His face bears the most gentle, vivid expression of humanity, and he sings directly to one of his friends as about 20 boys and men, and Raphael, sing also. They know the words like they were raised on these songs from birth, and they could be from a faraway planet. I listen to the tones that feel so sweet they are sad, so sorry they are joyous.

One of the songs stops. I am talking to Raphael about it, whether she knows the translation or what language it's in. She does not, she merely knows the words and assumes they are in some form of Arabic.

I then hear a motorcycle roar, and look to my right and see the bike approaching, swerving a bit, and in about one-fifth of a second, before I know what I've done, I am literally perched on my toes and fingertips facing the other direction ready to spring to a safe position. Raphael looks and says to me, "It's okay, it's okay." I had totally misjudged the size, speed and distance, seeing the erratic movement of the machine in the enclosed space, and feeling the sudden shock to the silence. Maybe that unfortunate bit of New York paranoia that you're always a heartbeat away from danger is still programmed into my brain stem. Maybe it's a good old friendly survival skill. I would like it to take a rest.

* * *

The next morning I have an astrology session, something that generally does not happen on a Saturday. My mind wakes up the instant I hear my client's voice, and both she and her chart emanate intensity and fast, irrevocable change, like all of my clients here. An hour later that work is done, and I rinse off, dress, find my notebook and head to the cafe where I go some mornings.

Walking down the street in half-time, I suddenly feel the presence of all the people around me, and become aware of something new, which is that I can influence the size and intensity of my psychic space. It occurs to me that I can pull my awareness most of the way in and basically not notice anyone actively. Usually I am doing precisely the opposite, noticing as much as possible at all times, and spreading my psychic and sensory fields out far and wide. I am also extremely self-conscious most of the time and it occurs to me that this may have some kind of effect on the minds around me that might not be especially pleasant. Living in this state of hyper-self-awareness is something that I've cultivated in myself, but I do know from experience that most people prefer not to go there; it seems unnatural and awkward.

So I try an experiment and pull my awareness in close to my body and, taking advantage of wearing sunglasses, walk like I am oblivious to everyone. In a way it feels safer but also cut off from coexistence. I can ignore everyone and there is no risk of contact. Once I have withdrawn my projections, people's faces seem to go blank: it's as if everyone is in their own world, dreaming their own dream, and their faces look like they are sleepwalking. I prefer the world the other way.

I get to my cafe and begin a thread in my notebook on how different people's states of self-consciousness interact with one another, thus creating a collective energy or awareness. We call this culture. Since all consciousness is some form of self-consciousness, there are many ways awareness of oneself can be expressed. Most people stick to the very basics, and insist upon as little contact with others as is humanly possible and, when it happens, it generally does so in rather controlled environments, predictable ways, and is carefully scripted wherever possible. I sit here and, relaxing, listening, feeling, allowing my senses to come back in, begin to notice the scenery again. If you are someone who appreciates the exquisite movement of women's hips, this is a great city to be in.

One interesting effect life is having on me here is that I am starting to consciously love being a man. I won't get into why that was not the case before, but there is something about Paris that I can only describe as men feeling natural being men and women feeling natural being women. I can see this and feel it vividly both around me and in myself.

Slowly, as the afternoon passes, I realize I can do anything I want with the day. I have no commitments until evening; the feeling of actual freedom of my time is something I experience pretty rarely, in part due to certain facts of my upbringing and the rest due to working my teenage and adult life as a professional writer and editor. There is always a deadline, always something to do or something you're supposed to be doing, usually yesterday, with about five things ahead of it. But it would appear that I am free. I pay for my tea and head across the south side of the Seine, on a hunt for two French-English dictionaries (large and small) and some Henry Miller, translated. I have decided if I want to do anything besides order an omelet, it's time to get serious about learning the language, and in my opinion the way to do that is to read.

For me learning happens best when there is some kind of incentive, and my pleasure-seeking tendencies are beginning to emerge here, including as a writer. For the first time in a very long time I'm spending more time in my notebooks than in front of a computer. The feeling is one of sensual freedom and creative thought that's not bound by format. This started in England where, despite doing quite a lot every day, I suddenly had time to read, or maybe the inclination to do so.

There is something extremely basic that is different between French culture as contrasted with both American and English cultures, which is that work is part of life rather than more or less being one's life.

After two weeks here, my priorities have been rearranged in terms of how I move through the day. This started as necessity; I don't have the same access to the Internet here that I've had for the past five years (constant), which basically defined my working life as something that could encompass any or most of the 24 hours in a day, much of it wasted. I have a theory about the Internet, which is that it's basically vacuumed up a lot of the very limited available time people have to socialize. And in my life, Internet usually equals work. The method I'm working with now is to do the right work as effectively as possible, and get on with the day. This takes some planning and a bit of structure, and a friendly hot-spot cafe where I get online, but it's actually not that hard, and it's functional. The result is that after being in business for myself for 15 years, working through most of those weekends and almost every evening, these days I am actually working something like an 8-hour or less work day, with real weekends, and this is one of them, featuring the Aquarius Full Moon.

Part of the work issue for me in both the United States and the UK was an incentive factor. Both of these countries have plenty to "do" but what I'm finding where I am at the moment is a society oriented around being rather than doing. This is the first place I've spent much time where social priorities are better supported than commerce. People seem interested in one another and get-together plans happen fast without a lot of pre-screening and waiting periods. Even business has a social feeling to it in that everything goes a lot slower, you're never rushed out of a cafe or restaurant, and people are served in most shops one at a time. When I buy fruit in my neighborhood the guy who works in the fruit store personally chooses everything I ask for, and there's a little conversation connected with each selection. He does more than take my money. We have to talk about the actual product he sells, which he actually knows about. The same is true in the creamerie, where cheese is sold, and some personal contact happens around every little item. We in the New World live like we don't have time for these things. But why not? And what have we lost in the process?

There are supermarkets here, but the idea is that you have a choice. You can actually buy food that is not wrapped in plastic, and support businesses where you get to know people who work there every day. The concept and reality of a neighborhood as a discrete community still exists. There are many living relics of a life that we have long ago left behind in the civilized world of Trader Joe's and Price Club. So what if my phone jack looks like it came out of a Frankenstein movie?

Something I've noticed every time I've come to Europe is that most people work less, earn less and have a higher standard of living. The whole three-job phenomenon does not appear to exist around these parts. People generally eat better food, but they eat less of it. I don't think you could get a Big Gulp in France and I have not seen a single McDonalds or Burger King in two weeks in Paris. Most people who have cars have small ones. I am sure if you need to drive a vehicle off a cliff or up a mountain, you can rent an SUV. Many people have guest bedrooms, where people seem to come to stay often. They take real vacations; France takes a month off every year. It may be of interest to American readers that in England and France, health care is included with your taxes. (I am interested in hearing from my readers in these countries how well this works, but I'm sure it works better than no health care at all.)

Photo by Danielle Voirin.
So I wonder what all that endless hard work in the United States and the UK is all about. Is it merely a cultural phenomenon? It seems that one has permission to take it a bit easier.

But as a pharmacist in Greece once said to me, no place is paradise. Paris is no more sustainable an ecosystem than is London, New York or Singapore. These cities all take in enormous resources in order to be able to sustain the intensity and concentration of life, and the quality of life. The one spire on Notre Dame that's too close to the middle of the cathedral to reach with scaffolding is jet back. Yet I guess what I'm noticing is that for the same or less resources expended, life can be better and make more sense.

Some things don't, though. I am still stunned regularly by how many women smoke. Yes, many men smoke too, but some days it seems like every single woman smokes, and I find this to be true in both the UK and France, and it makes my anticorporate heart boil every time I see it or start sneezing. Someone explained that the habit may have something to do with how European women use smoking as a tactic to suppress their appetites, which is far from thrilling news. Cigarette smoking has a serious grip on these societies and it's legal to do it anywhere. In the UK a 16 year old can legally purchase cigarettes. I've waited a long time for American cities to start banning indoor smoking in bars and restaurants, removing one of the most important sources of indoor dioxin pollution from the environment, and now it's happening, and oddly the economy is not collapsing.

And tonight having dinner, I watched a French mother and father both spank a two year old child for squirming as they tried to sit her down in a restaurant baby seat. I wanted to walk over and explain, "Do you understand, she has no idea why you're doing that to her? I guess not." Shit, if this were the States, I could have dialed 911 on my cell phone and had them arrested. ++

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Planet Waves Astrology | Aquarius Moonwalk | by Eric Francis