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Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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Rain In Paris
Nestled just under the awnings, my feet are almost in the rain. It rains hard when it rains here in Paris, and yet the locals still drink their espressos and smoke their cigarettes in front of the cafes.

I borrow a light off the two women next to me for the cigar I picked up for twenty Euro cents. The first cigar I've smoked in a very, very long time, but when in Paris do what the Parisians do. I order a hot chocolate from the nice waiter who I remember from the day before – you go back to the places where they’re happy to speak English back to you. And you order the things you recognise, not being game enough to try and order something exotic like green tea or chai. I’m pretty sure chai hasn’t made it here.

The rain buckets down on the statue in the middle of the Republique square. Some Parisians don’t seem to notice, they walk by in their suits listening to their MP3's. Others are in various kinds of rain gear in various bright colors or under large umbrellas.

Cafe Republique is close to my hotel, and its coffin-like lift and room the size of... Well, my flat at home actually. Le Marias was dotted with restaurants and cafes, but by the time I was hungry, from the sustaining double croissant treat behind the Pompidou centre, I was a long way from any of them.

I reflect that the hot chocolate probably cost the equivalent of twelve Australian dollars – drinks seem priced on a different scale here, the food is less frighteningly priced. And I'm not brave enough to find out what the "grog" on the menu is.

The guy next to me in more or less chain smoking cigarettes. He reads a book and drinks a beer. So I pull out the book I bought from the English-language bookshop I stumbled upon in Le Marias, the Red Wheelbarrow. Who knew that Primo Levi wrote poetry? I read my book and attempt to smoke this cigar.

The cigar makes my head spin. I watch a woman attempts to lug an iMac in a huge box into a taxi, who seems reluctant to take her. The rain eases up for a moment then begins again with renewed vigour.

The dedicated tourist goes for a walk in the interesting back streets of Paris even in the rain. The organised tourist knew it would be wet here and packed a serious rain coat, intended for long hikes. Several people said that Paris could be cold and wet, and I heeded this advice.

My cigar goes out whilst I fumble with the hot chocolate and the five Euro note I'm trying to give the waiter. Being literally on the street one is expected to pay immediately. I decide that reading, smoking and drinking hot chocolate requires more hands than I have, so I put the book down on a dry part of the table.

Primo Levi's first published book was called "If this is a man". It was never clear why it was called this – the phrase is not used in the book at all. In fact the American edition was retitled "Survival in Auschwitz". But here in his slim book of poems there is a poem written right after the war, in which the lines "if this is a man" and "if this is a woman" appear.

Le Marais looks the way Paris does in the movies, narrow streets and shops selling fromages or cured meat or wine. And beautiful objects of one sort or another. Eventually the rain gets too much even for the dedicated tourist, and he hurries to another convergence of streets onto yet another round about with a heroic sculpture, which is barely visible. On the assumption that there will be a Metro station there – and indeed there is. This is Bastille apparently, presumably the building itself is here nearby, but I’m too busy making my way down the stairs and trying not to get anyone else wet.

I think about getting some dinner at the cafe republique. Then I think about the number of Euros I had in my wallet this morning, and the number I have now, and decide that maybe a sandwich from the take-away place next door is the wiser option. There are no ashtrays visible, so I drop the butt of the cigar into the puddle near my foot, to join a large number of its friends. The women next to me are playing with a mobile phone and smoking Marlboro's, which have "Fumer tue" written on the box.

Another quick walk around the area reveals I seem to be in the computer game selling part of Paris. And the cafe part, but that seems to cover the entire city.

Rain has finally soaked its way into the sleeves of my raincoat. My jeans are wet from the base of the pockets down. But damn it, I am only in this city for one more whole after today, so I will see the sights even if they are very very damp.