I’ve fallen a little in love with queueing.
I forget – planning, back home, familiarity-wrapped – about the all-and-everything intensity of travelling. The moment to moment assault. The wheeling through blissful-painful-blissful.
Caramelised apple tarts. Soft pastry shards shed onto winter coats. Buttery fingers.
Autumn sun on bare skin.
And then. Grey airports, grey train stations. God – Metro at rush hour.
Closed offices. Lost.
Vacillations, FOMO-frought. Tourists that jostle. (Injured. Elbow to boob.)
The Mona Lisa.
Behind all those heads.
Within this reeling, queues become instructed deep breaths. Enforced – and most welcome – respites.
This morning, we are queueing to the sound of sibilant scrunching. To the sound of one thousand shoes on sand on pavers. Brushes on snare drums. To the sound of pigeons and children. And to the roaring twenties which arrive, disappear, arrive again – the trail of a band from a bridge well behind us. Piano accordion, double bass, guitar. Plucked violin.
We are a multi-lingual snake of backpacks and down jackets and impatient sighs, watched from above by a gallery of kings. A defence of winged beasts.
Queueing. Stretched over Place Jean-Paul II before Notre Dame.
We are waiting.
I watch a small boy riding shoulders. Bright ginger hair back-lit and backdropped by leaves. Russet, orange, gold, brown, and green.
Behind him, a young woman. She has a gentle, somber face – it’s tilted up towards her partner. Enormous dark-brown eyes. She speaks french. She is wearing a softly draped blanket scarf and a coral-red jacket.
Here, the air smells of sweet dough and perfume and cigarettes. Of the cold earth of the gardens and wet leaves and wet sand. Of exhaust. And yes, oui.
Faintly of dog shit.
Backpack-down-jacket snake brings us to burgundy doors with black iron flourishes. Our bags are checked. And we step into the cathedral.
Notre Dame is dark. Scented by paraffin wax.
Ever so often, I come across a place that – I don’t know – opens something inside me that is usually shut. These buildings, these pieces of land, have an almost unbearably heavy immaterial – something. Beauty. Significance.
I don’t know.
One grand palace, one finely crafted cathedral, one simple chapel. Nothing. Then another – and the exquisite weightiness descends.
Squeezed-chested, clenched-throated, full-eyed. The swiping of cheeks.
Hi, Notre Dame.
Vast vaulted stone ceilings. Long shadows falling on black and white checkerboard floors. Offering candles flickering in rows – red glass votives.
Nine centuries of prayer.