Sunday, September 14, 2008

Drowned in Paris

As much as I can envisage easily the threat of maritime accidents in a place such as Sydney Harbour, I find it unthinkable that people could lose their lives after a boating accident in the heart of Paris, in the shadow—as it were—of the cathedral of Notre Dame.

That's nevertheless what happened this weekend, when a pleasure craft collided with a yet unidentified object—maybe a pylon, maybe another vessel—in the vicinity of the massive stone Bridge of the Archbishopric between the Latin Quarter and the Ile de la Cité.

In the great dark prose poem of Malte Laurids Brigge that dominated my encounter with the City of Light, Rainer Maria Rilke evoked another victim of the Seine:

The molder of plaster casts, before whose shop I pass every day, has hung two masks outside his door. The face of the young drowned woman, which was cast in the Morgue, because it was beautiful, because it smiled, smiled so deceptively, as though it knew. And beneath it, the face that did know.

One was the splendid anonymous face of the girl, barely smiling, with closed eyes, who would be known forever as the Inconnue de la Seine [Unknown female of the Seine]. The other mask was that of a genius whose ears could no longer hear, not even his own majestic compositions. Beethoven, creator of the Eroica, dedicated to Bonaparte. Today, when you stroll alongside the boutiques and galleries of the Left Bank, you are still likely to meet up with one or other of these two faces. Neither individual was associated explicitly with Paris. Neither belonged to the city in any definite sense. Yet they both seem to haunt the Latin Quarter. Differently, of course.

No comments: