Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: Emma Kunz, Jane Birkin, L'Air de Rien, Paris, travel
At Le Palais de Tokyo, Aaron and I finally achieve the synchronicity we’ve been groping around for since arriving in Paris earlier in the week. The trick, it seems, is to do things that distract us from each other. We seem to screw it up otherwise, despite the usual best intentions. Tim, our host, has grown bored and found the bar, leaving us to our contemporary art and tentative progress at co-existence. The rooms are so white and reverent that even the people walking around the gallery seem to be part of some larger theme that demands immediate, ravenous contemplation. My shoes tap the tiles carefully and Aaron and I drift apart, then together, then apart, and together again through the exhibit, smiling at each other from time to time.
Things start being funny again. I breathe freely. He puts his arms around me and we tell each other what we think about what we’re seeing. And the thing I feel in Paris, that I felt the whole time I was there, was that nothing we did or said to each other or felt or thought was new or particularly unique; all of it was at least as old as the Seine and yet still completely current, this recycled awareness of being a person doing all the same things that people do with and to and for each other. This is something I’ve been struggling with but I feel better now, in the gallery.
“Aaron, did the French invent existentialism?” I’d asked him earlier, over coffee and respective work in the morning. He typed something on his laptop and at first I’d thought he was ignoring me. A few seconds later: “Nope, it was the Germans.” Another second later: “and the Scandinavians. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.” Oh. Well, I guess I just discovered existentialism in some sort of weightier, visceral practice while in France, then. Which is the exact kind of sloppy, self-referential thinking that I can feel driving Aaron incrementally more and more nuts. Which just makes me feel more and more defensive and therefore inclined to think that way. We both keep using the word “context” against each other. By the time we get there, we need The Third Mind exhibit at Le Palais de Tokyo badly.
In the very last room, Aaron’s breath on the side of my face, I discover something else I’d needed: a good example. Emma Kunz’s work doesn’t initially look like much: geometric drawings done on pieces of graph paper in colored pencil that look like a precocious fifth grader’s science project. They reminded me of a coloring book I’d had when I was a kid. But then I read Emma Kunz’s bio. This wasn’t some recent Pratt graduate. It was a woman who had followed her own quirky, zany, intensely individual dream to the furthest reaches such dreams can be followed. Discovered a molecule? Geometric healing art created with a divining pendulum? Founding a visitable rock grotto full of “stored biodynamic powers?”
Oh, hell yes. If I have been working toward anything in my life, it is a culmination of this sort, where a bunch of seemingly unrelated interests and projects are eventually united into a whole that can only be described as, “her own thing.” And finally I was able to squeeze Aaron’s arm back, not because I needed the comfort, but because I was so excited. I could feel him pick up on the difference in this touch and feed off it physically, the way his shoulders relaxed and he let go of me a little bit. Profound relief. The depth and breadth of human possibility suddenly seemed so much more in focus than the limitations. And suddenly it was all real: I am in Paris with my old, old friend, my most-loved and most-feared, my serious, reckless, funny companion with the mind that is so fascinatingly different from my own, looking at some crazy shit. Of course nothing else matters. Of course, Aaron.
We found Miller Harris’ L’air de Rien at Bon Marche later that night, so perhaps my memories are too intertwined with the way it smells and the way I was feeling to be objective, even my own kind of objective which is… well, not very. The sales assistant sprayed my wrist with some and then, to her surprise, Aaron held his wrist out too. We stood there sniffing ourselves, trying to figure out what this smelled like. Because it wasn’t necessarily perfume, at least not right away. Or else very perfumey perfume, maybe aged for fifty years, buried underground. Easily unisex, with a savory fur-coat-dirty-hair blast made even more gloriously stinky-weird with dusty, pungent oak moss. Oranges, more so than their flower, melding somewhere underneath with an unsweetened vanilla that made it smell a little bit like people eating some sort of sophisticated French version of a creamicle in bed after making an unholy mess of the sheets. “This smells like sex!” Aaron said, just as I was saying, “I think this is doing something to my loins.”
We followed Tim through the store, where he was trying to gently steer us away from the perfume section, waving our wrists at him. “Does this make you want to fuck?” No. It didn’t work on him. But whatever. Tim was the same person who literally gave me a spanking when I showed him my mega-French armpit-hair growth. He was obviously living out backlash to the stereotype, as I suppose many of us do. Aaron and I intermittently held our wrists out to each other for the rest of the night, a display of typically American enthusiasm for the French “nothing much,” as Tim rolled his eyes and wondered what he’d done to deserve two house guests who couldn’t stop saying, “WOW!” even after being soundly mocked for it. Jane Birkin, for whom the perfume was created, probably also would have rolled her eyes. After all, “L’air de Rien” basically translates into “nothing.”
For me, though, the “nothing” had to do with finally locating the soaring sense of freedom on the flip side of existential heaviness, both of the traveling and interpersonal variety. It had to do with Emma Kunz and her Aion A and pendulums and colored pencils helping me to understand that my life wasn’t anywhere near over even though Aaron and I will never be together again the way we used to be. It had to do with finally understanding that it is not my job to make sense of the entire world and to realize that my failure to do so is nothing to feel shame over. It’s all these things, a little nothing moment in time for one girl trying as hard as she can to do her own thing.
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