If you were – hopefully you weren’t – one of those sickly, timid kids, the sort who used to get into scrapes with a frequency higher than bat signals, then you may have received one piece of advice about dealing with pain and fear : When there’s absolutely nothing practical that you can do about it, and the pain, whether mental or physical, doesn’t go away, think of the most beautiful things you know. (Remember Julie Andrews warbling about her favourite things in The Sound of Music). Of course, those things will change as we grow older (otherwise mine would simply have “chocolate” and “noodles” repeated ten times). Here goes my current list, compiled for quick and easy future reference (says she wryly).
Number one has to be the bridges on the Seine. It’s a clear, but cold autumn afternoon and I am walking along the left bank. I cross by the Pont Royal, stopping in the wind to look at the bright blue sky that is reflected in the waters below. Tourists walk past but it is a weekday so the bridge isn’t very crowded. I wander randomly up and down the bridges, taking in the “Lock Bridge”, and finally land up at the Notre Dame, its imposing bulk a contrast to the quiet movement of life all around me.
Two and three are pieces of music. The Schindler’s List theme and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. “I am never merry when I listen to sweet music”, but the music remains sweet and cold and pure and beautiful all the same, something “afar from the world of our sorrow”.
Four is the silky feel of a cat’s fur as you touch it a bit gingerly. The smell of the earth during a good spell of rains is an obvious if uncreative number five.
Six is awfully mundane. It’s the taste of chocolate. Dark chocolate, to be exact.
Seven is (most of) the top floor of the Musee d’Orsay. I’m not a judge of art, so I can’t pick one.
Eight is a well-known campus in Western India or rather the allied memories. I only place it at eight because it sounds a bit vague that way.
The brilliant stained-glass windows of La Sainte Chapelle, stretching nearly from the floor to the ceiling, make nine.
And finally, ten: the little green park near my house, with the voices of children playing at evening, while a peacock cries out constantly somewhere nearby.