Imagining from Kathmandu to Paris, lost in ocean blue eyes

Ashok Silwal

They told me: today, you have to guide a French girl; and they added: she is here as a tourist for pleasure but not just for this. She is a PhD student from Paris University with a scholarship for studying some places in South Asia. She is working in Paris, conducting an analysis on museums’ installations with the project of writing a thesis.

So, you should also include some museums in your classic program of visits.

I was curious when I left home the next day early in the morning: who/how this girl would be..?

 In the collective imagination ( and also in mine), what is French is somewhat synonymous with elegance, fashion, culture , art… and a certain haughtiness.

I parked my scooter and headed for  the hotel entrance. I knew immediately that it was she and that she was waiting for me. I was not late….. French efficiency?

Even before saying ‘Hi’, ‘Namaste’ and exchanging some smiles and pleasantries, I was struck by the color of her eyes : blue.. as the sky, as the ocean, transparent but immensely deep, penetrating, magnetic … beautiful.. and I saw nothing else; slim, fat, tall, short … I don’t know…

This look put me immediately in a bit of awe, like a work of art.

But now we had to get in the car and start our tour of Kathmandu. As guide, I had planned in the morning to see Buddhanath and Pashupatinath: you could not leave Kathmandu , even if you are just passing through, without having visited these two emblematic places even if quickly.

The white dome, the orange of the drawings and flowers, the colored little flags, the prayer mills that you spin.. and above this, the eyes of Buddha looking at you .. and I was looking at her eyes , wide open, full of wonder and interest. I seemed to enlighten them even more with what I was explaining.

Then, in front of the cremation ghats in Pashupatinath, these eyes become dark and thoughtful. The visit of this place for European tourists is always an out-of-this-world experience. The girl took an almost meditative attitude looking with frown to the fire and shiny orange satin draped body with chains of marigolds. She was impressed. Bit by bit, the black soot left by the body would be swept into the Bagmati sacred waters to the Ganges. At that point, the blue eyes discreetly let out a tear.. I saw a drop of sea on her cheek.

I reassured her by explaining that this place is a place of pain and joy; there is together death and life . But she had hardly ever spoken . I realized later that she knew very little English and she was also probably a girl of few words . She was demure maybe and the explanation was enough.

And she wanted to see the museums and we headed to… She was not there for  ‘wasting time’: she wanted to see the museums because that was  the job she had to do.

I rarely take my guests to Kathmandu museums except Patan museum. Generally, I prefer to be outside.

But we went to the national Museum and in Patan Museum. She was not very interested in the objects of the traditional sacred arts of Nepal, as the many sculptures of Hindu  and Buddhist deities. She was interested in how they were presented. She had a block notes  where she took some notes and made small sketches. I watched her doing it but I was silent. We were both breathing the smell of the museum: this mixture of wax, dust and disinfectant…. of old and history..  This special smell carried back in time.

The walls of this ancient royal palaces were impregnated with it.

They loved to go in the small nooks of the museum  finding a forgotten showcase in the darkness. Somehow, the atmosphere of the past was recreated and they were both touched by this; and it seemed to them that the statues were smiling at their understanding.

I was visiting her blue eyes not the museum! I was like hypnotized, caught and fortunately I had  nothing to explain because she knew what she wanted .

So we did not need words: the smell of history, of culture, of art was enveloping silently us . Art became our still language in that afternoon and I tried to imagine what these blue eyes saw. Our mutual understanding was hiding in the darkness of the corridors and in the transparency of their eyes. She knew how to look at me with beauty and charm, with protection too and I felt that she was happy that I found her eyes so special, that I was drowning inside.

And now the sun was setting , indicating the end of the “game” for that day ..because really the sun sets everyday so other ‘games’ were not impossible…

But she was starting the day after to Phnom Penh ( Cambodia) because ,there, she would have met a friend-colleague who was studying the same topics in Anghor Wat site.

We said good bye without great effusions, with an understanding and understood discretion and she offered to host me in Paris. and be my guide.. She would have been delighted, she said… through her eyes..

Bye ‘ocean blue eyes’ … and not bye !

I did not forget that day but life just kept going on and time also did its unstoppable and destructive work……

But the nights, years later, held surprises for me: in these blue eyes, I began to walk in Paris, along the Seine river.. and so I visited the Eiffel Tower, that Iron Lady, symbol of Paris and one of the most visited monument in the world, built between 1887 and 1889 to celebrate the centenary of French Revolution ( 1789) and to demonstrate France’s industrial power. In 1889, Eiffel was able to complete its construction just in time for the Universal Exposition. It’s 324 meters high :18.000 pieces of wrought iron fixed together with about 5.000.000 bolts! I was amazed with the view from up there and my ‘blue eyes girl’ guide was pointing out all the monuments and places to me : the river Seine like a waving ribbon, Montmartre basilique on its hill, the famous Avenue des Champs -Elysées ending the Triumphal Arch…

I went down on foot and found her waiting for me.

We had to go to the Louvre museum before it closed.. I would have seen the famous Mona Lisa. She accompanied me to the glass pyramid serving as an entrance.  I went inside the ART! : huge halls, long corridors, walls covered with paintings, showcases and sculptures….

I got lost watching, watching, watching… no smell, no sound… just  enjoying Art …and I found myself getting out of bed after my imagination ran out of time !

But it brought me back, in other nights,  there to visit Notre-Dame and its beautiful stained glass windows, Orsay Museum set up in an old railway station with contains all the Impressionist paintings.

And these last months too, all closed, lockdown , then curfew at 6pm, nobody in the streets…. The Covid-19 killed also the ‘Ville Lumière’…

But not my ‘blue eyes’ guide who sometimes in the night called me silently for new visits together and then I fly like Aladdin on his flying carpet…

I will take you there again …!!    Because travels with your imagination and fantasy  have no end, no limit… and they can make you happy and hopeful…

And, at the end, ‘life is a journey and those  who travel, even in the fantasy, live two lives.’

I wait for you on my next trip… real or imaginary.

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