11 July, 2008

I was traveling to Auvers-sur-Oise, the small remote town where Van Gogh spent the last years of his life and painted most of his masterpieces, and where he eventually shot himself. The train sped past the city and then fields and smaller towns. It was empty for as far as I could see. The view outside was dazzling. A young man came in and sat opposite me. He wanted to try my headphones on his phone to listen to some music. He started talking to me and showing me crazy videos on his cell phone. I told him I wasn’t interested in that and he laughed. Then he wanted to see my iPod Shuffle. He also asked if I had a cell phone and I said no. The train stopped at a station, he exclaimed something in French that meant “Now it’s mine!” and ran away. I was so shocked I just sat there for a while unable to comprehend what had happened, and meanwhile the train kept moving. It was ironic that, moments before he ran away like that, the man had said “It’s important to be Muslim” and that the inscription on my iPod had been “We Who Believe” (… in peace, freedom etc). I no longer had that iPod… was this symbolic? Of course, we live and we learn, and now I am much more careful about everything. I am glad, though, about all the things he could have taken and didn’t.

The smaller train that took me to the actual town reminded me of trains in Pakistan. I wrote as I sat in it:

“As the old train groans, grunts, screeches its way forward, I find myself amidst small villages, with cottages, woods, green fields, flowers, vines, warm sunlight. This place is removed from anything I have ever experienced before. No one here speaks English. Immediately I fall in love with the beauty of the place and this sense of newness and purity, where I can discover like a child things I have never known.”

The little town was devoid of tourists. Fortunately, though, I met another visitor and we explored the place together. He works at a designer clothing firm in Korea. He had a very good guidebook and we followed its itinerary, and saw everything from the famous church that Van Gogh painted, to his house, to his grave. The whole place felt very serene and inviting.

In fact, for a while I just wanted to live there and keep painting day and night. The documentary we saw in Van Gogh’s house explained how he would paint everyday, all the time, and that that was his life. If only I could even stay the night here, I kept thinking. I even looked for accommodation but didn’t find any rooms. I did however get the chance to go and sit by the church and sketch there.

Soon it got dark and I no longer wanted to be there anymore. This I thought was strange.


The time to leave Paris is very near now. Time rushes by, and yet I don’t want to get caught trying to do everything possible before I leave. I want to slow time down by revisiting some places I went to earlier. Today, however, I am going with a friend to the Luxembourg gardens to work on some art there.

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