Friday, March 21, 2008

I Ching

Picture of Avenue Marceau from top of Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Yesterday my wife and I returned from a short visit to Paris, a break she really needed from her onerous duties as a nurse in a busy specialist medical ward. Just before she broke up for her leave she had been confronted by two heroin addicts in her ward, trying to steal medicines from her medicine trolley and from the ward office. They managed to steal the contents of the ward donations box into which people sometimes drop coins to help buy 'essential equipment' for the ward.

All this bother was eclipsed by an exciting trip on Eurostar from the rather vulgar new St Pancras International station to the shabby, well-worn terminus of Gare du Nord. We stayed in a nice hotel in Avenue Marceau, one of the boulevards radiating from the huge "square" at whose epicentre is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, itself surmounted by the huge monumental edifice of the Arc de Triomphe.

I visited the tomb early one morning while most of Paris and certainly my wife was still sound asleep. The only other person there was a taciturn and rather mournful-looking public servant with a droopy moustache and wet track-suit bottoms. He had washed the surround to the tomb and was carefully brushing away the little remaining surface water with one of those old-fashioned flat brooms one sees sailors use to sweep the deck of a sailing ship. From somewhere in the odd recesses of my brain I recollected that the French verb to sweep with such a broom is 'balayer'. This has lodged in my memory from the time when I read Alain Fournier's classic of unrequited adolescent love, 'Le Grand Meaulnes'. I don't think I have ever remembered this factoid before in over 54 years. It's odd to think it will die with me.

At our son's suggestion my wife and I made our way to Shakespeare & Company, one of Paris's oldest bookshops, in the Left Bank's Latin Quarter. This is a real English eccentricity, a ramshackle warren of interconnected rooms stuffed floor to ceiling with old books. Books on the ground and first floors are for sale, the rest are for on-site browsing only.

An old Arkana copy of I Ching almost leapt into my hands, and my wife found an elderly hard-backed edition of Webster's Family Dictionary and a second hand Ruth Rendell mystery. I recollected that the I Ching was high on Ray Wills's list of favourite books. It was one that he said he would want on that Desert Island if he were ever consigned there. I glanced at it in the evening at our hotel. That same night I woke from dreaming to the phrase "all is change, and the rest is ideology". Make of that what one will; of course it is mere ideology to do so.

The image above is of three coins, similar to those sometimes used to consult the I Ching. Casting the three coins six times yields a hexagram (two trigrams, one above the other), each hexagram proposes a personal interpretation for the enquirer. The I Ching is made up of 64 such hexagrams.

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