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Columnists

Beauty, step by step

Lucy Winkett


Sitting by the banks of the Seine one spring, I called to mind the wait for a taxi the night before, when an exhausted queue had in twos and threes clambered into the odd cab that drew up. Two elderly women with hip flasks were clearly so pleased to be there that the wait into the sultry night was all part of the fun. 'We're in Paris!' they kept saying 'This is Paris!' as if they couldn't believe their luck. Childlike delight gave the romanticism of the city sway over the inconvenience of queueing along the busy road.

'This is Paris,' I was thinking too, as the sun beat down on the Eiffel Tower behind me. It was my first trip as a tourist and I hadn't expected to be so beguiled. So here I was, people watching, with a truly international scene in front of me.

I saw a young couple arrive; he with a loose pale blue shirt and light jeans, she in a flowing summer dress. They stood close to one another and unpacked an iPod, taking one earpiece each. They were both listening to music that no one else could hear. They struck a startling pose, holding each other like ballroom dancers. I was entranced as they began to move, executing an elegant waltz. They skilfully cut through the crowds, avoiding the pushchairs and baseball caps, moving smoothly and in perfect synchronisation with each other. They looked beautifully in harmony and at the same time entirely out of step with the sweaty, sunglassed faces around them.

When they finished, the crowd applauded and the dancers walked away. It was impossibly romantic and, call me a cynic, also impossibly clichéd. There was something in it though that touched me. It was a moment of individualism in an anonymous crowd, a moment of beauty in a rather uninspiring collection of bodies. It was, in a way, kind.

The next day, the French voted 'non' to the European constitution. If a referendum were to be held here, the tea leaves say that we too would use it as a way of expressing our unease at the European project. The reasons are complex and different in each nation and domestic issues are as potent as any particular attitude towards Europe. For Christians, patriotism and religion are in conflict when loyalties are tested, and our belief in the creation of all humanity by God means that it really doesn't matter where any of us happened to be born. But there is also a desire for us to express our identity as members of a particular nation within the larger grouping of a continent.

I found myself thinking that this particular pair dancing in a crowd, to music that not everyone could hear, was a rather lovely way of sharing the culture and elegance that was clearly inside them, without going to war over it. They found space to express themselves without having to fight for it. The dynamic of their dance meant that they were undeniably who they were in a large crowd of people from every nation on earth.

Clichéd, yes. Sentimental, a little. Romantic, undoubtedly. But then, whatever happens to the constitution or the euro we're all Europeans now. And this is Paris.