|French soldier from Indochina war, |
In my recollection, the first scene in the dream unfolds at a large airport, possibly Paris Charles de Gaulle. I recognize women I know in a line at a departure gate, but the line is moving fast and they are gone before I can greet them. I stop at a news stand to buy a French-language newspaper, and notice that instead of giving me change for 5 Euros, they hand me a little ticket that can be used in lieu of cash.
Now I am out and about in the streets of Paris in the morning light. I am free to explore without any fixed agenda. I come to a pleasant little square lined with bookshops and galleries, and am delighted that the doors are already open, with old books on display in carts on the sidewalk. I glance at a set of landscape paintings hanging from a metal fence. Someone behind me says, "Florida", but the pictures don't look much like Florida to me.
I walk on, eventually coming to a narrow street. The sign has three words; the middle one is "Coulisse". I wander down a passage in a building on this street. I am drawn to model cars and trains in a window display to my right. Through the shop window on my left, I see whole platoons of model soldiers in French uniforms, from different eras. I am less interested in the Napoleonic figures in their finery than in the Foreign Legionnaires, the World War II figures, and the figures from the wars in Indochina and Algeria. I wonder whether the shop has a model soldier from a regiment from northern France; a character I have been studying fought in this unit.
Suddenly I am inside the soldier shop, though I have no memory of going through the door. The owner is a strange character. He starts speaking to me in voluble French about a seminar - apparently a military history conference - that is taking place that day. Soon he is recounting his combat experiences in a French unit in Vietnam. I realize that he is talking about the French war in Indochina, and that there is an anomaly. The French left Indochina in 1954, while the owner of the soldier shop looks to be no older than 40.
He is rather hard to understand, even when he switches to speaking English. Now he is talking about how he lost an eye in the war, and how people looked upon him with revulsion when he came home. He shows me that his left eye is glass, and moves to roll it from its socket to show me how he cleans it. I don't need to see this, and want to leave.
But somehow, instead, I accept an invitation to a picnic, and in the next instant I am at a gathering under a tent with people of all ages, perhaps an extended family. They are eating thick sandwiches with great lumps of what might be chicken, oozing mayonnaise, that don't appeal to me. These people are all very careful not to expose themselves to direct sunlight. There is an elderly woman there I find creepy; she may be demented. I want to take pictures of her and the man with the glass eye, perhaps in order to identify them later, but this proves to be no easy task. When I think I have got them in focus, they slip into blurry profile, or out of the shot altogether. The little camera I am using spits out passport-sized photos, none of them satisfactory.
I woke from this dream feeling distinctly uneasy. The reality shifts inside the dream - when I slipped through the shop window, then when I was projected into the picnic scene - had taken me to places I really did not want to be.
My first action was to research the word-clue. The word "Coulisse" is most widely used, in French and among theater people in English, to mean "backstage" or "in the wings". The coulisse, in a theater, may be the space between stage scenery in the wings through which actors come and go. A coulisse may also be a "sliding door."
Certainly the dream street named Coulisse took me to a backstage version of Paris. Why was I drawn to this separate reality, which feels to me now like a possible realm of the dead? Well, I will be in Paris in May (and will carry my dream report as a travel advisory). And I have dreamed of old wars involving France and the French. Oh yes, I did have a passion for model soldiers and for playing "little wars" with them as a boy, and still have quite a collection, including a box of French Zouaves; and when I was last in Paris I visited a toy soldier shop, not the one in the dream but the famous Drapeaux de France, near the Louvre.