Headshot of an artist with their head slightly tilted looking at camera. Dark purple cloudy background with pink and green lights shining on the artist’s face.

Blak Bloggers: A Fleeting Moment in Paris

By Nathalie McLean © | Gubbi Gubbi/Wakka Wakka 

Nathalie was a saltwater-desert woman from Queensland who belonged to the Gubbi Gubbi and Wakka Wakka nations of the East coast and the Kullali nation of southwest Queensland. She had spent eight years on the lands of the Kulin nations living and working. During this time she finished an arts degree, became an actress and reconnected with her traditional languages. These were among many life-changing moments for her, but there was one recent experience she’d never forget. She travelled to the other side of the world for her 30th birthday, during a pandemic.

It happened to be her first-ever solo trip. She’d had itchy jinang (feet) for travel for the longest time and a love affair with all things Parisienne since she learnt as a child her first name was actually French spelling. So naturally, an artist residency at Château d’Orquevaux in Champagne was exactly where she wanted to spend her dream birthday. Disappointingly, she never made it to the Château. She only spent two nights in Paris before everything escalated. She had dreamed of walking through Monet’s garden since she was a little girl and the time had finally come to see it with her own eyes. Or so she thought.

Unknowingly, by the time she had arrived in Paris, the whole world had gone into disarray. A deadly virus had swept over the entire planet. When her plane landed in France, people were already discarding their travel plans and leaving their jobs behind for the safety of their homes. She made it to her hotel but only moments before the governments of the world began closing borders to stop the spread of the virus.

Everyone wore face masks and most people were ordered to stand metres apart. Paris was a ghost town. An eery feeling had swept over the city. Not a single restaurant was open, but she did manage to find a patisserie before everything went into lockdown. She began to feel sad that she hadn’t smelt the flowers in Monet’s garden or even seen the heights of the famous Eiffel Tower before she was forced to turn around and go home. Then a strange thing happened. On her way back to self-isolate at the hotel room, she stopped to catch her breath on a park bench. An elderly woman walked past, then stopped in her tracks to glance at a piece of paper on the ground. The woman turned and looked right into her eyes as if to say ‘look at this’ then walked away.

Intrigued, Nathalie stood up and walked over to it. A single page torn from a book lay patiently on the ground in front of her. As she peered closer she could see it was a copy of Carrières Saint-Denis 1872 by Claude Monet. One of her favourite artists. She picked up the torn page, carefully folded it
and placed it into her purse. It was a sign from the universe. She knew she’d be back to finish her journey just as soon as she knew what this new journey was all about. Everyone’s trajectories had been thrown off and the luckiest souls of Earth waited in line to board their emergency flights back
to their respective countries.

This article is part of Blak Bloggers, a pilot program as part of YIRRAMBOI’s Resilience in Isolation, supporting First Nations to keep creative during physical-distancing.

Image credit: Nathalie McLean. Photo by Global First Nations.