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How a Paris Mime Made Me See Things Differently

by Meredith Mullins on October 18, 2012

eyes of Paris mime seeing things  differently

Eyes of a Paris mime
© Meredith Mullins

Street Sweeper or Zen Master?

Street Sweeper. Silent Statue. Performance Artist. Zen Master. The character poised on the Pont St Louis (a “bridge with a view” across the Seine in Paris) could be any or all of these. He stands suspended in mid-sweep, as the flowing crowd passes around him.

Some bridgegoers glance at the silver sweeper and smile at the surprising oddity of it all. Some stop for a moment and stare, waiting for a sign that he is real, a twitch of his little finger or a silver blink. Yet, he remains frozen in time.

Paris Mime as Silent Statue

Every day, Robert Gheorghe comes to work. He’s a normal guy. A Romanian in Paris, trying to make a living, just like most people. For his job, though, he stops in the park behind Notre Dame, changes to his “work” clothes, covers himself in silver paint, and strikes a pose on the bridge. He doesn’t move. In fact, he can stand perfectly still for 40 minutes.

Paris mime sweeping street, causing the writer to see things differently

Paris mime in street-sweeping position
© Meredith Mullins

There are certain skills required for the art of being still.

  • Stage actors use shallow breathing and meditation techniques.
  • Buddhists use mantras and focused concentration on the now, finding peace beneath the clutter.
  • Martial arts practitioners use kamae (postures) to control their entire body (including mental “posture”) where countervailing forces help the body to stay still.


Things to Do While Frozen

Robert uses his own form of kamae.

  • He thinks of gentle lapping water or cello music . . . or he passes the time by watching people’s shoes (all so different!) in his limited range of vision.
  • He also creates featurette films on the gray pavement within his gaze.
  • He replays memorable conversations, practices one of his five languages in his head, dreams of traveling to other countries, or imagines himself with his older brother’s job (at the other end of the bridge) blowing giant bubbles and entertaining children.

He longs for a time when he is not in a frozen state. “A statue can’t communicate,” he says. “I want to get to know the people passing by, but I must remain still . . . and silent.”

Oh, I See—Things Are More Than What They Seem

Diving into deeper layers and going beyond an immediate response can almost always give you an Oh, I see moment. I had one the day I looked at Robert and realized  that things are more than what they seem.

Head of Paris mime who made the writer see things differently

Head of a Paris mime
© Meredith Mullins

As I walked across the bridge most days, I saw Robert as a curious “statue” with an amazing command of inner and outer silence.

But, one day, after talking with this silver sweeper, I learned that he sees himself differently, and I began to see him differently, too.

He may be the only thing on the bridge that doesn’t move, but he is not a statue . . . and he really doesn’t want to be silent.

He wants to get to know the people who are wondering about him . . .  and marveling at his performance. He wants to see beyond the shoes.

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One thought on “How a Paris Mime Made Me See Things Differently

  1. I often pass street performers in a frozen stance but never stopped to realize how much movement there is beneath the stillness. Thank you.

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