Copyright © 2004 by Martin S. Reff and Marcia Reff
All Rights Reserved
Last week we were invited to a holiday party at the D's. We met this couple last year. He is head of the ATT office here in Paris and she is a management consultant (I believe). She was a friend of Martin's cousin Bert which is why she looked us up. It was a very nice party, quite an interesting variety of people. One couple was from Baltimore, he taught at Johns Hopkins and has a temporary, two year assignment here with some international organization in the field of oceanography.
We are as usual keeping busy. Martin is heavily involved with the computer. He is becoming quite a computer programmer. In addition to working through all the exercises in his Basic language manual, he is developing a computer game of "Craps". He has completed the main game but is now working on the animation involved with the dice. I haven't seen him this intellectually stimulated and therefore happy for years. But he does manage to drag himself away from the Mac once in awhile. We have enjoyed two bridge evenings with Bill and Laura from Michigan who are in the port for the winter. Bill likes everyone to keep their marine radios turned on so people can communicate from one end of the marina to the other. So now we have a large open party line. It is convenient for those without regular phones, but I find it a little embarrassing listening in to other people's conversation.
Yesterday we were hailed by Richard C. who has a regular telephone but for fun decided to use the marine one. He wanted to inform us that Julie's mother was visiting from the states and that she was a bridge fanatic if we were looking for a fourth. We mentioned that Bill and Laura played and also another couple, then Laura came on the air and I switched subjects and I told her we had borrowed a book about the operas for her. I definitely prefer the privacy of the telephone lines.
I called Julie and Richard today and invited the three of them over for dinner for Sunday night since I assume that their call indicated that they would like us to meet her mother. Her mother is a French teacher in St. Louis and she is on her Christmas break. I imagine that she will really be too busy to want to play bridge. There are French plays and movies to see in addition to the museums and exhibitions and when I spoke to Julie today she said that her mother has gone through the papers and magazines and made quite a little list.
Naturally Martin and I went to the Paris Boat Show. It was our fifth consecutive yearly visit! Nothing very new to see but we got free tickets from the marina office so it didn't matter. So many American boats - with the exchange rate so favorable to the French perhaps some were actually sold. Then we've gone to various museums, the Orangery near the Louvre and the old French colonial museum which is now the museum of African and Oceania Arts. We saw, in addition to the regular exhibit, a very interesting art exhibit featuring an artist from Zaire. There is a large aquarium in the basement which I enjoyed. On Christmas day we went up to Montmartre with Laura and Bill and wandered around. We rode the new funicular up the hill in front of Sacré Coeur and afterwards watched the artists in the square.
Tuesday, Jan. 7th. Our dinner party for Richard and Julie and her mother was quite successful. I made fettuccini with fruits de mer . I bought a liter of tiny clams, 3 liters of mussels, 300 grams of shrimp and 200 grams of tiny squid. The shellfish were brushed, soaked for two hours, and then steamed for three or four minutes until the shells opened and I could remove them and discard the shells. I cleaned the squid, cut it up, sautéed it, and then simmered it in some of the cooking liquid from the shellfish. The shrimp were already cooked so they just had to be shelled. The liquid that came out of the shellfish was boiled down and filtered. Then when we were ready to eat, I boiled some water and cooked the fettuccini and heated up all the fish with some garlic and some of the cooking liquid. The noodles were drained and put back into the cooking pot on top of a low flame. I added a few tablespoons of butter, a lot of grated cheese then after that was mixed, a container of cream. (This is sold sterilized here, like most of the milk, rather than fresh. What the French call "fresh cream" is more like our sour cream.) Then the pot of seafood was mixed in. The results were delicious. Martin made garlic bread and we also had a mixed salad. Julie's mother was very nice. As a young girl she and a girl friend had gone to Quebec to take their junior year abroad in French.
Since the fall we have made a number of improvements, changes, or additions to the boat. We bought an electric broiler and Martin made and installed a shelf above the fridge for it - very neat and convenient. Then he removed and threw away our old dinette table, bought a nice piece of wood slightly bigger than the original table and stained and finished it. Since this table is pretty we don't have to keep it covered with an oil cloth. He bought a second piece of wood and made an extension for the new table. Again this is bigger than the extension that he made for the original table so we can now seat seven for dinner - and did one night. During a short cold spell we discovered a second use for this extension. When it is very cold we close off the wheelhouse at night and then in the morning stay in the forward cabin which is heated by the diesel and a large oil-filled radiator. This was fine when we had our breakfast nook table free, but now this table has become our computer work area. So now Martin has set up a means of connecting the table extension to the bookcase so we have another breakfast table or work table downstairs.
Yesterday (Jan. 7) we went to the American Consulate to a meeting on US and French Estate Tax laws. It was an interesting meeting and we learned a number of things. One was that if you live in France, say with a Carte Sejour as we do, for 5 out of seven years and then you die, the French will try to apply their laws. These things are important to know because we have a bank account here and the boat. There were 3 speakers and they covered quite a bit in the two hours. Since many of the people attending had French spouses and this causes all kinds of tax and inheritance wrinkles, a good portion of the time was devoted to this subject.
The meeting was held upstairs in a small ballroom. This is the building that we visit every year when we need papers notarized or tax or social security information. It is an old French mansion, the Hotel Talleyrand - he died there; the section that we usually see is just modern offices, but there is a lovely marble staircase with elaborately decorated ceilings and walls at the entrance and this time we went up stairs into the old rooms. Martin had been upstairs before to go to the Consulate library but I had never been in that section of the building. The room we were in overlooks the Place de la Concorde right at the corner of the Tuilleries Gardens that run from the Louvre to Place de la Concorde. Next door is the Hôtel de la Marine and then the Hotel Crillon and then the American Embassy all facing the Place and the Obelisk. A long table was set up with cups for tea and coffee and large trays of brownies; I wrapped one in a cocktail napkin stamped with the American Embassy seal and slipped it into my pocketbook for dessert - no sense letting all those goodies go to waste. They had hundreds of cups set up, but there were only about 40 people at the meeting.
When I use the word "hotel" it doesn't necessary mean a hotel in the American sense. The French use the word to mean either a hotel in the American sense or a large mansion.
We never got to see the Magic Flute at the opera house. The French had a general theater strike on the night of our performance but we did get our money back. Next week we have tickets for a concert. Hopefully we will get to hear that.
Our trip to the Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte with the couple from Annapolis was very pleasant. This estate has a fascinating history.
Nicolas Fouquet had become Superintendent of Finance under Mazarin. He decided to build a suitable house on some property that he owned. He had three villages demolished and he hired 18,000 workers who worked for five years to build the house and gardens. Then he invited the King, a young King Louis XIV, to dinner. The King's table was set with plates of solid gold. Since the King had just had to melt down his own silverware to help pay the debts for the Thirty Year's War, this little detail bothered him. After the dinner there was entertainment - 1,200 fountains bubbling away in the gardens, ballets, concerts, a play by Mollière - just your everyday little after dinner diversion. Nineteen days later Fouquet was arrested. There was a three year trial, but the judges only voted for banishment which didn't satisfy the King who had him imprisoned for life. But more importantly, the King then hired Fouquet's architect, decorator, landscape gardener and major-domo and they eventually created Versailles for him.
Vaux-le Vicomte is owned by a private family, but they now have it opened to the public. It is lovely and there are no crowds. We practically had the place to ourselves. We arrived in a dense fog but eventually the fog lifted so we could at least get an idea of the gardens. It was winter so there weren't any flowers in the beds, but you could at least imagine how it looks in the spring. There are huge stables that house a carriage collection and a nice little restaurant. The estate can be rented for grand parties. It was rented in November by the Dior perfume company to launch their newest scent and the party with all the stars and society people got a lot of coverage in the French papers. They forgot to invite us but that is just as well. I would have to have bought a new dress and my closet is too full now.
We just came home from a concert at the Opera House. A quartet then a quintet played Brahms. This was our first experience in the amphitheater and it will not be repeated. The theater looks like half a basketball court in the basement of a new modern high school. The audience sat around the semicircle on cushioned stone benches (no backs), and this for 90 FF (almost 20$). The only thing that was missing was the basket. Brahms lost and the home team won. Frankly Brahms didn't have a chance.
We always change our shoes when we come into the boat, and we didn't learn it from our Japanese friends. We started to do it from the beginning and kept on with it. In fact most boaters do the same. I've often thought of how foolish we were back home in not doing what the Japanese do. We walk all over the place, on everything, and then bring it all home. (Wiping our shoes on a dirty mat doesn't seem sensible now.)
Yesterday we visited the Embassy to find out about Medicare. Had a good lunch out - almost like dinner - and then played bridge with another couple in the evening. In between and up to this moment I've been reworking a computer program that I wrote that would give me some information about stocks and bonds. What complicated the whole thing was that I wanted to print out hard copy which I'm just learning to do. The output part of the program needed redoing and after having done it I realized I may not want hard copy all of the time so I decided to put inquiries in so that I could decide if I wanted hard copy or not.
Personal Habits: We shower here much more quickly than we ever did at home. Not only are we used to saving water when we're cruising, but in the back of our mind there is always the possibility of the hot water heater turning off (which it used to do irregularly before a mechanic came over with brush and cleaned it) or the possibility of the propane expiring. Besides, there is no place to hook the shower handle. One must hold it, turning it on and off with hand pressure.... I wash hands more often here in Paris because you're constantly shaking hands with people you meet. It's ALWAYS a handshake, even if you walk into your favorite restaurant.
We sometimes get bored with our clothing. Our limited wardrobe encourages us to wear the same things over and over again. The year before last I reacted violently to my blue shirts and charged to a nearby store to purchase a red, white, and blue striped shirt. Wow! Of the two of us Marcia has a more sophisticated wardrobe, which is as it should be
We shower a lot and wonder why so many of the French have b.o. On their bodies they tend to overcompensate for the cold and they keep their heavy clothing on indoors. On their heads; they wear nothing. Only one in 20 wears a hat even in the most bitter cold/rain. You could warm all of Dallas with the heat escaping from the tops of the heads of Frenchmen.
Getting back to Bill and Laura, when I wanted to invite them over, I called on our open marine radio line to see if they were home, but since I didn't want to issue a dinner invitation to them with all the other Americans listening, I just asked if I could come over for a short visit. Bill answered and said of course. What I didn't know was that Laura wasn't at home; she was visiting one of the other American couples but she heard the message on their radio and came back to see what was up. Bill and Laura have a pet parrot and they frequently leave the door to his cage open so he can wander around at will. Since the parrot likes to sit on Laura's shoulder she usually wears very old shirts around the boat or slips an old tee-shirt over what ever she has on. We were sitting there talking when suddenly Bill took a good look at the shirt she was wearing and had been wearing when she had gone out visiting. It must have been a twenty year old sweat shirt with holes everywhere and lots of ripped seams. I hadn't noticed, but he got embarrassed and asked her why she was wearing it and then turned to me to say that she had a closet full of clothes and he wasn't a penny pincher. Luckily Laura is quite self assured and wasn't the least bit disturbed by her outfit or her husband's criticism. I mention this incident because when Laura and Bill came to dinner on our boat with Simone, Bill wore a knit shirt which had a small but very noticeable rip on the front. I had always thought having a cat was rough on clothes, but a parrot's claws and beak are just as damaging as a cat's claws, perhaps even more so.
(Martin's comment: The bird is filthy - urinates and defecates wherever it please. The bird is vicious: it bites fingers, cheeks, and loves earlobes. But it's their "son" so why should I complain.)
We enjoy our free concerts. We went late to one of the churches and stood for two beautiful Mozart masses performed with a choir and a 5 piece orchestra, but the music was so lovely that we didn't mind standing at all. On another Sunday afternoon we heard Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed by a large string orchestra. For this concert we got there a half hour early and stood on line outside the church until the doors opened, so we had seats. We also went to a marvelous free piano recital at one of the branches of FNAC, a huge French record, book and camera store. This store is always having free recitals to publicize new artists or new recordings, unfortunately we get lazy or involved in other pursuits (shopping, cooking, eating, sleeping, reading, computer programing, knitting, learning French) and we forget to check what is going on. This particular pianist was a Chinese American, Frédéric Chiu, who had gone to Julliard and was now studying in Paris. He was giving a recital in one of the large Parisian theaters the following week and used this free concert as his dress rehearsal, so we heard a complete full length program!
Naturally we have been visiting various museums, the Louvre, the d'Orsay. We even visited the Legion of Honor Museum which is filled with hundreds of medals and ribbons and where Martin made a major discovery about the limited number of shapes that such awards have. I believe that he might even write an article on his world shaking observations.
We've been going to the British Library on Monday nights and seeing some old British films, some good and some boring. Another American couple, Nancy and Keith, have been going with us and then afterwards we have been going out to dinner together. Nancy is taking a beginning French course and has just joined a French/English woman's conversation exchange group. This past Tuesday I went.
Each week the group meets in a different member's apartment and they speak for one hour in English and one hour in French. I could follow the general thread of the French conversation and since I was new I was called on to tell something about myself which somehow or other I managed to stumble through. Another American member assured me that it got easier as the week's went on. I only hope she is right. There were two new people there on Tuesday, myself and a girl from Australia. Her husband is going to work in France for three years. She had studied French in college and although she spoke very slowly, she seemed to be managing quite well.
So that's the latest news from Lake Woebegone. which is our Canal de St. Martin. Paris is trying to shake off winter. There are a few crocuses popping up on the marina's lawn, and the daffodil stalks are up. I am looking forward to the mountain laurel, azaleas and rhododendron which should be in bloom by April.
Paris in March is like Paris in May. It's spring. The flowers are blooming and even the roses, that were cut back earlier, are looking to make a comeback.
As usual, we've been busy. Have visited the Louvre a few times recently and then found an interesting Oriental museum near Etoile. Marcia now has a conversation group where a number of French ladies want to learn English and a number of English speaking people want to learn French. A member of the group had lunch here the other day and Marcia visited her today.
It seems we've have seen more movies this year than last. First, we saw a series at the English Council theatre. These films were old, black and white, and not very good. Recently, we've seen "The Prince of Tides" which we both liked; "For the Boys" with Bette Midler, which we also liked; "Silence of the Lambs" which we did not like; "Shadows and Fog" with Woody Allen, for which we had mixed feelings.
We've made arrangements to have the boat hauled for bottom painting, etc. on the 1st of June. I do not know how long it will take, but afterward we will probably take a trip with the boat on the Marne, going East.
The Americans here are going in every direction. Two couples are going south toward the Med. And the others have mixed or unknown destinations. One couple (the man made a single handed crossing of the Atlantic last year) are headed for the Baltic and Russia. They used our telephone to call Moscow. Another couple - they're in their seventies - may quit. The woman has serious health problems. They've come from the U.S. via the Pacific, which they crossed. They have a lot of stories to tell and live odd lives here in Paris. Their boat is covered over with blue canvas so that their boat is always dark inside. And the place is a mess.....both inside and out.
Well we had some spectacular February/March weather here in Paris. I am always amazed by these fantastic early springs. We must have turned off our diesel heater for almost two weeks, although we did use the electric heaters during the mornings and evenings. All the daffodils are in full bloom, the forsythia is bright yellow, and we have a lovely pink crab apple tree blooming in the garden. But then the temperature dropped back down to normal so Martin cleaned out the diesel and relighted it. Cleaning the diesel is definitely not his favorite past-time!
With rain and wind this week we lost our beautiful weeping willow tree. It just toppled over. Living in a city park, though, has its advantages. It won't be long before the tree is replaced, but will they have another willow tree? I was very fond of that tree. Last year when we were on the canals, Martin saw two young lovers sitting on a bench under a weeping willow. The branches were so long that the couple was almost completely hidden. He took a photograph and unexpectedly caught a rainbow that ended just behind their bench. The photograph is beautiful, but you have to look carefully to see the lovers instead of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The big Toulouse Lautrec art exhibit sponsored by the Louvre but held in the Grand Palais opened in February and because we are members of the Friends of the Louvre Society we received invitations to the opening; unfortunately so did everyone else. There are four classes of membership in this society. The millionaire class, the high society class, the upper middle class, and the hoi polloi class. Naturally Martin and I subscribed to the "UMC" group in order to get the benefit of these special opening day invitations. A separate free day to other museums and special exhibits are frequently provided to the general membership, but the openings are, or at least we thought they were, limited.
We arrived at 10:30 to discover a mob of people all waving invitations and an enormous line. We scouted around and decided to come back another day.
Martin and I actually had a very nice day on that occasion, after we recovered from our initial anger and disgust. First we had walked down the street to one of the English book stores and browsed and then we had continued our walk and visited one of the sculpture areas in the Louvre - where Martin found all sorts of lovely things that he wanted to take pictures of, but naturally he did not have his camera with him. (Since then we have been back and photographed a few of these pieces.) Then of course we went out to a late lunch, so it turned out to be a great day.
The Louvre is in the midst of an enormous building program. One long wing is being gutted and rebuilt after the expulsion of the Finance Ministry offices while the entire facade of the Louvre is being cleaned and the stone work and statues are being repaired or entirely reconstructed. One day the Louvre held an unusual "open house". The scaffolding for this work on the facade was open to the public and you were invited to come and see the stone carvers at work. You would be able to walk on the scaffolding and get a once in a lifetime chance to see the statues and carving up close. In the evening there would be lights and an information program and a large crane would be lifting some new statues into place. Because we were expecting company I knew I would never make the evening program, but I definitely wanted to get there during the afternoon.
We waited a week and then just went over to the Lautrec art exhibit during one of those slow periods and walked right in. No line at all! It was probably less crowded than if we had gone during a reservation period. Well anyway the exhibit is very large and most enjoyable.
Outside the entrance to this section of the Grand Palais they had set up a huge white tepee to house an extra book store, boutique and café. We were particularly interested in this tepee because it was constructed around a large fountain decorated with charming figures of nymphs, children, fish and related things. (Martin has been wandering around town photographing statues like this - anything nice that includes a child - and these were some of the first that he did and still among our favorites.) So we were curious about what they did with this large fountain. Actually they handled the problem fairly well. The pool part of the fountain was floored over and some objects were decorating this flooring (objects having absolutely no relationship to the Toulouse-Lautrec or to the fountain sculpture - I seem to remember a fancy baby carriage filled with flowers and an antique organ grinder, strange but acceptable.) and then the figures decorating the round edge of the pool were all visible. The shopping area of the tent was located beyond the fountain and the café was on a second level around the circumference of the tent and overlooking the fountain.
On Sunday we went to the National Library to see their exhibit of Lautrec's prints and graphics, again most enjoyable. The National Library has much more than books. It has art, chess pieces, medals, coins, etc. and puts on regular exhibits just like the museums. Their exhibit was well laid out and included some recorded music of the cabaret songs of the period which provided a certain Parisian atmosphere. There was also a printing exhibit manned by some representatives of various printing firms who were explaining and demonstrating the lithographing process. I wish my French had been good enough to understand more of this, but I could get the general idea. Many of the pictures on display were Lautrec's proofs of each stage of the process so you could see the change in the picture as each new color was added.
Back on the boat things began to get very busy. First an Englishman stopped by with a box of chocolates. At sometime during the winter his boat had been behind ours and we must have been helpful. For some reason he was back in Paris. We were nice and talked to him, but out on the dock. Then some boaters walked by that we hadn't seen for a year. Again we talked, but on the dock. I felt bad about not inviting them in, but not too. They had been in town for two days and could have contacted us before, besides they were also in a rush. Eventually I was able to hurry off to the Louvre, enjoy my dusty stroll around the scaffolding, admire the carvings and the skill of the workers and still get back in time for our evening visitors.
I've made some new friends through the French/English conversation group that I joined. So far I've attended four meetings; no meetings were held during the two week school vacation period. The women take turns hosting the meetings and supplying tea, coffee and cookies. This is a group of woman that all live outside the city limits of Paris, but most of them live within the area served by the metro so you don't really realize that the area is not Paris. Neuilly is an area just beyond the Arc de Triomphe and before the Seine. It is on the other end of "our" metro line, line number one, Neuilly to Chateau Vincennes, so it is quite simple to reach. On the other side of the Seine is La Defense, the new, modernistic, skyscraper area of "Paris" where the newest Parisian "monument", La Grande Arch, is located.
Paris has many good addresses and Neuilly is definitely one of them. I've visited some lovely apartments even if I haven't made any noticeable improvement in my French. Well April 7th will be my turn to host the group. I told the leader that we would have to split up into two groups. I can fit 6 to 7 in the wheelhouse and 6-7 in the saloon. It will be quite a change from their usual meeting places, but I think everyone is looking forward to it.
So far the woman that I've gotten closest to is an American, at least for the past 28 years. She and her husband, who were born in England, went to the US just after their marriage for a temporary assignment which became permanent. Now his firm has him in France working with a French/American consortium making aircraft engines. Although I haven't met him, Judy says that he is completely bilingual. She's taken intensive lessons and joined two of these conversation groups and is now quite fluent. Anyway she is a lovely woman and I've invited her over here and visited her in her Neuilly apartment. When she came over here we took a walk through the Marais and went to a museum together. When I went over there we walked down to the Seine and looked at the houseboats (a busman's holiday), and then looked at the park on the Island of Jatte (the one painted by Seurat in "Sunday in the Park". It no longer looks like it did in the picture of course, but there are lots of tennis courts. In Seurat's time Parisians went to the island to enjoy the water and the summer breezes. Judy says most of the island is now old warehouses, but these will probably be torn down and new housing built. Certainly the location is too lovely to be wasted, and with La Defense just a walk away, very valuable. We walked over the bridge to the underground shopping center where she did some shopping and then caught a bus back. In about two months the new metro extension under the Seine will open, but now you either walk or take the bus.
Just the week before, Martin and I walked across the bridge to visit La Defense and we took the exterior scenic elevators up to the roof of the Grand Arch. I believe I described this building before, but in case I didn't, it is a huge, open cube. The two sides contain offices. The open area is big enough to contain Notre Dame. It is built on a line with the Arc de Triomphe, the Egyptian obelisk on the Place de la Concorde, and the Louvre. On a clear day the view from the roof is very impressive, but since it is so far out of town the views from Sacré Coeur or the Arc de Triomphe are better,
On the 18th I went with my friend Simone and a woman's club to which she belongs to visit the French national Senate in the Luxembourg Palace which is only a few blocks from Simone's apartment. This was the palace constructed by Marie de Medici, the widow of Henry IV and the mother of Louis XIII, although she only lived in it for five years before Richelieu and her son threw her out of the country as an undesirable foreign troublemaker. The palace is not open to the general public except for arranged and supervised tours. The building is very handsome and extremely luxurious inside. We visited the Medici room which is still panelled and painted as it was when the Queen Mother lived in it, the Senate chamber, a huge semi-circular richly decorated room, the library, various smaller rooms and the huge Senator's "saloon". The ceilings of these rooms are richly painted and decorated, the walls hung with tapestries and paintings by famous artists(Delacroix, etc.). The 24 enormous paintings that the Queen paid Reubens to paint in a supreme act of self-glorification were removed and are now hanging in the Louvre. (The French are still stuck with them and are constructing a special room in the new wing of the Louvre to display them although their present location seems quite adequate.) It was a marvelous tour through a Versailles-like wonderland.
After the tour we went out with some members of the group for a lunch at The Procope, which bills itself as the oldest café in Paris (1686). The lunch was average but the company was great. Then after that Simone and I continued to wander around ending up at Notre Dame where we spent a couple of hours looking at the paintings and carvings. Her knowledge is so encyclopedic that going out with her is equivalent to having the best private art tour that money can buy.
I am having a hard time concentrating. It is a beautiful day and we are in the midst of a Parisian student demonstration, one of the huge and noisy ones. They are parading down the street above the marina with loud speakers and chants. They will all have laryngitis tomorrow and the teachers will love it, but right now they are in full cry protesting living in a wealthy country that provides free education through university level.
The week before the beginning of Lent I was sitting in the métro when I got sprayed by a can of shaving cream. Since school was closed on Mardi Gras for spring vacation, the egg, flour throwing and other related pranks were taking place a week early. I was sitting near two young English speaking girls who were students in a French school so I got a full education on how French kids celebrate the beginning of Lent. I can assure you that religion has nothing to do with it.
Things have been happening to us that have been new. We've been showing the boat to prospective buyers. Yes, after almost five years aboard Opperdan we have put it up for sale. We have enjoyed her and certainly we've enjoyed our stay right here in the center of Paris. On the other hand, boating on the canals is not as attractive as it once was. Both of us have been more troubled by sinusitis this winter more than before (and it has been mild) and we both want a change of scene. Finally, the time is right now...before a haul out might discover major repairs to meet new French standards.
We signed a three month contract with the broker here at the marina. So now we will just have to wait and see if anyone is interested. Rental and purchase prices for apartments in Paris are very high so someone may be interested in the boat as a liveaboard and the rent is paid for the year. Looking forward to getting the Naples real estate pages from you.
We do not yet know what we will be doing if we do sell the boat. We want to go south and so we've thought of places in the sun - southern Italy, Spain, the Baleric Islands, St Croix, Martinique/Guadeloupe, and even Florida. We don't want to learn another language so Italy and Spain are probably out. St Croix sounds nice but the racial situation is not wholesome. Martinique is attractive but we've never been there; the language there is French. And then there's Florida. Michael sent us some information about housing.
If we came back to the states we would probably either go caravaning with a trailer or go boating on the Tennessee Valley waterway.
Right now though everything is indefinite. First we need to find a buyer and that might be difficult because France, like the US is somewhat unhealthy economically and it might take some time to sell the boat. We shall see. Naturally, when we know our plans we will share them with you but right now, we know nothing more than what we've written.
Life here is continuing its normal, busy path with various comings and goings, a scattering of strikes to add spice to our life, a little music, a little art, a little work and lots of good food.
Spring, and especially the monthly and daily marina rental price increase for transient boats have chased the American boats out of the harbor. Our separations from our friends are not so permanent, but still sad. They all enjoyed Paris, but wanted to get on their way to their various destinations. Keith and Nancy were planning the longest trip. They are traveling east through France to Germany and then to the Baltic and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and then to St. Petersburg. They had received all their Visas except the Russian one, which we picked up for them and mailed to Berlin where they can pick them up on their way. The Russian one was the most complicated. The Russians were a little disconcerted by this request from two Americans for permission to sail into their harbors. I gather that there are only one or two harbors that far north and they are military ones. But if there is a storm, a small boat has to take refuge so Keith had to request permission to land in their major Naval Base in addition to St. Petersburg. Besides the Russians want tourists to spend hard currency in the tourist hotels, not to live aboard boats in their harbors.
I was doing the laundry at the laundromat one day in March and met an American woman who teaches French at Indiana State in PA. She was in Paris for a two week visit, the first week alone but during the second week she was to be joined by her five year old son and her husband. We liked each other immediately and decided to take an excursion together. We took the train and went to St. Germain-en-Laye to visit the chateau and town. This castle is now a museum of prehistory, but during the time of Louis XIV it was home to the deposed Catholic King James II of England and at the time of our visit the museum housed a special exhibit about the English court's stay. After Anita's family joined her we had them over for dinner and then one night we went to a restaurant together. They were a most delightful and interesting family whom I hope to see again,
I've been attending regularly the French/English conversation group that I joined in the spring, although now that we have decided to sell the boat I haven't been studying everyday; somehow I've lost the motivation even though I did enjoy trying to learn the language. The group meetings have been fun and very challenging. On April 8th, they met here under very unusual circumstances.
I had given all the women who had attended the previous two meetings of the conversation group Martin's Visiting Cards with the map on the back showing the slip number and our location at the marina, but had not anticipated how difficult it would be for them to reach the marina. Eventually about ten or eleven woman arrived and some sat downstairs in the salon and some upstairs in the wheelhouse.
The hostess always serves tea and coffee in beautiful china, but on the boat they had to accept throw away cups and plastic spoons. I am afraid my cupboard does not include a set of twelve cups and spoons. In fact I had to borrow a coffee pot since Martin's two cup coffee brewer was just not going to make it. Nevertheless everyone seemed to get a kick out of the change of scene and all the activity provided plenty of topics for conversation.
Around 3:00 I received a call from the chauffeur of one of the woman saying they were up at the Marina Office and wanted to know where we were (she had not attended the last two meetings). He was concerned about the distance that his employer would have to walk and I was completely confused by the entire conversation and thought perhaps she was an older woman. Because of the student demonstration most of the roads near the marina were blocked off and they must have been driving around for a half an hour trying to reach us. I walked down the dock to meet them and found her with her chauffeur and what I assume was her body guard. She is a very pleasant American citizen who was born in the Philippines. I had made chocolate chip cookies and she asked if she could take some home to her son who missed this taste of America!
Martin had gone out for the afternoon and had his own adventures trying to get around the city as the students paraded around town disrupting traffic and bus routes. He went to the American Library and while there made a copy of our American tax forms and then took a bus to the American Services Offices near the Embassy, but after getting through all the security checks, he discovered that he had left the originals in the copy machine in the library and had to go all the way back for them! By that time he had had enough and decided to just come home and try to file our returns on another day.
The outdoor broadcast of the opera featuring the singing of Pavarotti was a great success. He had agreed to sing in five of the ten productions of The Masked Ball given this season and the demand for tickets was far beyond the seating capacity of the opera house. Then he and two of the other stars called in sick for the second or third production which did go on after a frantic search for last minute replacements. Of course this did not really satisfy the audience who felt quite cheated. Then someone came up with the brilliant idea of setting up the city's gigantic TV screens and sound equipment in front of the opera house and inviting everyone to come and listen to one of the next performances. This idea spread and I believe the production was seen in two other cities on that same night.
Martin and I took our deck chairs up to the circle and tried to watch in a civilized manner, but the crowd just kept growing and growing until it was impossible to see the screen. We stayed for the first two acts and then decided to go back to the boat for dinner. If it were a little warmer and we had kept the windows open we could have heard the rest of the concert, but we didn't bother. The singing that we did hear and see had been quite magnificent so we stopped while we were ahead.
Simone invited us over to her house for a "luncheon". Her children, Olivia and Clement, were home for vacation and she also invited an American couple who were in town for a visit. She had met the woman years ago in Paris through the Bryn Mawr alumnae organization when the woman's husband was over here as head of the Corning Glass Company.
A few days later a visiting cousin treated us to a dinner at the Train Bleu. This is a hundred year old restaurant, practically a national monument, located in the railroad station down the block from the marina. The walls and ceilings are painted and gilded as if it were a castle. I've been thinking about going to this restaurant ever since we came to Paris, but we had just never gotten around to it. When Paula was in Paris I took her on a tour of the railroad station and she got a little glimpse of the restaurant. She said I was the only tour guide in Paris that would take someone to see the railroad, but then since our father worked for the railroad I think we both find it exciting. Well look what Paris did to the old Gare d'Orsay!
Oh, I just remembered. After we visited the Louvre the other day we were walking down Rue de Rivoli to go to our favorite Armenian-Greek-Italian restaurant and stopped to watch a huge crane lift a crated Persian stone "horse-King" up and into one of the open windows of the wing of the Louvre that is being refurbished. They had a large crew with plenty of supervisors, plus firemen standing by in case there was an emergency and policemen to stop the traffic when the crane swung around. Everything went smoothly and professionally and it was exciting to watch this Persian version of the Sphinx starting on its way to its new home. The new wing is going to house most of the big pieces in the Louvre so there is going to be many such moves which will have to be done before the windows are put in.
One day we took an all day boat trip on the narrowest canal in France. Our boat is too high to get under the bridges and we need deeper water, but there is a nice tourist boat that makes the trip. The boat makes a one way trip once a day. On the day we went the boat was out in the country, so a bus took us for a 45 minute ride to where the boat was moored. The boat stopped in a small town where we had our choice of restaurants for lunch and then had time to wander around and stretch our legs. Most of the trip is through very rural country, a little boring when you are not running the boat yourself, but pretty. Then when we reached the outskirts of the city there was more to see. This canal connects directly to the one we are on and provides the water used to water the city parks and clean the streets.
Some where along the way we managed to treat the rust spots on the deck and paint the deck with fresh blue paint. Martin repainted the bathroom and I washed down the walls and together we have gotten the boat in good looking shape. A number of people have come by to see the boat and we may have some serious interest in it. We will see what develops. There are a lot of boats for sale and many that have been on the market for much too long.
About five English boats have arrived at the marina this past week. One is now directly in front of us and we loaned them our electric plug adapter. A huge power shovel is out in front of the boat on the garden lawn doing something - who knows what - perhaps something to do with the tunnel work. Friday is a holiday, May first and there will be a parade going by the Place and everyone will be out selling Lily of the Valleys. Tomorrow I am going with Simone to visit the Petit
Although we still don't know exactly when we are leaving, we are almost finished with our packing . We expect to settle on the boat before May 31st and want the movers to take our belongings and store them for a month or so until we are back in the states. We brought about 375 kilos with us and will probably be taking back the same number although not all the same things.
Our plan is to rent a car for 4 weeks and head toward southern France and northern Italy, visiting Italian fishing villages, Florence, Venice, the French Alps, perhaps Geneva. Whenever I think about "Plans" I remember a particular cartoon of two prisoners hanging from chains on a dungeon wall and one is saying to the other, "Now here's my plan." Right now we can't even reserve a car since we don't know when we have to vacate.
In the meantime we have cleaned out almost five year's accumulation of "stuff". You can't imagine how much we had managed to squirrel away. I had to go through all my tourist booklets and articles and eliminate all but what I considered the best. Martin went through his papers and threw away reams and reams. We sold 40 to 50 books to Shakespeare's, the English language second hand book store opposite Notre Dame. We took two enormous bags of winter clothes to the Red Cross. We cleaned and polished the bicycles and sold them practically instantly. And still we have a lot of "stuff", but now most of it is packed and I have decided I better take this opportunity to write before we have to pack the computer and printer.
Paris is absolutely beautiful right now; the spring flowers in all the gardens are in bloom and the trees are all green again. One day we took one of the métro lines to its last stop which is outside the actual boundaries for the city of Paris to visit the Albert Kahn Gardens. These gardens were begun by an extremely wealthy man but are now a public park run by one of the French Departments (like a county). I only heard about them last year; if the gardens were in Paris they would be world famous and too crowded so I am glad that so far they are not that well known. Our friend Julie who works for a French publishing company proofreading English translations of French books has recently finished a book on French gardens that included the Albert Kahn Garden. She said the photos were gorgeous, but she herself had never seen the actual gardens. We told her to take a day off and go. There are five or six different types of gardens, but the most spectacular was the Japanese one. I loved my Japanese garden in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and used to spend many hours there, but this is even better. (I wonder if the Brooklyn Gardens are as beautiful as they were. They are my best memory from my years in NY.)
The Kahn gardens are just across from St. Cloud so from there we walked across the St. Cloud bridge and through part of the park. At one time there was a beautiful château at St. Cloud, but it burned in the 1870 War/Revolution. Now only the park and the gardens are left: a Versailles without a castle. The view of Paris is great, the formal gardens are impressive and there are no crowds! I spoke to Simone about them. She had never gone there and she has lived in Paris all her life! We ate lunch outdoors at one of the restaurants that are scattered throughout the park and when it was time to go home we took a bus right from the St. Cloud bridge to the Hôtel de Ville. It is an extremely scenic ride, eventually following the river right past all the major tourist spots of Paris.
One evening we went to a concert at Sainte Chapelle, the exquisite church near Notre Dame with the famous stained glass windows. The concert was an unforgettable experience for both of us, a program of 15th and 16th century music performed by only two men (a third man was ill that evening) using instruments like the luth and one man's voice. The instrumental music was lovely, but the singer was remarkable. He had a fantastic voice that ranged three octaves. When he first began we thought he was singing along with a recording. He sounded like a choir of female singers. It was only after he had sung a number of little songs that we finally believed that all that music was coming only from him. His voice soared through the chapel reverberating from the arches and walls. The music transported you back through the centuries. And of course the setting couldn't have been better. Sainte Chapelle is like a jewel box. You are surrounded by these perfect windows and then all the walls are painted and decorated. Even the ceiling is painted dark blue and studded with gold stars. When we first arrived light was still coming in through the windows and I thought it wouldn't be as nice after the sun went down. But just before the performers began the lights were turned on in the altar area and it was just unbelievably beautiful. This group is called the Ars Antiqua de Paris just in case anyone every gets a chance to go to one of their concerts. They have toured in the USA.
I started this letter on May 21st and now it is May 30th. We are packed and ready but have still not settled on the boat. The waiting has been distracting but we have been trying to use our last few weeks in Paris to good advantage. One day I went to visit Versailles with Mary, an American woman who lives in the port. I had visited the main section of the castle but had never gone on any of the guided tours of the private royal apartments because the lines were always too long. Then this month I read that a new system had been instituted that allowed individuals to make reservations for the tours. The system worked fairly well. After only two false stops we found the right people to talk to and after only seeing three more people we had tickets for two afternoon guided tours in English! Of course we had both been to Versailles before and Mary is fairly good in French and I can muddle through. Pity the poor tourist. The system is a great improvement but ... Anyway we had two interesting tours: one of Louis the Fifteenth and Louis the Sixteenth's private palace areas and one of Marie Antoinette's area. These additions to Louis XIV's original castle were much simpler and smaller than the Sun King's grandiose rooms. Nearly all of the original castle furniture was looted or sold while metal objects like bathtubs were melted down to make guns and ammunition, but in the past 50 years great efforts have been made to find and buy back the furnishings. The guides said that many museums had various pieces and these were impossible to get back but the museum was always trying to get the private owners to donate their holdings. So, although most rooms in the castle are sparsely furnished, it is amazing how many lovely pieces are on view.
Martin and I took the train one day to visit Chantilly where there is a castle, a park, and a famous race track. We visited the art museum section of the castle but it started to rain after lunch and we had to miss visiting the gardens. Then we have been visiting The Louvre regularly. I am determined to make sure that I've seen every room at least once, but that is really impossible; there are always areas closed off either because of a shortage of guards or because of renovations. But in the last two weeks I have had a lot of fun exploring many of the odd nooks and crannies. The renovation work on the facade of the building facing the new pyramid is almost completed and the building looks so clean, white and impressive. The remodeling of the new wing is proceeding; I enjoy peaking in through the sidewalk supervisor's windows in order to watch the progress. It takes a week to explore The Louvre now because it is so immense. Imagine what it will be like in two years!
PS from Martin
While Marcia has been exploring the nooks of The Louvre I have had my share of fun at the d'Orsay, reexamining Picasso and Cezanne. I also took one last look at the Picasso museum.
Last night Marcia and I got all dressed up and went to Bofinger for a marvelous farewell to Paris dinner. It was a lovely dinner and evening and afterwards we bumped into a friend whom we hadn't seen for a number of years. Later I took a set of night photographs of the Place de la Bastille.
Today, the 31st, I have persuaded Marcia to come with me for a last visit to the Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Centre.
At this moment we will probably have our closing on the boat
either on Monday or Tuesday. In any event, we are printing this
letter so that we can pack the printer.
June 18, 1992, Avignon, France
We finally completed the sale of the boat (very advantageously) and left Paris on Monday, the 15th. Took autoroute south. Plan to spend a few days visiting Arles, Avignon, Nimes, etc. and then head toward Italy. Today we visited the Pope's Palace in Avignon, a huge fortress. Enjoyed the little park that you see above the bridge in the picture.
June 20, 1992, Arles, France
Postcard shows two Roman ruins: the round arena and a semi circle of stone seats that was a theater (le théâtre antique).
Arles is a nice size town. Very narrow streets and old buildings everywhere. We have a charming room in the center of town. Antique furniture, high beamed ceilings. Tomorrow is the night of the French music festival and it should be fun here. They are fixing the arena for a bull fight on July 5th. We watched the workmen unloading dirt to make a ramp for the horses, I think. Drove to a 4,000 slip marina in a brand new Florida style vacation area on the coast.
June 28, 1992, St. Margherita, Italy
Postcard is from Park Hotel Suisse and shows hotel and pool and the harbor filled with boats.
On the Portofino peninsula between Rapallo and Portofino.
We stayed in Monaco for 3 nights, went to the Casino, toured the Palace, and saw the "changing of the guard." Beautiful city and country. Spotless.... Italy is fabulous. The highway through the mountains was amazing: all tunnels and viaducts. The mountain lands is all terraced for farming, hundreds of greenhouses. Even the cemeteries are terraced! Staying three days in this hotel overlooking the bay. The mountains come right down to the water. Love, Marcia
July 3, 1992, Aix-les-Bains, France
Postcard shows the town on a large lake with mountains in the distance and a good size marina in the foreground.
We spent 2 days and 3 nights in Florence. Very interesting churches & beautiful art but decided Italy was not worth it. Prices are double French. We drove up the Po Valley to Turin and then back into the Alps. Beautiful ride to the Fréjus tunnel which is 8 miles long and crosses the border. Now in a lovely area at foot of the mountains. May visit Geneva. Flying to NYC on July 17th.
July 10, 1992, Beaune, France
Postcard shows the hospital built for the poor in 1443.
Beautiful hospital for the poor. Beaune is also famous for its wine. We toured some wine caves and the hospital and are on our way back to Paris. Arriving NY on July 17th and Naples on the 21st. We avoided the striking French truck driver's road blocks. Visited Geneva, Switzerland, but the weather has been rainy & overcast for the last week & Martin has a very bad cold. See you soon.
I feel like Alistair Cook who broadcasts a "Letter From America" on BBC once a week, commenting on the American way of life. Let's call my part of this effort "Letter to France".
After living in France almost five years, returning to the "States" has been an experience filled with feelings of joy, anger, pride, surprise, disappointment, frustration, happiness, ignorance, comfort, impatience, etc. And it continues. America is different and so am I, and the only thing that saves us both from a separation is that our bed is a large one.
I am happy to be back, albeit, perhaps, for only a few years. We can more often keep in touch and see our children and parents (mothers, both in their nineties) than we did in Europe. In Europe I began to miss that more and more. And I am happy to be back because of the conveniences of living in a modern apartment (although I'll address that subject later). And I am very happy to be back because I am essentially a very patriotic American, quite proud of my country and my fellow citizens. I do not find that inconsistent with my having lived extended periods of time in France twice. I love France and the French, except their elected officials.
Oh, for a French market !!!!! Our lettuce is "Iceberg" and all water, or romaine which is usually wilted. Our oranges are only juice (but delicious) and our grapefruits, although good, have very thick skins like the ones I used to buy in France from Spain or Israel, not the nice thin skinned ones from Florida which I also used to buy in Paris. We may send the best to France but France doesn't always send us its best. Cheeses are ersatz. e.g. Camembert the size of livarot and made with pasteurized milk to satisfy American import requirements. And most French wines have never been in a reclining position. I have smelled more new dry corks than wet ones.
The fresh vegetables are just not to be had while the fruits that are available are not always good. Peaches are not sweet nor is corn on the cob, but the mango and star fruit are magnificent. The butcher shop has plenty of beef and we've had some fantastically good steaks but veal is rare and so is lamb. Lapin is available frozen and range chickens, the poulets fermiers, are only frozen. The fish markets are very good. There's plenty of fresh fish, grouper, shark, dolphin, many varieties of snapper, trout, swordfish, tuna, sole, flounder, pompano and mackerel. Shell fish are available, but the supply is not as great as it was in Paris and such varieties as calmari, etc are available only frozen.
Eating out is a new experience. The price for the main plate, such as steak, potatoes, and green beans, includes a salad bar and bread. Prices vary but in good restaurants they range from $14 to $20 (70 to 100 FF); dessert may be $5 (25 FF) and coffee about $1 (5 FF). Wines are usually expensive and it really doesn't make much difference between the domestic wines or the imported. The other night we had a Beaujolais Villages 1990 and spent $30 (120 FF). Our meal that evening at one of the better restaurants in Naples cost about $70 (350 FF) excluding service 15% and a tip for the valet who took our car. Other example prices for wine that we buy in a store are: Beaujolais Villages Jadot 1991 12.5% $8.50 (42,50 FF), Pouilly-Fuissé 1989 13% August Berthier $13 (52 FF), Martell $19 (95 FF), Chablis "Vaillons" 1er Cru Controlé 1987 13% $16 (80 FF).
We get chicken breasts in restaurants but no chicken legs or quarters and no roasts (except beef). Except in Italian restaurants, there is usually no veal on the menu, and we haven't seen any lamb.
The markets like K Mart and Walmart are unbelievable - so much under one roof - everything from drugs, to pantyhose, TV sets, to orange juice. I noticed Volvic is imported here. In addition to the regular Volvic, we have lemon flavored and mint flavored Volvic as well. All of the products in these stores and all the others are advertised in special sections of the daily and Sunday newspapers. And there are coupons to clip which you then use in the supermarket for a reduction in the price of the product.
Florida is just beautiful - out of a travel folder......palm trees, canals, the Gulf of Mexico, an open expanse of sky that has beautiful blues and magnificent clouds from horizon to horizon. Green is everywhere in bushes and trees and then there are the tropical flowers. The streets, roadways, and sidewalks are spotless and the city reminds me of Monaco. People drive around in long Cadillacs, Lincolns, Mercedes, and big Buicks and Oldsmobiles. We were fortunate in being able to purchase for a small sum a large yellow 1986 two door Oldsmobile (with 3,500 miles) from Marcia's mother (age 91) who decided that it was easier for us to chauffeur her than for her to drive. Now we feel more at home
We found much to our surprise that the Americans we met in New York, Baltimore, and throughout our trip south are as courteous and have as many good manners as the French. Indeed, at times it is overwhelming. A "welcome" man or woman greets you at the supermarket and provides a cart and in every store or restaurant you are greeted with a "Hello. How are you doin' today?" At one restaurant everyone hello'd us.....the valet who took our car, his assistant, a waitress who was out carrying a car check, two waiters at the door and the maître d', and finally our "server" who gave us his name.
There is no place to go at night. Right now it's just too hot and humid to walk around the neighborhood which is rather dark (but quite safe). This is a major change in our style: in Paris we used to take a walk - sometimes a long one practically every evening. I miss it. But we have been busy getting settled and by the end of the day we are tired.
We will be buying a boat shortly and we'll be able to go fishing, which I look forward to. We expect to make friends among the regulars and later among the "snow birds" who flock here in October and November to spend the winter. ("Snow birds" are what the year round residents call the part timers and vacationers who come to Florida during the winter time.) We have joined the library, the video section as well as the book section. And we even have borrowed a few films which we play on our TV via a VCR. Because Naples is out in "nowhere" TV reception here is good only for a few of the strongest channels. Most people join a cable network. We will not because we just don't watch TV but we do enjoy a film every once in a while.
I have also just found a Mac user group (a group of people interested in the Macintosh computer) which will be useful as I continue to do some programming. In addition to all of this we have two theatre groups and a Philharmonic Hall where I understand the programs are varied and of high quality. Naples does not house the cultural heritage that Paris does, but within its environs are more living things - animals, trees, flowers, birds, insects, fish, and shellfish than we have seen in the last five years and since Marcia and I still love learning, our living curriculum that is all around us should provide the kind of intellectual challenge that we are accustomed to as well as the excitement and joy of discovery.
When we first returned to the States, it first looked like there would be a major change in American politics, what with Ross Perot leading a possible third party and the apparent popularity of Clinton, but as the weeks pass I am convinced that George Bush will be reelected even though the economy is in serious trouble. Clinton provides merely a superficially attractive alternative and I 'd be surprised if he were elected. (Marcia's comment: I am not in agreement with this opinion. Clinton has problems but I think he has a good chance of winning in the fall election.)
To the Wheelhouse