Copyright © 2002 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved
Our goal was the Louvre, but once again the strike there stopped us cold.
Trocadaro, our next stop, which houses a fine Marine Museum among others, is across the river from the Eiffel Tower. Once there, we were disappointed again. The center wide open court was fenced off for repair. We peered through and lamented the cracked marble which we saw being destroyed years before by roller skaters jumping from stairs and walls to land with a loud crack and slap.
Crossing the Seine, still in flood, we found ourselves among at least a thousand visitors milling about and on lines under the tower waiting to take elevators to the top, the only "site" we never visited. But we enjoyed our long walk home.
Walks are fun for us. We've always enjoyed looking at things up close, reading the plates describing the history of a place or the framed notices describing who was killed by what army in what battle, or seeing an old stone sculpture sitting on top of the corner of a building. Marcia is more curious than I and she has led me into private spaces and short alleys that hold a package of gifts for the peeking. And so we walk mostly everywhere we can, 1 to 3 miles a day.
After lunch and a nap, we went shopping. While Marcia tried to find cinnamon and mayonnaise, I had a chance to look at the variety of cheeses within a category. As you can guess, I am fond of cheese.
Laundry morning followed by lunch and then my inimitable Marcia found us a gem on top of the railroad station.
On one of our walks the week before she kept looking for a Parc Atlantique, an Atlantic Park, but we were busy. This afternoon we found time.
First step: We found an elevator in front of what might have been an office but, as usual it turned out to be residential - tremendous edifice, all windowed and white. We marched into the elevator - a massive steel erector-set built affair that rose to a bridge which, in turn, crossed rue du Commandant Mouchotte and disappeared into the building. On our right we found an ordinary residential road that had been hidden from the street below. Autos were parked in front of entrances to the building. We continued straight however through the building and into what turned out to be a wide expanse of one of the most unusual parks in Paris.
Imagine a vast area about two city blocks long and a quarter as wide lying between two modern 20 story buildings with only their windows visible, all on top of railroad station. The facades of each building, east and west, act as the sides of a rectangular box. The ends of the box, north and south, are lower buildings both part of the railroad complex.
We were at the south end, turned to the right and began walking north. Even with the cool weather a few mothers/fathers were out with their children, a young couple was feeding the pigeons, and more than a dozen souls were sitting by themselves reading or writing.
We've seen a lot of unusual sites in Paris but a half dozen sailboats, a beach, and boardwalk?
I kid you not. On the west side paralleling the building we passed through, are 6 modern forms running from north to south, with masts and wind-filled steel sails. Obviously this is where the Atlantic lies. West of them is the boardwalk which starts at one end and follows an imaginary line between the dunes and the water of the Atlantic where the sailboats fly. Further west, inward from the boardwalk are patches of sand and rock, partly paved. A solitary circle of wall hides a space where you can contemplate. Benches appear infrequently and we surprised a young woman reading by a dune and a mother and child near a patch of sand.
In the center of the park rises a weather station that provides information on rainfall (monthly and yearly totals), present temperature, and wind speed. On top of the structure is a giant mirror that catches the sun and redirects it to the park. Nearby are greens, the kind that you find on a small dune at the beach. With a moon's rhythm a waterfall erupts in waves from small cylinders.
West of the water and sailboats the land rises to form what appears to be higher dunes. Hidden behind them is a long row of tennis courts running from north to south.
We continued to explore and ended in the station itself and then out to our street nearby.
Planning to go to a free recital of a quartet playing works by Haydn, Poulenc, and Johansson sponsored the Swedish Cultural Center that evening, we decided to eat early, which was something new for us, and then to take a bus over to the Marais district, to the center near St. Paul where the concert was to be held.
The pedigree of the bus has been traced to the carrosses à cinq sol, small horse drawn coaches that cost 5 sols, made 5 stops, and had room for 8 passengers. The well known French philosopher Blaise Pascal dreamed up the idea in the last quarter of the 17th century. [Fierro, p. 479 ff] Compare these with our American stagecoaches that might have stopped in three cities and two states. The difference in the size of the two countries has a profound effect on practically everything.
The path of a bus in Paris is like that of a person in a maze who finds the end by going this way and that. Indeed, the bus might take one street and return on another; not the entire route but just a few blocks or so, enough to disappoint you when you're expecting a ride home.
A person takes a bus if you (a) are afraid of being underground, (b) can't climb more than one or two flights of stairs, or (c) like to look out the window.
We arrived safe and sound but found the concert had been switched to the Swedish church too far away to make it in time. We should have gone to the free jazz concert at FNAC, a multimedia store. We rarely pay for concerts.
We walked over to Les Halles and Beaubourg and took a crowded métro home.
Sitting in the métro gives me the chance to write down some fragments that appear on the clothing worn by young men and women of all ages. Most words are printed vertically on labels although horizontal letters do appear sometime. For example,
On a T-shirt: "TREK/AMERICA"
Label: "Safety Jeans/For Your Pleasure"
On the label on the pocket side of a black zippered jacket:
On an emblem: "Camps" - Shore Squad 1967
Aircraft Carrier U S Alabama"
Wine and water shopping at the local supermarket and I walked to the open air public market. Today I bought real sea scallops with the corals which are sold in the shell, placed on a pan and then weighed. The price was cheap - but I was paying for the shell. The receipt indicated that I bought .67 of a kilo which Marcia said was wrong. Had I been taken? Then I remembered about the weight of shells. I had paid 40 francs, less than $6 for four very large beautiful sea scallops with corals. The coral is the roe of the scallop, like the roe of a lobster, both of which are unimpregnated. (Scallops in the States are sold without corals.) I also bought some Paté Forestiere for Marcia, a thin slice of Paté Gascogne for me and a crottin of sec (old and dry) chèvre (goat cheese). Add carrots, a couple of apples, and a 1/2 of baguette. With white and red wine we had a fine lunch.
Then off we went by bus to one of my favorite places - the sculpture garden along quai St-Bernard, from the Jardin des Plantes west down to the Seine. The cold weather, pale sun, and stiff breeze didn't make a spring in Paris but still there were people roaming around, a few clochards, children, older men and women and, of course, young lovers.
The Seine was still in flood and some of the barges tied up had had to rig gangplanks from some distance to get aboard. One had a dingy on a line from a tree to his boat. On the other side of the river is the entrance to the Canal St-Martin and inside beyond the lock, is the port de plaisance de Paris-Arsenal where we had lived.
After the quai we walked up to another of Marcia's finds, the ancient Roman arena right here in Paris, L'Arènes de Lutéce. Built by the Romans, we know not when, it was uncovered in 1869 when the area was excavated for the boulevard nearby. According to Michelin's Paris guide the arena had been used for human entertainment - a circus, a play - not the kind of entertainment I had imagined when we first saw it . Then and even today as I saw the two gates barring the small entrances in the lowest wall, I imagined a lion emerging or even a raging bull.
Now its floor serves as a field where soccer wars are fought and a plot where small steel balls are hurled underhand toward another ball sitting on the turf. This simple game, called Pétanque, requires a good player with extraordinary skill. It's played with heavy balls, boules, each about the size of a large orange, and made of steel or some alloy. One the players draws a circle in the earth, stands in it and then tosses a small colored, ping-pong size ball some distance away. Then each player takes turns trying to get his boule closest to the colored ball. That's not difficult. Once the ball is near it becomes the target of the next player who wants to knock it out and substitute his. To do this the player must hurl the ball with tremendous force. And when he does, it's impressive. His ball hits the target ball which careens away while his ball remains still, exactly where it hit the other.
His audience is partly in the loge, a series of nooks overlooking the arena, occupied by couples talking, sunning themselves, or just sitting and watching. The grandstands hold others. The bleachers, high up and out of the way held a family picnicking with a spread of antipasto, bread, wine, cheese and God knows what else. It was up near this family that we found we couldn't find a way out going forward so we backtracked to find a narrow stone staircase that might lead to a dungeon. It was a hidden place, so much so that I could urinate in one corner while Marcia acted as a look-out. At one point she whispered "People" and I stopped in mid stream. Just as difficult as it is with a boat! But it was a false alarm and I finished the job after starting the engine again.
The Jardin des Plantes is a botanical garden in that it was and still is a garden with a scientific orientation: botany, pharmacy, and natural history. It even has a menagerie, one area with miniature deer and another with miniature kangaroos. Nature in the raw: a baby kangaroo peering from a pouch and a small deer wooing a reluctant doe.
The Paleobotanical, Mineralogical, and Entomological Galleries remind me of visits to the New York Museum of Natural History.
I photographed a double tulip and black pansies. Later we noticed that the Japanese garden hadn't yet opened.
A giant hour-glass had been erected in the center of the garden. The upper part held several tons of sand that was flowing in a narrow stream to the lower section. An affiche, or notice, explained that the artist who had created this clock tried to relate its form to concepts of time and the life of man. Enough sand was on top to last a lifetime.
Easter vacation and spring flowers attracted loads of people even though it was quite brisk. After trying to find some smell in a tall evergreen (it didn't), we found the secret exit through the walls which we had discovered years before and set off for rue des Écoles and a café. "Deux chocolates au lait, s'il vous plait," I ordered while Marcia found a restroom. "Two (hot) chocolates made with milk, please." I also ordered an apple tart which we would split.
I've always liked rue des Écoles. Years ago I chose it as the street I would most like to live on. Running parallel to St-Germain from the Faculty of Sciences past the Sorbonne to St-Michel, its cafés seem comfortable and not crowded. Food stores mix with bookstores and a movie house. A few narrow two star hotels are caught in a wedge of narrow passage.
Our objective: The church of St-Etienne-du-Mont at place St-Geneviève which lies on the side and behind The Pantheon. Marcia liked this church because it is unique having a division in the center that separates the parishoners from the priest; quite traditional. I like it because it is so massively compact with fat pillars and heavy superstructure. It is also delicate in strange ways - the wooden sculpture on the lectern and small panels of stained windows in glorious color.
Our walk home took us to Luxembourg Gardens, to its southwestern corner where we picked up rue de Vavin for a long walk to Montparnasse. Stopped off for two breads - a pan complet (healthy, full of wheat) for me and a demi-baguette (ordinary) for Marcia. Also some mushrooms.
Dinner: fresh scallops with the corals made with crème fraiche and mushrooms; bright carrots, and rice. Usual salad, cookies and coffee/tea.
Sunday was to be our stay-in day. In Paris?
The weather was overcast and rain was predicted so we fussed around the flat and then had lunch. I was tired and after lunch took a long nap. Later, after I got up, Marcia napped and then I joined her and slept again.
We arose late in the afternoon and were ready for a long walk. We explored rue du Cherche-Midi, finding a Musée Hébert which we knew nothing about (tomorrow we would find out what's inside). The museum was on the corner where the street sign is placed. Below "rue du Cherche-Midi" was the older name, "rue du Petit Vaugirard," cut in stone. Later, we found that rue de Bagneux had been replaced with rue Jean Ferrasndi named for a military writer and a political figure in the 6th arr. He had been born in 1882 and died in 1935 and now it's 2001. Having your name on a street for 66 years means something.
On French streets the facades hide courtyards and gardens, fountains and parking places. Just peek through an open door. New buildings would be created, slipped in between older ones, with extra space being saved for a garden or two. "Tea and Tattered Pages," an old bookstore that catered to those who read English books, appeared down one block. I remembered having been there before. An adjacent store catered to those who like English films and have a VCR.
French buildings in which people live are located everywhere. The same can be said of places of business. Indeed many business establishments including banks and department stores, meat markets, restaurants, jewelry shops, and gasoline stations occupy the lower floor(s) of residence buildings. Interestingly, the exceptions to this marriage of "home and office" are buildings in which the very rich live and the new low income apartment houses.
Practically all buildings in Paris have no more than 6 - 8 stories. Few exceptions exist. New buildings can have a lobby with an ordinary door. Older buildings have two doors, high and wide enough to allow a carriage with horses to pass. Fortunately for the residents and visitors a small door is usually cut into the lower panel of the larger one. One of our friends lived in such a building. After entering the correct sequence of numbers in a small console, we opened the door and stepped over the doorsill, about six inches above the cobble stone because the smaller door had been cut out of the the larger one. Security mechanisms are common now in Paris. Inside we continued to walk on cobblestones until we reached a raised platform on the right that housed the elevator. If we had continued to walk, we would have entered a courtyard.
Most buildings have what we would call a janitor or superintendent. In France the person used to be called a concierge. He/she was the guard, the mailperson, the cleaning person, the mediator of squabbles, the liaison with the police and fire departments, and the local representative of the mayor's office. Now with absolute equality between the sexes, the word gardien has replaced concierge for men and gardienne has replaced concierge for women.
Basements are deep. In our building on the elevator's console are the numbers 0,-1,-2,-3,-4,-5. The "0" is the ground floor, called the rez -de-chaussée., and not the first as in the States. (Our 2nd floor is their 1st.) The five levels below contain enclosed areas for automobiles and/or storage. A friend of ours who lives in a building vintage 1890 to 1910 has a "box" which is actually a cage built into a cave cut from wall. It's filled with racks of wine. I'm told that basements like hers are honeycombed throughout Paris and provided places for the resistance fighters during World War II.
Elevators, if they exist, are small. Even in a new building like ours the elevator can only accommodate a few people. Space is expensive. In older buildings, some elevators can only accommodate 2 at maximum. Deliveries of furniture are effected by using an external elevator placed on a ladder which extends from the platform on a truck to the top floors. One of those French windows is used for entry.
Lights turn on automatically when a need arises otherwise they're off. The lobby of our building is unlit. The face of the security box outside is dimly illuminated. When I punch in the correct code, a light in the lobby is turned on. When we leave our apartment the hallway is dark. A button next to the door turns on the light and we walk through swinging doors to the lobby where the elevator lands. We we return, before we enter the swinging doors, a sensor located on the ceiling turns on the light in our hall. All such lights turn off after a few minutes. The only time a problem might arise is when you are using a toilet facility and the light goes off. Fortunately the light switch itself has a small interior lamp.
Rooms are smaller in Paris than in New York. The height restrictions of buildings have resulted in limited space and architects can't do much about it. Radiators (sometimes covered) are exterior to the wall. In our building, new in the 80's, where one apartment might have been built after the war, there are two today. Even the traditional separation of toilet and bath has disappeared.
A few things though have remained. The bidet is alive and well and still not for washing feet. My first experience with it was in 1951 when my friend and I used one to wash our feet to the delight of the young ladies who were accompanying us on a short hitchhiking trip north. The bidet is an enameled sink large enough to allow a woman to squat over it. The water, which sprays upward is used to clean whatever parts of the body that are exposed.
Water systems are still efficient. Eons ago the French decided not to spend too much money, or use too much water, on toilets. The traditional French toilet is a closet ( water closet or W.C.) with a hole in ground (now a piece of metal set in tile), that is irrigated from a tank on the wall which releases a geyser of water downward with the pull of a chain. The modern toilet has replaced most of the WCs but a few days ago I rediscovered its simplicity in the basement of a café where many WCs are still housed. Most toilets are modern, though, and designed to save water. Showers exist in bathtubs and are controlled by hand devices.
Hot water is very hot but accompanied by weak pressure in early morning hours. When heat is delivered in hotels was determined by city regulations. I don't know if that situation still exists. We've been guests in a number of homes over the years and never have we been exposed to air-conditioning. An increasing number of contemporary Paris business establishments advertise AC.
Windows are large and do not have screens. But French windows have shutters. And here is a story because the window shutter's presence or absence is remarkable.
When we lived in Enkhuizen in The Netherlands and took our evening strolls, we were fascinated by the homes with their storefront windows that faced the street and allowed us to peer into brightly lit living rooms. No felt need for privacy. Fine lace curtains etched with windmills and landscapes on each side caught our attention because they needed a closer look. We were often embarrassed but the men, women, and children reading, sewing, or watching television and seemed not to mind our intrusion. Occasionally, one would look up, and we would quickly look away.
Our first experience with French shutters took place six months later in a small French town. We had tied up our boat on the canal and walked into town. It was late but still bright out with the northern sun and people were out walking. We stopped at a café and asked about dinner. The proprietor apologized. I don't remember if she said she didn't ordinarily serve meals or that it was late and they had stopped but she offered the only thing she had - a steak. "Would that be satisfactory?" she asked. Yes....and we had one of the best steak dinners in years. We left the café after dinner and found the streets empty and darkness had swept in like thick fog. Not a window could be seen. Shutters everywhere.
I'd guess that 99.9% of the windows in all of France have shutters and most are shut up tight at night. For years I figured that shutters were first used during the French Revolution. It seemed logical. That period was marked by violence and upheaval and shutters provided security. I was pleased to learn recently that my guess years ago had been correct. Shutters did first appear during the Revolution as measure to protect against "cat burglars" or "second story men." [Larborière, p. 72]
Our present apartment has roll down shutters. We use them to shut out the sunlight in the late afternoon during hot weather and, because we have no curtains, for privacy at night. Our neighbors in another building across the way apparently use them for the same reasons. Our landlady uses them for security. Coming, as we do, from South Florida, they remind us of hurricane shutters.
[July 12, 2002 INSERT: My wife, Marcia, her son Michael, and I were talking this evening before dinner about shutters and the difference between the Dutch and French attitudes. Marcia suggested that it had its roots in religion: the Dutch who are generally Protestant, take the position that one has nothing to hide, stand up to be counted, while the French, Roman Catholic by tradition, are more private and like it that way. One could extend this line of reasoning to other facets of life.]
Once home, we prepared dinner. We eat mostly the same foods here as we did at home in the States. We drink more wine here because it is cheaper. Our white wine, a nice dry Bordeaux, cost 10.50 F which is about $1.25. After the salad course, which we have after our main course, I have a cheese course. Tonight it was Chèvre, a goat cheese. It comes in various shapes. for example, a pyramid, a roll, and a unique form called a "crottin." I had a crottin and Marcia made fun of what I was eating. A crottin is chèvre in the shape of a cylinder, a two inch round, about one and half inches high. But a crottin, you see, is also a dropping or a piece of dung.
Fruit follows the cheese and here too, there is something different. It's called crême fresh...a wonderful French concoction that is used to clothe fruit, especially strawberries and to enrich sauces.
I took an evening walk - started at 9:15 and returned at almost 10. I walk rapidly, taking long strides, looking everywhere, particularly for good restaurants and interesting shops. Tonight I searched for a photo store where films could be developed.
A morning filled with writing letters to family and friends and then visiting hotels for my brother and sister-in-law who will be coming to Paris in June.
The Louvre - here we come. Bus #95 right to the pyramid's place, through the passageway to rue de Rivoli, turn left half way in, show your member's card with our photos on them, down to check our outer wraps, up to the second floor of the Richelieu Galleries where we left off the last time.
The French painter Nicholas Poussin dominated the galleries that we visited at first. Huge voluptuous paintings full of body and soft bright colors. I almost grabbed for bunch of purple.
Eustache, a l7 th century artist whom I don't remember ever having seen before, showed me fabrics that made me wonder how they could have been created without modern spinning techniques. And how they could have been painted with such a grasp of touch and feel and light and shadow! I couldn't take my eyes off one of Saint Bruno dressed in blue pajamas that were as soft as lamb's wool.
Sitting nearby was a grandmother guard with heavy black shoes, black slacks and a black jacket. But she had red hair and a bright red blouse and matching handkerchief in her breast pocket. She was short and kept moving her feet. When Marcia came over to look at the painting, the guard couldn't take her eyes from Marcia's hair. "Could it be real?" I'm sure she wondered as many others have.
I got a kick out of François Bouchard's L'Odalisque (His wife!). A commentary described it as delicious eroticism but to my mind it was ludicrous: how awful for a man to paint his wife with a quasi impudent face that is waiting for what she knoweth with her buttocks raised as two soft large mounds split with a shadowed crevice...all lying on blue blankets.
The Fragonard nearby, La Chemise Enlevée, is so much nicer.
As I walked through the galleries that contained later French art, the men and women and I at times exchanged greetings. We had not seen each other for a decade.
The haunting eyes of the mad woman with a gambling mania (La folle nonomane de jeu) painted by one of my favorite artists, Théodore Géricault, followed me as I passed. We seemed to remember each other even though I am not mad but do gamble once every couple of years.
And just beyond, perhaps Géricault's most famous painting, The Raft of the Medusa. The painting captures a tragedy that actually happened.
We stopped for the day. We will return later in the week.
Home, and a magnificent dinner - Chicken in the pot with white wine and cognac. The chicken had been raised wild on an open range and the recipe had been developed locally by the DelPlain gene in Marcia's mind.
After dinner we supervised life on boulevard Montparnasse, making sure the double and triple decker layer of plates of oysters, shrimp, coquilles, clams, and lobsters met local architectural standards. So briskly and confidently did we walk that not once but twice, after being identified as natives to this arrondissement, we were asked for directions. Can you imagine? With Marcia wearing a woolen hat?
Marcia prepared hot chocolate and as I sipped it, I looked up to see the Eiffel Tower which on the hour turns into a sparkling spire right outside our window for about 5 minutes. A sight to see! The hot chocolate, made with pieces of the Lindt full strength chocolate bar cooked in milk, is out of this world...as good if not better than any we've had at cafés.
What a day! We're exhausted.
First order of pleasure was a concert at the Saint-Roch church on rue de Rivoli: free and given by a trio of singers including a counter-tenor, a male alto singer with an extraordinary high voice with a hypnotizing quality, a voice we last heard many years ago at Sainte-Chapelle. It had been an unsettling, because we had never heard a counter-tenor before. We didn't know how many people were singing or where they were or what was happening. All we knew was that we were hearing a voice that reached beyond anything we had ever heard and a sound that mesmerized us both. Sainte-Chapelle is magnificent, one of the gems in Paris and experience unforgettable.
Piedre Sciama was the hautre-contre and Christophe Ferveur, the taille, which is "old name for the middle voice, particularly the tenor." [Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music] They were accompanied by Sébastien Guillot at the organ, and sang works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704).
The vocal rendition at Saint-Roch was not as awesome as our
first experience but we enjoyed it nonetheless. In truth, the
Lenten sermon and meditations for Easter
were too religious for us.
What did happen for me was important though. As I listened I reflected on the how church had been constructed so many years ago, how long it must have taken to design it in the first place then to build it. I ruminated on the hands and fingers that struggled with the stone, the arms and legs of workers straining to raise hundreds of pounds. Not for six months, nor for six years - more like sixty years.
I am not a believer but I look with reverence on the works of man...the forms high, the colors vibrant, the pillars thick with arms of marble, or the miniature forms carved in the wood of the staircase to the pulpit.
And I respect the parishioners bending to light a candle for such a short life.
A huge bouquet of lilies are held in a vase in the center of the concert area. About 100 to 150 people are in attendance. Most of them are in dark warm clothes and keep their outerwear fastened. The cold invades my shoes.
Forward, up high, is the burst of solid light with Jesus, the infant, in the center and heads of cherubs poking out of clouds that weave within the gold shafts of light. High above the clouds and the sun's burst in the center were Hebrew characters.
I recalled the clouds in a painting I saw at the Louvre yesterday in which they carried angels right into a bedroom where a dying man lay. No fluff about those clouds. A few chairs and a bookcase had been crushed by their descent. Obviously, the artist had never experienced flying through them. [I realized this later.] The clouds above me now were, fortunately, not as heavy.
Suddenly, real sun light passed into the church and shafts of gold fell on the floor. Later Marcia informs me that a pigeon was flying around on high as well and left her a little gift which she later found on the program. Gift is such a nice word.
Meanwhile, the voices lament and I listen. Paris is once again leading me out of myself.
The room is cold. The chant resounds. The tenor dominates. The hands of the contre-tenor are clasped. The tenor moves his head and upper body for emphasis.
Beauty and volume are at odds. Can loud be beautiful?
But I am spellbound as the sound rebounds from the nave. I'm held for...time seems not to matter. How long can an artistic experience last? I've not speculated about art in that way for years.
The contre-tenor draws me. He keeps his hands clasped. His voice soars. The sound is transparent with a crystalline quality. Confusion between quiet and beauty. Transparent shrouds.
Could the sound shatter? He increases the tempo and ends strongly.
What is it that Paris helps happen? Why does it happen in Paris for so many people?
Walking out on rue St-Honoré is artistic experience. I am reminded of Bertrand Russell's observation that a person is experiencing art as he peers through a keyhole in a fence and watches workers as they go about constructing a new building as if they were actors in play.
Paris is a window. The concatenating sounds and sights surround us. The maze, the niche, the alley, each allows our curiosity to run. You follow the sidewalk, the street, the block, the roadway, and stop at the unexpected, the juxtaposed, the color, the form, the beauty, the art in life and especially in Paris.
We follow our noses until our eyes lead to the right past luncheon spots to Place Vendome. I am reminded of my third trip to Paris and Marcia understandably is uncomfortable because, unfortunately for me and for her, she was not a part of my life then. Our noses and eyes now take a back seat and our stomachs lead the way to a sandwich shop. For me jambon et fromage, just ham and cheese and for Marcia, poulet et mayonnaise, chicken and you know what each on a demi baguette; a 50 cl. pitcher of red; a tray and a walk upstairs to have a pleasant lunch. We walk to Brentanos and then W.H. Smith, both booksellers that specialize, respectively, in American and English literature; we picked up a copy of FUSAC (France-USA Contacts) a great little magazine filled with classified ads that reach across the Atlantic and back.
Jardin de Tuilleries: The chairs around the lake are occupied but the gigantic ferris wheel that we can see from our apartment is like an empty hub cap in the sky. We turn tourists and and then, like kids, take seats, buckle ourselves in and ride up to the sky, identifying buildings and streets and taking photos.
After I shaved this morning, I decided that I will spend the money.
This is significant. Often we've had to decide to buy something we need or do without. We will not, for example, buy a toaster oven. We will make do with the microwave which is old, doesn't turn off automatically and makes mush of most foods. Early on we decided to reduce the chance of burning fingers on hot bowls of coffee and tea and bought mugs with handles. Then, too, I bought a professional type wine opener with the small blade built snugly into it; trying to cut round the covering on top of a bottle of wine with the end of a corkscrew did not make sense. It's like using an ice pick to turn over a piece of meat.
Well today I decided to buy a French washcloth which is smartly designed to accommodate your hand, which in turn makes scrubbing your body easier. But this new French washcloth would be turned into an American one. I would cut it open so that after I shave, I can take the cloth, cover it with hot water and steam my face. Luckily, though, we picked up a small towel instead which I now fold in half. It's wonderfully soft and ideal for my baby face. That is divine!
Tonight we are having dinner with a friend who has been living aboard a boat in Paris since 1987. We met her in 1988. When I spoke to her on the telephone, she proudly told me that she now has a stone dry hull. When last I saw her, she was worried about water in the bilge.
Later we got a telephone call from another friend whom we saw often. She visited us in States. Although Marcia asked her to have dinner with us, she insisted on dinner at her apartment a week later.
It is now late afternoon. We shall leave about 6 PM, use a bus to get to Place de la Bastille, pick up the schedule at the not so new Opera house that was built as we watched, buy a bouquet of flowers and then go the marina, climb down the stairs, watch the water because the Seine is about to flood, board the boat, and have a fine evening.
Now, while I type away on the iBook, Marcia is practicing that sad but beautiful "Hebrew Melody."
Dinner with Mary was fun. She lives on a converted ferry. I believe it is about 120 feet long. Years before, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day Dinner aboard with a group of other Americans. A few turkeys and many cases of Beaujolais Nouveau, that wonderful fresh French wine whose vitality ebbs each day after November 21(and dies 6 weeks later).
With Mary tonight were a couple from California who had retired a year or two before, bought a new boat in England, cruised some of the rivers there and canals here last year and were ready to begin again this year. With so much in common, bottles of Moet champagne, chicken, salad, cheese with Bordeaux, dessert and coffee/tea...a fine time was had by all.
Before we left we borrowed Mary's binoculars so that we could identify everything below the horizon that we can see from the 8th floor of our apartment.
My life is filled with dentists and dentistry. My father was
a dentist. My brother is a retired dentist. My sister-in-law,
Paula, studied to be a dental hygienist. Marcia's mother was
one the first practicing dental hygienists in the United States.
My landlord in Paris is a dentist, and here I am talking to another
dentist about canaling in France.
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