Copyright © 2002 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved
After having gone to bed at 1:30 AM, getting up at 7 AM is foolish but that's what I did and Marcia arose a half hour later.
Marcia practiced the violin and I did some writing. By then it was time for an early lunch. Naps...and at 2 PM we started our walk to the Musée Maillol which was a long walk away.
On our way we found the Chapelle St.Vincent de Paul where either the mummified body of the saint or a good reproduction lies on high in the apse. The chapel is low and long and different from the other houses of worship we've seen in Paris.
On the walls of the Hôpital Lacnnec also on rue de Sèvres but across the street were four great posters, each with the same model wearing a bikini bottom. I took a photo of one who was in a meadow on her hands and knees facing a sheep. "I'd love a woolen sweater," she's quoted as saying.
We found the museum easily. It was the brainchild of his model, Dina Vierny who was killed in an auto accident in 1944. With the encouragement of friends of Maillol she created it as a monument to Aristide Maillol who is remembered for his sculpture of nudes.
I was interested in the current exhibit, "La vérité Nue," which featured works by Austrian expressionists Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Herbert Boecki, and Richard Gerstl..
When I was well into seeing Maillol's nudes I realized that I had seen some before and was disappointed with their static quality. Technically perfect, they are so alike I'm bored. Most of them are standing, waiting, supplicating, quiet, still. I was disappointed. I enjoyed his oils - reminded me of Gauguin in color and in composition.
The expressionists were more interesting. The use of highlights as a unifying motif in the works of both Schiele and Boecki intrigued me although I could have done without the latter's anatomy lessons. Once again I found a finesse in Matisse's work where his two dimensional drawings that were without color, or shade, are worked so to create an illusion of a third dimension. He has led our eyes to expect it and see it we must even if it is only in our imagination.
I also spent some time looking at Schiele's L'Etreinte (The Embrace) painted in 1917.
It's a full sized oil of a man and woman either before or after making love on what appears to be a white sheet on yellows and ochres, perhaps a bed. The muscles of the man's body are taut, bound in knots. Her womaness is in the tender way her hand is spread on his back and the sensuality of her thighs, pubis and breasts. The lower left hand section of the sheet is caught in a bunch of small folds, each delineated sharply, while in the lower right corner the sheet ends in a saw tooth edge. The sheet in the background is also saw-toothed. The woman's hair in a torrent of black engulfs her head which is barely visible. He appears to be at her ear, perhaps with a kiss or a whisper. She is touching his ear. Space separates them as if the animal union had just been undone and a human reunion was just now beginning. I later bought a print of the painting.
As gifts to four lovable old fogies who gather to talk every morning at the Rainbow Market back home where I buy my New York Times, I selected four postal cards with nudes to send them: Schiele's "Nude in a checkered slipper" which is quite naughty, a photo of Maillol's "Torso of a nymph," another Schiele - "A feminine nude in blue stockings" whose expression belies her rouged lips and nipples, and finally a photo, taken by Robert Doisneau, entitled "Venus grabbed by the breast," in which four workman in the Jardin des Tuilleries try to adjust a giant nude, La Liberté Enchainée by Maillol.
Our walk to the Sorbonne, the name of the building which housed the School of Arts and Letters of the University of Paris, and where we planned to listen to a concert, took us through some more of Paris' comfortable narrow streets.
But first Marcia wanted to find a church whose twin steeples we could see from our window. We found it after some difficulty. Quite a structure. "You don't have to go to Chartre," she said as she and I looked up and and tried to see the ceiling. The church was the Basilique Sainte-Clotilde.
The difficulty in finding the church was partly due to labor disruptions. Today, a rassemblement régional de sages-femmes (a gathering of mid-wives) in the form of a "sit-in" was scheduled. As usual of police vehicles crowded the narrow streets approaching boulevard. St-Germain at métro Solferino and standing by on the sidewalk were about 50 members of the CRS.
Our walk was also interrupted a number of times by new construction and modernization. One building at 32, boulevard Raspail, only about 25-30 feet wide, housed a steeple on the 7th floor and much higher - 8th or 9th? - was a widow's walk. Opposite it, on our side is La galerie de la mer, a store devoted to art and models of the sea.
Female mannequins in Paris have firm nipples.
We rejected the concert at the Sorbonne because we learned that it would be a vocal program of religious music which just didn't appeal to us.
But being in the building was fun for me. It was there that I was introduced to the way the French often approach a subject, viz. posing a question. I was taking a general course in French civilisation. "Qu'est-ce que la civilization Française?" were, I believe, the professor's first words. Being in the building also reminded me of my introduction to the French unisex toilet facilities. A urinal was off to the side with a turnstile into which you placed 1 franc for the urinals and 2 for the closets. The stalls were managed by a concierge, a kindly older woman. I remember how disconcerted I was years ago to notice girl's legs in the stalls on either side of me.
We enter the restaurant on rue de la Harpe. The waiter looks at me. He recognizes me and I him. "Long time," he says and I return his warmth with a big broad grin and almost an embrace. "Five years?" he asks. "Nine," I reply
The meal we had at La Petite Hostellerie was the same as we used to have a decade earlier: a paté campagne for both of us, a paella for Marcia and roast chicken for me. We shared a bottle of house red (still about $8). Marcia picked a peach melba and thé au lait. I ordered coffee but he took my choice of dessert, profiterole, out of my mouth before I had a chance to speak. We were quite happy.
The full course meal including wine and tip cost us 238 francs, about $33. I left him an extra 12 francs. We would return.
Before we took the bus home - we were both too tired to walk back - we listened with hundreds of others to a lively big band of young men who cavorted around the place St-Michel while playing loud music which they animated with tossing instruments in the air and dancing.
We're having company tonight - Mary and Simone are coming over - and so Marcia has been cleaning up more thoroughly. At first I thought - and still think - a red wine would best go with our chicken dish and then - and perhaps I was right - I changed my mind. Capers will be in dish and that's made with a vinegar - and vinegar dishes go best with cold white wine. This is Martin's rule about the choice of wine which I will discuss in the following essay prepared for those who are interested. For those who are not, you may skip the next nine paragaphs.
Wine . Wonderful stuff. I learned to drink it first in Paris at a small neighborhood restaurant where workmen and their families ate. Wine arrived in carafe - full or half or a quarter - with an accompaniment of water (tap). It is added to a glass of wine. (Early in life I learned one may water wine though I've never done it since those student years. A pity!)
The second lesson was that alcohol in wine determines, in part, how long it will remain wine before it dies a vinegary death. In small part the weather outside determines the change to vinegar also. During my first weeks I used the sill of my window as an ice box but the air was just not cold enough to keep the 10% (per cent of alcohol) red wine alive. The solution was a compromise between my pocketbook which was the GI Bill of Rights budget of $75/month or my health. I settled on 11.5% and didn't add water.
When I got back to the States, I bought wine in 1.5 liter bottles for many years. I was younger and couldn't afford more than Gallo's Hearty Burgundy. Since we drink wine everyday with dinner, the red wine we drink is no more than 12%. In France one can buy good everyday red that is 11.5%. White wines come with a little more alcohol so 12% is fine.
Red Wine: Other than the Manishchevitz type of red wines, most ordinary reds are dry and can range between 9+% to 13.5 %. Most ordinary good French wines will cluster between 12 and 12.5% with a few going as high as l3%. Our ordinary "pitcher" wines in Paris are about 12%. In some inexpensive restaurants, the wine will be 11.5% - watery without any body but perfectly good with a lunch.
In the States I will buy two kinds of wine: the first, good for special occasions with the reds usually at about 12 to 12.5 %; once in a great while the wine will be 13% and the second, ordinary red wine for everyday drinking at 12%.
Unfortunately American red wines are predominantly of one grape. Wines made from only merlot or cabernet sauvignon are too rich, and pinot noir too fruity. In France, on the other hand, red wines are made with at least two often three kinds of grapes. Merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc wines are blended to produce a Bordeaux. The blending makes the final product rounder and more drinkable. I do not buy American red wines. Our table wine is French, Italian or Australian.
White Wine: White wines are usually less dry than reds and it is difficult to find an inexpensive dry white wine. The Macon Villages (A white Burgundy) which we had at our last dinner was a good one...cheap here but too expensive to drink everyday in the States. To make matters worse most of the white wines in the States have a high alcohol content. (California produces most of American wine and the grapes are very sweet.) For everyday use, the alcohol content for a white wine shouldn't be more than 12.5, hopefully less (we use Italian wine). For a special occasions the wine could range between 12.5% and 13.5.
The differences in alcohol content although small are significant.
I use red wine whenever I can. My general rule is this: Red wine with everything except with foods - usually fish - which are prepared with high acidic additions such as capers, lemon juice, vinegar and dry white wine. Poached and steamed fish that need the more delicate accompaniment of white wine. Some rosé wines will serve as well.
In the States the alcoholic content of wine is far greater than in France and it is not unusual to find red wines in the neighborhood of 13 to 13.5%, sometimes 13.75! White wine in America are almost straight alcohol can be higher. I've been told that this is the result of too much sunlight.
So much for wine.
We had the white which went well with a dinner that started
at 8:15-20 and ended about 11:30:
Before the meal: Champagne and cracker/nuts. (We used the bottle one of our guests brought.)
First Course: Chicken Breasts with capers and olives, steamed potatoes, carrots. We learned from Simone that capers are the buds of single white flowers and grown on an island in the Mediterranean.
Second Course: A lettuce salad with, olives, thin slices of a sweet onion, oregano and thyme, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Third Course: Comté and Roquefort cheeses and good French bread.
Fourth Course: Individual portions of fresh strawberries topped with crème fraiche and coffee/tea.
Much talk about Simone's daughter's wedding and other events and people in which we shared a common interest.
About 3 PM we got off to the Louvre. There was a strike and entrance was free so the crowd was heavy even that late. We entered through our private entrance, checked our outer clothing, and took off to the Danon Wing which is the most well-known because it use to house all the great French and Italian paintings, including the Mona Lisa. With the opening of the Richelieu wing which absorbed loads of the work from the Danon, we wondered what was left.
In our passage to the Denon wing we passed the Salle du Manége, an indoor riding rink for the emperor Napoleon III. The room was a place for learning how to ride horses, perhaps a gathering room before a hunt. I tried to imagine the sound and sight of a dozen or so horses walking around in this museum of a room. I wondered if the floor had been marble then; it might have been since the floor underneath contained the actual stable.
We would have missed a treasure chest had we walked quickly but our eyes strayed to the tops of one or two of the 12 columns that are arranged 6 on a each side of the rectangular room. Between the shaft and the capital of the column I found a fox about to eat a rooster on top of one and then Marcia spotted a plump owl holding a rabbit on another. The columns were so rich in animals, plants, the paraphernalia of the hunt, etc. that I began to record what we found. The more I looked, the more I found. Here's a partial inventory:
among the birds and animals were a wolf with a small animal, a bear just sitting with his paws one on top of another, an ordinary horse, a horse with a shield used in battle, a ram, a donkey, a fox with a rooster between his jaws, the head of an elk with antlers, a falcon holding a great heron by the neck so that the heron's wings are spread, a bat with its wings spread, two dogs on chain sharing a rabbit between them, and a boar tied down with rope.
among the objects were powder horns, blinkers, saddle packs, a halter with bells, stirrups, head armor, a pair of hooves, a medieval battle ax, swords, and a basket.
The cutest sculpture was that of a mouse whose body was in the capital section of the the column and its tail on the flutes below.
The most intriguing was the mechanism used to roast a rabbit. At first I didn't know what it was. I couldn't believe it was an oven. Marcia came to my rescue by observing that it was a trap, probably a bear trap. It's shaped like a clam shell. Its "muscle" is replaced by a hinge, and jagged, triangular teeth replace the smooth outer edge of its shell. When the "shells" of the trap close the victim is held between teeth.
In this case the trap was cradling a fire. The rabbit hung from a short rectangle of wood or metal with musical notes engraved on it. The rectangle in turn hung from chains attached to the top of the interior of the upper half of the bear trap. The chains as well as the nut and bolt of the hinge and the two shackles at either end of the trap were reproduced in detail.
I got a kick out the variety of the sculpture. Finding and identifying so many different things was a challenge but more important for me anyway was the admiration I had for the hundreds of unnamed craftsmen who cut, and carved stone, mixed pigments, working for a posterity of which they knew nothing.
The room was created by the architect Hector Lefuel with about half dozen sculptors. I wrote down their names but lost the note. Later it was remodeled by Napoleon III and the great N can be found on a few of the columns but for the most part, they are still there, a testament to the artists and a tribute to the men and women of great power who appreciated fine and interesting works.
As for paintings, perhaps I've become jaded. Too many of the magnificent works of years ago seemed lifeless today.
Odalisque by Ingrés still caught my fancy. I found duster made of ostrich feathers which Marcia claims is a fan. She spotted the long opium pipe and I noticed the incense burners spewing forth. I also found what could have been her chastity belt lying on the bedding to the left.
So much pain, death, and destruction in almost all of the paintings. One wonders why more artists couldn't find some delight in the world. The pale grey white color of death is on too many canvases. A tiger cub playing with its mother, painted by Delacroix seemed out of place.
There was a painting that always reminded and still does, of Ophelia. It's "The young martyr" by Paul Delaroche.
We saw a few paintings with musical instruments. In one, cupid is holding the music. In another a child is holding his finger to his lips. We didn't say a word.
Finally, the religious work of an artist whose name is Antonello da Messina and is known as Il Bergogone. He paints faces with the paint of death and the lines of life that are so finely drawn that you'd think a photograph of the person was pasted on the canvas. The rest of the canvas is in deep religious blues and reds.
We left at about 5 and bussed home.
It was another beautiful day in Paris and, as other Parisians, we visited a park, specifically Parc Buttes-Chaumont, another example of Baron Haussmann's vision and success. The area had been quarried for decades and then left with mounds of old stone and debris but the difference in levels of land turned it from a no man's land to great park with a soaring peak, winding paths, a footbridge spanning a quiet lake, a special place for children, and much more.
As usual the runners were jogging so we made sure to keep on the right side. At the same time kids on roller stakes dodged by. Benches were populated with readers and sunners.
We watched parents help youngsters climb a wall. Climbing is a popular sport in France and we found any number of walls designed for that sometimes dangerous activity. This one was for the young: no more than six to eight feet high with foot and hand hold depressions.
Older children climbed up a "pyramid" made from a web of inter-connected pipes that created a square. A wide base ended 10 feet up in a "box" where a child could stand as king of the hill.
As usual a small police car with three officers quietly drove though.
Strolling, watching, observing, climbing, dodging, stopping, leaning, commenting, smiling - we very much enjoyed Houssmann's art.
From there we walked east to La Villette, or more precisely to the bassin de la Villette, a long wide lake. One end feeds Canal St-Martin which, via a series of locks, falls through the city above and below ground until it reaches the Seine. Right before that last lock, its banks house the marina where our boat had been moored.
The other end of the lake splits into two waterways, canal l'Ourcq which goes off to the northeast and canal St-Denis which cuts across the city and connects to the Seine below Paris.
We strolled south along the canal St-Martin. (Imagine, having a French canal named after me!) But we were tired and found a métro station.
The French having lost so many men to wars are especially cognizant of the wounded of war and the disabled. Back in 1921 after World War I three men organized the first lottery, called the "Debt," to benefit the disfigured veterans. The primary beneficiaries of the national lottery today are still the members of the same group.
A notice on the window in the métro next to a pair of double seats informs passengers these are reserved for the war-wounded, the industrially disabled, and otherwise disabled people; blind people; pregnant women; persons with a child under 4 years of age; and persons over 75.
Generally the French don't talk in the métro and if they do, they do so quietly. Foreigners, especially Americans, should also keep quiet. It's makes sense not to say anything about the métro, France, Paris, or the French, particularly anything critical, when probably a third of those who can hear you know enough English to understand what you're saying.
That night we attended another concert at Chapelle Saint-Bernard, this time a group called the Antarès Quartet was featured.
First came the Adagio and Fugue in C minor K546 by MOZART: this turned out to be an exercise for the composer and fun for the listener...bobbing and weaving heads, moving arms, and swerving bodies...more fugue than adagio.
Then the Quartet No. 3 by Bela BARTOK. What is he trying to do? I was struck by the similarity to Stravinsky's dramatic chorus in Oedipus, loud violent shrieking chords followed by the contrast of extended notes. The cello calms. So much to absorb.
Finally the Quartet in D Major op. 44 No. 1 by Felix Mendelssohn.
This was marvelous - a long first movement having fun with his introductions and then settling down with some beautiful music. Long tremolos by the second violin as the first played the beautiful melody...soaring, lively, rhythmic, Italian? It's hard to keep the body still and I'm not sure if I should. My shoulders want to rise and my chest wants to expand with the whole upper part of my body. I watch the audience. Everyone is still.
I'm reminded of the physical examination I get once a year. Sitting on the table with my legs hanging at the end, the physician taps the lower area below the knee and my leg jerks. I am quite normal. But when the percussion of Mendelssohn's melody strikes my eardrums and resonates through my body, I am abnormal if I move.
A fine concert of good music played by excellent musicians.
Home, dinner, and later - found another small park and two restaurants.
Had a great night's sleep...almost 9 hours!
It rained lightly all day. In the morning we shopped for tonight and tomorrow (May Day, when everything is closed). Salmon steak for tonight and beef steaks for tomorrow - our first red meat at home.
Marcia spent half the afternoon cleaning the carpet by hand scrubbing it with a white powder and then using the vacuum. The carpet turned out perfectly clean. Later she wrote her sister.
Meanwhile I was shopping for a small tape recorder that I could use while walking around the city or at museums so that I could catch ideas and the names far better than writing them down quickly in a notebook and then trying to decipher the hieroglyphics.
Shopped briefly for milk and bread and then home to snuggle for the rest of the afternoon until 7 when we started dinner.
Today ends our first month and so I spent some time analyzing our budget, what we spent and if we are on target. We were.
Because the apartment lacked a few items we bought a spatula (which we'll take home with us), plastic containers (which we'll take home with us if we can), a can opener, a wine bottle opener that works well, two cups with handles, and a washcloth (which we'll take home with us).
We also had to buy clothing: a pair of undershorts for me (when our luggage didn't arrive, T Shirts - I didn't bring enough, bathing suits - they're cheaper here, and a bathing cap in order to go swimming.
We bought binoculars and a small tape recorder. I went to the doctor once to check wax in my ear - pas de probleme. And Marcia had her shoes heeled and soled. Otherwise we were on target for everything.
I have taken care to make sure that we blend as much as we can in the tide of pedestrian traffic. We wore "Dickies" slacks which we found from years of experience to be warm, easy to clean, and impervious to wear. Besides they blended in with the normal attire of the French. Marcia wears a black pair with black shoes. She has a short sleeve black sweater and a grey and black one. Her coat which is light grey marks her as questionably French. Her hat which she will wear when it is cold identifies her as a foreigner as if her passport were pasted on her back. When she doesn't wear a hat, she tied a scarf over her head or around her neck later. No one in Paris except the aged, infirm, and infants wear hats. She carries a black pocketbook with a strap.
I wear a black suede zippered jacket that ends at my waist, dark blue sweaters, a black and grey scarf . My Dickies are khaki, mark me but my classic heavy brown shoes might make it a wash out. I almost always carry a black French men's hand case. This is not an affectation. I have carried one since I learned how handy they are. What do you keep in them ? Back home if you look in the front compartment which closes with a snap, you'd find lozenges. A deep middle space, zippered at the top, holds the following: a small Swiss army knife, a hearing aid battery, the remote control for the hearing aid, a ruler (in centimeters and inches), and benadryl (in case Marcia has a bee sting). The back of the handbag opens like a book: on the left is a photo of Marcia, space for a pencil and pen, and spaces for calling cards; underneath that section is a pocket into which a small legal pad fits snugly. On the right are pockets which contain: a light powered calculator, a comb and our visiting cards. When this is zipped shut, you can access the long zippered pocket on the back in which I store a decaffeinated tea bag, a handkerchief, a wet towel, bandaids and an emory board. In Paris my digital camera replaces the lozenges and a regular camera fits in with the main junk.
We both walk rapidly as the French when we have a place to go. We cut corners crossing the street against light.
So, when today, as I was walking rapidly along, a young traveler (he had luggage) stopped me to ask if I knew how to make a collect call to the States, I was flabbergasted. How did he know that I was an American? I helped him as well as I could and we parted. I should have asked how he knew I was an American. Earlier I was humming and singing aloud to myself, but I don't think I was making a sound when I approached him. I will never know.
Paris has more than its share of street people. You'll notice I don't care if they have a home or not. And they're not all without talent. Nor are they all in need of a bath.
First, there is the clochard, about whom I've commented before. You'll find him or her almost anywhere - on the métro, on the street or sitting in a park or lying on the grass, either alone or with a few others. The clochard will tend not to beg. A clochard knows where to get a good meal or enough food for the night, and also knows where a City bus will stop to take him to a shelter if the weather is inclement.
Second, there are the beggars who are quite numerous. They can be classified as those who beg, those who will provide a publication, and those who perform and then beg. Most in the first category you will notice sitting with a sign, "I am hungry." Others will kneel so that their legs are not immediately seen. Others spread themselves out with a container and a sign explaining an unfortunate set of circumstances. On the street, a man might sit by the building with a sign or follow you if you are a woman alone. Ignored, he will walk off.
Post offices and supermarkets attract beggars who beg first and deliver later by usually "selling" magazines; you contribute and get a magazine (maybe). One such beggar stands in front of Fran-Prix, our local market, everyday leaning against a pillar, holding his magazines. One day we saw him at another market in a public area, sitting and using a cell phone. At the post office there was a presentable young lady whose begging job was to open the door for you. She also had fist full of papers.
The performers are more interesting. You will find among these beggars many musicians, some of whom are encouraged to play for a public to get the practice and at the same time pick up some money. Last week we saw 12 musicians giving a concert at one of the popular spots where a number of métro lines intersect and there are many passengers in the process of transferring. As I entered the train yesterday, I saw a man with an accordion and another with a clarinet.
In the underground passageways it is not uncommon to see a beautiful young girl, playing the violin all by herself, or young man with a clarinet playing like Benny Goodman.
Finally, there are the exploited. Too often you will run across a woman, usually with a Muslim headdress, and child - sometimes as young as two or three, often though with a youngster of 4 or 5, with a sign indicating great need. I've been told that her husband forces her to beg with the child. Once, on a métro, we saw a man with such a woman who had her child walk through the train begging for money. I've also been told that these are Gypsies.
On the train you will find the musicians, the women with children, or the person who announces piously that he's freed of drink and that he needs a new start -- and he walks through the car begging. On another train a man was selling magazines. On another - the one that took us out to the Chateau near Sceaux - an elderly man was playing a beautiful violin. He had small amplifier with a record that had other background music. And sometimes, you find as we did, the happy-go-lucky beggar who enjoys kidding the girls more than he enjoys begging.
And the French with a history of more than 1000 years tolerate them...all.
May Day in Europe is a special day for workers and has been since 1889 when the Second Socialist International declared it a worker's holiday. Before that it was just another traditional festival day that dated to the Roman Empire.
May Day in Paris is a special day for workers and since most people work, it's a national holiday. Historically, it's a Left wing holiday. Here in Paris workers' groups met at place de la République and marched to place de la Bastille while a small group of Right wingers gathered at place du Châtelet.
The labels "Left" and "Right" to designate a political position originate from the days of the French revolution. When the nobles decided to attend the National Assembly, they came into the chamber and sat on the right side. The left was occupied by the bourgeoisie (the middle class) and a majority of the clergy. The Right wingers, people with money and property, wanted to maintain the status quo with little change. They did not want a government of the unpropertied being obstreperous. Those on the Left took the opposite position: franchise should be extended to all. Since then, the French and many other political systems use the terms Left and Right to define positions on government. In our country the label "Liberal" sometimes replaces Left.
Although May Day is a holiday of the "Left," in France everyone is a revolutionary so the rich take a long "weekend" - Saturday, Sunday, Monday and May Day and the poor just take off on Monday if they can get away with it.
We slept in until about 2 PM and then decided to take boulevard Montparnasse to see where it would go. I couldn't help notice that the Frenchmen like the English often walk or stand with their hands behind their backs. In 1997 I noticed the habit among Englishmen. Then one day while we were on a bus, I noticed schoolboys with their teacher walking on the street. And, guess what. All the little boys had their hands folded behind their backs.
When we arrived at the Port Royal train station, we turned left toward the eastern and most impressive entrance to the Luxembourg Gardens. The sculpture of horses and maids is covered with fountains of water. Beyond are two long malls separated by a pedestrian street in the distance. Giant chestnut trees are in blossom and walking between the trees is as fine an experience as any king or queen of France had. The mall is called the Jardin de Cavalier de la Salle whom we know as La Salle, the person who discovered Louisiana in the seventeenth century.
Last time - it must have been spring or summer - the second mall was full of children and their parents. Law and tradition have helped keep families together in France so that the fabric of society that has covered the country for generations is still strong and relatively snag free. First names, for example, are selected from a list although they can be modified with names and places. And in France inheritance is set by law: children inherit equally; a parent has no say. Five weeks of annual paid vacations is standard and has led many citizens to maintain a place in the country. I read somewhere that there are more second homes in France that in any other nation in the world. Finally, Families stay together: they eat out together with the family dog, vacation together usually in August, and see each other more often because there are many holidays. Children will stay with parents for long periods because securing an apartment is difficult and expensive.
No parents and children on the grass today; it's just too cool.
I love these tall royal chestnut trees. They are magnificent. The tops are trimmed but the lower branches are cut back so you can imagine not a row of trees but carefully shaved poodles ready for a show.
On our right are table tennis tables a combination of stainless steel tops and sides and concrete bottoms. The net is made of metal and painted green. The tables are being used.
A gendarme patrols the park in the same fashion as another did years ago at the park at the marina. The gendarme here, too, smokes and walks slowly around maintaining order by asking the young to remove themselves from a flower bed.
We notice, however, that there are police on the streets of Paris which is a change from a decade ago. Seeing a group of three on patrol now is not uncommon. We also see many white police cars.
At the end of the mall, we turned to return the way we had come but on the parallel street. First building: under the aegis of the Prime Minister - The School of Public Administration, with typical barred windows but also with lace curtains that reminded us of the Netherlands again. Second building: University of Paris, Faculté de Pharmacie.
Then a 5 story building with unusual red brick - the Institute of Art and Archaeology.
On the wall of a building, bronze plaques.
Memorial bronze plaques such as these are affixed to buildings and walls throughout Paris and mark places where Parisians - individual men, women, and children - were killed by the Germans during the World War II. In addition to the date, the event or their affiliation might be mentioned.
These reminders are effective. When I first saw one in 1950, I was terribly moved. Today I still am. I doubt that they will ever be removed unless the building, wall, or sidewalk is.
New trees are planted all over Paris. A hole is dug and prepared. Before the tree is placed in the hole one end of a long plastic accordion type pipe about 2 inches in diameter is put in the hole while the other end remains above ground fastened to a stake. The tree is lowered and earth is added so that tree is erect. It is tied and then watered through the hose that remain above ground. Every day for whatever period is necessary a truck will come by to water the tree.
Our stroll took us to an observatory, and then to a small garden where a sign advised that this was a place for play and adventure. Children were playing and adults were reading. One young man was reading an English edition of an autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. In this spot of land a gardien sat in a one person guard house to keep play safe and adventure reasonable.
In looking in a store window that contained a lot of furniture, Marcia liked the ingenious and striking designs of chairs, lamps, and other sundries - desks, computer cabinets, heavy glass scales with the innards visible - a mechanical and an electronic version. Once you got on you might not want to get off.
By the way, electrical systems in Europe vary with the country. The system in the United States, i.e. 115-120 volts, is not popular. The French use a 220 volt system. The outlets are different from ours, as are the plugs. We brought with us four adapters for the plugs so that our 120-240v hair dryer and electric shaver could be connected; both worked fine on the 220 volts. The Apple iBook's 120-240 power supply worked on the same adapter.
When I found the street sign to locate where the shop was, I read the name "rue Victor-Considérant" who was author of the decree of 27 April abolishing slavery in the colonies. Interesting in itself, but more interesting in that his name confirms an explanation for the hyphens used in so many French names when they're abbreviated. An acquaintance, Kevin, whom we met at Simone's house, suggested the hyphens separate a noun (or name) from an adjective that describes the person. Applying the theory: Victor-Considérant gives us "Victor the considerate" or Victor, the kind one. Not bad. Most names that include saints are created with the hyphen, i.e. boulevard St-Germain.
Today I noticed for the first time that there were no street lamps on any of the nearby streets. Lamps, however, are attached to the buildings. Later as we rode the bus my observation about the street lamps was verified. Other than a few lights attached to some traffic light poles, street lamps are fastened to buildings. On busy thoroughfares lamps are on each building. Each light has its own wire that runs to a box at street level.
Today I also discovered how wrong I was in guessing that the European fascination with heads could be traced to the belief that the head of your enemy was a good thing to bring home or give to some one so that an artist could paint the grisly details, especially the open eyes. On a building we noticed one such head and then remembered the many body-less heads we've seen decorating other buildings. But I was wrong. The heads are not heads but masks (masquerons) that are quite expressive, showing anger, humor, disdain, etc. They appeared on buildings in the first half of the 18th century, yet one can't avoid the connection between them and the machine Dr.Guillotin invented decades later to sever the heads of sheep.
On our way to the post office we noticed a beggar with his "I am hungry" sign. On our return a few minutes later Marcia observed that "I am hungry" was talking on his cell phone.
Everyone carries something larger than a cell phone although it seems almost everyone has a phone. The traditional leather briefcase is in style with office men and women. Any woman can carry a large bag. Purses no longer exist. Men and women who are not students and who are probably not tourists carry a sack on the back.
Today, also, I'm as French as I can get. I am wearing my grey trousers and black shoes. (Both pairs of my khaki trousers are being laundered by the couple of nice Americans who do our laundry.) I look good - more French than ever: black shoes, black socks, grey trousers, a black quasi suede zippered jacket, and a diamond patterned black and grey scarf I've owned for years.
We are in the laundromat. It is popular here and one can be found in every neighborhood except those of the extraordinarily affluent because space is a problem. Apartments here in Paris seem smaller than those say in New York. Washing machines are small. On the way to the laundry this morning we passed a discarded laundry machine not much larger than a piece of carry-on luggage. And I lay 2 to 1 that it was not married to a drier. From our window that looks out on at least two dozen apartments the most common sight other than bushes, flowers, and trees are people ironing clothes that were dried hanging indoors or out on the balcony in weather you wouldn't store a old pair of boots. Ironing I think is second to watching TV.
In today's FigaroScope, the events section in the newspaper, the "New Bercy" was featured in a long piece. We knew the old Bercy was a large area just southeast of the city and adjacent to the Seine where vintners spent their time with wine: bottling it, selling it, mixing it, tasting it, storing it and, of course drinking it. They might even have made some of it there as well. When we arrived in Paris, the area was in a terrible state with dilapidated shacks, small alleys, empty lots, rotten docks - a real mess.
Since then part of the area was set aside for a huge modern building for the benefit of the Minister de Finance. It's something to see: quite modern and unapproachable. Marcia and I were on the street in front when the police rushed up to make sure everything was in order so that the Minister could drive out comfortably. He did everything with an eye to comfort. The auto ride from Bercy to Elysée where the president lives or to Prime Minister's office near the Chamber of Deputes was a long one and fraught with the usual and unusual delays that bedevil drivers. As a result, soon after Bercy was built and then occupied, the Minister ordered a boat to be purchased and a dock to be built. Now, he speeds down the Seine to be on time for his meetings.
Another part of the Bercy is used for a stadium in which we saw not a football game or two because it's large enough, nor a horse race, but the opera Carmen by Bizet. There she was, in the middle of this wide open area, singing her songs which we could hear perfectly well. To see her, however, from a mile high on the grandstand was impossible. Later we found closer seats.
A few years ago I read that a new American center, designed by Frank O. Gehry, had been built in the new Bercy. The old one, located on boulevard Raspail, had catered primarily to rich students whose parents could send them to Paris to acquire "savoir-faire" (knowledge of how to get along anywhere). Then, as a mature former member of the United States Naval Reserve whose term of service spanned the end of the war and the peace afterward (the middle of April 1945 to the beginning of July 1946), I did not have too much to do with those people...although it was nice to be able to speak English once in a while.
Unfortunately, the new center failed to attract those same Americans and it was forced to close its doors. I'm not surprised. Bercy is far from the "Bohemian" areas of Montmartre and Montparnasse as well as from the more academic centers near the universities.
We will visit the New Bercy soon.
According to the same issue of Figaro, USA Today published the result of a study of strikes in Paris. Last year 1,700 manifestations, rassemblements etc. took place in Paris. Furthermore, it was reported that 5,200 policeman are assigned full time to this French phenomenon.
More news: The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, announced that he wanted to débaptiser la rue Richepanse (to change a street's name). The street is in the 1st and 8th arrondissement. Arrondissements are boroughs of Paris; each has a mayor who occupies a magnificent "borough hall." Apparently M. Richepanse was a no-goodnik who, under Bonaparte, repressed a bloody rebellion in Guadeloupe.
The other night, as we were having coffee/tea and looking over the city, I asked Marcia what was different about Paris. "You've been to New York, London, Amsterdam, San Francisco to name a few other big cities," I said, " what makes Paris different?" She thought for a moment and said that it was the tremendous number and variety of public buildings, monuments, and parks that were open to the public for their enjoyment...so much beauty and art just for walking around.
While Marcia made for the Louvre to see an exhibit of decorative art, I went to the "Picasso Erotique" exhibit in the gallery of the Jeu de Paume, a pavillion of the Louvre that once held a tennis court. We separated at the bus stop. I walked west toward place de la Concorde. The Jardin de Tuilleries which lies between the Louvre on the east and Concorde on the west must be one of the most beautiful gardens in any city. Bounded by rue de Rivoli on one side and the Seine on the other, it holds wide circular and rectangular lagoons, side paths, a mall lined with statues and gardens and grass and benches and chairs. Near Rivoli there are fields for soccer.
Because we had promised to meet later at the Louvre, I began to hurry but immediately had to stop to look more closely at a statue of a young boy helping Spartacus. I had time. Picasso could wait a moment or two.
So many flowers, so pleasant. I kept saying to myself, "Marcia's got to see this."
Newly planted chestnut trees. Older ones standing at parade rest for the procession of Parisians and visitors who are passing through. "It's just nice," I speak into my recorder.
I'm walking rapidly. I like walking that way, always did. I don't know why. Perhaps it has something to do with my mother who reminded me always to keep my head up and shoulders square, walk straight. I followed her dictum. I just realized as I write that you can't walk slowly and keep your head up and shoulders square.
It's great to be in Paris but it's wonderful to be here with time...time to look, stare, walk around an object, return to it....We're lucky.
I wanted to go to the Picasso exhibit because it was a Picasso exhibit, even though I had seen much of his pornographic output long ago at Modern Museum of Art in New York. I was disappointed and, at the same, glad I went.
Once again I saw the original of Figures abord de la mer which I like.[See photo on next page.] Two figures in each other's arms are lying on the beach in a paroxysm of either love or hate or both. The parts of the male and female bodies are arranged in an enigmatic fashion and the fused faces provide an optical illusion. They seem to be kissing or about to kiss or about to eat each other up. Whatever, they are so much with each other that I take pleasure in what they're up to which I'm not sure of. I enjoy following the turns into and out of various spaces between the loving or, perhaps, the not-so-loving pair.
The entry in my log indicated that the painting was called "a modern aléatoire." The word was unfamiliar and our dictionary was inadequate. Only when I got back to the States did I discover the meaning which in a sense I had discovered while enjoying the painting in Paris.
from my 1981 Larousse French English Dictionary: aléatoire - adj. risky, hazardous, contingent; chancy (fam.)|| JUR Aleatory
from my 1990 Concise Oxford Dictionary: aleatory - adj. = ALEATORIC. [as ALEATORIC]
aleatoric - adj. 1. depending on the throw of a die or on chance. 2. Mus & Art involving choice by a performer or artist [L aleatorios aleator dice-player f. alea die
Obviously, the word aléatoire is as ambiguous as the painting. I assume it refers both to the artist, Picasso, as well as to the pair (perhaps "performers") on the beach. Research is especially rewarding when you discover you knew the answer all the time.
A print of the painting was not to be bought. Post cards are available.
I don't think I had ever seen Nu aux jambes croisées (Nude with crossed arms) but I recognize the model's face. For me the painting is neither pornographic nor even erotic. The green on the leg is dramatic as it contrasts with the orange of the body and repeates the color of a cone of color in the background. But the eyes of the woman look out intensely.
One I will always remember with a smile is a bedroom scene. On the right perhaps the procurer; he has a hat on and smokes a cigar. In the middle a bed and on the left a voluptuous women with small breasts and black at the pubis looking longingly at the figure on the left. He, like a kohlrabi with roots for legs. The round dome of this head contains a face looking up at the woman. An ear and and wisp of hair appear on the front which is the side of his head and down between the roots/read legs are his wee genitals.
I noticed for the first time how Picasso devotes himself for few months to one subject or one technique. For example there was a series of couplings created in April 1933 with single lines at the end of which were three darker short ones which represented fingers or toe. Figuring out what was happening in the drawing took some time and I asked myself. "Was it worth it?"
And then I thought about what I did and why. Obviously I'm curious but even if I had more time I would not have taken the trouble to figure out each one. That Picasso was a clever painter who enjoyed creating puzzles with paint is not enough. If its worth it ? - a good question. I don't think so in this case.
Before I turned toward the Louvre I glanced around at Place de la Concorde, beyond the Hotel Crillon, and beyond that, to the Embassy of the United States. It was from a balcony during the the 200th anniversary celebration of the Fall of the Bastille that many of the world's leaders watched at midnight as Jessye Norman sang the Marseillaise, circling the obelisk in a gown that swirled as if it embodied the passion and rage of the revolutionaries who made that day one that the whole world remembers. Marcia and I saw the event on television. I was so moved. I shall never forget it.
I meet Marcia at the check room at the Richelieu Entrance. She tells me that once again the Louvre cashiers were on strike so that admission is free. The cashiers have another day off and the Treasurer of France is footing the bill, but the tourists are happy. I don't think it wouldn't happen in the States. Either the building would be closed or open.
I said that we must go back to the garden but first we had to find a place to have lunch. It was one thirty and restaurant we had planned on going to was too far a walk. Restaurants that serve lunch are usually finished by two. So we walked on rue St. Honoré and found Chez Nous a restaurant that was perfect. A paté appetizer, a pitcher of wine, followed by Chicken Basque, dessert coffee - no tea.
Then it was back to the Jardin des Tuilleries .
On the way we passed five men who had been having lunch in the park when I was on my way to meet Marcia. Here it was 3 PM and they are still talking and eating.
The grass looks so soft - a million tulips. It's warm, hot actually. We should have our sunglasses which we left at our apartment. We take two green armchairs and sit facing the sun. Next to us is Hercules still trying to kill a minitour.
We moved to the round lagoon and watched a model sailboat on
a long reach to the opposite side. I didn't know then but it is owned by vendor who rents it for others to sail. He came by to clear the area immediately next the water so that his customers - usually children - could turn their boats when they arrived. I was curious about the boats. Two dozen were stacked. Each was a well made, sturdy little craft with a main and a jib flying from a long bowsprit. I thought the sails were deliberately patched with bright colored cloth but Marcia, who knows more about fabric, informed me that the patches actually covered rips in the sails. We stood by as grandparents with grandchildren rented two boats, one for the girl and one for the boy. We wished we had our grandchild with us so we could watch him play with the boats. [See photo on next page.]
When we reached the Seine side of the park, I noticed a passageway. Women and children were gathered and working with flower pots and things. Nearby, a plot of land had been reserved for mothers and children to plant flowers and vegetables. How nice! Marcia and I remembered the many plots of land throughout The Netherlands and France where families staked a claim and became family farmers. The crop was mostly vegetables but on some of the larger ones folks had found space for a few flowers.
I was also reminded of Hungary in 1967, when I was driven out to a huge lake resort near Budapest. On the way, wherever there was a bit of land that was not part of a farm it was used for flowers. And my lasting memory of England in 1950 were the abundant beds of flowers that lay on land ravaged by bombing and fire. All along the track from London to Edinburgh was a long flower garden tended by ordinary people doing nice things.
Only human beings know what beauty is and what makes for a brighter life.
The Seine was still in flood, swirling under the bridge, tossing flotsam in a merry-go-round that moved downstream. Across the river is a full view of the Orsay Museum. Looks like railroad station - "Paris" at one end and "Orleans" at the other with the names of the stations in between engraved in stone on top of seven huge arches. Clocks at each end.
A couple of young men carried an ice chest and were in the process of arranging bottles of water which they would sell to passers-by when a white police car with four officers stopped for a red light. The young men gathered their belongings rapidly and moved away without even being told.
Near rue de Bac a piano was being lifted to the fifth floor of a building. A beam, which I'm sure is metal, is erected on the sill of the window above so that it pokes out at an angle. It is moored as it if were a mast but, instead of a sail, lines and pulleys draped to the street. We watched.
We passed the Hotel Port Royal where my mother evenutally stayed
1951. It was a nice hotel then but not with the five star it
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