Copyright © 2002 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved
Spring has come to Paris. This is the second day of sun, not the nasty April Fool's joke the weather played on us, but the real thing. Women are wearing red, white, and light tan jackets. And someone even wore a red scarf. Instead of my zippered black jacket I donned my black, light blazer (Oh, for a bright blue one.) and Marcia had her white cardigan. We boarded bus 96 for the Marais where we would find La Maison de la Chasse de la Nature.
La Maison is a museum of the hunt. I am not a hunter. I am a fisherman. What my wife wants to see, though, I will see...and her name is not Diana.
On the way we passed the Hotel de Ville, the City Hall of Paris. It's a beautiful structure with sculpted figures of the great and near great. Today tents had been erected on the front plaza; they seem to be up all of time. Visual pollution is what I call it. The same could be said of the ferris wheel that decorates place de la Concorde. On the other hand tents and ferris wheels provide entertainment that is fun.
The facade of the city hall is a gallery of world history. The men and women who look out have made significant contributions to music, philosophy, science, art, theater, etc. Their faces are caught with expressions that would make them happy and we enjoy their pleasure.
For me the Musée de Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of the Chase and of Nature) was an opportunity to look at myself and art from the perspective of indifference. Marcia wanted to visit because she's curious.
I first examined the mechanism of the rifle with its hundreds of machine turned gleaming metal in the first display case. For the 16th century it was ingeniously contrived and the stock was decorated with animals in a forest painted in a carving on the stock. I imagined the process of loading and firing and then followed it...but without a tutor the imaginary boar would have gored me long before I had shot it to death.
After the first rifle and the second, the rest looked so much alike that I could pass them all. As noted in an earlier chapter, one needs to know more about a class of artifacts or to have an affection for them to appreciate their creation. The idea of having an affection for the rifle is interesting. I had never thought about art or artifact academically in that way but surely it is affection I feel for so much that I like in art.
How does one develop an affection? First, by familiarity, I guess. The long lost "friend" that I found in listening to chamber music in Paris after having heard it so often in Edinbourgh is obviously the best illustration. But truly, the concept of affection for art is new to me. Hard to believe.
We also stopped at the Picasso Museum. Picasso is one of my favorite painters, but visiting the museum this time was not what it should have been. I felt under pressure. I don't know why. I walked through, looking but not seeing much. Hopefully, I will return before we go.
Mosquitos attacked us last night. Marcia killed 2 at night. I attempted murder this morning but the criminal escaped only to be caught again by the bounty hunter MRH(Marcia Reff Honey) who gets a kiss with every dead mosquito.
When we first retired to France we couldn't understand then, and still cannot, why window screens are not used here or in The Netherlands. Aboard Opperdan, our boat, Marcia made screens for every window. We never had any mosquitos and only an occasional yellow jacket.
We never even saw a fly. It was remarkable at the open public market not to see one fly but it was true.
Back then I decided to go fishing one day. I had seen old men (I was not even of middle age.) fish with long poles. Even though I had a short one I would try. I went a to a place where fishing tackle and bait were sold and there bought little round worms that I seen the fishermen in the Netherlands use successfully. I tried my luck with no success. Try again, I said to myself. So I put them in a small container in which little cigars had been packed. (I had stopped smoking cigarettes long before we came to Paris. I smoked a pipe most of the time but occasionally I would buy small cigars. The cigar container, a tin container with hinges, was ideal.
The next morning after having an early breakfast I got out my tackle and opened the box of worms, but few remained. Most had escaped through the space around the edge of the hinge. I began picking them up from everywhere. And then I noticed one from which had emerged the head of a fly. Oh, God! Marcia and I worked liked demons to find every worm or fly. Fortunately for us the fly when it first emerges is naturally quite lethargic and is easy to capture and destroy. We gathered the worms from the spaces between the floor of the wheelhouse and from other nooks and places which they had found. We were in such a hurry. What bothered us most was the possibility that we would be responsible for allowing flies out when heretofore we had not see one. We did a fine job.
Later I explained what had happened to Sidney and Janine, our neighbors. We were informed politely that the worms were asticots, maggots in English. Not only were we completely ignorant but terribly aghast. Handling maggots. Oh, for a good healthy night crawler.
On our way home we bought two books. Réconnaître les façades du moyen â nos jours, â Paris, by J.M. Larbodière, published by Massin, Paris, 2000 is a book we should have had a long time ago since both of us are taken by architecture. The second, Nous avons bati Paris, by Claude Cetekk, Published by Inter-Livres, Paris, 1987 is a wonderful book of illustrations with commentary about how Paris was built. This is a gem.
First, Laundry and Get Some Francs Day, then
Marcia had read about the new music center at La Villete, an extensive area at the top of the Canal St. Martin. We had visited this area years before when its only occupant was the Cité de Science et de l'Industrie, an architectural marvel. Because it was a nice day we decided to take another look on our way to the music center. I'm glad we did.
We found the best place in the world for small children.
Indoors, in an area enclosed in glass is a "Notice of Building." A permit number is predominantly displayed. It identifies for whom the building is being built, viz. children, 3-5 yrs. of age; building height: 3.5 meters; accommodation: 26 children. At the bottom is the line "Hard Hats are required."
Imagine a large yellow two story ant house framed for windows and doors, with ants scurrying all over, each busy with a task, moving so rapidly that you can't keep track.
Now substitute small children, each with a colored hard hat on, each about the same size, and each child busy with a task, such as placing a brick or panel made of firm grey foam, in a door or window frame on the second or first floor; or pulling a rope on a pulley to raise a basket full of bricks to the second floor so that another worker can remove them and a third and fourth can insert them in the frames; or delivering bricks by truck to the side of the house; or loading trucks at the supply depot; or handling the gate at inventory control; et cetera, et cetera...
It was simply wonderful watching. You really couldn't keep track of one youngster because your eye kept jumping to another involved in another task in connection with another child.
Maybe it was children in another world that taught ants how to do it.
Outside was a giant mirrored globe, called the Géode, that captured acres of green park with clusters of young people, children and parents - and then there's the canal. I remembered thinking years before how nice it would be to moor our boat there. I'm sure it's not permitted but it was nice thinking about it.
We walked: a high bridge, a concert hall designed for "new music," a popular music café and then one of our goals, the Museum of Music. Marcia, who plays the violin was particularly interested. We donned earphones, climbed two flights and started our tour - 10 areas, the first 8 on the succeeding upper floors.
Listening to music related to various instruments, composers and musicians was pleasant and I enjoyed it, but I am a curious person and want to know how things work. Although I enjoyed listening and looking, I would have been really interested in learning how a craftsman builds or creates a violin and then hear the differences among a few.
Many years ago I took the trouble to learn how a cathedral was constructed without cranes and steel. Perhaps that's why I am in awe still at Notre Dame or even a small unusually built church as St.Vincent de Paul which we found hidden away one day while walking.
In listening to some of the music at the museumI learned the names of composers I hadn't known and works that I would like to hear again such as John Dowling's works for a luth and Marin Marais compositions for the basse de violo . I saw a glass flute that was made in 1820 and a glass harmonica invented by Benjamin Franklin at the end of the 18th century. Ben did get around!
Finally, I was surprised at the number and variety of hunting scenes painted on instruments, particularly an earlier version of the piano.
We ate at Restaurant Les Zazous, near Montparnasse. While I sat there at 8:52 in the evening in between courses, I noticed that the sun was still pouring down the boulevard from the west and falling on already lighted neon signs and awning lights, making the way a hollywood set designed for the likes of Montparnasse in Paris. And June 21st, when the day will be really long, is a month off. Next time I must order a pitcher of wine instead of a bottle.
The sun, which had awakended at 6:13 in the morning, set quietly at 9:22.
Walked awhile and then home to catch up on logging and such things.
I set out for the market in a beautiful summer morning and discovered that a village had grown up in front of Gare Montparnasse. About three to four dozen small wooden shacks had been rented and erected for some good reason I know not.
Young people keep smoking.
This morning at the market I felt like a little boy in a toy store. Extravagant displays of foods set up just for me. I would look at one and then another even prettier and fuller...vendors standing behind their stands...a young girl who sells me two apples. The fish vendor hums, sings while rushing around and telling me or another customer how wonderful the Rouget Barbet is. So many mushrooms. And the breads - all crisp and freshly baked in shapes I never imagined.
And the butcher - I was ready to buy a couple of slices of pork and then I entertained the idea of a filet mignon and continued checking prices. The green grocer with colored vegetables from The Netherlands, Italy, Morocco, United States, Canada, and all parts of France.
In the end I bought swordfish steaks, a filet of Nile perch, broccoli, radishes.
After a nap it's 3 PM and we're off to reconnoiter our neighborhood once more but this time in a different direction.
We start down our own block, left and right into the a small street from which traffic is prohibited by stanchions in the middle. Rue Delou is its name.
Faculty of Medicine of Nekker Institute on rue de Vaugirard. We see a café, a play area, followed by the College Medical Center.
Institute Pasteur provides vaccinations and consultations. We pass an internet center - many of these dot Paris. Young people sit before screens and play games or surf. On the other side is a Speed Rabbit Pizza. Now, government buildings, a pawn broker (no three balls), an internet school. We pass a store selling carnets or books of old postcards; he's selling them for 20F which means our book is worth between nothing and about five francs.
Market area. Tree lined street. Marcia looks up to a modern window and comments that there are no screens. I ask if the lace curtains couldn't serve as screens. "No," she says. "they are part of the window." What about the bars I ask...She can't believe it.
A building with a courtyard as large as a park. On a wall facing the street are small enamels like the ones used in a bathroom - a whole building.
Rue Robert (who was an artist we read from he street sign). Fence enclosed gardens on the street.
We enter through an underpass into a court which opens onto some elegant housing with private gardens, eight tennis courts, gyms, day care centers, etc., all run by the city.
Found a barrette for Marcia 65F, about $9.
Stopped off at the busiest MacDonalds in the world on rue de Commerce for a coke and an order of fries and then made our way through the crowds on a narrow sidewalk down the block to the hotel where we lived in December 1987 in order to establish residency.
That was the week that was and both of us will remember it for the rest of our lives! In order to stay in France for more than 60 days, we had to secure long term visas. Although the procedure for navigating this process are specific, the chart has yet to be written.
Back home - It's hot and we're tired. Marcia as usual made the salad and I, the filet of perch with a tomato garlic parsley sauce which turned out well.
Went to a piano recital at St-Bernard. We left at intermission. It was an all Chopin program and boring even with some preludes, a scherzo, and a barcarolle. No change of pace. The pianist was an excellent technician.
The sun was still out at about 10 PM.
The sun is still shinning.
A few naps, lunch, and off at 1:20 by bus to Chatelet, or to be more precise "place du Châtelet" and then a walk to Les Halles. Chatelet, besides being a place memorable for its theater once named for Sara Bernhart, an American is a métro crossroad where the "big bands" (say as many as 10 people) in subterranean corridors play for donations. But our destination was more interesting.
Les Halles was originally the largest food and produce market in Paris, dating back to the 12th century. Almost a dozen halls dominated the area well into the 20th century when the market was moved outside the city. But, in 1950, when I lived in Paris, it was enough of a market to have onion soup in the early morning hours. I believe I went there myself because I have a vivid memory of it. A long low café lay against the side of one of the halls. It was smokey and trucks were parked in the narrow street. The soup, served in a bowl almost twice the size of those that we used for coffee, was filled with lumps of bread covered with cheese and the onions, a deep brown crowded deep below the surface.
The area, still known as Les Halles, is now a park with public buildings. Below ground, however, is subterranean series of malls. Today we just wanted to walk around the park which we did in a cursory fashion. What delayed us was a giant head and hand sculpted from stone. When my sister-in-law visited us in 1990, Marcia showed her the park and the sculpture. One of the eyes on that sculpture had been painted red and her sister saw a man with a pail nearby and assumed that he was defacing the sculpture. She marched over to him and, speaking English, she began to berate him loudly. Fortunately for her he happened to be Henri de Miller, the sculptor and, in English, he explained that he was cleaning his work. Now, a decade later, the surface is worn a bit but the sculpture is fine otherwise. Years before Marcia had taken a picture of me standing between the hand and the head and so I did the same for her.
St-Eutache, the grand old church of the 16th century nearby, provided some relief from the heat. The cold air met us beyond the vestibule and then there was the dark, old, grey cathedral itself. It was being refurbished, perhaps renewed. One wonders if all the money spent in Paris and in France for refurbishing, renovating, and repairing churches is worth it. Could some of the money be better spent on other national projects?
I wasn't prepared for some of the major changes. For example, in one of the old chapels the image of simple cross on a slanted screen is being projected from an aperture behind a curtain. A glass or plastic cube about a foot square sits on the left. In another chapel a sculpture in relief on a curved leaf-shaped plane is lit by a spotlight.
In another alcove a contemporary painting depicts the earth's bounties in terms of an abundance of crops. This is effected by the portrayal of characters that look like a gang of dwarfs that accompanied Snow White.
At an open air market nearby I bought an almost new copy the Historire et Dictionnaire de Paris by of Alfred Fierro for 100 francs (close to 200 new). This a fine reference book that was recommended to me by Simone.
We began our walk back. Considered taking a bus because we were exhausted but changed our minds. Along the quai de la Mégisserie on the building side, we stopped to look at the plants and the animals. Not as many birds, though.
The wind began to pick up with a front moving in from the west as we crossed the first part of Pont Neuf. This is the bridge that spans the Seine at the western tip of Ile de La Cité. At this point the island is only a block wide. But in the middle of that block on the left is a narrow road that opens to what might have been a private compound at one time. Place Dauphine is public now, with benches, greens, flowers, and an area for pétanque. Off the square is a hostellerie for wine and cheese parties, an Italian restaurant, and a small "no star" hotel.
On the Left Bank we found ourselves on rue Dauphine, a street I didn't remember. It's narrow with black stanchions on the sidewalk on the left side and a wider sidewalk on the right. The stanchions are to protect pedestrians from traffic and to encourage them to stay on the sidewalk which is often difficult to do. We crossed the street, continued a bit longer and then found a passage Dauphine which Marcia strode into. The walkway cut a diagonal from rue Dauphine to rue Mazarine. Not much there but a popular tea house.
Rue Mazarine, leads to the lively intersection with rue St.-André-des-Arts which kind of begins the Latin Quarter. The "Latin" of the Latin Quarter is there because until the middle of the 18th century Latin was the official language on the Left Bank. It was the language of scholarship and the University of Paris was centered there. It didn't change until the revolution.
Bus #96 took us, an utterly exhausted pair of middle aged senior citizens, home. By then the weather was changing and after a late dinner we forgot our evening walk and hit the sack at a reasonable hour.
I have a cold.
Nevertheless, we went over to the Champs Elysée for information on Conflans-Ste-Honorine. This is an town that lies at the intersection, or confluence of the rivers Seine and Oise. We had stopped there by boat but never got a chance to look at the town. We wanted to because of its history as a maritime center and for its museum.
Ate out at A la Ville de Morlaix: chicken liver salad for appetizer and then canard confit, which is preserved duck legs with white beans.
Took the first pill in the a.m. Anticipating a sinus problem, I had a prescription filled before I left. I should have started the medication two days ago.
Marcia visited the Musée Jacquemart-André and
enjoyed herself while her poor husband had to go out in the chilly
Paris weather to buy a gross of tissues. I probably should have
gone with her because it wasn't just a another house with some
art, which it did have. But it also had walls that were built
to lower in the floor, making a small music room, for example,
into a spacious chamber for a party and dancing.
To the next Chapter
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To the index
To the Wheelhouse