We had ventured into Paris and our flat in Montmartre mid-February, coldest time of the year, with the least tourists! In February, we could bundle up a bit, walk through the square of working artists in Montmartre and even visit the most popular sites in central Paris without encountering huge crowds or waiting overly long in lines. Longest was about 1/2 hour to get into Cathedrale Saint-Chapelle on the ile de la Cite near pont Neuf (9th bridge across the Seine). Seemed a bit petit for a cathedrale, a grand piece of history, but you add a tour of La Conciergerie, the place where Marie Antoinette was held till she was beheaded, and you have a whole day of 13th Century Gothic architecture and Frence history – and our day continued on to a great favorite for me, Shakespeare Books, across the pont des amours (bridge of lovers coated with locks left by couples) a visit always completed with cafe latte and dessert at Le Petit Pont Cafe, one of my favorites (impossible to have one favorite cafe!), located just up the street from Shakespeare Books, Le Petit Pont, always welcoming; dessert often delivered with something on fire, a sparkler, a whole torch for your birthday!
I was so glad I chose a short black waterproof coat at Petaluma’s Alphabet Soup thrift – on sale no less! Its fake fur cuffs and hood kept the brief rain and once hail – off and helped me feel, well, plausibly Parisian. Not that wearing my socks OVER my leggings didn’t get a stare. Women on the Metro seem curious – are you setting a new trend or just gauche? Polite or rude? I tried to be polite with many “pardons” escaping my lips at least for the first days and always bonjour and bonsoir with a few Nous Avons (let’s go) and pas rien (it’s nothing) dropped here and there. Three years of French in High School nearly forgotten; a bit of brush up with Laure Reichek’s amazing French class in the Apple Box in Petaluma. She told me “you are understandable but incorrect.” And that worked – no one ever didn’t understand me, though I got a few frustrated shop keepers. We mostly use Rick Steve’s Paris guide(s), one lent by our friend, Gary Smith, who expectes to visit Paris in August and may take the flat on rue Francouer which will forever seem like ours.
We needed this trip to Paris – to see through different eyes. We rebooted, without the net for awhile (my gmail was down; Wayne had a tablet pickpocketed on the Metro.) I scanned a pile of books (Why Philosophize?, Music and Literature, downloaded The Complete Works of Goethe, read Nadja, Andre Breton’s ode to surrealist love, Nadja, a Charles Bukowski story with R. Crumb illustrations (City Light’s come again!) fell into my lap three times so I bought it.
I very much wanted to know what people here thought of the terrible killings of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists by Islamic terrorists January 7 and the sentiments of the million person free speech rally in Paris January 11. The weekly cartoon magazine, Charlie Hebdo, like R. Crumb and Charles Bukowski, in San Francisco, never misses the chance to satirize pompus public figureheads, dictators and those with large egos, and some say they should just shut up, don’t present ideas that are “in your face” – but nobody tells a Frenchman what to say – and the word at Shakepeare Books, sister bookstore to San Francisco’s City Lights Books, was the issue is freedom of speech pure and simple, not anti-Islamic, the right to pubish whatever you choose from the heart of La Rive Gauche, the Left Bank of Paris. When we start to edit our remarks, don’t we start to lose the meaning of what we say? A big question for this age of globalism in the global melting pot of Europe.
To refresh my mind and soul, I bought Michael Ondaatje’sThe Cat’s Table and added Miranda July’s It Chooses You to my Kindle along with From Paris to the Moon, reflections on Adam Gopnick’s five year stint with his wife and child, circa 1995-2000. Ondaatje is always wonderful; Miranda July fresh, spunky, thoughtful; Gopnick, as usual (I read him in the New Yorker) was clear, engaging, charming and insightful about French character, culture, style and his love for Paris shines. Having read him, I saw more as I enjoyed the children jousting for brass rings on the carousels, the amusement favored by the French over a more typical American loudness and overstatement.
We were to be, as Adam Gopnick said, lovers of Paris but never really members of the French tribe. Still, I treasure the paper coasters Francouer Loves You and all toys for grandchilddren we found and the illustrated stubs from the fine arts museums; I visited six; Wayne went to seven museums plus an art opening on the night I was ready to stay in while he exclaimed “I wonder what’s up THOSE stairs!” Believe he hiked about the range of six metro stations that night and didn’t even seem winded. But that’s Wayne.
We’re recommending the little flat on rue Francouer to friends; it was about perfect for us with its rich red bed spreads, pillows, fireplace mantels, lots of pretty and useful details and paintings, the owner, Claudio, exclaiming perhaps next time “we will switch” our farm for his flat? Possible I suppose. The whole Airbnb thing still seems as fresh as the electric rental bikes and cars on les rues de Paris – all for the price of a Metro ticket (1,80 Euros or under $2) per day! Leave them in any rack around town; pick up another if the one you’re driving/riding runs low on electricity!
As our friends and half Petaluma seems to know (am I THAT public?), Wayne lost both parents in December, while I turned 70 the day his Mom, Pat, died, my cat, Spook died while we were in Paris, my friend Willy ended his cancerous existence end of Novemeber and we all in the North Bay lost the venerable activist founder of Sonoma County Conservation Action and savoir of our coast from development of a nuclear power plant IN the water, Bill Kortum. All these important lives lost to us – overwhelming really; Paris a large part of the antidote to loss.
My dream to go to Paris was so very long lived; never thought it would be so full and beautiful and that I could share the whole thing with Wayne. Seemed he is engulfed in the process of being a farmer and Morgenthaler family member and a farmer gets up every day at least by 7am to take care of things. We’d left it all to Elizabeth and she was doing very well considering. No additional animals or plants actually died on her watch and we were thankful we could afford to leave the farmwork to others for awhile.
So off to Shakepeare Books it was for me over and over…a few tears shed as I recognized a longing for fine ideas presented exquisitely and how very much I love the great Berkeley bookstores, City Lights in San Francisco, just spending time digging deeply into poetry, philosophy, music and the arts. I wanted to touch on all of that in Paris. Will not forget the lovely music eminating from the out-of-tune piano on the 2nd floor of Shakespeare Books; a lanky young winsome lass asking permission of the room to play and I responded “Je vous en prie! Please!) She played something I’ve never heard and suspect she composed – intricate, delicate, powerful, a gift!
There, he warns: “Terrorism will not come from al-Qaeda , but the elements ,” he says . And who else to talk about Nietzsche ? ” There is crime to release energy without assigning great goals and great purposes and the vengeance of the elements is not a pure legend. ” Examples ? Chernobyl , Fukushima and Oklahoma, more recently. ” Nature does not care man . That makes it fun to scientific or not, one against formidable attack is on. ” Above Human and chose sides.
We had come to Musee Montmartre in February, the trees barren, and returned in March, trees full of plum blossoms, water lillies about to bloom in the fish pond outside the cafe. Loveliness all around; Paris in the Spring; but the Winter, if 40 degree temperatures and a bit of rain is winter, is a great time to explore, feeling the place is for the moment, your own.
I went seeking French history, particularly the Impressionist, Surrealist and Existentialist periods. Found, in Nadja, the “great surrealist novel,” that the heroine, Nadja, was left to live out her existence in a mental institution, never to receive a visit from her lover, Breton, who had moved on to another woman muse so he could complete his book on Nadja. The whole movement seemed focused on men finding their “own voice” and women were, well, les muses. Fantasy women; certainly not worth sharing power with.
Was fascinated, then, to realize that Suzanne Valadon, mother of Utrillo, had her own career as a painter, her own studio, her lover, the friend of her son. She is painted famously by Renoir, standing on the standing swing in his gardens. Wayne took a picture of me there as well as of me facing off with Picasso in a photo where he is as bullish as he got. The Minataur for sure, my new favorite Picasso paintings after visiting the Picasso Musee.
So if Surrealism was about men finding their muse, and Existentialism was about “the decisions you make in your life” determining who you become, where was there a place for children? For a fully-developed love between men and women? Perhaps we are working on that now? One would hope!