Saturday, January 29, 2005


Jan. 28, 2005

My AirFrance flight arrived at DeGaulle at nine this morning. The young Frenchwoman sitting beside me -- 2-1/2 months pregnant, “It’s ‘orreeble,” she said, “But I’m very happy... I think” -- managed not to vomit, and I managed a little sleep. Our plane began its descent and then ascended again, and the captain assured us we just had to wait a few moments, lots of traffic at DeGaulle, “It’s nothing ... unusual.”

So I’m back in France, where everything is “normale,” where it’s possible, still, to smoke and flirt and the waitress, arriving for her shift at the airport cafe, greets her colleague at the bar with kisses on each cheek and a stream of chatter. I’m having a cafe creme here because I’m already late, because of the snafu at the baggage carousel: huge suitcases jamming the belt, and then all the luggage backing up and the whole operation grinding to a halt somewhere down below. Finally, some of us found some Air France agents and they sent men with gloves, who crawled down the belt into the baggage area and freed the jammed suitcases and boxes, throwing them -- quite dramatically -- off the belt at our feet. “Not all French are this way,” a man with a camera, documenting the mayhem, told me. But the baggage handlers were doing their work with a certain je ne sais quoi.

I’ve decided to take the Roissy bus to L’Opera, and then get a cab to the Marais from there, sensing already that dollars aren’t going to go far in euros this year, and I shouldn’t pamper myself too much.

Jan. 29

Although the Roissy buses are supposed to come every 20 minutes, I waited with a group of other passengers at the door for an hour before the bus finally came. And couldn’t, at first, find a taxi at L’Opera. And dragged my bags around in the rain. By the time I finally got to the Marais, the man (Brad) who was supposed to meet me here with the keys to the apartment was long gone. But some women taking a cigarette break in the courtyard let me use the phone in their office, stash my bags in the vestibule, and then advised me to have a coffee at the cafe on the corner until the situation resolved itself. (They also complimented me on my French, asked if things "va bien" in the US, and seemed surprised when I answered in the negative ... The joke --sort of -- that it's impossible to have a cigarette in America, and -- not a joke -- that we have this idiot for a president. They seemed relieved by my response but, I suspect, would have gone on being friendly in any case. Guardian angels wherever I go ...)

So I spent an hour at Au Rendez-Vous des Amis and then met Brad, at last. The apartment is “charming,” as promised: on the top (sixth) floor of an ancient building on a quiet street in the heart of the Marais, with views of Beaubourg, St. Paul, a thousand rooftops -- windows full of sky.

The apartment belongs to an American photojournalist whose beautiful black and white prints of Parisiennes are everywhere. My connection to Peter is Jenny Huxta, a young poet-photographer I met about ten years ago, when she was nineteen and driving cross-country by herself. A friend of mine who’s a friend of Jenny’s mother’s called me in L.A. from Pennsylvania and asked me to meet Jenny when she made it to the west coast and then call back with a full report. I was delighted to make her acquaintance, and have continued to be delighted by her presence in my life. As I told my friend in Pennsylvania, Jenny at 19 was doing exactly what I wished I’d been doing at that age. At 28, her life is one big adventure. Our paths keep crossing and re-crossing; we always make one another laugh. She’s been living in Paris, off and on, for several years, and now speaks fluent French and supports herself by assisting photographers and teaching English. Her hair is a coppery red this year, which sets off her blue eyes and gives her a technicolor look.

Last night Jenny met me here and we went back down the street to Au Rendez-Vous des Amis (“the meeting of friends”) for an omelette and salad and red wine. We talked about politics and both of us cried, thinking about how a whole generation of immigrants -- her grandparents, and mine -- worked in the mines and the mills and believed they were building a new kind of country. And how they’ve been betrayed. How we have in America now a state as monstrous as any state, but bigger. The place was filling up with locals, with chatter and cigarette smoke. Two elderly women took the table next to ours. One drank beer while the other drank coffee; they flirted with the young waiter; they seemed to be enjoying the noise and the crowd and one another’s company. I thought about how, in the U.S., women like this would be sitting at home alone in front of television sets; about how what we miss is this kind of public life, the streets outside full of pedestrians, still, at midnight and the cafes packed with young and old. Pretty soon Jenny and I were giggling madly, catching up on one another’s stories of the past year. We decided we were missing a golden opportunity by clomping around Paris in our boots and jeans, where everyone seems to be walking around in his or her own movie, and we decided we’re going to start wearing capes. I walked her part way home to rue Montorguell to clear the smoke from my eyes and kissed her goodbye at the traffic light. Back on rue Guillemites, I fell into a nine hour sleep.

By this morning the rain had stopped and, by mid-afternoon, a slant of hazy sunlight was slipping into the narrow street. I went for a walk and to do some marketing. At the corner of rue Vielle du Temple and rue de la Perle, I saw Dustin Hoffman waiting to cross in the other direction. He was with a young woman I hope was his daughter. He looked happy and handsome and pleased not to be recognized. We passed in the intersection when the light changed. Then I passed a clutch of Frenchwomen -- middle aged, chic -- on the sidewalk, staring after him, pointing and smiling.


Blogger MT said...

Well, I fell into a 16 hr. sleep last night!
Great that you're using the blog!

5:06 PM  
Blogger Collin Kelley said...

Woo-hoo...the great adventure really begins. Can't wait to read more. :)

7:35 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

Ah . . . je m'accuse. Sorry for being a little snarky when I commented on your test posting.

You are reminding me of Anais Nin (and making me sigh). Be well.

2:53 PM  

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