Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Leaving Paris

June 10, 2005 (Paris)

“Even the shuttle driver doesn’t want you to leave!” Jenny laughed. True, he’d kept me on the phone for at least twenty minutes, making jokes about training for the 2012 Olympics (in the “telephone” event) and telling me he would give me some Lotto numbers to play, I’d become “beelionaire” and could stay in Paris as long as I wanted, then saying he’d pick me up himself on Sunday morning (for the trip to deGaulle, alas) but the price would be very expensive -- I’d have to go to a restaurant with him. He also said that my accent in French was very pretty; Mlle Riordon, back at Bullitt Central High School, would be proud, I think.

So how am I supposed to leave Paris in 36 hours? With Adrian telling me, “Oh no, you’re going to miss the fete de la musique!” And Jenny and Michelle pleading at one a.m. in the rue de Bretagne, “Don’t go. We need you here!” And Michele Q. saying, “Just come and live with me.” And M. Saying he’ll miss me. O la, how to kiss goodbye in the middle of a sunstruck street when you don’t, really really don’t want to go? How to leave Paris at the height of spring, when “everywhere you look is luck?” And beauty. Yesterday a beautiful young black man stepping off the metro at Bastille beside me very politely asked my permission to tell me that I was “belle.” As if I might say non? No, please don’t tell me that! I must be crazy to be leaving now ...

Maybe Paris has this affect on everyone, but it just feels like home to me.

I tried to explain to my mother what it is about being here that makes daily life feel so much richer than it does in the U.S. Say, for example, I told her, I decide one day to go out for milk and bread. I leave the apartment -- let’s say Adrian’s place on the rue de Saintonge -- take a few steps down the sidewalk -- passing a boulangerie, and a Russian bookshop, and the shoe repair where Mr. Cordonnerie sits at his counter watching the street, calling out “Bonjour, ma fille” -- and turn onto the rue de Bretagne. Say it’s early summer, and people are sitting at sidewalk tables in front of all the little cafes, and many of these people are neighbors, people one sees almost every day. The shop windows are full of
beautiful displays -- even the fromagerie, even the butcher shop (even to a vegetabletarian) offer something pleasing to the eye. Even the pork chops are beautifully arranged. And then there are the patisseries, the boulangeries, the flower shops, the fruit and vegetable markets. There are smells of bread baking and chicken roasting and yes, sometimes dog poop, too. I can step into a little shop -- two or three steps to the dairy section in back -- and buy my milk in about a minute. I can decide to go an extra few steps around the corner to the boulangerie that has the little pain complet with nuts and raisins and apples that I’m craving today. Madame bids me a warm bonjour. A young woman in a flowing skirt zips past on a scooter. By the time I get back upstairs to the apartment, I feel as if I’ve come a little more alive, and I’ve also had a little fresh air and exercise.

In Shepherdsville, Kentucky, I would have had to get into a car, even though it’s just a few blocks to the Pic-Pac -- because there aren’t sidewalks in the subdivision and anyway it’s dangerous to cross highway 41 on foot these days -- and then driven past a lot of empty-looking houses -- no one on the porches or in the yards -- then parked and walked across a big parking lot into a big climate-controlled store and searched among 47 different kinds of milk to find what I was looking for. It seems to me that, in America, we spend an awful lot of time just walking across parking lots. Which are ugly and boring. No sensory pleasures, no contact with neighbors, no sense of moving through the world as part of a moving, living world.

So I’m already trying to figure out how to return to Paris as soon as possible. Jenny H. Has dubbed it “Operation: Back by September.” I can console myself with that idea, because it’s not so far off and the weather will still be lovely then. But there is no place in the world like Paris in the spring and early summer -- trees in bloom in all the parks and people kissing in the streets and every sidewalk table full and everyone sipping at jewel-colored beverages and so intoxicated by everything that the flirting and laughing and talking and raising of glasses seem to never stop --simply no better or more beautiful place to be.

Except that in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, my mother and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and grandnieces and grandnephew will all be waiting, and there’s nothing like that, either. So the trick is to figure out how to be in several places at once, or everywhere at once, or just to keep moving. Et voila.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Post Poland Shuffle

June 6, 2005 (Paris)

I left Warsaw a week ago Friday -- ten days ago now -- and flew back to Paris. Wizzair to Beauvais. Had to cry to get a cab at Porte Maillot, in Friday rush hour, but sometimes crying works. Sometimes it's the only thing to do. So I was on time for my appointment with Dr. Julia, who gave me prescriptions for the rash and told me to go home and wash every stitch of clothing in my suitcase, rinsing twice.

Adrian helped me load all my laundry and then gave me a sundress to wear. A balmy night, so we walked to the Place des Voges. Got the last table facing the place. Got a little tipsy on the rose wine. Made a detour for ice cream on the way home, half of Paris lined up out the door and around the block of the gelati shop on the corner of rue Vielle du Temple and rue "St. Cross of the Buttonery."

Spent Saturday working, catching up, and then hung out in the evening with Jenny H. Campari and soda at Le Progres on the rue de Bretagne and then dinner on the terrace of le Rocher du Concal on rue Montorgueil. We were going to go to a party later but when Jenny called Carolyn, Carolyn said that the party was already breaking up. Not even midnight! "Trixie, where's your moxie?" Jenny gasped. But I was happy to walk back to the rue de Saintonge alone in the warm dark.

Sunday was gray, cooler, a good day to sit at the desk. But I got myself out of the apartment in late afternoon, ran down the rue de Saintonge to the little Armenian church in time to catch the free Schubert concert. Wonderful to close my eyes and just listen, let the music carry me away. In the evening I met Christine H. at les Philosophes for intense conversation -- maybe it's the place? -- about poetry, abusiveness, love. Later, Adrian made dinner here for the two of us.

Monday, I woke early, finished revising an essay, printed it out, sent it off, met M. for coffee on the rue de Bretagne. Caught the TGV to Zurich in the late afternoon in a swoon. The train ride was dream-like, as train rides can be. And a little surreal. In Dijon, the train stopped for a long time, and many announcements were made. Finally, it became clear that everyone in the rear of the train who was going to Zurich was to disembark and get back on at the front of the train. All the passengers in the car I was in looked at one another and shrugged. My gentlemanly seatmate insisted on carrying my bag. There was a flurry of confused people rushing back and forth on the quai. We found a car with the same number as ours at the front of the train and got on. Took our seats. Looked around. It was the exact same people in the exact same seats as before. Everyone laughed.

Cathy and Tom had waited up for me in Zurich. Cathy prepared a lavish "snack" for me and opened a good bottle of red wine. We talked until one or two a.m., and then I went downstairs to the guest apartment and settled in for the night. Spent the next day writing and recovering from the wine. In the evening, Tom and Cathy and I went to the lovely "little chicken" restaurant just over the hill and had a lovely meal and then talked again, until late.

On Wednesday, I walked into the hills, into the forest a bit, and then got ready to catch the train to Basel. Tom had left for New York in the morning. Cathy was packing to leave for Washington at the end of the week. Dagmar met me at the station in Basel, looking illuminated and very blonde in the hazy sunlight. We caught up for a couple of hours -- photos from her trip to L.A. of Neal and the new baby, Liam -- and then in the evening Uschicame to take me to dinner at Kranz. We dined in the garden, under a white umbrella -- a feast of fresh asparagus for me, good white wine from the region, dessert of peppered strawberries and ice cream.

I spent most of Thursday with Wilfried, running around Rheinfelden. We had lunch at the place on the Swiss-German border, on the patio overlooking the river. We talked about magic and travel and the way we want to live. Wevisited Marga's grave. We stopped to visit Bernard, sat in his garden drinking sweet mint tea and eating melon. He told us about his travels in the Sahara and about the Bedouins. He and Wilfried argued a little about the EU constitution, about whether the "no" votes are a positive or negative thing. They agreed to disagree. Bernard gave me a rock from the Sahara to keep. I'd like to go there, too, some day.

In the evening, Dagmar made dinner at home -- more asparagus -- and we talked on the terrace until the garden below us went dark. Until even the birds were quiet. We both turned in early, got up at 6 a.m. the next morning, and she went with me to the station, and she was on her way to Zurich and I was on my way back to Paris on the 8 a.m. train.

Friday evening in Paris. The world became strangely transparent ...

On Saturday I went to Alfortville to visit la famille Poilloux. Pierre's mother died about a week ago. He was her baby, the youngest of her nine children. He kept saying to me, "You know, it's hard to lose a parent." I know. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just after Pierre and Isa and the kids had left for Indonesia. They couldn't be reached on their island in Borneo, and didn't know what was happening, She was only supposed to last a few weeks. But she waited until they'd returned, so Pierre had a chance to say goodbye. He wrote something absolutely beautiful that he read at her funeral, surprising himself and everyone. We spent a long time after dinner looking at photographs of the sea in Indonesia, their family paradise. I want to go there, too.

Sunday I met Jen D for brunch, then we took a long walk along the Seine, talking about poetry most of the way. In the evening, I met Jenny H in the rueau Maire. Punk music was pouring out of the Baghdad Cafe when we passed, and we couldn't resist going in, cramming ourselves against the bar, admiring all those boys with skinny arms. The drummer was shirtless and his head was shaved and he played really LOUD and I wished it were even louder. It was Jenny's early adolescence in Pittsburgh; it was my wasted youth in L.A.; it was great. It was also Paris, so an older gentleman (even older than I, and I'd thought I might be the oldest person in the place) came out of the dining room in back to inquire, hopefully, if the band were going to take a little break? Out in the street, people were standing around smoking in the rain. Not really rain -- just a fine drizzle. Jenny and I went around the corner to the same Chinese place where I'd eaten with M. a few nights before and had a big, delicious, cheap meal.

So I have less than a week left in Paris, and that's already breaking my heart, but I'll be really happy to see my family again, and friends in the States. I'll fly to Cincinnati on 12 June, visit with my family in Kentucky until the 22nd or so, then fly to the west coast. I may check in here again, but I'm sure all that I'm going to be doing in the next few days is visiting with friends and swooning.