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.


Blogger Umma said...

I have been watching for your next post. Truly I love your beautiful blog.

3:35 AM  
Blogger plnelson said...

Like Umma, I'm also enjoying your blog.

Don't worry about Paris in September - autumnal Paris has its own charms; it's less crowded and most of the American tourists have gone home and it's cooler.

Your one comment that left me nonplussed was this:

I’ve also had a little fresh air and exercise.

"Fresh air" is not a phrase I associate with Paris. When I've been there the smog has been terrible. On top of that, European countries have recently been allowing more diesel-based vehicles, and while diesel engines are a lot cleaner than they were a few years ago they produce a particularly insidious type of tiny-particulate pollution that's very damaging to the lungs. Once, while walking through the rive gauche our throats were burning so much we stepped into a tobacconist's shop for a breath of (cleaner) air!

(I admit I've never been to LA, reputedly the US smog champion)

2:03 PM  
Blogger stanley cohen said...

Why is it it that I arrive in Paris when you leave
And leave when you arrive?
You missed the poets corner at the Edinburgh festival.
stanley scohe02@yahoo.com

10:56 AM  

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