Thursday, June 22, 2006

From Paris: let there be music and a dog

Well, it happened that I missed my train from Bordeaux to Paris.

It was like this: I get up before 6. I finish packing, tightly, oh so tightly fitting things into two bags, one backpack, with an added painting and a purse swinging from whatever limb can bear it.

I pack up the car and wait for breakfast. I could have skipped this meal I suppose, but it is perhaps my favorite moment of the day to sit there over a café au lait with croissant and some other surprise pastry and I am not about to give it up for some random train reservation.

Europe 06 France 3 403

Then, I fall in love with a placemat. Really, I think it is just an excuse to not go, but I actually take precious minutes to find out from madame if such placemats are to be had in her little village store selling cloths from the region. She checks. No, it is an old pattern. I would probably find it still somewhere in St Jean de Luz, but she no longer sells any here in Sare.

I say good bye and head out toward the highway. But before I reach the highway I pull over and think. I am a few minutes off schedule. What if I miss the train? There would be another one several hours later but there I would be, sitting awkwardly with my bags, killing time in Bordeaux, whereas I could be, for example, in the port town of St Jean de Luz (and by chance, if I find an old fashioned placemat, why, it would be fate).

And who would not pick St Jean de Luz over an afternoon in Paris?

So here I am in St Jean de Luz instead of Paris and loving every minute of it. The streets are crowded with shoppers, the ports have emptied out the fish for the day, the markets are brimming.

Europe 06 France 3 408
symbol of Basque pride at the market

Europe 06 France 3 409

Europe 06 France 3 410

And because it is St. John’s Day (a very important day for most Europeans and for me: longest days are to be celebrated!) and I am in the town that sports this name, it is all rather festive.

Europe 06 France 3 414

Inevitably I must get myself to Bordeaux and find another rapid train to Paris. It’s not as if Paris is a punishment after all. Still, I already miss the sheep and cows and goats. And vineyards. And cherries. And warm sands and mountain peaks… Oh, let me switch gears.

I look outside my tiny Parisian room and sigh. It’s an okay view, but I do not hear bees humming nor roosters crowing.

Europe 06 France 3

Still, June 21st is a fantastic night to spend in Paris. December 31st gets the spotlight and the glamour, but this night outshines it. For one thing, it’s warmer.

Twenty-five years ago the Minister of Culture proclaimed: on this longest day of the year, let there be music in all of France! Everyone and anyone who can play anything can set up on the street, no permit, nothing needed except some amplifiers and a song or two.

And the crowds are out, filling every street, pushing cars out of the way, and the music is heard over the roar of city life.

I decide to skip the traditional meal at standby places and go to a more modern spot (Ze Kitchen Gallerie), ripped from the book of talented young chefs that Alain gave me back in the Savoie. The food is excellent, the atmosphere is city-impersonal.

Europe 06 France 3 432
Shrimp, frogs legs, softshell crab, roquette, flowers of herbs

At the table next to me, a couple sits down with a monstrously big dog. It is hard to fit him in, but I tell them he can sleep on my leg, all 500 pounds of him. He is my companion.

Europe 06 France 3 439

In every restaurant I ate during the last six weeks, I have been the only solo diner (in part, this has to do with the fact that I ate outside the big cities). Even though it goes against the grain of how I feel about dining (it ought to be a communal affair), I have to admit, I do not mind eating out alone in this country. French waiters treat me superbly. I get wonderful tables and attentive service.

But on this night, I welcome the warmth of the dog on my leg. I appreciate this city each time I am here. I love its vigor, I love the way young people find quiet spots for their own pleasure…

Europe 06 France 3 425

Europe 06 France 3 426

But just this one time, I also liked having a dog on my foot.

Europe 06 France 3 412
from Basque: let there be music