Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Flying into the Midwest. Pretty from above the cloud cover.


Below? Darn. It should have snowed. Christmas doesn’t always deliver the white stuff in Madison but last year it certainly did and it was pretty. At least what I saw of it. Living downtown (as I did then) – you see snow piled at the edge of parking lots and you lose track of what’s fresh and what’s been there for weeks.

No white stuff this December.

Ed waits at the airport, dutifully there in his beat up car. I appreciate the small gestures. Like his wet head, signaling that he thought to take a shower before picking me up.

We have a remotely controlled thermostat in the farmhouse and I had churned it up already in Paris thinking that heat needs to sink in or else the place will feel chilly after ten days of just high enough to keep the plants alive. As we enter, it’s pleasantly warm. I glance at the mouse trap. Empty. I comment on that, but Ed admits that he put it up just a day or so ago. Why? I didn’t want to keep checking for mice while you were gone.

For the first time ever, I am too tired to unpack. I take out the computer, check email, finish posting. It’s midnight by the time I haul myself up the steps of the farmhouse.

And of course, four hours later I wake up thinking it's midday. So much for rest. Return jet lag makes a morning person out of anyone.

I go outside, take stock. There is just the slightest dusting of snow. True, one must remember that winter doesn't officially present itself until Thursday.


For the next hour I confront the damage to the contents of my suitcase. A jar of pine bud syrup from Poland popped open in flight. Imagine sap, seeping into everything...

And still, I would rate the entire trip to Poland and then Paris as remarkably without hassle or shortcoming. And that’s a good thing.

Paris one more time

Well now. Trip done. Flying home. Strike is on at Charles De Gaulle airport (security workers this time), winds are strong across the Atlantic (the wrong way), but I’m heading home. Detroit, then the farmhouse.

But, but, there was this last day in Paris. Sunday. A good, sunny (initially at least) day. One for which I have no agenda. Nothing.

Maybe I should go out of town? No, not the season for it. Stay in the city and walk.

Walk, walk, gently, briskly, walk some more. Where to? I don’t know. Don’t want to go anywhere, don’t want to take the metro, walk just wherever.

So.... to the gardens first? Luxembourg Gardens. Odd how there are long shadows at this time of the year. It’s noon and still there are shadows.


Kids sail boats. Mostly boys. Something about watching the ship set sale that makes boys wistful. Or maybe it’s that they like the act of pushing a boat out and watching it drift.


In the same way that they like kicking a ball around for no good reason.

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I walk this way and that. Sunday in this park is enchanting. Special. Familial. All that. But here’s a curious thing about Paris: the central arrondissements (and this would include the Luxembourg Gardens) remain awfully white. It’s not an accident that you haven’t seen a child of a different skin color in my photos. Families of color, immigrant families are enjoying the parks elsewhere, closer to their homes. Which are still on the periphery. Were I to jump onto the metro, which crisscrosses the city every which way, I’d remember that Paris, unlike Warsaw or Krakow, is not homogeneous. But on these short trips to Paris, I just walk. I rarely ride the metro. And so I am reminded that liberte egalite fraternite... is still aspirational.

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Walk, walk. It's so completely satisfying. I'm not alone out there either. Here's a whole family. Including a pooch in a pouch.


Walking, past stuff. Parisian stuff.

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Quite obviously Parisian stuff (this in front of the Cafe Deux Magots):


Down to the river now. Where the last of the bouquinistes still hopes for someone who'll be there to buy rather than just photograph.

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Okay, I'm crossing the river. I decided. Time for the other gardens – the Tuileries. So much (in my mind) the lesser gardens. Oh, they join famous spaces – the Louvre with the Concorde and eventually the Arc de Triomphe, but they’re walk-through gardens. Not a destination. Not in a neighborhood.


Past a dizzying array of things that go round.


...and round.


I wanted to stay on the right bank for a little bit, but I change my mind. When you have no destination, you can change your mind. Good bye, L'Etoile. Too much traffic to plow through.


I don’t care about where I am anymore. Left bank, right bank, on a bridge, off a bride.


One minute I’m on a quiet, nameless street and the next I’m on the Boulevard St Germain and it’s empty in some stretches and crowded in others and it’s all fine, no complaints, I’m just walking.

But maybe I should stop for lunch? Kind of a late lunch, but still, food would be good. I return to Rue du Bac. Weird how I nearly always manage to eat lunch here, just here. This time I go to Le Flores – on the other side of the same block. It’s where I took a mirror shot of Ed and me maybe a year ago. What’s interesting to me is that it remains the best photo of the two of us out there.

I take a photo of myself. For the hell of it.

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And I eat a salad with chevre chaud (warm goat cheese, this time on a bed of green beans, endive, lettuce, tomato...) because to me, it’s still one of the more perfect lunches.


I have no interest in shopping this Sunday, but a small little store with little do dads and nick knacks draws me. Inside, I hear American holiday music. I’m not surprised. Most every hip store here has American holiday music. Jazz, pop – we’re good at singing our way to shopping pleasure. French, Polish holiday music is more austere. More about the religious aspects to this holiday. Americans, on the other hand, do Santa Baby well and Santa Baby puts people in the shopping mode much better than Silent Night or Little Town of Bethlehem.

Okay, I buy a small gift or two. And I continue. Up the block, down another. And now the sun is setting. Where to? Where to?

The Parc du Luxembourg. The last minutes before it closes.


In the end, maybe it’s this vast park that keeps me so hell bent on staying in this neighborhood. Sure, Lazineki in Warsaw is a finer park, but this one is just a touch gentler, simpler, more congested, but in a good way. And still, you can always find a quiet spot.

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And that’s it for the day, no? I mean, I have to pack up stuff that will be sent through and tossed around by baggage handlers. Ceramics from Poland, an olive oil from Italy, some delicate confection from France. So I pack and that doesn’t take too long but still, we’re set for an early dinner, my friends and I are, so by the time I finish packing and padding things, it’s time to head out. In the rain. When did the clouds come in?

Where do you go for your last meal in Paris? Of a trip?

If you can’t think, don’t want to think, if you just want reliable food and great waiters to watch all evening long – then go to Le Procope. So often I have done just that and indeed, Diane and I have dined here many moons ago, before she even met Ernest. The place has history value (to the French as well -- it brags that it's one of the oldest dining establishments in the city).


A heavy set gentleman sits down at the table next to us. He smiles, I smile back. He’s in a chatty mood. From outside Paris. Never been to Procope, but wants to try it for its historic value. His partner comes in, consults, goes out again. He has parking issues. It’s all a trivial chit chat, but somehow it seems meaningful. As if we all may have been friends – something about the chemistry felt good, even as we  know that in two minutes exactly we’ll get up and go and no one will remember this moment ever again.


How was the food? As I said, reliably good – terrine of duck, some fish I never heard of, a huge crème brulee. And the waiters are sublime and so the evening ends and the trip ends too, except I can’t quite let it go yet. I turn away from the hotel and head toward the 5th, the university arrondissement. It’s raining and I suppose I get wet even as I don’t much remember or care. I don’t have my umbrella, but it’s all good, all fine, Paris is Paris, wet or dry.


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And then I’m done.

I’m alone the next morning. My friends took off for the airport early and above ground. I want to do things in my usual way – take the RER train, crowded at rush hour, walking the steep steps down, carrying too many bags, yes, that train. But first, a croissant, a look up at the Odeon Place that I pass every single time coming and going, a nod to the Gardens, and that’s it.

So long Paris. When work gets tough, I think of you.