Thursday, March 13, 2014

guillotines and sunshine

Brittany was for sleeping in late. For being tickled at the luxury of not getting up with dawn.

That was Brittany. I'm not in Brittany anymore.

I look at the clock. 6:50. Hmmm, in Paris, sunrise is at 7:10... It wouldn't strike me to get up and search for the sun among the chou fields and stone houses. But here... Wouldn't it be nice to greet the morning in the Luxembourg Gardens? Doesn't the park open at sunrise?

I'm up, out, peering in. No sign of anyone. I walk over to the main entrance. Damn. Opening hours -- 7:30am to 6:30 pm.

Surely I did not run out with hair flying, boots unzipped to miss the sunrise?

[Insert answer to commenter question here: one way to pack lightly and move seamlessly between city and country is to wear cool ankle boots in the city and on the plane and pack good trekking shoes in the bag. They take up half the case, but for muddy hikes, you need 'em.]

I walk briskly to the river -- some 10 minutes away -- and sure enough. I am rewarded.


This is why I am in such a rut and stay in the same set of blocks again and again: I have my river and I have my park.

The sun is up, the park will be opening now. I walk back to it, thinking how curiously French it is to have a city remain so quiet (except for the garbage trucks) in these morning hours.

(lots of ocean author, not many others)

(still rare, but not unusual anymore)

In the park, I encounter the joggers. And one or two people using it as a way to cross from one corner to the next. The spring flowers are voluminous! Of course, they were planted for a tougher season. I can hear them, through their petaled grins -- sixties and sunshine? We can handle worse! 


(just a touch of mist)


Okay. My appetite for that sinfully unhealthy French breakfast is aroused. Unfortunately, my hotel is pushing its own breakfast by offering it at a 50% discount. That makes it the cheapest croissant and coffee (and egg and yogurt and cereal...) in town. So I take it, even if it lacks one essential element -- the feeling of eating breakfast in a Paris cafe.


The day is so beautiful that I surely must spend it outdoors. It's tempting to just take a book to the park and not do much else. But, my back feels great when I'm walking, not sitting.


And I have some small goals. On my list is the exposition that starts today at the Luxembourg Museum, right at the gardens -- it's all about Josephine. Napoleon's love interest, for a while, until she could give him no offspring and so he dumped her for his next woman -- Marie Louise. The exhibition is all about Josephine -- paintings of her, and of her children by her first husband whose head got whacked off at the guillotine, and of the flowers and birds that were so her thing. (As were fashion and luxury -- all proper hobbies for an empress.)


After the exhibition,  I 'm back in the park. And now it is lunchtime and everyone had descended on the Gardens and that's just fine! Its beauty is that it very much is a great public space. Benches, chairs, green grass -- they all beckon and on a spring day like this one, Parisians flock (foreigners too, especially student types, as we really are close to the major colleges of Paris, but unlike in the Tuileries Gardens, the dominant language here is French).


(on the designated picnic green: must refresh lipstick)

I exit from the other end of the Gardens -- the part that faces the Montparnasse district.

('tweens on lunchbreak)

(rosy tones preferred)

I have another gallery in mind. The Henri Cartier Bresson Gallery. It's obscure, but I'm determined to find it. I cut through the Montparnasse Cemetery, thinking it should throw me out right by the gallery, but I get lost among all those densly packed family tombstones. I know some people love cemeteries but I am not one of them, especially when I come across the occasional grieving person or an inscription of someone's years and they seem so unfairly short.


I pick up the pace. Eventually a helpful type steers me out and I do find the gallery and it is currently housing the exhibit of the Italian photographer Guido Guidi. I love photography exhibits, but his take on everyday life is such that you're saddened by what you see. None of this bourgeois stuff off beautiful cities! He takes us to a housing development in a coastal Polish city. Or to a concrete slab in a suburb of a decaying Italian town.


And so this will have been my hour of more somber reflections. And let me bring in the gallery's inscription here for you: the photograph is the guillotine [!] blade that seizes one dazzling instant within eternity. But reading about Guidi's work, I see that this photographer's art wasn't meant to dazzle. Well now, he surely succeeded. I am happy to be done with it.

Sunshine again! More walking. Moving closer again to the center of the city.


(again a glimpse)



I am now again in the more familiar neighborhoods, closer to the river. Shopping isn't really on my agenda, but I do have some things to check off in this department (hair tie anyone? how about a spring skirt?) and I attempt to do this now, more or less successfully and good grief, how the time has flown --  it is nearly 4 and I have been on my feet since 10 and surely I have earned a cup of coffee and a slice of an apple tart?

(watching the world from behind a table)

My day doesn't end yet, but I do pause at the hotel to catch up with my world on the other side of the ocean. It's been two weeks. I miss the farmette. I miss my daughters, Ed -- the whole package that is home.

Never mind, there's a meal to be had still and I go out once more. Paris is always an eating challenge and this time I did some advanced selection so I wouldn't be bothered with the whole process of searching. I picked Nonna Ines for tonight. I know -- it sounds Italian. It is Italian. I thought I'd be ready for a change and in any case, a French Italian restaurant will place a foreign layer on food that will be unique and if you're still not convinced -- well, Italian food is almost always cheaper.

The place is on the fringes of the city center, but a long walk is pleasant both before and after a meal. And the moon shines brightly...


At the Nonna Ines, I am one of the earliest diners and I comment to the guy who runs the show there that I can't help it -- I'm hungry by 7:30 (especially when I skip lunch). He reassures me that his Italian parents (from the Lake Garda!) eat by 6:30 and I settle in to my glass of Prosecco Peche, with the biggest capers ever to nibble on, and I do some people watching.


An American threesome (two at the table are portrayed above) is by far the most interesting. He writes for the Paris Review. I hear him talk about his interview of Seamus Heaney for the Review and so now I know he is Henri Cole, a poet himself and indeed, I see on the web that he is now the poetry editor of the New Republic.

Oh, if you could hear their intellectual conversation! The woman, with long gray hair, neatly pulled back, the guy at her side -- husband I presume, who adds the fewest number of words, and Henri who still reflects on that published interview, even though it appeared in the Review nearly twenty years ago.

They none of them speak French, or at least they choose not to do so with the waiter and as they move delicately (laboriously?) through their first course and then the next, I think how liberating it is to be now very much at the periphery of (nay, removed from) academic life.

I eat a very well prepared sea bass and some mush that the Italians get away with calling vegetables and it's all very fine, except the price is still Parisian and as usual I feel like there is a hole in my wallet at the end of the evening. 

The day ends. The sun continues tomorrow. And so do my Paris rambles.