Wednesday, October 01, 2014

jumping cultures

 Leaving Riquewihr 
(Yes, I like commenter suggestions! Pronounce it "Reek-veer")

My sister put me on to this lovely song -- it really is beautiful, even as most of you wont understand the lyrics and I only understand half -- the half sung by the Polish vocalist, who teams up here with Cesaria Evora, a singer from Cape Verde.

It is at once poignant and timely for me: how appropriate that I should be listening to this interplay of languages and images of childhood, as my own memories of my childhood are mixing with images of my daughters, now grown up -- all on the day that I am leaving Alsace (a place of several languages) and heading home, or at least to what was once home -- to Poland.

I'm not ever sure what I think about national boundaries (nationalism of any sort scares me). I will never take seriously the question -- "which country do you "like" best?" even as it's so obvious to me that history and governance do define attitudes and environments and when I left Italy and entered France, I felt very much that I was in a different world. And, too, even though I heard Polish in a restaurant last night in Riquewihr, there is absolutely nothing in that little village that feels very Polish to me (well, both places have this passion for sauerkraut...). Much as an Alsatian might bristle at this -- Riquewihr feels far closer to Paris for me than to a similarly sized mountain village in Poland.

Let me take you along for one last walk through Riquewihr. I got up very early for it! Very early!


(If I had hoped to catch a sunrise, it was not to be. The skies were mostly cloudy and a fine mist had settled lower in the valley.)


Even at this predawn hour, I could hear the run of tractors as they made their way to and from the vineyards. This is the rush now to get the grapes in. Timing is of essence. It determines the quality of the juice, the sugar level -- all of it.

I look to Zellenberg,  the village where I had hiked two days ago...


...and I look toward the fields of vines...


...and of course to Riquewihr, there at the foot of the forest.


I wont have any problem coming back someday. Too many things here are real winners for me -- the beautiful villages, the long hikes, the wonderful food, and the most perfect little place to come home to at night. But I have to move on. I'm pushing the clock now! One more look at the main street, just one more! I see the grape pickers waiting for their ride to the fields. One of them shouts out as he sees me with the camera: that will cost you some money! I've heard that comment before -- it's always good natured and I respond, equally in jest -- I suppose you want five Euros per picture?
And he laughs and says -- no, fifty! 
To which I respond -- Great! Meet me here tomorrow for it! And he laughs heartily, not because the joke is especially funny, but because the exchange lightens a moment for us both.


Alright, I have now just a few minutes until my bus for Colmar leaves. I run for it. There's that elusive sun!


I'm on. The driver is used to having conversations with his passengers and since I am in the front row, I am an fair game. Especially since he sees me taking this photo upon entering Colmar.


We are in New York! He laughs, not knowing yet that I am, in fact, American.
But it doesn't take him long to find out. And he is a geography buff, so he questions me if, by chance, I am from Michigan -- which is a far better guess than the one I usually get -- placing me oddly in the Netherlands or, more recently, for reasons that I cannot fathom - Denmark.

He wishes me good travels and I detect a note of wistfulness. The world is too perfectly divided into two camps: people who are drawn to distant places and others who are not. He and I belong to the first.

And now I am in Colmar with an hour to spare (I did not dare catch the next, more appropriately timed bus, just in case it would be late).


There is a rather grim looking cafe at the station and I settle in for a breakfast of cappuccino and a decent if not great pain au chocolat.


But cafe ambiance seldom speaks to the dispositions of those who work there and I will be forever grateful to the young woman who first served me coffee and then, as I was leaving to board my 10:11 train, ran after me, waving the jacket I had managed to leave at the table.


The train ride is perfect. Lovely. Smooth, quiet. I could have slept, but I felt it was time to resume my once over of the manuscript I'm about to send out, so I set to work.

And by 1:17 p.m. I am in Paris.

Lunch in Paris

Paris is a whole 'nother world! After the hikes, the vineyards, the forests, I'm out of step with it!

I take the metro toward the Luxemburg Gardens. If I showed you this photo and had you guess "where?" you'd probably guess Paris. I recently read that Parisians rank high (highest?) in terms of general malaise. I don't know. It seems sort of on purpose. Like New York.


I take my suitcase to the hotel where I'll be overnighting on Saturday and I take advantage of the good weather (yes, yet again!) to go to the park. At least for a few minutes! I couldn't imagine Paris without the parks, in the same way that I can't imagine Warsaw without hers.

It's so warm today! I'm dressed for a cooler Warsaw. Still, you can smell Autumn.


I almost decide to take a sandwich and eat in the park, but then I pass a cafe which has served as my best breakfast spot in the city for years and I am so delighted to see that after a massive destruction and reconstruction, it emerged looking pretty much as it always looked.


It's a good spot for lunch as well and since this will be my main meal for the day, I sit down and order the set menu: endive salad with nuts and cheese, risotto with mushrooms (!) and smoked duck, and a desert of figs grilled in honey, with a scoop of ice cream. I'll post the first course for a change:


It is so warm! I am sitting in the sunshine -- almost too warm, but really not at all too warm because I know that this is the last burst of summer-like weather until next year.

I watch the scenes around me. Three women get up from their lunch. They're younger than me, I think, but it doesn't matter: women of any age here make me feel like I am the mouse that came in from the provinces. It's the shoes. No, it's the skirts. No -- the hair. No, really -- their confident poise.


...while a guy cuts his cigar and gets ready to light up.


I want to pause, take it all in, but everything moves so fast here! You would like the menu? In French? English? Sit outside? Inside? Carafe of wine? Just a glass? What about coffee? I don't know I don't know I don't know!

Even the sun moves fast: one minute it is on me, the next I'm in complete shade.

But as I finish the meal, I start to pick up the mental pace of this gorgeous city. I can do it! I'm up for a quick walk before catching the train for the airport. Where to? Oh, the park again! On a day like this, nothing else beckons as forcefully.

I don't have many photos for you. I mean, everyone photographs Paris!


It's been done! And I'm right up there, always snapping away! Click on Paris at the sidebar and pretend it's now, today. I'm a little snapped out. And, too, I only have a little time at the airport to work on the post. I don't know what the WiFi situation will be like in Warsaw and I'm arriving there rather late. 9:30p.m.. So, here are my few snaps. From the park, of course.





And now I'm off. The flight is boarding for Warsaw.