Friday, October 30, 2015

refelcting on Paris

What is it with me and France -- Paris in particular? Why do I come here so often? Am I a committed Francophile? No, not really. There are things that admire about each  -- Americans, the French, Poles -- national traits that I suppose give some kind of perspective on the person who lives according to that particular local custom. But I can't be persuaded that one is preferable to the other. (And, at the other end, there are things that I don't admire at all, but even if national traits, the less noble ones, are associated with a country, they don't define individuals. Plenty of people have managed to live great lives without succumbing to ignoble national identities.)

But I do go to France very often -- more often than any other place on the planet and there are reasons why adopted this place to travel to, to gather my wits and think things through. It felt comfortable in a way that Poland didn't, for a long long time. And over the years, I got to know France so very well that it became a second home. And because I live year round in the country and in any case away from any great metropolis, Paris provided a delightful balance.

Here's a glance at the Sorbonne (across from my hotel this time), with very Sorbonne like persons in front.


Here's my Thursday breakfast, with a conspicuous absence of pain au chocolat. If Paris is like home, then I have calm my travel breakfast habits. As it is, after a few days of eating just bread product, I start missing my oatmeal and fruit.


Playing with my camera. In Paris, I feel the freedom that comes with travel to a big place where no one really notices or cares what you're doing.


Though I love traveling alone and I have been doing it since I was 18 and first started hopping back and forth between America and Europe as if it was only a river and not the ocean, still I miss my loved ones.

Here's a book that I purchased in Bon Marche, that exquisite (and exquisitely expensive) department store on the left bank. It's in French, but I'm hoping through repetition Snowdrop will understand the beautiful text. It's about a little girl who visits her grandma's house where everything is so different, everything is so fun! It's a gorgeous book -- drop dead gorgeous. And of course I love the theme!


A girl reads in the corner of the book and toy section. Oh, how I wish our grandchildren knew bookstores back in my American home, like we knew them, or even their parents knew them and yes, children here know them.


As I said so many times here, I miss my family. I miss Ed.

I suppose it's not a coincidence that I picked for my frequent destination this country where personal connections matter. I had a delightful conversation with a French-Colombian sales clerk in this same store who recently got a job selling children's clothing. His real passion is photography and he liked my little camera (which is always suspended around my neck). We talked a lot about picture taking (it was not very busy at the Bon Marche, possibly because of the prices) and then he asked me about my granddaughter and explained proudly that his girl now knew a thousand words in Spanish and another thousand in French. French people, like Polish people, can seem aloof, but once they see that you are responsive, they engage you at a deeper level, leaving you very satisfied. You always learn something from each other.

Ah, family in France! In this country more than anywhere else, I'm almost always the only diner eating alone in the evenings. The waiters treat me with utmost care, perhaps thinking that I, more than others, will profit from their gentility. Around me, people eat in pairs or groups. The French have this well documented thing about food: it is vital to their identity and there are rules that you can like or dislike, but most people follow them to the letter: eat only at mealtimes, slowly, socially, savoring every bite. This is taught early! I don't know of any parent who deviates from the 8-12-4-7 eating schedule with their child. Breakfast, copious lunch, afternoon light meal, dinner. Here's a mom meeting someone over lunch at this same department store. The baby is learning to eat slowly, socially, savoring every sip I imagine. And on schedule!


Of course, France, like Poland, cannot resist picking up on habits of cousins across the ocean. Lightly and not too garishly, but still, you can catch glimpses of it and it is especially amusing when it merges into something so distinctly not American as having a Halloween cake at a very expensive and very refined pastry shop.


I go to lunch at Cafe Varenne. People eat lunch on schedule of course, so it's crowded as can be, but I get a tiny table by the window and the waiters are, as always, superb! And the food? Magnificent. I order the special of the day (as does nearly everyone else): grilled scampi over delicately warmed tomatoes and rice.

Outside, I see that the bakery has gotten its lunch batch of baguettes. The people from the neighborhood line up to get their loaf.


Cafe Varenne also has the best lemon tart anywhere and though I do not usually buy pastries in Paris anymore, I break the rule here.


Let me include a view of Rue du Bac, where the Varenne is located. (I first discovered it many years ago when we stayed at the hotel to the left.)


Food, camaraderie, an easy laugh, attention to presentation.



And of course, as you know, I love the parks in any city, but nowhere more than in Warsaw and in Paris. Here I am, in my beloved Luxembourg Gardens again. I have never shed a tear here. There's too much calm and beauty for even the most frazzled soul.


(And of course, there are the fall leaves...)


But here's another point I want to take up: if Paris is a second home, how does Warsaw fare now?


Warsaw these days fares very well. You could say that two things have pushed it to the forefront for me: what stressed me terribly even a few years ago during visits haunts me no more. Too, with Ed not traveling anymore, Warsaw offers something special: family and friends. They're there. My sister has (mostly) returned from Sweden, my friends never left. And that's just great!

Here's something that France and Poland share: the love of this little fruit that was with me all my Polish childhood years.


Ditto the mushrooms. Both types.


And so you're likely to see more of Poland in my posts going forward, with a continued loyal return to France, but slightly less of the random places that so often caught my travel fancy in the past. Right now, friends and family trump the exotic.

I have more to say on this topic, but I'll save it for later, because it's too big a subject to continue with now in an already long post.

Let me finish with this thought: there is nothing wrong with being alone.


There is nothing wrong with being with friends or family.


The best of all possible worlds is one where you can have some of both.

For this last night, I am dining alone of course, but it's at Pouic Pouic, where I am such a regular that I feel like I am among friends. (Again, personal connections matter in France. If you want them, you will find them.)


And of course, the food is exquisite! (Here, I am eating an appetizer of burrata in a cepes (wild mushroom) sauce.


One more food image -- of dessert: a mango/mascarpone/fresh almond/pineapple sorbet concoction.


The moon shines brightly over many places tonight, but I can only give you Paris:


Friday morning I see that same moon as I leave my hotel at 6 a.m.. I eat breakfast at the airport, where I have my only pain au chocolat of the trip. One can't be too rigid in life!


The plane takes off to the east, then swings back due west. Paris rises like a magic kingdom from the mists that swirl around this beautiful city on a late October morning.