Monday, March 30, 2015

from Marseille to Paris

It is a leisurely morning at Les Acanthes, but not one that offers time for excursions. I work on my computer while Odile and Pierre tend to house and garden. And then I eat breakfast, which at this guest house, always includes four types of local organic honeys. Perfect for one of the baguettes. (The pain au chocolat, I eat in its own splendid form.)

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I glance at my iPhone. Enough time for a short walk. Just up the street and back, enjoying the sunshine, not minding the wind (I keep the jacket on!), admiring the lenticular clouds that have been forming here ever since the mistral struck.

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I see that it is Palm Sunday. Here, the branch of choice is not a palm at all, but rather that of an olive.

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I lose track of days and holidays when I travel, but every once in a while, I get these reminders.

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Of one thing I am certain: it is spring!

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(the poppy)

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(the plum)

Okay, time to head out to the train station. Warm goodbyes, always a touch sad, though I promise myself that I will return within the next year.

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It's a clockwork travel day. The subway is timely. (A brother protectively tells his sister it's time to get off. Yes, he takes her hand...)

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The train, a TGV (train a grande vitesse -- meaning part of the bullet network), leaving from Marseille St Charles is timely as well.

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It's a three hour ride to Paris (distance: just short of 800 km). Here's a TV screen telling us how fast we're going and reassuring us that we can order a nice organic meal while we travel.

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The passengers? Oh, there's a range of ages. Here's a Frenchman whose hairstyle may or may not look good on Ed:

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And this little girl is on her screen, while her dad is on his. Not for long though. She wants a more active play. He takes out coloring materials and she happily colors for a good portion of the travel time. Snacks during the journey? A bottle of water. The French do not believe in feeding their children (nor themselves) between meals, even during travel. (By comparison, the English munched continuously between London and St Ives. Chips and the surprisingly popular fruitcake.)

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And outside? This is one of my favorite train rides in France and the scenery is lovely, especially in the more southern parts.

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The trees are just budding, but the landscape already has the colors of spring. It will be a while before we can boast of these tones back home.

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As we pull into Paris, the weather changes. We've left behind the sunshine of southern France. Paris comes with a trade: like me for myself, not for my weather! And I do. I really do.

I walk the forty minute distance from the Gare de Lyon (train station) to my hotel. May I draw an analogy here -- there are drops of rain beginning to form -- just occasional ones. Not so much that it would cause you to open your umbrella, were you to have one. (I don't.)

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But here's a pleasant fact: Paris is really in full bloom! Along the river bank I pull my little suitcase between signs of real spring.

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I pick up the Boulevard St Germain and now I know I have only 20 minutes to go. Fifteen if I really push myself.

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(brasserie: alone)

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(shop window: so, you think you want chickens?)

The occasional rain drops turn into a light drizzle by the time I reach the hotel (Le Baume, used to be called Jardin de l'Odeon, but they rebuffed it and gave it a less generic name. For me, it was good enough without the facelift, but what I really notice now is how well they did the soundproofing: you no longer ever hear your neighbor!).

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And now here's the thing -- I am home free. Well, not free exactly, but I surely have all my adventures behind me. I smile to myself because there is no more surprise and for once, this feels good.

The hotel will have an umbrella for me to use.
There will be extra pillows, so that I can prop myself up in bed to use my computer.

The room is tiny, but so are my needs.

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I like quiet and it will be quiet.
I like a warm floor and, unlike at a place I stayed oh, a few days back, the floor will be warm. 
I don't have to go far to find a pleasant walk, but on the other hand, I can walk all day long too, if this is my inclination (it almost always is).
Clean. Extra clean. With a good WiFi.

I always remember the day I told Ed (nearly ten years ago) that if I were rich, I would buy a small apartment in Paris and call it my second home. He asked then, quite sincerely -- why would you want the headache? Wouldn't you rather find a hotel you like and call that your second home? And have the maid make your bed every morning? I mean, I would hate having a maid touch my things, but you like that sort of stuff.

Wise words. The wealth isn't there, but I want nothing more than this room, a few steps from the Luxembourg Gardens.

The showers continue, on and off, but I am happy to walk the streets of Paris even under these wet skies.

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The Luxembourg Gardens are open now until 7:30. 7:30! I remember in December they shut their gates at 6. I always tell myself I like being here at all times of the year, but spring in Paris surely trumps winter!

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(the noble chestnut)

Still, after an hour and a half of walking, umbrella up, umbrella down, umbrella up -- I need a warm space. Dinner isn't until 7:30. Pretty early for Paris, but it's not yet even that yet. I find a bookstore. I go inside.

It goes without saying that I love bookstores here, even though I would never pick a book in French for pleasure reading. But to browse while taking in the smell of books! Heaven.

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(Hermes' new book on macarons; later, I see that there will be an English version on Amazon in October!)

And I notice that upstairs, there is a children's section. I don't know that Snowdrop's parents want her to learn French as a second language, but I am here and I may as well get to know the offerings.

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(a few titles are translations from English language favorites)

A woman is here with her son. She says to him -- we need to find a book for your little brother. The boy seems totally disinterested in this project and so she turns to me. I look like a stateless person. People often ask me for directions, even though I so obviously have a camera dangling. I could be from here. I don't look like I'm from anywhere. Maybe I wear my national confusion on my face. In any case, she asks advice as to books.
This one -- she says, picking up, of all things, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but in French. It looks colorful. Do you recommend it? 
Ha! I offer high praise. She looks for others by the same author. I retreat.

It's time for me to eat.

Dinner is so often a headache for me in Paris. Yes, I have one place to love, for my last night. But other times? It's not that there aren't choices, it's that in so many Parisian restaurants in my price range, they no longer take the extra care you'll find say in La Napoule or anywhere else outside this city. Shortcuts that bother me because in Paris, you don't want that disappointment. And I don't want the big, the impersonal. And so I bypass the whole struggle. I pick Italian. La Bocca della Verita.

It does have one issue -- no set price menu and so inevitably, you're going to spend more than you should. But, I stay with a light appetizer of endive, white asparagus and parma ham, followed by a pasta dish with artichoke and calamari. At least I can pass on dessert. And yes, I would go back. When I asked the waiter about the artichokes, he explained to me exactly how they were prepared (sauteed, but just for one minute... love those artichoke dishes here! ). Everything is extremely fresh and cooked just right. The chef is from Naples. He cares. Yes, I'd go back.

And now to retreat to my little room! It feels late, but of course, Paris is going to continue its nightly game of food and drink and conversation for many more hours.

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At the hotel, I open the window for a few minutes, just to hear the sound of occasional footsteps outside. I think -- this is such a good way to end a trip across the ocean.

Tomorrow I'll post at a delay. You know the routine: on Tuesday I have flights to catch. I'll publish sometime before the end of the day.