Wednesday, October 28, 2015

from Warsaw to Paris

I am riding the city bus from a downtown stop -- a stop that's as close as you can imagine to my childhood homes and my Polish elementary school -- I'm riding it to the airport. I've been up for a good bit of the night, thinking Polish thoughts and, too, seeing my sister off, as she had a kind deed to do for our cousin who needed a helping hand this morning. My sister was out of the house by 6 and after eating a wonderful pre-breakfast of wild blueberries, kefir and acacia honey...


... I took one last look at the mirror that hangs in her apartment hallway...


... and let myself out. I had a date with my precious Warsaw friend and I made my way to the center of Warsaw (in those blocks so close to my former homes, so close!)...


(I lived here at a time when a building sculpture like this was inspiring to some, somewhat unsettling to others...)


... yes, to the center, where I could catch a glimpse of our fabulous parks, but this was no time for a walk there, not for me, nor for those engaged in the daily stuff of life...


Instead, it was time to sit back with my friend and reflect on all that had happened in the last months, the sadnesses of other friends and thus our own, and then eventually, to talk about the future and consider the possibilities...


And then I must break off this lovely meeting, eat my cheesecake, drink my coffee and get on that city bus and she rides it with me for a while, but then she takes off for her day and I continue.

A woman sits down next to me. The bus is fairly crowded and I try to make room for her, pushing my suitcase to the side, but she waves away my efforts, telling me that she is quite comfortable, thank you very much.

I notice she has an impeccable complexion. I put her age at just a year or two older than me, but I find out later that she is actually 79. So now I understand why she has such impeccable skin tone: she belongs to that generation of women who perhaps had few luxuries in life as measured by western standards, but what they did have (I'm talking about the urban population) was access to weekly session with cosmeticians who would steam, clean, massage the faces of thousands (millions?) of Warsaw women, applying lovely creams after that we proudly believed were far superior to the junk sold to the west of us or to the east.

The suitcase prods her to ask if I am going to the airport and if so, what trip am I about to take. I explain that on the contrary, my trip is drawing to an end soon. I am beginning a return home.

Very quickly she learns where my home is and she learns, too, that I have not been visiting my childhood city to perhaps pay some annual respect to my mother's grave, no indeed -- that my mother is nearly 92 and lives with a great deal of independence in California. (I learn too, all about this woman's children, and all three grandchildren who are now past college age, and about her own politechnique studies, her divorce, and her directorship of her own construction company for a dozen years.)

What impresses the woman most is that my mom does water aerobics in an outdoor pool every day, Monday through Friday. She tells me that she herself goes power walking with her friends -- she is on her way to meet up with them now -- but only twice a week. I urge her to add a third day and after thinking for a bit, she admits it's doable and decides to add Thursday to her walk schedule.

I write all this detail here, because I think it is so very telling about how quickly I fit in to being a Warsaw girl again and, too, how genuinely curious people here are about each other, and how not unusual it is to have just such a conversation with a stranger in the space of a twenty minute bus ride.

Continuing my string of good flight connections, I board the noon flight and several hours later I am landing in Paris.


As you know, fall is in full swing in these parts as well. (See Giverny posts.) But after Giverny and after Warsaw's park, the lovely bronzed chestnuts of Paris's Luxembourg Gardens have to take only a modest spot in the line-up of autumn beauties.


(Not that most Gardens visitors would necessarily notice.)


And, too, my attention is starting to shift now. My thoughts stray more and more to my grandchild and as I look around me, all I see is one grandparent after another, all tending to their grandkids.


Predictably, I pop into a store and satisfy my grandmotherly urges by picking out a dress for Snowdrop, all strips and bunny rabbits, because she is, of course such a hopping bunny rabbit herself...


That's the fun stuff. Back at the hotel, I get a disappointing email from my sister -- plans we were hatching have to be put aside. There is a glitch. More on that later.

And my simple neighborhood eatery that was to feed me dinner tonight left many messages on my computer and phone telling me that the cook is sick and can I please reschedule for the weekend?

No I cannot.

So I have to come up with a place to eat and I truly do not like wasting time on this when I am already good and hungry.

I am staying in the hotel I pick for when I am feeling especially tight on cash -- the Design Sorbonne. You can still get a good room at this quirky but nice hotel for as little as 95 Euros per night if you book ahead. Of course, it will be a tiny room and you may have to put up with lots of pinks and reds. Me, I don't mind. In fact, I'm rather charmed by it. And the view is very satisfying -- right onto the thick ornate walls of the Sorbonne.


I decide to walk over to an old favorite restaurant, Le Timbre. But when I get there, I see that they're full for the night. The next door Moustache has a table and I almost take it, but then I peak at the menu at the third cousin in this shoulder to shoulder line up of good small restaurants -- Invictus -- and I see that they have mushrooms on the menu, twice in fact: in the morel cream soup over scallops and then, for a main course, I see that they have a John Dory with chanterelles. That makes it way too easy: I want to eat at the Invictus.

And when my mushroom dishes come, I feel like Julia Child in the movie where she is served something so very yummy in Paris -- bubbling over with delight , mopping up every last bit with a wonderfully crusty bit of baguette.


I walk back to the hotel once again deeply satisfied.

 The moon shines brightly...