Tuesday, December 15, 2015

fitting in

Not everyone has to fit in. Ed is a fine example of a person who doesn't worry about such things. Me, I waffle. At home, if fitting in means sacrificing those parts of me that come from my childhood in Poland, then I don't want that compromise. But when I travel, apart from making that obvious statement of carrying a visible camera (but it's small!) and apart from always being alone (something that seems to draw attention, especially in eateries), I do not want to stand out.

Here, in France, I have additional challenges. Things get dicey when people engage me in conversation. I sound good. I have lived between several countries all my life and this has made me very sensitive to the music of a language. When Patrizia corrected my intonation (not once, but twice!), I could have hugged her. It's that detail that matters to me.

But by no means can I coast on music alone. Take yesterday. I entered a small store to browse and madame, being, as all French are, very attentive to the customer, admired my small camera. She was really curious, but me, I was getting increasingly anxious. There would come a time when I would not be able to explain some finer detail of its mechanism (she seemed to know a lot about cameras).

And then abruptly, she said: sorry, but you live in France, n'est pas? -- as if it suddenly struck her that I didn't. The image she had created was wrong -- in need of adjustment.

At such times, I just want to run and hide. Yes, I sound authentic. Get me going and I'll flow as gracefully as the River Seine. You'd think that my cousins were French and that I'm used to bantering away over Sunday dinner with them. But there will always come a moment when I will draw a complete, total, foggy blank. Someone will use words that I'm clueless about and I sheepishly admit to not understanding and then will come this awful pause, when the speaker will not get why I don't understand. What don't you understand? Ah, perhaps they were mumbling, perhaps I am hard of hearing. They repeat the sentence and of course I'm still totally clueless and so then they say things like -- but but but you speak so well! (meaning: How can you be so dumb as to not understand?) And I don't know how to explain that it's the music thing. That it comes from traveling all my life and being an immigrant -- all this is too much for, say an exchange in a store and so I retreat, blushing from the scarf that suddenly feels too hot around my face, while madame just keeps saying "but really, you speak so beautifully..." and by now I am completely mortified, music be damned. I feel like I am a total fake.

This happens all too often. I live through that feeling of being a fraud again and again. Who are you? -- people ask me, sometimes kindly, sometimes bluntly. French? No, not that. German? You look German (gee, thanks). Never American. They never ever guess American and Polish is out of the running and so I think -- who am I to them? To myself?  Fitting in is elusive.

Today the weather forecasters said rain. I am extraordinarily lucky that all my days have been rain-free thus far and since I had a museum in mind for this Paris sojourn, I thought -- what better time for it!  Walk walk walk until it starts to rain, then hop on the metro and continue that way.

And so I leave with a packed umbrella and my old camera ready to be tucked into my jacket in case of a sudden downpour. Off I go to the Musee Marmottan -- the place you would go to if you needed a fix of Monet paintings (and I can always benefit from such a fix), but this month you would especially make the trip if you wanted to see their special exhibit (never before shown in France) from the Hahnloser collection: Renoirs, Manets, Cezannes, Van Goghs, lots of Bonnards, Matisse -- all titled Les Temps Enchantes.  Who would not want to see something referring to an enchanted time!

I had once timed the walk to the museum at 90 minutes, but that was without pauses and diversions and detours. And so there you have it -- a day of walking again, but this time toward the far western parts of the city.

But first, breakfast, with all the proper croissants and pain au chocolat this time.


And off I go. No rain yet? Thank you!

I pass the Parisian version of power walkers.


I pass window shoppers.


I pass store displays that are so incredibly artful!


And of course, the pastries of the season -- just beautiful!


All of it -- inside and out -- so very pretty.



Again and again, I am dazzled by how much attention is given to the visual detail in daily life. How women and men take care with appearance.


Me, I was raised as a femme moderne. In my generation and in the places I lived, you cared more about what went into your head. Work on your smarts, have a good heart and you're set. Forget about beauty: if you pay attention to appearance, you're playing into the hands of those who wish only to stare at you rather than value what's inside. That's the way we talked (while secretly loving dangly earrings and lipstick and permed hair).

It is said that the French function in separate, gendered spheres. And this may well be true. But I'm wondering these days if in our own sacrificing of a preoccupation with appearance, we also sacrificed attention to form and art and all the rest of the adornment that makes life exquisite rather than just livable.

I was especially drawn to these thoughts as I looked at the collection of paintings from the Hahnloser family. He was a Swiss ophthalmologist who obviously made money. In our times, people who make money seem to buy expensive property. The more noble give money to charity. But Hahnloser along with his wife, bought a rather modest villa and covered every wall with paintings of their contemporaries.

This is the collection that I saw today. Magnificent, yes of course, but also leading me to wonder: are we a greedier generation? Do we even care enough about art to sustain it?

Oh well, maybe it's good that we don't fuss about the visuals. Preoccupation with adornment comes at some cost after all. I was thinking about this as I waited once again for the woman who was conducting a sale of a Snowdrop outfit to finish wrapping the package. Such care she took! Every crease just so, the ribbon tied neatly, the extra sticker, the tuck, the fold... All fine, unless you're the person standing behind, waiting to complete your own purchase, as the seller fusses and frets over the proper shape of a bow.

After my museum visit (sorry, no photos allowed), I pause for a lunch. Honestly, I just am starved for some vegetables and so when I see a cafe bar with a salad of arugula, artichokes and parmiggiano on the menu, I do not hesitate.


The museum is in a tony right bank neighborhood -- not my favorite by any means, even as I admit that the 6th arrondissement, where I usually hang out, is no poorman's land either. But there is at least a youthful presence to the 6th, possibly because of the proximity of the university.

Let's get back to the left bank then.

I pass the big Rue Cler market...


I stop in stores with children's clothing...


I watch kids return from school...


Yes, children. Isn't that what catches our collective eye? They'll solve all the world's problems, no?



I absolutely have to include a photo of the Eiffel Tower -- probably the most photographed structure in the entire world. And yet, every time we walk by it, we can't help but raise our cameras in a salute. Here's my tribute to it:


Finally, in the evening, I have reserved a dinner at yet another new place for me. It's called Clover and it's just a short twelve minute walk from where I'm staying.

It's raining outside now. On the upside, have you noticed how pretty the wet sidewalks are in Paris at night?


And the lights! Oh, the lovely holiday lights, rain or no rain!


As for Clover -- I had a feeling I'd be rewriting my list of favorite three restaurants from this trip and yep, sure enough, Clover (with its open kitchen and exquisite food) will make that list.

Maybe it's that it is the most artsy of all my eating venues in Paris and today I am so contemplative about art. Typically, I don't go for showmanship in food, but I have to say, Clover is clever. A scallop sizzling on a hunk of stone from Paris? Clever.


I have one other comment about my dinner (apart from the fact that it's great -- really great): weirdly, I had on my right an American couple with their grown daughter and on my left a French couple with their grown daughter. The differences between the two were astronomical! There is no judgment in the way I would experience either, though the American side was perhaps ten decibels louder than the French side, but honestly, each family had its quirky habits. But both were gracious and appreciative of the kind staff and the great food. Still, cultural differences there were. Aplenty.

But, that's okay, right? Would you really like the world to be composed only of people just like you?

There's no moon tonight. But wouldn't you like to believe that nonetheless it looks down brightly over all of us tonight?

... while the horses on the carousel go round and round...