Wednesday, December 16, 2015

last day

Eventually, there is always that last day in Paris. This one comes at the tail end of a very good trip, filled with people, places, ideas, impressions. I learned a lot, I walked the old, the new, I was impressed by something other than my own back yard.

I feel refreshed.

Ah, but there is one final day of walking. Not done yet! Let's head out together one last time.

First, though, a decadent breakfast consisting now of croissants, pain au chocolat and, at the last minute, thrown in by the breakfast staff, a croissant almande -- because surely they think Madame Guest is awfully in need of that buttery pastry, having crinkled her nose the first day, when the croissants were all gone.


The day is gray, but not cold. So where to?  Everywhere and nowhere. Some vignettes for you, all from my ramblings on the left bank.

 A street corner that I pass more than once each day:


A waiter on a break:


I imagine the text message from this next guy reads something like this: how many baguettes did yo ask me to bring home??


The cake I'd buy, were I buying a cake at the Bon Marche food halls:


Flowers, just because:


I'm looking for gifts at the Foucher chocolate shop:


The houses of Rue l'Universite:


I finish shopping (balancing who gets what and for how much, so that no one is treated less well than the other is such an art!) and then I just walk and engage in the act of thinking. It's amazing how clear the head can become if you're moving one foot in front of the next, keeping an eye toward the traffic and the window displays. (Oh! A mirror!)


Eventually I think I should eat a light lunch. I pass this very tiny place (Le Petit Jacob) that seems to specialize in savory tartines (open faced sandwiched) and wine by the glass. I pick the tartine with goat cheese, cucumbers and fig, spread on thin slices of toasted bread. With a cabbage salad. Very good!


I see that these two are enjoying the same thing...


Out again, still on the Rue l'Universite (which, to my knowledge, no longer has university buildings anywhere near it):


And then I'm back at my hotel.

After I dump all my parcels and fret for two minutes about how I will pack it all into my tiny suitcase (in the end I decide that carrying a stuffed shopping bag on board, however weird and awkward in normal times, is not completely off-kilter in the holiday season) -- I set out again, this time in the direction of the park.


Is it more joyous? Lively? Throbbing with late afternoon life? Not exactly, but I have to admit that I am influenced in my view of it by the fact that (almost) nothing is blooming. (Exception: the icelandic poppies above). I don't know if they planted the winter flower beds too late, or if somehow they didn't take, but this may be the only time I have ever walked through the Luxembourg Gardens where there isn't a bloom visible on any of the beds (even in the winter, the flowers survive the gentle frost that never seems to be deep enough to kill them off). So it feels kind of somber for that reason alone.

But, I watch a group of boys play soccer and a few little girls whiz by on scooters and both those acts get a big smile out of me, so I'm thinking perhaps the park hasn't succumbed to a Parisian malaise after all.

And in fact, it's hard for a person popping in for just four days to really feel the pulse of the city. At times I think that nothing has changed -- it should surprise no one that life does continue, after all. Here's a photo taken while passing the Cafe-bar Madame:


At other times I think that everything has slowed down somewhat. Certainly at my hotel, at least half the rooms stand empty. Street life is vibrant, but am I imagining it, or does it all seem more subdued? In Paris, there are always a great many Americans, but this time they're fewer in number. I'm not hearing our language quite as often as I typically hear it.

Oh, but it's easy to see such things and to misinterpret them all. Maybe we're all just not traveling so much right now. Or maybe we're getting in our cars more, now that the price of gas has plummeted (something that has not resulted at all in cheaper overseas airfares).

One more shopping moment: I stand in line at the Hermes bakery, If I were buying a cake, I'd buy this one, with the fraise de bois on top:


But instead, I just pick up three very exotic macarons:


Outside this rarefied and refined pastry store, a woman stands with her dog. They both look very tense. Maybe they've been stood up?


It's dusk outside. People (including these two girls -- sisters? friends? I don't know...) pick up the pace.


Here's a very content looking mother-daughter duo, reminding me that very soon I'll be seeing my own daughters (and granddaughter)!


Let me end this day with the familiar: a dinner at Pouic Pouic. Because a chef may change there, the dishes may be seasonally adjusted, but it really is much the same each time I am in Paris, and that is such a very good thing right now. Here's Anissa, the manager and Benjamin, the chef, whose girlfriend hovered tonight in the sidelines. Or maybe that was his sister. There are certain things one just cannot ask.


I walk home (yes, it is home for me), past the same bars and the same lights and it just seems to me (perhaps because I want to see it that way) that everyone has now returned to a state of near normality.


(Equal time! If earlier in the post you saw Cafe Madame, around the corner from my hotel you'll see Bar Monsieur. It's very popular.)


Yes, all quite normal. So that Paris can continue to be this place of magic that draws you in, reminding you that it's okay to want to be happy in life.