Friday, December 08, 2017

Paris in December

When you lived a good bit of your life in Poland and then even longer in Wisconsin, you don't associate December with green grass and spring-like cloudbursts. But Paris is not like Poland or Wisconsin. It's milder. Oh, the French don't think it's mild at the moment. I know that because they're bundled up as if heading for the Arctic. But for me, 5C (about 41F) is pretty good for now. Walking along the streets of Paris, I sometimes get the sense that the streets and sidewalks are heated, because the same temperature in Warsaw can feel pretty nippy, whereas here -- well, I think it's mild.

I'm late to start the day. You know how it is: no appointments, no commitments. So I move slowly. I read that extra article. I pause a lot.

By the time I finally get myself to my local breakfast place, Les Editeurs, I'm thinking they may well be out of croissants and pain au chocolat. These are the worries of a solo traveler: am I too late for the croissant???

They're not out. I have both. (And I begin a day of time released selfies, much to the amusement of the clientele in the establishments where I do this!)


Okay. Breakfast behind me, now what? So far, I'm avoiding the special exhibitions. Portraits painted by Rubens at the Musee du Luxembourg? Nah. Then there is a Degas retrospective at the Musee d'Orsay and normally I would consider it, but this one ties him thematically to a writer and friend, so there most certainly is a lot of reading that accompanies the viewing. And it will be crowded. I don't like a lot of museum reading or jostling with crowds, so nah. Oh how good it feels to be here often enough that occasionally you just can say -- nah.

Instead, I do what I love best. (Which, oh so predictably starts at the Luxembourg Gardens -- empty now, wet, but dappled by the occasional burst of sunlight...)


Inhale, exhale. Several times.


I walk, window shop, shop for my family. (Fine, I also pick up a pair of sparkly socks for me, but truly, I enjoy shopping for them far more than I enjoy shopping for me. So in I go, to this shop and that...)


Walk, look, admire, try to understand.

Here's one wee difference between Madison and Paris: in my home town at this time, you see a lot of cars with trees strapped to the roof. In Paris, you either carry your own, or have it delivered. Like here:


I'm in a store. There is a full length mirror. I take the photo to show Snowdrop that Gaga does wear dresses and skirts. This is proof!


It's getting to be the tail end of the French lunch hour. The perpetual dilemma: what to do?? I'm going on just morning bread product. I should pause to eat something.

When in doubt, go to the Cafe Varenne.

A mini portion of homemade truffle ravioli and a salad and waiters that are your best friends (at least for the duration of the meal). Can it be more perfect?

The food:


Ocean author, toward the end, doing her selfie thing:


I leave, as always -- satiated and content.

And now the weather turns insane. I thought I had waited out a cloudburst during lunch. Yeah! Looks wet and gorgeous!


I step inside a store. I linger there perhaps too long. I come out. Phew! Where did this come from?!


I pause in a doorway to wait out the worst of it. Is that hail? I mean, a gentle kind of hail, but still -- bits of frozen ice! I watch children hurry home from school with parents and grandparents and nannies. I watch people go into this entryway to glance over the tree offerings.


All fine, but the rain/sleet have not let up. I may as well just do that urban hop skip, where you're hugging the edifice hoping that some meager overhang or awning will keep you dry.

It sort of works and in any case, soon into the walk back, the skies more or less clear. Here's my approach to the St Sulpice Square. Wet, but beautiful!


And now I am back at my hotel. Here, I pause for the essentials of my travel these days: contact with those back home. Skype, text, email -- take your pick. I need it.

How different it is to be away from home now than say forty, thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago! In the past, it was a one way street: I wrote letters and postcards and heard nothing back until I stepped off the plane at home. Phone calls were expensive. Computers and email were someone else's futuristic dream. No more.

I cannot imagine being away so often and so far without these added tools of contact.

And now it is late and I have a dinner reservation to attend to. These days, my favorite "nice restaurant in Paris" is Semilla. It helps that it's only a five or ten minute walk from my hotel. But I liked it even when it was a forty minute walk. (It helps, too, that Ed always agrees to pick up the tab for one of my dinners away from home. So this is his night. Thank you, Ed!)

The vibe at Semilla is superb. The food is exceptional. The prices are reasonable. When alone, I choose to sit at the counter. The waiters chat when they have a sec, and it gives me a good vantage point onto the rest of the crowded eatery.

(Recently they've converted to a two week reservation system on line. Meaning you can't book ahead of that.  But I swear, if you come early (say at 7:30) and you promise them you'll not linger for too long after your meal, they'll try to find a spot for you.)

Eventually I get the question from the waiter -- so, where are you from? I mean, people catch on quickly enough that I am not a native French speaker. There comes a word that I do not understand, or a vowel that I mispronounce or, as at Semilla, a menu term that just befuddles me.
The U.S., just north of Chicago. Wisconsin. I tease then: have you heard of it?  
A touch of embarrassement: Well no, but our sous chef -- see him there? (He points to a young man feverishly preparing a plate. Semilla has an open kitchen.) He's from Los Angeles!
I have to laugh. I mean, a real hearty laugh. All America is alike: Chicago, Wisconsin, Los Angeles. For once, our country has been scaled down to the size of an outsider's imagination!

We are all born on the same planet.

It's too crowded to play around with my camera over dinner. And yes, the food was exquisite: unfussy, original, perfectly presented. I would not keep coming were it not so.

I walk back through the crowded Bucci street. People at cafes, in restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk even though it's barely above freezing. In moments like this I always think that the French live by the motto of "together, over food."

I'll leave you with a random photo -- of a couple, young, in love (I'd like to believe that), animated, hopeful.


Yes, hopeful. Definitely that. And I wish that for all of us.