Saturday, March 28, 2015

Enfin, tout va bien


It took a week, but today I had one of those moments of sublime happiness that Paris so easily brings. I’d heard of the Jardin du Palais Royale, a park that is tucked away and hard to find – and worth finding, a beautiful quiet empty spot a stone’s throw from the crush of insanity that is the Louvre. The magenta magnolias were out, so were the hyacinths, daffodils, narcissi, and so was the sun. Beautifully-dressed children played as their grandparents kept a stern eye – lots of grandparents looking after the little ones here – and I sat near the fountain and pulled out a pain au chocolat bought at my favourite local bakery this morning for just this occasion.

So – the splashing fountain, the babbling children, the smell of hyacinth, the park and the buttery taste of a favourite French treat – a moment of bliss. At last.

The sun was out all day and what a difference that makes. I decided to get to know the 14eme quartier this morning – la rue Alesia is the centre for “stock” stores, designer seconds and last season’s clothes, so a little wander around is never amiss. I found exactly what I was looking for – a Rodier cashmere turtleneck in my size and a nice colour, the last she had in the store, for ¼ the original price. That made me very happy. Wandered some more, did my emailing at the cafĂ©, stopped at the bakery – Dominique Saiblon, everything delicious - went home for lunch of her quiche and a glass of wine and to drop off my computer.

Decided to go right across town to the Bois de Boulogne this afternoon, to see the new Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton, a stunning new museum. But when I got out, it was too nice to sit on the metro for so long. So I just got on the next bus north, rode right across the city and got off near the end of the line, which turned out to be – coincidence? – near Galeries Lafayette. The huge store is more insane than ever – literally thousands of Chinese and Japanese, the store surrounded by tour busses. I went down to the shoe department in the basement – like one of the lower circles of Hell, especially as they do not stock my elevated size. Got out quickly and happened on a favourite shop, the Japanese Uniqlo, where I bought, once more, exactly what I needed – a black down vest as light as a feather. I had one, never took it off, only once I did and left it somewhere, and it cost me nearly 50 euros today to replace it. Their stuff is ideal for travelling in cold climes. My warm coat this trip is a Uniqlo bought at last year’s sales in London – again, so light and warm.

And then I walked and walked, found the Jardin, passed through the crowded courtyard of the Louvre, saw the Pont des Arts with its crazy locks, crossed over the graceful Pont Neuf, built in 1606, walked through the winding streets of St. Germain, all the way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where I sat and watched again. This is a city for walkers, and in the sun, there is no city like it, so full of beauty – oh, the buildings and streets, the shops, looking in windows full of treasure, watching the people with their little shopping bags. Near home, I saw a woman rushing by with a bundle buggy full of groceries, a sheaf of four baguettes under her arm. Four! That’s a big family that likes bread.

There’s a film on YouTube: Paris in 3 minutes. Check it out – the way it is. And by the way, there are billboards all over town of a pouting tattooed Justin Bieber bare-chested in his Calvins. From Stratford to Paris. Now that’s fame.

It is the weekend. No construction on the weekend. Onward.

Saturday morning. Heaven. Silence. Pewter skies and chilly rain. Here is one reason why you go away – so you can think about home. Saturday mornings at home, after my coffee, these choices await: two fat weekend newspapers, CBC radio, the CD player, the piano, friends, family, neighbours, errands, encounters, and, always, singing away in the background like the Sirens sang to Ulysees, the internet. Here, no radio music internet newspapers encounters family. No expectations, no demands, complete solitude. It is so very quiet.

I am here for this. I will open the file and work.

Friday pics - the sun!

Click to enlarge.
Tried to be subtle, taking this picture of scores of Japanese tourists, almost all on their phones, lined up at Galeries Lafayette to buy Chanel bags, which cost hundreds if not thousands of euros. Incomprehensible.
The opera. People singing on the square and those sitting on the steps applauding. What a building.
The Jardin du Palais Royale. Heaven for people, magnolia trees and little dogs.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Man in the Gare Montparnasse playing honky-tonk piano.
 Impossible to capture the beauty of the windows and interior of Chartres with an iPhone
 Hope you can read it - not every day you read a sign like this. It says Henry IV was crowned here in 1594. Un peu d'histoire.
So strange with its two different towers, looming over the small town. Magnificent.

Last night - impossible as it is to believe, the noise got worse. The construction site left some sort of machine, a pump maybe, running on and off all night. Illegal, surely? Anyway, I am doing my best zen imitation. The sun is out! I'm drinking a beautiful cup of coffee and out into the day.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

finding peace

Friends, I have regained mon equilibre. A few rocky days there, no question. And last night, I came back in the rain to the quiet apartment after emailing and blogging and asked myself, What the @#$# am I doing here? I spent the other night working on my Documents file, deleting all the files for the Beatles book - scores, hundreds of pages, draft after draft using just about every title of a Beatle song, so much verbiage, extremely depressing.

So the other night, after a take-out supper, I sat down to work and was paralyzed. Why go through that again? Why drag myself into another exercise in memory, through countless drafts, only to waste countless hours for seventeen readers?

Well, why write it at all? I asked myself. Who'd care? Why not just watch TV, or read the hawk book, or go back to the bar and troll the internet some more?

Because I want to tell the story, came the answer, and I'm here to tell it. So I sat down and started. Three attempts later, something came, a start. I've already got a draft, but it had problems and needed a new take. And I may have found it. It was most satisfying. Then some reading and bed, to awake for that half hour of blessed peace before the noise.

But yesterday I talked to a workman and found out the drilling is going to last 4 weeks or so, so - that's just the way it is. This morning I just put in my earplugs and went about my business, making breakfast and plans. And somehow, I didn't care.

Here are yesterday's pictures:
Jeff Koons at the Pompidou, with a dark, rainy Paris in the background
A children's wading pool full of chunks of wood. Made me laugh.
Really made me laugh - the Hulk as an organ.
 Mmmm. Which colour to choose?
La Place des Vosges, so beautiful and calm, and the sun came out briefly.

Today I went to the Gare Montparnasse and took the train to Chartres, the incredible cathedral finished in 1268, vast, towering over the small town. It's famous for its 176 stunning stained glass windows. Of course it's better to see them in the sunshine - like La Sainte Chapelle, better with light glowing through. But they were still profoundly moving and glorious. How was that massive building made? It boggles the mind. The workmanship in the sculptures and windows, the columns, the carving everywhere, a marvel. The windows were removed during both the first and the second world war and stored somewhere for safety. What a miracle they've survived this long.

Had lunch in a simple but terrific restaurant, a delicious two course meal with wine and of course basket of bread for about $27. Great ambiance, service, everything; felt hugely nourished. Got to the station just on time for the train back to Paris, to realize I'd read the wrong billboard - my train wasn't for another hour. So out into the rain, to walk around the great cathedral again.

And now drinking a dark rich hot chocolate while emailing at the cafe (internet not working very well today), then home to work. Tomorrow, when the noise starts, I won't care. I'm in Paris. Even though the weather today was worse than ever - freezing and very wet and windy - I didn't care either. C'est comme ca.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


It’s 9 a.m. Wednesday morning and the test of my character continues. I woke at 7.15 to delicious silence, a few birds, nothing, and appreciated the hell out of it, because at 8 the pounding began, and at 8.10 the drilling. They drilled all day yesterday. What can possibly demand days and days of drilling? The regular construction noise is a pleasure next to the drill. This place is great before 8 and after 5. In between, as Jon Stewart says, NOT SO MUCH.

I just have a few more days of this – the weekend will be quiet, and I’ve booked a room in a small hotel in my old neighbourhood for next week. My landlady here is going to reduce my rent, so I can afford a treat. The hotel has the internet. Being without the ‘net is an added difficulty when I’m making plans or want to check in with my real life. Or just troll. Or watch Jon Stewart.

And … it’s dark and raining. That is the real test, because if it were nice, I’d leave for a day of wandering. Nothing better than wandering in Paris. Harder to do in the rain.

So right now, I’m lying on the sofa under a blanket with earplugs in, Bach on my computer, the heat on to dry my socks, trying to decide what to do today, along with every other tourist who looked outside and said, “Shit!”

Some wise person said, stress occurs when the mind tries to reject what is. The drilling and rain is. Nothing to do but live with it. I’m warm, I have a roof, I’m not sick. I’m in the most beautiful city in the world.

Last night, I went to dinner with friends Annie and Paolo, to what she says is the best creperie in Paris, delicious – a salty one for the meal and a sweet one for dessert. It was a friendly warm room on a cold wet night. Much appreciated.

A great joy is the book “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald. It’s had rave reviews, which is why I bought a hardcover, which I almost never do. Beautifully written and moving, but ye gods, these people obsessed with hawks are lunatics. Crazy people. And yet there I am, avidly learning how to train my goshawk. That’s what good writing can do.

5.15. I'm at the bistro drinking a beer and saying hello to my world - it's after 5 so I can go home now. I spoke to one of the workmen - the drilling is going to continue for a month. You can hear it for blocks. 

Out into the drizzle, saw that the closest bus went to the Pompidou Centre so decided to go there. Lined up for 20 minutes before it opened, proud to be nearly first in line, only to find out when I bought a ticket that the floor for "modern art" was closed - that is, all the Matisses, Picassos, Bonnards, Monets, the best collection in Europe - closed, only "contemporary art" was open. I have to say, I hated Paris in that moment. However, I set off to see what I could: a special exhibit on Jeff Koons, very funny but not my favourite, and a whole floor of contemporary art, people making fascinating paintings, drawings, films, sculptures and bizarre things that are a bit of everything. I'm sure some of it is terrific. But often I find that modern artists have their heads too far up their own *sses - working for other artists, perhaps, not for us. Lots of kids there, having a great time. And of course, the building is spectacular.

Wandered through the Marais, the old Jewish district, unchanged in years, had lunch and sat in the sun in the stunning Place des Vosges, went to the great Carnavalet - Museum of the City of Paris, free and packed with stuff. My guidebook said to see the archeological treasures from Roman times; that section was, of course, closed. But saw lots including Proust's cork-lined bedroom. (Pictures tomorrow - I forgot to bring the download cord to the bar.) On my way to the museum, it started to hail, and while I was inside it poured, but when I got out it was sunny again. Walked down beautiful streets full of beautiful things and houses and art and people and got the bus home. And now, a quiet evening with no drilling, a good book and my own fevered brain. Yikes. 

PS Weather forecast - rain through the weekend. This IS.