Monday, March 23, 2015


I'm at the café to get you caught up, on a warm Monday later afternoon - the air full of cigarette smoke and French talk, everyone outside enjoying an aperitif, as I will now. I have kept a blog diary, starting ... Saturday.

Out to discover my new ‘hood – the 14th. I was a flanêur – no agenda, just wandering. Noticed, as I checked a large map on a billboard, that I was near the puces de Vanves, the biggest flea market in Paris. So I made my way there; it was 2.30 and all the vendors were shutting down, “Come early next weekend,” they said, and I just may. A few were still open, a woman selling beautiful lace and very old clothes, a hat man.

Then I hopped on the first tram I’ve taken in Paris – very modern and free, today, I was told, “because of pollution” – what a great idea, Toronto. And there are bike paths carved into roads and sidewalks everywhere, even in a city as flooded with traffic as this. Got off at Parc Montsouris – so named, apparently, because at one time this ‘hood was overrun with mice. A beautiful park – like a small Central Park, with fields, hills, and a large lake on which floated exotic black swans with red beaks and many, too many, Canadian geese. The daffodils, forsythia, cherry and apple blossoms are out and the magnolia is swelling, ready to emerge; tiny buds on the trees.

I know I’m in France because everywhere there are natty little men in scarves. And bakeries. If ever North Americans want to confront the insanity of their obsession with the fattening properties of bread, just consider France, a country with every two steps a bakery full of delicious things, a basket of bread on every dining table, and yet people are not fat. Though things are certainly changing; on TV last night, I saw lots of ads for junk food, including a Kellogg’s breakfast bar covered with chocolate, and a billboard advertising a hamburger: "No dishes tonight". Unthinkable a decade ago.

The general attitude to me, as I blunder my way around like a tourist and yet, confusingly, speak French, is of amused condescension. Is there a people on earth as condescending as the French, even if some condescend in a nice way? The not-nice ones are just impatient and rude. Enquiring in an Orange store about the internet, I was treated with barely concealed disdain. The concept of obligatory happy service is still pretty rare here, though plenty of service people are very nice. Anyway, the internet clé is way too expensive, I’ll just have to make do with cafés. And – I discovered last night, sitting at work in a silent apartment with no internet – that’s a good way to get work done. Something learned. I am addicted to the 'net. Have to learn to live without. Hard! 

Sunday morning, I made myself two cups of coffee in the tiny electric espresso machine here and some oatmeal on the stove; there was no construction, all was quiet, and I felt at home. Blessings.
Then off, walked to the Cité Universitaire, an amazing assembly of buildings housing students from around the world, where my dad lived in 1946 when he went to the Sorbonne after the war. I’ve heard stories about what great fun it was there, all those international young people who’d survived the war. Took the suburban train into the country to Gif, where old friends Michele and Daniel live – in Gif there’s a laboratory Dad and Michele worked at – where they met in 1964, and Dad invited Michele to come work with him in Canada. 

They have a lovely little house in the country with a fantastic chunk of land, a view of trees, hills, a river, birds singing, a mountain covered with trees behind and trails for walking. I’m sitting on their balcony now, Monday morning, in the hot sun, listening to many birds and a distant airplane. Will stay for lunch of tapas and white asparagus that Michele and I bought at the Gif market yesterday, before going back to the noisy city. Last night, I felt the joy of being in real France, sitting in their kitchen at 9 p.m. for a simple supper of vast quantities of cheese, also bought at the market, and salad and wine, listening to the election results on the radio and to my hosts snort when Sarko or Marine Le Pen spoke.

No agenda today either.

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