Monday, March 31, 2014

Shaena Lambert's writing workshop

My friend the wonderful writer Shaena Lambert is teaching a writing workshop in B.C. this summer, in a stunning spot - the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts. Shaena is a writer of extraordinary depth and feeling; her new collection "Oh My Darling" has won a prize and universal praise.

Shaena assures me that what's taught will be as relevant for memoir and non-fiction as for short fiction. So if you want to combine heavenly landscape and profoundly meaningful work, here's your chance.

Info on Shaena's website:


Heartbreaking to sit in Paris and read, in the New York Times, about the debasement of my country by its current government. Makes me sick at heart. Check it out, if you can bear it.


Is Canada Tarring Itself?

And then to read that the elections in France on Sunday continued to elevate the extreme right wing to the forefront. Very depressing. 

However. I'm in Paris, so I will struggle not to be depressed. Knowing I have only have four and a half more days here, my struggle will be successful. 

After buying a sofa for the apartment, I'd been asked to buy a phone too, so today I walked to the Place d'Italie shopping centre to do so. Of course, when I got it back, the cord that came with the new phone did not fit into the phone jack for the old one. @#$! I'm trying the old cord in the new phone. Maybe it'll work. If not, a long walk back to the Place d'Italie tomorrow.

This afternoon, another long walk all around Saint Germain.
Click to enlarge.
One of the oldest restaurants in Paris, on the wonderfully named rue Monsieur le Prince.
 Just a door. Some old door on some street somewhere.
Typical streetscape - narrow ivory buildings with lacy balconies. LOVE it.

I found the store Cos, recommended by Lynn - the higher end of H&M - great fashion at very reasonable prices. Could become an addiction - I'm glad it has not come to Canada. I did buy a few tiny things, I confess. FUN! NOT DEPRESSED BY RIGHT WING GOVERNMENTS!

And then, on a cloudy warm afternoon, to the cinema. Lynn and Denis had recommended the Polish film Ida, but I got there early so went first to see the last film of the famous French director Alain Resnais - Aimer, boire et chanter - to love, drink and sing - if ever there's a title that speaks to me, it's that one. Love, drink and sing - yes! It's an adaptation of an Alan Ayckbourn play, and it's … well, I left happily after 15 minutes, to go to the room next door for Ida. Forced, a play very awkwardly adapted for film, not to mention French actors bizarrely in the town of York in northern Britain. Resnais was 91 when he made it. More power to him, I say, even if it's not a good film.

Ida, on the other hand, is a very good film, even if the ending made me sad. A young Polish-Catholic noviate is urged to contact her family before she takes her final vows - she finds her last remaining relative, an aunt, and discovers that she's Jewish and that her parents were slaughtered during WW2. The two women set out on an odyssey to find and rebury the remains; in the process, they discover each other and also a young musician who plays John Coltrane brilliantly in 60's Poland. But the ending drove me mad. Oh for God's sake - literally and figuratively - is it a good thing for a young woman to inter herself in a convent? Maybe it's saying that the indoctrination of the Catholic church is even stronger than blood ties. Maybe she chooses a safe spiritual path over a risky carnal one. Phooey on that. An infuriating and unhappy ending for this viewer. But a powerful and beautifully made film nonetheless.

An omelette for dinner, half a bottle of good red though not as good as the Crozes-Hermitage - but damn good for $8. It's dusk, and the dog that barks incessantly in this apartment building is barking. And now, work. Definitely, absolutely not depressed, even though Stephen Harper is destroying the world. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Paris Sunday

This morning Lynn and I went to the Marché d'Aligre in the Marais, one of my favourite markets, absolutely overflowing with junk. Such a cornucopia of the cracked, broken and hideous but often genuinely old, you have never seen. Well, I found socks, a turquoise silk scarf and, yes, a beautiful diamond ring, displayed below.
I love diamonds, as perhaps you know, so this was a thrill. And as Lynn said, nobody was hurt digging out this diamond. He was asking 5 euros and I bargained him down to 4. ($6 or so. Give or take.)
Then we walked through the Bastille district and over to the Place des Vosges, one of the loveliest squares in all of Paris. 
By now we were hungry and started looking for a restaurant. I'd heard about the famous falafel place L'As du Falafel in the Jewish district of the Marais, so we went to find it. It must be Passover soon, because the Jewish contingent was out in force. 
We found the restaurant - hundreds of people lined up in all directions. 
So that was out. Tried to find somewhere else not too touristy or expensive … walked and walked. Suddenly we were all the way at the Pompidou. So we got the bus home, went grocery shopping, and cooked. A much better deal - scrambled eggs with Emmenthal cheese and grilled chanterelle mushrooms, fresh bread, and a superb Crozes-Hermitage which was one of my father's favourite wines. I paid nearly 12 euros for it, 3 times the cost of my diamond, but it would have been exorbitant at home. Scrambled eggs and a fine wine - my idea of a great meal. Followed of course by salad, cheese, dessert, coffee and chocolate. That was lunch, which took from 3.15 to 5.45 p.m. And then it was time to go with Madame to the train station for her train back to Montpellier. How I will miss her. 

Saturday, yesterday, we walked all along the boulevard St. Germain, stopping at Les Deux Magots for a crème - a coffee - sitting in the hot sun like Sartre and de Beauvoir, people-watching, and what a view. The weather was glorious for the whole rest of the weekend. More strolling the length of the left bank, across the bridge to the Grand Palais to see the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit. I'm sorry to say, he did not come off as well as he might have if I hadn't seen the riveting Cartier-Bresson exhibition the day before. We saw more huge penises being brandished about than I hope ever to see again, framed at least. His flowers were gorgeous, but I just was not that impressed. Maybe you hadda be there. 

We walked slowly back to the Quartier Latin, happened on the store that sells Sempé art and bought a poster, stopped at a crèpe place on the rue Jacob for a delicious bite. And then home, stopping for a rest in the Jardin du Luxembourg, having walked almost all day. Lynn could not stop laughing because at one place, I was looking at some bargain to buy and wasn't sure, so I said to the salesman, "Je vais penser." I meant, I'm going to think about it. But what I actually said was, I am going to do some deep thinking. The word I wanted was "reflechir." Je vais reflechir. I am glad to make my friend laugh. And we laughed today, because at lunch we were discussing Kant - actually Googled to find out what he was about - and shifted seamlessly, instantly, to talking about how the elastic in poor quality socks does not last. I said to her, I do not know another person on earth with whom I can share bargain hunting, French Elle magazine, and deep discussions on how to wear pleated skirts, the penises of Robert Mapplethorpe, grandchildren, dry skin, TV shows and movies, writing, religion, travel, food, wine, and people we've known for more than forty years. And, mostly, to laugh as we laugh, so often, at the same things at the same time.

A compatible old friend is one of life's greatest treasures. As I have said before, gracias a la vida, and I miss you, ma belle. A bientot, j'espere. 

and now for something completely … True Detective

For those of you who have not discovered the American TV show "True Detective," which was introduced to me by my finger-on-the-pulse son, I give you this tiny scene - two detectives looking for a murderer connected to a fundamentalist Louisiana church, with a flashback bit in the middle. It's partly nonsense possibly, yes. But you've gotta admit that you haven't seen American TV like this, ever.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

O happy day

It was warm and sunny on this Paris Saturday, and my old friend Lynn and I spent the whole day walking, talking, eating, looking, walking, talking and eating, along with every single other person in the city. We walked from one end of the city to the other and back. She took this late afternoon in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I am so profoundly unphotogenic and yet she got a wonderful relaxed shot - because I'd just spent the day with her walking, talking and eating. It was wonderful.

More anon.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Henri Cartier-Bresson and mustard

Visited Annie and Paolo in their small book-filled flat yesterday. I met Annie at a bus stop in 2009; the midwives of France had suddenly gone on strike and paralyzed public transport, so we started to walk together and talk, and eventually she invited me in for tea to meet her husband, and we've remained friends ever since. They are intellectuals, but they like good cakes. We ate a lot of delicious cakes. The midwives, she told me, are still on strike.
Today's walk on the right bank: the bridge of locks. Last time I visited, there were only a few.
The crummy old Louvre (the back side)
 A crummy old flower  box in a courtyard - white rhododendrons and roses, gorgeous
 You turn a corner in this city and are confronted with something like this: la Madeleine.
 And this - the Maille mustard mothership. Couldn't resist going in.
Miles of exotic mustards.
Tonight Lynn and I went to the Henry Cartier-Bresson exhibit at Pompidou - a wonderful exploration of this amazing man and his spectacular work. And this is the view we saw on the way down the escalators afterwards. Gracias a la vida.

old friends

My friend is here! Ma belle Lynn, my friend since 1967, has come to spend the weekend with me in Paris. She had lunch first with Brian, a Canadian schoolmate she's known since grade one who was visiting Paris - we all met later at famous Shakespeare and Company and he took this. Lots more pictures and stories for you, but Lynn and I are talking and eating and that's it for now. She gave me that lovely fuschia scarf, by the way, bought in Kathmandu. The necklace she is wearing - a long story. She had one like it that I loved, so for my 50th birthday, she found another and gave it to me. But then hers was stolen. And then recently more of her jewelry was stolen, and in the meantime, I'd inherited two silver chains from my mother, one of which, in fact, I had given her. So I gave the necklace Lynn gave me back to her. For now. Long story, as I said. Great bookstore.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dad's tree forever

(Read the next post first …) While I was on the boat, I realized that I didn't want to toss my father into the water; that the perfect place for him would be the Jardin des Plantes, where the Natural History Museum is, the whole place a tribute, a shrine, to biology and science in general. And where better than my favourite tree? By some miracle, for a few minutes, there was no one around. I buried my father's remains at the base of the tree and said, Dad, I love you, honour you and thank you. 
And then I left. 
Now I know where to find him. 

the Batobus

This morning, I set out on an expedition to visit the Jardin des Plantes, one of my favourite places in all of Paris, and then to continue on to the Seine, to scatter what's left of my father's ashes. When we scattered my parents' ashes at the beautiful Necropolis cemetery near my home, at Christmas, I kept a bit of Dad for Paris, because he loved this city as much if not more than his own city of New York. Today, it was time. I intended to scatter him in the Seine, so he'd always be flowing through. 
Click to enlarge
An electric car you can rent right on the street, like the rental bikes.
My favourite cherry tree at the Jardin des Plantes, about to burst into bloom. I visit it every time I'm here.
How the French love their wild and tangled plane trees. Ha.
Another amazing cherry, this one in full bloom, a great hiding place for kids ...
… and for grownups.
When I got to the water, the Batobus was right there, ready to go, so on the spot I bought a ticket and hopped on. Have been meaning to take this water bus for ages, and there is was. A beautiful day - brisk but warm, Paris gleaming in the sun. This is the Pont Neuf.
The grand old beauty, seen from the water.
The regularity of the ivory buildings - stunning, everywhere you look.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

the photographer Brassai - "Pour l'amour de Paris" at l'Hotel de Ville

The square outside the Hotel de Ville on the rue de Rivoli used to be a site for public executions. Now there's a manege for children. Much better.  
At the Brassai exhibit, after taking this shot of Brassai's great shot of Simone de Beauvoir working at Les Deux Magots in 1946, I was told photos were not allowed. So this is illegal. And lovely.
Wonderful photographs of Paris life through the decades, especially night life. He knew everyone.
The walk home on a cool grey day.
A humble little Parisian clock.  
L'eglise Saint Severin, near Notre Dame, built in the early 16th century. Someone was playing the organ, and the place was nearly empty. Glorious.
Came across this statue of Claude Bernard. I live on a street named after him, whoever he was. I'll Google.
Second prize for the best Traditional French Baguette in the City of Paris in 2010! Imagine! And close by. But I already have a favourite bakery and will be loyal.
My absolute favourite flowers - ranunculus. Renoncules, in French. 

Marché Monge

Went this morning to one of my favourite markets - on the rue Monge, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, a little local market with mostly food, some clothes and stuff, and wonderful Turkish take out.  I just bought some endives, an avocado, tulips, a tape measure ... From there to the supermarket Franprix, for cereal, wine - a Cotes de Rhone on sale for about $6 - coffee, clementines. And then passing the bakery, could not resist a quiche with spinach and chèvre and a tarte aux pommes. My main destination - Picard, the most incredible place full of frozen deliciousness. If I lived here I might never cook or chop a vegetable again, so amazing are the bags of cut produce and cooked stuff at Picard. Everything I got today was on sale - a soupe au pistou and a soup made from "legumes du soleil": - tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, red pepper. A"brunoise a la meridional" - those same vegetables cut up small. Spinach a la creme. Aiguillettes de canard - marinated slivers of duck breast.

For lunch, I have the option of heating up the quiche and making a salad, or marinated duck breast with chopped vegetables and spinach in cream. Comment choisir?

An hour later - had the soupe au pistou and half the quiche, and now I remember about Picard. The stuff is easy but not always sublime. The soup was not sublime. The quiche, however, was. And now, the tarte aux pommes with coffee and out into the day. It was zero degrees this morning, but the sun is bright and it's warming up. A bit. Yesterday was as cold as I've ever been in Paris.

Last night my loneliness vanished - because I started to work, which is what I'm here for. Work, and maybe just a bit of pleasure. I'll give it a whirl.
Click to enlarge.
Close up of amazing selection of poissons.
Spoils chez moi.
Close up of Picard products.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Paris in the rain

Here's the good news: last week Paris was so hot, the air was polluted. Well, it's not polluted now. My lungs are clear because it's not hot, it's cold and very wet. Yay!

I had work to do today. My landlords, the wonderful Kushners, asked me to look at sofa beds to replace the one here which has had its day. So after checking the website, I took the bus in the pouring rain to the store they recommended, Conforama. Had to walk across the Pont Neuf, which contrary to its name is the oldest bridge in Paris, to get there - not everyone buying sofa beds has such a gorgeous walk. But when I got there - a typical Parisian surprise - closed for inventory! All day! Yay!

Luckily next door - Habitat, a good furniture store. Spent an hour sitting on and taking pictures of sofa beds with a charming young salesman and then gazing longingly at the other fabulous stuff in this store. And then I would normally have strolled along the rue de Rivoli, one of the best shopping and viewing streets in the world, but it was still pouring. And I, without boots (!!) or umbrella. I got the metro home, stopping at my favourite bakery on the rue Mouffetard to buy bread and a hot slice of mushroom and ham pizza for lunch. Divine.

Out again after coffee and chocolate to walk to the Fondation Cartier in the 6th, the St. Germain arrondissement. Caught a glimpse of Val de Grace, a Baroque church near here, as I walked past:
Went to an exhibit of Latin American photography at the Fondation Cartier, which is a sleek modern building designed by Jean Nouvel with one of the old trees of Paris, a cedar of Lebanon planted in 1823, incorporated into the design.
It was a sad exhibit, very dark in spirit though interesting to me as it was often pictures of signs. I love photos of signs. I went partly because my tenant Carol lives part of the time in Uruguay. She would have appreciated this. But many of the photographers wrote of and showed cities filled with poverty, violence and discouragement.

And then - well gosh, I just happened to be near the Tour Montparnasse, so, forgetting all the poverty, violence and discouragement, I walked through the rain to the giant hideous tower and its Galeries Lafayette, which still has a big sale - sales are national in France - to check if their selection of cashmere turtlenecks was better than in Montpellier. Unfortunately there were nearly none. I said to the salesman, But it's cold! And he said, A few days ago, Madame, it was more than 20 degrees.


Strolled around as best I could in the rain, then got the bus home to do laundry and read and work. Made a humble omelette and salad for dinner. I am appreciating my solitude. And also finding it very, very strange. It is very quiet. That's what I came for, I know. But it is very quiet.

Neil Gaiman nails it, as usual

HAPPY NATIONAL LIBRARIAN DAY! Yes, there is such a thing, as well there should be, and it's today. A salute to librarians everywhere. Thank you.

Roz Chast nails it, as usual

Monday, March 24, 2014

Paris, please

From the train window - a French village flashes by
Where the TGV from Montpellier pulls in - the plain, humble little Gare de Lyon.

Left Lynn's at 8.45 a.m. to walk to the station ten minutes away; the TGV - the high speed train - left exactly on time at 9.27 and arrived exactly on time at 12.45. To the minute. I walked across from the station and got on the #91 bus, using the tickets I bought here two years ago, still good, and got off two blocks from the apartment. Access codes, key, and I'm in, 47 rue Claude Bernard, my maison away from home.

Got unpacked, bought groceries, and then went to see the grand old lady, to be sure I was really here. Yes, I am.
Something weird is happening to the Pantheon - there's a growth on top. Renovations.
 There's a real vintage store on the Boulevard St. Michel, full of French people buying funky second-hand clothes. Or at least looking. How times change.
I've had supper - pasta and wine (an $8 Cotes de Rhone, delicious) and my new favourite cheese (St. Marcellin, superb) and now am going to drift gently into this good night. It was chilly today here but not raining. The apartment is as ever amazingly quiet. My favourite street, the rue Mouffetard, was closed today - it's Monday. But tomorrow the market will be in full swing and so will I. I have finally landed, after the frenzy of the last few weeks. Now I'm here and need just to sit and do absolutely nothing except write to you.

Shocking, sad results of the French election yesterday - an increase in votes for the far right, racist Front National. At the Linda McCartney show I talked to that teacher of the kids from Beziers - well, their parents voted Front National in record numbers, as did people in the gorgeous city of Avignon. Very frightening.

However, if I have a hot bath, read a book and go to bed, I can forget all about it.