Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Yesterday's walk

Click to enlarge
I know, enough with the photos of bakeries. This is chez Dominique Saibron. To die for.
A tiny corner park, with chess board.
In Parc Montsouris - as everywhere in France - a notice in memory of a young soldier killed in WW2.
Coming from the Grand Palais across the Pont Alexandre III - a magnificent sky. I'd just seen an exhibition of works of the brilliant Velasquez. I wanted him to paint this.
Walked through St. Germain specially to get to this place on the rue du Bac, recommended by friend Juliet for its incredibly good chocolate. I'll have to imagine it, though, because it was closed. No explanation, just closed. A store nearby was selling cashmere socks and I nearly bought a pair as consolation. 37 euros, though - maybe not.
Strolled through the mind-boggling Epicerie du Bon Marche - Bon Marche, which actually means "a good deal," is now one of the most expensive stores in Paris, extremely chichi. The Epicerie, which means "grocery store" - ha - stocks the best of everything in the world. Everything. This is the section just for salt - three large shelves full. You can even get - yes! - Cocoa Puffs.
OMG, it's 50 years since June 1965 when I saw the Beatles at the Palais des Sports. Talk about feeling old. And now they're doing a tribute. But I was THERE, man, for the real thing. And there's a book to prove it.

old friends

I'm at the hotel - wifi! I am linked to the planet - "a ta tribu," to your tribe, as my friend Jean-Louis said the other night. Here we are, en famille, on Sunday night.
In Gentilly avec la famille Daudier - my father and Jacques Daudier met and became lifelong friends at the Cite Universitaire in 1946. We lived in an apartment beneath Jacques and his family's when we came to live here for a year in 1964. Jean-Louis was then 10 and his younger brother Francois, next to me, was 5 - so just little pests to me then. Now they're interesting thoughtful men with 5 children between them. Jacques died a year after my dad, in 1989, a month after his middle son Laurent died suddenly of an aneurysm. Henriette his wife is now 90 and going strong, still living in the same apartment. And that's JL's lovely and warm wife Claire in the background - my parents and I were at their wedding in 1979. Okay, time for your history test.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Sunday morning 
8.30 a.m. And it’s pouring. If it was just drizzling, I was going to see the Fondation Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne today, or go to the flea market in the Bastille district and wander around there. I’d go to the stunning Musee d’Orsay, but the thought of the crowds makes me quail. And the Louvre on a rainy Sunday is out of the question. And this is serious rain.

A quiet day ahead until this evening when I visit old friends, the family of my father’s post-war French friend Jacques, an artist. In the new memoir I’m writing at the moment, in fact, about the fact that I was living in France in 1979 when Jacques’s oldest son, Jean-Louis, got married near Carcassonne. My parents came for the wedding and the 3 of us attended. Tonight I’m having dinner with Claire and Jean-Louis, his younger brother Francois and his wife, and Henriette, Jacques’s widow, who must be 90. It’s a wonderful thing to have friends in another country and culture who go back so far – for me, to 1964, when we came to live in France, in an apartment just below Jacques’s which he’d sublet for us.

The French are in the midst of elections, and what I gather through their complicated system is that the right is triumphant, especially the redoubtable Sarko, and the left in free fall. Bad news all round, though Francois Hollande certainly wasn’t the right man for the moment. But then – who is? The only person who seems to be steering the ship of state with some kind of strength and foresight is the mysterious Merkel.

A few thoughts: this city has been invaded many times by many invaders and has serenely survived. I wonder if this last invasion is the one that’ll change it catastrophically – the tourists. How can people here not grow cynical when millions come from other countries to buy expensive handbags and walk quickly through the Louvre waving a movie camera from side to side? What happens to a culture when making money grows too easy? Guess who's on the cover of French Elle, much admired? Kim Kardashian, whoever she is! It's the end of civilization. The young I’ve seen outside the lycees are identical to the young anywhere, noisy and surly in jeans and Nikes clutching their phones, except they’re smaller than our kids, more of them smoke, I think, as do their parents, and their clothes, of course, fit better.

The French jog! It’s true. Even women, setting off seriously in form-fitting workout clothes. Now that’s a revolution.

There’s a green tent parked right on the rue Alesia, on top of a wooden pallet. The door is mostly zipped shut, but occasionally a youngish man sits outside with his hat on the ground, waiting for coins. Where does he bathe and go to the bathroom, living in a tent in the middle of the 14th? The other day his domicile wasn’t there and I thought he’d gone, but no, he’d just moved a bit further down the street.

The transit system in this city is a marvel – busses, metros, trams take you anywhere and everywhere quickly, efficiently, cheaply – unless they’re on strike, of course. I am envious. There are also tons of bike paths right through the city, and many people on bikes, most, of course, elegantly dressed, without disfiguring helmets.

Noon. The quiet morning, yes, work done in the absolutely silence to which I am so unused, and which is necessary for my work. A valuable learning experience, no question. There’s not much food in the fridge – when I needed a post-breakfast snack, I toasted some Poilane bread over the stove on a fork – there’s no toaster – and smeared on some of the peanut butter I brought from Canada for my friend Lynn. The taste of home. Hope there’s some left by the time I get to her. The coffee here, made in a small electric espresso pot, is delicious.

Now the rain has almost stopped, and I’m going to the café to eat and email. What a heavenly day.

Now 2 p.m. - I think, Jean-Louis just wrote to tell me it was daylight savings time last night and it's an hour ahead. I would not have known. I'm at the cafe, and it's pouring again - they just closed all the glass that encloses the terrace, where I'm sitting. After a light lunch, I will buy a lot of bread at the bakery next door and go home to work again. Useless to sightsee if it's going to rain all day. And I don't mind. There's work to do.

More Montparnasse Cemetary

 Baudelaire, on the right. Hard to see because it was his parent's site. A woman on the left tending her loved one.
Serge Gainsbourg the singer - the Jim Morrison of Montparnasse
Had to really search for him, and he made me weep - Samuel Beckett and his wife. Nothing fancy here.
I wept for her too.
And then back to the cafe. Not a very good shot of it.
The cash of my local grocery store. Hope you can see that it's surrounded by Champagne bottles, including Mumms, Veuve Cliquot etc. EXOTIC.

nice places to live, or die, in Paris

Lunch at the cafe - delicious, poached salmon on a bed of leeks in cream, with rice. The waiter brought me a little stool for my computer, and I made lists. Drinking water, you note - this is lunch.
 Walking in Montparnasse, looking up at the top floor apartments where I'd like to live ...
 ,,, and here...
... and especially here. And then I went to the Montparnasse Cemetery, where I would not like to live. But it was thrilling to visit these great souls -
Sartre and de Beauvoir, together for eternity.
The famous grave created by Niki de Saint Phalle.
Lots of flowers here. Don't know who this is, but someone loves her.

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 café, 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. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Paris sous la pluie

 She's still there.
The tall spire is still there too. You'll be happy to know.
 And so is the whole city, a symphony of ivory and grey and brick red.
The view from my balcony of the construction site.
The view I'd rather have - a nearby oasis.

Today was a real test. The other day there was a polite little note in the elevator of the apartment, warning of impending renovations on the 4th floor, two floors above me - and sure enough, this morning, not only was the construction site next door exploding with noise, but there was drilling overhead. Amazing that I did not weep. I almost laughed instead.

But I did go out asap to wander, went to Shakespeare and Company to try to sell them my book, saw Our Lady, of course, jammed with people, walked along Boul. St. Germain, went to the top of the Tour Montparnasse for the great views - well, it was raining, which meant there was no line-up if a less than spectacular view. The rain got heavier so I went to get the metro home - only there was an abandoned package on a line somewhere and the entire metro was closed down. Chaos. I managed to find a bus and get home in the pouring rain - but the noise of drilling was infernal. Even listening to Paul McCartney on my computer did not help. So out in the rain to email and post at my favourite cafe. Just drank a divine very rich dark hot chocolate. Am going out for dinner tonight with friends. Paris is dark and cold and wet. But it's still Paris. This too shall pass.