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.

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