We’re in Paris until mid-June this year. Here’s an excerpt from my husband Jeff’s journal.
Saturday, May 7. Paris is dry that the skin on my finger cracked and bled; surfaces are abrasive to the touch. We’re guzzling the city’s wonderful tap water. And it’s warm, mid-seventies yesterday into the night. We wandered the Marais, drank beer at the café across from Muji’s, lamented the changes on Rue de Rosiers, 7 Lezards and Goldbergs long gone, the unfashionable throng waiting for a table at Chez Marianne. At ten, we shared tapas and wine at Cafe Wall St. across from our Rue Parmentier apartment, facing our local bakery, watching the entrance to our building, checking the status of our resident homeless group perched on a metal utility deck just down the block.
So far, all our interactions have been so pleasant, everyone welcoming, especially noticeable because we are still jet-lagged and sensitive. Good news: Paris is glad to see us, we tourists mangling the language, asking the obvious, obviously lost; we are charms for the charmers, merci beaucoup, bonne journee. This possessive embrace we feel for the 11th arrondissement as jet lag, climate and language dissipate is very odd. We will cross the Seine, do the obligatory Saint Germain/Saint Michel/ Buci, the galleries, the architecture, the cafes, Gilbert Jaune, all familiar and reminiscent. But at twilight, as the young crowds begin to gather, we head home.
Sunday, May 8. Very warm, a gorgeous day, a holiday for Parisians, Feast of the Ascension. The crowds were legion, the buses packed. After shopping, lunch, nap, we merged into the slow current of mainly French folks from the burbs flowing toward the Seine. We made a circle to Les Enfants Rouges, then risked a packed bus to Buci where we sat outside for a cold beer and were surprised by a delicious side dish of warm salmon and potato, facing the Mangetout café, naturally. Caught another packed bus as far as Bastille and went wandering to search for pho. After several queries, the last at the nail salon, we were the first customers of the night at Pho 156 just a few blocks from our apartment. Suddenly, we were joined by the neighborhood, just after we ordered: perfectly acceptable pho, and out the door by nine, still bright daylight, still Paris in late Spring.
As we walked the few blocks home, a woman wrapped in homeless layers wailed as she searched her bags, surrounded by four, possibly five small children and another, older, woman, possibly related, her hands fluttering out from ragged sleeves. The young mother had lost something in the assortment of bundles on a luggage carrier the worse for wear. Frantic, she unwrapped plastic bundles then wrapped them up again, searched through clothes, held up a jar of Nutella to one of the older children, screaming a question, accusingly. The children looked away embarrassed, save the youngest who stood a step away. Money, the change, a wallet? Still daylight after 9; a few people on the street stopped to stare. People stare in Paris. Earlier in the day, one of a group of athletically trim, tall, blonde women argued with the short, dark taxi driver in loud American over the extra luggage charge. People stopped to listen for a while. Ascension Day has its downs as well as ups.
May 9. Paris when it drizzles. This morning, we shop MonoPrix and watch the clouds gather. We scour Periscope and L’officiel des spectacles (le autre) for indoor sites, no lines, no crowds. We could test the FNAC pre-purchase museum tix download to our cellphones, but security lines are also a consideration. Grande Palais Chinese exhibit, a movie nearby, possibly. Still wary. Sunday demonstrations will begin on Thursday. Coming back from Monoprix we escorted four fully armored gendarme patrolling our Avenue Parmentier, our metro Voltaire. I still remember vividly the stop-and-frisk routines, Fall, 1962, in the 6th; I was 19. Plus ca change plus ca la meme chose.
Later in the week. The wet has been light, infrequent, puddling, but middle sixties, near zero pollen count, daylight till ten sharpens the profile of the cityscape. Down the street, the small gothic cathedral Saint Ambrose resembles a miniature Notre Dame. The surface of wet masonry is like a blueprint, each stone block clearly profiled. The flying buttresses supporting the sheer verticals seem almost comically obvious. How do you begin to design a dinosaur, how would you start? One Leggo at a time. But here comes the rain. We go to a movie. [Café Society, it’s vintage Woody Allen.] Watch chevre age.