March 16, 2005
Baguettes and cafés
It's been two weeks since I've written last! Time does fly. It was the colds and the cold - they threw me off. But all better now. Catherine and I have been gleefully enjoying the kinder, gentler weather (notice the Americana phraseology - horrible how these things stick). I have even worn just a jacket recently, instead of the big heavy coat, and felt free as a bird...so much easier to manage in crowded cafes. And coming home from the Monet museum, I saw tiny blossoms on the cherry trees in the Ranelagh park around the corner.
Our days are filled with work and errands, socializing, and the search for the best baguette...Catherine is really much more of the expert than I. There are so many kinds: Flutes and Rustics, multi-grains and plain ole Baguettes. Long and short. Crunchy and meaty. Soft and airy. Catherine likes the Traditionals - especially from the boulangerie down Avenue Mozart. The SOP is to buy your baton (my word) and immediately tear off a piece and eat it while walking down the boulevard. There are baguette munchers everywhere - all classes, sizes and ages - holding their long loaf with its head torn off. You can almost hear them saying "Off with their heads" as they come out of the boulangerie. The pigeons have a field day with the crumbs.
In between boulangeries, there are the cafes. Tuesday nights with the gang at Comptoir de l'Arc near the Arc de Triomphe. Usually ten of us, all lined up, over in the corner. And Sundays in the neighborhood when everything is closed and we stroll down to one of the local brasseries for lunch.
Last Sunday Catherine and I lunched at the Place du Trocadero (a couple of bus stops away). It was clear and crisp outside as we sat looking at the Eiffel Tower. After coffee (I got nervous and ordered the café cremes too soon, thereby missing the opportunity for dessert) we walked to the Palais de Tokyo for the Liam Gillick exhibit. Great luck - it was the first Sunday of the month and entry was free. The piece I liked most was a large room whose floor had been covered in red glitter. You walked through it making tracks and trails with your feet, and taking a substantial amount with you. The glitter is now everywhere. I saw some in our refrigerator just the other day. And think how much is on the Metro and in the buses! Talk about art that just doesn't stop. For the masses, of the masses, on the masses.
Then there are the special café experiences, like last Saturday. Catherine and I went to the Hotel Cluny to see the gorgeous, magical, utterly spellbinding six-paneled medieval tapestry, The Lady with the Unicorn, ("discovered" as it were by George Sand when she saw them hanging in a chateau in a small French village). On the way we stopped at les Deux Magots for a bite. Catherine's suggestion. Good thing because I would never have gotten myself inside. I have a fear of famous cafes. Cream colored walls mellowed to a silken amber by smoke and conversation; carved ivory insets; red leather banquettes; waiters in black waist-coats and long white aprons. Looming over the crowd sit the two Magots: large, wooden sculptures of wizened Chinese Mandarins, brocade robes and all. It is a spectacular café and seemingly far too cush for the life-is-hell-and-then-other-people-make-it-worse Existentialist attitude (apparently Sartre's seat was at the window banquette facing the Place Saint Germain.) I guess one would need a sumptuous place to retire to after working all day on La Nausee (Nausea) - how could you stand it otherwise? I still remember the depth of depression upon reading that book in high school. I think it marred me for the next 20 years. Thank God I've climbed out of that disastrous pit!
But the big news is that Catherine and I have taken the plunge. We signed up for our first week of French school. We had to take placement exams. Both of us failed miserably - we couldn't even cheat off each other. Catherine says she's excited. I must say, I'm wondering just how important it is to learn French. I mean, my pantomiming skills are getting quite good and I don't really mind eating the same thing day in and day out. Tests? Deadlines? Homework? I keep telling myself it will be Oh So Good. The joy of being able to swoop into a store and get what I want. The freedom of finding out where our mail really is going. These and many more things will be resolved. And I could actually say something to the rug man who greets me as I walk by his store, or ask questions of the flower seller who tried so desperately to tell me about the pale pink tulips I bought. Oh So Go…
And go I must. Class is in 45 minutes and I’ve got to get ready. P.S. I attached some snowy photos - Catherine in the red jacket; poodles on the way to our metro stop; the Parc Ranelagh; and, of course, the Eiffel Tower watching over us day and night.