April 26, 2005
On the Move - From Here to There and Back Again
It’s been weeks of thinking about travel. How to get from one place to another, whether literally or figuratively seems to be my preoccupation. I guess it is part and parcel of the getting settled experience. And of course the overall experience of change. Moving from LA to Paris, going from winter to spring, translating from English to French, shifting from strange to known, such are the journeys of late. And then there are the marble streets of Spain…
These traveling thoughts began with a discussion in French class about la difference between le metro et l’autobus. Like so many others, our French teacher says the bus is the way to go. “I just can’t take the Metro” is a refrain I have heard many times. I guess all this talking about transportation is merely life in a large city. Although, the French transportation workers do seem to organize a lot of manifestations and greves, i.e. strikes, to punctuate their power and keep us constantly aware of our fragile dependence upon these systems. So perhaps this transportation thing has more juice than I am aware of. But let’s forget all their strikes and grievances and go back to the basics.
Apparently there are two types of people: the Metro Type (unhappy, rushed and distressed) and the Bus Type (leisurely, enjoying life and better dressed). Catherine and I are exploring all options. We use the RATP ( website to map our transport choices. This is an excellent site which has prompted us to get to know the buses here in Paris, by far a more difficult task than the metro. At this time we are taking the #63, #52 and #22 buses to get places close-by. The 63 is our favorite; it crosses Paris right through the Left Bank. Grand views.
But pound for pound I still cling to the ease and speed of the metro. I never feel lost with the metro. And so far I haven’t gotten depressed from being underground. Plus there are the musicians on the metro and those fellow travelers who hop on, give a speech of some sort and hop off (we still haven’t figured out if these are aspiring poets, UFO channelers or political complainers). Then too there are the posters in the underground tunnels announcing all the current spectacles like exhibitions, concerts, theater choices and shopping highlights. So one stays on top of things in the underground. And lastly, there is that sense of exhilaration when I come up from the metro into Paris. I always feel astounded, almost as if I had fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole and ended up in Wonderland. Just writing about it, I realize how much I like the metro. Perhaps I’ll be a “bus-only” type one of these days but I haven’t gotten there yet.
Speaking of places I’m trying to get to, the journey from not-speaking to speaking French is going slowly. Our new French teacher, Jean-Robert, is a dream. He comes to our house once or twice a week and makes us converse in French for an hour and a half. Last Tuesday I got so flummoxed that I picked up the Badoit (the mineral water we had been serving to him) and drank right out of the bottle during our lesson! Talk about an excusez-moi…Catherine said I blushed.
Jean-Robert runs all over town teaching French. He does not have a driver’s license nor does he know how to drive. He’s strictly a bus and train man. He calls himself a “faux Parisian” because he really lives in a small village in the Burgundy region. He leaves Paris most week-ends and goes there on the train. There is a lot of gardening that needs to be done. Actually it sounds more like farming than gardening, but that’s the problem – I can barely understand him.
I always complain “Jean-Robert, your accent is so French I can’t understand it.” Catherine and I say this is a good thing…no dumbing down the French for us! It is amazing how we can understand the Americans speaking French but not the French speaking French. (Could it be that most Americans we hear speaking French have the vocabulary of a 3 year old?) Conversely, I suspect only les Americains understand me speaking French as the French do not seem to be responding. Par example, when I order in a restaurant I have noticed the waiters straining to see which item I am pointing to on the menu. This causes a bit of concern. And then they always respond in English, which is discouraging. At least they could humor us with a d’accord or a merci rather than an OK or thank-you. Catherine says we will have arrived the day the Parisian waiters respond to us in French. But I assume they are having as much fun speaking their quite-fluent English as we are our very-poor French. The good news is that Catherine understands most of what is said and Jean-Robert likes my jokes.
On the social front: We are definitely moving from unknown to known. Two weeks ago we had our first real party. For Alison’s birthday. Thirteen people and two dogs showed up (Max is on the right). Leek and spinach quiches and fruit salad and Lebanese deli items and some gooey cheeses and baguettes and several desserts filled our dining room table. Our apartment was quite lit up. Catherine and I had spent the week previous sprucing it with a drawing here, a little table there…nothing like a party to force undone details to fruition.
We received two plants as house warming gifts, got the lint cleaned from our washing machine, bought some much needed coffee cups and felt quite fine at the end of the evening. And I think Alison had a nice birthday.
Then Mary & Bernie arrived from Canada via London. I was so happy to see them. Catherine and I met Mary and Bernie last summer in the Riviera when they were living in Menton, a charming town right next to the Italian border. We spent an afternoon on their apartment terrace overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean and eating salade nicoise. We have been in touch ever since. The wonders of email, cheap international calling and summer friendships.
They will return to Menton this summer – for a longer stay Mary says…oh but maybe they’ll go back to Canada for December.
It is hard to decide where to go, and when, and how, and why and maybe it’s just fine right here. Such are the woes of the traveling mind. I know.
Mary and I immediately got together for lunch at her “cozy,” as the French realtor called it, apartment on rue St. Jacques in the BoBo (bohemian-bourgeois) 5th arrondissement. That’s cozzzzeeeee, not cozy. Speaking of arrondissements, I recently read a description of ours, the 16th, and the writer called it “poodles and pearls.” I have to tell you that it is an accurate description. So far I’ve seen two poodles with pearl collars. And on the subject of dogs, there are no muts here. Only the pedigrees will do. Possibly that is different in other areas of town but I’m not sure. Jean-Robert was telling us how expensive it is to buy a dog here. He seemed quite put out by it. I’m not clear just how expensive expensive is, as I explained earlier that I can’t understand him, but I think it is a lot. The favorite breeds currently are Dachshunds (especially long- and wire-haired), Spaniels, Terriers, Westies, Bulldogs, Poodles, and a few other little ones whose names I don’t recall. Jean-Robert asks us if we want a dog. Catherine promptly says Non, and I say maybe later. I suspect he sides with Catherine, hence the how-expensive-it-is-to-buy-a-dog conversation.
After talking and talking, Mary and I walked the neighborhood around her apartment. She showed me the Sorbonne’s Richelieu Chapel where Cardinal Richelieu is buried. It seems his red cardinal hat has hung from the ceiling for hundreds of years. Something dire will happen if it ever falls. Mary wasn’t sure what exactly; however, it’s not good. All of this came, naturally, on the tail of the ringing of the bells in Paris for the new pope.
It started raining and we ran to the nearest café for une noisette – an espresso with just a dab of steamed foam. They say it is the woman’s coffee drink. Slightly less robust than a straight express. Along with that, I had to have one of the Cannelle’s (wicked) desserts. (Jean-Robert makes me say desssserrrrrt over and over so it doesn’t sound like desert.) Then we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg.
I understand the Jardin du Luxembourg is the French people’s favorite park. I remember being in the Luxembourg at closing time one hot July night around 10 PM. It was still light out. People were lounging everywhere in the green metal chairs provided for the public. All of a sudden, gendarmes appeared in their snappy blue outfits and red hats blowing their whistles. Not seriously blowing, sweetly. It was closing time. Everyone got up, dragged their chairs back into place and sauntered out. So nice.
This afternoon, the gardens were filled with tulips of all sorts – orange and yellow and pale pink and maroon and even black. There was a group of bee catchers in full bee-catching attire with a lot of bees whizzing around them, children and strollers (both kinds) and a flowering fruit arbor of torturously stylized trees. Mary and I sat in front of the Palais du Luxembourg and meditated on a bed of the biggest white tulips I have ever seen. The flower part must have been a good 4 or 5 inches tall. I had no idea they grew so big (actually I am looking up gigantic tulips right now on the internet – there is a Giant Darwin hybrid but I don’t know if that is what we saw). We talked about how best to display tulips in the house, what with the wilting problem and all. Mary said a tall vase is required. I think she’s right. But tulips are so fragile who really knows what will throw them into the droop. We finished our afternoon with a walk back down to the bus stop – the 63. I waved good bye as le bus pulled up.
So friends too are coming and going and our social circle expands and contracts.
Now on to Spain………………………………………………………………………………………………
The day after Alison’s party Catherine and I were off on our first Euro excursion. We flew into Sevilla (the plane left early, landed early and took about 45 minutes less travel time than predicted!) From there we drove to Carmona, Cordoba, Antequera, Malaga, Gibraltar, Cadiz and back to Sevilla. It was an Andalusian circle.
I wrote these words in my travel journal under the caption “Spain:”
Long bath tubs, Picasso, ironed sheets, brown clothes
Guitars, red polka dots, big cafes in big plazas
Beautiful doors, vespas and motos, ochres and browns and rusty reds
Marble streets, black grills, white towns and tiled courtyards
Hams hanging, fans fanning, café con leche in glasses
Church bells and horse bells and the blue-eyed stallion at the bullfight
The smell of orange blossoms everywhere
The perfect day:
Driving along the cliffs from Malaga towards Cadiz
with the Mediterranean and Atlantic below,
the rock of Gibraltar looming between them,
and Africa just across the way.