September 5, 2005
Tours, Towers & Quiet Streets
It is the summer exit – it begins in July and culminates in August. All the shops have signs on their windows stating:
Fermeture 28 juillet – 22 août
(Closed July 28 to August 22)
The dates vary slightly but the gist is always the same. Gone fishing – will return at the end of August. All to say that the Pompe is deserted. The shoe store’s windows are empty; the metal doors are closed over the Palais de Fruit; even the corner bar/café is looked up tight. Our friend. Joan, says everyone has gone off to St. Tropez. (Do You Know the Way to St. Tropez? plays in my head.) Except for those people who cannot afford St. Tropez.
For them, the mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, has created Paris Plage (paree-plaj), an urban beach running along the right bank of the Seine from Notre Dame to the Tuileries. Sand, palms, cabanas, rock climbing, swimming pool, cafes, concerts – suntan and simulacra. This faux resort smack in the middle of the Paris, costing millions and attracting millions, is one of the high-profile arts and social projects that have won Delanoe tremendous popularity. (I am embarrassed to admit it but I voted for him in the World Mayor 2005 contest.)
Back to the August exodus, I was reading the New York Times online and happened across Paul Krugman’s Op-Ed column entitled French Family Values. In this article he cites many differences between the French and American working systems, prime of which is the fact that a full-time French worker gets off around 7 weeks per year while the same American gets less than 4 weeks off. The end result – more time to go to Paris Plage with friends and family. I suppose this goes to the old adage: a family that plays together, stays together.
All this Paris Plage talk began on a Sunday at Joan’s apartment on rue Monge. Fifth floor, two bedrooms, pale pink walls, three French doors opening on to a long, skinny balcony overlooking rue Monge down to the spires of Notre Dame. Nice.
Joan (an expat old-timer who has lived in Paris over ten years) invited a few of us for lunch. It was a trilingual afternoon: French, Italian and English, in that order. Needless to say Catherine and I spent a lot of time smiling rather than talking. One more espresso and I think I would have been speaking Italian. I could feel it right on the tip of my tongue. Sad to say, my French was really bad that day probably because our teacher, Jean Robert, has abandoned us for his vacation.
So in between the roasted vegetables and the risotto we heard about Alison’s date the evening before. Guess where they went – Paris Plage. Every good Frenchman takes his girl to the boardwalk on Saturday night. Alison told us that all the beach areas had Brazilian names like Copacabana and Ipanema to go with the Year of Brazil theme.
In a desperate attempt to join the conversation, I blurted out that only a gay mayor would think up something like Paris Plage. Conversation stopped. All eyes turned towards me. My comment was translated into Italian and French for those who’s English was poor. And then they all laughed. It was a close call I have to say. That was when I learned about the social reasons for this extravaganza and got interested in Delanoe and his other accomplishments. One more step on the road to Parisian culture.
And on the Pompe, Catherine and I had our second party. Twenty people came and the Badoit (sparkling water) was flowing. I had a fascinating conversation with a French gentleman (a friend of a friend) about the purchasing of titles and important old names in France, as well as the awarding of public places to individuals.
He told me the best thing to get was an airport named after oneself like Charles de Gaulle did. Next came a library or museum, such as the Francois Mitterand library or the Georges Pompidou cultural center. Then a street. And finally a Place. I guess the easiest thing to get is a small roundabout out in a residential area somewhere.
During this name and place conversation I found out that I could buy a title or an important old name if I was so inclined from a company such as Burkes Peerage ( I guess lots of people do it. The grandfather of Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president, did and look where it got his grandson.
Or one can choose the down and dirty method of simply adding a particule (“de”) to give your name a nobiliary appearance, like Georgia de Fee or Catherine de la Ruggles, rather than go to the expense of buying an important name. Apparently Oscar de la Renta did this.
I had to confess that I didn’t know much about this name business nor did I think we had a lot of important old names in the US, although I suppose I could consider Georgia Washington. But I did let it be known that I can play the Name Game – anna, anna, bo-banna. I don’t think he got my golden-oldies joke so I suggested another piece of leek quiche to fill the gap.
Then there were the tours: the Eiffel and the barges and the round-the-world.
Catherine and I drifted down the Burgundy Canal at about 5 knots per hour on the Litote barge. It was slow and quiet and very pretty. In fact, one can walk faster than the barge. The name, barge, really does say it all. To go with the slow floating, there was the food, food, food. Fuzzy fullness.
It is amazing how the barge rises in the locks. Which brings to mind that my cousin, John, recently returned from a surfing trip to Indonesia where he witnessed the islands that had been raised 10-12 feet from the earthquake and tidal wave. So things are rising all over the world: barges, islands, consciousness (I guess this could be debated).
Catherine’s brother and family arrived with lots of luggage and gifts from China. We had a quick catch up, a grand slideshow of their around-the-world adventures and lunch in the Eiffel Tower. And then there was Rezi and her girls for a short visit and another lunch in the Tour Eiffel. In their wake I found numerous rocks from Versailles and some beautiful photos of me looking tense and them looking happy.
And last but not least, was my trip to San Francisco to see my family and our friends, Joe and Bernard. The weather was lovely, the streets were lovely and California has somehow risen to “lovely” in my mind.
Bye for now. (Catherine and I just returned from a few days in Venice; we went to celebrate her birthday and pay a quick visit to the Biennale…talk about things that aren’t rising.)