I leave in two days, so I decided on a last visit to market Marché d’Aligre, in search of the raclette cheesemonger: he had many versions including one infused with spring garlic from a Swiss meadow. Afterwards, I planned to make my way to the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in search of the panther of Rilke fame and mentioned by my friend the poet shortly before he left.
Although this was my third visit to the market, it still overwhelmed. I perused the “antiques,” more like a large garage sale, in search of faux ivory cutlery. Found them but too expensive. A decision I would later regret.
Alas, the cheesemonger was closed. However, the aroma of an Algerian bakery, Amira, seduced me. I purchased a mihajeb aux légumes, a semolina bread filled with roasted vegetables, greasy and delicious.
Returning to the left bank, I crossed the Pont d’Austerlitz, entered the Jardin des Plantes, and meandered towards the Ménagerie. Unable to tolerate animals in cages no matter how attractive the cage, I hadn’t been to a zoo in decades.
At the entrance, school groups and families entered with me. I watched them oohing and aahing at the various animals and wondered what they were learning. That viewing animals was for their entertainment? That humans have the right to inprison them for our benefit? Nothing about animal life, nothing about respecting them.
On my way to La Fauverie or the cat house, I passed antelopes whose only outside environment resembled a large kitty litter box, hard dirt with no greenery. Does that make it easier to clean?
The flamingos looked content, perhaps because they are pretty like their leafy fenced enclosure.
As I neared La Fauverie , I passed vultures. I felt like one as I devoured images of exotic animals, but unlike them, I had the freedom to move about.
The leopards have an old fashioned indoor cage, but they can escape to the “outside” a large glassed in area where they pace or climb rocks to a door that goes back inside. However, it seemed to be locked. They were on display for our amazement.
The Panther Rainer Maria Rilke
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
On my way home I passed a poster announcing a Chris Marker exposition, Les 7 Vies D’un Cinéaste, distracting me briefly from the panther. Then his film, La Jetée, where there is no escape, came to mind.
Perhaps my view of the Pantheon as I reached the top of Rue Soufflot might provide a refuge.
My last day at the Alliance. On my way, I prepared what I would say about today’s significance: May 3,1918, the 50th anniversary of the 1968 French Revolution.
The class began with the teacher asking how we spent our holiday. I began by connecting my Paris Walk about the 1789 revolution to the May 3, 1968 revolution. He looked confused. I repeated, “C’est le cinquantieme anniversaire de la revolution du 3 mai 1968.” “Ah, oui, oui” he replied and quickly moved on to another student. Is he is too young for it to have any significance? I dismissed that notion since the government almost collapsed under the protests. Perhaps the policy of the Alliance is to not engage in political discussions.
After class, a student from Ireland and I discussed staying at the Irish College when our teacher joined us as we lamented the high cost of living in Paris. He was very open about his salary, which if I heard right, is around 20,000 euros a year, amazingly low. He has to share an apartment in the 11th arrondissement in order to make ends meet. I asked him about improving my French and self deprecatingly referred to my lack of progress. He assured me I speak well but lack confidence and kissed me on both cheeks in a friendly good-bye which warmed me considerably.
My task after class was to buy gifts for my two nieces, 7 and 10. There are a cluster of children’s stores off Blvd Raspail on Rue Vavin and Rue Brea. I found the perfect shop, just candy. Candy in charming metal boxes. Les petits magasins of Paris delight me, for just socks, for just parapluies, for just nostalgically boxed candy.
On my way home, I passed Emile and Jules where Rue Vavin meets Rue d’Assas in front of Le Jardin du Luxembourg. I have frequently pasted my face against their window, looking longingly at the breads, brioches, croissants, and sandwiches. Today, I finally entered and choose a small whole grain baguette filled with salad nicoise.
I dined next to Baudelaire in the le jardin. The sandwich was delicious, but unwieldy. I managed to drop a significant amount on my lap. After a half hour, I gave up, chucked the remains, and headed back home.
As I passed the lawn at Place Andre Honnorat, students were strewn across it’s expanse. Usually, in Paris parks, it is “Pelouse Interdite.” No sitting on the grass. Is this their way of remembering May 3, 1968? Not much at stake, not like their predecessors. When I looked more closely, the sign read “Pelouse Authorisee.” C’est vrai?
This was the night for L’Estrapade, the restaurant at the end of my street. When I opened the door, I hadn’t much hope: it’s 12 or so tables were full. However, the wait person assured me she would find me a place. She managed to seat me and another couple check to jowl. In order to use la toilette, I had to ask a diner to get up, had difficulty squeezing by, and then had to go through the same embarrassment on my way back to my table.
I went all out. First, l’entrée, la terrine de foie de volaille, next, le plat, le magret de canard aux clémentines, and finally, le dessert, la tarte tatin, the meal accompanied by un pichet de vin. Most satisfying. And later, out my bedroom window, the Pantheon.
Today, I followed my previously upended plan of visiting the Jeu de Paume, now a museum of photography, by walking through the Tuileries, and, afterwards, searching for signs of Duras. I will look for Rue Dupin, her husband’s family home where a resistance cell often met. It was there that her husband, Robert Antelme, was arrested and, then, sent to Buchenwald and, finally, Dachau. His arrest, imprisonment, and rescue figure largely in her memoir, La Douleur (The War).
“There’s no room for me here anywhere, I’m not here, I’m there with him in that region, no one else can reach, no one else can know, where there’s burning and killing. I’m hanging by a thread, by the last of all probabilities….”
Another quiet breakfast without my pals. I did nod hello to a younger resident who sometimes joined us. But he was surrounded by a bevy of laughing young women, completely engaged. I never saw him again.
On my way to the Tuileries in a gallery on Rue Bonaparte, I saw a photo depicting the riots in 1968- the revolution that sent De Gaulle running. This is the first recognition I’ve seen of the momentous event that took place 50 years ago. Why? I’m thrilled I will be here on it’s anniversary. Am I the only one?
Duras must have celebrated De Gaulle’s cowardice. She wasn’t a fan as can be seen in La Douleur,
“De Gaulle doesn’t talk about the concentration camps, it’s blatant the way he doesn’t talk about them, the way he’s clearly reluctant to credit the people’s suffering with a share in the victory for fear of lessening his own role and the influence that derives from it.”
I walked to the Seine and over Pont Royal, crossing Quai Francois Mitterrand.
Mitterrand, a member of that very cell at Rue Dupin, narrowly escaped arrest the night Antelme did not, according to Laure Adler in Marguerite Duras, A Life:
“Mitterand called again from a public phonebook in Boulevard Saint-Germain. This time Marie-Louise (Robert Antelme’s sister who was also arrested and later died in Ravensbruck) was curt, ‘Monsieur, I have already told you, you are mistaken.’ Then Mitterand understood.”
Dark thoughts as I wandered through the gardens on a cloudless spring day.
I reached the Jeu de Paume at the end of the Tuileries where it faces La Place de la Concorde. In Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard used the same location to film Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo taking a spin in a stolen car just 15 years after the liberation of France. Although he used jump cuts to shorten the film, his editing created visual energy and excitement mirroring the relationship between Seberg and Belmondo.
There are two exhibits at le musée: an Austrian photographer, Raoul Hausmann and an American, Susan Meiselas. I began downstairs with Hausmann who was part of Berlin Dada, the images taken from 1927-1936. At the entrance, the show’s curator introduced Hausmann’s work via a looped video. Several minutes passed before I realized she was speaking in French. I understood it all. Quelle surprise!
A Nazi exhibition denouncing “degenerative art” which included Housmann’s work.
The Meiselas exhibit took up the entire second floor: it’s depth and humanity startled me. I began photographing each note and image. The Prince Street Girls reminded me of Little Italy in the winter- the smells of Italian pastries, small cups of espresso, steamed windows.
Dee and Lisa on Mott Street, Little Italy, New York, 1976
In the next room, the work on Nicaragua distressed me. I wanted to leave: too much pain. But I couldn’t pull myself away. Her work makes me hopeful. A humanist artist. She, like the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, considers what it means to capture an image, a life, not just the shot.
In the bookstore, I find Duras and another American, Diane Arbus. A celebration of both my histories, France and America.
I sat outside on the terrace of the museum’s salon de thé et café, La Boîte à Images, had a coffee, and gazed across the gardens. Now, the photo I put up on Instagram of Agnes Varda as she entered her home haunts me. I was so excited- I had caught her. I didn’t consider her right to privacy, her right to go through her day unassaulted. As a mea culpa, I took the image down, replacing it with a closed notebook and the comment, “Instead of Agnes Varda who deserves her privacy.”
I left the cafe in search of Duras. It took me a long time to get to Rue Dupin. I kept getting turned around, finding myself going up and down Rue du Cherche-Midi or ending up on Rue de Sèvres. One detour reaped a reward, the offices of Les Éditions de Minuit where Duras published many of her works. In his book, A Walk Through Paris, Eric Hazan laments the loss of publishing houses in the 6th arrondissement to what he calls the “capitalist concentration of publishing” and comments on those that stayed:
“A few major publishers have remained in the quarter, Gallimard, Minuit, Fayard, and Bourgois among others, but they are like vestiges of a past splendour.”
Finally, I found 3 Rue Dupin where the Antelme apartment was located on the floor above the post office.
Then, I noticed L’Epi Dupin, a restaurant whose card I’ve been saving for years. I don’t know why: I don’t remember eating there. How did I get it? How easily I get waylaid by the minutiae of my own life even when faced with the tragedy and loss that took place on the same street almost 74 years ago.
After ten miles of walking, cheese, radishes, and a baguette in my room became dinner.
I’m on my own for real. When I went down for breakfast, not a familiar face. I spotted a visiting artist I’d seen yesterday. Sitting alone, slumped over the table, she seemed isolated. I approached her saying I had heard of her from a previous tenant, the poet. I didn’t wish to bother her but wondered if she’d like some company. “I haven’t even woken up,” was her retort. I retreated to my seat, never to darken her breakfast again. Other residents wandered in, and for the first time in a month, the room was silent, deadly silent.
No class today: it’s La Fête du Travail, a national holiday celebrating worker’s rights. America has it’s Labor Day but I’m not convinced the focus is on worker’s rights.
Given the French Revolution was all about rights, taking a walking tour offered by Paris Walks on that topic seemed appropriate. I misread the time of departure and rushed to Metro Odéon glad to be in my old quartier. The group was large, the tour guide amusing and well-informed. It began with the statue of Danton next to the Odéon métro. Georges Danton is credited with leading the overthrow of the monarchy and establishing the French Republic but his head rolled under the guillitone when he stood against the Reign of Terror. Next, we walked en masse across Boulevard Saint Germaine to one of the passageways of Paris, Cour du Commerce Saint-André. We passed the back of Le Procope, the oldest café in Paris, where many a revolutionary scheme was hatched. Benjamin Franklin frequented the café when he was trying to get France to support our own revolution and was seen walking through Paris in a coonskin hat.
A few steps away was the home of Jean-Paul Marat (Marat de Sade) editor and owner of a revolutionary paper, L’ami du Peuple. At the end of the passageway, we made a u turn and came to Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie to look inside Le Procope where Napoléon left his hat as collateral while serving as an officer in the French army during the revolution. Napoléon did enact the Code Napoléon which became the Code Civil des Français. It declares all “men” equal and lays out rights to which they are entitled.
After several hours of wandering within a few blocks of Odéon, we ended up at Saint Sulpice, a perfect end for me given how often I visit. Over the center door is a sign left from the revolution: “’Le Peuple Français Reconnoit L’Etre Suprême Et L’Immortalité de L’Âme’’ or “The French people recognize the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul” declaring the basic tenet of what was hoped would be the state religion replacing Roman Catholicisim.
Tired and hungry, I happened upon a stand on Boulevard Saint Michel selling tartiflette, sausage, and beer. I had made this dish rich with potatoes, cheese, bacon, and onions. It could be my dinner. Small tables and chairs sat next to the stand. After hours of being part of a crowd, I welcomed the chance to sit alone and enjoy my luscious indulgence. Although there were empty tables, a woman approached me and asked if she could join me. I pointed out that there were plenty of other places to sit. But she was determined and sat opposite me. I wasn’t very gracious, didn’t engage in conversation or make eye contact. Am I reverting to my French heritage?
Twenty minutes later, sated, I was on my way. I passed a man selling lily of the valley bouquets. Tradition dictates that the sweet smelling tiny flowers be given to a loved one on May 1. I bought some but the only recipient would be moi.
I hurried home to catch a few winks before going to the play, Agatha. Luckily, the theater is just a few blocks from the Irish College. As soon as I got in my room, I looked up the email with my ticket to check the performance time. It was at the Théâtre de L’Epée des Bois which I assumed was the theater down the street since the movie theater on Rue Moufettard is called L’Epée de Bois Cinéma. Wrong I was. The theater is literally in the woods, in the Bois de Vincennes, not far from where I lived my first time in Paris in Saint Mandé but it would take me over an hour to reach, too far for me to arrive in time.
An early night after a drink at Café Delmas contemplating the gatherings on Place de la Contrescarpe.
A rainy day and the Poet’s last morning, our breakfast club still intact. Will the collegial atmosphere continue or will it wither away?
For several days, I had noticed advertisements in the neighborhood for a flea market on Rue Mouffetard beginning in the early hours of the morning maybe even by 5 a.m. After breakfast and final good-byes, I decided to explore. I must have gotten the dates mixed up as I found only a food market. A small market but interesting as are all the marches de Paris. I shyly moved up and down the aisles trying to decide where to stop.
Since all I have is a small refrigerator cubby in the kitchen on my floor, I’m limited to what I can purchase. As I perused the market, I practiced the French I would need to make my transaction. Bon Jour Monsieur or Madame. Je voudrais…. C’est combine? Good morning sir or madame. I would like…. That’s how much? I decided on a cheesemonger that looked promising, long lines and cheeses designated as award winning, for instance, a morbier touted as the best in France. Also, a large wheel of comte seemed to be popular among the customers. In front of me, a woman ordered a saucisson sec maigre. Really, a French low fat salami? Finally, it was my turn. As usual, all my practiced French went out the window. I was tongued tied but managed, and thank God, remembered to be polite first and foremost. I began successfully with “Bon Jour Monsieur. Je voudrais…” but stumbled requesting the saucisson. Immediately, Monsieur switched to English and, with great charm, educated me on the finer points of choosing. “Madame, that saucisson is a bit soft, not the best of textures. But Madame, first you must taste and then choose.” He continued to entertain me and the other customers with his practiced chit chat and gallantry towards the poor Américaine
I walked away with low fat sauccison and the gold medal morbier. He was right about the sauccison and the morbier, a gift from the gustatory Gods.
On my way out of the market, a young boy was selling bunches of lilacs. A Paris moment-a bouquet of lilacs in my hand and packages of fromage and saucisson. C’est parfait.
Monday April 30
Another poet leaves today, and another rainy day. I could see that I needed to plan my last week carefully or I might slip into a nostalgic funk.
As soon as I got back to my room, cold and wet, from the Alliance Francaise, I researched possible outings in L’Official des Spectacles, a weekly list of events in Paris. I found two excellent choices, a Marguerite Duras play, Agatha, which explores incestuous feelings between a brother and sister, something Duras experienced first hand at Théâtre de L’Eppe de Bois, tomorrow night, and Miss Nina Simone in Montparnasse, Sunday May 6.
de Marguerite Duras
Mise en scène Bertrand Marcos
Un dialogue entre un frère et une sœur. Ils s’aiment, au-delà de l’amour fraternel qui conviendrait, au-delà des frontières de ce qui est possible, de ce qui est permis. Elle lui a demandé de la retrouver dans leur villa d’enfance afin de lui annoncer son irrémédiable décision de partir, loin de lui.
Miss Nina Simone au Théâtre du Lucernaire
I had planned to have dinner at the Irish College but the grey skies and cold room would make for a dreary meal. The remaining poet and I went to a Greek restaurant on Rue Mouffetard. Warm, cheerful, and comforting Greek food.