Paris Day 7 and 8

Friday  February 21

I meet with the woman who is renting my house next week.  How strange she lives in Paris.  We have some common interests like film and, so, spent an hour together.  Afterwards, I walked to the Ile Saint Louis for coffee at Le Lutetia.  It can’t be 10 years since I sat here with my husband.  We each had our small black notebooks, writing side by side, watching the Seine, and waiting for our daughter.  She worked at a boutique down the street: Le Lutetia was her place.

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Today, I’m sitting in the same seat, looking out at the same Seine, but instead of writing, I’m trying to read Paris Creole.  It’s tough going as I get deeper into the text.  I think it’s the tenses as the events take place in the past: passe simple, passe compose, passe anterieur, imparfait, etc.

Later a meal in my room- a gyro filled with French fries and a small baklava.

Saturday  February 22

A very long breakfast until almost noon.  Several of the artists in residence myself, another woman writer, and the military historian talked for several hours about the importance of place.  Our preferences are deeply felt.  One artist, a painter, lives by the sea but prefers the forest where she feels protected.  Myself and an actress have opposite reactions, experiencing claustrophobia in the woods, needing the sea.  For me, it’s the edge so I can escape.  An irrational concept.  What do I plan to do?  Swim?  Where to?  One person believes place has more weight than family.  Certainly, sense of place seems to be associated with safety.

Then a description of the Ulla von Brandenberg exhibt at the Palais de Tokyo mesmerized me.  Fabric, people folding clothes, a film.  The walk would take me an hour and half clocking in close to six miles.  But six miles along the Seine intrigued me as well.

I wasn’t alone.  Despite the cold, the damp, the grey sky, Parisiens were out: alone, in couples, in families, strolling, running, biking.

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Pont du Carrousel   La Seine by Louis Petitot

When I finally got to Avenue du President Wilson where Palais de Tokyo is located, I remembered being there with my husband and daughter.  We were looking for a pharmacy: he had a blister and insisted on ignoring his discomfort.  We wouldn’t let him.  For the life of me, I can’t think why we were in this part of town.  Is he haunting me or maybe just accompanying me.

I preferred the architectural aspects of the exhibit more than actual exhibit itself.

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Ulla von Brandenburg Exhibit
Palais de Tokyo

I finally took a bus after much resistance.  Not at all difficult and I prefer it to the metro.  I travel alone which seems very brave to some of my friends, yet such small matters make me anxious, can incapacitate me.

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Paris Day 6

Thursday February 20

My plan was to read and take notes from Paris Creole: my weather app predicted 12 hours of rain.  The day got off to a distressing start.  At breakfast, one of the resident artists told us she had been attacked on Rue Pierre-et-Marie Curie just around the block.  She repeated how she had always felt safe here.  As have I.  Now most of us feel vulnerable, our freedom restricted.

 

A good time to get new flowers.  The daffodils have seen better days.  I’m still looking for that little market I frequented last year.  Marche Maubert was suggested.  I found it but it’s still not the right one.  How I wish I had my own kitchen.  The haricots verts a vibrant green and thin as the slimmest pencils tempt me.
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Marche Maubert at Place Maubert

I did find a good bunch of tulips, radishes, and “une tranche” (a slice) of Swiss raclette.  Still using French, still not speaking in complete sentences except when I rehearse “dans ma tete” afterwards.

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While eating lunch at my desk, another attack of exhaustion hit me.  I tried doing research into my Irish grandmother.  I pulled out the 1901 Roscommon County Census: she lived there in a small village known as Kilnamanagh.  The census, also, included information on dwellings.  My grandmother, age 7,and her sister, age 9, lived with her grandmother, Bridget Kearns, and two uncles.  The house had 2 rooms, 2 windows and an outhouse.  I know they kept livestock which according to Nana, sometimes, came into the house in cold weather.  I thought they owned the house but it’s listed as leased from a Caroline Ball. The 1911 census shows only one of the uncles, Patrick Kearns, living there with his new wife.  My great grandmother must have died.  By then, my grandmother, her sister and her other uncle, Michael Kearns, had immigrated to the United States.

When I was a young girl, my family would visit that uncle, great Uncle Micheal, whom we called Papa Daddy and his wife Papa Mommy.  Due some illness, he was confined to a room in the attic of his son’s house.  My sister and I didn’t want to visit with him but we were obliged out of respect.  To us, he smelled of tobacco and old age but more problematic was his brogue.  We couldn’t understand a word he said.  Did immigrants from Roscommon or Kilnamanagh have a particularly strong accent?

Well, I’m getting on with it, not just writing about avoiding the “book.”
It wasn’t long before I had to nap again, waking at 5.  I intended to go to the movies but felt almost drunk.  Besides, it was raining .  After another hour of reviewing my grandmother’s papers, I went to the Boulangerie Modern on Rue des Fosses Saint-Jacques for some vittles: pizza and tarte au citron.
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Longing for greens, I settled on eating my radishes with dinner.  Afterwards, I crashed again.  Allergies? Jet lag?

Paris Day Five

Wednesday February 19
I spent a few hours keeping track of myself in this blog and then, went to Mokonuts for lunch.  A good 2.5 mile walk over the Seine to Bastille.  Approaching Pont Sully, I noticed a lone house at the end of Ile Saint Louis.  Was I in a Flaubert novel looking at Madame Bovary’s house or riding along the Seine in Sentimental Education?
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In order to get to Mokonuts, I had to go around Bastille to Faubourg Saint Antoine, a good street for window shopping.  As expected, Mokonuts was full.  Luckily I had grabbed the last 2 o’clock lunch reservation.  And as usual, the food was delicious.  Although I had sworn off dessert, I couldn’t resist the blood orange cake.  When I went up to pay the bill, I discussed  the changes in Manhattan with one of the owners.  Since I’ve been using French everyday, I kept switching back and forth forgetting she was from Brooklyn.  A hefty price for lunch; 46 Euros for a main course of chicken with spinach, dessert, two glasses of wine, and coffee.  Twice as much as the dinner at La Methode.  Yet, I must remember to use nasturtium leaves in salad.  Not as pretty as the edible flowers but tender and delicious.
I returned home, again in the rain, and in time for a get together arranged by one of the artist in residence which she called a “pow wow.”  A military historian gave a presentation on the books he’s authored , then the audience (only 3- 2 resident artists and me) asked him about his work and his process.  Most of the discussion revolved around Irish politics which could have been heated but differences were respected.  They told me the town of Dundalk on the border of Northern Island was called El Paso: during the troubles, members of the republican movement stayed there before going on missions in the north.
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The Dundalk Christmas Bombing by the Ulster Volunteers 1975
As he is very prolific, we were intrigued by the historian’s routine. He tried to
sideswipe the question but, finally, he relented.  He gets up very early, 6 or so,  and writes a bit before breakfast.  After breakfast, he writes until 1, has lunch, and may take a nap, then back to writing until dinner.  He does his reading in the evening.  A monk’s life. And this is almost every day.  Sunday’s he does go to mass and does a bit of socializing but mostly his nose is to the grindstone.  We talked about finding a balance while being in Paris.  Easy to just play given these environs.
Although we started at 6, it was 11 before we finished.  The conversation ranged from working to ecological grieving to captialism vs. socialism to Sinn Fein.

Paris Day Three and Four

Monday  February 17

Attacked by delayed jet lag.  After writing a bit, I had to go to sleep.  Several hours later, I roused myself.  My plan was to sit in a cafe on île Saint Louis and read Paris Creole, but I couldn’t move.  Finally, I  decided on a chore for which my body might be capable- finding the illusive drinking glasses.

I asked one of the administrators to direct me to the housewares shop he had introduced me to last year.  An inexpensive shop.  Instead he sent me to one around the corner.  Tres cher, very expensive.  Since I had very little energy, I forked over 6 euros for 2 small glasses.  Even the clerk agreed they were “chers.”

Back in my room, I was tempted to return to bed, but I knew several  hours later, I’d be hungry and bored.  I went to the Médiathèque, the library of the Irish Cultural Center, to do a bit of research.  The “book” will include a discussion of my Irish grandmother’s immigration experience.  She lived in the center of Ireland from 1893 to 1906.  Uncovering primary sources about life in rural Ireland has proven difficult.  I found three books all written by men but at least they cover the right period.

Then, I took myself off to the Champo cinema where I’ve been going since I was 21.

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Tonight was Jean Renoir’s The Southerner with Randolph Scott.  I needed an English speaking film.  I didn’t have the stamina to try understanding French for two hours.  In 1946, the film won the Oscar for best director and was shown at the Venice Biennale.  Why I asked myself.  The characters are stereotypes of poor farmers, almost caricatures, the acting is often wooden or over the top especially Beulah Bondi who plays the grandmother, and the cinematography is forgetful.  Some mise-en-scenes seemed directly copied from the film Grapes of Wrath.  And by God when I left the theatre, it was raining again.  This time, no umbrella.

 
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Like a bad penny, I returned to La Méthode for dinner.  I ordered dessert  realizing too late, it was unnecessary.  With my coffee came a small piece of cake, comme d’habitude.  In France, a small sweet often accompanies an order of coffee.  I returned home to some reading and the jet lag reversed on me.  I was up most of the night.  Not one bit tired until the next morning.

Tuesday  February 18

I continued to write about not writing as I‘ve been doing, then, spent the afternoon with yet another nap.  And like yesterday, I forced myself to get out.  This time to Luxembourg 3 off Boulevard Saint Michel for Tu Mourras a 20 Ans, You Will Be Dead When You Are 20.  Using my limited French, I bought a ticket and asked in which “salle” (room) the film was being shown.  Still no one attempts English with me.  Is it because there are so few tourists?

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The film is Sudanese, so it was subtitled in French.  I understood most of what I read except when the sous-titres passed by too quickly.  The film follows a young man coming of age in a small Sudanese village while living alone with his mother.  It reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s 1956 film, Aparajito, in its pace, cinematography, it’s focus on a mother, even the emphasis on doors, physically and metaphorically.  Quite beautiful and moving.

Where to have diner.  Should I continue my “residence” at La Méthode?   I could walk over to my old neighborhood, Odeon, and eat at the highly rated Le Comptoir.  Yet, for all it’s casualness, it seems full of itself.  Aux Délices du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant, around the corner from the Irish Cultural Center, seemed a good choice.  It was closed, so I walked down Rue Mouffetard to La Crete, a Greek restaurant, and enjoyed a lamb and pasta dish redolent with cinnamon.  I considered dessert.  The waiter and I discussed the absence of loukimades, so I settled on a coffee.

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What can distract me tomorrow or is it all grist for the mill?

Paris Day Two

Sunday February 16

At breakfast, one of the residents asked If I’d like to go to Mass held at the chapel every Sunday.  I considered going, having watched The Two Popes last night.  Although somewhat cliched in dialogue and structure, I liked it: the acting, the discussion between the characters, some of the cinematography especially the black and white scenes in Buenos Aires.  Mercy and forgiveness played a large part in the film.  To whom should I show mercy?  And, there was call to help the poor.  What can I do?  Perhaps the priest’s homily might have held some insight.
However, “the book” or writing here about “the book” won out.  I finished at one o’clock barely in time to meet Christiane Makward author of Mayotte Capecia which examines Capecia’s novels,  Je Suis Martiniquaise and The White Negresse. Professor Makward took me under her wing last year when I followed Capecia’s life in Paris as a transplanted creole.  The plan was to meet at Gare de L’Est (a 3 mile hike), then, walk to Canal Saint Martine for tea with her friend.
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      Viewed from Place de Petit Pont on my way to Gare de L’Est
I arrived at the stroke of three and we made our way to her friend’s apartment which faces the canal.  After introductions, he invited me to look around.  As usual, I headed straight for the book case.  I sighted a biography of Derek Walcott which he had written.
Serendipitous.  A good sign.  Here I am trying to piece together my grandmother’s life in Saint Lucia while breaking bread with someone who spent ten years writing Walcott’s biography and visiting that very island.  I learned that my great grandfather, Armand de Jorna, may have left Martinique for Saint Lucia as it offered more opportunity.  The de Jorna’s had been in Martinique for 150 years before he was born.  Maybe he decided it was time to move on.  But he ended up being a doctor, so does that scenario fit?
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Canal Saint Martine
After sharing an eclair, a tart citron and a tarte de pomme (my lunch and dinner), Christiane and I walked along the canal to her apartment to retrieve Paris Creole, a book she had purchased for me at Musee Branly.  It traces the lives of creoles born in the French West Indies and living in Paris from the 17th to the 20th century.
At her suggestion, I walked home using Rue Temple. The street has many charms and with a fine mist falling, Paris was particularly romantic.  Malheuresment, by the time I got to Notre Dame, the mist became a downpour.  When I took refuge at an oyster bar, the waiters encouraged me to join them under the heat lamps, but I was tired and wanted to get home.  Not my best idea.  Il pleut, il pleut!  My umbrella kept turning inside out: by the time I got to Rue des Irlandais (Irish Cultural Center),  I was soaked.
Once dry, I began reading Paris Creole, slowly: it’s in French.
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Some “creole” boys, ages 10 and 11, who were sent to France for an education, stayed to become lawyers and doctors, and, then, returned to the islands of their birth.  Could this have been Armand de Jorna’s journey?  Maybe I can find him in Paris, after all.
A good start, or so I thought until I tried to find the file I had begun on this infamous book of mine. Nowhere to be found.  I had written a rough draft of an introduction and hoped to work on it over the next few weeks.  But I’m empty handed and, it seems, empty headed.  I never attached the file to my email.  A Freudian slip of sorts?  Verlaine’s poem seems very apropros:
Il pleut dans mon cœur,
Comme, it pleut sur la ville.
It rains in my heart,
like it rains in the city.
Bien Sûr!