Paris Day 29 and 30

Sunday April 29, Monday April 30

A rainy day and the Poet’s last morning, our breakfast club still intact.  Will the collegial atmosphere continue or will it wither away?

Along the Seine

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.

Jardin de Luxembourg

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.

La Crète

Paris Day 26

Thursday April 26

Only twelve days left before I return to the United States.  I don’t have enough time to explore Sophie Calle or even my own family at the National Archives.  Many shoulds.  I feel pressured to squeeze it all in.  An impossibility.  I must remember to take a photo of the charming street I pass every day on the way to the Alliance Française.   I have only today and two more classes.


Rue de l’Abbé de l’Epée

Given yesterday’s debacle, I decided to approach Duras by visiting Musée D’Orsay.  As part of The Resistance, she often visited Gare D’Orsay working with the BCRA, Bureau Central de Reseignement et d’Action (Central Office for Intelligence and Action) which coordinated intelligence supplied by French networks.  In her memoir The War, she describes her days at the Gare:

 “…I set myself up there by stealth with forged papers and permits. We managed to collect a lot of information…about movements of prisoners and transfers from one camp to another. Also a good many personal messages.”

and after the arrival of French political deportees,

“Orsay.  Outside the center, wives of prisoners of war congeal in a solid mass.  White barriers separate them from the prisoners.  ‘Do you have any news of so-and-so?’ they shout.  Some stay till three in the morning and, then, come back again at seven.  But there are some who stay right through the night.”

6d822e44ff03aefcbec98716e13e6f17                              Returning Prisoners Arriving at Gare de l’Est 1945

On my way, I passed several sandwich shops: all smelled delicious. I don’t have time for breakfast on the days I go to class, so I was particularly hungry.  While trying to decide which shop to patronize, I passed a woman from a fashion time warp, a thirties coat, 1900’s shoes. Up and down the street she strode.  Maybe this was my Sophie Calle moment.  Sophie Calle, a French multimedia artist, that is, writer, photographer, installation and conceptual artist, followed a man on the streets of Paris and all the way to Venice photographing him without his knowledge.  Later, she had her mother hire a detective to follow and photograph her as she went through her day.


I walked a few hundred feet behind the woman until she entered a drug store.  When she emerged, I couldn’t maintain the stalking.  I’m not made for artistic ruthlessness where another person unknowingly becomes a source of creative endeavor.  Instead, I got in line at a sandwich shop, which would have been at home in Brooklyn: locally sourced ingredients, minimalist design, lots of grains and vegetables.  I took my lunch to the steps of the Musée d’Orsay.  There she was, my thirties’ prey, standing next to a trio busking in front of the museum.  I can’t seem to escape my country: the group played American blues music.  Then, she came alive, dancing in all her magnificence from one song to the next.  When they took a break, the clarinet player raised the dancer’s hand and said to the audience “Merci, Madeline”

IMG_3725                                                                  Madeline

If I wanted to write, I had to get going.  After a long day, Duras describes her walks home from Gare d’Orsay.

“As soon as I leave the embankment (along the seine) and turn into Rue du Bac, the city is far away and the Orsay center vanishes.”

I would do the same.  The sun was shining just as it was for Duras.  The Seine winked blue-green at passers by.  How privileged we are sitting on the steps of the museum, walking along the Seine, having tea in Restaurant du Musée d’Orsay.  In 1945- hunger, fear, despair, loved ones tortured, killed.  But I walk along the Seine undisturbed, unmolested, unafraid.  And just last year, miles away in Calais, a makeshift refugee camp was destroyed.  Even here, the homeless don’t always find shelter.


Quai Anatole Franc

I enjoyed meandering back to the Irish College and decided to forgo writing.  I made one more Duras stop, the office of her publishers for many years, Gallimard, who collaborated with Vichy in order to publish resistant writers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Camus.  When Patti Smith visited Gallimard, her French publisher, she writes:

“My editor Aurélien opens the door to Albert Camus’s former office.”

Did she know it’s history?  Does it matter?  Can we compromise and be ethical?


Gallimard Office, Rue Gaston Gallimard

Gallimard is off Rue de l’Université which becomes Rue Jacob and ends at Rue de Seine.  Towards the end of Rue Jacob, I looked right and discovered an empty Place de Furstemberg.  Was I in Paris or Aix-en-Provence where such retreats abound?

IMG_3784                                                    Place du Furstemberg

On Rue Monsieur le Prince, I passed Les 3 Luxembourg Cinema.  I spotted a connection to Agnes Varda. A film entitled Peau d’Ame sur les traces du film de Jacques Demy (Varda’s husband) was playing that night followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Pierre Oscar Levy.

Two hours later I was seated.  The film is a tongue in check archaeological exploration of the setting of Jacques Demy’s film Peau d’Ame, a musical based on the Charles Perrault fairy tale of the same name, that is, Donkey Skin, about a King who wants to marry his daughter.  Demy used Michel Legrand for the music and Catherine Deneuve as the lead just as he had in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

In the film, made over four years, students brushed dirt from artifacts such as pieces of costumes and colored glass as they would on any archealogical dig.  Demy and Varda’s daughter, Rosalie, was interviewed when a ring worn by Deneuve was discovered. The audience occasionally laughed but I couldn’t get the jokes.  Afterwards, the filmmaker and an archaeology professor from the Sorbonne discussed the authenticity of such an endeavor for well over an hour.  Mon Dieu.  I dozed a bit; then the need to get some dinner overroad politeness.  I departed just in time to get a Lebanese sandwich at Au Vieux Cedre near Place de la Contrescarpe.  While I waited, the owner offered me a glass of mint tea. A graceful gesture to the other who, now, doesn’t feel like the other.

Unknown-1                                                                Au Vieux Cadre




Paris Day 25

Wednesday April 25

I planned to explore various locations gleaned from Marguerite Duras’ memoir La Douleur (The Pain) in French or The War in English.  The memoir recalls her experiences during the German occupation and the difficulty adjusting after the liberation of Paris. She and her husband, Robert Antelme, were members of The Resistance.  In June 1944, Robert Antelme, was arrested by the Gestapo at his family home where his sister, Marie-Louise also a member, lived.  Rue Dupin had become a meeting place for their group which included Francois Mitterand.  Eventually Antelme was imprisoned at Dachua.   While he was held in Paris, Duras tried to send packages to him through the Gestapo at its headquarters at 11 Rue des Saussaies.

Csk4E8xWIAQ8xmWGestapo Headquarters, 11 Rue Saussaies

I could get to Rue Saussaies through the Jardin des Tuileries, wander up the Champs Elysees, following my old newspaper route, make a right on Rue de Berri, look for the old Herald Tribune office where I picked up my papers, turn right on Rue Saint Honore, and, a few blocks later, hit Rue Saussaies.  On my way back to the Irish College, I could go by Rue Dupin located in the 6th off Rue de Sevres.

8856460_origParis Herald Tribune Office, Rue de Berri, Still from A Bout de Souffle (Breathless)

It was not to be. The night before, I had spent every Euro I had on dinner.  On Rue de Soufflot, I went to a bank ATM to withdraw some cash.  Denied.  I assumed something was wrong at their end, not mine. I had plenty of funds in my bank account.  After trying two more banks, I realized my bank card ne march pas, didn’t work.

As it was noon in Paris, therefore, six in the morning in the states, I had to return to my room.  After 10 minutes of pacing, I tried the 800 number on the back of my bank card, but it only dealt with lost cards.  I searched for an American Express office hoping that as a card holder, they might help.  None exist.  Not like the days when I could pick up my mail, cash a check, meet a friend there.

UnknownAmerican Express Office, Rue Scribe, Paris

I asked an administrator at the college if they could cash a check for me.  No. He suggested I try a currency exchange office.  Back to Rue Soufflot.  No again.  I went to a few banks.  Absolument pas!  Back to my room.  Two hours later, my bank remained closed.  I called American Express in the states, no go.  I didn’t have the right account to withdraw money.  Finally at 9, I reached my bank.  A digital glitch.  A questionable withdrawal had shown up on my account automatically freezing it.  It could not be unfrozen.  They assured me they had called me at home and sent me a new card.  I reminded them that I wasn’t at home but in Paris with no dough.  Then, they informed me they could not send me money.  I suggested they get on a plane with some moola as I had none, and, therefore, was unable to buy food or even get a cab to the airport.

Five hours later after moving up the chain of command, they advised me to wire money to myself using Western Union.  I hurried to an office on Boulevard Saint Michel as closing time was approaching.  Their computers were down.  Merde.  They directed me to another office further down towards Boulevard Saint-Germain.  Their computers worked.  I spoke to the clerk using English and French: no, I could not wire myself money.  Someone else would have to send it to me.  And so, a family member saved the day.  It had taken only 7 hours to be rescued.  A lesson: always have a secondary source of funds.

I had expected to go to a reading by my daughter’s novelist friend, but the thought of traveling to Montmartre at 8 in the evening overwhelmed me.  I settled for a gyro from Au P’tit Grec on Rue Mouffetard.  I, also, ordered a bottle of retsina but first had to convince one of the customers, a Greek man, that I knew what I was getting myself into, mostly through nodding my head up and down.  As I walked back to my room, I figured out what I could have said to him in French.  It seems I can speak adequate French after the fact.  Should I have tried Ellenika, that is, Greek?


Paris Day 24

Tuesday April 24

If she were staying in Paris, my daughter told me, she would have coffee every day at the Café de la Mairie in front of St. Suplice, the same café where I started this trip.  Perhaps the  determination to follow my three muses has kept me from enjoying the simple pleasures of Paris.

Tuesday began with another delicious walk to the Alliance Francaise through the Luxembourg Gardens. In today’s class, one discussion focused on my thumb whose size causes many mistakes when using my phone. Finding the word for thumb in French (le pouce) was another challenge although saying it was not. A great relief.


After class, I made my way to the Café de la Marie for lunch: a tartine avec du fromage et du jambon (with cheese and ham), a salad, a glass of rose, followed by un café.  Two hours watching the comings and goings of people included spying on other customers – what they were eating, what they were reading.  Mervielleux.


By then, it was almost three which meant my plan to do some writing was in jeopardy. By the time I polished the piece to post, the Médiathèque, the library at the Irish college, would be closed.  Since my iPad was defunct, I use the library’s computers to publish the blog entries.  I walked fast, finished the editing, and sent it off.  Good thing, as I noticed a poster announcing that two of the artists in residence, James Harpur and Una McKevitt, would be discussing their work that night.

Mr. Harpur spoke of two writers, Claude Le Petit (a free thinker to say the least) and Marguerite Porete, (a mystic) who at great cost to themselves- death-refused to give in to the powers that be.  These examples from the 17th and 13th century managed to console me given this dark hour in America.  For one, as Mr. Harpur pointed out, the consequences for opposing the authorities were more severe (death by guillotine or burning at the stake) than they are today.  For another, illustrations of such commitment support pushing away obstacles that impede freedom.

Ms. McKevitt , a playwrite and director, explained her new work, Madhouse, based on the actual experience of a young man growing up in his family home where several mentally ill patients had been placed, a program that still exists in Ireland.  This plan seemed similar to the system in Geel, Belgium, that is, placing the mentally ill in a stable family environment rather than an institution.  Since I had worked as a therapist in a clinic designed after Geel, living there with my four year old son, the idea of the residents’ perspective intrigued me.  We discussed that due to their relationship to reality, including their views might be distracting and confusing.


Afterwards, another poet and I chose Café Delmas on Place de la Contrescarpe for dinner around the corner from where Hemingway lived.  Accompanying the burgers we ordered were French fries in a cup. We chose to eat by the window for people watching; however, the tables were quite small, too small for our order.  Maneuvering our plates, our drinks, our cups of French fries proved difficult: within a few minutes, we managed to send our Pommes Frites redolent with catsup flying over our shoulders, missing the adjoining tables, and splattering to the floor in a red heap. As they say, you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of the girl. C’est la vie.


Paris Days 22-23

Sunday April 22

Sunday, we went to the country, that is, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, in northern Paris to meet with two of her friends, one with a toddler.  As my daughter hadn’t had breakfast, we stopped in a cafe that offered brunch, Le Ju’ on Rue des Archives  There was a line waiting to get in which we thought bode well.  Not so. The brunch was fixed, no choices: a plate of tired croissants, scrambled eggs, not so bad, a hamburger, why, and a fruit bowl.

We took lines 5 and 7 on the metro, found her friends, and strolled the few blocks to a park entrances. Given we had a toddler in tow, we made our way to a sandbox.  I walked with one of the  women and managed to converse in French for almost 15 minutes ranging from what I was doing in Paris, the difficulty of working from home, and the challenge of selling art- she curates and sells paintings. Being a generous soul who speaks beautiful French,  she practiced great patience with my tense difficulties, lack of proper articles, and general mispronunciations.


After several pleasant hours watching children play and battle in the sandbox, we went back to Odeon.  We thought we would try Polidor for dinner.  But the restaurant was hot and smelled of roasting meat.  Although seated, we left before ordering much to the disgust of the waitress who let us know that she found our behavior intolerable.


On to Le Pre Verre near the Sorbonne- closed.  We had passed a pretty art deco restaurant on Rue Racine, a bit formal, but since we were starving, it didn’t matter where we eat as long as it was soon.

An hour and a half later, we were still hungry.  The food was inedible: a first course of cold pumpkin soup with a dollop of creme fraiche had no flavor and an unpleasant texture.  My daughter warned me that the soup would predict the quality of what was to follow.  So true.  The steak described on the menu as selected by Monsieur So and So, nominated as the best butcher in France, was so tough and dry, I could barely cut it much less eat it.  The waiter seeing full plates each time he whisked them away didn’t insult us by asking if we wanted dessert.  Later we discovered that Bouillon Racine is a well-known, respected, and historic restaurant. Incroyable.

Le Bouillon Racine_24

To make sure we ended the evening on a good note, we returned to the familiar Les Editors for cafe gourmand and Armagnac.

Monday, April 23

Monday found us walking on the right bank.  On our way to one of her favorite stores, Merci, we walked through Les Halles.  The last time I visited was during the early morning hours, the area crowded with crates of fruit and vegetables.  I finished the night by having onion soup in a small restaurant on the edge of the market.  Au Pied du Cochon is still there, but instead of a market, there are benches and greenery.  Finally, we reached Merci and managed to covet something in each department.  Downstairs, a restaurant faces a courtyard, and Mon Dieu, finally, good food: excellent soup and salad, accompanied by a tart rose.


Next, Place des Vosges for apero (aperitif) with two more of her friends, a woman and man she had worked with when she taught English to business clients.  Her American friend is married to a French man and is now a French citizen; the fellow is married to a French woman and is a novelist.  We had lots of laughs and a discussion about which bank is in, right or left.  I opted for the left.  In the past, I only spent time on the right bank when I sold newspapers on the Champs Elysees.  My daughter and her friends all hail from the right and insisted that the left bank is over, passe.  As her American friend put it, “I never cross the river.”


We parted in time, we thought, to get to the restaurant, Poulette, where we had dinner reservations.  We soon realized we weren’t going to make it on foot, so we took a bus.  Another altercation between French citizens.  The bus got stuck behind a garbage truck; consequently, the ride was stop and go.  The passengers began asking the bus driver to let them off.  My daughter said that the French can get very cranky if they are late getting home for dinner.  But the French have rules and one is that bus drivers can only stop at bus stops.  Otherwise, the driver gets a hefty fine.  One young man was undeterred, demanding again and again that the driver let him off.  Finally the driver stopped the bus, stood up, faced the fellow, and told him to stop the harassment.  The passenger made faces and rude remarks- it seemed they might come to blows, but an older man stepped in and defused the situation.

Poulette turned out to be a fine choice.  Beautiful tiled walls, delicious fish, and mashed potatoes so rich in butter, they were yellow.


After walking 10 miles over 12 hours, we called it a night and had a tearful good-bye in the lobby of Grand Hotel des Balcons.