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?

Day 34 Paris

Friday, May 4

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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                                          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.

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Perhaps my view of the Pantheon as I reached the top of Rue Soufflot might provide a refuge.

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Day 32 Paris

Wednesday May 2

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.

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Residence Hall, Irish College, Paris

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?

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Cars used as a barrier by students, Rue Gay-Lussac, May-June 1968

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.

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Pont Royal, Paris

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.”

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North Exedra Pond, Jardin des Tuileries

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.

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Jean Seberg, A Bout de Souffle, Breathless, 1960

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!

IMG_3927-1     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.

IMG_4413Dee 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.

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In the bookstore, I find Duras and another American, Diane Arbus.  A celebration of both my histories, France and America.

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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.”

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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.”

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Les Éditions de Minuit, 7 Rue Benard Palissy

Finally, I found 3 Rue Dupin where the Antelme apartment was located on the floor above the post office.

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3 Rue Dupin, Paris where Robert and Marie-Louise Antelme were arrested.

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.

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After ten miles of walking, cheese, radishes, and a baguette in my room became dinner.

 

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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Going Home To Paris?

April First, First Day

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Is it the Day of Fools or the Day of Resurrection? Am I the fool who slips into nostalgia or can I be “born again” in this home of homes, my first home, Paris.

I packed my wallet- a window into this exploration. My up to date passport is slap up against my old ID card to the French National Archives.

I left my room, now in the 5th: my place of comfort is the 6th and Carrefour Odeon. Feeling disoriented, I headed that way but quel supris: my location behind the Pantheon is to my liking. My heart pounded, my pulse raced not unlike the first time I saw Paris.

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Yet, the past confronted me walking away from the Pantheon on Rue Soufflot. What was Rue Soufflot resurrecting? My first time in Paris when I lived with a French family whose daughter was a friend of my mother’s. I don’t think they knew what to make of me. I talked to German young men on motorcycles, wore my jean skirt almost daily, and could only say “Oui,” “Non,” and “C’est beau.” Mme. Brenot, a seamtress and dress designer, decided to take me in hand and bought me a stripped blue and white blouse from a store on Rue Sufflot making alterations so the fit was parfait. I wore it for years.

Jardin du Luxembourg,  Mostly Parisiennes strolled leisurely on this Easter Sunday. I overheard two older women discuss what the statues surrounding La Fountain des Medicis smbolize. Their conversation put me deeper into France where most feel qualified to comment on art, tres serieuse.

In an effort to ground myself, I made for my usual haunts. Or am I just playing it safe? Nostalgia again. First, Cafe de la Marie across from L’Eglise St. Suplice. I sat outside and tried to order a glass of red wine in French but the waiter didn’t understand, so it’s English. The rest of the day had the same language exchanges, a bit of French, a bit of English.

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One more stop: Les Editeurs, what had been my local restaurant. It’s only 5 in the evening, so most are drinking coffee, beer, or wine. As I hadn’t eaten for over 12 hours, I ignored convention and ordered a coupe of champagne and sardines. The waiter impressed, arrived with a white tablecloth and, presenting with a flourish, added “A real Paris experience.” My neighbors stared as did most passers-by, intrigued by the spread: baguette with butter, peanuts, olives, toast, sardines on a board with a lemon, salt, chopped onions, and parsley.

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Still, I don’t feel tied to the earth, to Paris, to me, to the past or the present, but caught between.

Agnes Varda looked back in her film, The Beaches of Agnes, then in her late 80’s went forward in Faces/Places taking a road trip through France with a young photographer. Tomorrow, I will visit Agnes, or at least her street, Rue Daguerre.