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.


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.


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?


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.

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

Return to Paris Day 10,11,12

Wednesday April 10

At breakfast, a resident asked why I was drawn to this project.  I told him I had a keen sense of injustice especially concerning “the other” first expressed at the age of seven when my father forbid me to go to my friend’s house: she was black.  Then, I explained my personal interest, the family secret.  He didn’t buy it.  According to him, I hadn’t been affected.  Stunned, I agreed, considering my privileged life.  But no.  He’s wrong.  My father worked tirelessly to overcome his secret heritage, to fit in, to make sure I didn’t get too dark in the summer, to aggrandize his history, to be prejudiced himself as a false means of elevation.  Yes, it affected me.

I live in a country whose MO is oppression, destruction of the other: Native Americans, African Americans, any immigrant of color, any non-Christian.  The land of opportunity mostly works if you are white and male and, sometimes, if you can pass.

Since last night I had been thinking about violence committed by American police mostly against men of color.  While I was enjoying my aperitif, four French soldiers dressed in camouflage, cradling machine guns walked past me.  I asked my breakfast companion if he knew what they were doing: he writes about military matters.  He said it’s a strategy against terrorism.  Small groups of armed military pop up unexpectedly and, by their presence, deter possible attacks, a Macron strategy not entirely embraced his citoyens, (citizens).  When I was 21 living in Paris, soldiers with machine guns stood in corners on Boulevard Saint Michel.  I was told they were there to protect “us” from Algerians, yet another colonized group.


Thursday April 11

At the end of class, I told the teacher I wouldn’t be returning.  She wondered did she speak too quickly.  I reassured her.  I rushed home, dropped off my books, and met a woman introduced to me by mutual friends.  We had a noisy and interesting lunch in the Marais at Miznon, an Israeli import.  Afterwards, we meandered along Rue de Montorgrueil, a mostly pedestrianized street in the 2nd, got a cup of coffee at L’Arbre a Cafe, sat on a wall in a small square and continued our conversation from lunch, mostly about the state of the world.


She has a few concerns about life in Paris: people in big cars thinking they own the road, ignoring pedestrians and their safety.  I watched her take a few to task and applaud her.  She’s also concerned about the yellow vest movement.  She understands their situation but believes the destruction in Paris doesn’t make their situation better and abuses a city that is theirs to enjoy.  When we parted, she asked how I would get home.  Walking, I told her.  She directed me to go towards the Seine-her only advice.  Without any additional navigational aids, I found my way home.

Friday April 12

Nose to the grindstone.  Using the Mediatheque, the library that is part of the Irish Cultural Center, I unsuccessfully searched for the location of Mayotte Capecia’s grave and failed to locate any Caribbean groups.  I’ve written to the Christiane Makward the scholar and author of the book, Mayotte Capecia ou l’Alienation selon Fanon and asked for help. A long shot.



Return to Paris Day 1 con’t

Monday, April 1

The day began with an expensive cab ride to the city: I had too much baggage to manage on public transportation. As soon as I put my bags in my room, I rushed to the Alliance Francaise to buy books for classes I plan to take over the next month. Immediately all the French I had been studying and listening to deserted me. I understood nothing and could only state when necessary, “Je parle un peu francais” and, then, ask meekly, “Est-ce que vous parlez anglais?”  I only speak a litttle French.  Do you speak English?

The walk back through the Jardin au Luxembourg heartened me as I passed men playing pentanque.  Here is France on a beautiful day.  It’s okay.


But not for long.  I hadn’t eaten all day, so I decided on an early dinner.  I walked behind the Pantheon and down Rue de la Montagne Saints Genevieve to a restaurant I remembered as pal mal, not bad, La Methode.  It was a particularly beautiful spring night, almost 70 degrees with a gentle breeze making it’s way along the streets of Paris.  All the outdoor tables were full.  When I sat in the last row, a waiter appeared and asked if I wanted to dine.  I did and was given a menu.  Only then did I notice that I was sitting at the three tables set for dinner.  Everyone else was having an aperitif: it was 6:30, much too early for dinner.  I couldn’t sit there and eat, the only one to be chewing.  I made a hasty retreat, telling the woman behind the bar in English that I’d changed my mind.  I didn’t even try French.  She nodded with disdain.

Now what to do while the rest of Paris laughed and talked and drank?  I decided not to retreat to my room with a sandwich; instead, I went to a nearby cafe and ordered a pastis.  Several times, the waiter asked impatiently what brand of pastis I would like.  Finally I understood and confidently said Ricard. He moved his head side to side in irritation and explained they only had one kind, a kind I never heard of.  I agreed, happy to send him off.

Like most Parisiens that night, I sat for an hour, watching passersby.  As the waiter never appeared, I had to go in the cafe to pay.  Is that allowed?


Paris isn’t for the faint hearted.  How did my relatives manage as they tried to slip by unnoticed?

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.

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?

IMG_3886 2
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.

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.”

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.

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.


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.”

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.

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.


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