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.
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.


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.

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?
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.
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 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.
      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?
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.
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!

Paris, Day One

Saturday, February 15

F5E21414-6138-4CFE-9891-3426E2E46EC4                                     My first flowers: Centre Culturel Irlandais

I’ve been busy proclaiming my intention to write a book.  Staying at the Irish Cultural Center in Paris often means people “want to know,” that is, what are you up to?   Not only does the Center have artists in residences, it attracts fellow travelers: writers and would be writers.  I explain to those who ask that I’m working on a “project.”  If more is required, I describe the book I aiming to create.  “It’s an exploration of my grandparent’s experience as immigrants, background history of the times, anthropological theory, and fiction.”  This idea sounds ridiculous to my ears let alone theirs.  But I say it none the less.  As I told one of the administrators who politely inquired, “I admit to what I’m doing as a way of keeping my feet to the fire.”   To another inquisitive writer, I lamented that since the book encompasses vast amounts of material, the notion of sorting through it overwhelms me.  She described her approach as plowing through and seeing where it leads.  I agree.  What choice do I have?

I managed to avoid my nemesis, the blank page, by searching for a set of glasses: one for flowers, one for drinking, one for toothbrush and toothpaste, one for pens and pencils.  But this is Paris where like stores often live side by side: book stores, furniture stores, plumbing stores, sock stores.  I thought I was up to locating the street of houseware “magasins”: this is not my first foray.  But after several turns around the neighborhood, no success.  What to do?   I knew the Monoprix on Boulevard Saint Michel didn’t have them.  Been there, done that.  Then, I remembered the outlet or overstock stores catty corner to the Luxembourg Gardens.   I purchased two which fit the bill and was able to buy L’Official, the weekly bible of goings on in Paris, at the kiosk.  Now I can avoid that blank page by perusing all that Paris has to offer.

Having walked five miles and been awake for 36 hours, I made it home, had a long nap, and, then, a very good dinner at my old stomping grounds, La Méthode.

Finishing with an impressive cafe gourmand.
Then, a walk home.  Pas mal.

Return to Paris Day 20-21

Saturday April 20

On my way to buy gifts at Bon Marché, still trying to trace Mayotte Capecia’s life in Paris, I strolled along Rue Mayet where she had lived with her sister in 1947.  The small street runs between Rue de Sevres where Bon Marché is located and Rue du Cherche-Midi, I didn’t know the number so I used my imagination to guess where she might have hung her hat.  Could one of these have been her building?


I’m anxious to buy an important birthday gift for an interesting four year old.  Last year, I discovered that Bon Marché replaced their extraordinary notions department on the top floor with an equally extraordinary children’s department.  Another disappointment.  The department pour les enfants has been drastically reduced.  As I told a salesperson, “C’est dommage,” that’s a shame.  Nevertheless, I manage to spend over 50 Euros.  After dropping more money at Zara’s located across the street, it was time to make my way home.  Back on Rue du Cherche-Midi, I passed Le Nemrod and stop for lunch.  I should have done more of this: sit outside with a delicious salad, a glass of rose, and watch the French go by.


On my back through the Jardin du Luxembourg, a young man approached me and said in French how beautiful “it” is.  Assuming he was referring to the espaliered apple trees we were next to, I readily agreed.  He realized that I was an American and continued in English, making niceties as we strolled together.


He suggested we exchange phone numbers.  I declined, graciously, I hope, and he wandered away unsuccessful at snagging  what he may of thought was a woman of a certain age with a comfortable income.  Is this a Jean Rhys moment from the pages of her novel, Good Morning Midnight?  In the evening, her protagonist, having returned to Paris after years away, wanders up the Boulevard Saint Michel confronting her age, her older status.  And like me this is a location where she has walked often.  Two men approach her and one asks, “Pourquoi etes-vous si triste?”  Why are you so sad?  She tells them she’s not sad although she admits to herself she is:

”Yes, I am sad, sad as a circus-lioness, sad as an eagle without wings, sad as a violin with only one string and that one broken, sad as a woman who is growing old.”

Because she discovers they are Russian, she accepts their offer for a drink.  Is she braver than me, sadder than me, less cynical?

I arrive back at the Centre Culturel Irlandais by late afternoon.  It’s cooled off and the courtyard is almost empty.  A good time to write, to consider answers to those questions.



Sunday April 21

It’s Easter Sunday and Jean Rhys is still with me.  Parallel walks, parallel observations.  In the novel, she describes an earlier time in Paris when the protagonist worked in a dress shop, and got off the metro at Rond Point at 8:30 every morning just as I had years ago hawking newspapers.  Her character Sophie must face the dilemma of Sunday in Paris.  “…Sunday – a difficult day anywhere.  Sombre dimanche….”

I feel compelled to go to La Brasserie de L’Isle Saint-Louis for lunch.  I’ve sent people here for supposedly the best sauerkraut in Paris.  In order to get there, I had to negotiate every inch of Pont de Tournelle as hundreds crowded the bridge to photo the blackened Notre Dame.  Hot and sweaty, it was seventy-six degrees, I managed to get a seat on the terrace overlooking the Seine.  When I ordered choucroute garni, the waiter asked if I was sure that is what I wanted, a dish piled high with different cuts of ham, sauerkraut, and potatoes.  I wondered myself.  An odd choice for a hot April day,  But I stubbornly proceeded.  I like it but ate only half.


After a stroll around the L’Isle Saint Louis and some ice cream I noticed crowds forming by the Pont L’Archeveche and watched an enchanting escape from the charred remains of Notre Dame fully in view.  A group of professional skaters lifted spirits as they graciously danced along the bridge.