Paris Day 15 and 16

Saturday, February 29

This morning I woke up exhausted after a good night’s sleep.  Do I have the corona virus or is it the ennui I seem to carry around?  Usually it dissipates after breakfast with the residents.  Today, overwhelmed by fatigue, I spent the day in bed and didn’t join the three women for dinner.

I tell myself there will be days of isolation and loneliness.  But why is it’s happening now?  I have stimulating conversations every morning, gatherings with artists in the evenings.  Although I have dinner alone each night, I’ve been very engaged.

IMG_7479                                                                 The last bouquet

I read my blog on Greece, written five years ago on the verge of a Fulbright.  I describe two days of staying in my Athen’s hotel room emerging only for a meeting one day and and a souvlaki the next.  Ennui is no stranger to me.   My expectations set me up for self-doubt.  I romanticize those that seem to have found their place especially the Bloomsbury group whose work I devoured many years ago, in particular,  Virginia Woolf.   Her country home with her writing shed surrounded by beautiful gardens, long walks along the downs, afternoons with writer’s and painters reading, discussing.  But like Samuel Beckett, she endured days of doubt, of mental anguish and, then, a swing to elation.  Her solution was suicide.  Perhaps, my urge to live on an island is a strategy to force me back on myself, to find my place.

Sunday, March 1

Today I feel alert, confidant, at home in Paris.  God, these extremes are exhausting.  

For my last full day in Paris (I leave for London tomorrow) I plan to have Sunday lunch at La Rotessirie d’Argent.  It faces the Seine two doors away from the famous Tour d’Argent, and next door to it’s bakery, Le Boulanger de la Tour.  I pass by frequently crossing the Pont de la Tournelle over to the right bank.  One day, I stopped to buy mini croissants.  Ils etaient parfaits.  The idea of eating roast chicken on a Sunday afternoon is part of a long tradition of Sunday dinner with Maman in which I long to participate.

UnknownLa Rotisserie d’Argent

On my way to breakfast one of the administrators of the Centre Culturel Irlandais caught up with me and asked if I still planned to attend the book club she had mentioned when I first arrived.  I thought I could  fit it in with my roast chicken.  But this was no intimate group meeting for an hour, this was a formal meeting known as Cercle Litteraire Irlandais (Irish Literary Circle) lasting three hours with drinks, food, a program and over 100 attendees.  There were speakers including Deirdre Farrell, Deputy Head of Mission at the Irish Embassy in Paris, and Lara Marlow, France correspondent for The Irish Times, as well as mediatations, readings, and even a group writing exercise.  It was a celebration of International Women’s Day.

Lara Marlowe in her keynote address discussed three women who inspired her: Iranian Nasrin Sotudeh, French Berthe Morisot, and American Edith Wharton.  All three defied their respective roles: Sotudeh, a lawyer, represented women who refused to wear the hijab, Morisot became a well-respected painter, the only women to exhibit in the first impressionist show in 1874, and Edith Wharton wrote novels becoming the first woman to win the Pultizer Prize for Literature in 1921 instead of being a doyenne in her privileged social circle.  My question to Ms. Marlowe was where are the Irish women of the 19th century without upper class privileges who fought against stereotypes to become artists in their own right.  She and the audience were stumped.

images   Nasrin SotudehUnknown-1Berthe Morisotimages-1Edith Wharton

 Then we were asked to write about a woman we admired.  I chose Molly Daly, my grandmother.  She lived in Ireland for 13 years without her mother.  She returned to the United States only to be teased relentlessly about her brogue.  She married an alcoholic whose family thought she was “shanty Irish.”  When he died leaving her with two children to raise, she often brought in family members who had no where else to go.  When her children married, she moved in with them usually with no room of her own, sleeping on a daybed in the dining room.  And she never complained.  Her solace, reading her prayer book and saying her rosary.


Molly Daly on the right


On the Way to Inishmore


“We live in the poor heart of Ireland” John McGahern wrote about his beloved County Leitrim. I, instead, am in the heart of a wild beauty of Ireland, Inishmore in the Aran Islands. I sit in my room in Kilmurkey looking out on the North Atlantic down the coast towards Kilronan, fat raindrops on the window, hands chilled as the radiator doesn’t seem to work.

My chaotic departure began two days ago. I was running late for the shuttle that would take me to the airport. I instructed my neighbor, who had volunteered to transport me, to throw everything on the dining room table into my carry-on bag. Later, I discovered my garage door opener and a pair of one-armed glasses has found their way into the bag. Meanwhile, I searched frantically for the special pants I had purchased for the trip. No luck. I threw everything I could see into my suitcase. As I settled into the car, shoes popped out of my open handbag. I made the shuttle and on the way to Newark airport rearranged my belongings.

Twenty-four hours later on the train to Galway, peace and excitement sat comfortably within me. I had a seat all to myself, McGahern’s book of essays, and the green of Ireland outside my window. In his love song to Lietrim, he describes ancient hedges separating properties and left undisturbed as no one seemed interested in developing that part of the country. “The hedges are the glory of these small fields, especially in late May and early June when the whitethorn foams out into streams of pink and white blossoms.” As it was May 31st, I spent most of the trip looking for whitethorn and found them, just as he described, between fields dotted with cows, sheep, and sometimes horses. The Irish have a saying,  “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.”  The sun had been out since we left Dublin, but as we approached  Galway, the sky filled with large sooty clouds, dominating the flattened landscape.

Given the upheaval when I left the states, I opted out of exploring Galway during the hour before the bus left for the ferry. I played it safe and sat in the Victoria Hotel directly across from the bus stop. The hotel, fixed up to honor its heritage, is overdone and inauthentic. However, the white and pink peonies in large vases atop sideboards were for real. I wiled away my time gazing at thier large feathered heads and thought of McGahern and his whitethorn.