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Getting lost

This morning, I make a pot of coffee to un-fog my brain. But I don’t leave the apartment. I start writing again. The words are flowing magically. The story is writing itself.

In the late afternoon, I know I want to get a walk in today. I close my laptop and prepare to be seen on the streets of Paris. I look in the mirror, fix my scarf, brush my hair and grab my bag. Yes, I’ve finally gained enough confidence to leave my apartment like a normal person.

Downstairs, as I open the big, wooden door and exit the building, I catch a whiff of the cold air, fragrant with delicious smells—roasting duck, chickens, beef, onions, mushrooms, celery, consommé—cooking in an oven somewhere. Perhaps that’s why Paris is so beloved—it smells so good.

I begin my walk down rue de Rivoli. These old stone pavers feel good under my feet. I walk, turning onto different streets, left and right. I want to just melt into this beautiful city and get lost today.

PARIS near Shakespeare and CoThere are so many people on the sidewalks. I want to disappear into the crowd. I want to be the mysterious woman wearing black, eating confit du canard with a glass of pinot noir in the back of a dark café, writing about a tragic love affair during the Resistance. It’s easy to feel tragic on a cold winter’s day when Paris is like a scene from a Jean-Luc Goddard film.

 

 

 

A little kindness

Unfortunately, a group of amusants kept me awake until 2am last night. They got smashed, then walked home, singing French nursery songs which, of course, was hilarious to them.

Carefully I walk down the sixty-four steps, and then out the door. I quickly pull the door behind me and walk south on rue Turenne. It’s a beautiful clear, cold day and I’m in a great mood now after a few cups of coffee. I head toward rue Beautreillis to see where Jim Morrison lived.

Come on baby, light my fire. Yes, I wanted Jim Morrison to light my fire in 1967, although I had no idea how he would go about doing that.

Enchanted by his full lips and dark eyes, I put that famous poster up in my bedroom, declaring my womanhood, while my mother let it be known how much she hated his “long, nasty hair, weak chest, and those stupid hippie beads.”

He died in Paris on the third floor of a big, creamy-white building that looks like a vanilla cake with thick icing. His favorite café is still there. He took long walks around Paris but he basically stayed in his apartment because he was drugging and drinking himself to death. (Not a great role model, I’ll admit) As I walk along rue Beautreillis, I see a family of four in front of me. I hear New England accents.

“Oh, you’re American!” I say to the mother. “Did you know this is the street where Jim Morrison died?” I ask cheerily.

“Oh?” she says in an icy tone of voice that lets me know she’s horrified that I dared to speak to her. Obviously she is on her fabulous vacation with her husband who is undoubtedly a famous heart surgeon who plays handball with the President of Yale. Her two perfect, sun-kissed, blonde children stare at me, channeling the Ivy League vibe with their leather boat shoes and pastel button-downs.

“Well, it’s just something interesting about this street,” I say softly.

“Oh! Like there is nothing else interesting to be seen here?” she says, whipping me with fifty lashes of disdain against my unprotected good mood. Perhaps her children do not know that death exists. And of course she doesn’t want to tell them about a rocker who sucked down peyote and LSD with Jack Daniels. I understand that. But why did she have to be so mean to me? I feel rejected. I’m going back into hermit mode, back to my apartment.

But then I see a music shop on rue Beautreillis. Maybe looking at musical instruments will comfort me.

I walk into the small shop, and the owner greets me warmly. He is a tall, handsome Frenchman wearing a tailored black jacket, jeans and black boots. Of course he wants me to buy something, I know that, but his soft smile and brown eyes are so sweet, they help me to forget the mean, rich woman.

We speak French, then a little English, then a bit of French again. As I look at the leather-bound scores on the shelves, he notices my interest in Bach. He shows me a score of the St Matthew Passion, considered to be the greatest accomplishment of the German composer, published in Leipzig a few years after Bach’s death.

It costs 150 Euros (about $200). I want it. But I know I won’t buy it. What would I do with it? I smile at the man who has been so kind and gentle with me, after my encounter with the mean, rich woman. I thank him and walk out, telling myself I should return tomorrow and buy it. But that’s an expensive way to say thank you.

French coffeemaker

When I awake this morning, it dawns on me once again that I’m in Paris, and I’m far from everyone who has ever made me cry. No one can get to me here. This is the best use of a savings account I can think of.

I pad over to the windows and work the latch, opening the window and breathing in the crisp, cold air. I lean out and look around to see what’s going on. The sky is bright blue and I would guess it’s forty degrees Fahrenheit this morning.

Perfect weather for a nice, hot cup of coffee. I decide to teach myself how to use the French press coffeemaker. I pull the glass carafe off the shelf and take a good look at it. It’s the classic style, albeit the cheaper version: a glass cylinder with a black plastic handle, a chrome lid with a plunger apparatus. I’ve never used one of these before, but I watched a YouTube video before I came over.

I find a bag of Peruvian blend coffee in the drawer. This might be stale, but since I didn’t have the presence of mind to buy fresh coffee yesterday, this will have to do. I pour water into the British-made electric kettle. It heats quickly, and shuts off promptly, leaving me with only admiration for the British and their kettles.

I learned from YouTube that I’m supposed to swirl a small amount of hot water in the carafe to warm it up. I measure out four heaping spoonfuls of ground coffee and dump it in. This seems so wrong. Don’t I need a filter?

I pour the hot water right onto the coffee grounds. This seems so very wrong. I swirl a wooden spoon so the coffee grounds mix with the water. Then I put the lid on, push down carefully on the plunger until it reaches the bottom. The grounds are all captured there. I’m not so sure this plunger is going to hold back this wet mound of pulverized beans when I pour coffee into my white cup. I’m full of doubt this morning.

I look at the sketch of the Peruvian man on the package. He seems quite happy. I wonder what his secret is.

I find some sugar cubes in a wrinkled, worn box in the kitchen drawer. This is gross. Why am I doing this? Who knows who last put their dirty little paws in this box of sugar? Can bacteria grow on sugar cubes? I can imagine my obit: Apparently she died from ingesting an old sugar cube and moldy Peruvian coffee because she was too damn lazy to go buy her own.

I swirl the sugar, letting it dissolve into the black liquid. It smells great. Ah, it tastes great. In fact, this might be the best cup of coffee I have ever had! Who knew that the recipe for great coffee is a French press, no filter, stale coffee, and a bacteria-laced sugar cube?

I am so grateful I have this cup of coffee and the cold, fresh air. I breathe deep and fill my lungs. It makes me glad to be alive.

That’s it. Right now, in this tiny, cold Parisian apartment, all by myself, with my tasse de café cupped in my hands, I am very glad to be alive.

Perhaps this is the secret to happiness—a cup of hot coffee in your hands on a cold morning and no one bothering you. Perhaps this is what it feels like to be inside the heart of God!!

Then it hits me—is this euphoria the result of that sugar cube being laced with amphetamines?

It’s not easy being a paranoid in Paris.

 

 

Beginnings

At least, now I know how to pass through these tiny green gates, and this makes me feel a bit more like une parisienne than before. I walk along, falling in love again with Paris.

From La Tour St Jacques, I follow rue Saint Martin and instinctively I know I’m going toward the Seine. I am walking south toward the very heart of Paris—a destination if there ever was one. This road, rue Saint Martin, will become rue Saint Jacques on the Left bank.

This was a thoroughfare long before the Romans ever paved it with stones. This is an ancient footpath carved several millennia ago by people going to the river to get water, to wash their IMG_0189clothes, to meet an incoming shipment of goods, or to see who’s hanging in the village square.

What do historians say inspired the growth of Paris? It was just one special moment.

Almost two thousand years ago, Julius Caesar invited all of the Celtic tribes of Gaul (ie, France) that he had just conquered to a sort of “getting-to-know-you” mixer in 52 AD. But the tribes from the southwest and the north refused to participate.

Caesar gave this some thought. If they met in the city of Lyon (known then as Lugdunum, the capital of Gaul) these rebellious warriors might have the chance to unite against him and push him out of Gaul.

So Caesar chose a spot between them—the land of the Parisii on the Seine River. Paris in 52 AD was nothing but a collection of huts on a small island in the midst of a slow-moving river.

“OK, guys, we’re going to meet in Parisii,” Caesar undoubtedly said.

“Parisii?” his men probably whined. “That mud hole? There’s nothing there! Why don’t we gather in Lugdunum where, at least, we could get a decent goblet of wine?”

But they did convene in Paris, causing a huge influx of traffic toward that tiny village. Over the years, Paris became a natural stopping point for merchants, pilgrims and warriors traveling through France. Then it grew to be that magical place where priests built their cathedrals and kings built their palaces.

Longing

I walk past a housewares shop. Little Eiffel Towers are tilting this way and that way on kitchen towels, notecards and key chains. Then I see a bed-linen shop. Through the window, my hungry eyes devour the silky sheets, the soft blankets and the fluffy, pale green bathrobe.

I’m doing a Breakfast at Tiffany’s here, taking in sweet colors of lavender, cream, pale sage green. Beautiful leather cases and wicker baskets.

The French call this lèche-vitrine…window-licking. Now I know why. I want everything I see in the window.

I exhale slowly and feel that I’m calming down. Deep relaxation at the sight of such gorgeous things. The beauty and the longing. Why are the French so good at this?