Archive for May, 2015

La Bastille

I head toward the Place de la Bastille where a tall column stands inside a traffic circle.

Cafes and shops today instead of a prison

Cafes and shops today instead of a prison

This is the previous location of the infamous Bastille prison. Stones in the pavement here show the outline of the old fortress. One fateful day, in 1789, the French reached their boiling point–so sick and tired of watching the King pass by in his golden carriage as they were starving to death in the filthy streets. They grabbed their pitchforks, attacked the prison, grabbed the guns and declared a revolution.

Place de la Bastille is a time-honored place to fait le grève (to strike). The CGT (Confederation Generale du Travail) is a French labor union that’s been around for more than a hundred years. People of all ages are walking around the plaza with red stickers on their jackets. A music truck is blaring music. Booths, banners and flyers. Snacks, drinks. It’s a lot more fun to fait le grève today in Paris compared to 1789.

I walk down Boulevard Henri IV, then turn south toward the Seine. Over the Pont Sully, and past the Arab Institute. To my right is the Lambert building where Voltaire once lived. Everything seems much sweeter when I get to Ile St Louis. Beautiful shops, quiet streets, and pleasant cafés. I bet no one is allowed to fait le grève here.

The little bridge called Pont Saint-Louis is a favorite place for les accordéonistes to gather; they play the old  French songs like La Vie en Rose for the tourists. I stand there, breathing in the crisp air, gazing at this gorgeous city built by kings.

Just then at my elbow appears the most weather-beaten, old woman I have ever seen in my life. She is short, bent over, hobbling along, and holding out a tiny, paper espresso cup that’s dirty and wrinkled. She bumps her cane against her bandaged leg as if to show me a good reason to give her money. No problem – I want to give her money just for having lived so long. She was a little girl when electric toasters were mind-boggling, new inventions.

I drop enough coins into her cup so she can buy something in a boulangerie, but when she smiles up at me, there’s something about her that makes me wonder. Is “madame” really just a young man in heavy theatrical makeup?

 

 

Good Morning

This morning, the workmen are arguing about something. One guy has that bird-like chirping accent from the south of France, so he always goes up at the end of every sentence like he’s asking questions even when he’s yelling. His buddy drawls out his words in a deep baritone. Actually, they are loud and boorish, but since they’re speaking French, it sounds adorable to me.

After getting dressed and drinking another cup of coffee, there’s still a lot of yelling going on. I go to my window to investigate. The chirping man is standing in the bed of the truck. He’s shouting and thrusting his arms toward the sky.

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Morning in the neighborhood

I look up to see a toilet hanging on a rope. It’s coming right at me. The man in the truck yells out “Aïe! Aïe! Aïe!” which is French for “Why did you pick this moment, lady, to look out your window? Put your head back inside!”

The baritone is mumbling something. Lucky for me I can’t understand him; he’s probably cursing me for having too much curiosity.

I wave down to the man in the truck. He waves and smiles like we’re great friends now. I duck my head back in and watch the toilet go past my window.