Tag: Paris

You want a what?

This morning, the delicious, flaky pain au chocolat is gone. Yes, I succumbed and gobbled the pastry down last night. There’s nothing to eat in this apartment.

I take a shower and get dressed in my black slacks, black top, black coat and black-and-white scarf. I feel most comfortable wearing black. In Paris in the winter, everyone wears black and I like that. My mother used to say in her Southern drawl, “Darling, just remember, black covers a multitude of sins.” (By that she meant bulges.) One day I might be bold enough to wear my red scarf and draw attention to myself, but not now. These days I want to hide. I get my bag and nervously check its contents. Here is the key to my apartment. I have my key. If I lose it, I will have to sleep in the Bois de Boulogne tonight and nobody wants to do that.

Just down the street from my apartment is a little café. I push open the door and sit at the first table. This place is more like a long hallway. From the menu, I order the lemon piccata chicken and a cup of coffee.

The waitress looks at me like I just walked out of a spaceship.

Un café?” she asks, her eyes big. I wonder what the big deal is. Yes, sometimes on a cold day, I like to have a cup of coffee with a meal. I reassure her that Oui, je veux un café, s’il vous plait. She blinks, shakes her head and goes away.

There are four young, handsome men at the table beside me. And when I say “beside me” I mean I could lean my head on this guy’s shoulder if I wanted to. This is so different from the United States where our tables are set five feet apart. We don’t take chances with strangers putting their heads on each other’s shoulders. And it’s unusual to be this close to someone I don’t know—I can even smell his musky cologne.

Perhaps this close proximity is what has generated so many great ideas, artistic movements, and political changes in Europe over the centuries. This closeness allows easily made acquaintances, and intimate conversations.

These guys are speaking French so quickly that I’m baffled. I guess my listening skills are not as vigorous as I thought. The waitress brings my lunch on a beige plastic dinner plate, a presentation reminiscent of a school cafeteria. Not what is usually expected in Paris, but it’s cheap, and I’m starving to death, and…oh….oh! this lemon piccata chicken is the most heavenly morsel I’ve ever put in my mouth! It’s so delicious I might pass out.

After a few more bites, I’m convinced this must have been a happy, little French chicken pecking away at worms in the moist French soil. I’m sure it enjoyed the warm French sun on its fluffy white feathers every day. And it was loved dearly by the farmer’s little daughter who cried when this poulet gave its life for the great Republic of France.

As I’m gobbling down my meal, absolutely grateful that France knows how to raise delicious chickens, the gorgeous guys have finished their plates and are now sipping tiny cups of espresso.

That’s when it dawns on me. I forgot the French drink coffee after their meal. So that’s why the waitress looked at me like I was ET in the closet.

Dining alone

When the waiter comes back, he leans slightly and crooks his head to the side.

« Vous avez choisi ? » he asks. (You’ve decided ?)

I look up at him, praying he will understand my vowels.

Oui, je voudrais un chablis et une salade vegétarienne, s’il vous plait, monsieur,” I say. What a mouthful. I rehearsed it beforehand, remembering to purse my lips like “oooo” to say une and popping my syllables like marching toy soldiers in ve-gé-ta-ri-enne.

He nods and leaves. So far, so good. He understands me and I haven’t knocked anything over. I feel like I’m on stage in a spotlight. Everyone must be staring at me. I pretend to rub the back of my neck as I turn my head to casually look around the café.

No one is looking at me! What? I can eat alone in Paris and not be considered an odd-ball? In my small town in Florida, whenever I dine out alone, people stare at me like I’m a circus freak, waiting to see what trick I’ll do. In a town filled with tourists, families and retired couples, it’s unimaginable that a woman would sit alone at dinner without a significant other pasted to her side.

I take a deep breath and look out the window. I’m facing east and it’s twilight. On my left I can see La Tour St. Jacques and to the right is the Hotel de Ville. What a beautiful view. This bistrot was opened in the 1800s by a German immigrant named Zimmer. The interior is rich and voluptuous—red velvet curtains, an ornamental ceiling, paneled walls and chandeliers. It used to be the favorite haunt of famous people like Sarah Bernhardt, Jules Verne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustav Mahler, and Igor Stravinsky. No wonder why my beautiful salad of fresh greens with blanched cucumbers, beets, carrots, and green beans costs twenty-four dollars.

 

Return

 

I walk just a few steps away from Notre Dame, then notice beneath my feet a burnished brass star set in the pavement—Le Point Zero des Routes de France. This spot has been the beginning point for the measurement of all distances from Paris to all other cities since the 1100s.

Point Zero

Point Zero

They say if you touch the star, you will return to France one day. So, like millions have done before me, I lean down and rub the star.

 

 

 

 

Communication

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Now I’m on rue de la Cité, a street that runs across this island in the Seine River. I’m walking along, my head down, when I realize there is an open area to my left. I look up and there, about five hundred yards away, stands beautiful Notre Dame, her two massive towers jutting into the sky, and three huge doors set into an intricately carved façade.

It’s Sunday afternoon and the parvis, the broad plaza in front of Notre Dame, is humming with activity. Some people are staring up with mouths open, awestruck. Some are laughing and hugging.

I walk across the parvis carefully because of the rough, irregular stones. I look down and take notice of the street names on the ground in front of Notre Dame; streets that were once here three hundred years ago, like rue de Venise, but the entire area was cleared to create this wide-open plaza. I imagine the barking dogs, noisy children, shouting merchants and the lovers who once lived their lives on rue de Venise, but now all that remains is a line of white stones in the pavement.

I sit down on the concrete bench amid the manicured hedges and I watch the old man who lets the birds perch all over him. Tourists take their photos with him and he asks for a coin.  To my right, a Japanese family is happily jabbering away and taking photos. To my left, a man is kissing a woman.

Just then a girl, with a skinny boyfriend wrapped around her, walks right up to me as if someone sent her to me.

“Bon jewer,” she says.

I look at her in shock. I’m surprised she took notice of me, and I have no idea what she just said to me.

“Oo ehst luh con sear garee?” she reads from her phrasebook. I realize she’s saying “Where is the Conciergerie?” in French and I detect the long vowel sounds of an American. Then it dawns on me that she thinks I’m French, which is even more shocking.

“You speak English?” I ask, standing up.

“Yes,” she says.

“Ok, you go this way, and then turn right at the first street,” I say, pointing with authority and feeling like a tour guide. “You’ll walk a few hundred yards, then it’ll be on your left-hand-side.”

“Is it very far away?” he asks.

“Well, no, not really. Hope you have fun,” I say, wondering if they ever unravel themselves from each other.

“Thanks!” they say, in unison as they turn and walk away in tandem.

 

 

 

On the street in Paris

 

GETTING OUT

I had to get away from the small town where my ex- lives with the girlfriend, twenty years younger than me. Every time I go anywhere, I scan the crowd for their faces, petrified I’ll see them, arm-in-arm, happy in their gauzy Hallmark kind of love.

I don’t scan the crowd for their faces here.

During my divorce, I was so stressed out that, in the middle of the night, I would toss and turn in bed so much, I counted it as aerobic exercise.

When the divorce was final, I ended up hiding from life until I was practically frozen. I knew I couldn’t stay one more night in my chair, watching television in that empty house.

I had to get out. So I went to Paris.

Men of the 2nd arrondissement

Men of the 2nd arrondissement

Apparently, when I get out of the house, I really get out of the house.

 

 

Le chien vs. le chat – animal discrimination in Paris

As dawn rises and sunlight fills the room, I’m aware of slowly ascending through the steps of wakening. No alarm blaring, no lawn movers roaring, no kids yelling; just a peaceful Sunday morning in Paris. This gradual awakening is like the softest experience of all. I feel so calm. I can’t believe I have slept eighteen hours. I never want to get out of this bed for the rest of my life.

A room with a view.

A room with a view.

I lie there, listening to the city sounds until ten o’clock, when I force myself to get vertical. I need to email my sons about my safe arrival in Paris. I pull on the cord that the landlady had quickly gestured toward while saying proudly that the apartment had Internet.

In horror, I see a dial-up phone cord dangling like an artifact from the previous century. My time in Paris will now include lots of time in Wi-Fi cafés.

In the kitchen, I pull out drawers to see what kind of utensils I have to work with. It’s pretty well stocked.

I notice a little cardboard poster stuck on the fridge with a magnet. I lean down to read it. It lists the emergency numbers in case you need la police or les pompiers (firefighters) or l’hôpital (hospital). Then I read chien perdu.

Are you kidding me? Losing a dog in Paris is at the same level of emergency as having a heart attack or a robbery?

Then I notice there’s no emergency number for chat perdu.