I am sitting at my favorite table in Le Départ in Place St. Michel. It is my last full day in Paris. I have just used my last roll of film and I am content, feeling less sad about leaving than usual. The waiter has just brought me a plate of hard boiled eggs with mayonnaise, a basket of good bread, and a large glass of Sancerre rouge. With the bustle of the café in my ears I explore the feeling I have that Paris has become smaller. I know it so well now that I have a sense of where and how far everything is from me at any moment. Most of the Paris I love is within a 30 minute walk from here. On clear days I can frequently see one or more landmarks, Tour Eiffel, Sacre Cœur, Étoile, Bastille, Panthéon, Notre Dame, or Tour Montparnasse. I know by heart the walking route to each. My relationship with Paris has changed over the years. It is now a place to live in from time to time and to capture images. Before I knew her well I had to move around to find the images and to sort the new from the interesting. Now I find myself just moving as slowly as possible and giving the images a chance to catch my attention. I have changed from a hunter of images to a fisher of images. This thought lights a fire under me and I pay my tab and walk over to rue du Chat-qui-Pêche. This is my relationship with Paris: fishing for images under her constant guidance and care. I have been passing this image for days and now I reel it in. Yes, I leave Paris tomorrow, but I will be back, again and again, as long as I can.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Every once in a while we all do something a bit silly. Paris is a place where several of my interests intersect. I enjoy writing with nice fountain pens and over the years I have purchased a number of them here in Paris. One of my favorite pens is a Montblanc Limted Edition. It is part of the Montblanc author series and is called “The Hemingway.” I bought it on my second visit to Paris more than 20 years ago and it has been here with me on every visit since then. I was staying in an apartment on Île St Louis and just learning about Paris. I found it in a pen store called Opéra Stylo on boulevard des Italiens. I hadn't yet met Luce and Laure at Point Plume on rue Quentin Bauchart. I used it to record my days in a Paris journal, a discipline I have since followed every day I have spent in Paris.
I sat in Brasserie Lipp on boulevard St Germain with a beer, my new Hemingway fountain pen, and a notebook. While I wrote and I wrote that day, nothing survives but the memory. Every time I reread “A Moveable Feast” I can taste that cold beer. Hemingway lived for a while near a brasserie called Closerie des Lilas. He met there often with friends or sometimes just sat at the bar. He was there so often that they placed a brass plaque in front of his bar stool. How could I resist? I sat there 20 years ago and wrote postcards, in Ernie's seat at the bar, with my Montblanc pen. Well, I went back there today for the first time in 20 years. It was a pleasant experience. I put my pen on the bar, ordered a Meteor beer, and took this picture. The light was dim so the plaque is unclear but it is Hemingway's seat at the bar. I listened to the piano player, finished my beer, felt a little silly, and went back to experiencing the Paris of today.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Paris, like a good mother, provides rest for her children. Today is a cold, rainy Saturday with the just the right ambiance for reflection. This is my morning to think about living a good life, about being well. Well-being consists in doing well what we most want to do. And understanding what we most want to do requires critical reflection. I walk up to Place de la Contrescarpe and find a place on the terrasse under a heater. It's raining, it's cold outside but warm around me, a bowl of soupe à l'oignon is on its way to my table. As I enjoy my soup I reflect on my time in Paris and how my experiences here make my life fuller, more meaningful, more enjoyable. These experiences help me to evaluate new things in a richer, more textured light. I get out my notebook and pen and just sit here, writing my thoughts and watching the activity around the fountain. There is a man lying on the ground covered by a too small piece of plastic. He waves his objection to my taking photographs. Little does he know how hard I try to keep him out of my images. Paris is a place of beauty yet there is suffering here too for some.
I order a glass of port and finish my thoughts. As I put my notebook away the person I have been waiting for arrives with a spare umbrella for me. We walk down the narrow market street to Le Mouffetard, a bistro where one can always have a good lunch. I have done my critical refection and the answer is clear, keep coming back to Paris as long as I can. From now a bowl of onion soup will be, for me, a rainy Saturday morning at Place de la Contrescarpe
Sunday, October 17, 2010
On my way home from Île St. Louis I saw a wonderful scene. A young man had devised a unique way of making giant bubbles that seemed almost indestructible. The children could bat them around like volley balls. I stood and watched for a few seconds and captured this moment. There was a bucket on the ground for donations but as I looked at the expression on his face I realized he had gone through all this effort just for the joy of making the children smile.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
We see the world around us through the filter of our values and our sense of who we are. We may see the same objects but we supply our own meanings to them. It is, in fact, our responsibility to create a coherent narrative for our lives from the meanings we give to the objects and people around us. Paris was love at first sight for me with all its blindness and passion that makes it so delicious. As happens in a good marriage, the blindness cures itself and the passion may diminish or change but a meaning for the relationship develops. The meaning of my relationship with Paris became suddenly clear to me this morning as I was walking through Jardin du Luxembourg. Paris is a model of the structure of my personal narrative, the month I spend here every year is a month of critical reflection on my life so far. Aided by her arrondissements and quartiers I reflect on the commitments of my life, to reading and study, to art and photography, to writing, to personal relationships, and not least to the full enjoyment of life. The time I spend in Paris is spent in critical reflection on how what I will focus on in the coming year, how I will spend my time, how I will add coherence to my personal narrative. Like the boy in the tree, I elevate my viewpoint and make sketches in my mind of the future.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Some days Paris is an inside city. It's raining and I'm a bit worn out from all the walking I've done in last few days. Bon Marché, the large department store just over the border in the 7th arrondissement is a good destination. A quick Métro ride from Maubert-Mutualité to Sèvres-Babylone, a dash across rue Velpeau and you're in! Like much else on this visit Bon Marché has changed. The book department is no longer in the basement but on the second floor and much fancier. I spend about an hour here just getting my bearings and seeing what's new on the French literary front. The conversation inside is very different form the conversation outside. In here it is all new and shiny, bristling with luxury and freshness. One gets a sense of what life is like in Paris in the furniture and appliance departments. Everything is geared to conserve space. There is no history here, just a million opportunities for instant gratification. Elegance seems to be the key word. I spend some time in the department that sells journals and notebooks. Rich in leather and gold edged pages, each notebook or journal is a work of art and I can see myself sitting in a café writing profound notes with an expensive fountain pen. It's clear to me that I need a breath of fresh air. I find an open window in the men's room on the top floor. From here I can see the Paris I came to spend time with. In a few minutes, as fast as I can rush down the stairs, I will be back out on the streets of my Paris.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Sunday, October 3, 2010
It's Saturday morning which, to me, means market day on rue Mouffetard. I may buy something for dinner or not but I always stop for a drink at Place de la Contrescarpe. I sit on the terrace of a cafe looking out onto the fountain and there is always something or someone to watch. One Saturday, years ago, I was sitting here, my coffee cold, almost ready to move on when a couple on a scooter stopped in front of me. The girl jumped off. She was young and happy and had that just slept-with look in her hair and her walk. She turned and blew the boy a kiss goodbye as she passed the fountain on her way to work in one of the shops. The shop is still here and I think of her this morning and wonder.
In a few minutes my girl will meet me here and make my heart smile. We will have lunch in a café in the market called Le Mouffetard. The meals here are always simple but wonderful. The owner is friendly and always willing to stop by your table and talk if the place is not too busy. We are early for lunch and decide on the brandade de morue. It's a mixture of cod and mashed potatoes that you have to try for yourself in order to understand why it is such a popular dish in Paris market cafés. I can't decide what to drink with my lunch so I leave it up to the owner to choose. He picks a nice white wine, a Quincy, that goes well with the meal and is inexpensive to boot. The sidewalks around Le Mouffetard are narrow and the tables there small so we always eat inside. This is the view from our favorite table.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
This was not the scariest difference though. Almost everywhere I looked along my well worn routes in the neighborhood, things had changed. The boulangerie had been remodeled, the crèmerie had been remodeled, Place Dauphine has been replanted and the old gravel replaced by something bright yellow robbing the space of most of its grace. The change giving me the most pause was seeing all of Le Départ's café chairs piled up in front of the Métro station. This place has anchored too many of my memories to want to see it changed. Many of the old, character filled cafés of Paris have turned in neon and chrome palaces and I don't want to see that kind of change in my special places. The boulangerie and the crémerie are a little brighter but have retained their character, The new trees in Place Dauphine will one day be big and the gravel dark again. I'm going to walk over to Le Départ after breakfast to see what is going on there. All in all, it's good to be back in Paris.