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the Monday walk

I woke up laughing this morning, remembering something that happened yesterday. Lynn and I were having an aperitif in the living-room when I remarked on the birds singing loudly outside, and we both stopped to listen. I was gazing out the window at the old buildings that house cars at the end of the courtyard, and said to her, in French, “They must have been stables at one point.” But the word for “stables” is very similar to the word for “squirrels,” and what I said was, “They must have been squirrels at one point.” Lynn thought that I was musing that these French birds must once have been squirrels, and her face went blank with confusion.  I’ve been laughing about that ever since, and about many other things too.

Last night, Lynn and I stopped talking, finally, at 11 p.m.  We had discussed, among a million other things, our old friends, parenting, growing old, cancer, her work, my work, marriage, singleness, families, money, real estate, retirement, facial hair, face creams, good shopping, the end of the French university system and who is worse, Sarkozy or Harper. She remembered watching Joan Baez on Ed Sullivan in 1968 with our friend Henry Green, who was proud of his giant Afro. “My God, ” cried Henry, staring at the screen. “What has she done to her hair?” Joan Baez had cut her long, long hair, and the planet shook.
Today, we considered visiting museums or art exhibits but decided just to get outside – the day was glorious, and rain is forecast. First, for two thrifty shoppers, we had to locate a Monoprix. I used to think Monoprix was the equivalent of Woolworth’s, but it’s now an inexpensive and yet sublimely stylish kitchen-wear/toiletries/clothing store. It is imperative, when you are female in France, to wear beautiful underwear. It’s just a law here, and I am willing to comply. So Monoprix came through with some beautiful but very reasonable frilly, lovely, pretty, delicate, lacy, pale mauve lingerie. 
But we stayed on for ages, fingering dishes and pieces of clothing, all well-designed, well-made and cheap. I bought a silk scarf which I wore for the rest of the day, blowing silkily around my face.  It is also imperative, in Paris, to wear a scarf knotted so skilfully around your neck that I asked Lynn whether scarf tying classes are held in school for French children. I don’t know how to knot with skill, but I do know that the right scarf can be flung on any which way, and looks fine.
Then Lynn led me to a discount shoe store nearby and here, a miracle – I who thought there would be no shoes in my giant size found a whole wall of discounted shoes in size 41. I bought a pair – my children will kill me – of imitation Birkenstocks for $25. They are gold. I now own a pair of golden pseudo-Birkenstocks. This makes me happy. 
We had a quick lunch at home, salad, bread and cheese, including a Roquefort as delectable as candy and my friend’s salad dressing, which she makes right in the bowl, stirring salt, then vinegar, then Dijon mustard, then oil, and that’s it, and it’s incredible – my taste buds are already transformed as they always are in this magical country, savouring, quivering over every morsel – anyway, after I had licked the salad bowl, we set off on a big walk.  Over to the Boulevard St. Michel, which I used to haunt in 1965 when I lived here at the age of 14 – packed, even this early, with tourists – down to the Seine shining in the sun, the stunning rows of creamy buildings with their filigree balconies on either side, the boats passing under the bridges, and there, to the right, one of the most perfects buildings in the world, Notre Dame Cathedral. This time she reminded me of the Taj Mahal, which I visited a few years ago – another building so perfectly proportioned, detailed, satisfying, just simply beautiful, you could just stand and savour for hours. 
There was a long line-up to go inside and the sun was still warm, so we kept walking, along the Ile St. Louis with its narrow crowded medieval streets, over the bridge to the Place de la Bastille, then to another of the landmarks of Paris, la Place des Vosges, the oldest square in the city – built in the early 1600’s – the incandescent green buds on the trees in the middle courtyard glowing in the sun. It is imperative to stroll all around the elegant Place des Vosges when in Paris, imagining the pre-revolution ladies in their long gowns and parasols doing the same thing. So we did, and then sat for a beer which the ladies could not do, and then walked along the Rue de Rivoli, back over the bridge near Notre Dame, past le Boulevard St. Germain, to our quartier. 
Stopped for grocery shopping – loved the big basket of fresh baguettes right by the cash, on the way out – and then home to cook, pork chops in a balsamic vinegar reduction made by Lynn and white asparagus in butter and lemon made by me, with a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage we bought on sale for $11. (At home, I might have for supper a poached egg on grilled cheese toast with a glass of plonk.) We laughed and jabbered, and now, at nearly 10 p.m., have settled for silence and work, she again marking papers and I recalling my day for those of you not fortunate enough to be here too, right now.
It is hard to believe how incredibly lovely this city is, how around every corner is another vista, another ancient building or monument, reminder of the thousands of years Paris has flourished. We stop constantly with our map and are often lost, partly because the city is an unbelievable jumble of streets in all directions, and partly because the only person in the world with a worse sense of direction than mine is Madame Blin. But we made it out, around and home, and now she’s wearing her new black patent shoes and I my new gold Birkenstocks, the dishes are done, our bones are tired, and if it rains tomorrow and we have to go to a museum and then perhaps for a tiny bit more shopping, we will be none the worse.
I have received several emails from Canada about Wayson’s book, which is already, though just released, on several best seller lists. Thrilling and well-deserved success! I’m reading it slowly at night, savouring it, so thoughtful, humourous, full of grace – a stunning book that makes us fall in love with the writer, at least, those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to be in love with him already. His book launch is at Ben McNally’s bookstore right about now and I wish I were there. May your book continue to soar, my dear friend.
I sent word yesterday to another dear friend, my technical genius friend Bruce in Vancouver, that for some reason I could not send emails from my Mail and had to switch to my Yahoo account, which made emailing much more complicated.  Bruce figured out how to change an account number to allow mail to exit; I made the changes, and voila – mail zooming out from Mail. It’s good to have smart, helpful friends who understand Macs. 
And also smart, helpful friends who understand the need for frilly underwear and Roquefort. 



4 Responses to “the Monday walk”

  1. Unknown says:

    Beth, I LOVE YOUR BLOG! I read it everyday and now that you’re in a new country, one which I haven’t laid eyes on, you capture the essence of this place with your beautiful words full of vivid and rich descriptions. Please keep writing!

  2. beth says:

    Sharon, I’m so glad you like the blog. I am a tour guide now, taking my friends on a trip through France. Welcome aboard.

  3. Lynnie says:

    Hmm … when I first read the part about the stable/squirrel confusion I didn’t understand. I immediately thought of “étable” for stable, then realized you meant “écurie” and (I hope I spell it right) “écureuil”. Could you (if you have the time) ask someone there the difference between étable and écurie? Or maybe you know the difference. Is étable a more archaic term? I haven’t spoken a lot of French in decades.

  4. beth says:

    Lynnie, according to my friend Lynn:

    “Etable is a “manger” where you keep the livestock. Ecuries are the stables- so for horses!”

    So there you go. Neither of them squirrels.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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