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samedi apres-midi

The tiny challenge of yesterday – getting to my friend Michele’s in Gif-sur-Yvette, a suburb of Paris, at rush hour on the suburban train line. I walked to Denfert-Rochereau, where I used to board the train every day to and from school when we lived here in ’64-65, in Gentilly, a suburb on the same line but much closer. The trains were jammed beyond endurance but I managed to squash my way in and survive.

Not even an hour from Paris, Michele’s house is in the country, an old stone farmhouse with a huge garden, trees, a vista of fields and nature. Nature! Her son Sylvestre and his wife and young children were driving in from near Versailles to have dinner with us; it was a holiday weekend Friday and they got stuck on the jammed roads. We finally ate at 9.30 – spinach tart and blinis, Russian pancakes with sour cream and caviar – in honour, Michele said, of my roots. Sylvestre is a sunny 40 year old man with the same smile he had at 14 months. And his mother Michele, like my friend Lynn, is an ageless woman with joy in her face.
I began today with errands; events that are boring at home are so much fun in a strange city. I stopped in the local grocery store, for example, to buy a pot of jam, and stood paralysed for ten minutes before leaving without choosing. I’ll have to go back with a clear head. In the equivalent of my local Korean store, there were about 25 different kinds of Bonne-Maman jam, including quince and chestnut, and I simply could not decide. Behind the cash, I noticed, were bottles of Veuve-Clicquot Champagne. Can you imagine, my Canadian brethren, if we suddenly felt like celebrating and could run to the corner store for a bottle of the finest? 
In yer dreams, as my kids say.
I was also paralysed in front of the notebook selection at Monoprix – beautiful Clairefontaine colours for days. And, joy, today is the day “Elle” magazine comes out. The Paris “Elle” is the best women’s magazine in the world, say I, who hardly know any of them. I can easily spend an hour reading the book reviews and articles; yes, the articles, though I know it sounds like men pretending about “Playboy.” The fashion is great too, but the book reviews are wonderful. 
The day was too beautiful to stay home reading “Elle,” however, so I set off to walk the length of the Boulevard St. Germain. Here, I have to say, was my first disappointment – the Boulevard was packed with tourists and much less authentic and interesting than I remember it. So many tourists! Whereas I, of course, am not a tourist, no no no, I am a local. I was wearing a bright green spring jacket bought at Goodwill, a Joe Fresh design which is sold at Loblaw’s grocery stores, and I’m happy to report the success of inexpensive Canadian design – several people asked me directions, so I must have looked like I belonged.
I eventually ducked down and along to the narrow Rue Jacob and the Rue du Bac to the Seine, almost went to the Musee d’Orsay which was right there – but not the thing to do on the first hot stunning afternoon of spring – and walked back along the river looking at the bouquinistes, the wonderful booksellers with great prints, postcards, books and old magazines.  Several sell imitation old dark blue and white ceramic signs to post on the door, like “Chien mechant.” I laughed out loud at one, must buy it for my daughter and our cat: “Chat fort mechant et peu nourri.” A very nasty cat, underfed. It just doesn’t work in English.
A few things I noticed: the chocolate in the chocolate stores for Easter, treats of mind-blowing delicacy and beauty. I even thought, “Wow, look, they’ve made chocolate in the shape of eggs,” before realising how silly that was.
– Everywhere, people with maps, standing on corners, in the middle of sidewalks, at cafes, poring over maps, trying to figure out where the hell they are. 
– An old man driving one of those miniscule cars-for-two. At home only young people drive them because they’re trendy.  Here they’re necessary.
– Paris is amazingly clean, much less garbage-strewn than Toronto, even on its densest streets, because of a simple, clever innovation – all along every street are stands from which hang sheer green plastic garbage bags. You can see how much garbage people have thrown in and are encouraged to do so yourself. Then someone comes to remove the full bags and put in a new one. I think of the ugly unwieldy street containers in Toronto, with the ground around strewn with garbage, and shudder.
– The Great Canadian Pub right along the Seine near Notre Dame. I didn’t go in.
– On the way home, right beside the Sorbonne on the Rue St. Jacques, a huge number of policemen and police cars and vans. Because the universities are on strike, they must be expecting extra trouble today? No idea. What I loved, though, was at the end of the long line of cars was a special police snack car; it has a little table inside where two men were eating, and I saw the floor was covered with picnic hampers. Trust the French police to make sure they monitor the revolution with a packed lunch.
Speaking of lunch, at home I heated up a vol au vent and some ratatouille, and sat in the sun by my open window, with a glass of wine, to eat. I am learning, once again, to slow down when I eat. At home I’m finished in five minutes; here, it’s a crime, in fact it’s impossible, to eat fast. I closed my eyes and savoured every bite, and then cheese and then chocolate. Not fancy, exquisite chocolate, just good dark Swiss chocolate. 
La vie, mes amis, est bonne. Happy Easter, Happy Passover, happy feasting to you all. 



2 Responses to “samedi apres-midi”

  1. Unknown says:

    So happy to find your blog and learn about how much fun you’re having in Paris. I’m so sorry the beginning was so rocky — Do, please, tell me you have discovered the bakery at the corner of Claude Bernard and Bertholet — Just to the right as you exit the apartment block. The bread there is the best in the city — Don’t forget to pick up a copy of Pariscope at the tabac or newstand on Wednesday so you can check out all the music events that happen at lunchtime, in the afternoons and in the evenings — often for free.

  2. beth says:

    Carol, I am making a tour of all the neighbourhood bakeries, including that one. As you’ll read in today’s blog, I’m enjoying the experience immensely. And yes, I look forward to concerts, will get Pariscope, thank you. It’s all such a feast, and wonderful to have this tranquil, bright flat to return to.

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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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