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Monday, in the sun

I’m having trouble sleeping, because my head is so stuffed by the time I lie down, the brain just keeps going. This morning I lay awake thinking such vital thoughts as, “Jacqueline Bisset. What ever happened to Jacqueline Bisset? I wonder why the words for woman and man are so similar but the words for ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are so different. Hus-band – what a funny word.” I know that came up because I spent a few pleasant hours yesterday evening with my friend Lynn’s husband Denis. But Jacqueline Bisset? I have no idea.

And then I thought, perhaps this lack of sleep, you idiot, has something to do with the amount of red wine sloshing around in your system. It’s so delicious and inexpensive, but perhaps I had better cut back.  The birds began to sing their dawn chorus, just like at home, only at home there’s a host of birds and here only a few. But it seems to me French birdsong is more complex. I then, remembering my raccoon difficulties at home, thought about how few creatures I’ve actually seen in Paris. Pigeons, everywhere, cats and many dogs of course, but otherwise … I’ve barely even seen a squirrel. My dad used to joke that there were no birds left in France because they’d all been eaten. Maybe the squirrels too.
Denis was visiting his mother in Versailles and came to Paris for a flying visit, just to see the Fra Lippo Lippi exhibit at the Musee du Luxembourg. We met there and saw it together – stunning, of such delicacy and richness of detail, emotion, colour. I was telling him the thought I’d had at the Louvre, that when you see the exquisite work of these masters, it’s hard not to denigrate even the most glorious work of later painters, and a woman next to us said, “Excuse me for interrupting, but I have to say I agree with you. And the older I get, the more clear it is that the old masters are unsurpassed.” 
“How France is changing,” said Denis later. “Strangers talking like that. Never used to happen.”
Denis is the most French person I know, except that he married a Canadian and worked in the L’Arche communities for many years instead of as an aeronautical engineer, as he was trained to do.  But he has an argument for everything, and a deep, reasoned one too.  I have been known to be somewhat opinionated myself, so Denis and I can go at it, with great pleasure, for hours. 
We were looking at a stunning painting of Mary and her babe, as they were almost all, and I said, “How sad she looks.”
“Not sad,” said Denis. “Why, there’s almost a smile playing around her lips.” 
“Not a smile,” I said, “definitely not a smile, but okay, maybe not sad. But very serious.”
“She’s always serious,” he said. “She is always aware of the job ahead of her, of the enormous responsibility she bears.”
“Yes, poor woman,” I said and he opened his mouth to argue but we moved on to another canvas instead. We argued about crucifixes. “They’re instruments of torture,” I said, “imagine a religion choosing that horror as its symbol.”
“Not torture,” said Denis, who is Catholic but with a sense of humour. “It’s a symbol of death, and remember what comes after – the resurrection, life eternal.”
We did not launch into our usual disagreement about circumcision (I for, he against, but we’re tired of that one) though we were looking at a canvas of Jesus’s bris, something I’d never thought about before. “Strange, ” I said, “to look at a very Jewish ritual, and yet in the canvas it’s surrounded by all the trappings of the church, high officials in high jewelled hats and so on.” Denis told me all about how at the beginning all the Christians were still Jews, St. Paul was still a Jew, but I didn’t understand everything he was saying in French and besides, my head was beginning to swim from the intensity of all this.  I’ll have to look it up.
He told me he found these portraits of Mary extremely affecting – that once in Italy, he saw a painting of the Annunciation in which her innocence and vulnerability were so moving that he stayed in front of the canvas for fifteen minutes, weeping. 
Luckily he had time for a drink, so we found the perfect sidewalk cafe in the fading afternoon sun and watched Paris fly by. Denis and I met in 1970, when he was first engaged to Lynn. I was at theatre school in London at the time and so was able to come across for their wedding in 1971, unforgettable, officiated by Jean Vanier himself. 
At the metro, Denis said to me, “Do you remember when you started buying me shirts at Goodwill?”
I couldn’t, but said, “Maybe fifteen years ago. Why?” It’s something I do, buy stuff for dear friends at Goodwill. 
“Because I haven’t bought myself a shirt since,” he said, and I noticed for the first time how frayed the collar was on the one he was wearing. Perhaps Denis isn’t so very French after all. There can’t be many Frenchmen who weep for 15 minutes in front of a painting, and who for 15 years have only worn shirts from Goodwill.

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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.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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