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pilgrimages

Rain was promised, but the sun is pouring in through the windows here – I’m sitting on my bed in the spot of sun, to write. I’ve just come back from a pilgrimage which would thrill only me – to see the Palais des Sports. It’s an old amphitheatre, part of the Foire de Paris at the Porte de Versailles, but for me, a hallowed spot – in June, 1965, when I was 14, I saw the Beatles twice in one day here. In between the matinee and the evening show, I got the metro home to Gentilly, to leave a note for my father on where to pick me up after the evening show. And he was there, bless him, even though I still have the note and it’s incoherent.

But of course, I hardly recognised the place – they’ve added, of all things, a geodesic dome roof which certainly was not there in 1965. But the basic structure, a low round building with black doors all around, I remember. I asked a young man called Martin who was guarding the gates nearby, because there’s a big exposition going on at the Foire – Could this be the place? Have they changed the roof? He told me this couldn’t possibly be the place where the Beatles had played, because “Dedans, c’est tout petit!” Inside, it’s so small. But that was the whole point – it wasn’t one of those vast auditoria where they played later; it was quite cosy, and I was in the 8th row centre waving my picture of Paul McCartney. And he smiled down at me. I know it. 
So I revisited a scene of spectacular happiness from my youth. As I waited in the station for the metro home, I was sitting next to a dignified gentleman in a suit. He got out a baguette, a tin of paté and a penknife which had a spoon, I noticed, and he calmly cut the bread and spread a paté sandwich, had just begun to eat when the train pulled in. It smelled so good, I had a paté sandwich myself, when I got home.
There’s some kind of gorgeous purple tree here – an almond tree? I have never seen it at home, but it has bright mauve garlands. The wisteria is also out in garlands. As if this city needed more beauty.  I love the way some apartment dwellers make gardens on their balconies – as you look up, you can see the ones who have made the effort. One small balcony nearby has found room for an entire lilac tree.  I discovered on my last visit to the Jardin des Plantes, incidentally, that pansies here are called “pensées” – thoughts. I guess that’s where our word comes from.
Also on the way home, I dropped into one of the many local Pharmacies, to ask about my eyes – they’re irritated and red, I think because of the pollution. The pharmacist thought it might be allergies, but I have none and am determined never to have any; she gave me some anti-irritant eye drops. I have seen no equivalent of Shopper’s Drugmart here, because there’s a Pharmacie on every block with an informed staff, ready to offer advice and medication for anything. 
I had a delicious dinner (cannette – a small duck – NOT a rabbit) at a nearby café last night with another old friend, Daniel, whose bush of hair and wild beard are grey now. He’s a teacher and mad musician who always has 17 projects on the go; at the moment, he and some young friends have found an old factory and want to buy and renovate it into a centre for philosophical research into the nature of technological change, past, present and future. And also live there.
Daniel had just finished reading my book, and thrilled me by quoting several times from it in the course of the evening. Though his English is good, I didn’t think it was that good, but he remembered so much from his reading. What a thrill – a gift to a writer, an intelligent, perceptive reader who remembers. He told me he especially appreciated the purpose of the book – to unearth and honour a forgotten life – because he devotes his life to the battle against amnesia. And I do too. 
Only two more weeks. I’m mourning already – where has a whole month gone? Here’s my partial list of Things to Do: Montmartre and Sacre Coeur; Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle; Picasso, Marmottan and la Vie Romantique museums; back to the Louvre. Also the Orangerie and les Invalides. Also several more stops on my journey into my own past, more pilgrimages, one on Monday to the lycee I attended, and out to Gentilly where we lived. Also some brocantes – flea markets, and Galeries Lafayette and the view from the roof of La Samaritaine, another department store. Also to eat lots more good food and drink more wine from my big juice box.  This last I will surely do; the rest I’ll tackle, but if I don’t get it all done, it looks like I’ll be back here at least for a week in August, on my way home. 
In August, there will be no Parisians making paté sandwiches; they’ll all be in the country. Just me – la vraie Parisienne – and all the tourists. 
P.S. Just Googled the Palais des Sports – it was built in 1960 and holds 4500 people. 
And by the way, in case you think this is only about playtime, I am working. Sometimes. When I can stop wanting to rush out the door and look at things and eat paté sandwiches, I am working. But you know, in this big bright room with the 15 foot high ceilings and a black iron railing at the window, that feels like exploring Paris too.

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One response to “pilgrimages”

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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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