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Paris rhapsody, redux

Greetings from a very lucky woman. As I may have mentioned at some point, I’m in Paris. And yes, as I said on the phone to my son tonight in our first long talk in many weeks, I’m homesick and dying to go home. But I’ve also got a last week in Paris, and you have to try pretty hard to have a bad time here.

I resolved not to rhapsodise in my usual overwrought fashion, but sorry, there’s no helping it. I started the day by finding Sylvia Beach’s famous bookstore Shakespeare and Co.; if only I’d gone there immediately on my arrival here months ago. There was a free reading last night, for example, of a good Hungarian poet, and I missed it. The store is glorious, a rabbit warren, a jumble of books, with its phenomenal history on display – typed cards with notable mentions of the place, including Anais Nin’s. Upstairs, where the books are not for sale but for sitting and reading, there’s a little writing area with a manual typewriter, piles and piles and piles of books, the room where readings take place, and everywhere, benches and beds covered with red velvet, where visiting writers used to crash. Anyone could go up there now and steal the place blind – no one is surveying, you’re just there with a mountain of old books.
A young man was playing the piano in one room, so I sat, leafing through the books, listening to him, and of course, as you’d know if you know me at all, weeping. The honour given to writing here, and also to music … it made me proud to be part of this confederacy. When the guy finished playing, I thanked him, we chatted – a Frenchman living in Poland – and he returned a few minutes later with his card – if I email him, he said, he’ll send me downloads of the music he was playing and his C.D.
Downstairs, with the same ceiling of low, worm-holy old beams, new books are actually for sale. I bought the New Yorker, which I miss, and Murakami’s What I talk about when I talk about running. They couldn’t find Jenny Diski’s book about the Sixties, thought it had been misplaced somewhere, so I said I’d come back. I can’t wait to go back. Perhaps they’ll let me sleep on the red velvet sometime. No, perhaps some day I’ll do a reading in that room upstairs, with its view of Notre Dame Cathedral. That’s a new goal in my life – to do a reading there. I did look wistfully for Finding the Jewish Shakespeare in the biography section, eyeing the spot in the K’s where it should have been but wasn’t. But the next one will be there, she said determinedly.
On the way out, by the way, I passed the Paris books section, and there was Writers in Paris by the friend I met in April, David Burke. He and his wife Joanne, like every other self-respecting Parisian, are out of town in August.
Then walked along the Right Bank of the Seine to see the Paris Plages. The city has created a beach environment, people lying on long wooden chairs with beach umbrellas, changing rooms, snack bars, magazine stands, an exercise section, apparently further along ping-pong tables, a place for fencing (!) and some sort of swimming area, though there was no swimming where I walked, just sunbathing in bikinis in the heart of one of the biggest cities on earth.
I was headed for the Jeu de Paume museum to see an exhibit by Martin Parr, a British photographer with a quirky sensibility and a sublime sense of humour. The exhibit first displays some of his photography collection, documentary photographs from the 40’s on, detailing among other things the depressing poverty and plainness of British post-war life, and yet some of them made me laugh out loud.
A bit of Parr’s photography book collection is there too. I liked the one by Charles M. Taylor Jr. called Why my photographs are bad. On display was “Chapter 12: Too Much Sky.” A shot of a distant town, and above, yes, a great deal of sky.
And then we enjoy some of Parr’s collections – “I have a very strong collecting gene,” he says. A hilarious wall of Obama stuff, including Obama briefs, breakfast cereal – Obama O’s – and soap, on the wrapper “The audacity of soap.” Parr has a huge collection of trays, Margaret Thatcher artefacts, Saddam Hussein watches, sputnik pen sets …. you get the idea, the ephemera of history. And then his own photographs, mostly, in this exhibit, of rich people being obnoxiously rich. How they allowed themselves to be photographed is a mystery. The whole thing is edgy, cynical, satirical and yet funny, honest and truthful. Loved it.
The Department of Missed Opportunities: As I stood chuckling and looking, a man was doing the same thing nearby – a good-looking, rather shy youngish black man in a red check shirt and khaki pants. A connection was made – he was nearby as I looked and passed in front of me several times, he smiled at me, I smiled at him. I thought, this could go somewhere. My daughter and my gay friends will be furious when I say that I decided not to see where it could go. This has happened several times on this trip, and I’ve ignored the possibilities. Some of my loved ones were hoping I’d have a fabulous French affair here. Well, I have – with France itself, cheese, with friends, reading, writing, with you. But I decided not to go through the dance with the man at Martin Parr. I was happy to walk out into the Place de la Concorde, across the bridge to the Boulevard St. Germain and go on my way.
Anyway, I was looking for SHOES and this is something a woman should only do with other women or alone. A French shoemaker called Arcus makes light, extremely comfortable shoes much more cheaply than the well-known Mephisto. I meandered along the Rue de Rennes and found Arcus, had the poor salesman bring out nearly every shoe in the store in my size until I found a pair. And then walked across the Jardin du Luxembourg, which has changed the colour scheme of its flowers – now all purple and yellow, gorgeous – sat for a bit near the tennis courts and read some Murakami. Around me people who’d come for the afternoon, one woman with a thermos of tea, sitting watching the tennis like a movie. On the way home I stopped at the Mouffetard market for fruit, and in Monoprix to see what’s new for fall. And home, to find an email from my son. So I called him, to hear the voice that means more to me, minus one other, than any in the world.
It’s dusk. I’ve eaten supper followed by cheese and fresh bread and dark chocolate, drunk wine, done a load of laundry which is hanging in the open window. I love this city. I love this city.

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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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