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jeudi dans le soleil

The time has come, as it does every time I’m here, to give thanks. In 1964, my merciless father dragged his reluctant family to Paris for a year. I was turning 14 and did not want to come. I hated him. And in fact, it was a difficult year. And yet its legacy is this: I speak French, and I feel sometimes, in this city, like a citadine.

It’s 8.15 p.m. and I’ve just had supper, more about which later. My belly is full of good food and wine. The windows of the apartment are wide open to the dusk sky, and a chorus of birdsong is flooding in. At home, there are many birds outside my window; here, only a few but with complex, intricate songs which demand attention. The drilling that destroyed today’s peace is over, and the little courtyard is still. And inside the ground floor apartment is a Canadian woman who is grateful to feel, in a small way, that she belongs here.
Yesterday, my friend Michele came for lunch. She’s in her early seventies, a grandmother of three with thick dark hair and the joyful spirit of a young girl. This is what we ate: spicy rosette saucisson for apéritif, with a glass of wine; then thick white asparagus in lemon and butter; then classic rich quiche lorraine; then a green salad with arugula; then four cheeses with fresh bread; and then, the piece de resistance, dessert: tarte tatin and strawberry tart, to divide, with coffee.
The quiche, bread and desserts came from the divine bakery on rue Mouffetard.
Afterwards, we had to lie down in the sun for a little sieste, to recouperate.
For the next two hours, we walked slowly across town, until we reached the Algerian Cultural Centre to attend the vernissage of an exhibition of paintings by a young Canadian woman who now lives and paints in Paris. We met Daniel, Michele’s husband, and two of their friends there. The paintings were good; Daniel said they reminded him of “la groupe du sept,” that famous Canadian band of painters. The snacks were good too. Enfin the 5 of us strolled until we found a café where we had dinner. Eating again? Hard to believe, but true; we all had the 15 franc menu, so I had a tomato/mozzarella salad and then grilled trout with basmati rice, for $21. With, of course, a little pichet de vin rouge costing almost nothing.
In fact, I have to tell you that I have been drinking my usual complement of red wine – various bottles here at the house when not in a restaurant – and I have yet to pay more than five euros, that is, seven dollars, for a very good bottle. That alone is reason enough to want to live here forever.
But also, today, I went shopping at Picard, a shop which sells only frozen products. You cannot even imagine this store, Canadians. Fish, soups, vegetables, fruit, desserts, entire prepared gourmet meals – everything you could want, ready to go in the freezer. Tonight for dinner, I had broccoli and fresh peas with a purée of leeks and a small cutlet of duck breast – all from Picard, frozen, ready to go. Then the cheese, which I took out of the fridge before going out this afternoon – a St. Marcelin, a chèvre and a brébis from the market, and a camembert from Franprix, all so good, I could weep.
Today I did weep, not in front of cheese, but in front of Rembrandt. There’s a new museum in Paris, the Pinecothèque, showing a Romanov collection from St. Petersburg and a Hungarian collection. I chose the Russian, of course, and in front of the Rembrandt – “Portrait d’homme barbu coiffé d’un beret” – a face so luminous and human, worried, compassionate, the mouth slightly open and an earring glinting in one ear – tears sprang into my eyes, and I kept coming back to look at him again. He in 1661 and I, admiring, more than 350 years later.
Other magnificent canvasses including the usual Spanish ones of saints being tortured and executed – I recognize them now, after my time in Spain, and move quickly past. At the end, watercolour paintings of the rooms in the Hermitage palace crammed with these canvases and hundreds more. And then into the permanent collection, which, in an attempt to do something new, the curator has arranged not according to period or geography, but to some quirky sense of his own, so that there’s a impressionist next to a Renaissance painting next to a modern one. It’s odd, but I didn’t mind it. Always good to shake things up. What’s really spectacular is that you can get so close to the work, which is hung low and mostly not covered by glass.
A long walk home in the hot sun, along the rue St. Honoré watching the champion shoppers, along the Tuileries packed with tourists, over a bridge to St. Germain, through the Luxembourg Gardens and home. It was about as beautiful a day as you could hope for in Paris, and on view everywhere, the many ways to find pleasure here – the cafés, shops, museums, churches, monuments, just walking, looking, walking, looking, walking.
As I always do, I thank my father for the gift of this country and this city. Merci, mon père. I raise my glass, tonight, to you.

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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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