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I’m at the café to get you caught up, on a warm Monday later afternoon – the air full of cigarette smoke and French talk, everyone outside enjoying an aperitif, as I will now. I have kept a blog diary, starting … Saturday.
Out to discover my new ‘hood – the 14th.
I was a flanêur – no agenda, just wandering. Noticed, as I checked a large map
on a billboard, that I was near the puces
de Vanves, the biggest flea market in Paris. So I made my way there; it was
2.30 and all the vendors were shutting down, “Come early next weekend,” they
said, and I just may. A few were still open, a woman selling beautiful lace and
very old clothes, a hat man.
Then I hopped on the first tram I’ve taken
in Paris – very modern and free, today, I was told, “because of pollution” –
what a great idea, Toronto. And there are bike paths carved into roads and
sidewalks everywhere, even in a city as flooded with traffic as this. Got off
at Parc Montsouris – so named, apparently, because at one time this ‘hood was
overrun with mice. A beautiful park – like a small Central Park, with fields,
hills, and a large lake on which floated exotic black swans with red beaks and
many, too many, Canadian geese. The daffodils, forsythia, cherry and apple
blossoms are out and the magnolia is swelling, ready to emerge; tiny buds on
the trees.
I know I’m in France because everywhere
there are natty little men in scarves. And bakeries. If ever North Americans
want to confront the insanity of their obsession with the fattening properties
of bread, just consider France, a country with every two steps a bakery full of
delicious things, a basket of bread on every dining table, and yet people are
not fat. Though things are certainly changing; on TV last night, I saw lots of
ads for junk food, including a Kellogg’s breakfast bar covered with chocolate, and a billboard advertising a hamburger: “No dishes tonight”.
Unthinkable a decade ago.
The general attitude to me, as I blunder my
way around like a tourist and yet, confusingly, speak French, is of amused
condescension. Is there a people on earth as condescending as the French, even
if some condescend in a nice way? The not-nice ones are just impatient and
rude. Enquiring in an Orange store about the internet, I was treated with
barely concealed disdain. The concept of obligatory happy service is still
pretty rare here, though plenty of service people are very nice. Anyway, the
internet clé is way too expensive, I’ll just have to make do with cafés. And –
I discovered last night, sitting at work in a silent apartment with no
internet – that’s a good way to get work done. Something learned. I am addicted to the ‘net. Have to learn to live without. Hard! 
Sunday morning, I made myself two cups of
coffee in the tiny electric espresso machine here and some oatmeal on the stove;
there was no construction, all was quiet, and I felt at home. Blessings.
Then off, walked to the Cité Universitaire,
an amazing assembly of buildings housing students from around the world, where
my dad lived in 1946 when he went to the Sorbonne after the war. I’ve heard
stories about what great fun it was there, all those international young people who’d
survived the war. Took the suburban train into the country to Gif, where old
friends Michele and Daniel live – in Gif there’s a laboratory Dad and Michele
worked at – where they met in 1964, and Dad invited Michele to come work with
him in Canada. 

They have a
lovely little house in the country with a fantastic chunk of land, a view of
trees, hills, a river, birds singing, a mountain covered with trees behind and
trails for walking. I’m sitting on their balcony now, Monday morning, in the
hot sun, listening to many birds and a distant airplane. Will stay for lunch of
tapas and white asparagus that Michele and I bought at the Gif market
yesterday, before going back to the noisy city. Last night, I felt the joy of
being in real France, sitting in their kitchen at 9 p.m. for a simple supper of
vast quantities of cheese, also bought at the market, and salad and wine,
listening to the election results on the radio and to my hosts snort when Sarko
or Marine Le Pen spoke.

No agenda today either.



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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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