Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The last blog

With great difficulty we tore ourselves away from the pool in Casablanca on Friday and flew to Paris. We were quickly and painfully introduced to the horrendous exchange rate: because we got there too late to take the bus from the airport, we had to take a taxi: $85. Welcome back to France.

On Saturday, after a late start, we went to the Rodin Museum, a poorly maintained and arranged place. The building must have been glorious in its heyday: it was terrific learning that not only Rodin lived there but other artists such as Rilke, Isadora Duncan, and Jean Cocteau did too. In a park we fell into conversation with an interesting couple. Zhou (Chinese) and Rosewitha (Austrian) live in a town near Shanghai where he is a professor and a poet and she is an artist. They met when she got a scholarship to study art there and stayed to complete her masters and Ph.D. We talked about politics a little; he said that yes, he does have to be careful about what he writes. They looked to be about 40 and she's lived there for 15 years. We had a marvelous conversation, mostly in English, for about an hour, and talked about the possibility of doing a home exchange with them in the future. Wouldn't it be something else if that worked out??

On Sunday we took a walk along the Seine near our apartment, and got into a conversation with a woman walking her dog. Naturally, Rick got on the ground to play with the dog. We remain struck by the fact that the French seem so unfriendly unless and until you make an overture, in which case they respond beautifully. We took the bus to Sainte Chapelle, one of my favorite places in Paris, then wandered around Odéon and wound up at the Luxembourg Gardens, where I had never been. I loved seeing so many people enjoy themselves in the sunshine. This being France, however, a person with a uniform rousted Rick off the grass and onto a chair: lying down on the grass with your book is not allowed. On the other hand, at a bus stop we had a lovely conversation (which again we started) with two women, old friends who have an annual visit with each other since one lives in the south. We find that these contacts with people are our favorite experiences and wish there were more of them.

There were several interesting differences from when I was in Paris last, many years ago. The French seem to be as environment- and health-conscious as Americans, a big surprise. All over Paris there are stands of bicycles to borrow: you need a magnetic card to pass over the electronic reader to take one out of its stand and to pay for it, and you can return it to any other location. We saw hundreds of people using these bikes. Here in Seattle Smart Cars are rare but in Paris they're ubiquitous, very sensible when parking is at such a premium. I was thrilled that they've banished smoking from indoor locations: I remember gagging over the Gauloise cigarette smoke everywhere.

I also found that I had a different reaction to the physical reality of Paris than I did many years ago. While the apartment buildings are still ravishing with their mansard roofs and window boxes, the grandiosity of the monuments, the glorified heroism, the outsize scale of the monuments and the spaces around them struck me now as irritating while before I found them impressive. All this bragging, all this calling attention to France's glorious military and aristocratic past felt like protesting too much. The gardens which seemed to me to be well kept years ago now seemed overly controlled. Obviously this says much more about me over the years than about Paris.

We had a guidebook and could have gone to a restaurant for our last night of the trip but honestly were too lazy to take the Métro there and seek it out, so we had dinner where we found ourselves. Pretty mediocre food for about $55: the food on Air France was better. Home to pack and left Monday morning.

I've had a month of speaking and reading French and have taken much joy in seeing some of my earlier fluency return. I apologize for this last post: I'm impossibly jet-lagged and am operating on fumes now, but it was a superb trip and I hope you've enjoyed reading this blog.

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