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Monday, July 13, 2015

Woman descending(up) escalator

Woman Descending  Escalator.

Here I am ensconced in my Paris apartment, on the 5th day of my month long trip. My French sojourn has not exactly begun auspiciously, in more ways than one.

I had been enrolled in a volunteer program to create a mosaic wall, in a housing project outside of Paris. I had begged and pleaded to be accepted into the group, which was full when I found out about it. It would have been my second mosaic project, and my fourth project in France. They eventually accepted me, I booked my ticket, as well as one for Loring to join me three weeks later. And then, within a couple of weeks, they abruptly cancelled the project. I am not sure whether to accept their explanation, that the mayor of the town had suddenly backed out. But Concordia is a reputable organization. I have done projects with them before. They were apologetic, and Volunteers for Peace, the U.S. coordinating organization thru which I’ve done almost all my volunteer projects, was even more so.

After a few days I got over my anger and frustration, and reconciled myself to spending  three weeks in Paris without plans. I found a terrific apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower. From my sofa or my bed, or one of the three tiny balconies with room for a small chair, I can watch the light show  every night. And from where I sit as I write, all I need to do is to look up to see the Tower, which I compulsively do every few minutes, as if to make certain that it’s still there,  or perhaps, more accurately, that I am really here.

But the frustration of the cancelled project pales in comparison to what occurred just upon my arrival here. I emerged from the metro at the Luxemburg stop, literally across the street from my apartment, where my airbnb host, Pierre, and I were supposed to meet. But before I reached the top of the escalator, my suitcase began to topple backwards, and I must have reached out to grab it. I remember toppling back down the escalator myself, attempting to get up, and falling again.
A woman helped me up, down at the bottom of the escalator.  I must have been falling faster than it was going up.  She helped me up to the top again, where I attracted a small crowd. I remember being handed lots of tissues as the blood streamed down my face, and someone calling the pompiers. (firefighters, they also are the ambulance drivers)  I kept trying to explain that my “friend” Pierre( who I hadn’t yet met) was waiting for me across the street. Someone fetched him, as well as a nice red and beige woven chair from the nearest café . As the pompiers arrived and pulled up onto the sidewalk, I asked him to get the kind woman’s name and number and asked him to take my suitcases up to the apartment.  Pierre told me to call him when they released me from the hospital.
Several hours later, after  a number of xrays and many stitches, they did release me. Everyone had been very kind, and efficient. At one point, I had two doctors stitching up different parts of me at the same time.

The upshot – I have a quite Frankensteinian  gash across my forehead, truly grotesque looking. I am not exaggerating.  I have about a dozen mean looking stitches there, and more stitches on one knee and the other hand, as well as gory looking gashes on my leg that I think must be from the edges of the escalator steps.  Oh, and they said my nose is broken. I keep forgetting that, because it doesn’t really hurt much, except to the touch, and there isn’t much to do about a broken nose anyway.
I didn’t go out again on Wednesday, my arrival day, aside from going home from the hospital. I went out for about a two hour walk the next day,  down and back up the Boulevard St. Michel (Boul Mich, I assume they still call it that, like Mass or Comm Ave in Boston.)  By that time my eyes had both swollen up and turned purple(notice how this is more a description of my wounds than of the beautiful  city I am in!)  Nevertheless, with a hat and dark glasses and long sleeves and skirt, I felt sufficiently disguised(whether I looked it is another story) to venture out without scaring anyone.
So I paraded up and down the Blvd. reminiscing to myself about the crepe man who  once was there decades ago and always remembered my order, always the same, a chocolate coconut crepe.  I think that combination was my own invention. He, and the stand, are long gone, but I am happy that there are still a number of crepe stands around the street, and I intend to go back for one soon.  There are plenty of crepe places around the city, but the ones on the Boul Mich are a quick walk from my current apartment. closer, actually, than where I lived back then.

I walked past the beautiful Cluny garden, where plenty of people were sitting and reading, or just sitting, and resolved to go back there soon, and to the adjoining museum too. Stopped at Monoprix to get some groceries, as much as I could carry. It’s only about 4 blocks from the apartment. Next time I should probably bring along my little wheeled bag. Most people seem to have them for shopping
At the bottom of the street by the fountainwere the ubiquitious, it seems in every city, hip hop dancers,  not terrifically talented but high on chutzpah.  When I walked by the first time it was one group, when I headed back it was another, with the same shtick, differing only in the colors of their skin.  They seem to be a genre onto themselves, minimally talented hip hop dancers who tease, one might say harass, audience members who don’t seem hip enough to appreciate their talent.  I moved a bit further back, in case my bruises weren’t enough to scare them off.

Friday I decided to venture out a bit further, across the Luxemburg Gardens into the 7th arrondissment. I was relying somewhat on a book of Paris walks I’d had since several trips ago.  I wanted to find the house where Gertrude Stein, and her brother, and Alice B. Toklas, had lived and hosted their famous salons. (as I have said, only half or two thirds jokingly) part of the inspiration for our salons.  I did find it, and the plaque on the wall to commemorate it, at 27 rue de Fleurus.  There, the Steins and Toklas hosted the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse,  Joyce, Wilder, Pound, and many, many more. What  would it be like to live now in a place with such historical  significance?
 Of course, there are many such places and plaques in Paris. I also walked by a building with a plaque indicating that Whistler had lived there, which hadn’t been noted in my book.
 The gardens are lovely, if a bit too formal for my taste. There are chairs everywhere, people sitting and basking in the sun (it felt a bit too hot for me) kids with poles trying to corral the little sailboats in the central pond.  (I can see them now from my window.)   Tennis courts, playgrounds,  ice cream stands.   There’s a museum there too, which I have never been to and will have to check out. There was another small building with an exhibit of engravings and prints (this theme seems to have followed me from Havana to here) all for sale, each, if I understood the sign right, for 150 Euros.  Kind of an unusual way to price things.  Luckily or not, I didn’t see one I couldn’t resist.
One corner of the gardens, on my side, is the Medicis fountain. It’s a little more leafy and shaded, a cosy area to which I hope to return.  There’s also an area for concerts, also near my side, and if I don’t attend one I hope to at least listen to one from my balcony.

Yesterday, Saturday, after a slow morning at home, I headed out for the Clignacourt flea market, a must for me on any trip here.  Although I’ve been there many times, I still find out of the way little corridors that I don’t think I’ve discovered before. A lot of the place is really antiques, expensive ones, good because I can bypass them. I like the funky places with at least some reasonable prices.
I couldn’t find my go to store at first, and got a lttle panicky. I thought it was no longer there. It turns out I was in the wrong arcade,  it was the one next door. I couldn’t imagine how it could be gone, the place seems like it’s been there for over a hundred years.  If it has a name, I don’t know it. They carry buttons and ribbon and barrettes and combs and eyeglasses and beads and other assorted sundries.  Some of it is vintage, but I think a lot of it is not.  I’ve bought my hair combs either there, or the same ones in the US, imported from France, at places like Casa de Moda. But here they have an enormous collection, overwhelming, really.  I bought three pairs, and may go back for more I looked at the vintage eyeglasses but didn’t buy any. (yet)   My face looks so horrible I couldn’t imagine taking my hat and glasses off to try some on. So I’ll try to go back next week, maybe after the stitches come out 
  Hey, I just realized this morning that the glasses I was wearing when I fell are kind of bent out of shape. That may be why they feel a little more comfortable than my other ones. But this will be a perfect rationalization for getting a new pair. 

I was hungry when I left the marche and so headed to a café and asked if they served food. They did, although I seemed to be the only one who ate anything in the hour or so I was there.  I ordered chicken, which I was told was broiled and came with broiled bananas. A woman, the cook , came out to confirm my order. The chicken turned out to be somewhat spicy fired wings, with bananas, a salad, and a ton of fries. It was clearly African or Caribbean influenced, and really good.  I ate about half the chicken and   bananas, and all the salad and fries which I didn’t think would last well. So now I’ve got another meal in the fridge. Aside from me, there were several tables with a couple or few at each. As it got later, more and more people arrived, who knew the ones already there and joined them. Clearly a neighborhood place.

Today, Sunday, began on an odd schedule. I hadn’t fallen asleep until after 3am, and hence didn’t wake up until after 11am. For a while I thought I might not go out at all, but finally, after writing for a few hours, I decided to get dressed, had some pasta (my comfort food) and headed out, without much of a plan. Sometimes that’s the best way. I walked through the Latin Quarter, thronged with tourists, and over to and past Notre Dame, likewise crowded. I was aimed in the general direction of the Marais, and then, hopefully, beyond.  My experience with the Marais, which dates back 5 years ago and more, is that it has become overly trendy and expensive, chic but no longer the quaint Jewish quarter with delis and other Jewish businesses it once was.  According to what I’ve read, this trend has even increased since I was last there. So I was heading toward the less gentrified section, in the 3rd rather than 4th arrondissement. Before I knew it, I was there in the third, having somehow bypassed most or all of the 4th. No problem, I can go back there if I want to, although I’m not sure I will even want to.

 Last time I visited, the beautiful old deli with the mosaic wall was gone, replaced by some trendy clothing store, although they’d kept the wall. Sad. There were a couple of interesting craft stores, too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been priced out by now too, and either moved or gone out of business. I need to find out where the craftspeople and poor artists have gone.
I walked thru the mostly empty streets of the quartier, almost everything closed up because it was Sunday. It was a striking contrast to the mobbed streets near the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame through which I’d just come. I stopped at a couple of little parks along the way. I’d thought I might read, but found my mind too distracted, and so just stopped to look at the map and decide which way to head.

I eventually emerged at the Place de la Republique, where I probably spent the next two hours. There was an amazing assortment of people and things happening. First, the enormous statue that dominates the place, a black figure on a white pedestal, surrounded by a fountain,  was surrounded by people, and covered by graffiti and signs plastered all over the statue and base.  As I came closer, I saw that many of them said Je Suis Charlie, a reference to Charlie Hebdo, the progressive satirical newspaper whose editor and ten employees had been murdered a few months ago. Most people sitting around the statue seemed merely to be resting, in the Parisian manner, rather than having anything to do with the signage.  There were a few taking photos, like me.

Down toward one end of the large plaza, I saw a large grafittied wall that looked like it had been installed intentionally, perhaps by the government, or maybe just allowed to stay there. I couldn’t discern any particular message. There was a pile of bags, some with clothing, one with a KFC logo, piled against the graffiti wall, along with a large stuffed tiger. Three men were sitting on a bench nearby, and I guessed that the bags belonged to them.  They looked fairly content, not broken or hungry. I wondered which one of them, if any, the tiger belonged to.

There were a number of homeless people in and around the plaza, more than I’d noticed in my other walks around the city. One was a group huddled in a doorway, an entire family, parents and at least a half dozen children.  It’s very hard for me to see homeless people, especially children. I try to give out a Euro or two a day, same as at home, mostly to assuage my own guilt, because how much difference can it really make? Although people do often seem truly appreciate it. And maybe that’s enough, to know you’ve made a difference to someone, however small, in recognizing their humanity.

From the fountain and statue, I could make out something else colorful, at the other end of the plaza from the graffiti wall and perhaps homeless men. I went closer, expecting something political. As I came closer, I realized that it was lego, lots of it, spread out on several mats on the ground, with a number of children assembling things. It was an interesting juxtaposition with the white lego installment on the High Line in New York, which I’d stumbled upon a few weeks ago. There, there were more adults than children building, although there were plenty of kids too. Here, it was entirely children.  Most of their parents were sitting on benches nearby.   Many adults don’t sit on the ground, even though there were mats. Maybe if they had some tables up too, some adults would be encouraged to build too, with their kids or separately.

 The lego was just a part of what was a whole aire des jeux, or playground, for kids and adults too.  They had another words for it, too, which I'll have to look up, which meant toy library.

One section was all tables, where  groups of kids,  kids and grown ups, and groups and pairs of adults were playing games, all kinds of games, checkers, chess, boxed games, all borrowed from a kiosk called a toy library. I’d never seen anything like it.   There were v people in red aprons, dispensing games, giving advice, picking up stray pieces of lego, plastic fruits and vegetables that had fallen out of miniature shopping carts, etc.  I assume they were also available to mediate disputes when necessary about sharing toys, etc. But I only saw one conflict. In general everyone seemed to play well together, and I watched for quite a long time.

There were small scenarios, with painted backdrops, a grocery store and a pizza shop, and the accompanying toys for creative play, plastic foods and plates and grocery carts.

There was one girl, perhaps nine or so, who was buiiding a very tall, very narrow lego tower. Every time it got too high and fell, she smiled and started again. A couple of times she asked her father to help, until it was way over her head.  Then, along came another girl, a slightly smaller version of the builder and clearly her sister. She’d been hopping around on a bouncy plastic hippo for quite some time, although I hadn’t noticed they were related. All of a sudden, she deliberately ran her hippo into her sister’s building. The older girl began to cry. The younger one laughed. The dad did nothing.  This happened several times, the younger one provoking the other, until the dad finally intervened. Meanwhile the older girl took the hop on hippo, ran off with it until I couldn’t see her anymore. She came back without it, and resumed her building. The younger bully sister moved on to a game on the other side of the kiosk. 

I told one of the employees that I’d never seen anything like it. He said, that’s because there isn’t anything like it, anywhere. He may be right. I’ll have to do some more research. He said this is the third year. They do it all summer, although not every day. I think it might be weekends and Wednesdays.At 7:30 he blew a whistle and announced, un demi heure, that a half hour was left.

I topped off the evening with an excellent crepe, made by a very skilled crepe maker at a small shop alongside the Place. He had three griddles going, and took orders more than three at a time, most of them in English. I was very impressed by his technique and ability to keep everyone’s orders straight, especially since most of them were in English.

This is the first day I have actually had three meals, for whatever that’s worth. I had my traditional French breakfast, which no, is not a croissant, but these crackers that are like hard toast, topped with jam. I had this first when I was first in France, when I was 17, and   was what my host mother in Avignon served us every morning, accompanied by huge cups, bowls really, of coffee. Then it was orange marmalade plus butter. I’ve tried, mostly successfully, to give up on the butter. This time I’ve substituted fig jam for the orange. I have no idea if this is really a typical French breakfast, or was almost 50 years ago, or if it was merely what my host mom happened to serve

So that was my breakfast, along with coffee and grapefruit.  That’s my own addition, I’m addicted to it.I  don’t  know how common grapefruit even is here, in fact in the grocery store in says, origin US.
For lunch, which was probably about 3 or 4pm, I made my regular at home comfort food, macaroni and cottage cheese. I still am in need of some daily soothing from my injuries, and that did the trick.

Wait a minute, what was I thinking? I take it back about the three meals, unless I count the crepe as a meal, which I guess is exactly what I was doing.

It was a crepe to top all crepes, and I seemed to throw the crepier (I may have made that up) for a loop with my order. They had chocolate on the menu, as well as Nutella, with all kinds of additions, like coconut, banana, Grand Marnier. I told him I wanted chocolate, though, not Nutella, with coconut  and Grand Marnier. I think he just wasn’t sure what to charge me, but wound up taking 5 euros, just a half euro more than for the same combination with Nutella. That seemed reasonable.

You may have noticed, as I have, that my food intake has not been the most healthy. I do have zucchini, and spinach, and endive in the fridge, along with my leftover chicken and bananas from yesterday and some meat and other things left over from some previous person.  I’ll eventually get around to eating more healthy stuff I suppose.

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