Nothing happened to me while I wandered Paris and the outskirts on my own other than a pick-pocket incident. Just when I started feeling at home, I let my guard down and was accosted on my way to French class at 10 in the morning. It was quiet on the street. I was oblivious to anyone nearby.
As I was getting off the bus and out of nowhere, a young man who I think was Algerian or Moroccan, ran up and pulled off my gold chain and cross from around my neck, a gift from Kay purchased in Rome and blessed by the Pope. In a quick reaction, I kicked him you know where. That pissed him off and he beat me up by pulling my gold hoop earring out of my pierced ear causing it to bleed profusely and knocking me down causing my slacks to rip and my knees to bleed. Once he had me on the ground, he kicked me in the throat. There I was, sprawled out half in the street and half on the sidewalk.
At that moment another man ran up to us and shouted something. The attacker immediately took off tossing my jewelry at me. The man helped me over to the bench at the bus stop and yelled at me for fighting back. He kept saying what sounded like “asheevay” and pointing to the blood all over me and now all over his clean white shirt. Later I realized he was spelling HIV warning me of the danger of the blood. No police in sight.
This especially kind samaritan gathered up my purse, book bag and jewelry, tried to clean me up with his handkerchief and waited with me until I had calmed down. He looked for a policeman to no avail and then walked over to a news stand. Apparently he got no satisfaction there. I tried to get his name and thank him before he dashed off – probably to go home and change his shirt for work. So I guess it was my fault for kicking the attacker as this only served to anger him.
Still no police in sight. I could not sit on the bench much longer. Eager to forget that whole incident, I sucked it up and went to school and cleaned myself up the best I could in the ladies room. In class the others looked at my disheveled appearance and blood spots and wanted to call the police. These cute kids hovered around me, brought me a bottle of water and an ice pack.
After class, I treated myself to a cab ride home. Getting home to the apartment never felt so good. Kay was appalled when she saw my appearance and immediately used some first aid on my knees and ear. My landlord happened to call and I told him about the incident. He was outraged and started tossing out French expletives. Of course, I had no idea what he said other than he would be over to help me. I planned to ask my French teacher what he said. It might come in handy.
Other than a very sore throat from the assailant kicking me when I was down, I was okay and grateful it was not more serious. This email is a bit of a downer. Next communication will be cheerier as I tell you how the French class party went.
Time for me to get serious about learning the French language. So I have signed up for French classes at Alliance Franҫaise. I take three buses to get there but it is a pleasant ride and I get to see parts of the city that I have yet to explore. What fun being a student again. Cost is quite reasonable. I attend for two hours a day/ five days a week.
The other students are all much younger than me. They are called by their first names. I, however, am called Madame Scott in deference to my age. Note: I am only 60 years old and I hardly qualify for the wrinkly set so why the repeated mention of my age. Quite a mix of students from all over the world. Our common language is French which none of us can speak. Again, a lot of hand gestures and charades are going on.
The professor speaks only French. Now here’s the kicker. I realized we were in trouble because my French was better than the others in the class except Rahim from Venezuela who speaks several other languages and has an ear for pronunciation. The rest of us struggle with pronunciation. I am ahead of the game because I have some of the basics learned in high school. We introduce ourselves at the beginning of every class and gradually add more about ourselves at each meeting hopefully to broaden our vocabulary. “Bonjour Profeseur. Je suis Barbara. Je suis Americaine. Je suis celebataire.” Celebataire means not married not celibate. I love to say it and see confused faces.
Starving and exhausted by the time I got home from my first class which took 6 hours out of my day most of it waiting for the buses and the three bus changes required. I needed a nap! Then I had to do my homework. This could be more than I bargained for but I was committed to learning the language. Verb conjugations may do me in.
The classes are starting to get better and after a few days, I got the hang of the bus rides and into the swing of hearing only French from the professor. No one in the class but me is doing the homework. Why are they spending the money to do this? Just going to class will not do it. Note: I noticed this once before when I took some college courses in the late eighties at Monmouth College. Students were late for class on a regular basis and were not prepared for class. Some professors would give the students 20 to 30 minutes to read the assignment. This pissed me off because I was always on time and prepared so now had to wait for the class to catch up with me. In the Logics class I took at MC, several students were lost because of no preparation. When the professor announced that there was only one A-grade on the mid-term exam, they all knew it was me. Three students came to me and asked if I would tutor them. Can you believe that they said their parents would be happy to pay my fee just so they could get a passing grade? These are the same parents who paid for tuition already. I, of course, accommodated them.
Just before class, I started stopping in the cafeteria for a coffee. I noticed a table with people more my age, so I pulled up a chair there instead of with the young students. They immediately started conversing with me. We tried several languages. They were so friendly because they thought I was the new professor from America not a lowly student. The women eyed me suspiciously probably because Henri from Italy and Luc from Spain were chatting me up.
More on the class. The room is stifling. Weather quite warm in July. We can’t leave the windows open as they are next to a courtyard and very noisy. Whew. The professor is a tiny, wiry woman with tons of energy and enthusiasm and not affected at all by the heat. I am sucking on my water bottle, wiping sweat off my forehead and trying not to look like a sweaty overweight American. The bugs are pesty and mean and come in the open windows.
Back at the apartment with no AC, we open the windows as wide as possible to try and get some cross ventilation. Only one problem – no screens in Paris. The birds fly right in the apartment. They terrify me. I hide in the closet and make Kay shoo them out with the broom. The French have no screens because they think they have no bugs. But they do. Apparently, the bugs only like Americans. So we wear bug repellent to bed to prevent bites and sun screen to prevent burns when the early morning sun pours in.
By the way, the sun sets between 10 and 10:30 pm in the summer. (Ah hah! Now I know why there are black out shades in my bedroom). Makes for a very long day. People stay up very late in the summer. As opposed to the quiet neighborhood in the winter, it can get very noisy with street and people sounds in the summer. And there is the constant roar of the Pizza Hut motorbikes. Much more pizza consumed in the summer months.
No class on Bastille Day. It poured rain all day. But that did not stop the military parade on the Champs Elysees. The guest was Juan Carlos of Spain. The over-sized Spanish flag flew from the Arc de Triomphe – what a fabulous sight. Today marked the last day the Eiffel Tower would turn on the twinkle lights. They were supposed to be turned off on January 1 at the close of Year 2000. But the French, who hated the idea of blinking lights on the tower in the beginning, begged to have them left on longer. Now they have become a problem as they burn out and have to be changed so often. The plan is to convert to some sort of computerized blinking lights.
I’ll finish this email with my impressions of the Tour de France. Not really something I would be that interested in but the American, Lance Armstrong, has kept the French buzzing as he attempts to win the race one more time (for the third time.) Every lap of the race is televised for weeks. This is a big time sport in France.
The race ends in Paris and makes the final thirteen laps down the Champs Elysees ending at the Place de la Concorde where reviewing stands are set up. Lance knew that he was the all-around winner of the race already so he opted to ride in the middle of the US Postal Service team into Paris for the final laps. The French loved this exhibition of sportsmanship and cheered wildly when he arrived in Paris. I loved it too. His bright yellow shirt in the middle of the red, white and blue team was quite a sight – what you could see, that is. The bicyclists are really moving. It is almost a streak of color as the bikes zoom down the Champs Elysees and then back around under bridges to the Arc de Triumph to race down again. Many American flags were waving along the route. Magnifique. The best spot to view this is from one of the bridges where I finally ended up after trying to get the best view.
As soon as the race was over, we hurried back to the apartment to watch the awards ceremony on TV. The crowds were too big to get close enough to the stands. In addition, we had to negotiate around all the sponsors exhibits. I realize that there are many speculations about drug being used by Armstrong. They could be true but you would not get that impression from the outpouring of cheers from the French.
Football (soccer) never appealed to me so I did not pay attention to the World Cup. There is enormous excitement here for it. The French Tennis Open at Roland Garros Stadium is the other sport attraction here. It would have been exciting to see in person but no tickets available by the time I decided to see it. Of course, it was televised and the media coverage was huge. I will probably look back and regret not attending when I am home watching it on TV – a missed opportunity.
Just can’t do everything in one short year. I am becoming a spoiled tourist who wants it all.
Sure miss Ireland in all its green glory. Nobody here putting fresh flowers on my scrambled eggs and salmon! Giving up potatoes – cold turkey is no fun. No sweet old men smiling at me. Aren’t I just an Irish girl at heart?
Maureen, a friend of Kay’s from the beach, is here on her way from an Ireland visit. She was traveling with friends and relatives in Killarney, Galway and Limerick. She made a visit to the house where her mother was born and took some stones from the yard. Anyway, while giving her the Paris tour we stopped at St. Sulpice, a magnificent church filled with beautiful murals, splendid chapels dedicated to St. John Baptiste, Joan of Arc, St. Vincent de Paul, the Sacred Heart plus at least twenty others as well as the largest and most moving chapel of the Blessed Virgin. The architecture and the natural lighting create a breathtaking experience.
Maureen loved our first visit so we went back on Sunday for Mass to hear their famous organ playing. After Mass she spotted a poster for an ordination ceremony to be held at Notre Dame. Maureen is a devout Catholic and was very interested in attending an ordination. This was my first time to experience such an event. The poster encouraged attendees to fast in order to join in the spirit of the Sacrament.
Well the two of us got up early Saturday morning to get over there and see if we could get a seat. We had no idea what to expect. One needed a pass to get inside the cathedral saved for family and other dignitaries but the outside plaza was set up with thousands of white chairs for the general public.
We grabbed two good seats in the un-roped off section on the aisle right next to a microphone. We figured something would be happening there and we would have front row seats. There was a giant screen set up like at a rock concert so we knew we would be able to see whatever went on inside. Half the service was conducted outside the cathedral and the other half inside. Over 800 priests sat outside in front of the doors to the cathedral in order to welcome the ordinaires to Notre Dame and the ceremony.
One of my favorite parts of the ceremony was when the Cardinal came out of the cathedral, stood on the steps looking into the audience searching for the ordinaires. He called each one of the eighteen ordinaires by name one by one. When the ordinaires heard their name called, they stepped up to the microphone right next to us and said “C’est moi, ici”…”Here I am”…and then walked up to the door of the church to meet the cardinal. They remained outside for several other parts of the service.
Later the ordinaires went in to the cathedral and laid down flat on their stomachs in a semicircle around a bank of white flowers in front of the altar. It was a gorgeous sight. The all white church with the ordinaires in white with red sashes and priests in red robes. It was so moving a scene that I cried when they said their vows.Then all 800 priests and bishops who were sitting outside blessed each new priest by placing hands on the top of each newly ordained priests head. Took forever but there was music and singing. All of us sang. I was lucky to have an experienced person next to me who knew all the music and words so I was able to follow along.
Only one of the ordinaires was from the US – Rochester, New York. He was the oldest at age 45. Everyone was offered communion which was distributed by the 800 priests. The whole ceremony lasted four plus hours…usually way too long for me to sit still but I was engrossed throughout as was Maureen. We stayed to the very end.
It was a very spiritual experience. It is one thing to visit and admire Notre Dame but to be a part of an event there made it all the more memorable. Imagine, I have attended Mass, a First Communion, an Ordination and two concerts at Notre Dame during my stay in Paris…so far.
“There are only two kinds of people in the world, The Irish and those who wish they were Irish.” To all my family and friends, Irish or not.
After a six-year association with the Walt Disney Company, my eldest son Rob decided to do some summer travelling before he re-entered the workforce. Rather than visit me in Paris, we decided to visit a country I had not seen yet. So we planned a trip to Ireland to tour the Dingle Peninsula of County Kerry in the southwest corner of Ireland with a few days in London as our base. We met in London at the Ridgemount Hotel owned by a couple from Wales and recommended by one of Rob’s friends, Sali, who grew up in Wales and worked with him at Disney. I had stayed here on a previous visit and found the accommodations and personnel delightful. I reserved a room for us weeks earlier but I guess that was not enough notice for an “ensuite” (with bath) so our bath was up a flight of stairs from the room. Not my cup of tea, thank you. I am not wild about roaming the halls in my nightie in the middle of the night. To top it off, it was the middle of a heat wave and this no-frills B&B had no AC. They did have a breakfast room on the lower level with the cutest Cockney waitresses who smiled and chattered and enjoyed waiting on us.
Accommodations notwithstanding, we managed to get two tickets to “Noises Off” at Piccadilly Theatre on Denman Street starring Lynn Redgrave. A fun play within a play, it was very fast moving and laugh-out-loud funny. Our stomachs would have appreciated it if we had avoided the big plates of fish and chips eaten at Hillgate Street in Notting Hill just before the play. A walk was in order so we strolled by the interesting sites and eclectic crowds of Soho and Leicester Square. Rob was enthralled by the pub names such as Waxy’s Little Sister and The Rat & Parrot.
The following morning we were off to Heathrow International Airport for a flight on Aer Lingus to Cork…a trip that took just an hour. They managed to serve breakfast in that hour which included our first look at Black Pudding which is a kind of congealed beef- blood patty served with the typical British breakfast of fried everything. When I asked the British chap next to me what it was exactly, he said that the very look of it “put him off” since he was a child and he never touched it. That was good enough for me. I passed. Rob felt challenged and gave it a hearty go and smiled.
Europcar rented us a Ford, a brand new bright blue something or other. The steering wheel was on the right (naturally) and the stick shift was to the left of the driver. Add those changes to driving on the wrong side of the road and you now know why Rob would never let me near the keys or the driver’s seat for the entire trip. Way too much to relearn at my age in addition to my cataract handicap.
Even Rob was a bit nervous about driving on the wrong side of the road and after less than a mile, we pulled into a gas station for a breather and some water. Luckily, the clerk knew how to get to the Dingle Peninsula and drew us a map on a napkin with pubs as the main landmarks. Her fisherman husband called to spread the news that several whales were swimming in Cork harbor. Quite the excitement. We missed the attraction and headed for Dingle.
Once out of the modern, waterfront city of Cork, we started the oohing and aahing. Mix quaint with breathtaking back and forth a few times and you would be oohing and aahing also. It was almost impossible not to stop and snap pictures of everything along the way, especially for Rob with his four cameras. But we needed to get to Blandina O’Connor’s Clonmara House before 6 pm. Really! Could you make up that name?
It was all that and more..a lovely cottage overlooking the little village of Dingle and the seaport on Dingle Bay. Blandina ran the B&B, cooked and served the meals and took care of her young children. Her husband was the gardener extraordinaire. He also had several fishing boats and a type of row boat moored in front of the house.
Back to Irish breakfasts. These should only be eaten by those working in the fields from sun up to sun down. It is called the “fry.” Blandina’s version included the fried egg, bacon (similar to Canadian style), sausage, black pudding, white pudding, baked beans and grilled tomato. Rob loved it. I tried some of her other lighter offerings like smoked salmon which always arrived to the table with a fresh flower bud on top. Love those little touches. It was surprising that in the land of potatoes where they sometimes serve more than one kind of potato with lunch and dinner, there were no potatoes in sight at breakfast. Thank goodness.
Homemade brown bread and soda bread accompanied all the above. The Irish are proud of their bread recipes and want your opinion. It is a source of pride with them. I guess you could liken it to the Californian’s Tri-tip recipe, the Texan’s BBQ sauce recipe, the Italian’s cured olives, or the Frenchman’s Onion Soup. Each baker had a secret ingredient. Blandina revealed her secret to me on the last day.
Fish is the typical main course for dinner served with a baked potato. A side dish of any other type of potato was also served. I could feel the weight piling on. Salmon, sole, haddock, place, monkfish, crab, and prawns are all caught locally. All fish was broiled not fried. Vegetables were overcooked yet for some reason tasted delicious. We passed on dessert but could not resist an Irish coffee. After all, Irish coffee provides all the essential food groups; alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat. Let’s see if I can write about something other than food.
Rob observed that to make a town or village in Ireland, all you need to have is one pub. Dingle Peninsula has a large number pubs and they are all busy. Advertisements for Guinness, Kilkenny and Murphy’s Irish Stout are everywhere. I don’t drink anymore but I do taste now and again and the dark beer with the two inch creamy foam top is just wonderful. And I love licking off the big white mustache you get after the first sip.
Over 50 fishing boats make up the local fleet. We saw many of the currachs in port… traditional lightweight Irish fishing boats made by covering a wooden frame with canvas and painting it over with black tar. They were originally made for seining.
There are lots of sheep, cows and thatched roofs to admire. Enough said.
Ah and didn’t I love the old men of Ireland in their plaid jackets, tilted caps, heavy worn shoes and walking sticks. They have very rough complexions, sparkling eyes, and a very peaceful look. Their wrinkled hands are proof of the years of hard work. They really do stand in doorways watching the world go by.
We sure had a laugh reading the Irish street signs. I should say looking at the pictures on the signs…showing what could happen. My favorite is one showing a car sailing off the edge of a cliff. Another showed several people in the air after being hit by a car. And in the town of Sneem a sign read “National Tidy Town Winner.” Only in Ireland. Signage is mostly in Gaelic making it interesting for the driver.
Because the roads were so narrow and clearly built with one car in mind, there was a lot of slowing down courtesies exchanged. I was very proud of Rob who kindly left his CA driving habits back in Los Angeles. The only traffic jams we encountered were of the sheep variety. It happens so often, they create postcards of sheep causing a traffic jam.
I was surprised to learn that Irish money is different from British money. One is based on sterling. This meant another mess of coins to weigh down my bag and a new number to divide by to try and figure what I might be spending in US value. Finance was never my forte. Not sure of the reason for this mind block. I let Rob manage the money and I carried it.
One afternoon, Rob wanted to explore the fishing village and I decided to do some window shopping. A little gift shop attracted me. A bit of this and that filled the store shelves. A delightful woman said that she remembered Rob making a few purchases in her shop two days before…an Irish cane for me and a hair clip for his girlfriend, Andi. She asked about Rob and thought it was so nice for mother and son to travel together.
She wondered if I would like to step into the back of the store for a “cuppa.” She put the closed sign up. No locks. Turned out that she was born in that house and it was handed down to her by her parents. Her husband was a fisherman before he died. She now lived alone. It was so quaint. I noticed there were no closets. She had one narrow armoire to hang a few things and a coat rack with one coat and one rain slicker. Underneath sat a pair of boots. We had tea in china cups and Irish soda bread from a tin basket with lace doily. After tea, I asked her about the famine and the “troubles.” She smiled and said she read about it in school, the papers, church and the pubs. No other comments as she cleared the table. Time for me to go. She was happy with her life and did not need much to make this so. I could learn a lesson here.
I remember reading about Ireland in a book by the author, Leon Uris. He wrote that the Irish were an inward breed and that Islanders on the Dingle Peninsula were a perfect example. “The Islander can read an outsider’s thoughts with terse accuracy. You know you have it made when they invite you into their kitchen.” I am flattered to think I made it.
All of these things added to the enjoyment of the trip. But it was the look of Ireland that made it stand out. Pictures will try to recreate it but to hike up the hills, stand on a craggy cliff, take in the rugged coastline, look down through the clear blue water, and admire the beaches is unbeatable. We followed Slea Head Drive around the peninsula, drove the death defying Conor Pass holding our breath all the way and confusing clouds with fog, and explored the Ring of Kerry. Green, green and more green. Now I get it! We hiked and hiked and hiked. We sat and contemplated life.
Irishman Les Lavelle is an admirer of the Skelligs, islands off Dingle famous for many varieties of sea birds…puffins, razorbills, shearwaters, guillemots, kittkwakes, gulls and petrels. With no bird guide with us, we were unable to identify any birds we saw as we looked at the Skelligs from the Dingle shore. I wish we had seen puffins because I know what they look like. Anyway Lavelle said, “I go out there (to the Skellligs) so I can look into myself and when I am there I can see myself standing still and the rest of the world going mad.”
We spotted forts, caves, highways, ruins, beehive huts, castles, churches, circles of stones, thatched roofs, stone houses, cemeteries, waterfalls, monuments (something like 2000 of them left from the Bronze Age) and bridges. Rob poked the car off the main roads down questionable roads and alleys leading us to more and more beautiful views. And he took pictures of it all.
The filming in Dingle of ‘Ryan’s Daughter” and “Far and Away” have changed nothing except maybe more tourists driving through Dingle in the summer. I must mention the star attraction in Dingle is the friendly dolphin, Fungi, who stays in the harbor of Dingle Bay and willingly shows off for the tour boats. No sight of him.
And weren’t we hooked on Ireland? We slipped into the slow pace. We admired their determination to keep Gaelic alive. We sang with the entertainers in the pubs. We loved the towns of Killarney, Macroom and the villages of Inch, Ventry, Brandon, Ballyferrier and Castlegregory. We had a roast lamb Sunday dinner and walked through the rose gardens of Tralee and, luckily, the Rose of Tralee was in bloom We were in awe of their simple way of life. And we had only scratched the surface.
Another exciting hour in the air back to London on Aer Lingus. The pilot made up for a delay in departure due to weather of 14 minutes and I think he made it up by cutting descending time. Fastest, bumpiest landing I ever had. There was cheering when we landed. The captain’s name…Captain “Shea King.” Get it?
Back in London, we tried our luck at the Ridgemount again. We met Sali’s Mom, Gwenda, who was in London from her home in Wales to check out an apartment she owned. She insisted we dine at Topo Gigio, a popular old world restaurant famous for steaks. As quaint as the Ridgemount appears, it is very bare bones. The good news…we had our own bath this time. The bad news…the room was at the top of the building. That would be six flights up and down in 97 degree heat. We sweat our way through the night watching BBC and drinking Fanta Free Orange sodas. This could not spoil our perfect week. We both vowed to return to Ireland – to breathe the air, to look into Irish eyes, to see the real color of green. We were “over the moon” about the sights, sounds and smells and people.=.
I wouldn’t hesitate for the opportunity to visit the warm determined people and captivating surroundings of Dingle again. I highly recommend it to all of you.
My thanks to Rob for sharing Ireland with me. It put an Irish smile on my face that will last forever when I think of it.
As you probably know, my son Steven is in the restaurant business in New York City and manages Ocean Grill. One evening, one of his regular customers asked where Steve had been for the last week. Note: New York apartment dwellers eat dinner out on a regular basis and often frequent their favorite restaurant several times a week as was the case with this particular customer. It becomes their home away from home at dinner time and they get to know the staff. Steve responded that he had been to Paris to visit his Mom who is living there for a year. The customer explained that coincidentally he has an apartment in Paris. In fact, he continued, a bachelor friend of his is renting the apartment for a month so could Steve put us in touch in case his friend, Al, needs a friend in Paris. Of course, Steve volunteered me.
Steve introduced me to Al via email. I sent a short hello message and added a few snip-its of Paris life. Al wrote back that he loved my writing, is eager to meet me and to please send more about my life in Paris.
I sent Al several of my earlier emails. He wrote back that he cancelled his subscription to the New Yorker Magazine and to please send more of my stories. I was flattered and gathered that he had a sense of humor.
Our correspondence went on for a few weeks until I returned home to NJ for doctor and dentist appointments. We took that opportunity to meet at Ocean Grill, for lunch. We hit it off and talked for four hours over lunch. He had an interesting past to talk about. Al was born and bred in NYC. He nursed his wife through eight years of cancer before her death. He could not get on with his life as it was so he sold their house in Montauk and their apartment in NYC. He also sold the furniture, art work and sculptures of which he had quite a collection and were auctioned off at Sotheby’s. He decided to start the rest of his life with a clean, uncluttered slate. How brave. So he settled himself into a small NYC apartment and started to travel.
We found we had much in common. Both of us lost our spouses. Both of us were interested in art, history and music. We were looking forward to his stay in Paris.
Al arrived in Paris. He needed help his very first night. The door to his apartment would not close completely so he had to prop up a chair against it to keep it closed. He could not plug in his breathing machine because of the different electrical outlets found in Europe and he had not purchased an adapter. Did I mention that Al is 78 and must sleep with this apparatus? He had to spend the first night sitting propped up in the chair by the door so he could breathe as well as protect his belongings. We had several phone calls trying to get him settled and calmed down. On his first call, he thought he should come stay at my apartment. Oh dear, not a great start.
We did some sightseeing together that month. He wanted someone to drink wine and eat pastries with him. I explained that I did not eat sweets or drink wine. His response was, “a little can’t hurt.” He was relentless. I finally gave in and let him pour me some wine. I think he was right. A little did not hurt.
He generously took me and any of my friends including those who were visiting to dinner more than once. He treated Kay as well. But he was becoming a permanent fixture. When we had a day apart, he emailed me several times even though he had to go to a cyber cafe to do so. When I did not respond right away, he would phone. One day he told Kay on the phone, “Houston, I think we have been disconnected.” I did not sign up to be a 24/7 tour guide so I was perplexed over what to tell him without hurting his feelings. We were already two weeks into his month stay so I decided to hang in there. He continued to entertain Kay and I and even Kay’s guests.
Al and I out for dinner
With Kay and her guests
One night I invited Al over to the apartment instead of going out and after a bowl of my onion soup (the best onion soup he ever had in his life) we took a boat trip on the Seine (the best boat ride he ever went on), He was not shy with compliments but not outrageous like Mrs. Heep in Dicken’s David Copperfield. ( I can hardly believe that after so long I still remember characters in Dickens’ novels ). When we got off the Bateaux Mouches, I walked Al to the taxi stand. He wanted to get romantic. Oh God. I had to tell him that too many things stood in the way of a romance, the least of which included the breathing machine. He was sad. I felt terrible. I wanted to be friends. He was such a sweet guy. A cab never arrived so he decided to take the bus. He hopped on the bus but did not tell me that he had no clue where to get off. So he rode the bus around Paris for quite a while and when he could not recognize his neighborhood , he had the driver drop him off at another taxi stand. He got off the bus and took a taxi back to his apartment to the tune of 50FF.
Of all the sights we explored, The Pantheon, located in the Latin Quarter was our favorite. Louis XV wanted to glorify the monarchy and had the architect Soufflot build a church named St. Genevieve. She was the patron saint of Paris. It was later turned into a museum. It is immense, open, light-filled with an airy feeling. Tombs of famous French persons are there; Voltaire, Victor Hugo,the Curies, Zola, Duma, Rousseau and 70 other scientists, generals, politicians.
It is also the home of Foucault’s pendulum. We listened to the video twice and learned that it was the first experiment ever to prove the earth’s rotation back in 1851. We were mesmerized by the size and movement of the apparatus. I had never given “pendulum” a thought so this was news to me.
Al always had someone nearby to take care of things for him…housekeeper, concierge, etc. I don’t think he ever did any ADL (activities of daily living) for himself. For instance, Al brought enough underwear to last the month or so he thought. At one point, towards the end of the month, he recounted and found he was a few pairs short. No pun intended. So he went to Printemps, an upscale department store, where he bought two pairs for $35 each – the least expensive he could find. He then recounted and found he was still a pair short.
What a dilemma! Not wanting to make another $35 purchase, he asked me if I would throw a pair or two in with my laundry for him so he wouldn’t have to wear one pair twice. I explained as sweetly as possible that he could just hand wash a pair in the bathroom sink and hang them to dry on a towel rack. Or he could take all 29 pairs to the laundromat and go back to NYC with all clean ones .He looked bewildered. So I had to be brutally frank. “Al, this relationship is never going to reach the washing of each other’s underwear. In fact, it is right up there with breathing machines on my list of no-no’s.” Al would not buy my “let’s be friends” request.
How could I make it to the end of his visit. Luckily, we did see new things together. In particular, he told me he wanted to see the Jewish quarter. So we went to the Place des Vosges in the Marais district. Marais means swamp but now it is an upscale neighborhood. This is a perfect square with pink apartment buildings on all sides. Never-pass-a-museum, we toured the Carnavalet Museum, displaying the history of the city and Musee Victor Hugo. Toss up as to where we would have our last meal together…Goldberg’s Deli or an outdoor cafe. He chose Au Coeur du Marais, a delightful open air bustling cafe. Al filmed me while I ate my salad. Good grief. After lunch we sat in the square and did some people watching and reminisced about his visit.
Al walked me to my bus and I saw him filming my departure as the bus drove away. He returned to NYC with his breathing machine, a video camera loaded with me waving the camera away and 30 pairs of dirty underwear.
Returned back to Paris from US with good reports all around. When my doctor was reading the blood test results, I nervously awaited the cholesterol number since I ate so much cheese for months. It was so low I could not believe my ears. Apparently, walking and red wine lower cholesterol. Go figure.
As I promised myself, I returned to Provence as guest of old friends, Bruce and Maureen and two of their grown children, Kim and Andy.
Peter Mayle’s books were not exaggerations. Provence hypnotizes. The lavender just showing hints of color, the poppy fields in full bloom, the intense sun baking everything and everyone by noon, the clear air drying the mouth, the scent of herbs growing in every corner, the neat rows of grapevines and the much slower pace (other than the maniacal French drivers) all total Provence.
All senses are heightened. That could explain the abundance of lovemaking going on all around the house. My hosts, Maureen and Bruce, rented this villa and pool, Minerva, in the village of Joucas just outside of Avignon to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.
Their entire family attacks life with gusto and enthusiasm, I feared for the bed springs. It was surprising that the weasels or marmots or whatever who were living in the eaves of the roof above their bedrooms also making rustling noises needed an exterminator to get them to leave!
Kim and her new husband, Eric, expecting their first child in about 6 months were still goo-goo-eyed and slipping away for those “afternoon naps.” Andy and his girlfriend, Karen (affectionately called the “Birds” (short for lovebirds) were in lust. Lots of furniture moving sounds in the night and an excessive amount of suntan oil being applied all day.
I basked in all these wonderful emotions. I longed to be a “couple” again; to hold hands, to exchange glances, to pose for snapshots, to say good morning and good night. I remembered the feelings of falling in love, of not getting enough of each other, of anticipating a new baby, of celebrating years of marriages ups and downs and raising children together.
I never felt alone as we romped through the week with lots of laughter and togetherness. We retold the old stories reminding our children that we were young once too. We told new stories filling in the years we were not together. I’d like to say we did everything together, however, three of us could not bake in the sun because of light complexions so we hid in the shade under hats and shirts and sun block while the others stretched out on chaise lounges.
The pool water was so chilly we bathed one at a time inching our way into the pool afraid of being splashed and squealing when certain sensitive body parts hit the water. We ate in shifts in the am. Bruce and/or I were usually up early and went to get fresh baguettes and we all gradually worked our way into the kitchen to break off a piece of bread and cover it with our own personal favorite: butter, jam, cream cheese, Roquefort or sausage, grab a cup of coffee and head for the patio where Maureen would plot out that day’s activity.
Because we were seven in number, we needed two cars. Traveling around from village to village on windy French roads caused some carsickness to those of us riding in the back seat and Kim no matter where she sat had morning sickness any time of day.
Since we arrived on a Saturday and were so busy re-acquainting and exploring the villa (most of the time spent looking for the pool table which was on the list of included items at the villa only to find out that they meant a table by the pool), we forgot that restaurants and stores were closed on Sunday in France. We were unaware that they would be closed Monday as well for Bank Holiday (a French thing I have never understood because they seem to just pop up now and then for no apparent reason).
So there we were…a group of never-miss-a-mealers with very little food. Oddly enough, Maureen had 7 steaks frozen in her back pack which she carried from CT – don’t even ask! We found a box of pasta in a kitchen pantry. Andy made a cold pasta salad using herbes de Provence which he picked in the yard. Of course, there was wine as Andy and Karen had thought to pick that up on Saturday. We had Crystallite to make lemonade, a gift for me from Kim brought from home. Bruce built a wood fire and grilled the steaks. It was delicious.
The next day we found a tiny store open and we tried to stock up for the remaining few days. The convenience store clerk was in shock at the amount of food we bought overflowing the tiny baskets used by customers for just a few items. We were so relieved to find some supplies. We stepped outside the store and were thinking about how to celebrate this victory when a marching band came down the street playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” I assume this was arranged by the shopkeeper.
We rushed over to the car to tell Bruce about the band. He looked at us curiously not sure whether or not to believe us when another band rounded the corner, headed for us playing “Mashed Potatoes, Yeah.” We had no idea what holiday or event they were celebrating but we joined in and danced in the street.
We did have dinner every night together around a beautiful wood table with candlelight and linen. We shared the cooking chores. I made ratatouille (which was nicknamed glop for which I was not personally offended). Bruce and Andy did the grilling. Kim made the salads. Everything had a familiar taste as we slightly overdid the herbes de Provence bit. Andy and Karen did the dishes behind closed kitchen doors which led to some speculation as to what they were doing besides the obvious chore. But we were so full and grateful that we did not have to do it, we spread ourselves out on assorted living room chairs and couches and busied ourselves.
And then there were cards. Several of us chose to play cribbage or hearts or spades. Some of us read. Some of us snoozed. We were content.
During the day, we explored surrounding villages doing all the things we’ve read about over the years: sat in outdoor cafes sipping drinks,and people watching, browsing in little shops buying things we don’t need, searching for the perfect souvenir for those back home. Eric won the Academy Award for Best Souvenir Shopper and Best Postcard Picker-outer while grumbling about all the damn tourists.
We caused many a traffic jam pulling over to the side of the road in tandem at Maureen’s beckon to snap yet another photo of a poppy field. We visited the colorful Roussilion ocre pits, the busy Gordes open market, the waterfalls at Fountaine de Vascluse, the Abbey Notre Dame de Senanque, and the aquamarine waters at the Gorges of Verdon. We picked wildflowers and adored those fabulous yellow flowered bushes of rape, bought local cheeses and wines, and had typical French lunches in brasseries including wonderful salades, pommes frites and croque monsieurs.
Bought myself a new straw hat and felt quite at home in Provence. But I am greedy and want to return once more when the lavender fields and sunflowers are in full bloom and stay at a gite with a native family. I am officially hooked.
I returned to Paris after a week and just Maureen, Bruce, Kim and Eric joined me for a few days of condensed sight-seeing. Andy and Karen had to head back to their jobs in the U.S.
Kim and Eric slept on the futon in the living room. They moved it to the center of the living room to get an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower. Eric filmed it while it twinkled on the hour and they were stretched out on the futon narrating into the video camera about that days adventures.
The best part of their visit to Paris was seeing it through Eric’s eyes for the first time. Second to that was seeing through Bruce and Maureen’s eyes after returning to it years later.
Bruce is still the first one up and across the street to our bakery for fresh baguettes while I cut some fruit and make coffee. After demolishing breakfast, we exhausted ourselves walking all over Paris.
Before they left, they gave me remembrances of Provence; a quaint watercolor of a typical narrow walkway with window boxes and arched doorways from Maureen and Bruce and a bowl decorated with lavender bunches from Kim and Eric.
I will miss them terribly. They have such an infectious passion for life. They find fun in all they do and see. Everything is approached with great curiosity and interest. I had forgotten, somehow, what a pleasure it is to be with them. They made my second visit to Provence more wonderful than I dreamed. To all of you who know them, they send their love.
Life settled down for a few days. Catch up time to do some shopping and other small chores. I must admit that I do enjoy just living in a city where everything is at my fingertips and there is no need for a car. Had some lunches in the neighborhood restaurants. The small Greek place is just across the street. They specialize in Greek salads and, of course, moussaka. It is family run and they are delightful and friendly. Kay has hit it off with one of the brothers, a waiter. I think he is going to ask her out on a date.
My friends Linda and Cheryl arrived with Cheryl’s Mom who is from Ohio. They had a room at a boutique hotel, The Golden Tulip Cayre in our arrondisement and within walking distance to many landmarks, museums and sites. I had a chance to be the tour guide and tried to show them as much as possible during their stay.The Rodin Museum was so much fun as Cheryl’s Mom tried to be a serious art lover. There were a lot of “oh my’s” when she saw the more risqué pieces.
We visited the Musee Marmottan where Monet’s murals were located. There were benches in the center of the room and the floor to ceiling paintings surrounded you on all walls. A wonderful spot to relax, appreciate and be still with art.
They were partial to the lunches we had at cafes that could be described as “old Paris.” Only male waiters in starched aprons and the obligatory white linen towel over the arm served us.The leisurely lunch is very addictive. Settling back with a bottle of wine after three courses is how the French like it. Companies give long lunch hours. One is never rushed off a table. The check only arrives after you call for it.
On one of our walks back to the hotel, we stopped at a classy dress shop. Cherly’s Mom and I relaxed in cushioned chairs and almost fell asleep while Cheryl tried on any number of outfits until she found her perfect souvenir from Paris. We also stopped in a Perfume Shop where they personalize your perfume. The goal is to sell you the perfect scent that will linger on your body. Quite expensive so we passed on that but it was a learning experience.
We all met back at the hotel for a champagne toast before we went to Le Train Bleu for their final dinner before leaving the next morning. This was the fourth or fifth time Kay and I had dined there and we were recognized. We had the royal treatment that night. I have ordered the same dinner every time because it is so delicious and I never had anything like it before. For dessert, all the ladies ordered the Crepes Suzette and I heard more “oh my’s” when it was prepared at the table.
After they left for home, we had our second batch of guests. Our friend, Nancy, stayed at our apartment. Dan and Linda with Bob and Arlene stayed at Hotel Le Castisiglione on Faubourg St. Honore, home to many upscale hotels, restaurants and shops. Kay’s daughter, Kim, also arrived and stayed at the apartment with us.
On Dan’s recommendation, we had dinner at a typically French restaurant in their neighborhood. There were eight of us at the table. The waiter was rolling his eyes when he sat us and probably thinking we were a bunch of tourists who won’t know what we want and won’t understand a word he says. We fooled him. I used my best French and started to order for everyone. I asked him a few questions. When he realized that I really could speak the language, he had a new respect for me and gave us much better treatment. I think he even smiled. Not a big American smile but his lips definitely turned up.
Off we went to tour Versailles and Monet’s home, Giverney. The palace is beyond magnificent with exquisite gardens. If I had one complaint it was that there were way too many group tours in the castle. The leader usually carried a flag or a megaphone in order to be recognized and keep the group together. It was very distracting to hear the different guides giving their talks. We roamed Monet’s gardens and marveled at the subjects of his paintings. He created these gardens and then captured them on canvas. We wandered around the gift shop and cam out with way too many packages.
Part of our tour was a stop at an estate turned to an Inn sitting next to a Mill Pond with yet more beautiful gardens. A lovely peaceful spring day and setting. We sat on picnic style tables and benches outside for lunch which started with a salmon mousse followed by grilled chicken and potatoes lyonnaise and all the trimmings. We were truly full when out came steaming, crispy apple tarts with crème fraiche Several guests did not eat salmon so they passed the salmon to me in exchange for my chicken plate. Just a perfect day.
This group of visitors had a really great time. They were all in the middle of family traumas and issues so the week away was the perfect respite. Bob was a real trooper keeping up with the group since he was in Stage 3 cancer. He had such a dry wit and had me in stitches all day with his comments. We reminisced about our late teens when we spent time together. Dan unfairly lost his job after 35 years and was contemplating how to handle that. Nancy worked for Lucent whose stock plummeted and she was waiting for the ax to drop on her job. The economy wavered In the US which is a perfect time to be extravagant in Paris.
We celebrated their last day in Paris with a moonlight cruise on the Bateaux Mouches. The cruise goes under many of the 37 bridges in Paris. We opted for just the cruise and to return to the apartment for their last dinner in Paris.
Our group had grown in numbers. Two friends of mine, Debbie and Beverly, surprised us so we had twelve at the table. Naturally I served my standby chicken-potato-string bean-tomato-olive-feta casserole. Many baguettes were eaten, bottles of wine consumed as well as scrumptious desserts from our bakery. I put my French CD’s on the player and we watched the Eiffel Tower twinkle away the night.
Hope to see as many of you as possible on my trip home in a few days to have a doctor visits, update prescriptions, stock up on sweeteners and undies, and have a long-awaited mani-pedi.