Séjour en France. Ch 1. Paris; Eiffel Tower; cafe Trocadero.
************************Self Portrait. The Writer****************
The sun is setting a bright red ball over Boston’s Mystic River Bridge as we lift off for our first trip to France. Heck, our first trip to Europe. The last time I saw a red ball like that I was descending for a landing into Thailand. Not quite as red this time, but still impressive.
Mystic River Bridge, Boston, Sunset
The remarkable thing is that when I get off this plane, I will be in a culture so different I can only imagine. My mind is completely opened to what Paris, and France, will bring to me. I am going there, and it will bring to me what it is.
Deeply Into our flight and outside the window a bit more expressive
Sky over the Atantic Ocean
Six hour flight to look forward to. A lot of reading, writing and snoozing. Snoozing, I hope. “It’s a good idea to catch some sleep before getting in”, Pete told us.
When we land it will be six hours ahead of time our time, passing the sun in opposite directions. We leave here at six at night, and land at seven-thirty when Paris will be just getting up.
Now, at long last, here I am having my first look at Europe. I suppose that might be England to my left, forty-five minutes out of Paris, but there is some tripe on the airplane tv, and there is no information so I can know. I’d much rather know about what we are experiencing, or what I am seeing, than what is being offered. I guess I won’t be able to leave this inanity behind till we land in France. Well, not long to go.
First view of Europe
France. My first look. Wow. Just a short 6 hour plane jaunt and here I am and there it is.
First view of France
The roofs are brownish red, somewhat like the red Pierre-Auguste Renoir is famous for.
Air Over France
Somehow I didn’t imagine this. Didn’t imagine anything now that I think of it. I don’t know what to expect. I know this, as I say, I am ready to see what France presents to me.
Going through customs I approached the agent, with Felista a few feet behind me as I brought out my passport, the agent looked at me and then at Felista and said, “You two are together, right?” How do you suppose he knew that? Hopefully we look artistic and unconventional and very welcomed in Paris. Paris. Wow. We are here. The land of great artists, the great writers, one of the cultural and intellectual capitols of the world. I expect we’ll fit right in.
As we sat and waited for Pete in a coffee shop, our first French coffee, "Hey, we were about to have our first coffee in France". I ordered the coffee. “Coffee,” I said. I didn’t order exactly what I wanted. If you ask for coffee here, you get espresso in a tiny cup. Not at all what I had in mind. I had to re order café au lait. That is, espresso filling about a fifth of the cup, the rest of the cup ready to be filled with steamed milk, set on the side in a separate cup. Add to that the packet of chocolate accompanying it. Are you kidding me? Delicious. Spectacular. What an experience. “It’s hard to get a bad cup of coffee in France”, as Mike’s friend, Jim, later said.
When we got our coffee, there were no seats available. Nevertheless, we were enjoying our first coffee in France, and stood drinking, savoring, when we heard two French women calling, “Madam, madam”. They were calling out to Felista and pointing to a just vacated seat, telling her to sit. And who was it said Parisians are unfriendly?
And the sign on the wall said, bienvenue. Welcome.
Bienvenue, Charles DeGalle Airport
Welcome to France
Shortly afterward, Pete was standing before our table, welcoming us to France.
“Hey, here we are, in Paris.” The last time I’d seen him we were in Baltimore and as I was getting into my car heading back to Boston, I said to him,
“The next time I see you we will be in Paris,” and here he is, welcoming us to one of the greatest cities in the world. My son, thank you, thank you for making this possible.
From here it was entirely up to Pete to guide us around. We followed him and made our way to the Metro station at the Charles de Gaulle airport. When we arrived to get the train, that whole section had been cleared out and closed off by military guards dressed in fatigues with combat rifles held in front of them and against their chests. There was some security situation or other. We had to reroute and make our way to another part of the airport to board the train. Just before boarding we heard announcement that whoever left their unattended luggage, please come and retrieve it.
The Metro is simple, clean, fast, efficient and quiet. One of the reasons the trains are so quiet is that they ride on rubber wheels. I’d often heard about and imagined them, and now I was seeing them. Strange seeing a train on rubber wheels. Stranger still to hear the quiet.
I like the sound. Nearly no sound at all. Peaceful. Inside the train is equally quiet. People reading or talking quietly. I had read about Parisians and their quiet conversations on the trains. And there it was happening before my eyes. They sit close together and engage heavily in conversation. Others listening to music in their ear plugs, or just sitting, with still others reading.
Ah, there was one other thing I found particularly appealing. All the walls in the underground Metro had works of art on them. Even the ads were artistically designed and rendered. To enhance that, the design of the system was one for the eye to land on and stay with.
From what I could see the only difficulty in traveling on the Metro is deciding which ticket to buy, according to the destination. There are six different sections in Paris. If you buy a ticket, say, for sections one and two, the ticket you have will not enable you to get out of the Metro in section three. So you have to buy a ticket at section three and use that to get out. Naturally, the solution is to buy a ticket, beforehand, to get you around to all the places you intend to go.
Stephanie buying a Metro ticket
Into the Metro. On the train we passed through many tunnels. Lots of underground travel.
Above ground, the houses are mainly brown or beige or white with burnt red roofs, and all are tucked in fairly closely together, and even though they are tucked together the way they are, there seems to be a lot of breathing space around them.
About noon we pulled into our stop. Our first steps off the Metro in Paris. This had been Pete's first stop, and steps, in Paris, as well.
Metro Arcueil Cachan
Walking along we came across lots of flowers. Everywhere, flowers. It is amazing how much attention the French pay to flowers. The strange thing is that I never saw anyone attending to them.
Arcueil Cachan Flower display
We also came across a familiar name marking a street. Make that rue. Rue Auguste Rodin. Can you imagine? There I am innocently walking along, getting my first thrills, and that's what they are, thrills, of Paris, and I come across a street named after the greatest sculpture since Michelangelo. I have a feeling I am going to see a few more such things.I have a feeling I am going to have a really good time in this majestic land.
Rue Auguste Rodin
From there it was off to the place we will be staying. Steph's sister, Estelle, was kind enough to arrange for us to stay at her place. Can you imagine, she gave up her place in Paris for us.
Home in Paris
Up the staircase
Out the window
Pete said it would be a very good idea to grab some sleep before heading out. This is the second time he’s told us that in a short time. This time sleep will happen. I am blasted. The first time he said that was to tell us to sleep on the plane. I wasn’t able to. Excitement? Maybe.
At six o’clock in the evening we were up, and after a bit of coffee, off to visit Paris for the first time. Paris. Holy shit, I am about to venture into Paris. It is almost unimaginable. I am about to visit one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest city in the world, certainly the most visited city in the world. There must be a reason. I am about to find out what that reason is.
Let me get my clock straight now. Six o’clock, in the evening, Paris time, is noon Boston time. Six hours ahead. Let’s see, we got up around eleven yesterday morning, Boston time, got on the plane at and left Boston about seven o’clock that evening. Arrived in Paris seven-thirty this morning. That makes it twelve-thirty in the morning on my Boston body clock.
Slept till six. That is, noon.
Getting off the subway and having my first look at Paris, I was immediately reminded of what Henry Miller had written about Paris in his book, QUIET DAYS IN CLICHE.
“Paris, as everyone knows, is an eminently gray city . . . the range of grays is seemingly infinite . . . just the word gray alone is capable of evoking a world of thought and feeling to the Frenchman . . . when blended and assimilated, it produces the soft natural grays necessary to the creation of a sustained, harmonious existence.”
As many times as I had read those words, I had never appreciated what he was talking about, and now, seeing those grays before me, I see exactly what he is talking about. (Though in this picture, the late day sun is lighting up those grays). All the buildings are great walls of gray, the buildings themselves almost fall back into the background. And, in fact, they provide a background for the beauty on display in the wonderful wrought iron work, as well as the flowers bursting from those wrought iron patios and porches, the proliferation of flowers that are everywhere.
And every step of the way, magnificent architecture. Such attention to artistic detail. On both large and small anythings. Wow.
Having my first look, it is hard to see Paris as a city. This is a living being, a great body celebrating beauty. Everywhere beauty is before your eyes. All I can do is stand and stare. It is almost inconceivable that a place can be so consistently magnificent.
It is easy to see Parisians know and love what they have. This is a city loved by its people and a people loved by its city. And they are keeping it just the way it is. No building can be touched or altered in any way. It must preserved just as it is. The kind of beauty Paris is must be left alone.
Every now and then I stopped and said to myself, “Hey, I’m in Paris. Paris, France.”
After taking these few moments in, I looked at Pete and said, “Pete, I’ve picked you and Mike up at many an airport, at many a place all over the US. I’ve taken you many places, but never have I been with you in a place of such outright beauty as is this. Look, look at where you’ve taken me. Paris. Are you kidding me? I can hardly believe it, but here I am. And here you are.
“I’ve only just gotten here and already I’m blown away. I never imagined Paris to be like this. Nothing in my experience, nothing ever prepared me for what I am seeing. No one I’ve ever talked with about Paris, or even read about, prepared me for this. This is an advanced people. This is an advanced culture. Paris.”
He looked at me and smiled, “It is so strange to see you here on the streets of Paris.” He said.
“I know,” I said to him. “I keep looking around and thinking, pinch, pinch.”
And then, laughing, almost giddy, I said, “And you have relatives in France. Hell, I have relatives in France. How good is that?”
One of the things that I kept looking at and was surprised by was the space I was experiencing. The wide boulevards, the wide sky, the buildings I felt I could reach out and touch. I don’t know. You can breathe in this city. I don’t feel encroached upon. I feel like I can spread my arms, and along the way, my senses, all my senses have room to move, to be. Amazing.
As we walked along, Pete kept pointing to things to me, particularly to our left. Naturally, I thought nothing of it. I was one great fascination with what I was experiencing.
“Look at that green and blue neon pharmacy sign". He pointed. "It is a fairly recent addition to the city Parisians are not happy about. See? There. On your left".
"Doesn't exactly fit in with all I have seen so far, does it"? I say.
He also pointed out how all the cars were small and not one SUV, or anything resembling such a thing, in sight. Nor, I discovered, did I see any more than two US made cars on my entire visit in or away from Paris. Hmm. That’s curious. I wonder why that is?"They have big environmental consciousness," Felista said.
Turns out all Pete’s talking and pointing me in a certain direction was a distraction, as I found out when I heard Felista, who was walking behind us, “Oh, wow”.
I looked back at her. She was pointing up over my head and past me. I looked at her, back to where she was pointing, and to my surprise, the Eiffel Tower.
Tall, light brown, golden almost, the top half showing over the trees. Just its sheer elegance is enough to transfix you. I stood and well, gawked, would be an apt description. It is just an old radio tower, and what a wonderful work of art. Tall, slim, each side a tapering curve, up, up, finishing with a bulging square topping it off at its pinnacle. Atop that a needle thin white antenna. If it were a cloudy day, the antenna would be out of sight.
I was as excited as can be and wanted to immediately go closer to it and under it and around it, but before that I had to walk across the wide blvd and look at something I have waited to see all my life, the famous Seine River. A wide boulevard and then a wide walkway and then still a wall separated us from it. I could hardly keep myself from running over to it.
Rivers, for some reason, have always been a life force I have paid attention to. Every river I pass over on a highway, I always try to peak at as I move along. Just something about a river. I don’t know what it is. And now, before me, one of the most famous rivers in the world.
We walked across the boulevard, across the sandy colored walkway, up to the wall, and there, below us, the Seine. “Here it is”, I said to myself.
Looking at this river, its slow paced flowing movement toward and under the magnificent bridge before me, or pont, as it is called in French, brought back memories of the passages I’d read, movie scenes I’d watched, talk I’d heard, the people walking along it might just as well have been all those I’d already experienced in those passages along with memories I’d concocted in my own mind I may or may not have had, heard, seen or read. What a sight. It is one thing to see the Mississippi, it is quite another to see the Seine. Paris is almost too much to take for me. I mean, how in the heck am I supposed to take this all in? I guess I have to just be with it.
On The Seine were many filled sightseeing boats, moving toward and under a brownstone bridge, with sculptures on the facade and above and on the corners, sculptures of horses, with a figure of a man standing next to it. You get the sense in Paris that if there is an empty space, Parisians fill it with beauty.
Seine River again
After being with the Seine, Pete showed us, stood on the exact spot (his toe in my shadow), where he’d proposed to Stephanie.
The spot Pete proposed to Stephanie
“I was five hours in country.” He said. “Originally I had intended to propose to her New Years Eve. I had this ring with me I’d carried from home. I wanted to get it done. Besides, I liked the idea of her wearing it as we celebrated the New Year together in Paris.
Stephanie's sister, Estelle was with us and I asked her to take a picture of Steph and me in front of the Eiffel Tower." He told me.
Pete Proposes to Stephanie
"I planned on proposing just after Estelle took it. But after she took it, her phone rang and she walked away to speak with her grand-aunt. And that was even better because then Steph and I were alone. I got down on one knee and proposed. Just about the time Steph said yes, the Eiffel Tower lit up behind us. Afterward we caught up with Estelle by the carrousel. She was still on the phone and Steph showed her the ring."
The news is out
She said Yes.
Making our way back to the Eiffel Tower, we stopped along the way to spend some time with a brightly colored carousel that reads on top, Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel, with pictures of some of the more famous sights of Paris adorning it
The rides are beautifully carved animals. Horses, elephants, what have you, as a carousel.
Carrousal de la Tour Eiffel
Off to the side on a pedestal a statue of a white horse on hind legs decked out in purple dress. It is amazing the attention to beauty in the detail of every sight there is to see here. Even in something as simple as a carrousel.
Standing underneath the Eiffel Tower you get a sense of the beauty of this structure, and how it created the illusion it is so famous for. Its lace-like look, created by using big strong beams interlaced with thin, smaller ones. It is at once big, tall, while at the same time delicate. This along with its elegant shape. The thing was designed with an artist’s eye. Not surprising.
Check out the lines on this structure. The outside and inside lines are in perfect unison, creating harmony. What a beauty to the eye. It actually reminds me of the head of an anaconda. Nature's perfection. By the way, Felista took this picture, as well as the two before it. I am so glad she did. I might be ecstatic, but given her amazing artistic abilities, she has got to feel right at home with this level of art.
Check out the lines
Before coming here, it was not a high priority for me to see the Eiffel Tower. It is something I had heard about, read about, seen in pictures and such. To me it was just a radio tower. In fact, it was destined to be taken down, but the people of Paris decided to keep it. Now it is one of the most famous sights in the world. As I say, I did not have much interest in seeing it. But standing before this magnificent structure, its movement into the sky, the beauty of it. Well, it might just be a radio tower, but beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and the Eiffel Tower is a great example.
In the US we see all around us structures reaching to the sky, interfering with the landscape and what natural beauty might be around it, and you get used to seeing, and not wanting to see such things. Well, Paris is the opposite. You want to stand and look at it and take in the art of it. Yes, Paris lives up to the brag. I am in country just a short time and I am stunned.
Pete said the same thing to me about the Eiffel Tower. “Not much interest beforehand”, he said, “But once there, it is impressive and beautiful”.
Besides which, it is really big.
About this time Pete said, “Time to have food”.
As we walked away from the Eiffel Tower we lingered at the bridge looking over the Seine. I swear, anywhere is a good place to be or sit or linger. Every sight is fantastic. I just can’t get over the intrinsic beauty of Paris.
Over the bridge and toward the waterfalls on the way to the Trucadero Palace. Even before getting to the bridge a look to the right. Wide boulevards. Widely spaced trees. Everywhere people walking along, riding bicycles, and everywhere, again, that feeling of space. Space, space, space. Amazing. I feel as if I am breathing big.
So this is what Europe, at least, this part in Europe feels like. Expansive. Space stands out, at the same time it feels intimate. I don’t know how they juxtapose the two, but that feeling just crawls into you before you know it. At some point it is something I became aware of that was happening to me. I like it. It is in the landscape, it is in the people moving around. It is all so leisurely. This, the most visited city in the world and it does not feel crowded. No one is jostling anyone else. How can that be? Just beautifully relaxed pace.
“The space is huge”. Felista said. “Massive space. And the people. It is a tapestry of colors of many different nations of people surrounding me”. “At the same time there is a lot of activity with a sense of quiet. I feel elevated. I am feeling my spirit expand and fly”.
As I said earlier, in the US all around structures reach to the sky, tunneling our view, interfering with the landscape and what natural beauty there might be. You get used to seeing, and not wanting to see such things. The buildings are sterile, lack imagination and have no concept of beauty. Functional. They are functional. Functional is good. Function and beauty combined is magnificent. It is here it before my eyes, wherever I am standing. I feel it in the air. It is natural part of the landscape.
As I say, Beautifully relaxed.
Relaxing on a bench
Along the way to food we lingered and enjoyed the air, the views, the other people milling around. Most of them, presumably, were doing what we were doing.
Seine River, different view
So many flowers
Eiffel Tower w Fountains in foreground
Then we came upon this astonishing sight. Right behind Pete.
Le palais de Chaillot
Talk about being stunned. I am standing in front of Le palais de Chaillot. There I was walking along and suddenly this. Pretty darned astonishing, wouldn't you say? I don't know that I have ever experienced anything like this, ever. This art is magnificent. Le Magnifique, if I do say so and I do. Imagine having this sight suddenly before your eyes. Anybody's eyes. You'd have to be dead not to be captivated by this. For a culturally deprived-at-home poor soul like me, I am uplifted, my senses aroused, I am blown away. What an incredible sight. I cannot believe the degree of beauty here in France. Imagine, people living here are actually surrounded by and live with this every day of their lives. I have a feeling this will not be the last time, while I am here, I am so moved this way. This kind of thing just makes me want to burst.
I saw a sweatshirt that stood out for me. Midnight blue and in bold white letters, Paris, above, and France below, a circle incasing the Eiffel Tower. Big enough to stand out, yet unobtrusive. That will keep me warm on the fall days at home. Plus, I’ll shine with it on.
I was about to place a few Euro’s on the table, but Pete stepped in and started talking French with the guy selling it, negotiating the price, as it turned out. They bartered for quite a while with both smiling. Looked like a regular chin wag to me. Turns out the guy was from Spain, and worked here in Paris. Handing me the sweatshirt, Pete told me he had had the conversation entirely en francais. The guy asked Pete which part of France he was from. Pete was pretty happy about that. Said it was his second conversation entirely in French and he was able to communicate completely.
“Now it is time to have food,” Pete said. I think he was getting serious about this. The sun was just setting. Right. Now is the time. No more stopping along the way. Well, I am about to have my first food in one of the café’s Paris is famous for. My first sit down in one. Being here is like being in fantasy land. Every dream coming true.
And we had lots of café’s from which to choose. There are 12,000 of them in Paris, and every one a place to sit and leisurely enjoy the superior delicacies of France. Pete, as it turned out, had a particular place in mind.
cafe du Trocadero
And suddenly there before us, I set my eyes on my first real French café. All my life I had heard about French café’s, especially reading Hemingway, where he sat and wrote for hours, piling one saucer on top of another, as he described it in his book, A MOVABLE FEAST, I think. There is the real thing. It is not a stretch to consider French café’s, art. And I was about to sample not only it, but other things Paris is famous for, their great food, their great coffee, their great wine, the overall atmosphere.
I'd seen French café’s in the paintings of Monet, of Renoir, I'd seen them on tv, read about them in books. I'd seen them in magazines, in movies and photos, now there, before me, with bright, shining, small tables, each round perhaps a couple of feet across, standing on an elegant and sleek black pedestal, extending out from the store front. Glasses tinkling, people filling them for each other, talking, leaning in close to each other, on tables spread out from the doors three or four tables deep. People deeply into their conversation, eating food, drinking coffee, wine, beer, talking, smoking cigarettes, while others were walking, stopping to look in, choosing to stay or not to stay, moving onto another café, or just go by. Many café’s in a fairly small area, each with its own color, design, personality, each with similar sized outside tables. People here expect to sit outside and they do.
“There they are”, I said to Pete, “all this that I’d seen, heard and read about all my life. Hey”, excitedly, “there they are before me, right there in front of my eyes, these living beings, these café's”.
I took a seat for this first time in a Paris cafe. And don't I look just as happy as can be? Ecstatic, more like.
First sit down in a Paris cafe
I am not much of a meat eater, though perhaps I should have made sure I sank my teeth into it. After all, the meat in France is a much higher grade than what we get in the US. When we ship our meat to France, the French demand a higher quality than what we get in the US. And we make them pay for that demand. We put a high tariff on their Blue Cheese, which creates a hardship for those that deal in that cheese. Their demand for that higher quality may have something to do with the state of the health of the people of France.
Ah, but the wine. That I am ready for. Whatever it is. Pete chose. Felista and I enjoyed. Dave, our waiter, was a really nice guy. Elegant too, wouldn't you say?
I would like Foie gras. Merci, Monsieur
What a dream
We spent two or three hours sitting, talking, enjoying our meal. Parisians and their guests, as is well known, are welcomed to sit as long as they like at a café, and so we lingered enjoying the sights, sounds and feeling of a Paris evening and meal and each other. Every now and then I had that feeling of being sent away and had to remind myself of where I am. I can stay as long as I want.
As the night went on, it got a bit chilly, so I put on my newly given gift from Pete. The Sweatshirt, hat turned around backward. As often happens, when I take pictures, the bill of my hat gets in the way of the camera, so I turn the hat around. Then I forget to turn it back around, or don't turn it back around because I am taking so many pictures in succession. Still, I like the look.
First kiss in Paris. Oh so romantic in the city of Love and Lights
First sip of wine in Paris.
How is the wine? Exquisite.
Cafe Du Trocadero food and around
Wedding week toast for Pete, with the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the background
Who knew, thirty-six years ago today, the day he was born, Pete would be showing me Paris on his birthday, especially since he was in intensive care, having been born five weeks premature and a doctor telling me not to get my hopes up, that he might not live. His identical twin brother, Mike, was fine, also in intensive care, but fine. For Pete it was a struggle for life. And now here I am looking at him in Paris. Happy birthday, Pete. Happy day for me.
Handsome, isn't he?
the end of the meal, David, our waiter, said he had a gift for us. It was a
menu he’d written a few words on for us to take with us. He even gave me his name, address and a way to correspond with him. I will send him a short analysis of
his handwriting. Every letter of his writing shows high artistic traits. How come that does not surprise me?
Bienvenue en France.
On the way back to the Metro, I was thinking to myself that France and I were going to get along very well. Not only were the sights astounding, the food and wine and coffee unbelievable (I hadn’t had beer yet), I recognize the signs. I can read the signs. So language was not going to be an impediment. In many cases, the spelling is so close to English, or are the same words we use. For instance, restaurant, is a French word.
Overall, and with a bit of patience and sometimes a French to English translation dictionary, I realized I was going to be able to get around on my own. And that is good because that is exactly what will happen after Pete and Steph’s wedding. Felista and I will be coming back to Paris and will be getting around on our own. What was also helpful is that before leaving for France, Pete and Stephanie’s friend, Natalie, told us to learn the vocabulary for what we thought we might need. For instance, Toilette. Toilet; Fromage. Cheese; Non tomat for no tomatoes. Felista does not like tomatoes in anything. Some of the important bits. And we did.