Our Week in Paris

13239335_10205975545140054_4107552525841441776_nThere’s a part of Wednesday that we haven’t written about. We’d decided to concentrate on the area around Montparnasse. When I lived in Paris that year, 1952-53, I lived, along with my classmate, Maria Cristina Orive, in the family of Mme. Solignac at 10 rue Jean Baptiste Dumas, near the Place Pereire, up in the 17ieme arrondissement. Group meetings and Mlle. Saleil’s office were at Reid Hall, in the Rue de Chevreuse, right off the Blvd. Montparnasse. Most of our classes were held down that direction too. We traveled back and forth on our bicycles in good weather, but mostly by bus.

Over the years, Tom and I have visited Mme.Solignac, introduced our children. Her daughter, Ginette, too, welcomed Tom and me in 1979 with a lunch for friends and a wine we will never forget, it was so perfect, put down by her father probably near WWI.

unnamed (28)Now they have both died, and Reid Hall is owned by Columbia University, but it rents space to Smith and other colleges that run study programs in Europe. After a visit to the top of the Tour Montparnasse, and lunch up there in the clouds, a glass of wine from the little cafe there, and our picnic of leftovers, we spent a few seconds on the windy rooftop, and then descended. (Hester’s friend Reidar Østgård passed along these thoughts: “The view from the Montparnasse Tower gives you the best view of Paris, because from there you cannot see the Montparnasse tower!”)

We went along just a few blocks to Reid Hall, buzzed the buzzer and got let in, and were welcomed by the people who run the present day program.

Somehow this morning, this poem of Tim Nolan’s, so gentle and real, seemed to fit into what occurred for me that day.

My Dead
By Tim Nolan

They grow in number all the time
The cat, the Mother, the Father
The grandparents, aunts, and uncles

Those I knew well and hardly at all
My best friend from when I was ten
The guy who sat with me in the back

Of the class where the tall kids lived
Bill the Shoemaker from Lyndale Avenue
The Irish poet with rounded handwriting

They live in The Land of Echo, The Land
Of Reverb, and I hear them between
The notes of the birds, the plash of the wave

On the smooth rocks. They show up
When I think of them, as if they always
Are waiting for me to remember

I drive by their empty houses
I put on their old sweaters and caps
I wear their wristwatches and spend

Their money. So now I’m in six places
At once—if not eighteen or twenty
So many places to be thinking of them

Strange how quiet they are with their presence
So humble in the low song they sing
Not expecting that anyone will listen

Jeanne Saleil, who directed our group that year, was a remarkable woman, a scholar, with many intellectual and artistic friends in Paris. She hired some to be our professors, enlisted others to come and speak at our monthly group meetings. I had been named “chef du groupe,” and it was my job to introduce the speakers. The one I remember best was Nadia Boulanger, the already famous musical educator and conductor.

Mlle. Saleil introduced us to Les Deux Ploucs, two Breton potters, from whom I eventually commissioned a set of plates and bowls.

I found a man on our street at the end of the year who would make me a crate to ship the pottery home in. The set remains, unbroken, six each of bowls, big plates and small plates, at our house in Portland.

So our day spun out, past and present, voices from the past echoing very really around us.

Right nearby, just on the rue d’Assas, we found the Musee Zadkine, a lovely restored house, garden and studio of that artist. A friend of Hester’s had urged her to seek it out, and it was new to both of us.

No plan, no definite appointments, but perfect. It was not even spoiled by the rain that fell now and then. After all, the Paris I knew best was often cold, windy, and very wet.

Hester’s View of Paris

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hester posted these accounts on Facebook of the last two days of our visit to Paris. We are now home safely.

13230266_10205971031867225_4519702658844046574_nFriday, our last day. We will miss our little apartment on Rue Tombe Issoire. Two flights up a winding staircase, a cozy and comfortable studio with a tiny kitchen, right on the RER train line, which runs from about 4 am until 1 am. We got used to the rumble at night, though really never got our time change figured out, and often were both awake reading at odd hours.

Metro this morning to L’Orangerie, the museum at the west end of the Tuileries where reside Monet’s Nympheas, the huge water lily paintings. We learned they were in fact painted expressly for those oval day-lit galleries.

13267883_10205975543380010_1417951176861482700_nWe had our picnic in the Tuileries sitting in green chairs, at Dad’s request. He has a funny memory of an early morning run-in with an ardent gendarme (who may have been imbibing on the job) who blew his whistle and made Dad put back the green chairs that he had moved to a better spot. We were not hassled today.

Though we had thought we would not brave the Louvre on this trip, we had our museum passes which meant we could skip the lines, and just see a few galleries, and we were glad we did. Botticelli and Botticini, and the Winged Victory. We waved to the Mona Lisa, but bypassed the line to get close to her.

13239880_10205975546540089_6880462743891050078_nMum then took a cab home and I made my way to the home-now museum, of Eugene Delacroix, just off the Blvd. St. Germain. We are struck by how all the artists in Paris in the early 1900’s knew and were influenced by and supported each other. Many of the exhibits we saw developed that theme, and their stories really enriched our experience and understanding. I picked up dinner makings on my way home and we ate in. I then went out as I have most evenings, to the local café, Le Comptoire, for a last glass of wine and some internet time. Hard to leave!

13226659_10205967573260762_6986047649002990761_nThursday we knew we would be out late so we divided our day. After admiring puppies in the window of a pet shop in our neighborhood, we spent the morning in the Musee D’Orsay. Though Mum has walked MILES in the tunnels and stairways of the Metro, she is 83 after all, so we took advantage of a free wheelchair (chaise roulant–new word) in the bigger museums.

The D’Orsay is a museum created from a beautiful old train station, and to figure out where the wheelchair ramps are is a feat, but doable, and we got special treatment. Degas, Monet, Cezanne, Manet. A special exhibit of Rousseau. Then home for lunch and a nap. Then to the Cluny where hang the Unicorn tapestries, a favorite. From there we walked toward Ile de la Cite, stumbling upon the chapel of St. Severin, where we were treated to the organist practicing Bach! We sat quietly for a long time.

13255906_10205975542699993_3025425098946072673_nCrossing the Petit Pont, greeted at Notre Dame by a carillon of bells at five o’clock. Mum cried! I took her to the Jewish Deportation Memorial at the head of the island, which is centered around a long hallway of 20,000 lights, each one signifying a life sent to the death camps–France’s biggest shame. So moving and respectful. A pedicab got us to St. Chappelle in time for an early music concert that we so looked forward to, and it was astounding, not only beautiful, but in such a place! Dinner and home to bed, glowing.

Paris in the Springtime

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

PARIS – It makes me happy to feel how quickly my brain brings French to the front when I arrive here. Suddenly, seeing something, the thought forms in my mind of the word in French, or an exclamation pops out, without my thinking. The nice man pushing my wheelchair at de Gaulle airport, when I said in French that I didn’t consider myself a tourist, said reassuringly, “Ah, non. Vous êtes à la maison!” (“You’re home!”)


I’m contentedly resting, reading (another Ann Bridge), looking At Hester’s Facebook posts. It’s 5:25 here, a bit rainy outside. Busy trains going by steadily. We came home from à long wonderful day about 4; Hes went out and bought me supper makings, had a little rest, and has taken off to go to the Pompidou and have supper out. It’s open till 9.

We went from the Rodin Museum to St. Sulpice where we happened on the obsèques for a nun, and then coming home emerged from the Metro to find the entire Denfert-Rochereau place empty, all the streets but one going out of it cordoned off, police everywhere. La “manifestation” came in AT the far side from us as we scooted down our street, hearing all the shouting and booms behind us. According to the TV News Hester saw in a cafe two hours later, it was still going on.

There were lovely Cambodian dancers practicing in the bandstand in the J. De Lux. when we were there.

13263704_10205948056132846_3567263612556374399_nFrom Hester
To Rodin’s home, now museum today. Form and posture of his figures so powerful and moving. Lunch in the gardens, bread, cheese, cucumber, ham and wine. Mum did some sketching in her journal. Then a long walk through narrow and increasingly chic streets until we came to St. Sulpice cathedral where we rested while listening to organ and choral music accompanying the funeral of a beloved Nun. Getting off the metro in our neighborhood we came up into a forming “manifestation” (protest march) with closed streets and heavy police presence. We did not get swept up. All’s well.

Hester and I make a good combination as travelers, it turns out. We have taken Métro trains all day, to St. Denis and back, visiting an old friend, who has a sweet Norfolk terrier named Teddy. Between my experience and Hester’s sharp eyes and agility, We arrived just when we said we would.

Upon Arrival Sunday

Chères amies! We are here, ensconced in our sweet little studio apartment with a nice maple tree right outside the window. We even managed to get a good night’s sleep although the seats were not spacious. The RER train quit half way between Charles de Gaulle Airport and Paris, so we and about a hundred other people waited for a while. Finally Hester called from a pharmacie down the street, got us a taxi which we shared with a young man we’d met who was going right where we were, and here we are.

Readying – Friday Before Departure
There are some good reasons to keep on with normal life right up to the day of departure on an unusual journey. Yesterday, our “writing in the outdoors” class spent the morning at the beautiful Leach Botanical Garden, a garden I’d always wanted to see. It lies on some wooded hillsides over a stream, far at the other side of Portland from our house, and somehow we’ve never managed to get there. They did say they’ve recently put up new, good signage, and others who’ve lived in the city for years, not knowing of it, have recently discovered it apparently.
Whatever the case, and partly because our son and friends came for a picnic (his college roommate and his wife, in town for a conference,) I didn’t start to pack until the afternoon before our departure: our daughter Hester and I heading for a week in Paris, just the two of us.

Soap Making – A Satisfying Process

image1 (21)I’ve spent the last 48 hours making soap: readying scale, pot, crock, wooden spoon, box lined with a dish towel, weighing the accumulated fat from the last year. When the fat is melted, you add it to a lye-and-water mixture and stir. You go on stirring (on and off during the middle of the day); pouring, when it looks about ready, into the linen-lined box, the now honey-colored, thick mixture. It all involved maybe 45 minutes of actual activity/work.

Then the next day you cut it. And the day after that you unmold it, and stack it so the air can continue to reach it.image2 (8)

The start is a little tricky: when you put a full container of lye (from the “clearing drains” section of your hardware store) into the quart of water you’ve put into the bottom of a ceramic crock, you cough, duck away, even though you’ve got windows open, oven fan on. Maybe this is why I reneged on my promise to our young neighbor girls to let them know when I was going to make soap. (Please forgive me, Sophie and Caroline. Maybe, now that you know what it involves, you will be able to help take it over as I become less able.)

image4 (1)Every year it varies, and I don’t know why. One year, it was ready to pour in half an hour, and I was taken by surprise. This year, I did puzzles, Tom and I ate lunch, a half day passed before it was ready. There’s a chemical reaction happening, and a cooling process, but what the relationship is between these and the nature of the six pounds of fat you’ve started with, I don’t know. Over the year you’ve collected from roasts of all kinds, bacon fryings, etc. some of which included some oil, this fat, boiling it up, letting it rise and harden, skimming off the sludge, freezing it in cakes so it wouldn’t become rancid, wondering why your freezer was becoming so crowded.image3 (4)

I’ve thought a lot this last few days about why this “labor” is so satisfying. It makes a product that is usable, makes good presents. It avoids waste, encourages your septic tank by not over-loading it. But I think something about its slow and gestational process is what makes it so important, satisfying to me: maybe an antidote to speed and endless flexibility, a “stay against confusion,” and maybe too some joining to generations of women who came before us.

To get their lye, they used water that had been poured through a bin of ashes from their wood- stove. And they probably got at least as much variation year to year as we do.

image6This last is the last two bars of last year’s soap. It’s unscented, very mild. One batch even floated.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.