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.

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