La Rentrée in France is as much a time of year as Christmas Week and Easter Week. It is the time when the French return to wherever they live. Many have spent the whole summer away in the south of France or in their country houses in Normandie. Now it’s return to work and return to school. In America, we see Back To School signs in department stores and book stores. Think quadrupling that energy and you might get close to the fuss that is La Rentrée.
In the larger grocery stores that also sell clothing and supplies, a whole section of the store will be devoted to La Rentrée. Whatever else had been there has been removed for the duration. I was in Carrefour (which is a HyperCarrefour) and doing a big shopping: loads of TP and Paper towels, cat food and cat litter. Things that I hope will last for awhile. Hoards of students were there in La Rentrée section. One rarely sees students in grocery stores. Backpacks, pencils, pens and refills, writing books, on and on and on. When I asked one of the women who works there where the gardening stuff had been moved to, she shook her head and lifted her shoulders: “It’s not here for awhile, madame” as if to say ‘what can you do?’
Although it is only September 4 and I just returned from Brittany, it is definitely not summer anymore. Though warm and lovely, the air feels like Fall. Very young children are screaming in happiness during their play breaks and the sound drifts up to my apartment. The metros are crowded again. The RER A, which always takes a summer break for repairs, is running again (This is the RER that goes from the west suburbs into Paris). All the stores are open and the streets are teeming with shoppers, people hurrying to the bus and students once more hanging out on all the corners.
For those of us who have always lived by the academic calendar, the year is now beginning. Time to organise everything. Time to put everything away that relates to summer. Time to get out those pens and pencils and get to work!!!
Anyone who has ever visited Paris in August immediately senses that something is out of whack. Other than the Parvis in front of Notre-Dame or the Tour Eiffel, Paris is practically empty. It is the Congée Annuelle otherwise known as August. There are plenty of parking spots on the street, seats are empty on the metro. At least half the retail stores are closed for the month with a sign thanking us for our understanding.
I walked outside of my apartment building this morning at 10:45. There wasn’t a person to be seen. It was eerily quiet. The Boulangerie on the corner is closed. Two out of the three fruit and vegetable markets are closed. The Greek deli is closed. The pizza and sandwich shop is closed. The one and only Women’s clothing shop is closed. The chocolate shop is open with an ice cream stand outside the door.
Where Parisians live, it is silent. Where tourists gather, there are more people than ever. Trying to walk across the Parvis to meet a friend at a cafe was like negotiating one of the hardest obstacle slalom courses one could find. Tourists don’t walk. They amble—as they should. How else is one to take in the beauty that is Paris? However, if you live here, as I do, tourist places should be avoided at all costs. Especially if you need to be somewhere. It is a good reminder of the awe that most of us felt when we first arrived. When rambling was the height of entertainment.
Quinze Août (August 15th–The Assumption of Mary) is a holiday within the vacation month. Then absolutely everything shuts down. I asked Barbara, “Isn’t it a contradiction to have everyone celebrating a Catholic holiday in a Socialist Country?” She responded “no, not at all. Unlike the US, we have total separation of church and state.” (Note: now that Macron is President, France is no longer a Socialist country).
The stores that are open have tiny signs in their windows telling us that things are still at “very small prices.” Les Soldes is over but they hope to get rid of all their stock before La Rentrée. La Rentrée which literally means The Re-Entry. When everyone comes back to Paris, back to work and back to school.
In 2002, the Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who was well-known for launching ambitious municipal events, decided that everyone has the right to go to the beach in the summer. Not everyone can afford to go to the Cote d’Azur or Brittany or the West of France. So beaches were brought to Paris. For four weeks, sand lay on the quai of the right bank of the Seine from Hotel de Ville to Pont Neuf. It was so popular that it was brought back the next year. By 2007, 4 million visitors were recorded.
This year, Paris Plages is lasting from July 7 (the first day of school vacation) until Sept 2. I walked down there today from Hotel de Ville. I didn’t see any sand but all the umbrellas were up and lounge chairs were out with people sunning and reading.
One of the reasons that the Paris Plages look different this year may be a political one. The beaches were built free of charge by LafargeHolcim from 2002 to 2017, when the city of Paris discontinued their contract in retaliation for LafargeHolcim’s proposal to build the wall on the Mexico-United States border promised by U.S. President Donald Trump. (Wikipedia)
I don’t think the sunbathers or the children playing with the above games cared one way or the other. School is out for the summer and they can all go to the “beach”.
In another part of Paris, at the “Bassin de la Villette” is another beach. This one has three different pools. Photos will have to wait until I return from Le Gers. From TripSavvy: Stretching from the Rotonde de Ledoux near the Jaurès Metro station to the former Magasins Généraux on Rue de Crimee, this is the beach to choose if you’d like to see a more contemporary side of Paris, and are interested in getting in the water. For water sports enthusiasts, the beach of choice will be at La Villette, where the Canal de l’Ourq affords participants a choice between a variety of relaxed water sports. Kayaks, pedal boats, sailboats, canoes, and more are open to the public at no charge until 9:00 p.m. with instructors on the scene to help ensure a safe experience. You’ll be able to glide along over 53,000 square feet of water, and after boating, a cold drink on one of the beach’s waterside cafes will be in order.
So those who can’t travel, summer at the beach has come to them!!!
Joan Baez. Just saying her name conjures up civil rights, protest marches, Bob Dylan, folk songs, social justice, Vietnam and on and on. Joan Baez is a National Treasure. I should say International Treasure. The Parisians adore her.
I was waiting for the metro one day last October and saw a huge poster advertising 10 days of Joan Baez concerts in June 2018. The poster said it was her Fare Well Tour. I called my friend Barbara to see if she wanted to go with me. Yes, indeed, she did. So I bought tickets, made her put them in a safe place (I was afraid I’d forget where my safe place was) and last Sunday, we went to the Olympia in the 9th arrondissement to see and hear her.
I was fifteen years old when I went to my first Joan Baez concert. My family had just returned from a year living in Geneva, Switzerland. Some new friends took me to an outdoor stadium in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She mostly sang folk songs then and played only an acoustic guitar. I had two of her records and knew every song. Halfway through the concert, she introduced us to a friend of hers she thought we all should know: Bob Dylan. That was the summer of 1963.
I bought a guitar and tried to learn without taking lessons. I grew my hair long so I’d look like a real folk singer. I had a good voice so my parents let me play a song at family gatherings even if I only knew three chords on the guitar.
Over the years, she came in and out of my life. When the album Diamonds and Rust came out, a relationship had just ended. I played that album over and over and over. I still can’t hear Diamonds and Rust without picturing myself in that small apartment in Berkeley, Calif crying my heart out for a boy I deeply loved.
She got herself arrested at an anti Vietnam march and met David Harris, Peace Activist, who she married and had her son, Gabriel, with. “I went to jail for 11 days for disturbing the peace; I was trying to disturb the war.” Joan Baez, 1967 (Pop Chronicles interview.) Her passion inspired so many of us. I probably went to two more concerts over the five years following.
Last Spring, I went on YouTube and watched a concert she had given herself for her 75th birthday (She is 77 years old now). So she was in the foreground of my mind when I saw that poster. I kept telling people that Joan Baez was my first ever concert and now here it was 55 years later and she could well be my last concert. It is amazing to think that for 60 years, Joan Baez has been a beacon of social justice in the world and she has done it a lot through music. I don’t think she has ever slowed down.
The Olympia is a lovely venue in the 9th. It reminded me of the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Ca but not as pretty. There is probably not a bad seat in the whole place. I had gotten seats in the 2nd section of the Orchestra and we had tons of leg room. After opening with Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, she played three or four songs I didn’t recognise. Then she sang “It’s all over now, Baby Blue.” Out of nowhere I got tears in my eyes and I couldn’t stop them for the rest of the concert. Every song from then on was an “oldie but goodie”. Some her’s, some Dylan’s, one Woody Guthrie and one Pete Seeger. I couldn’t tell you what I was crying about. Maybe the rush of memories when I had such a passion for social justice (I still do but can’t often show up and do the footwork), for marching in protest of Vietnam and segregation. And maybe a few tears because we had so much hope and nothing has changed, possibly it’s worse.
She sang two songs solo then brought out the rest of her “band”. Her son, Gabriel, a percussionist, and Dirk Powell playing so many different instruments, I stopped counting. Grace Stumberg, who has a strong country-like voice joined her for three songs and at the end for the encores.
Did I mention how much the Parisians love her!! I could see why. She spoke French as much as she could. With each song, she told the audience, in French, what it was about. They clapped at everything and, in the end, gave her a standing ovation making her come back out four times. All ten shows sold out and five more were added in February 2019 (this FareWell Tour could well last a very long time. No one wants to see her go). I tried to buy tickets when I got home and all five dates were sold out. I don’t think there is another city that had nearly this many performances.
I bought a good poster inside the Olympia then a cheapie outside on the street. They are now hanging on the inside of the bathroom door.
And for those of you who didn’t get to hear her but would love to, the Olympia has made it available to everyone. Enjoy and cry your own tears!!!
Two weeks ago, I was invited to the Mona Bismarck Centre for a screening of a documentary “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy”. Because I’m a member, I could bring someone with me: two for the price of one! I invited Barbara. She was so excited and told me she had followed him for a long, long time. Really? There is a rock ‘n roller that she knew about and I didn’t? How could that be?
As we waited in the bar to go into the screening, a man stuck his head out the door. I turned to Barbara “There’s a guy back there. I’m sure I know him. But I don’t know how I know him.” I ran through a long list of acquaintances in different parts of my world and landed ……in Paris! I’d seen him a gatherings of my friends a number of times over these past four and a half years. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked Barbara. “Just wanted to surprise you.” She had a cheshire cat look on her face.
The documentary was terrific. I kept thinking that I’ve known this guy and no one ever mentioned he was a musician. The film narrated the story of Elliott and his brother who played music together from their teens. After a bad car accident, the brother never played again but became Elliott’s agent. Both Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, good friends of Elliott’s, talked about him throughout the film.
It described his move to Paris in the late 70s and he has never left. His French fan club is huge. He married a french woman and now has a grown son who is also a musician. And all through the film, we were treated to his music.
After the documentary, we stayed for a concert. Elliott was accompanied by Melissa Cox playing an electric violin. His tunes are catchy and many are uplifting. The violin lent a dreamy air to the music. He finished by playing “On Elvis Presley’s birthday” which he said is his most popular song. I liked it but liked some others better.
At the end of the concert, he announced that the following weekend was his birthday and that he would be playing at New Morning, a jazz club in the 10th. Barbara and I bought tickets. The concert was to be at 8pm so we showed up at 7:15pm hoping to get good seats. The club hadn’t yet opened and a long line was building up. We waited and waited. It rained a little and still we waited. The doors finally opened up at 8:10pm. Is that called building up the excitement? We found good seats on the right side. By the time Elliott came out with his long time guitar player, Olivier Durand, the place was packed. People were standing everywhere. There was very little English spoken. He indeed has a French fan club.
Elliott and Olivier played three or four songs together and then out came, as Elliott called them, the Murphy Family band. Gaspard, his son, was on the electric bass. Although I had only heard some of the songs once, I was humming along as if I knew them by heart. The French were ecstatic, singing with him, screaming, clapping along, jumping up and down. It was wonderful. There is a quality of total happiness about Elliott’s songs and singing and the french response make it only more so.
Want to know more about Elliott? http://www.elliottmurphy.com
If you get the chance, go hear him. You’ll find yourself grinning and dancing—just like the old days!!! You too will fall in love with the greatest rock star you’ve just now heard of!!
Outside of Paris, to the west, in the middle of the Seine is a small island called Ile des Impressionistes. Twice a year, le Syndicat National du Commerce de l’Antiquitie, de l’Occasion et des Galeries d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (SNCAO-GA) rent the island and stage the Foire de Chatou. I wrote about Chatou a year and a half ago but focused on two women who make a living going from Brocante to Brocante.
This year, The 96th Foire de Chatou opened Friday, March 10 and ends Sunday, March 18. There are 700 stands selling nic-nacs, good silver, good bone china, paintings old and new, vintage clothing, furniture old and new, beautiful old books that one buys for the way they look on the outside and many many other things that you didn’t even know existed. The first time I went to Chatou was with a friend and her mother. My friend, Alicia, knew to take her caddy along with her. Smaller purchases went inside the caddy. Alicia took her time at every stall. She picked thru all the boxes laden with goodies, she stood in front of paintings one at a time and carefully thought through her purchases. Sometimes I would skip ahead of her but always find her again as she would leave her caddy outside a stall for me to see. I don’t have Alicia’s patience. I did come home with some lovely purchases that year. My favourite was a small Afghani rug that is probably a prayer rug.
Alicia and her family went back to California that summer and I went alone to Chatou the following Fall. Alicia and I had made a friend of one of the women who run the stalls: Mary Cook. Her stall is Tinker Tailor. She goes to the UK where, I believe, she is from and brings back lovely bone china and beautiful silver. I have bought some wonderful things from her that I use every day. I had bought a sugar bowl that I loved and dear Bijou broke it in her phase of “let’s break everything that Sara owns”. I told Mary and I’m sure I looked very sad. So that Fall, I went to her stall first thing to say hello. She had a sugar bowl with a small crack in it and had saved it for me to buy at a small price!! Now when I go by myself, Tinker Tailor is my first stop. I feel like I have a friend there and I can come chat if I get tired of walking around.
There are brocantes all over Paris every weekend and they often will spill over into Mondays or start on a Friday. Now that Spring is supposed to be arriving, there will be any number to go to. But Chatou is the largest by far. One time as I was chatting with Mary, I met an American woman who had brought over five other women just to shop at brocantes, particularly Chatou and the famous Flea Market at Clignancourt which I’ve never been to. Either they find things that cannot be found anywhere in the US or they just like to shop in Paris but Chatou is not cheap and neither is shipping back to North America.
I’m partly writing this blog for Alicia as she will be sitting in San Francisco reading it wishing she was here spending money at Chatou. And I miss her. Chatou is more than twice the fun if you go with another person. Alicia is the best of all persons to with!
At the end of a tiring day, Chatou provides a navette (shuttle) back to Reuil-Malmaison where I can take the RER A back into Paris. This year, I only bought a vase and a wooden duck. Both I love!! I didn’t see much else that grabbed me. But that won’t stop me from going again next September when Foire de Chatou returns to Paris.
I apologise for the long absence. I have been flying back and forth from Paris to New Jersey in order to be of support to my Uncle Stan and my cousin, Joan. I say support because Joan has done the lion’s share of the work to get Stan moved into Skilled Nursing and packing up, cleaning out and closing up his 2 bedroom apartment. I was there for the final week of closing down the apartment. Anyone who flies a lot across the ‘pond’ knows that going up and down, crossing time zones really does take a lot out of you. So although I’ve had many ideas for my blog, I just didn’t have the energy to do anything with my ideas.
Until last night. When Bijou disappeared for about four hours. As the old Joni Mitchell song goes: “You don’t know what you have till it’s gone,” I thought my heart would stop a couple of times.
So I’ll back up. The sun has been shining in Paris. The temperature has gone up. For three days, it has felt Spring like–although many of us feel too superstitious to actually say Spring has come to Paris. As I’ve reported in an earlier blog, I have a huge terrace. It is a third room that is mostly accessible in warm weather. There are two large sliding glass doors in both the Living Room and the Bedroom. That is my access to my terrace. Yesterday, I had both doors completely open and was inspecting all the plants that I’d put on the terrace last summer and fall. Bijou followed me in and out. She is a very social cat and likes to be around people. Where I go she goes and makes herself comfortable. If there happen to be pigeons or other flying objects near the terrace, she will sit on the couch or perch herself on the outside table and chatter away as only a cat can do. This is not meowing for you non-cat people. This is a true chatter. The sound is like a far away typewriter going at full speed.
After six plus months in this apartment, Bijou knows not to jump up on the terrace guardrail. When we first moved here, she would jump up and discovering it was six inches across, go walking along happy as can be. She would visit the next door neighbour’s terrace and come running back when she heard the fear in my voice as I called for her.
I don’t want her on the terrace guardrail. I don’t trust in her sense of balance and assume there is a reason for the saying “A cat has nine lives.” When I can’t find her, the first thing I do is look down eight flights to the courtyard below to see if there is cat splatted on the concrete.
Last night, I was catching up on e-mails (for some reason, I think it is actually possible to catch up! Silly me). I suddenly realised I hadn’t seen Bijou in an hour or two. I closed the living room doors and went from room to room looking for her. I couldn’t find her in any of her preferred sleeping places. I stood outside on the terrace and called her name. She usually comes running when I call her. She is under the impression I might feed her. Nothing, no sign of her. I told myself to calm down, she would show up. I turned on the TV and watched a BBC mystery in hopes that my mind would not obsess on where she wasn’t.
Thirty minutes went by. I did my rounds of the apartment again and stood on the terrace again calling her name. Nothing. I watched another half hour of TV. Did the rounds again, this time, I pulled out some wet food that she absolutely adores. I don’t give it to her as a rule because she then will go on strike and not eat her regular dry food. As I tore open the envelope of food, the smell seemed to fill the apartment and the terrace. I walked to the dividing wall between me and my neighbour, calling her name and holding the smelly wet food towards his terrace. Nothing.
I looked down into the courtyard again. It was dark. So I took the elevator to the RDC, went out into the courtyard, climbed up into the garden and called her name. Maybe it’s true. That cats can fall and land on their feet. I was walking on dirt not concrete so I guess anything is possible. Nothing. I peered into the next door courtyard trying to catch a glimpse of the concrete to see if there was a cat. Nothing.
Up the elevator I went trying not to cry. I was sure this time I had really lost her. Anyone who has followed the escapades of Bijou knows she was especially precocious as a kitten. When she turned 18 months old, she turned from her “monster” self into a very sweet kitten. When she stayed with my friend, Melinda, during my California trip and surgery, she gave that family some heart stopping moments. I haven’t had to worry about her since it turned cold in November and I have had the doors only cracked open for air.
I opened and shut every closet door calling her name. I closed all my bureau drawers, found my flashlight and looked three and four times in the exact same place. There are just moments when the mind will not take in information. I find myself repeating an action over and over until finally acceptance moves me to some other action.
Three hours went by while I tried not to give in to the thought that this time was really it. I had really lost her. While I tried to get interested in something else and give my mind a rest from it’s end of the world scenarios.
Around 11:30pm, I was stepping out onto the terrace from my bedroom when I heard a tiny ‘meow’ from far away. I ran to the dividing wall calling her name. Nothing. I came back to the doors one foot in and one foot out on the terrace. Where was the ‘meow’ coming from? Was I going to have to wake up a neighbour I’ve never met because somehow Bijou managed to get herself into another apartment. I heard the ‘meow’ again.
I pulled open one of the bureau drawers that I’d slammed shut while I was so nerve wracked. I saw a tail. I called her name but nothing happened. I took everything out of the drawer and out came Bijou. She didn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed. She had gotten stuck behind the chest of drawers when I shut the drawer. I was so happy to see her I gave her the entire envelope of wet food.
When a tourist comes to Paris, one of the first things they see are the millions of postcards, greeting cards, trinkets, etc of cats on Parisian roofs, cats in front of beautiful doors, cats with their tails wound into a heart. Parisian cats! It’s almost as emblematic as the Eiffel Tower. If I really wanted to scare myself, I could spend some time wondering how those cats got on the roofs, whose cat exactly is in front of the door. But I won’t do that. I do think I’m in for a long Spring/Summer wondering how many escapades I’m going to be dealing with as Bijou drums up more things for me to write about.