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.
Today is the second day of snow in Paris. Today it is sticking to trees, to plant life and bushes, roof tops and bus stops. It is glorious.
When I was a young college student, there would always be snow in winter here in Paris. Six inches to eighteen inches. Then and now, it is other-worldly. Men with roasters and large platters of roasted chestnuts would stand at the end of any of Paris’s many bridges. They would take a page of newsprint, double it over then roll it into a cone. Into the cone would plop fifteen or so hot chestnuts. Holding them would be warmer than your glove. Imagine a twenty year old American girl who loved to daydream crossing the river Seine, hot chestnuts in hand, snow flurries adhering the fantasy daydream.
Today, I have to go to one of the many French administrative offices to deal with my impots d’habitation. I don’t believe we have a tax for renters in the US. They are similar to what cities require hotels to tack on to our bills (and now, of course, AirBnB has to do the same thing). I could take the metro and be warmer or I could walk a little further and catch the 63 bus. I’ve been here four years and three months. I haven’t seen snow in Paris until today. This choice is a no brainer.
It is very grey and the closer the bus gets to the river, the less the snow is sticking. The Eiffel Tower was large and dark in the grey sky. The bus moves through the city easily. There isn’t much traffic today.
I thought perhaps I was the only one enchanted by the snow falling. I hear it has mucked up traffic outside of Paris and tourists cannot take any boat rides on the river because of the flooding. At least they could walk around all day. Probably not today unless they want to get very cold and very wet.
I met my friend, Fatiha, at St. Sulpice where my administrative office is. She assured me that I was not alone. She loved the snow. Just not enough to walk outside a lot. When I arrived home, I was very wet and very cold.
“The more you come to know a place, in general, the more it loses its essence and becomes defined by its quirks and its shortcomings. The suggestion of something numinous or meaningful is usually available with full force only to the first time visitor and gradually decreases with familiarity”
Sebastian Faulks Charlotte Gray
I have changed the tense to the present tense because those two sentences jumped out at me when I read Charlotte Gray (a wonderful book, by the way!). I first came to Paris to live in November of 2013. I walked everywhere. I had time to walk everywhere. I was so full with wonder, awe and amazement at the beauty of Paris, at my good fortune to be able to pick up and leave California and live in Paris, there were times I thought my heart would burst open.
It has been a long time since I’ve had those feelings. I live here, have commitments here, pay bills here, run up against French administration here and unless I write it down as a date with myself, I don’t take those long walks anymore. I still love Paris but it is completely different. I have also changed apartments. I used to live on the corner of Git-le-Coeur and Quai des Grands Augustins. I sat at my table and looked out on the Pont-Neuf. I could stick my head out the window, look right and see a perfect view of Notre Dame. I understood how Monet felt when he wanted to paint certain things at every hour of the day. These two views changed all the time depending on the weather, on the time of day, on my mood. Many days it would take my breath away.
Now I live in the 16th. I have a large terrace which I said I wanted. In exchange, I gave up the view of the Seine, the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame. I look out on another apartment building. Below me is a lovely courtyard. Every hour on the hour, I see the reflected lights of the Tour Eiffle flickering on the glass of the building across the way. The blinking lights last for five minutes then I lose the reflection. That is the only reminder I have that I live in Paris. And there are no high buildings or skyscrapers. Strictly interdit in Paris. It’s not till I walk outside and turn left on Avenue Mozart to go to the metro that the atmosphere of Paris washes over me. Some days, especially days that it has been raining, it seems especially beautiful as the lights bounce off the sidewalk and glass store fronts. Those days, I take a deep breath and pinch myself. But those days have gotten far and few between.
There are no tourists here where I live. I only hear French on the streets. Am I saying I would trade all this to be back in the centre of Paris where tourists abound, walk incredibly slowly driving me nuts. Where all the photos of Paris postcards originate? Good question. One I ask myself every day.
People ask me if I think I will stay here. I always have to think out my answer carefully because it changes all the time. Last Saturday when someone asked me, I responded that I thought I was a more interesting person living here in Paris. I like having to walk to the metro. I like that I can go to morning matinees of movies once a week. I like that I never have to drive a car. I like that I can jump on the TGV and be almost anywhere in France in less than five hours. And that’s only because the train stops everywhere on the Cote d’Azur taking an extra two hours. Marseilles is three plus hours away. I adore Brittany and that I can go there and not have the tremendous crowds that Mendocino and the Northern California coast attracts. I love going to the American Library and hearing wonderful speakers and authors one or two nights a week. Does it really matter where I live in Paris? The fact of the matter is that I LIVE IN PARIS! How many Americans have the luxury of pulling up their lives and roots and move 6,000 miles away just because?
As they say in Twelve Step rooms, More Will be Revealed.