Remembering Rue Git-le-Coeur

Before Elodie, my downstairs neighbor, went on a rant to tell me I was once more doing something illegal, I tried to have a window garden in my apartment at Git-le-Coeur. My window was quite large and looked out over the Seine to Pont Neuf. I had an arm chair pulled close and would sit there for at least twenty minutes every morning filled with gratitude at living in this beautiful city I call home. I’m sure I didn’t need the garden but, as an adult, I have always had green things growing, something to care for. I certainly didn’t need Elodie as the Apartment Police pointing out the laws I was breaking. I want to be clear that I never set out to break the law! I didn’t know better and french administration being what it is…… It seems there truly is a law in Paris that no one can have a window garden that has the remotest chance of falling on the sidewalk and hurting someone. I can’t help but look up in my wanderings around Paris to see who is committing a window garden felony!

My apartment building on Git-le-Coeur sat on the corner of Quai des Grands Augustins. There is one apartment per floor. Elodie lives on the first floor, I lived on the second floor, the apartment on the third floor is rented by a family living in Brussels who visit Paris once every other month or so. The fourth and fifth floor is one apartment owned by Mr. and Mrs. X. Everything that happens in the building has to be voted on by the owners. Elodie and the Xs hate each other so Elodie always loses as she has one vote to the Xs two votes.

Notre Dame at sunrise

My living room was huge for a Parisian apartment. Two windows looked north, over the Seine to 36 quai des Orfèvres where the infamous Paris Homicide Unit resided until a year ago. If I leaned out one of those windows and looked right, I had a full view of Catedrale de Notre Dame. I took dozens of photos of the sun rising behind the cathedral. Once I caught a full rainbow hanging over the spires gracing a dark grey sky. It was magical.

Le Seine and Pont Neuf from my window

Two windows looked out on Git-le-Coeur, the Canadian Pub and Pont Neuf. It was this view that became my North Star for the almost three years that I lived at Git-le-Coeur. Everyone knew how I loved that view. Artist friends would draw it and give the drawings to me as presents. After Elodie and I made our peace with each other, she presented me with a copy of a painting of our building and the Seine. She had seen the painting at an Expo at the Musee d’Art Moderne although it was painted in 1904. She went to great trouble to get it copied and then had it framed for me.

Elodie is truly the only person I know who speaks no English at all. Befriending her was a challenge. She is a very bobo frenchwoman. My friend, F, says she always has her nose just slightly in the air. I decided to kill her with kindness. After the tenth leak from my bathroom down to her apartment (three happened while I lived there), I wanted to help her confront the owner of my apartment. He lives in Madrid and is a lazy owner, only wanting money and ignores all pleas to fix the many things wrong. I bought her a small present at BHV and wrote her a note saying that we would figure this out together. She melted slowly even inviting me to coffee one day. Because my french is mediocre, I would find myself avoiding opportunities to talk with her. Now that I live in the 16eme, we have developed a schedule of meeting every other week for coffee so that I can practice my french. She still plays police only now she is the Academie Police. I wrote her an e-mail this winter beginning “Salut Elodie”. When I arrived at her apartment a couple of days later, she sat me down telling me one never ever uses Salut in writing. It just isn’t done. It is for waving and greeting a friend on the street. Of course, that evening, I saw it used in writing by someone of a much younger generation.

Av. Mozart, Paris 16eme

I miss Git-le-Coeur sometimes. I love my new neighbourhood but it took months to adjust. I will dream of that large living room and my window gazing out on the Pont Neuf. Elodie tells me the apartment is still empty. Little strings get tugged in my heart but then I remember my lazy landlord, my nasty, greedy agent and think how wonderful it was to live there and that I now live in a real Parisian neighborhood.

A bientôt,

Sara

Paris Plages

 

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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.

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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)

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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”.

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In past years, this quai up to the bridge would have been sand with beach showers and water games.

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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!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

More thoughts on living in Paris

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A bientôt,

Sara

Back home in the City of Light

While in California, I sent my downstairs neighbor a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I sent it the day after the election.  Being somewhat numb, I couldn’t think what to say so I wrote “Greetings from Oakland” or something banal like that.  When she received it, she texted me “Merci Sara pour la très belle carte du pont de SF qui sera toujours là après les élections….(thank you Sara for the lovely card of SF’s bridge which will still be there after the elections…”)

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I had similar thoughts the morning after I returned.  Sitting at my table, looking out my window on to the Seine and the Pont Neuf, I thought “this scene doesn’t change.  It has survived bad kings, the french revolution, the terror, the commune, World Wars I and II, surely the left can survive four years of the right led by someone who is going to have to take a speed course on the doings of US government.”

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And so my numbness slowly went away.  My jet lag has been relatively mild, just sleeping a lot.  I haven’t turned on the news.  I was hearing horror stories of teens doing very questionable things to non-white teens in their schools.  That was enough.  I’ll get back into my daily life here and sooner or later, things will be very clear on how the wind is blowing in the United States.

I’m told one of the first politicians to call and congratulate Mr. Trump was Marine La Pen, she who would very much like to be the next President of France.  We’ve called her the French Trump because of her stand on immigration.  After Brexit, she was ecstatic and called for a referendum in France.  She wants France to leave the EU.  I don’t think she’ll be called the french Trump anymore, too superstitious.  The French elections are in five months and eyes will be turned this way to see if bad things come in threes.  Ms. La Pen has been building power as immigration becomes the most important issue for almost everyone.  The choices, so far, are not great.

It’s a strange time.  I was born in the aftermath of World War II, grew up in the Kennedy years, became a hippie in my university years and now have watched politics swing as far away from those years as it could possibly get–at least in a democracy.  I’ve been extremely active in politics and I’ve been asleep.  Right now, it seems to me that what is called for is living the best possible life I can lead.  To do random acts of Kindness — because I can.

There is an opinion piece in the New York Times this morning written by Nicolas Kristof titled: A 12 step program for responding to President-Elect Trump.  I thought it inventive and smart.  I pass it on to you:

A bientôt,

Sara

Going on a Trip

I am leaving Paris for two weeks.  I’m going to California where I lived for most of my adult life.  It is a beautiful day today.  The sky is blue, the Seine is peaceful, sparkling and the Bateaux Mouches have begun their daily trips up and down the river showing tourists the sights along the banks.

 

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I have been grumbling about the weather most of the Fall.  It seemed that we went from summer to winter without passing Autumn.  In fact, we have had a couple of beautiful Indian Summer days and this seems to be turning into one of them.  I’ve turned the heat off in the apartment and I’m looking forward to a walk.  My iPhone says that the next week will be sunny and much much warmer than it has been.

 

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However, I’m leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport before the sun comes up tomorrow morning.  And like most of my “last days before the trip” Paris seems lovelier.  I seem to see it all much more clearly.  I look around my apartment as if I will never see it again.  I held Bijou, the cat, so close trying to make a physical memory of her furriness, her sweetness, the way she will suddenly look up at me with loving eyes that completely melt my heart.  I don’t feel this way about going anywhere else in Europe.  But California and another life seems worlds away from Paris and this life.

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Last January, when I took my trip to California, terrorists had just bombed the Brussels airport.  We had heard, though it hadn’t been confirmed, that the Brussels airport was second choice to Paris.  I had no idea what to expect.  I felt very matter of fact about it.  I called my lawyer and asked if I wrote out a makeshift will in pencil about all my belongings in Paris, would it be considered legal.  He said yes then added to please not worry, nothing was going to happen to me.  He couldn’t possibly know. The truth is, a place where terrorists have just hit is probably one of the safest places in the world.

I’m not worrying about terrorists.  I look forward to these long flights to California (but not to the jet lag). Once I get to the airport, get my bags checked, get through border control, I’m in No Man’s Land.  Soon my phone won’t ring at all, I won’t be able to receive any texts.  No one can bother me or demand anything of me.  I can watch five movies in a row and not feel guilty or lazy. I can daydream or read a book or write.

But that’s tomorrow.  Today, I’m walking around looking at everything as if it’s the first time and the last time.  I don’t feel anxious.  I don’t have a word for it.  It’s a feeling I’m sure everyone gets at some time or another.  Of wanting to imprint something in my memory that is stronger than just a memory.  I want to be able to touch it, feel it, take it with me.  When I’m sitting in my living room in Oakland, I don’t want Paris to feel so incredibly far away.  The memory I always default to is sitting in my armchair that I have facing the window.  The window that looks out on Quai des Grands Augustins, the Pont Neuf and the river Seine.  It’s an amazing view of one of the most beautiful parts of Paris that I look at every day.

 

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A bientôt,

Sara

Diamonds and Rust

A friend posted a copy of Joan Baez singing “Diamonds and Rust” on his Facebook page.  He said he had heard it in the Arrivals Lounge and couldn’t get the song out of his head.  I clicked on the link and was immediately transported to Berkeley, California and my tiny little apartment on Spruce St.  It was 1973.  I was the ultimate Joan Baez groupie–had been since I was fourteen years old.  I tried to learn how to play the guitar because she did.  I didn’t have the discipline or the passion.  I loved her choice of folk songs and equally loved it when she crossed over into rock and roll.  She seemed to be able to do anything.

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When Diamonds and Rust came out, I was heartbroken over a relationship that I had ended but hadn’t really wanted to.  Don’t ask me to explain, I was 26 years old and very crazy.  I would sit in my little living room and listen to the album over and over.  And now as I listened to the song, while looking at the Seine and the Pont Neuf, I had a strange feeling in my stomach.  The past trying to edge it’s way in maybe.  I’m not one to sit around regretting the past, it is what it is.  However there is something about music that grabs me and hauls me backwards in time so fast I could almost believe in a time machine.

This is the same nostalgia that Ms. Baez writes about in the song.  It feel almost like the lip of a deep hole that you could fall into.  The older we get, the more we look backwards. It’s how we look backwards that makes the difference.  I have such a wonderful life today.  There are times I wish I’d known this kind of happiness back then.  But I didn’t.  Do I have regrets about decisions I made–yes, I do.  At the same time, the decisions that I did make led me to today–which is a wonderful day.  Funnily enough, almost all the YouTube links I’ve been listening to were recorded and/or filmed in France.  I think the French must have loved her.

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Joan Baez celebrated her 75th birthday this past summer.  I learned that piece of information trolling through all the YouTube songs.  I’ve been following and listening to her for over 50 years. Now sitting here looking out my window from my life in Paris, I thank you Joan Baez for all the wonderful songs and memories you’ve given me over the years.

Happy Birthday, Joan Baez

Welcome to my blog

My dining room table sits at one of the four windows in my living room.  I have positioned myself so that I see the Pont Neuf and the river Seine whenever I sit to eat, to work on my computer or to read.  My view out my window reminds me daily of the extraordinary path I’ve taken to be sitting here, how very lucky I am and how much I appreciate it.

I see both daily life and tourist life out my window.  The bouquinistas line the Quai along the Seine and both tourists and Parisians alike stop to have a look.  They are full of old books, sometimes first print books, old posters as well as magnets, various sizes of the Eiffel Tower and paris postcards.  Everyone looks though not everyone stops.  The bouquinistas are Paris as much as Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower are Paris.

The buses 27 and 24 on their way to Gare St. Lazare pass under my window.  Parisians going to work, getting to the trains to go the suburbs or just going one or two stops because of fatigue.  Along side the buses are the Hop On Hop Off buses, the upper level full of tourists getting the complete tour of this beautiful city before deciding where to get off and spend some time.

The river hardly has a ripple today.  The Bateaux Mouches come through one of the arches of the Pont Neuf carrying hundreds of tourists who want their first look of Paris to be from the water.  The river Pompiers are just up the river and some mornings, one can see their inflatable boats come by slowly while a couple of the men will be swimming the river in wet suits looking for debris, god forbid people, anything that shouldn’t be in the river but is.  Across the river from me is the famous 36 Quai d’Orfeveres, the homicide unit of the French police.  A movie by that name has made it into one of the better French Film Noir movies of that era.

So now you know where I live.  This is a blog about daily life; books that I’ve read, writers that come through Paris often stopping to give a talk at the American Library; movies that I’ve seen and recomment, events big and small that happen here in Paris. This is not a blog about wine or food.  There are plenty of those and much better than I could ever do.  But I might mention a fairly inexpensive restaurant and why I like it.

I hope you enjoy!