Paris 2018: Day 2
A lazy day, spending the morning napping to recover from the excesses of last night, telling myself it was merely the remnants of jet lag. Plenty of fluids, and a short writing session in my garret, rejuvenate me enough to creep downstairs. I take in cafe creme and an enormous platter of eggs, bacon, sausage, and salad at another bistro just off La Place de la Republique where I am staying.
The apartment that I am staying in is quirky and I think kind of fun. Yesterday I had problems getting in, the host of this AirBnb had sent me a photograph of the planter that the key was hidden in, but the concierge was clearly offended at being bypassed (perhaps looking for a few Euros for herself), and came out of her cubby to glare at me.
A kindly soul had helped me with the multiple electronic locks to get in, but when I apologized for my stammering attempts at French, having forgotten most of what little I had learned 40 years ago, he said “moi aussi”. He was my age and had the same relationship to English that I have to French. We bonded.
I truly did not appreciate how small the apartment was until I saw what 15 m2 really looks like. It’s really small. With room taken up by the micro-kithenette, computer desk, and table, there is barely enough for the bed and my luggage. But I don’’t plan on spending any time in it. Having the computer desk is great for planning the day’s adventure in the morning on my beloved iPad.
After a langorous brunch, avoiding the temptation of the hair of the dog, I brave a French pharmacy for the toothpaste and brush I left behind at my sister’s visiting her in England. It is bright and modern, and everything is densely packed. Eventually I give up, and consult Google Translate for the key phrases I need.
Except I really don’t need them. I open my mouth, and am immediately greeted with perfect English and helpful service. In fact throughout this trip, perhaps because I make the effort to at least try to speak French, I have not encountered the famous Parisian attitude that I remember from my youth. And I do in fact manage to stumble by even with people who don’t speak, or don’t speak much, English. A few key phrases, “l’addition s’il vous plait” for the bill, the time I spent plowing through Duolingo, it all seems to work. And people are smiling when they talk to me.
I do wonder a little whether this will change when Patricia arrives. From what I see on the Metro and in the cafes, French society seems as divided on racial lines as American. What will the reception be like for a mixed race pair of travellers? Or is the division really on class lines, will her patronage be as gladly accepted in Lilas as mine, where I only had a coffee and a couple of drinks to occupy a table for hours writing in imitation of my hero Hemingway.
I am now an expert at navigating the Metro, at least when staying within the central zone. Up to Gare du Nord on the 5, then down on the RER B to Luxembourg, then walk up Rue Soufflot in the Latin quarter to the Pantheon. A marvellous neo-classical monument, originally a church but now a mausoleum for the most distinguished of French citizens.
I am here to pay homage to Jean Moulin, the hero of the French Resistance who united the warring factions in one council. Only to be betrayed a week later to the Gestapo, and commit suicide. rather than reveal his secrets under torture.
The ground floor of the Pantheon is unbelievably rich, massive murals, the incredible domes, statuary of the revolution, of the Unknown Warrior.
And down in the crypt, a hush as I search the computerized index for Jean Moulin’s remains. I find the chamber easily, there are less than ninety people honored by internment in the Pantheon. I reflect for a while in my Rise and Resist t-shirt–In America we call ourselves the Resistance, but these were real resisters.
Suitably humbled, I head down side streets to Boulevard Saint Germaine, with the bright and the beautiful. I can barely afford a cafe glace and a martini in Les Deux Magots, but it is clearly still a place to see and be seen as it was in Hemingway’s day. More time with my trusty iPad, critiquing a fellow student’s work for a class we share, and losing time to Facebook. A friend once referred to Facebook as “a massive brain suck”, I am addicted to its dopamine micro-hits.
Seeking something less expensive than Les Deux Magots, the first cafe I run into is La Rhumerie, a rum- and Caribbean-themed eatery. And more just occupying space while writing—I seem to be tolerated every place I stop, there is never the hint that my time is unwelcome. People seem to just sit for hours in French cafes, the tradition unbroken from before Hemingway to now.
Back off to my apartment. Charles de Gaulle airport to meet Patricia in the morning.