Friday, September 18, 2009

Parisians, An Observation

I don't want to generalize, but I've concluded that one of things Parisians have down to a science is commuting by foot and on public transportation. They remind me of people from the Mendocino Coast who know how to drive 128 or 20, as compared to the tourists who don't. They know how to stay out of each other's way, pass, get through all the entry and exit points, get on and off trains, balance without even holding on when the train's moving, and stand-up when it gets too crowded to sit. (This last has to do with the fact that there are seats in the Metro and on the buses that pop up when no one's sitting on them. When it gets crowded, everyone stands; no one uses those seats.) They commute with a certain grace.

I've been trying to be observant, to just see how things are done. The first day I couldn't use my metro card, I couldn't figure out how to open the door to my apartment building, actually both doors, because it's a series of two doors to get in and out and I fell over the door jam because I wasn't expecting it to stick up in the air about three inches. What else? Well, it took me four days to figure out how to turn on my stove (and that was with English instructions) and I have yet to try the microwave/convection oven and the washing machine/dryer (one machine).

But I'm getting pretty good at crossing the street and I'm walking fast enough now so that (wonder of wonders) I actually passed a couple people today. I've learned how to brush aside the people who ask for money, etc, with a "non," or just a gesture. I've figured out how to not be the last one on the Metro (without crowding or pushing) and how to read on the Metro, which makes me feel très local—that and wearing scarves. What I haven't been able to fathom is how the French women wear the shoes and boots that they do... often with radical heels. I think, how can they walk for miles in those things? I have no idea.

I went to the beginning French class today and was amazed to see just how much better than a rank beginner I am. The class was way too easy. It doesn't solve anything, but clearly, that's not the right place for me. I understood everything the teacher said, even her asides and extraneous comments. It was startling and exciting. I think my ability to understand is improving faster than my ability to speak. My big excitement for the day was purchasing a little French/English dictionary. First of all, I was able to ask (in French, I'm saying) where it was and be immediately understood. Second, when the cashier asked if I had 20 cents so he wouldn't have to give me a lot of change, I understood him and produced it. That felt like making amends for my ignorance in the grocery store.

The local street market was here today. It comes every Friday afternoon. It's wonderful!  Beautiful fish, beautiful vegetables, several cheese shops, a butcher, a charcuterie (deli), a boulangerie (bakery) with piles of beautiful bread, lots of fruit, roasted chickens and other birds I didn't recognize—which is also what was so wonderful about the fish, lots of interesting looking creatures I didn't recognize. There were also a couple of jewelry displays and some flowers. I think that's all. It's a small market, but very well presented. It's two blocks from my house, right next to the park—here's a picture of the park. I didn't take this, I found it on the web, so I hope I'm not causing anyone any grief by posting it.

You can see the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur in the background. This picture is taken from Avenue Trudaine, looking toward the park. The market is all around the edges of the park, on the sidewalk. I sat in the park for a short while last evening. It's a tiny little patch of urban green with benches, trees and young kids playing. I walk toward Sacré Cœur to catch the Metro, just on the north side of the park.

Tomorrow I intend to explore Rue de Martyrs, the market street that crosses Ave Trudaine to the west. (I've been walking to the East everyday to get to Gare du Nord.) I think I mentioned seeing the carousel? It's about a block from where I live. I plan to walk to the Museum of Romantic Life, which is about ten blocks from here. I'll probably walk to Square d'Orleans too, which is where George Sand and Chopin lived. It's very close to the museum. Delacroix's house is in the area too. The district I'm walking through is called Nouveau Athens. It's where a mix of the nouveau rich and bohemian artists cohabitated in the early 19th century. I'm living right on the edge of it. Actually Avenue Trudaine might be considered part of it, I'm not sure.

I'm going house hunting tomorrow. I want to find a building where I can place the Farrenc family. I'm looking for a tree, actually, and the buildings that surround it on a narrow street. There's a tree outside my apartment, in the courtyard. It's big and blooming. I think it's an elm, but I'm not sure. It might become part of my book too. I'm quite taken by it. Every day when I come home, I open my windows, windows that pull open kind of like doors. Do they have a name? No doubt. French windows. They're wonderful, part of the original 19th century decor. I don't have a balcony, some of my neighbors do. (I consider the windows that look into the courtyard my neighbors.) But I do have a little wrought iron work in front of the window. C'est charmant.

Clearly I did a poor job of describing the window that Tori looks out of in the opening of The Appassionata. She's watching her mother and father board a carriage bound for Hugo's play, Hernani. Now I have the window. In fact, I am on the top floor, as I said she was, and I am looking down at a tree, which I also said she was. It's a big tree that comes up as high as my window. What I don't have yet is the front of the building or the lay of the street. I know its narrow.  Perhaps tomorrow I'll find it.

And I'm also committed to finding an inviting street cafe. I intend to spend some time tomorrow writing and drinking coffee in a cafe. I'm taking my journal and a pen.


  1. Hi. Thought of a book I read last year by Ross King called The Judgement of Paris. It's about the Salon and the Salon de Refuse and written about the same time as you book takes place. Interesting.

    Love the blog!

  2. Wahoo Molly!
    You're melding. Any birds in the tree. Thank you for keeping us posted, for the pictures and letting us be there with you, by way of your blog!
    Wonderful stuff, all!