Thursday, May 30, 2013

Surprise! Pouring rain today. Actually, they're predicting a spate of good weather. That will be a first. The month of May was washed out.

Jules Verne themed carousel at Parc Monceau

I bought myself a little point and shoot camera, which I figured I'd eventually turn over to Ellen because she wants one, but, of course, all the instructions and warnings and settings are in French, which is hard enough for me and would be harder for her.  Half the time I don't know what the camera is telling me.

Parc Monceau

I decided to check out Parc Monceau - I'd never been there on previous visits to Paris. It is a lovely park created for rich people and their children in a neighborhood for, of course, the rich. It's quite beautiful, as is the neighborhood. It was after school and the park was filled with children of all ages, running and playing pickup soccer and having a grand time. The only ones on their cellphones were the parents and nannies.

The side of a car with street reflections

The park is full of benches and there were lots of adults just sitting and relaxing - enjoying the break from the rain. I sat for a long time, too. Lovely to have nowhere to be and nothing to do.

Still a few tulips left

Right outside the park gates, representatives of Kraft (boo! hiss!) were handing out free packets of Oreos along with discount coupons. They did make sure they had the permission of an adult before handing them to kids. There were lots of Oreos being eaten in the park. I know that France has banned GMOs, though I don't know the details, and wondered if these Oreos could possibly be GMO-free. And if they are, shouldn't we be able to get them, too? I've been studying the package, but can't figure it out. It's in many languages, but not in English, and the print is so tiny I can't read much of it anyway. 

Lots of great windows in Paris

There's a huge Magpie - at least I think that's what it is - on a branch right outside my window at the moment. There are always lots of wood pigeons, as well, and they are always on tiny branches which barely hold them. They always look as though they should be thinking of moving to something more secure, but they never do.

View from where I'm sitting - on a sunnier day

One of the nice things about this apartment is how many birds there are. They start up a chorus every day before sunrise - about 4:30 am - and it always wakes me up. I listen for a little while and then go back to sleep. It's lovely.

More Parisian windows

Yesterday I went out to St. Denis, just outside the city, to see the Basilique St. Denis, where most of the kings and queens are buried and dedicated to the patron saint of Paris.

I do love cathedrals

St. Denis is one of the earliest examples of Gothic architecture. I think that the people who came up with these cathedrals were certainly inspired, though whether divinely so is open to question. Every time I'm in one, my atheist self can understand the inspiration religious people feel when they are in one. I just love visiting them.

 Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette worshipping

Needless to say, I'm not so thrilled with what the "church" did to betray the average person's awe. It does remind me of the Bush administration and their choice of the phrase "Shock and Awe" to describe the bombing of Iraq and all the religious implications in that choice of the word "awe."

 Not easy to see - but this is the final resting
place of Marie Antoinette (for Alix)

It was interesting to sit outside this cathedral at a cafe across the square. The area is heavily Muslim and it is a bit of jolt to see them walking past this bit of French history.

St. Denis

Paris is a greater mix of cultures than even New York, I think. I've seen quite a few people stopped by the police here - in the Metro, on the streets, in their cars - and the people stopped have always been people of color. These French cops seem to go their American counterparts one better. And, of course, the only criminals I've encountered were lily white.

More St. Denis

Divine right of kings, I guess.

Walking the rue de Rivoli, on my way to a poetry reading,
after the Metro broke down

I went to another poetry reading at an English pub. I can't remember the names of the poets (though I could look them up). One was from Sweden, though he now writes in English. I found him a little too flip, but pleasant enough to listen to. The other was a woman from England. I enjoyed her a lot more - she had a long poem and a dream and a convertible, which was fun and clever and thought-provoking at the same time. She had come over from London just for the one day to recite.

More Parisian windows

There was also a photography exhibit which was embarrassing to see, it was so amateurish. Every single photograph would have been deleted from my camera - actually would never have been taken in the first place.

Music at the cafe on the corner

On the way home, I stopped for a while at the cafe on the corner where a man was playing his guitar and people were dancing in the street. Even when the weather is not great, things like this happen here.

Everything is "around the corner"
from this apartment

I love the way almost every block has its pool of light coming from a cafe. The action spills out on to the street because the places are so small - though I imagine that could be a problem for people living nearby. Unless it's raining, the cafes seem to be busy every night of the week.

The remaining windmills of Montmartre

Not the best time of day for a shot of these windmills, but I love the geometry. I have never seen the movie "Amelie" but the restaurant below the closer windmill is supposed to be where she worked.

Looking down on my favorite spot
for a glass of wine

This restaurant/cafe is halfway up the hill from the Abbesses Metro station - the one I use the most. Though it's mostly tourists, just like at the top of the hill, it has less of a frantic "aren't we excited we're in Paris?" feel to it. Probably because my glass of Chiroubles costs 6.5 euros instead of 5.

My glass of Chiroubles

The terrace looks down the hill and between some buildings and out over Paris, but you have to look closely to see the church spires and the gold dome. You could be almost anywhere, except where would there be blooming red chestnut trees overhead, the studio of Picasso off to the right, someone in the distance playing "La Vie en Rose" on an accordion, the German tourists next to you communicating in English with the French waiter, the cobblestones, and the spot where a young couple stole your camera right down the block?

 The cafe if you look up

I'm headed out to an art opening and a poetry reading and it looks as though the skies are clearing - I hope. The places aren't anywhere near each other and several convoluted metro transfers apart.

Of course

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Well, I'm in a rather foul mood. Yesterday, my camera was stolen. It was in my backpack. There's no knowing what to do. They tell you not to wear it around your neck - you look like a tourist and are a target and they come along with knives to cut the strap. That pretty much leaves the backpack. Anyway, I felt them pull the zipper and turned around, but they were very fast. The camera was under my umbrella, so they stole that, too. These were not economically disadvantaged people; they were not immigrants. They were a well-dressed, attractive, young (probably) French couple - probably do this for the fun of it. Anyway, they grinned at me and I ran after them, but obviously they were much faster, and when I went around the corner after them, they were gone. It all had to be seen by others - there were lots of people around - but no one else batted an eyelid. And, of course, my travelers insurance doesn't cover theft. Anyway, I'm going to replace it. I can't be here and not take pictures.

Full moon over Paris

I had the camera with me because I was going down to the Seine to take pictures of the full moon. The last time I was in Paris in May, there was a full moon, but I didn't have a tripod and my pictures are blurry. I was going to remedy that this time. So the above picture was found on the internet by googling "pleine lune Paris." It even cleared up so we could see the moon! I didn't go down to the Seine, but stayed up here on the plaza in front of Sacre Coeur and watched a gorgeous orange moon rise over the city. You had to be there! Oh well.

Anti-Monsanto protest

The other thing I was going to photograph was the anti-Monsanto protest here. Again, here's a photograph from the internet. The protest was a disappointment. Maybe it's difficult to muster the enthusiasm when your country has already banned GMOs - though the EU courts have said they can't - but I think France is resisting that decision. This plaza is not that big and it wasn't full, even though there were all the tourists looking at the Eiffel Tower and an anti-abortion rally and another rally, the purpose of which I never figured out.

Graffiti near the apartment

There were the usual drummers and some chanting, but many fewer signs than at the protests I'm used to. I've seen plenty of signs in photographs of European protests (and lots in photos from yesterday in other European cities) - don't know what the deal was here.

Gustave Moreau Museum

Down the hill is this cool museum that Terri Carrion and Michael Rothenberg turned me on to. This place is floor-to-ceiling artwork - all done by Moreau. He painted all the usual religious themes you see in the Louvre, but with a cool late 19th-century take on them. Very fun to look at.

More Gustave Moreau

I don't care if I never step foot in the Louvre again. What's best in Paris for art are all the little museums they've created from the studios of the artists themselves or in the homes of collectors. I love them.

In front of a restaurant

One of the best things to do, of course, is just stroll the streets (always on the alert for thieves!). The streets are so curvy here that it's best to study the map first. You mean if I head in that direction I'll actually end up in the other direction? Who knew? Mostly, I see people wandering around using their apps on their phones.

Petals on the ground

Happily, there hasn't been as much rain as they predicted - though I do have to go out and find a new umbrella - mine was really nice and the ones they sell up on this hill are junk. There was that break in the clouds for the full moon last night.....

The side of a truck outside a patisserie

I haven't had any macarons yet. They are usually brighter than these - definitely not natural coloring. Except for the beignets, I haven't been impressed with the baking - I've actually never been impressed with French baking. I remember being unimpressed forty years ago - when I was definitely impressed with the other food - except for the fruit (which was exceptional), the pastry was pretty tasteless. Still is and you can only tolerate so much almond paste. I think northern California surpassed France - when it comes to food - quite a while ago.

Across the street

I finally found out what the octagonal building across the street once was - an art gallery now - the remains of the first water tower in the neighborhood. Yes, the sky was actually pink that night!

The current water tower for Montmartre

The other night I went out for poetry again. Dorianne Laux was reading, as well as her husband (can't remember his name), and Cecilia Woloch. There were women of all ages there - quite young to elderly.  The men were all over sixty and there were some real horse's asses there. I just loved the two guys arguing over which one had had the uglier divorce.  (Random photos inserted from now on.)

One of Montmartre's stairway streets

One of the guys had just gotten back from his college reunion. The other guy said, "Oh yes, Columbia or Cornell, was it?" The other guy said, "No, starts with a Y as in Yale." "Oh, of course." Gag me. Anyway, the women fawned over the men and it was ugly.

Lapin Agile

The reading wasn't as well attended as the monthly 100 Thousand Poets for Change, despite the famous poet. Too bad. I enjoyed her, but thought Cecilia Woloch was the best - she leads the Poets in Paris program at USC - this reading was part of that. Her book "Carpathia" is inspired by her attempts to recover her family's past in the Carpathian mountains. I recommend it.

Tamarisk - roadside "weed" tree in Sonoma County

I'm interested in her work as another example of looking back at family history. When I'm in Scotland and Wales, I'm going to be doing a little of that and I've started a little writing about it. I just received this invitation - though I obviously can't go.

Invitation to the 325th anniversary of
the founding of the Pennepack Baptist Church

My seventh great-grandparents (that's seven greats in front of grandparents), John and Joan Eaton, came from Wales and helped found this church. They were non-conformists, meaning they didn't belong to the Church of England. I'll be visiting the area they came from. But I've gotten back two additional generations to Chester, England and I'll be visiting Chester, as well. The records are sketchy, because non-conformists didn't keep a lot of records.

My street again, looking the other direction,
on that pink sky night

I got an emailed letter dictated by Andrew yesterday:

     Dear Grandma, I love you so much on top of the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Couer. And I am
     in the Pantheon. And I am on the boats. And I am buying maps. And the chop off heads place.
     Love, Andrew

Then he asked his mother, "Does that say all the wonderful things?"

Canal St. Martin

He got two books for kids about Paris for his birthday and he has really learned a lot. Though he is a little worried about having his head chopped off and being buried in the Pantheon.

Tonight I head to Shakespeare and Company for another poetry reading - Carol Ann Duffy, former poet laureate (and first female one) of England. The only poetry of hers I've read is her book which takes fairy tales and tells them from the point of view of the women. Not always great poetry, but fun and feminist.

The crowds at Place du Tertre

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I don't have any photographs for this blog, so I'm going to sprinkle it with a bunch of unrelated things - particularly some of the one hundred pictures I took today at the Cemetery of Montmartre. I overdid it. We finally got some sun and I had to run out with my camera.

Cimitiere de Montmartre

Yesterday, I went to my first poetry reading - turned on to it by Nancy Norton, who (lucky woman) divides her time between France and the US. I wrote down the address and headed out early enough to have some wine and a salad before the reading and then managed to leave the address behind. I did a bit of walking up and down the street and was about to give up when I recognized it.

Jean-Baptiste Baudin -
killed on the barricades in 1851

It was your standard sidewalk cafe on the outside, but inside it was really beautiful and very large. To get to the room for the reading, I went up a very impressive stairway into a small room that was quite a bit more ornate than any we have in Sonoma County - which is fine by me.

Lots of graves have ceramic flowers and wreaths

The routine is to have one reader in French and another in another language, usually English. The English reader, Deborah Poe, from the US was an inspiration. She read from a chapbook-length historical poem she wrote about a young woman working in a "factory-convent" manufacturing silk in western France in the 19th century. I bought a copy because it serves as model for whatever it is I plan to do about my female "non-conformist" ancestors. Of course, she had a travel fellowship from SUNY to do research.


It was nice to have actual full conversations - because we were speaking English! I met a young woman from West Virginia, by way of a Masters at Middlebury, who said she is "cobbling together a life" with writing and translating and teaching English-as-a-second-language and has been here twelve years. She says you can live happily on less here because of the social services system and because there is such an active arts community.

All the cemeteries have watering cans
so you can water the plants at your loved one's grave

Tomorrow there is another reading with Dorianne Laux and others, so I'll be heading off to hear that. I also went to another English bookstore - the oldest in Paris and actually English - and though it looked like your average bookstore - without the Shakespeare and Co. vibe - it was so much easier to browse because there was enough light! I'd hoped for a good poetry selection, but it was really paltry.


I haven't mentioned the Metro much, but it is wonderful and gets me everywhere. Many of the acts have poetry in them - "Lignes et RiMes" with the "M" written like the Metro symbol. And announcing the upcoming Fete de la Philo - Festival of Philosophy - there was this (my loose translation - I hope I have it right), "How does one learn what one knows? Not by meditation, but by action." - Gandhi

Graves frosted with chestnut blossoms

There's also lots of great music in the Metro - some great accordion music and some beautiful singing in the cars and full bands and solo violins in the tunnels. And speaking of singing, I sat next to some men speaking Arabic at one of the cafes and, while two of them were talking, the third was singing - very haunting and lovely.

  Goldenrain Tree

It was really nice to see the sun today, though it was gone by late afternoon and is supposed to stay away awhile. It has been much like Sonoma County in February since I've arrived. I think it was in the low 50's today. The warm clothes I brought were for Scotland and Wales, not Paris.

A Parisian cemetery ladybug for Andrew

I've been walking three to four hours each day and by the end my arthritic knees and feet are toast. I keep expecting them to get used to it, but they don't. Today I walked the back (north) side of the Montmartre hill on my way to and from the cemetery - fewer tourists - about four hours before collapsing for late lunch at a cafe - Salade Nicoise and a sauvignon blanc.

Cimitiere de Montmartre

Then I made myself just sit and do nothing for half an hour. Not my usual thing - there's usually a book in my hand. Practice - I survived.

End of the day at the cafe


Monday, May 20, 2013

Rain, rain, rain. I'm glad that I'm not just fitting in a few days in Paris right now.

I went down the hill - the back, less touristy side - and had a hamburger for lunch - and I know the correct French way to eat a hamburger: with a knife and fork. I like that so many things come with a side salad - last time I was here, you couldn't get one at all. It's so cold, that the cafe I went to provided blankets for your legs. I used one.

Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

Yesterday, I went to the above church - very small, 12th century, in sight of Notre Dame - and listened to a piano concert of Beethoven and Chopin. It was quite lovely and the audience thought the pianist - Jean-Christophe Millot - was fabulous. standing ovation and much exclaiming afterwards. He sounded good to me, but I don't know anything.

Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

There's a Gospel and spirituals concert coming up. It might be fun to hear that in this location, but it's a bit pricey.

The French are a real mixed bag when it comes to environmental issues. They're no longer allowed to smoke indoors, but they still smoke so much that you walk on a carpet of cigarette butts on the street. They know more about GMO's than Americans, but everything goes into a bag - real heavy duty plastic. So far over 2,500 people have signed up on Facebook to go to the GMO protest on the 25th - which was originally going to take place in a restaurant.

Be sure to get your five servings
of poison a day!

One of the Metro stations has several displays about the environment. They explain the nesting sites that have been set up for hawks in the city and the importance of bees. Some of the parks have beehives and the city has planted beneficial flowers.

This is right near some beehives
in the Luxemburg Gardens

The slogan is "Biodiversite - C'est la vie!" Biodiversity - it's life!

And the masculinity thing is confusing. Though French women have considerable equality - and don't live in a country that acts as though it hates families, the way the US does - it's supposed to be quite misogynistic. At the same time, the men are really colorful dressers - something that would bring heaps of ridicule on American men. They wear purple pants and bright yellow shows and pink shirts and lovely long flowing scarfs, just like the women. It takes a little getting used to, but I think American men should claim it. Life could be a lot more colorful and fun, guys!

Same plants as Home Depot, but it looks
so much better displayed along the Seine.

And then there are all the women mincing around in high heels on cobblestones. I can barely do it in my flats! That's not one I would trade. But they do have great shoes and much more variety than in the U.S.

One is tempted to eat baked good all day. They are everywhere. This boulangerie is by the Canal St.Martin.

Classic boulangerie

There was a line out the door and I've read that if there's a line out the door, it's a sign that you should get at the end of it. I didn't, though, because it was a long way from home.

Nancy Norton sent me a link to a list of literary happenings in Paris. There's a poetry reading I may go to tomorrow night (if it's not raining). And there is an annual literary fair the second weekend of June and Eavan Boland is reading (they are featuring the literature of Ireland - they pick a different country every year), so I'll be heading to that for sure. I'd also like to hear Seamus Heaney, but my kids will be here by then and I don't think Andrew would be too thrilled.

More beautiful neighborhood -
down behind the apartment

I finished Flight Behavior and found myself in it:

     "That's America. We watch shows about rich people's houses and their designer dresses and we
     drool. It's patriotic."
     "Not me. I think I hate rich people."
     "Yeah, but you're an equal-opportunity hard ass. You hate everybody."
     "I do not," Dellarobia exclaimed, surprised. "Am I that bad?"
     Dovey reconsidered. "Hate is a strong word. You don't let people get away with much."
     " what's my problem?"
     "Diabolical possession."

And still no writing worth mentioning.

Another one looking out the window