Sunday, October 28, 2007

DW: Travels With My Past

My husband and I just returned from France, where we spent one week in the Provence area, then five days in Paris. I'm beginning to think that Erica Jong was right when she said, "whenever I make plans to go anywhere but Italy, I feel like I have made a terrible mistake."

A few things you should know about me: French was my second language after English. I was fortunate enough to have gone to a private school for two years where half the day was taught in English and half the day was taught in French. Um, this didn’t mean that my parents were rich, it meant that my father made a lot more money than usual for two years, and then we were back to being poor again. However, that experience instilled a lifelong interest and capacity for learning new languages. So, my point is that I loved French things from the time I was very little. I loved them even more when my mother would remind me that Jackie spoke to Caroline in French, and speaking French was an entree into the world of diplomacy, literature, and film.

I think my first French film was "Jules and Jim." I remember arguing with my father because there was a Knicks game on and we had only one TV and he certainly was not interested in watching a PBS presentation of a subtitled film. After much spitting and yelling, I got my way, and fixated on Jeanne Moreau and Oskar Werner for the next two hours. I was thrilled—I had two new friends to relate to— in French.

This most naturally paved the way for me to spend most of my adolescence planning on exactly what courses I would take at the Sorbonne, and what arrondissement I would live in as a student. What resulted was me going to Rutgers and living in Clothier Hall then an apartment on Guilden Street. But hey, I did continue with my French obsessions in college, and went to all of the classic “new wave” screenings. I also studied Italian and Russian.

So, here I was in Paris (for the third time), and Iwas feeling disconnected and displaced. Thinking that I love reading about Paris more than being there, and I definitely prefer Paris in black and white. I want everything to look like it does in “Rififi” and “Band a Part.” I want to be Anna Karina running through the Louvre in black tights—not a middle-aged American with sore feet and a sinus headache.

I’ve decided that there are not any shoes in the world that can make my feet feel comfortable after 6 hours of walking. Not SAS, Rockport, New Balance, or Keen. Even with rotating my regular orthotics, Dr. Scholl’s gel orthotics, and Dr. Scholl’s gel heel inserts, I still needed to ice my feet after a day of walking. My husband, of course, could have continued on for another 6 hours without hobbling.

The two highlights of our Paris stay was my falafel from “The Ace of Falafel” (Lenny Kravitz’s favorite falafel place) in the Marais section, and seeing Serge Gainsbourg house on the rue Verneuil. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to large museums, so we opted for the Rodin and Picasso museums which were great. Unfortunately, Camille Claudel’s work was on temporary visitation to Spain for an exhibition.

Perhaps the thing that was most unsettling was that we couldn’t get a cup of coffee for less than 4 euros, which is about $6. This was the first time I didn’t do enormous amounts of research on places to eat, etc. I’ve been so busy at work that I just had to be spontaneous. That spontaneity translated into a $11.40 euro bill ($15) for two café cremes at Café Flore. Of course, you’re paying for the privilege of sitting on St. Germain de Pres and people watching.

I came home to the new issue of Vanity Fair, which has a very long article on Serge Gainsbourg—how cosmic is that? My feelings softened about Paris when reading all these Left Bank references—Café Vagenende, Rue Jacob. Rue Princesse, etc—I know where all those places are, and that’s very gratifying in some odd way. It makes me feel like an insider.

I’m glad to be home and back to my French press coffee and black and white books and films about Paris… the place where I was supposed to have been born afterall.

To be continued.

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