Sunday, May 24, 2009

Last day and first days...




We are delayed for a hour at Charles De Gaulle--our last day in Paris, my last sandwich du jambon for airport brunch. It's killing me to leave the basic ham and cheese sandwiches you can buy on every other block here, and we have begun to discuss The American Bread dilemma. Four bucks for a decent baguette is a bit much. I will proceed directly to the Metropol day-old shelf, above the informal lending library they have there...but it's not the same.

It's not easy to leave. Our first conversation with a fellow American involved a display of his authority on the amount of re-bar used in the foundation of the Charles De Gaul airport...

Over the course of a few days one of the things I learned was that the folks we talked to appreciated a functional attempt at the language, but not so much French for practice or for the sake of openness. I started thinking of this as "the Paris slap down," when you try to impress with the old college try. On our last full day, I ran into a jazz snob at the cd store near our place. The guy at the counter was super cool, he was playing CHUCK BERRY (I could see the second century arena across the street) and I ventured to comment that he is "le roi de rock n roll." I was about to burst into tears with no particular place to go. The jazz snob aped the backbeat of the song as if it were some retrograde neanderthal wound to the Bop canon and said "time for you to go" when I asked the clerk what time it was. This was like a shot of novacaine in the eye, and a ritual reminder that I wasn't at home, and about due to get back on the airplane and read Elmore Leonard. I had been proud that I could smile and joke to the record store clerk "Je ne suis pas un voleur" as I put my bag behind the counter--but jazz snobs are the same everywhere, only worse in France. I bought a reissue of Ornette Coleman's Dancing in Your Head and Albert Ayler for a friend, and got outta there.

The Hard Bop Tomb Attendant was an exception--so many gracious people were generous in simple ways.
***

The best long conversation I had was with a guy about my age, three sheets and a drippy kebab sandwich in his hand, at a cafe near Hemingway's old apartment, a little plaza up the hill from our block. His eyes were watering, he was so drunk, and his attention to my every word was complete, and mine to his...I pointed out a mouse skittering around a motorcycle at the center of the plaza and asked him what the word for mouse was. We talked about work...he worked for the Paris municipal crew, Marie De Paris, but for about two days I thought he was trying to explain that he was a free-lance wedding officiator. Tracy said "you two were having an actual conversation--you were speaking in French." He indulged one of my asssumptions--that French people will want to help you learn to speak their language better. I will always appreciate that. He seemed deeply lonely and resigned in some way so it was one of those conversations where talking about the mouse under the motorcycle might be significantly more than that.

Hemingway's apartment, like Notre Dame, was something we happened upon, on a walk.

Yesterday we were back home for our first full day and off to market to sling smoothies. (One customer asked his friend if he was going to something called "the sister sweat" and "fire on the mountain," a singles sauna for deadheads, I guess.) I went down about one o'clock and hit the farmer's market, got some good bread at Metropol, some olives. I put the olives in a bowl on the counter while I made dinner, and we had some of our smuggled goat cheese on toasted bread. (An upbeat Minnesotan beagle in the employ of the U.S. Department of Agriculture sniffed out our our tiny sausages, but with nerves of steel, Tracy used these as a decoy, keeping the link of saucisson deeper in the backpack, wrapped in fourteen layers of paper and plastic. I am deeply in awe of her.)

So, we're back, and trying to do things differently, and enjoying our yard, which is bigger than the park dedicated to Foucault, on Le Rue d'Ecoles.
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