Sunday, October 31, 2010

Déménager Ou Désastre?

Somewhere in this blog or its sibling I have gone on at some length about the always unique (meant in its purest French meaning o the word) experience of entering a Paris apartment for the first time.  An – I had hoped at the time when I wrote it – entertaining episode in Screen Saver tells the story of the time Mysti and I entered our first Paris apartment for the first time.  I think the later discussion in some blog of mine that I am referring to had as its point that one of the many endearing characteristics of my current landlord is that the first time I ever entered the first apartment that I ever rented from him, I was able to get in just as the directions said I would be able to get in with no adventures at all.  While that may have been disappointing due to its lack of adventure, it was really pleasant from the standpoint of wear and tear on Noel McKeehan.  After all, if each of us at birth has some assigned budget of all things in their kind, I had the feeling that my budget of new apartment entry wear and tear was nearing its maximum;  since I wasn’t sure what happens to a person who has reached some budgetary maximum ( implode? explode? just fade into oblivion?) I was pleased to have eluded decrementing mine yet again with that now somewhat in the distant past entry.

I have now – as of this moment, the day after the new apartment first time entry with which I am about to regale my non-existent readership – made first time entries five times in apartments Thierry has rented me. And each was uneventful, with the instructions working flawlessly and the doors opening on first attempt with the key.  It should be mentioned that two of the five were repeat rentals, so the fact that, at a date later than that uneventful first first time entry I could repeat the event probably doesn’t count, but I am including them for a reason to which I will get in a moment. 

As this story turns out to twist, the apartment that I entered yesterday was that exact first apartment I ever rented from Thierry.  Although I didn’t  exactly remember its layout, I had a pretty good idea of the method of entry the, the nature of the  entry chamber and the kind of stairs.  In any event, I had Thierry’s always impeccable instructions, so what could possibly go wrong.  In fact, the thought that anything could possibly go wrong, just hadn’t occurred to me.

In the place of worrying about any entry problems I had substituted a mild sense of impending doom which flowed form anticipation of the physical act of the impending move itself: the mechanics of getting two deleteriously stuffed Hartmann roller bags, an equally deleteriously stuffed Hartmann satchel and an amazingly full-of-stuff-with-still-some-room Targus 17 inch size computer back pack from Quai aux Fleurs on Isle de Cité to Rue Guénégaud on the left bank.  Three weeks previously I had made the roughly opposite trip from Rue Jacques Callot and it hadn’t been a whole lot of fun.  It took three trips.  First the smaller of the two rollers with the satchel perched on it as an appendage turned into a much more than expectedly unpleasant traverse; the bag kept wanting to assume a 90 degree attitude from horizontal every time it encountered a cobble stone or irregularity in the travel surface.  Paris has an ample supply of those things. Second, the larger of the rollers was a more steady traveller and, not having a fifty percent additional payload perched on its pull handle made it a much easier pull, but the sixty pounds of computer and camera gear in the back pack more than made up for any improvement coming from Hartmann.  Actually, however, I was surprised.  The back pack was the single best thing to transport.  I wouldn’t have thought a 68 year old would have a lot of success walking a mile or so in the mid day crowds of the streets of Paris with that kind of a load on his back, but I did it.

And, at the time being here described, I was about to do it again.  And any previous success notwithstanding, I was not looking forward to it.  But I am just too cheap to pay for a taxi to do a job that any pack animal ought to be able to accomplish.  I will admit that when I had first awakened around 0900 the fact that it was pouring rain gave me a hopeful twinge of doubt about the advisability of eschewing a cab, but, just as the weather report had said, and as I have seen on so many previous occasions, at about 1030 the clouds parted and the sun came out.

And the appointed hour was rapidly approaching and all the bags were packed and ready to go.  All that was necessary was to select in which sequence the paired bags would go.  Which would be first and which would be second?  By default I had assumed that the market bag full of bottles of stuff would be last as it had been on its previous transit.  But finally I decided to do that one - which was the one I least wanted to do because it was the most work, and unpleasant work at that. The reasons for that unpleasantness hadn’t been apparent until I had made the transport the first time.  After all the market bag was an old friend, having made the trip across the Atlantic and back so many time that I had lost count.  And once in Paris it had always been the ultimate transportation tool: light, flexible, copious in carrying capacity; I had never suspected that it had any bad traits.  But it does when used in the way I was using it.

For example, the bag is just heavy enough to be a real drag on the whole superstructure of whichever side of my body I chose to carry it, which made it necessary to indulge in stops and starts to shift the pendulum-like thing from one hand to the other.  All of this made the endeavor a sort of herky-jerky stumble of a trip with multiple “pardons” as I tried to take advantage (had to accommodate it is a more accurate description) of the additional ground speed that the vector of motion that the forty pound palm leaf woven Paris market bag full of various kinds of bottles of things that I wanted not to have to buy a second time and so which I was transporting to the new location contributed incrementally to my horizontal trajectory.  The added speed of that trajectory lead to many nearly unpleasant encounters with people whom I had overtaken in my forward rush – many of those people being of the opinion that the streets of Paris were intended for slow aimless meandering which was totally at odds with my trajectory - hence many “pardons” as I entered the outer reaches each of these aimlessly wandering little communities, wormed my way into, through and by it and looked with dismay into the not distant road ahead where more of the species  lurked.  But in the end the bag and I both got to our destination with the contents intact.

But that was a description of the trip to Quai aux Fleurs, and background for why I had intended to put off its duplication until the last trip of the day, and why instead, I decided to bite the bullet and put it first.  I did put it first, and while the trip resembled its predecessor, it didn’t duplicate it.  Almost before I had successfully completely entered the comatose state that I find effective in dealing with physical pain I saw the sign Rue Guénégaud.  I was nearly to my new doorway!

And then I was at my new doorway. I entered the code.  It worked.  And then I was inside the inner sanctum, the dimly lit space between the outside and the real inside.  That inner space is always separated from the inner inner space, when an apartment building has adopted this particular type of entry format, by a glass door.  Entry is accomplished through that glass door to the inner space with the use of another code.  I entered that code.  It worked.  Then I was really in.  I could tell that because it was dark as night.  But I knew that what one does then is look for the little glowing spots on the wall.  Those little glowing spots activate the lights so one can see to go where one needs to go.  They activate the lights, but the spirits that control those little glowing things don’t brook those who would tarry.  Of course I know that.  Of course I didn’t tarry.

Once up the stairs to the landing and down the hall toward where, I was beginning to remember my apartment was, I attenuated that hall’s total darkness by pushing the little glowing thing that inevitably appeared, as they always do at such times of total darkness, and walked down the hall thanking the spirits of the little glowing thing.

And then I was at my new doorway.  All I needed to do was enter the code to the key lock to get the key to the apartment, put that key into the lock, turn that key in the just-so manner and voila! I would be in the apartment.  I would have notched another flawless new apartment first time-entry to my belt of Paris apartment entries.

It was at the point of getting the key out of the safe and inserting it in the lock that things took an abrupt turn for the worse.

I just happened, for no apparent reason, to glance to my right, which was back in the direction that I had just come.  I noticed something that momentarily didn’t register in the sinister way that it was about to register.  I just saw what appeared to be a drip of water, probably from the rain.  “But the rain stopped some time ago; I went through a little wetness on the paving and cobbles, but nothing to bring that amount of water in with me, across the marble entry hall, across the marble inner sanctum hall, up the carpeted staircase to the first floor and down the hexagonal brick floor all the way to just back from my new door” I said to myself.  In fact, as I looked a little more closely, there was a puddle right in front of the door, right next to, and under and beside the basket.

“Oh shit”, I thought.  “Did the olive oil come open?”

I knelt down and put a finger in the liquid.  Olive oil it was.

The real story starts here.  But this prologue has already gotten long enough to tax even non-existent readers – I know it has taxed me – and, although I said at the outset, that the pain related to the events which I am about to describe faded much more quickly than I had expected, leaving the inevitable and always welcome post-disaster residue of intense humor; right now the telling of this has reminded me more of the pain. 

So I am going to defer the rest of the story to another day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hotel de Ville

This is a building that even two panoramas and some help from Photoshop couldn’t show all of in one image.

hotel de ville composite panorama

Observations From The Rube

I have decided the include the occasional observations about life in Paris from the viewpoint of a country rustic.  In my family, for reasons that are lost in the mists of time, we referred to those sorts as “Rube”.

Here is the first such observation. It may be the last. 

I stole it it and expanded it a bit from an email I recently sent to a friend.

“Given the number of young women crashing around the streets of Paris on stiletto heels, I would expect to see numbers of them plummeting to the ground with perhaps ankle breaking results. But it doesn’t happen.

Another thing: it is un-nerving how many of the young women here are six feet tall or more. I thought they must be Germans, but they all are shouting French to one another as they careen about the streets, managing to stay upright on what would appear to be barely weight-supporting appendages of their shoes; so they must be French. Or maybe they are German secret agents.

One corollary to the large number of tall women is that their plethoric presence has apparently caused a market anomaly: a shortage of skirts of a length necessary to properly cover them. So the poor things prance about in barely ass-covering garments intended for their shorter sisters.  One would expect the government to intervene.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

27 October And All Is Well

Today I got a much later start than usual. The word “start” refers to the time of day when I have arisen from bed and done all the things that I have chosen to make part of my Paris morning routine: check email, look at any movies or pictures I might have taken out the window since sundown the previous evening, go to the boulanger (and the boucher, fromager, poissoniére and whatever they call the vegetable store, depending upon my menu plans) eat breakfast, brush my teeth, shower, shave and put the dishes in the dishwasher. That usually gets me on the street between 1300 and 1330 – 1200 when I have purposely speeded things up to accommodate a desire to get somewhere at a decent hour, like le Bois de Boulogne.

Today it was 1430. I don’t know what I must have done to take that much extra time (I got up at the normal time) but I must have done something, because it was 1430 as I entered the street from the apartment. I mention this because I use the being on the street each day for two purposes – three really if you count that each time I am communing with a place that I love – getting exercise to make up for that fact that I am not riding my bike thirty miles each day, and gathering pictures. Several years ago it occurred to me one day as I was walking and taking pictures on the same route that I had been walking and taking pictures for years that I was spending a lot of what relativelylittle time I have left and even more of what little money I ever had in the first place to do the same thing over and over. “Why are you doing that; are you nuts?” I heard in my mind's ear. Since the answer to the second part of that question had been known by me and most that have ever known me to be, obviously, “yes” I didn’t waste a moment ponderingthe answer to that part of the question. But the first part seemed to me to be a fair question deserving of a well considered answer. I could only come up with one, but it roared at me at the top of its lungs, so it must be the correct answer: “because you love it here; and, besides the light is always different”.

So that need to capture every nuance of the light of Paris before I die can be productively coupled with indulging in enough exercise to keep from becoming a blivet. That translates to walking two to three hours each day. That gets me back to the keyboard by 1600, at which time I can spend two hours avoiding getting serious about the novel by producing 1200 to 1500 words to post about my life in Paris.

Two days ago a minor, but what could become significant modification occurred. The modification was not in the nature of my writing routine but in the nature of the content produced. A day or two before, I had scribbled a blog idea on one of the lined yellow 8.5 x 11 sheets from my tablet – a medium upon which all my great ideas, as well as all my grocery lists (those being written on sheets that have been folded in four equal folds making it possible to use the same sheet for 8 separate grocery lists) are scribed; in the case of this idea it had something to do with an odd door on the landing of my floor up the spiral staircase, a door that couldn’t front an apartment because of its totally fragile nature, and which I had therefore surmised had no human presence behind it, and a door in front of which I had tarried more than once trying to see into the space behind the opaque, very old, glass, trying to focus what appeared to be shapes, but which couldn’t be focused into any form beyond just that: “shapes”.

Anyway, I started to write about it as just a local color item or a sort of point of interest. Almost immediately the Ouija took over, starting with having me title the post “A Halloween Story?”

It wasn’t very long, but I had terminated it where the story to that point could be viewed as complete and beyond which I already knew what came next. It seemed best to postpone that next "next" until it came around again on the clock. I had also already conceived – not clear, but at least conceptually available, numerous additional and sequentially down stream “nexts”.

It may be that all of that is the germ for the novel. It may even be possible to salvage the already extant 6000 words that I got myself painted into a corner with. On va voir.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post.

Trying to reconcile the needs of pictures, exercise and writing just was too much. So I walked for two and a half hours, got some – I think - great captures of the light, got to see les Invalides with the sun setting on its gold corona, had an interesting encounter with a self-described “post colonial” Frenchman (parents from Mali and Eastern Europe) but didn’t get back until 1730.

So I decided that I would postpone the next “next” and just write something short, quick and simple about the weather. Apparently the Ouija wasn’t interested in writing about the weather any more than he/she was interested in being short and quick.

I guess it all pays the same.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Seine At Four In The Morning

Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night – and I always wake up in the middle of the night – I am transfixed by what I see out the window.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Guns And Sirens

I keep getting emails from concerned friends in the United States asking me if I am “safe” or other words that translate to words very similar in meaning to that word of warm certainty : “safe”. Apparently the reason is that, to the American world, the French world is going up in flames.

To these concerned friends I have given a fairly consistently similar answer: “We Parisians just don’t give a shit”.

Which is true. Life is going on here in pretty much the same manner as it always has, that manner having been so beguiling to me that a significant amount of my paltry net worth continues to be spent to allow me to periodically don the mantle of being a resident of the City of Lights.

So I could have just said to my friends in my email responses something such as that. I could have said “no, I haven’t seen any gas stations being torched or terrorists lurking here and there; I had to read The Economist for that”.

But I haven’t said that.

And there is a reason.

Being “safe” is extremely low on my list of personal priorities.

Being “safe'” (the word needs to be uttered by the person asking if one is “safe” with a sort of whimper, to make it an authentic query as to one’s “safeness” and to show the queryer’s grasp of the futility of the question in the great cosmic spectrum of “unsafeness”) is tantamount to telling – whoever it is that one should aspire to be “safe” from (the terrorists come to mind, but I am so old that I can remember when “teenager” was a term of opprobrium that described a creature walking the streets in waylayance of decent law abiding – older – citizens) that they have won the day. If one wants to be "safe", those entities – whomever they may be – from whom we all need to be “safe”, have won the day, the battle, the month, the year, the century, the millennium; they have won all of whatever it may be that those of us on the “other side” hold dear and sacred; so I don’t want to be “safe”. “Safe” seems to me to be too much like “dead”, but “dead” in an eerie zombie-like form.

So we Parisians just don’t give a shit.

But the French government does, and I think I am kind of glad of that.

Because the government’s manifestation of “giving a shit” takes the form of military personnel in full temperate zone camouflage fatigues armed with short barreled, obviously automatic, machine guns.

However, this is a two-sided coin.

One side – the one that I really subscribe to – is “good; they are ready to lay the fuckers low, whoever the fuckers may be, and I guess I can jump behind a tree if I happen to be at a fucker- elimination site”.

But really.

Even I, who love guns, and view – at least the ones with wooden stocks and their beautiful pistol cousins – as works of art, am mildly rattled by three, four or five young Frenchpeople walking around (like little flocks of green, brown and black plumaged birds - and iat some locations multiple flocks of them) with the full fire power of all of WWII in each of his or her hands.

But then, I have said that I don’t want to be “safe” as the word in quotes is be defined by me. So being somewhat rattled takes the place of being "safe".

And there seem to be a lot more police sirens than I have ever heard, but Paris is not only the City Of Lights, it is the City Of Police Sirens so maybe I just am guilty of faulty memory.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Ouija

I once took a class at Bellevue Community College (now known as Bellevue College). In fact, I took a number of classes: over time I accumulated enough credits to be well on my to a certificate in Multi-Media Authoring; had I not needed to keep getting real jobs with real companies, or having travel schedules in support of my consulting business – the pretend business that tanked when Y2K came and went, not with a bang, but a whimper – I probably would have kept taking classes and finally would have gotten that certificate; I might even have accumulated enough credits for a degree in multi-media authoring. But one had to move fast in that then-emerging discipline. Whatever it was that multi-media authoring was was changing so fast that every time I returned to the curriculum after a work or travel induced absence the name of the discipline had changed, as had its supporting curriculum. It finally got to the point that understanding what I needed to graduate, or if graduation without starting over were even possible, was beyond me, and to some extent beyond my advisor.

But I didn’t mention the class to posthumously weep over milk now long spilled. I mentioned it because that class opened a window I didn’t know existed. And that window, once opened has had periodic significance to me ever since.

The class was Script Writing for Digital Media. I learned a lot from it. One of the most interesting things – because I had no idea that there was anything to know, and therefore didn’t know that I had no clue about it (a dominant and recurring theme in my life) was the structure of a movie. That structure is actually the same as the structure of a much older medium, the three act play. Basically the structure is the hook – to get you interested; the twist – to pose a problem; and the rest of the story – the solution to the problem. I never knew that. It made watching movies a lot more interesting.

We did a lot of projects that were snippets of the activities that go into producing a finished video work of some kind. We did story boards, we created budgets, we shot shots in support of concepts. We probably did a lot more but those are the only things that I can remember. Except for one other thing, which has imbedded in it the whole point my telling of this story.

As a final project, turned in the last day of class (night of class really) in lieu of a final examination, we wrote a short chunk of an original script – whatever we wanted to write a script about. It needed to be in script format – I bought and learned Scriptware to that end – and it needed to be robust enough to start from something and lead to something. In other words, it needed to be big enough and coherent enough to tell at least a little bit of a story.

That didn’t sound too hard. In fact it sounded pretty interesting.

I couldn’t believe how hard it was.

Installing Scriptware, mercifully, took some time, so I could pretend that I was doing productive work on my final project for Script Writing for Digital media. So also did learning the application take time. But after a time, all that had been done and it had become time to put some kind of words into the computer. But there just weren’t any words. I had no idea of a story to tell, and with no story to tell I had no words to feed to Scriptware.

I made an appointment to talk to Michael, our instructor about the problem. He was a really good guy and a good instructor and he took seriously my problem. He said “just think about something of significance or importance that has happened in your life and then make it into a story – a story, of course in script format”

That at least narrowed the field of possibilities. On the other hand, it forced me to realize what a really bleak life I had led. There wasn’t anything of significance or importance that jumped to mind..

Until one thing did leap to mind.

That thing was a really serious encounter that I had had with myself and with another person one time in my life on a bridge over a deep canyon in the middle of nowhere on toward sundown of what had just turned out to be one of the best mid winter days that I had ever experienced. The other person was a woman, so I would need to be able to write some kind of male stuff and some kind of female stuff. I had always wondered how writers did dialogue at all, let alone dialogue that came from mouths other than their own. “I guess I am going to find out” I thought I heard someone say.

So I set out to write.

Mercifully there were start up point of view statements and ambience description statements and time of day statements, but ultimately I had to start having words come out of the mouths of my two characters.

My words were pretty easy. “Great” I thought to myself. The “great was not directed at the quality of those words but at the fact that those words existed, glowing on my screen before me, at all. However, as always must, I would guess, happen, no matter how much a fledgling dialogue writer might want to postpone it, a reply becomes necessary from the other person.

I had reached and passed that point. Taking a deep breath I started keying the reply. I had started, I think, with the barest of concepts of what she was going to say, that concept being based upon some sort of memory of what words had actually been said in my actual past when the event had actually occurred. Beyond that barest of concepts there was nothing, so I had expected a word or two, a pause a word or three, a pause and so on until something took form.

So it was with amazement that I beheld what actually occurred.

She started saying things that I had no idea from whence they came. She was funny, ironic, whimsical but most of all desirable; she was electric; she had a life that I could believe existed independent of the script.

The fact that the person upon whom I was modeling the female script character was all of those things was neither here nor there: the script character that I had conceived and that my fingers - I thought - had been keying into life was, in my mind a sort of cardboard cutout of the real person. That was also true of the male script character. And so he remained as he spoke his lines. But the female just came forward, crashed around, and became a living, breathing being.

That was an amazing experience.

It is I am happy to say an experience that I have had repeated many times while writing Screen Saver, which although it is narrative non-fiction, nonetheless, in my estimation, needed some of the mystery of fiction, albeit encapsulated in an exterior husk of absolute factual truth.

That experience is that of some-Ouija-from -somewhere taking command of the keyboard and just taking off with whatever it is that he has on his mind. After these encounters I behold my most satisfying writing.

I have told this tale because when I set up this blog I took the high risk approach of missioning it with being a goad to me in getting six thousand words of a novel that I had started either out of the ditch or abandoned, and if so-abandoned, with a new novel started in its place.

I am now into twenty three days and I haven’t done those things. And I realize that the only way to start them is to just sit and invoke the Ouija. But that is terrifying. What if he doesn’t come?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Video Is Good Also

Stills are pretty good, but videos can be even better. These are all fresh water fish. I didn't know that there was such a thing as a fresh water ray until I visited this aquarium.

Paris Aquarium 22 October 2010

One of my favorite Paris places (that’s getting to be a tired old refrain, isn’t it?) is the Paris Aquarium. Today for no apparent reason the usual 5 euro tariff was not in effect, so I got in free. There were large numbers of African Frenchpeople all over the place, especially on the steps out front, and most were eating from plastic containers of fairly substantial quantitites of food so I don’t know if it was Le Jour Aquarium d’Africain, or prendez un Africain au dejeuner or what. Anyway, I got in free. Here are a few fish pictures.

paris aquarium 102210 0000paris aquarium 102210 0001paris aquarium 102210 0002paris aquarium 102210 0003paris aquarium 102210 0005paris aquarium 102210 0006paris aquarium 102210 0007

Thursday, October 21, 2010

La Rondelle

It must be obvious to anyone reading this blog that one of my myriad handicaps is that I don't speak French.

It isn't as if I haven't tried – sort of. I have spent quite a bit of money on lessons, and I have learned a certain amount of vocabulary, and verb conjugations and all that stuff one learns when taking language lessons. I have slogged through a significant portion of French One from Rosetta stone, and that, helped my pronunciation quite a bit (now that I have a new ThinkPad with 64 bit Windows 7 Professional I can't install Rosetta Stone and Rosetta Stone wants me to pay for a completely new license, there being no upgrade price. Since that isn't going to happen, any incidental, incremental and accidental improvement in my ability to communicate in French is pretty well stymied, since I am not taking lessons any more either. All that having been said, I believe that the real problem is that I am just too old.

(One of the things that still annoys me about MS Word, now that they have gotten rid of the talking paper clip, is that its grammar checker is constantly hounding me about being guilty of fragments. No one has more of a horror of being guilty of the grammatical sin of a fragment – if one has read Screen Saver one would remember that Sister Justitia planted that horror indelibly and irrevocably as a filter to all that I write – so being constantly accused of the sin is unnerving to the utmost. The annoying thing is that whoever is in charge of grammar for Microsoft doesn't know much. For example, the sentence above: "all that having been said, I believe that the real problem is that I am just too old" was flagged as a fragment. As always, I assumed that, horror notwithstanding, I probably had been guilty of letting a fragment creep into my writing. So I looked at the sentence, and as always, I ended up shouting to no-one in particular "no way that's a fragment." This time however I decided to spend a moment and see if I could imagine any way that the MS grammar checker could draw the conclusion. There is a screamingly obvious part of the sentence which probably drew the wrath of MS Grammar Checker: "all that having been said". So again I shouted to no-one in particular "it's a nominative absolute; Caesar used them all the time; I have been using them ever since Latin II; Sister Justitia thought they were polished grammar." So I decided to call my own bluff and did a Google search on "nominative absolute". Wikipedia has a good article on the subject. The examples they use are structurally identical to the one on offer here from me. The Greeks used the construction – genitive absolute, as did the Romans, ablative absolute. So what is the deal with Microsoft? By the way, I got no further that the word "annoys" before MS Grammar again found me guilty of a transgression. MS thinks that the verb should be "annoy". "Annoys" is the form of the verb used with a singular subject, "annoy" the form for a plural subject. The subject of that sentence is "one" which could not be more singular. For the verb to be "annoy" MS apparently thinks the subject is "things" which is clearly plural. The problem is that "things" is - hey, MS , in this case the referent, although a plural word, is a singular entity, so "is" is correct - the object of the prepositional phrase "of the things" which is a modifier to the subject, not THE subject.)

Anyway, not speaking French while living in France can be quite a pain in the ass. Or it can be looked upon as goad to personal creativity and a source of untold and unbridled continuous merriment. I have chosen to look upon my lack of French language capability from the latter, rather than the former, viewpoint. So rather than just speaking English and getting whatever it is that that approach to life in France might deliver, I constantly try to do that which I most obviously cannot do: speak French.

But sometimes I get away with it for a sentence or two.

Like this morning. I have been eating salmon that I buy from the poissonnerie and cook in the apartment – a previous post even had a picture of the finished product – roast chicken that I buy from the boucherie and don't have to do any preparation, cote de porc from Carrefour which I cook myself and quiches from the boulanger which can be eaten at room temperature or turned soggy warm in the microwave. I have enjoyed all of those, but I keep eying the whole filet wrapped in bacon at the boucherie - 38 euros le kilo. Beef is kind of important to me. It is less so when I am in France, but ultimately I need some rare beef.

To that end a couple of days ago I decided to spruce up my vocabulary for the word "piece". I thought that something that must sound a great deal like "piece" must be one word that I could mumble to cover my lack of knowing exactly what the word was, or how to pronounce it – after all lots of items are marked as priced by a word that looks as if it must mean and sound like what I hoped to be its English cousin "piece". But that seemed to me to be a kind of cognate copout, and a copout that probably had no basis in actual French vocabulary usage. I thought I that I remembered having had some success a few years back buying cheese employing the word "morceau" but I hadn't used that word in the interim and I thought that I had, in any case, gotten unexplainably mixed reactions for the same transaction, same word and same product being desired. So I looked in my dictionary. Top of the list was "morceau". "Great" thought I, "but isn't there something better?" Next in line was "parcelle" but that was for land.

But then there it was; it was a beautiful word: "Rondelle" to be used with round pieces. It was feminine so I could roll out "une Rondelle" following my less frequently used old standby "je voudrais" and finish the whole thing off with a thumb and forefinger gesture indicating a size of about an inch and a half and a resounding "comme ça".

So this morning I did just that. And it worked just as I had envisioned that it would work. In fact it was even more beautiful than it had been in my imaginings: after my "comme ça" the boucher grabbed the tenderloin, got his knife, looked at me, having placed the knife (another nominative absolute, but oddly placed in the sentence) and said "comme ça?" "Comme ça".

A three element exchange: what a linguistic windfall!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts Of The Seine

When first I moved into this apartment I was massively entertained by a panoramic view of the Seine from four floors up. It was an experience I had never thought about having, or ever had expected to have, so it was special, exciting and, I guess, wonderful.

As the days have passed I have noticed something of which at first I had only vague inklings, but which has, every day become more assertive and more a part of whatever it is that I am. Living with the Seine around the clock and seeing all of its traffic, its inhabitants, its massive variations of color, surface texture and reflection of light have made it more than a river. So-living with it has made it become a consciousness asserting being that demands attention. This river, which I have loved from the first time ever I saw it has become more than a sight, a view, a scene or anything narrowly visual only. It has become an entity with emotions, depth of feeling, assertive behavior and insinuatingly endearing qualities of friendship and companionship.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised though. As this video accompanied by me reading a passage from Screen Saver illustrates, I have flirted with this phenomenon before, but with fewer dimensions.

Pigeons at Notre Dame

Behind the Cathedral, in a tree covered with mature flower heads, every morning for several days some pigeons got into the tree and voraciously ate something, maybe bugs, maybe berries, maybe seeds; I don't know what, but eat and eat they did, pretty much oblivious to human passers by who streamed by with their eye level being just about level with many of the birds. It was a movie opportunity not to be missed.

The birds persisted in this activity for several days. Then they stopped. Whatever it was that they were eating had either lost its attraction or had been totally consumed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Le Bois de Boulogne

The weather report said that today was going to be partly cloudy. Partly cloudy was going to be plenty good for me to take a walk through one of my favorite places in Paris: le Bois de Boulogne.

The weather report was wrong. The day was absolutely, cloudlessly beautiful.

So I got going more early than has been my wont and was able to even take a video of the noon bell of Notre Dame – the video is for the sound, not the video. The Cathedral itself is pretty stationary, and has been for a couple millennia, so taking a video of it sounds stupid, and I'm sure it looked stupid to the hoard that was there to do whatever hoards do at noon at Notre Dame on a beautiful day in October. But take a video I did. I have a piece of software from Motorola in support of my RZR (I love what the Iphone can do on the web, but I haven't been willing to give up a svelte little package that slips into the watch pocket of my Levis) that among other things makes ring tones from audio from a video camera. I already have the bells of St Marcair, and the Papal palace in Avignon; it only seems right that I should harvest the sound of Notre Dame also. For that matter I need to get St Séverin and St Germain des Pres also.

The drill for recording the bells is to start panning vertically on the Cathedral about 15 seconds before the hour so that the camera has reached the top of the twin towers when the bells sound. Then I slowly zoom in on the bridge between the towers and finish by zooming on the rosette window. I mean, even though the video is strictly for sound, one never knows when a clip of the twin towers in full cry might be just the ticket for inclusion in some future video production that one might concoct. The bells have an ornate prelude to sounding the hour, and then they sound the hour. Without really thinking about it I found myself counting the hour rings: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine … So what happened to ten, eleven and twelve? I thought to myself. I kept the camera going to see if there was more, but after a number of silent seconds it appeared that there was to be no more, so I stopped recording, put the camera in its case and went back to the apartment to replace it with my new Sony detachable lens SLR digital camera to take to the Bois.

I was about half way there – that's quite close still to Notre Dame – when there was another – tenth – ring; then there was another and then another. After a short silence all sorts of ringing commenced. Who knows?

I took the Metro to get to the Bois. I like to enter near Porte De Passey, so I went to metro stop La Muette. That leaves a walk toward the Bois along beautiful tree lined streets that occasionally burst into full fledged open spaced parks and gardens, past the Monet Marmottan Museum and into the Bois and down to the lake just a little toward La Porte De La Muette from Porte De Passey.

The walk along the lake, past Le Chalet Des Isles, then past the boat rental (there was a young woman in a boat with her boy friend – I guess he was her boyfriend – who had just disrobed from the waste up as I passed) and back into the woods and out to Porte Dauphine and then down Avenue Foch to the Arc de Triomphe is one of the most pleasant walks that I ever take, even without glimpses of partial nudity.

I could attempt to wax poetic, or at least literary about what all I saw this afternoon in the Bois, but, since I took several hundred pictures I will let a few of them talk for me. They are posted below.

Images From Le Bois de Boulogne

Here are some of the pictures from my walk today.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Food Observations

But before food the weather needs some discussion.

I mentioned previously that the wonderful Paris cold had returned last Sunday morning. Today is next Sunday morning and the cold has even become more archetypical. The skies are overcast, the wind is coming directly down the Seine and Paris is back to how I have always known it. I guess I am glad to have sweated a couple of days; at least I feel as if I have flirted with the Paris everyone else in the world seems to know.

Food, everyone says, is one of the many exceptional things about France in general and Paris in particular. As far as I have ever been able to divine, everyone is right. But they are right, in my experience, with some exceptions. At least my experience has shown me some exceptions. And if my experience is valid and those exceptions actually exist, I think it gives some interesting insight to French thinking.

My personally experienced exceptions are two: pizza and Mexican food.

I have never had a decent pizza in France. Actually I had one that was close once and that was in a little town in Entre Deux Mers called St Marcair. But that was from a restaurant run by an expatriate British couple, so I don't think it counts. In France I seldom want a pizza anyway – my cravings for that food type have over the years been confined to Amalfi's in Portland and, more recently Olympia Pizza on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Since those are both about five thousand miles from France it is easy to just not ever have pizza cravings when in France. But they have occurred. And I have always been disappointed. One time I even made special trip half way down the Champs Elysees and back a couple streets to go to an "American New York Style Pizza Restaurant". The pizza was a mass of not very good dough with not very good, although pretty spicy, tomato sauce. I think that was the last time I have tried pizza in France.

Mexican food is not bad in France. It's just not Mexican food in any form that I have ever had. I guess one could call it mexigualic. Maybe that is not a bad thing, but I'd rather eat any of the myriad variety of things that are part of the French tradition than eating TexMex Fusion. There is a Mexican restaurant in London not far from Covent Garden that is really good and really fun. The first time I went there it was a Wednesday at about 1300. The place was hopping. It is a big restaurant up a flight of stairs from the street and it was about three quarters full with what seemed primarily to be office workers out for an afternoon lark. They were swilling chips and salsa and beer and having a great time. The chips, salsa and food were all in the better-than-good range; it was especially good for a chain – because that is what Pacifico is, a chain with stores also in Sydney, Amsterdam and (at the time) Paris. I liked the place so much I bought a Tee Shirt.

In the process of liking the place and buying the shirt, and all of that, I had an on-going conversation with my server, and ultimately, with a couple other of the people who worked there. I asked where the Paris store was – it was on Boulevard Montparnasse – so I could go there the next time, which was going to be a couple of months after my trip to London that year. The staff laughed about how there was a friendly competition between the London and Paris stores as to the quality and Mexicanness of the food. I was pretty excited, because, unlike pizza, Mexican food is a craving that I have little control over.

I figured that since Pacifico was a chain there must be procedures that would cause the food to be the same from store to store, at least within very narrow boundaries.

I found the store on Montparnasse and sure enough the food barely resembled that which I had had in London. The store was gone a year later. They said it was due to building renovation, but it seemed to me if they had been doing well they could have found a different location.

Having said all of that, and having invented the obviously tongue in cheek term mexigualic it is worth mentioning that, if you want mexigualic, a great and fun place for it is at Senior Chunko's, a weird little place at the opening of an alley off of rue St André des Arts. Don't order the vin rosé; it's horrible, but everything else is interesting and good - just not Mexican. (Oh maybe the fajitas are a near miss.)

Renting an apartment in Paris has a number of advantages which can be summed up with the facile phrase "live like a Parisian". But, allowing for people like me who have marginal French skills that phrase is probably kidding oneself. But, beyond whether "living like a Parisian" may be to some extent true, even for someone who can order a croissant or a glass of wine and not much else, the real advantage is that an apartment has a kitchen, refrigerator and dishwasher. So if one is of the cooking sort, one can eat in and save money ahead for occasional splurges in the restaurants that abound.

Over the years I have found a number of things to take home to the apartment for some form of follow-on preparation that are really good.

Almost any of the quiches that can be bought at your neighborhood boulangerie are really good. Even at room temperature (you can also try to heat them in the inevitably available microwaves, but you'll get a soggy crust) they can make a fine main course with salad, bread, maybe a vegetable and some wine.

Picard is a frozen food department store. David Sedaris made them famous, but the fame is well deserved. Picard is cryogenics for food and the stores have that sort of ambiance. Anything one can buy from a fish market or butcher or green grocer seems to be available in the large transparent-lidded chest freezers that fill the space they occupy. I have only bought one thing from Picard, but it is really good and it is kind of up-scale special: coquille St Jacques.

I occasionally actually cook a main course. I have discovered that if there is a covered sauté or frying pan available that a little olive oil with a thin cote de porc smeared around in it and then covered, turned on high and – carefully watched to avoid burning – seared at intense heat and then turned and repeated on the other side, and then allowed to continue cooking for a while at a lower heat can quickly turn out a superior pork chop. Once it's done, slicing a mushroom and sautéing it in the residual oil and meat juice, removing the mushrooms when done so that a little red wine can be added and so that the mixture can be allowed to cook down so it is thickened a little with the mushrooms re-added once thick, makes a great sauce to be poured onto the meat for serving.

The other night I tried something new: salmon. Cooking it in basically the same as described for the pork chop, with the skin side down and no turning, and with special care to keep it just slightly rare, I turned out a chunk of salmon that was restaurant quality. It even had a slightly smoky flavor.

And finally, last night the most mundane of vegetable accompaniments turned out like some kind of vegetarian ambrosia.

I bought a chunk of broccoli at the Bucci Market – the one across from what used to be Champion, its local next door competitor and the cheese and wine lady – with no expectation that it would be any different from any other broccoli I have ever had. I really like broccoli but I can't wax poetic about it. That all changed with the Bucci market broccoli. The sign said that it was from Bretagne, which didn't surprise me: when Mysti and I spent five weeks in Brittany a few years ago it was September and October and the fields were full of cabbage, artichokes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. I just had never happened to eat broccoli from there.

All I can say is, for intensity of flavor, that broccoli ranked with the best of anything I have ever eaten. I never knew that broccoli had anything but, within a narrow range, a kind of pleasant green flavor. The stuff from Brittany makes its own standalone flavor statement, and it is one that I am going to regretfully miss when I return to the land of factory farms.

When one doesn't know that one is missing something, it's easy to be pretty happy with that which one doesn't know is missing. Once one knows that one is missing something, and even better, knows what that something is, some kind of response - a reasonable person might surmise - would probably occur. That is why I keep coming back to Paris; now it's the broccoli.

Saumon Avec Champignons

Here is what it looked like
Click on Picture

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ou Est l’Economist?

The other address that I changed was with The Economist.

It was surprisingly easy. I just hit "Manage My Account" and entered the information they wanted and I went right to an account management function that allowed me to, among other things, change the address to which my copy of the magazine (they call it a newspaper, but it looks like a magazine to me; the reference must look back to the time of Bagehot and Macaulay when it may have been in another form than it is in today; even in my short time of subscribing I have seen it go from a black and white only publication to an extensive user – obviously – of Photoshop and blazing color) was to be mailed.

Making that change was a heart rending experience. I actually read a lot of the publication each week. It is the only periodical I subscribe to and it is the only non video form of information that I include in my life. And it makes a great companion for an hour or two in the afternoon at Le Bonaparte, or Depart St Michel, or Brasserie Mazarine or La Palette, along with a demi pichet of some suitable wine. So The Economist is a key part of my personal infrastructure. Sending it off to some address in Paris that I had no faith – as I've already mentioned – I would receive anything at was a daunting action. But I decided, "What the hell."

Actually, if I took the viewpoint that the worst case would be the publication would go off to France never to be seen by me, I was no worse off, assuming that I could change it back to my Seattle address after the Paris sojourn, because if I didn't change the address there would just be a huge pile of unread back issues when I went to the post office to retrieve my hold mail, and as devoted as I might be to the magazine, I am not devoted enough to try to read four months of back issues.

So the real issue was trying to get something that I have already paid for sent to me in Paris rather than having to spend an additional five and a half Euros a week to get it in Paris from a news stand. The address change seemed to be a good thing. It was supposed to take about five or so business days, so by the time I was to move in, it seemed reasonable to think that, assuming my previous no mail in Paris curse didn't once again prevail, I should start getting the magazine by the fourteenth or the fifteenth.

The fifteenth came and the only thing I had received was the pizza ad junk mail. After my amazing success at the post office the day before I considered going back to that post office and looking for the guy that had helped me to get my stamped envelope and see if I could deliver another "Bravo" inducing performance, this time in support of finding out why I wasn't getting any mail. I was pretty sure that there was a conditionally subjunctive verb form that one had to be born French to know how to employ to pursue a line of questioning involving the vagaries of "Why am I not…" so I pretty much abandoned the idea.

The day was really nice. On my way to get bread that morning, as I passed the back side of Notre Dame and its courtyard garden I saw a really interesting sight. There are several trees growing up against the iron fence that encloses the garden and one of them is laden with massive flower heads. Apparently wood pigeons like something that is part of those flower heads because the tree was full of birds actively ripping pieces of something from the midst of the heads. The tree is so close to the sidewalk and the birds were frequently so close to eye level right there from the sidewalk that the situation presented an amazing video opportunity, if only I had brought my camera. Long ago I adopted the maxim that it is invariably a bad idea to walk anywhere in Paris at any time without a camera. The only exception I usually make to that maxim is when I'm carrying a market basket. Market basket or not, the maxim had again proven true.

I considered going back to the apartment for the camera, it wasn't far, but I decided that I would go get my bread, return to the apartment and then come back out with the camera. Perhaps the birds would still be there. They certainly looked committed to their task for the long haul.

So I was walking back up Quai aux Fleurs to Quai L'Archeveque, after dropping off my bread and my basket, to see if the birds were still ripping the flowers asunder at eye level when it happened.

I had just passed a woman who was wheeling a sort of canvas box on legs down the Quai. Before I had passed her, as I was just approaching her, she stopped and keyed the entry code to an entry way, took some things out of the canvas box on wheels and went in. "The mailman" I thought to myself.

She was entering the building. I was just passing by the open door where she had gone in. I had just thought "the mailman".

Suddenly on top of that triune simultaneity a voice literally shouted in my head: "THE MAILMAN? THE MAILMAN? WHAT A WINDFALL!"

I started back to intercept her when she emerged from her delivery in the building to tell her where I lived and… But that conditional subjunctive which I was sure needed to be employed and that had been denied to me by not having been born French reared its ugly head once again. So I turned on my heel and started back to the birds.

But this was too great an opportunity to not attempt some sort of contact and question. But what would it be?

I was about half way to the birds – that's not far from where I live or where the postal lady was working her way down the Quai – when I had an inspiration. If I could point to my mailbox when the mail lady was in front of it, and ask, "Vous avez L'Economist?' Some sort of meaningful dialogue might ensue, not requiring complex conditionals.

So I turned on my heel again – people were beginning to notice and probably wonder if I had some kind of directional disability – and headed back to the lady, who had progressed down one more doorway. That doorway was maybe ten or eleven from mine. So, if I pursued my current plan, I was going to be shadowing her down the key like some kind of stalker. That seemed to me to be a bad idea, so I turned on my heel again. I decided fate was going to have to have some part in the encounter. I calculated that the number of doors she needed to service exceeded the time it would take me to go take pictures of the birds and get back to my doorway. I would pass her not far from my place on my return from the pictures and I would enter my door and wait for her inside.

The obvious flaw in that idea didn't occur to me until I had passed her wheeled box a comforting number of doors from mine on my return from taking pigeon videos – they are posted two down from this post if you want to see them – and had entered my building. The interior is kind of dark, and if I just sat on the stairs and waited for her I decided I was flirting again with stalker-like behavior. So what should I do? I decided to go up a flight and sit there. But the thought of sitting there if one of my fellow tenants came down the stairs seemed to me to be a sub-optimal social action.

So I decided to go back to the entry, look out and see if I could see how close she was, or with any luck, she might just be entering my building. I could handle that. That didn't seem to be something that would look obviously contrived. So I opened the door. Her cart was a couple of doors down and she was in that building delivering the mail.

I decided to go out of my building and cross over to the other side of the Quai, feign looking at the river and wait until she had entered my building and I could cross over and enter and ask about my magazine.

Luckily there was traffic that made my staying on my side the prudent thing to do. Luckily she was moving rapidly toward my door. Just before I would have had to cross over to keep up appearances she started to key the entry code to my building. I waited a moment and then followed her in. I had waited almost too long because she was already on her way out. In desperation I caught her eye said "Madame, sil vous plait" and lunged back in the building with the door open so that she could see the array of mail boxes as I pointed to mine and said – something in French; I have no idea what; I doubt that it had much if anything to do with the mail; but it caught her attention. She said, and I got a couple key words, "oh, you're the new guy?" and she also pointed to my mailbox.

I said "Oui, je suis Noel." And then I said something about the Economist and she asked me to look in my mailbox. And there it was, my first piece of mail in France.

It doesn't take much sometimes to make my day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Just Kind Of Living Continued

Before I left Seattle I changed my address with two important parts of my life.

First was the King County Elections Department. I was going to be in France during November and the extremely important midterm elections were going to occur without me. I had never put myself in that situation before, but I assume that if I had so done prior to this election I could just have asked for an absentee ballot, taken it with me and have been done with the problem. The French have one of the best postal systems in the world, so I would have just put the ballot in the mail and my vote would be in the great counting mill in the sky before I knew it.

But that had all changed. Washington had switched after 2008 to an all mail in election system. That entailed the Counties sending out ballots to registered voters who were expected to vote thoughtfully over their kitchen tables and then send the ballots back for tally. The problem was, they send those ballots out mid October and I was going to be long gone by then. So I poked around on the County web site until I found a promising looking "contact us" directed to the elections people. I sent them an email telling them that I was going to be in France at election time so could they send me my ballot early, or could I get an absentee ballot, or…

To my surprise I received a reply by the end of that day. The answer to my two questions was "no", but they said that the voters' registration system was designed to have a temporary alternate mailing address, and that address could surely be in France. All I had to do was to give them that address and they would take care of the rest. So I gave them the address.

I did it with some misgivings, however. There were two problems. First was the fact that Thierry needed to put me in an apartment for ten days prior to putting me into the one where I was going to live the rest of the month of October. I was moving in to the address I gave to the County on 9 October. The County said that the ballots were going out the first of October. So, depending on how fast the ballot got to France and how fast the French postal system was in getting it sorted and on its way to my new address, there might be a serious chance for a miss on the handoff.

After I had gotten to Paris and was in the more temporary apartment I solved the problem by getting Thierry to let me get into the apartment lobby and put my name on the mailbox. I did that by cutting a piece out of the center of the business card I have designed and made vast quantities of, and have in both my computer backpack and my Hartmann satchel, and which I consistently forget to take anywhere with me and which are therefore basically useless. But at least there is a piece of one of those business cards in my new Paris about-to-be mailbox saying "Noel McKeehan/Author of Screen Saver". The piece turned out to be of just the right size to fit in the little metal window-for-names. I chose to interpret that as being an omen of good.

I said there were two problems. As good as the French postal system may be, I have never been able to actually receive any mail. I have tried. Mysti has sent me letters with my apartment addresses on them, but they never showed up. That may or may not have been because I didn't have any specific markings on any specific mailbox at the address, I can't remember whether I ever put my name anywhere. I just know I never received mail that was sent to me.

So I wasn't very surprised when the eleventh of October came and went and all that was in my mailbox was a generic mailing to the generic resident from a Pizza mass marketer.

So I poked around the County web site again – I had somehow deleted the email stack from them that I had kept for months in case I needed to get back to the specific person who had helped me before – and again found a promising looking "contact us" and contacted them. I had noticed on the site that they said the ballot mail out date was 15 October, not 1 October, so I told them of my address change, that I hadn't received the ballot, but was that because the mail out date was actually 15 October not 1 October, in which case perhaps we didn't have a problem.

Again, very quickly – allowing for my being nine hours ahead of Seattle time – I got a reply that, no, the overseas mail out date was indeed 1 October; therefore my ballot had been mailed. They said that they could either mail it again or email me the ballot. In the case of the emailed ballot I would need to print out the PDF to vote and the voter's oath to sign and then mail those back.

I replied asking could they send the ballot to me care of Thierry and they replied that they would both email me the ballot and send me the paper ballot again at the address that I had given them and that they re-confirmed as being what their records showed; one would hope, that that wealth of options would allow me to vote.

The emailed ballot came later that day.

Which was why I crossed to the mainland yesterday via Pont Marie – next one down from Pont Louis Philippe (I had already become familiar with this bridge, although I didn't know its name because there was no sign on it, because it was the bridge I came back from the Marais on the day before when I had had the life changing experience of finding an understandable route to rue des Rosiers) and which was why when I was returning from the Internet café just off of rue des Nonnaines-d'Hyéres on rue de Juoy I happened to look to my left as I was half across Pont Marie and saw a post office. I had been contemplating how to mail my newly printed ballot and oath, and since I thought that I remembered that the French post offices sold envelopes with stamps on them I had, just prior to seeing La Poste, consulted my pocket dictionary to verify that I actually knew what the word for envelope was; I did; and then I saw the post office.

As I entered I noticed that there was a small line, and I was thankful that there was one so I could stand there and gather my thoughts and that it was short so I wouldn't have to stand there too long and possibly lose heart for the endeavor. But my standing in the line was not to be. A guy that I would have thought to be about my age except for the fact that everybody retires at sixty in France – or after forty years, whichever comes first – (and they have been in the streets daily trying to make sure they keep it that way) sort of intercepted me; I decided to take the bull by the horns and said "Bon jour monsieur!"

He responded in kind, and then the acid test ensued.

He was about my height, and was one of those people that I prefer, I being, I think one of them also: that thing that I prefer was that he fixed me straight in the eyes as I said "je voudrais une enveloppe avec le timbre pour les Etats-Unis."

"Bravo, bravo monsieur!" said he - along with a number of other things of which I only got fragments.

But it was a triumph.

Actually he asked me - in French - how long I was living in Paris, and I told him and he said "écoutez et répetez; vous allez faire bien!" And then he sold me my envelope for a euro and I went my way.

Some days turn for the better or the worse on very little.

I said at the beginning of this post that I changed the address for two very important parts of my life. The other was The Economist. But that is a separate tale to be told at a later date.

Wood Pigeons

These guys are different from the ones on the ground.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Just Kind Of Living Here

The last forty eight hours are probably interesting only to me, but since I am probably the only one reading this stuff, that is an extremely good reason to document them. Nothing entertains me more than reading stories about my own adventures.

Yesterday was a day of some discovery. The fact that Paris is a series of wedges with streets all heading to several common confluences and important interstitial streets webbing them together came into play for me yet again.

I like to go to the Marais. I like it for several reasons, the two most dominant being that I love the medieval feel of the place, especially at night, and I really like the falafel sandwiches at Chez Marianne on rue des Rosiers (one of those interstices between the wedges). I have never been exactly clear where rue de Rosiers is or how to get there. I could study the map until I was blind. The actual doing of going to Chez Marianne always ended up being a sort of hopeful flinging of myself in the general direction of Place de la République and looking for the building with the mosaic of the horse. If and when I saw that I could generally find my way. (The horse mosaic is quite old and has nothing to do with whatever it is that they do in that building in today's world; in a previous time it marked the place as a market for horse meat.)

Yesterday all that may have changed, assuming I can remember what I learned yesterday, which is another good reason for me providing this documentation: assuming that I can remember the URL to my blog (no mean feat, and not a foregone conclusion) I can always go read this and refresh my memory when the desire for a falafel sandwich strikes.

Anyway, what happened was (or is it is?) that for no apparent reason I decided to cross to the mainland via Pont Louis Philippe. Actually there may be a subliminal reason. I have always liked Louis Philippe. He was the last King of France and he served more or less at the will of the people and ruled as a constitutional monarch. His being there at the will of the people can be illustrated by the fact that he ceased being king in 1848 when mobs of those people didn't will him to be king any more. He styled himself "the people's King". He spoke English fluently with an American accent and both of his sons were colonels in the Union army in the American Civil War.

So I crossed Pont Louis Philippe. Once on the right bank I was, to no surprise of mine, on rue Louis Philippe. I was beginning to notice a certain atypical symmetry to the lay of the streets. I pressed on because one of the objectives of the walk was to see if I could find a better grocery than the one I had so far been able to find in my new quartier. Then the significant thing happened. Rue Louis Philippe had suddenly changed to rue Vieux du Temple which is the street that I always set out to find because it is the street off of which rue des Rosiers branches. There was Les Philosophes just where it always was, once I ever found rue Vieux du Temple, and just beyond was rue des Rosiers. I suddenly not only knew how to get there, but I had cut the transit time by about three quarters. What a windfall, if only I could remember what I had discovered.

I had an appointment to meet Thierry, my landlord, and four of his other longer term tenants for tea at a four star hotel located just off the forecourt of Eglis St. Sulpice.

Since it was a four star hotel – I can't remember the name – I decided I should wear decent clothes. So I donned my grey slacks, a light blue broadcloth button down shirt ( the kind I used to wear when I was acting sartorially wild and crazy in my IBM days) and planned to wear my navy blue blazer once had I put on my tie. I had brought three beautiful – I think – Hermes ties, inherited from my father in law, and picked the one that seemed just right for the occasion. I spent close to thirty years working for IBM in the days when suit, white shirt (except on wild and crazy light blue broadcloth days) wingtips and tie were the uniform of the day every day. Much like when I was in the Air Force, that was ok with me; I never shared my peers' need to get into "civies" (term used both in USAF and IBM) the minute the business day was done when we were on business trips and would meet in the bar prior to dinner. So I have tied a lot of ties in my day.

To my – I guess it was – horror, I flat couldn't tie the thing. The cross of the two pieces, followed by the first wrap all seemed to be right, but whatever the next step might be just wouldn't come. And what it was that I had done, that had seemed familiar and correct left me with a configuration that no amount of inventive and creative looping, twisting and flopping could turn into anything but a lump, not a knot. I felt like an idiot, or someone who had finally jumped feet first into total abject senility. I worked at it for about ten minutes. At about the three or four minute point I began to wonder if I could Google "four in hand" and find a video or directions of how to do it. I decided that even if there was such a thing, which I assumed that there must be, the idiosyncrasies of needing a mirror and trying to describe what needed to be done accommodating those idiosyncrasies would make any tutorial incomprehensible.

At the ten minute mark I decided incomprehensible or not I would look for that tutorial.

And I did. And I found one. And it actually worked (they said to throw the big part over the little part twice but I never do that, which is why my tie is always too long; but I prefer too long to too big a knot). In a couple moments I was tied coated and on my way out the door to the hotel by St Sulpice.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Weather Is Beautiful And Other Things

That little nucleus of food heaven that I mentioned yesterday opened this morning after a Monday rest.

The Boulangerie in that complex has flaky-crunchy croissants. That's two that are and two that haven't been. It is interesting to note that those two that are such are down at this end of St Germain instead of at its naval. Of course one of the two that weren't flaky-crunchy was from Paul, the Bordeaux based bread chain interloper that displaced the local super market back in 2000 or so. The reason I even know (because if I know I must buy things there) is that long ago I ceased resisting that change and found Paul to be a really good boulangerie. They've just let their croissants go downhill a little bit; their baguettes are great, or at least really good. Of course I'm from Seattle where the only place I know to get a decent baguette or croissant is in Columbia City; and they cost a lot; and the place is not easy to get to; and they run out of stuff a lot. So being a block away from a Paul is like heaven to me.

The fromager has really good fromage blanc, and I finally learned that the kind I like is called "fermier" which is smooth and creamy as opposed to the other kind whose name I still don't know that is somewhat like cottage cheese. And the Roquefort is among the best I, in my limited experience, have had.

And I finally got a super market priced bottle of calvados at FranPrix.

But back to the weather.

The day I got here it looked just like Paris weather – medium high clouds blowing through at a fairly high rate of speed such that there were sun breaks mixed with intermittent precipitation ranging from mist to downpour. But all of it was fleeting and intermittent.

So that's how it looked. That isn't the way it felt. Instead of that chill wind that normally accompanies the clouds and the intermittent changeability there was a humid warm tone to the air. And several days later, when the sun finally came back in earnest, it was accompanied by heat and humidity. I guess that, at least in the summer, is typical; it's just that I have never experienced it. In the twenty or so times that I have been here I can only remember two when I wasn't constantly cold. (One of those included the summer solstice; Mysti and I spent a good portion of that night out in a crowd of tens of thousands in Boulevard St Germain listening to rock bands – there was one every couple hundred feet or so – and enjoying the fact that, for once, it wasn't cold in Paris. I also learned that, based on the number of times different bands played it, "Brown Sugar" was the favorite song.)

On the other hand, I spent the entire month of August 2006 shivering in the city. Not only was it pretty much deserted with everybody at the beach for a month, it was cold. If I hadn't brought my blazer I would have frozen to death. It was hard to believe that the same month a year or two earlier had produced thousands of heat related deaths, mostly to old people who had been left by their children who were at the beach. But August 2006 was cold. I was having a coffee one morning when I glanced at the front page of Le Monde that the guy next to me was reading. Ou est l'été?

Ou est indeed. So the presence of warmth and humidity in early October just hasn't seemed right.

But Sunday it all changed. The weather couldn't have been more brilliantly beautiful with clear blue skies and no clouds at all, anytime during the day. Sunday was the day I moved from St Germain to Isle de Cité. I had originally planned to get a taxi. But in a late breaking fit of economizing I decided that I could roll the roller bags, mount the satchel as it was intended to be mounted on one of the roller bags so it became one with that bag and became itself an adjunct roller bag, hoist the backpack on my back and put the kitchen stuff in my French market basket. It would take two or three trips, and I decided that if I started about sunrise – 0800 or so – I could avoid the hoards that throng the route I would need to traverse, which includes the forecourt of Notre Dame. I had walked the route several times to choose the best route for roller bags.

I debated with myself – I always win – whether or not to wear a coat. After all it was warm and all a coat would do would be to cause me to sweat. But two of the coats had no home in the luggage; and the overcoat is so big and heavy that if it were put in the market bag that is about all the market bag would hold, and that would entail the addition of a fourth trip; and a fourth trip would put itself dangerously close to the onslaught of the hoard. So I decided to wear one of the coats, not for warmth, but to transport it. I could leave it once the trip to the new apartment had been completed and then wear coat two on trip two, leave it, and wear coat three on the third and final leg of the move.

About a quarter of the way I noticed the change in the form of a familiar freshening of the air – chilling one might call it – that I know to be a Paris trademark. The weather had turned and autumn had arrived and all was beautiful and right with the world. And the four flights that I had to drag the bags to get to my apartment had put such a sweat on me that any idea of walking back coatless through the freshening Paris Autumn became quickly a thing of the past.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Move And Beautiful Weather

Champion de rue de Seine, my touchstone for groceries and inexpensive, but good – to me at least – wine, is gone. Just like the lady and her wine and cheese shop before, followed not long after by the local market almost adjacent to Champion. At least the fromager across the street from the place where the lady had been is still there. But no it's not. One of those time killing but necessary to make an apartment a home things that I was doing on arrival day was to gather the essentials for my cooking for eating in the apartment, after an initial burst of dining on the economy would have driven me to the brink of insolvency, requiring a more economical means of eating for awhile. Key ingredients to that endeavor were going to be fromage blanc and two or three spreadable cheeses to go on the baguette that I would buy in the morning. So I headed up rue de Seine to that fromager. It was gone.

I finally decided that the little mall just off rue de Tournon must have a fromager. And it did. But the cheese was average and the – prepackaged, not scooped out of a massive bowl – fromage blanc was lily livered and runny, barely fir for being used as a swirl in a bowl of gazpacho (I don't know how to spell that, but it looks to me that Microsoft doesn't, either). So the next day I walked multiple miles to rue Cler where I knew that there was a great fromager, and this time my knowing turned out to be true. They were still there and still had that massive bowl of wonderful fromage blanc on offer.

Thierry is coming to show me how to operate the washer dryer in my new apartment, so I need to bring this to a close.

Some parting observations:

It's hard to find a croissant that is really crunchy-flaky anymore. Even Gérard Mulot failed me. This morning I decided to make an initial sortie into the companion island to the one on which I am now living. So I started down rue Saint Louis de ile which is the spinal street to Isle de Saint Louis. I quickly broached a boulangerie, which had the advantage of being open, as opposed to the one that I had planned to buy from, which was closed. The little nucleus of food heaven that I had discovered a few days previously on or about 47 Boulevard Saint Germaine apparently reached a form of commercial frenzy by mid day on Sunday and needed a day off for recovery. My lack of knowing that had left me without anything to eat or drink. I know that Sunday at 1300 or so things shut down, but my experience elsewhere has been that Monday early the stores are again open for business. Although somewhere on the list of things I needed to do there was the need to explore Isle de Saint Louis, it had been down on the list. The discovery of no food off my island anywhere close had inspired me to put that exploration to the top of the list . I have always heard that the inhabitants of Isle de Saint Lois see no reason to ever leave the island, so I figured that there must be grocers and the like on the island.

I saw no indication that if those isle de Saint Louis inhabitants didn't leave they might not be pretty deprived of groceries, vegetables and fruits, but I did find a boulangeri and that boulangerie had croissants that were wonderfully flaky and crunchy.

So change takes and sometimes change gives back.

The weather part of this post will probably be part of tomorrow's effort.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Book – First Thousand Words

I said that I had gotten six thousand words into a novel. I worked on it for a week or two. I really felt it had promise. But then I just stopped. I had gotten painted into a corner and I couldn't find my way out. What usually worked – just keep writing and let the Ouija that hides in my keyboard take me someplace wasn't working. But the Ouija had apparently departed, or was being obstinate. Nothing came. When I decided to spend four months in Paris I decided that the obvious thing to do with some of that time would be to try to shake that god damn Ouija back into action. I haven't done that yet. I decided to just expose some of what I had gotten done up to the point of bouchon and see how it feels. Here it is.

An event that I have never been able to forget never actually happened. More accurately, it happened, but it was staged. I saw the result of that staging and could never forget it. There was a loosely knit band of randomly dressed men making their way in an understandably stumbling manner across a brush grown field of football sized rocks. They were all playing musical instruments. The music was a dirge but it had some life to it making it less of a dirge. Years later Elvis Perkins would employ a similar approach to a song. In the case of the one in the scene that never really happened except as a staged event it was the beginning of Godfather II.

As I rounded the leg of the path that passed the Senate and all the old gnarled trees that inhabited the grounds beyond the plantings of the senate museum and forged forth onto the straight stretch skirting the inside of the Jardin wall along rue Guynemer I thought that I was hearing that exact band playing that exact music.

But it was a different dirge for a different death.

It was a sunny September pre-noon in 2002 and I was in the midst of my daily run in the Jardin. As soon as I heard the dirge I saw the source. There were a group of uniformed people with two flags, one the tricolor, the other the stars and stripes. And there were some men in business suits. And then the music stopped and the suits began giving speeches. In any event this group had moved into the portion of the Jardin and its path that I had been intending to traverse on my way around to the orchard of espaliered fruit trees – espaliered except for the persimmon which was allowed to grow unfettered – and the rest of the two kilometer course that I liked to run around several times each day.

But on that day I had to alter my course into the center of the Jardin. When I got to the pool where little Parisian kids sailed their toy boats I just sat down. September 11, 2002 became a day of no running and lots of remembering.

But the memories weren't what one might have expected on the first year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, with the US Ambassador to France a few yards away giving a speech to a gathering of French military and civilians, thanking them, I supposed for their memorial of the event. The memories were from a completely different time and place, although a time and place that probably had a direct link to my ultimate existence in the then current time and place.

The dominant initial memory was of a place that was appallingly hot. It was so hot that my khaki short sleeved uniform shirt was almost completely soaked – soaked as if I had been immersed in a pool. But the soak wasn't like such a pool immersion would have caused. The soak was almost more like a thin slime that oozed out of the garment just short of the point of dripping to the ground. I felt as if I were engulfed in a well saturated sponge. This was the state of being I had been enduring for months and months. That state of being had long since altered the state of the skin on my back where instead of skin there existed a mass of pus filled eruptions, all of a redness akin to some kind of fatal festering infection, an infection that probably was in fact the case. But I had long since accepted this as a normal state of affairs, and a state of affairs that I couldn't any more recall having a predecessor, and couldn't any more imagine as having a termination. It just was, just as I just was, and just as I couldn't expect to ever not be, and just as I couldn't remember ever having not been.

I was walking from the hootch where I worked to the Officers' Club where I lived. At least I told myself that I lived at the Officers' Club. I "lived" as in "came alive" not as in inhabited. I inhabited a grim little room elsewhere not on the base where I was making my contribution to the "war effort".

As I walked the smell of the ditches wafted to me. The smell was a mix of the smell of raspberries mixed with urine in some deviously beguiling blend.

"Living" at the Officers' Club, I was telling myself, was to have special meaning on this day. I was meeting someone. And my sense of the act of being on the brink was at an all-time high point. My entire life to that point could have been summed up with brief descriptions of a few other such feelings of having been on the brink, and having been correct and having gone over, in each of those cases, the brink each of those occasions had revealed. The intensity of the feeling this time was beyond any I had ever felt. "This must be going to be good," I had thought to myself. "This may turn out to be that life changer that you have always imagined."