Back in the winter of 2006, when I was pregnant with E, M’s parents came to look after our girls, and M and I flew to Paris. We each happened to have some work we could do there to justify the week-long trip. A visit to the Shostakovich archive for M, a presentation to urban planners at the Sorbonne for me. Continue reading
I never thought the word “entschuldigung” could roll off my tongue, but it did, several times, on the streets of Paris. Narrow sidewalks, crowded streets; I was saying it all the time. I’d hear “Pardon” in return, and kick myself. I know the right word to say in France when I bump into someone, but my brain couldn’t keep track of our change of address.
It’s fall now. We flew back to Berlin yesterday and discovered that the trees had turned orange and yellow in our absence. The leaves fluttered down around us as we walked. We turned our backs and fall snuck in.
E may have French fever, but poor C is sick with the flu. She’s burning up at 103 degrees. We’re in Paris, in the middle of our week here, and we’re housebound. Flat-bound, I guess. The girl is clammy and pale and has hardly eaten a thing since Monday. We’re doing what we can for her, which is to keep the flat dark and draft-free, and sit and rub her feet.
Still, we’re in Paris. We’re taking turns going out. M is out now for a second visit to the Shostakovich Center and a walk through the Luxembourg Gardens. When he returns I’ll take S and E to climb the Eiffel Tower. Later he’ll take the girls to a place where people make wooden jigsaw puzzles by hand, and bring one home for us to do tonight while he goes to the opera to see Lucia di Lammermoor.
Paris is a stunning, grungy, smelly, delicious, sexy, crowded, imperious, cagy, mixed-up town. It’s a lot like Berlin, except the rooms are smaller, the sidewalks more narrow, the trains grittier, the food more expensive, the famous sites more dense per mile, and every corner smells like urine. But you can’t avoid being drawn to the place.
It’s a little disorienting to come here from Berlin. The European capital city layout is not so very different, where most streets have six-story high old-style apartment buildings with storefronts lining the streets. The language is still foreign but for me has so many more footholds that I can piece together most conversations, whether my own exchanges with a shopkeeper or just overheard at a café.
But it’s so outrageously beautiful here. Walking through the square to see the Notre Dame cathedral at dusk, or meandering through side streets to suddenly catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower a block away… it takes your breath away.
I am writing this post on perhaps the tiniest balcony known to man, just enough room to wedge an iron table and two little folding chairs out the window. It’s the middle of Sunday afternoon and I am soaking up the sun and resting with a lovely cup of coffee after a nice morning row, and enjoying the sounds of Parisians going about their business on the street five floors below me. My family is out there somewhere in the wide world of Paris, but I can’t figure out where, so I’m taking this time to recap my row before it gets lost in the barrage of sights, sounds and smells that is Paris.
(1) I planned a new route on the U-bahn and S-bahn, knowing that a key station is closed on the weekends. It still took 3 trains and a long walk, but it was predictable and took under an hour to get to the club. So that was an improvement.
(2) I ate a big breakfast before I set off for the lake. Some of you know this is not my way; I prefer to row on an empty stomach in the morning. Not here, though.
(3) I took Dramamine before I rowed. Yes, I did. On Thursday I got up the nerve to walk into an Apotheke and “talk” to a pharmacist, as this is the only way you can acquire medication in this town, even things that are over-the-counter in the US. It went something like, “I have seasickness. No, not right now, but when I row…?” and then I made rowing motions with my arms, “Yes? and the waves are high?” and again my arms were waving, and she said “Ah! I see!” and she disappeared and returned with some ginger pills and seabands. And as she was ringing me up, she said, “You are opposed to the chemical?” and my eyes got big and I said slowly, “I am NOT opposed to the chemical!” and that’s how I got the pretty pink pills she sold me. I can’t read a word of the packaging, and upon closer inspection they look more like birth control pills, but seeing as how I got neither seasick nor pregnant on my row, I’d call it a success.