"YOU CAN’T HAVE AN AUTUMN DAY, YOU CAN ONLY ENJOY IT."
C. S. Lewis
So, let’s go to Paris!
Day One - Impressions
Day One—We rested at La Noue, the village north and west of Paris where Isle de France and Normandy meet where we were staying with Hans, my friend of 43 years. We were in the midst of green and yellow fields in full bloom and it was typical Spring—a little rain, a little sun, cool and then warm. Han’s farmhouse is made of field stone, totally modernized except for a vertical stair-ladder that connects the kitchen and the sleeping rooms and bath above. A challenge and very difficult in stockingfeet.
Norman fields in spring, schemes of yellow and green like a patchwork quilt that’s bright and regular.
With rains that come, nourishing, frequent
And wind that’s sometimes mistral warm
And sometimes cold like winter on the channel to the north.
These fields seem to promise they’ll be there forever
As they shimmer before your eyes,
Stirring, moving, heating, growing each day to reach their
Feverish peak of dazzling color.
Why is it always so unexpected
To see those glorious yellow blossoms fade
And find maturing seed and harvest in their place?
Why can’t I claim forever that delirious union of soul and place that brilliant hereness with me in its center?
Is it really gone? Did I really see it fade? Must it really be enough to reach just once this awesome high?
I should find solace, I guess, in the perfecting of the cycle,
the hand of God and the order of the universe.
But, instead I want to cry out "come back, I want it all again,
To feel the rush of color, the driving rain and the blowing Wind
and thrill again to Norman spring."
Day Two—On to Paris!
A different view for me of Paris, driving, focused on things like
traffic and streets and landmarks so you can find your car again after parking in one of the many underground parking garages near most of the monuments. The first day, Sunday, we used as an experimental driving day to locate highways, freeways and avenues into Paris from La Noue, It turned out to be an easy drive with little traffic. We followed Han’s instructions—Route 928 which passes just south of La Noue, east to Mantes-la-Jolie, then turn south on A13, the main freeway between Rouen and Paris. Rouen is a beautiful medieval city in the heart of Normandy and we visited it for shopping and an easy day on Day Seven.Entering Paris meant leaving A13 for the peripherique at Porte St. Cloud, crossing the Seine and taking the Porte Dauphine exit onto Avenue Foch, one of the 12 radiating avenues out from the Charles de Gaulle-L’Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe. We parked in the George V underground garage accessed from the Champs Elysee and headed for the first landmark we saw on the Champs—McDonalds. It was Sunday and McDonalds was so full of tourists that we rejected the wait to buy coffee and survey the scene from the sidewalk. So, we moved on to a glass enclosed sidewalk cafe a few yards closer to the Arch and sat down to view the passing parade reinforcing ourselves with hot chocolate and croissants.
Then to the top of the Arch of Triumph for the first view of this magnificent city. It was clear with occasional clouds and light rain, but our moment on top of the Arch was perfect. We looked out down the Champs Elysee to the Place de la Concorde and the Egyptian obelisk that marks it and the Tuilleries Gardens and the Louvre beyond, then to the left toward Sacre Coueur on its hilltop in Montmartre. We braved the threat of rain and headed from L’Etoile to the Place du Tertre and the artist who would be painting there. We easily mastered the Metro and arrived at the La Abbesses stop, a special treat because it still possesses one of the original wrought iron and glass entrance portals. From there to the Finicula to the top of Montmartre and another breathtaking view of Paris. The Place du Tertre was harder to find, a hard walk up and down the hill by taking the wrong turn in front of Sacre Coueur. Remember, Wynne, when you come off the Finicula turn left!
After lunch, a little poem.
PLACE DU TERTRE
Looking at the sky, but thinking thoughts of love, even longing.
New green—trees mostly—and so bright the green.
And warm red—tablecloths—on white plastic tables under
the new green trees and umbrellas, also red.
Blue sky and gray clouds passing over making fresh and cool the place where I am sitting on the Place.
And all around I am distracted by creative art and
commercial enterprise and restaurants with their tables
both inside the ancient buildings and outside in the park,
When I would rather be thinking about new green, warm red,
white, blue and gray and passing clouds and cool breezes
And thoughts of love, even longing.
The sunny day had turned to heavy dark rain clouds and by the time we reached the George V parking garage we were caught in a downpour and thoroughly drenched. The umbrellas were in the car. And besides, neither had noticed where the pedestrian entrance/exit was to the underground garage. I looked for the entrance in the rain while Wynne took shelter in the entrance to a bank in front of the Cafe Fouquet. I finally gave up and reclaimed Wynne and the two of us pretended we were a car and entered the underground garage down the ramp we had driven in. Wynne noticed the signs over the entrance and said, "Doesn’t that sign mean that dogs and pedestrians are prohibited?" Too wet and disgusted to care. "I’m not sure," I lied. And that was our first day in Paris.
Day Three - A Beautiful Day in Paris
The visit to the Madeleine church, Place de l’Opera, the Galleries Lafayette department store and the Louvre. I am sitting now in the glass pyramid which is the new entrance to the Louvre. I am out of gas, but Wynne is waiting in line for the discounted tickets to the Louvre sold after 3 pm. The regular price of 40 francs is reduced after 3 pm to 26 francs ($5). Our walking tour made the timing perfect for the discount. The pyramid houses theaters, a cafeteria, information and ticket booths and the entrances to the three pavilion of the Louvre that contain collections open to the public. The three that are open are the Sully in the middle, the Denon on the south and th Richelieu on the north. The Mona Lisa we discovered from the English language guide pamphlet was in the Denon Pavilion. Wynne headed in that direction, smiling and waving from the escalator. Enormous crowds, much to see and lots of school children in groups and, of course, people from everywhere on earth.
We started out this morning and drove quickly to the outskirts of Paris where the Monday morning 11 am traffic slowed us down to stop-and-go for a short time. We entered Paris the same way as the day before—why argue with success—and fought our way around the Etoile. You have to see the driving and the traffic at the Etoile to believe it! This time we traveled on beyond the Arch of Triumph around the Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde to the Madeleine underground parking. When we finished this day’s tour it was easy to find because this time we memorized the location of the entrance to the garage.
The glass dome of the Galleries Lafayette is impressive. We had sub like sandwiches on the street after shopping and watched the man with his cart making crepes of ham and cheese for the shoppers. Shopping was basically buying an umbrella. We had left both in the car again.
And so many feelings welling up about my dear friend, Hans.
And what do I feel now, now that I have been there and seen him? I have loved that friend so much. But what I whispered to his lady tonight, at dinner and with the tears, embracing, is true, even though it hurts deep down within my chest, "Love him, that is all that matters now, all the rest is nothing. If you can love him, and if he knows you love him, it is enough, it is everything."
I am content and sad and somehow deeply unfulfilled, because I wanted him to know that I cared and wanted to be with him and love him. But that isn’t the love he needs or desires now and so I said nothing....... I let it go...... Love him, that’s all that matters now.
ONE MOMENT MORE
Let me be. Jealously guarding moments alone when I am quiet and looking inward and reaching outward into the moment in which I am. Sensing, feeling, touching; alternately seeking coolness and warmth, experiencing emptiness and fulfillment, marveling that it can all be true in the same moment. Deliriously aware, but tentative in accepting the reality of this wonderful, deepening, finding of me. So, let me love me a little bit more, I whisper, so that I can love you with all I hope to be, more worthy of you, deserving of you. But can it be enough for you, or is it too unsure? Can you love now that which is becoming, slowly, slowly being revealed in its own time. For still, quiet and alone I long to be together. Is this real? Am I one or the other or both of these -- wanting to be me and relishing the aloneness still crying out to be with you at the same time? Are aloneness and togetherness a part of each other? Wait, wait for me. Can you stay a moment longer? Can you hold me one moment more?
AND NOW, WHAT OF MY LOVING?
I have an inkling now of what it means. He has his love and that is what makes it possible to go on. It is all that matters to him now. I know a little of how that feels, though I miss him and the way it was in the old days, the easy confidences and the interest in doing things together. I have told him I love him in letters, but I would like to tell him straight that I don’t want to lose him. But it has little point to cry, "Don’t go, stay with me" when he has to go. He has all the comfort I could give and more. I have heard the quiet, calm exchange between him and his love, the question and the response, the earnest love and loving which is all that really means anything now. And I won’t forget. He has been well loved by me and cherished as a dear friend and that is all I can give.
And now what of my loving, where do I place it? How do I hold it in? Or can I offer it?. Love is new and untried till it is offered. But so much risk. To give and lose when it is deep and cherished. And can a new friend love me as I love him. Even though I feel I could love him forever, I know now there is no forever, only the commitment, the commitment to love, now. In this moment I would love him and would never leave him nor turn him away. That is how I love and if he will have me as I am, I will have him as he is, cleanly, honestly and honorably. And all that might be between us will continue and whatever can be will grow. And finally, that which is to be will become and that which is lost will be forgotten?
Day Four - Giverny
We spent this day, another day of rest, at Giverny and for me it was the highlight of the visit to France.
In the middle of the visit I wrote this.
We waited for the rain to pass, dashing into the new American Art Museum, and finding there a delightful sampling of American Impressionist paintings by the American students of Claude Monet, students who spent the summers with Monet and his family at Giverny.
Then on to the famous garden where Monet immortalized the water lily. The sunlight after the rain was brilliant. I sat on a bench in the midst of the garden to catch my breath. The sun created a dazzling effect on the flowers. The colors were unbelievable, from yellows of the lightest cream to deepest, warmest fiery orange and red. Beds of small sky blue flowers hugged the ground while graceful pink tulips waved their heads over the gentle blueness. Iris, variegated tulips both red and yellow appeared iridescent in the incredible light.
This is Monet’s light, almost blindingly white, sparkling, dancing, highlighting and making shadow; this is what Claude Monet that genius was able to see and capture first with his heart and then with his brush at Giverny.
Day Five - Quartier Latin
Another day, a drive to Paris and a visit to the Musee D’Orsay. And this is all I wrote that day.
The 24th of May. I felt the one great difference today between the left bank and the right bank. I’ve known it always, I think, but just today it became real. The left bank is young. Wynne and I were people watching on Boulevard St. Germain. We were out of the rain, inside Le Solferino Brasserie after the Musee D’Orsay, resting our museum weakened bodies by drinking coffee and eating expensive patisseries. It was a very small ‘aahaaa’ as I caught sight of a thirty-something couple on the corner exchanging a quiet kiss. Not kids I said to myself. A camera was slung over the young man’s shoulder. Together, arms around each other, they moved on slowly in the light rain along the Boul in the direction of the church of St. Germain de Pre. The sycamores arch over this boulevard just like they do on the right bank where we walked earlier between the Madeleine and L’Opera. But there is no kissing there. But the difference here is surely more than just a kiss. This is the Latin Quarter, the University is at home here. This may be the only the place in Paris where it is still ok to be young.
A discovery of appreciation today at the D’Orsay museum—Alfred Sisley. I’ve known there was an Alfred Sisley from the beginning, but apparently looked right through him up to now. But I saw his paintings today, full of grace and delicacy in softer images than even his brother painters Pisarro and Monet, the three displayed side by side in similar sized works. Monet still towers over them all, I think, such a pleasure to know his paintings, his home at Giverny, the collection of lilies at the Marmotan and to see this broad collection of his works in this high vaulted train station turned beautiful museum.
Day Six— At Chartres
First we visited Chartres, about an hour’s drive from La Noue.
Cold wind blowing, friendly French older people helping the American tourists figure out how to buy the ticket on the street for the "payant" curbside parking space de riguer all over France. Then walking against the wind to the cathedral hidden to us from the winding street and then suddenly finding it on its square, and feeling this surprising and awesome view is how it has appeared to visitors for centuries. Not offended as in Paris at Notre Dame by aggressive auto drivers and hordes of people. Entering through the wooden door held open by a beggar woman, arm out and palm up. "Is this a gypsy," asked Wynne. Hans had locked all the doors at La Noue the day before against the real or imagined threat of gypsies who had made camp in Mondreville 4 kilometres away.
The church, impressively grand with buttressed walls, but warmed by gorgeous stained glass windows: a small one in yellows introduced in the 15th century, others in blues, lavender and the grand rose colored rosette over the nave. The "Assumption of Mary" beyond the altar revealed by a floodlight which gave the statue mystery and shadow, a quizzical angel almost pushing Mary heavenward from the base of the work. The "Tresor" of gold chalices and richly embroidered robes. A frieze in stone of three-foot three-dimensional sculpted figures north of the chancel, standing for centuries to tell their biblical stories. A small candlelit chapel on the left behind the frieze. And above the altar sits a stately madonna and child in Byzantine gold thread robes. The altar, a table with a small gold statue of Christ crucified, honoring in one place both the birth of Jesus and his death with hundreds of 10 franc candles all burning and casting a twinkling light in this small place in this dark and cold and beautiful church. An invitation to prayer on the sign "This chapel is reserved for those who wish to pray." If not on knees, at least in the heart I said to myself.
Outside again, in a cafe I had visited years before drinking cafe-au-lait and eating a buttered baguette a foot long, talking with Wynne about life.
Then, on to Versailles. Versailles was a hunting lodge for Louis XIII and then remodeled and expanded for his son Louis the 14th who wanted it for his court. The gardens are huge and regular and precise in the French manner but too daunting after walking through the royal residence which must be at least 50,000 sf. We entered through the chambers before the Hall of Mirrors literally shoulder to shoulder with tour groups and visiting children. But enjoyed most the gallery with the huge paintings of the great battles in French history from Clovis and Charelemagne to George Washington and Lafayette at Yorktown to Napoleon. After Versailles spent one of the extra hours resting in our little Renault, eating apples and cheese we had bought at Auchan in the morning and brought with us. Wynne curled up in the backseat and snoozed for a while and I listened to Alan Jones tapes from the 1990 All Saints’ Festival of Life. I made notes from the tapes and transcribed two of the poems the speaker recited.
Chartres was the best, not just because we were fresh for it, but because it was so beautiful and connected us so well with the past. You could feel the faith of past generations and appreciate their effort to glorify God and offer thanks, such an enormous outpouring of thanks the cathedral represents.
The two poems which follow were from audio tapes I was listening to as we rested in Versailles.
QUOTATION FROM JOHN CAGE
When you let it, it supports itself;
You don’t have to.
Each something is a celebration of the nothing that supports it.
When we remove the world from our shoulders,
We notice it does not drop.
Where is the responsibility?
"Ohne Wahrum" (Without Why)
The rose is without why
It blooms because it blooms.
It does not pay attention to itself.
It does not care whether anyone sees it.
(Comment by Alan Jones—"That is the secret of living. God made you out of sheer joie de vivre. Our being needs no why, but it is our brokenness that demands we keep on asking ‘Why’.)
So, full of the poetry I read the poems to Wynne. A bit of thoughtful poetry for a beautiful day after driving through the green, green French countryside.
Wynne said, when she was fully awake, "We are not like the rose. We may be here for a purpose. Not perhaps revealed at all times to everyone or anyone for that matter, but here for God’s purpose and therefore it matters that we bloom and pay attention and care whether we are seen."
She didn’t sound very sleepy at all!
We spent a half hour on the road from Versailles to Paris, easy, we thought, more traffic coming out than going in and then we reached the peripherique—wall to wall cars, a really slow moving parking lot. We turned off at Porte Dauphine and headed down Avenue Foch again and spent another half hour getting first to the Etoile and then whirling around it at breakneck speed, dodging aggressive drivers who were intent upon cutting us off and spinning off at Avenue Carnot, Gaby’s street, almost all the way around the Etoile. Then down Carnot two block and, luck was with us, into a parking spot. We still had two hours to kill so we went to the McDonald’s on Avenue de Wagram, sitting upstairs at a corner table with a magnificent view of the Arch of Triumph and the top of the Eiffel Tower behind it. Now, its time to move on to dinner. What a combination of sounds, sights and conversation. Paris with Wynne in May. It should be a song.
Wynne says write about the 5 o’clock traffic around the Arch of Triumph. So here goes. We finished Chartres and Versailles at 4 pm with four hours till our dinner date in Paris with Hans, Billy and Gaby. We were to meet at 8 at Gaby’s condo off Avenue Carnot on Villa Guizot. Gaby has one room, bath and kitchen, small but a location to die for. All the amenities of central Paris, fruit stand on the corner, brasserie for cafe-au-lait and croissants in the am before starting work. Ali and I spent two nights there a few years back. Now Hans has given it to Gaby and is worried about how he is going to equalize with Marc and Francoise the value of the gift to Gaby. He wants all his children to share equally. Not an easy task because the condo cost 150k about 10 years ago.
LAST DAY - Ivry La Batalle
Up and off by 8, quiet not to disturb Hans (who had insisted he would see us off), Billie and Gaby. We had a terrific dinner last night in Ivry La Batalle near the farmers market we visited our first day in La Noue. We were joined by neighbors of Hans, Jean and Billy. Their farm house-weekend place is three doors from Hans. Billy spent 10 years in California and spoke perfect English. Her mother was English and her father French. Jean told us that it was at Ivry that Henry IV had a great victory. I’m not sure who he was fighting, but Henry was Protestant, I think. Jean only speaks French and so if no one translated for us we missed a lot. I did, however, understand his story about the Belgian homing pigeons, very valuable he said. Wynne and I sat on either side of Billy the English speaker and she was a delight, glad she said to be speaking English. Coincident of the year, she has a girlfriend who lives in Laguna Niguel and a brother on the west side of LA. Unbelievable but true.
Dinner was a treat for Wynne because the English language made the meal immensely enjoyable. Hans sat on Wynne’s other side and was very attentive. "Wynne, another glass of sauterne?" He found out early on that Wynne preferred sweeter wines. Wynne hadn’t been too happy with all the foreign languages spoken around the table the night before, French, German, English and sometimes a little Spanish. She finally accepted that English wasn’t going to be the only one spoken in her presence "I think
it’s rude to speak a language I don’t understand in my presence." She took it a little better when she knew Jean spoke not a word of English and he was carrying more than 50% of the dinner conversation.
Dinner at Ivry was almost as perfect as dinner the night before at the Auberge de la Tuite. At the Auberge we had great delicacies like thinly sliced smoked salmon layered on mille feuilles, roasted duck that melted in you mouth, according to Wynne, and a smashing finale of creme bruelee. That was Billie’s birthday party and it was wonderful.
The food at Ivry was special for me. It started with 10 fresh Normandy oysters (almost as good as oysters from the Chesapeake), then 3 perfectly grilled lamb chops and ending with mousse au chocolat. Of course we started with champagne (Wynne tried a kir royale) and then a delicious full-bodied red wine. So much divine food and drink.
How do I feel about going home? Well, ready, ten days of driving in France and walking the boulevards of Paris and climbing in and out of the subway is a bit much for 66. But I must say, as I predicted to Wynne, the tired body improved each day after the first day’s tramping around Montmartre though I never rejuvenated completely like in the old young days. Hans was a wonderful host, but unwilling or possibly unable because of his illness, to escort us around as in the past. And there was no private and personal conversation which we always had enjoyed before. He didn’t reveal how he really feels and what he is thinking about the illness. I would have liked to know if he wants me to come again of if he would rather go it alone with just Billie and his children. Time, some letters and phone calls at more regular intervals may be the best way to find my way through the next months. He will go back to Karlsruhe in September or October depending on whether the tests indicate more isotope treatment would be effective.
That’s it, that’s the story. Instead of an autumn day, it was a wonderful day in Spring, and it was mightily enjoyed!