Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas to All

I've been struggling with my Christmas poem this year.  Inspiration seemed far away and what I thought I wanted to write wasn't happening at all.
Today, I downloaded a beta version of a creative writing software that I hope to use for editing my novel.  To try it out, I decided to scratch out a poem...and this is what came out.  So that which would be written, has been written; and that which is not yet ready, has not.

Merry Christmas lovely reader.

 Eclipse - 2010

I missed the Eclipse this Winter Solstice
Rainclouds covered the sky
As is usual in my bleak midwinter.
I couldn’t see the world go dark
I missed the red glow in the sky
I didn’t feel the longest night
Go still and silent and black.
I went to bed like any other night
I burrowed into blankets
And battled with my dreams
And prayed that I might wake another day.
I did awake.
The darkness was still there
My northern latitude at its apogee
To Sol and light and warmth.
But this morning the moon shone large
Bathing the bare limbs in light
Guiding me out of the dark.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Looking back or forward

It's raining outside.  It's also dark.  It is a dark and stormy night. There was even a tornado today!  I mean - wtf - tornado?   in December?  I'm inclined to just put on my jammies and pull the covers up over my head. 

I spent last month writing my novel as a participant in National Novel Writer's Month.  I've now got over 50,000 words committed to this narrative.  By the time I'm done editing and rewriting, there will be at least that many if not more.  I am more than a little excited about it.  For one thing, the act of writing, the commitment to my goal got me out of my slump. Secondly, the subject of my book, my grandparents and their careers in the theatre, created for me, at long last, a sense of family.

Coming from a big, noisy group such as mine, you'd think I'd want to do anything but identify with my family. But the truth of it is, while I love my siblings dearly, I always had a feeling that I was on the outside looking in.  I always thought that no one saw the world, the arts, themselves, in quite the way as I did.  But I've since learned that my grandfather had almost the same thoughts and fears and temptations and losses as I did.  As I do. So like pieces of a puzzle, I am beginning to see who I am and how I came to be.

It's been a big year for me.  Exactly one year ago tomorrow, my mother died.  In May, my daughter finished law school, then she took (and passed) the bar exam, and she is now licensed to practice law.  I'm so very proud of her. She's going to do great things.  I can feel it.

In August, we went to Paris.  It seems just a moment ago and a lifetime ago.  It was the most perfect time. I want to go back so badly.  I keep thinking about it, trying to save money for it, plan for it again.  But it's been tough to save anything.

The rest of the country may be having a recovery, but I will be without a raise for the third year in a row and I also get to pay more for my health and dental insurance this year.  And my maximum out of pocket is going up.  It doesn't really matter when there's nothing in the pocket to come out.

I have to get new glasses, that's number one.  The headaches are getting to me. And then I'll hope that nothing major goes wrong with me, the cat or the car.

Now, looking forward, I hope to get my novel edited and start shopping it around.  I know it's a long shot to be published, but stranger things have happened.  I would like to get a grip on my self care; establish a routine that is balanced, nutritional and achievable.  This is not just for my body, but my heart, my mind, my soul.  I would like to see a resolution to the dispute at work and a possible end to the belt tightening.

For now, I'm just resting and getting ready to spend Christmas with my girl and family.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday - and here's to a wonderful New Year.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

1102 NE 7th Street

This is the house I lived in until I was 13 years old.  I was the seventh and last child born to my parents.  My oldest brother was 19 and serving in the Marines at the time of my birth.  To the best of my recollection, we never lived in this house together.  Of course, he lived here. He had a room here, there are pictures of him holding me as a baby and he slept here when he was home on leave or on break from college, but I have no memory of him in this house.
The house is a large farm house, with a big covered porch across the entire front.  It’s painted white with no accent colors.  There are two large picture windows on either side of the front door. Above the porch, you can see windows from the master bedroom at the front of the second floor.  The porch floor is painted gray and it’s quite large, about 8 feet deep, and all around it is a closed in by a low wall.  As a child, someone had to lift me up to sit here, or I would lean over staring down at the ground, legs dangling.  The posts that hold the roof up are too big to wrap your arms around, at least as a child.  And the ledge is so high off the ground that you know you’ll break your neck if you fall.  Hot summer nights in August, we would haul mattresses out on the porch and sleep here, feeling the weight of the air and waiting for thunder to break the heat.     
You walk up the concrete walkway and climb the grey steps to the porch where you cross to the front door.  The wooden screen door is painted black and it creaks, no matter how much wd-40 my dad puts on the hinges.  The front door is a dark wood, maple I think, solid and thick, with three small windows across the top. 
You enter into a large room, the living room, and there is a large couch 7 feet long, to your left in front of the picture window.  It’s a shade of dark purple, aubergine perhaps, and the back folds out to make a bed.  A low coffee table and a loveseat complete the picture.  Directly in front of you is the door to the stairway upstairs.  I’m not really allowed to go upstairs.  That’s where my brothers’ rooms are and they get upset if I’m poking around up there.  Robert has a lock on his door, because he has guns and things that the little kids are not supposed to get into. To your right is another large room, a sitting room probably, but now it is the TV room.  There’s another couch along the back wall.  This one is brownish, older and has all the tell-tales signs and stains of several years of use. There is an old black and white console TV in the far corner where the glare from the window won’t distract, and an avocado green lazy boy recliner is just inside the entry, directly in front of the television.  This is where you could catch my father sleeping while the nightly news was brought to you by Huntley and Brinkley.  If a cat is sticking his head out from inside the recliner someone forgot to check for him before closing up the recliner for the night. Chances are he’ll have started meowing and my brothers will have released him when they were watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  At Christmas, the tree would go in this room and you’d have to watch TV through the branches.  
Turing back to the living room, you’ll see that the passage to the dining room is a large opening, flanked by matching half walls, and that all the rooms so far are painted white, not eggshell or ivory – just plain matte white. The centerpiece of the dining room is a large maple dining table with 8 chairs around, in various states of use and abuse.  To your left, just inside the entry way, sits a small maple desk with a telephone and a calendar desk pad.  There is a large green glass planter containing several pens, pencils, crayons, scissors, and the occasional straw still in its paper wrapping.  A three corner china cabinet with a glass front sits in the opposite corner on the left, past yet another large picture window.  Inside you can see several glass cups and saucers, pictures and other knick-knacks typical for a home in the early 1960. My favorite is the violet chocolate pot and matching delicate cups and saucers.  This was my great grandmother’s and I hope that someday I can sip hot cocoa from them.
Facing you at the back of the dining room is a built in cabinet with glass front cupboards above and 6 drawers below a buffet nook.  There is a white sock hanging out of the top left drawer and the top right drawer is open just enough to glimpse white t-shirts and jockey shorts.  With three teenage boys in the house, my mother gave up on folding laundry and just puts it all in these two drawers for my brothers to dig through and find what they needed.  Within a few years, colors will start to appear among the whites and boxers will supplant briefs.  
On the right side of the room, sits a rather large upright piano. A closer look reveals not a piano, but an old pump organ with a single keyboard and pulls stops marked with exotic instrument names like harpsichord and xylophone.  This is where I learned to play piano before my feet could touch the peddles.  My mother had to sit with me on her lap and pump the bellows while I picked out my lessons.  When I was 10, we finally got a real piano, but it was still in dining room.
Just past the organ is the door to my parents’ bedroom.  It opens in and immediately to the left is another door that leads to the back of the house, and to the right is a small closet underneath the stairs. There are two twin beds, side by side.  They have gold brocade bedspreads and red padded headboards.  There are red drapes on the windows and my mother’s vanity sits in front of them.  A small folding table with a sewing machine is to the right and a hope chest sits at the foot of the beds.  Until I was 5, I slept in this room on a cot at the foot of their beds.  
You turn left and go into the hallway, where you’ll find a linen closet to your right, the bottom half of which is simply a large cardboard box filled with white shirts and other cotton clothes in need of ironing.  The ironing board is permanently set up in this hallway, and the iron has seen better days.  My mother ironed her things, my dad’s shirts and my things, until I was old enough to do it myself.  We all celebrated the invention of permanent press fabric.
In front of you is the bathroom.  One sink, one bathtub (no shower) and one toilet, which isn’t visible because it is in a separate room between the bathroom and the laundry room.  This is the only bathroom in the house, for 9 people.  Somehow we made it work.
To your left, just past the linen closet, is a small bedroom.  This was my room when my oldest brother finally moved out.  The bed sits against the back wall under a very high window.  I would stand on my bed, on tiptoe and look out the window over the back yard, which stretched on forever.  The other window, opposite the door, looked out on the cherry tree, the grape vine and the large patch of iris my mother loved so much.  This is where I would watch for my daddy to come home and wait until I heard his car on the gravel, and then I jumped up and ran through the kitchen to the back door, along length of the back porch where I waited to jump into his arms.  He’d tell me every day that he can’t do this forever, but I didn’t believe him.  He always caught me.
Through the hall is the kitchen, a farm kitchen.  The cupboards went all the way up to the ceiling and they were full of all kinds of dishes and foods and goodies that I couldn’t reach.  There’s a double sink where we all took our turn washing and drying dishes, even me.  I stood on a stool and dried while my mother washed and we sang old songs together.  The floor was as big as a dance floor, waxed and slippery linoleum.  I used it as my own performance space when everyone else was watching TV or on the phone or doing homework.  I would dance to my own songs.  I would “ice skate” on the slippery floor, running to the corner and lifting myself up with the counters. I would pretend I was being lifted high off the ice by a handsome partner. 
Off of the kitchen to the left is a door that leads to the laundry room where it seemed there was always a load going.  And through the laundry room is the back door.
Coming full circle through the kitchen, we come back to the dining room. There used to be a door here, but it was taken off long ago, probably after my mother got tired of hearing it slam a hundred times a day.  Now we chase each other around and around from dining room to mom and dad’s bedroom to hallway, kitchen and back to dining room.  Well, until my mother exasperated by the noise and trying to make dinner after a full days’ work begs us to please find something else to do!
So you enter the dining room; the center of the house.  And you note how the table dominates the room.  It’s a large oval top with two leaves added set on a huge round pedestal with four large feet.  There’s no carving or embellishment.   It’s a large, simple, functional table for a large, simple, (mostly) functional family. With the addition of 4 other leaves, this table can expand into the living room for large family dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and various family birthday celebrations.  Even with those extra leaves, the small children still had to eat in the kitchen.  By the time I was considered old enough to eat with the grownups, big family gatherings were a distant memory.  In its’ present state it can seat the 6 of us; my mother, my father, my three older brothers, and me, and any friends who happened to tag along.  By the time I was 6, we were all that still lived here, and still ate dinner together every night.  Both of my sisters and my oldest brother have moved out to go to school or get married or both. 
This table was more than a dinner table.  It’s where we did our homework, after the dishes were cleared and washed up.  It’s where we played games, Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, and many, many more.  It’s where my mother would lay out fabric and cut out the pattern for clothes, costumes, slipcovers, whatever she was making. It’s where we emptied out our Halloween candy and picked out the best stuff, where we frosted Christmas cookies, wrapped Christmas presents, and helped my mother set out the goodies for Santa. It’s where I watched my big sister put in contact lenses and determined that I would do the same when I was old enough.  It’s where I’d spread out my paper dolls, my Barbies, my spirograph and paint by number and endless school projects.  It’s where Tommy Patt, the boy across the street, would sit and eat our leftover French fries while I practiced the piano and my brother tried to talk to his girlfriend on the phone.  It’s where we burned the mortgage when my parents paid off the house after 25 years.  And where the three of us, my mom, my dad, and me decided it was time to move down to something more manageable, more suitable, for my parents as they started looking at retirement.
It took over a year to clean out the house; to get rid of the collected treasures of 25 years and 9 people.  To go through the boxes of photographs and yearbooks and clothes left behind as the family went from 9 to 7, 6, 5, 4, and finally 3.     
The table moved with my parents but it never had all those leaves in it again.  It sat in the small dining nook of a 3 bedroom ranch house with shag carpet, colored walls and a breakfast bar.   When my father died, my mother got rid of more things.  The three corner cabinet.  The lazy boy recliner.  The cigarettes and the ashtrays.  The jujubes and the licorice.  The tomato and the grilled cheese sandwiches.  The cat.  And the table.  

Friday, September 10, 2010

Paris - final day and final thoughts

This morning we had our last cup of coffee and last croissant in silence.  I know that I am full of thoughts and wishes about our trip and I'm sure Bridgete is as well.  We got to the airport in plenty of time.  And far too soon, we were leaving Paris and back in Boston.

There are few things I wanted to say about my trip that didn't seem to fit with my travelogue.  I knew that I would enjoy Paris.  I had read about it and thought about for many years now.  And even though several people had told me beforehand that I would fall in love and want to live there, I took it all with a grain of salt.  I've traveled before and seen some very amazing cities, but nothing compares to Paris.  It is another world.  And it is indeed a world in which I could imagine myself living.  There is a quietness, a peacefulness, an elegance and a dignity to Paris that I have never experienced before.  I've always craved a kind of quiet in my life - but never knew what the quiet was until now.  Because it isn't a quiet that comes from being alone.  I know that too much alone is not good for me - I become depressed and eat and drink too much.   And yet too much time with others in this noisy, pushy, busy world exhausts me.  And I am forever seeking a balance.

It was only a day or less in Paris and I had that balance.  I felt a part of everything and everyone.  I wasn't overwhelmed by people and noise and chatter and distraction.  I was intensely focused and delighted.  I ate and drank far less than I do at home - yet I never felt deprived or denied.  I saw so much beauty that at times, tears would simply gather in my eyes and my heart would ache.  I laughed easily and often.  I felt at home.

This was the perfect place for Bridgete and I to have time together, too.  Without the business of life, the distraction of school and work, we were able to feel again our deep and lasting bond.  To know with just a glance or a nod what the other was thinking, feeling, imagining.

I'll stop here, just because I don't want to cry! I know what I am supposed to do now.  I am to return to Paris as soon and as often as possible. 

There are more of my pictures on Picasa -  link below - and Bridgete, who is a far better photographer than I am, has her photos here.



Paris - Day 6

Today is our last full day in Paris.  SOB!  And we are visiting that place famous in history for so many reasons - Versailles.  Testament to the power (and ego) of Louis XIV - the Sun King.  Did you know that he became king at the age of 4 and ruled France for 72 years?  Did you know that he outlived his son and his grandson and was followed on the throne by his great-grandson (who was only 5 at the time)?  Well, I didn't.  During his reign, France was indeed a most powerful country and his patronage of the arts brought him much glory.  French theater and literature flourished under his protection.  Painting, music, architecture all gained prominence.   And he converted the hunting lodge at Versailles into a magnificent palace that would become the royal court of France in 1682.  At one time, the palace alone housed 14,000 people.  That's a town!

We took a train trip to Versailles - about 30 minutes outside of Paris.  The day was like most of our days had been, lightly overcast in the morning with sun breaking out and covering us most of the time.  We stepped out on to the streets of Versailles and began to walk to the Palace.  It's a rather ordinary looking street with fast food places (including McDonald's), souvenir shops, and Starbucks. 
The we turned right and started up a rather long parkway.  As if just for our pleasure, at the moment the Chateau was in sight, the sun broke through the clouds and we were dazzled by this grand sight.  It must have been a similar experience for those who approached the court in Louis' day.

That's gold on the roof.  22 carat leaf.  It's been undergoing renovation for a few years now.  Paid for by corporate sponsorship.   Here's a little detail that shows it better.

 As we got closer, I could see these magnificent gates in the front.  These are recent to Versailles - again corporate sponsorship making this possible.  They are based on the original gates that Louis XIV had during his reign.  Only the royal family was allowed through these gates.  There were others for the court and the general public.  Even in Louis' day, Versailles was a tourist spot and you could rent the proper attire to enter for a day of rest in the gardens and the public rooms of the Chateau. 
We met up with our guide Vincent (I'd follow him anywhere) and got our history lesson.  The Chateau has separate entrances for groups and public, I recommend getting a group tour.  And they control how many groups are allowed in at a time.  So it's still crowded, but not as bad as the Louvre.  Beware of pickpockets here, especially in some of the smaller more popular rooms.

We had to wait a little because a group in front of us was a little late for their appointed time and delayed things for everyone.  This made Vincent very unhappy. :-(

But at last we got inside.  It's hard to explain what the Chateau is like.  I've never seen anything like it and I certainly can't imagine living here.  It's certainly a testament to the glory of France and of Louis.  We only saw a very few of the rooms, including the famous hall of mirrors which is where the Treaty of Versailles was signed after WWI.  Many of them are still undergoing restoration.  As corporate sponsorship comes forward, then restoration can occur.   The Chateau is priceless and a jewel in the crown of France.

After we went through the chateau, (and the gift shop of course) Bridgete and I decided to stay and see the gardens and the Petit Trianon, originally built as a home for Louis' XV mistresses, it was given to Marie Antoinette by her husband Louis' XVI for her enjoyment.  We walked along the reflecting pool, with would look familiar to any visitor to Washington DC, and continued to stroll along tree lined paths to the Queen's little escape. 

A charming little place, I think I could live here.  :-)

We returned to Paris and as we walked toward our hotel, a little rain began to fall.  Paris weeps for us!!  Our final dinner - a lovely salad of carrots and shrimp, beef with potatoes dauphinoise, a cote du rhone, and one more little apple tart.  It's been a lovely trip and it is over far too soon. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paris - Day 5

First, I realized that I forgot to mention dinner last night.  Oops - my bad.  Dinner was okay.  The French onion soup was divine!  Bridgete had escargot.  And a creme caramel desert was mighty tasty. 

Day 5 - The Louvre.  That's the big museum - with all the famous paintings - and the glass pyramid.  And it is every bit as amazing as you might imagine.  It's the one time I acted like a rude American - but there is no other way to get close to...that picture....without elbows and rudeness.

I took pictures of what I could.  There's this one.  She's quite lovely.

And then look at the look on this little girl's face!

So here's the moment you've waited for - literally sweated for - my hair was dripping wet by the time we reached this room.    That's her - the little dark square on the other side of that sea of people.  Elbows up....

yessir...I saw her.  She's pretty amazing.  You wish all these other people would just go away so you could have some time alone with her.  But now you feel someone's elbow in YOUR ribs and you move out of the way.   
And you say good-bye.

You move on to other rooms, other paintings, other beautiful things.  Until you are saturated with beauty.  It's all too much.  And you need a drink because it's SO HOT IN HERE!

The tour has ended.  You turn in your headset.  You do a little shopping in the shopping center under the museum.  You have your something to drink.  And you head out to the Jardin des Tulleries, have a croque monsieur at a cafe in the gardens, watch the polite pigeons who take your little crumbs and say 'merci' then wander away until you are ready to toss them another crumb. 

Now it's time to take the walk up the champs elysees and find those macaroons at Laduree that are life changing.  Little cakes filled with just the right amount of sweetness in raspberry, coffee, caramel, chocolate, mimosa.  délicieux

Back at the hotel, you realize you really only have 2 more dinners - 2 more nights in the fabulous city.  It's too sad.  All too sad.  So you comfort yourself with a roast pork with lentils, wine and another tarte tatin.  This one is not nearly as good as the first.  At least that's what you tell yourself.

Paris - Day Four

It's Wednesday.  By the end of today our week in Paris will be more than half over!  :-(

We started with Breakfast.  You know the drill.  Coffee and croissant.  Cheese and fruit.  And really...what else do you need?  This morning, there was a little construction going on next door, it's August and vacation month for many French people.  It seems like every other shop we past has a sign on the door, "En vacances pour le mois d'août."  And lots of them are having face-lifts or renovations done while en vacances.   Well apparently our concierge, Arnaud (not to be confused with our guide Arnaud (who has his own blog here) decided that he'd had enough.  Out the front door he went and the jack hammer stopped.  Back in he came with a look to me that said, 'we'll have no more of that until you are all out and about.'  The rest of breakfast was peaceful and pleasant.

Today we started at the Pompidou Center.  The ugliest building in Paris, Arnaud has successfully convinced some groups that it's an energy plant.  George Pompidou had good intentions.  But it was the 70s.  We all made mistakes in the 70s.   The area where the center is located is called the Beaubourg.  Originally the center of market activity, when the markets moved to the suburbs, this area was abandoned.  The Pompidou Center houses a huge collection of Modern Art, a large public library, public information library, and music and art research centers.  There is a cafe that faces the square which is apparently where people who want to "be seen"  go to "be seen."  There was no one to see when we were there.

The Stravinsky Fountain was a delightful thing "to see."  Various modern sculptures represent characters from works by Igor Stravinsky. 
As Arnaud so succinctly put it...only one boob is working today.  (Must remember that one for some future snark.)

From Pompidou, we walked to the Hotel de Suubise, - now the home of the National Archives and Hotel de Sully - the Ministry of Culture, responsible for the national monuments and historic buildings of France.

Hotel de Soubise
From Sully, we entered the Place des Vosges and the Marais District. 
Arnaud was full of stories today, about Marie Antoinette and a necklace.  About Henry IV and a deadly duel.  About all sorts of ghastly royal intrigues and deceptions and games and foolishness.  It was great!

The Marias is now home to the Jewish district, antiques stores and boutiques a plenty.  As we were walking through the district, I noticed that there were blue, white and red bouquets on the doors of several shops and residences.  Then Arnaud mentioned that today was the anniversary of the liberation of Paris at the end of WWII.  These bouquets were being left on the homes and businesses of Jewish residents who were deported during the Nazi occupation.

We passed some students waiting outside a school and received a little education on the French school system.  And then another history lesson.

This is a remnant of the wall built by Philippe Auguste (Philip II) to protect Paris when he left for the crusades.  The moat - a dry one - was about 50 across.

After our history lessons, we had lunch in Mere Catherine square at a lovely cafe where the waiter spoke little English and Bridgete happily translated for our little table.  I had a lovely duck with potatoes and wine, of course.

After lunch, we took the bus to Pere Lachaisse, the famous cemetery on the outer edges of Paris.   It was starting to cool and drizzle, so we only  saw a few of the graves I wanted to.  But we did see Heloise and Abelard, Moliere, Chopin and Oscar Wilde.

SEE!!  I was really there! (I know you were growing suspicious...)

We returned to our hotel and changed for dinner and moonlight cruise on the Seine.  My camera didn't like taking pictures in the dark and moving - so I can't show you how incredible the city looked at night.  There is no question that I have now fallen completely in love with this city and everything about it.   There is nothing like a beautiful summer evening on the Seine, lovers everywhere along the Quai, singing, dancing, drinking wine under the lights and a FULL MOON!  (too perfect.  I kept looking for Gene Kelly at every moment.)

I don't think I can leave here now.  I'll think about that tomorrow....

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Paris - Day Three

Some of you know my strange and colorful history with squirrels.  Well, we didn't see any actual squirrels in Paris.  But this was the wallpaper in our room.

Look at his little ears! How they are kind of spiky?  Now that's a stylish squirrel.  Apparently this is a pretty close representation of the real thing.  They are red and do have little tufted ears.  And it's quite a blessing if you see one in person as they are quite shy and not at all inclined to scold you from the trees.  Just another example of polite French society.

Day Three started out with breakfast.  This time we were early enough to get croissant - a fine, flaky, buttery thing that melted on the tongue - and of course coffee.  A word about the coffee here.  I've always been a coffee with cream person.  I love the smell of coffee, but the taste of it has always been bitter to me and the acidity does a number on my stomach.  So I have my one little cup with cream or milk each day when at home.  But in Paris...the coffee was so tasty!  No bitter after taste.  And NO MILK FOR ME!  A little cube of sugar and I could drink it all day.  Not nearly so hard on my tummy either!

Today's journey is to Montmartre, that well known home to starving artists and writers.  And to my daughter's doppelganger - Amelie.
It was everything I wanted it to be.  I think if I could live anywhere in Paris, it would be here - although today it's not nearly so affordable as it once was.  But just picture the beautiful apartment buildings with the wrought iron window boxes overflowing with geranium and sweet flowers.  The narrow winding streets that twist and turn and take you higher and higher above the city.  The beautiful views every way you turn.  And the people doing their shopping, drinking their coffee or wine, sitting and drawing or writing, living simply and fully and beautifully.

This is the Metro stop at Abbesses in Montmarte.  It's one of 3 remaining glass canopied Art Nouveau Metro signs.  Apparently, when the Metro was first built in 1900, Parisians didn't want to use it. So Hector Guimard designed the external signs to attract the public into the stations.  Inside the stations there is a great deal of attention to detail as well.  Some are as they were originally built and some are being renovated.  But they all retain an attention to detail and aesthetic that is rarely seen in public works .  And it's not just "art", it actually assists you - helps you visually know the line you are on, the station you are entering, if that station has transfers to other lines or not.  So form and function working together...huh...what a concept!

Now we begin our walk up the hill.  Bear with me here, I'm just taking pictures of all the places I want to live. 

Yeah, it's pretty great.

Now along the way, we picked up some school children going about their day.

Bridgete decided she could have children if they were raised in Paris.  I assured her I would have no problem being a French grand-mère.

Is there a budding Renoir or Van Gogh here?  Probably. 

Speaking of Van Gogh, this is where he lived with his brother Theo...before he went a little mad. 

And Renoir lived here....

How could you not paint beautiful things when you live in such a place? 

I mean, even the drinking fountains are works of art.   (These used to have little copper drinking cups on chains, but you can still fill your water bottles here.  Paris drinking water is quite good.)

Now a little history test.  Do you know the literary significance of this place?

La Maison Rose 

(notice the steepness of the street.   That's not me taking the picture at a bad angle.)

Once a favored place of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, now just a pleasant little restaurant where you can pretend that your great American Novel is about to be birthed...

I almost got hit by a bus taking this picture.  The corner I'm standing on is a very tight one.  Thank goodness those bus drivers know how to handle the narrow, winding streets.  Wouldn't that just be the irony of all ironies?  I go all the way to Paris to get hit by a bus when I work for the transit district here at home.

So we're nearly to the top now, just a few more corners and...
Basilique du Sacre-Coeur

Construction began in 1876 with dedication occuring in 1919 after the first World War.  Thus the basilica is dedicated to those who lost their lives in that great war.  Parisians are very superstitious about Sacre-Coeur, a superstition that really took hold when bombs were dropped in the area in the Second World War and all 13 of them missed the church entirely. 

Equally lovely as the church itself is the view of Paris that one has from the steps.  My poor little camera cannot do it justice.

After making this mighty trek to the highest point in Paris, we needed lunch.  We found a delightful little cafe called La Mere Catherine.  Sounded perfect to us!  So we sat and nibbled on cheese and bread and wine and watched the artists at work.

Then we ate gelato and browsed and shopped until it was time to catch the metro back to town and the Musee D'Orsay.

The D'Orsay is home to the finest collection of impressionist art in the world.  But we didn't get to see it.  The Musee is under renovation and most of the major works are in Chicago and San Fransisco.  Oh well.  Instead, we got to see some lovely works by Van Gogh and Renior and Monet and Manet and Gauguin that are rarely on display.  And the museum itself is a beautiful thing.  If you go, don't miss the upper floors like we did where apparently there are lovely pieces of Art Nouveu furnishings.  Next time.  (It's only my second full day in Paris and I'm already making a list of "next time" to see)

At this point, Bridgete was in need of a pharmacy.  Nothing major.  Just a bug bite that wouldn't stop itching.  We found a pharmacy (just look for the big green cross) and we went in.  After looking on all the shelves and not seeing anything that looked like cortaid - she asked "parlez-vous anglais? When the girl said yes, Bridgete held up her elbow saying, "I have an itch!"  and from behind the counter a cortisone cream was obtained.  Seems that in this socialized medical country, the pharmacy is the first place you go when you aren't sure what's up and they handle things very nicely, merci.  

Itch solved, we then took a stroll through some very fancy shopping areas.  Bon Marche makes Nordies mother ship look like The Rack.  Absolutely stunning.  And no one looked at us like we didn't belong.  I don't know where people got the idea that the French are rude.  They were lovely to us - everywhere we went.  Not even the beggars are aggressive.  They just sit in the Metro or in the park with their hand open or a hat in front of them.  They don't try to catch your eye or shame you into anything.  And they say Merci when a coin is dropped. 

With aching feet we returned to our little room, looked at all our little purchases, and I took a little nap.  Then we walked around the corner for dinner - the best we would have all week.  (at least in my opinion)  A beautiful little trout fried in a light crispy batter and a tarte tatin that made me weak in the knees.  Warm and delicate apples, not too sweet, a light flaky crust on the bottom and a dollop of crème fraise.  A beautiful red wine and whiskey to top it all off.  A perfect day.   Now to sleep and dream of that tarte tatin. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Paris - Day Two

Day Two
After a perfectly wonderful night, in which I snored, but due to the very cozy arrangement of our beds, Bridgete merely stuck her arm out and patted me and I would roll off my back, we woke up for our first full day in Paris.  

Started out with breakfast of bread and cheese, a little fruit, perfect coffee - what else do you need?  Really?  The morning looked a little cool and the forecast called for rain.  So every one set out with the necessary jackets, sweaters and umbrellas.  We walked to the Metro and got our first instructions in how to use this wonderful system. 

Our stop was Ecole Militaire on the Ballard/Cretiel Line 8.  For today we would be traveling to the Ile de la Cite - the heart of Paris and would need to change Line 1 - La Defense/Chateau de Vincennes at Concorde where the two lines intersect and then get off Line 1 at Hotel de Ville.    When we made the change at Concorde and were walking toward our next train, we were treated to the sound of a tuba and an accordion. How very Parisian! I think on this morning they were playing something by ABBA - or the Beatles.  They became one of my favorite parts of each morning. 

Travel lesson...The Metro is very easy to use once you get these basic concepts.  Each line is named for the two terminus points at the end of the line, and also has a number.  When a line intersects with other lines and you can make transfers, the line number on the map will be white.  If there are no transfers possible, the line number will be colored in.  And you have to know which direction (which terminus) you are headed in.  Then - it's easy.  Trains come every 4 minutes - sometimes more often in peak times.  And everyone rides the Metro.  So it's a good way to see how the average Parisian lives and works and shops.  If you're smart about keeping your purse and packages in front of you - then you're relatively safe from pickpockets.  And if you don't act like a scared tourist, you probably won't be treated like one.  Anyone who has ridden public transportation in any major city will be able to use the Metro.

We exit the Metro at Hotel de Ville - this is not a HOTEL, but the City Hall of Paris.  And it's quite a lovely building.  A short walk across to Sainte-Chapelle.  Sainte-Chapelle was built by Louis IX, a deeply religious man, to house the crown of thorns and remnants of the true cross.  Now housed within the bounds of the Palais de Justice, you have to go through security screening to get to it.  It's well worth the trip.  The lower chapel has a vaulted ceiling painted with stars to resemble the heavens.  Then you ascend to the upper chapel and are met with some of the most spledid stained glass windows.  The Chapel has been undergoing extensive restoration, so the vault behind the altar was hidden but the light was extraordinary.  Such a beautiful place.  

Stained glass detail at Sainte-Chapelle
From Sainte-Chapelle, we took a short walk to that most beautiful of Gothic Cathedrals, Notre Dame. 

The plaza in front of Notre Dame is where everyone takes their pictures.  It's also been inlaid with stones identifying the various chapels of the saints that used to be along the road to the cathedral.  Here's one I particularly enjoyed. 

It's difficult to describe the sense of peace that flows over one when you enter the church.  It's beautiful, of course.  And there are hundreds of pilgrims there to offer their prayers and petitions to God.  You begin to reflect on the millions of pilgrims who have walked these paths and knelt at these altars since 1345.  Then you remember that the Romans built a temple to Jupiter on this spot and that it has been a holy place to Parisians since the first centuries of Christianity.  And like the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the faith and energy of those prayers resonates within you and you remember that we are all connected by something larger and greater than any one of us could imagine.   You pay your 2 euro, you light your candle and you add your prayer to those of others.  Then you leave and know that you have been heard.

Where, you may ask, is the famous hunchback?  Well, here he is at the oldest building on the ile.  (Those timbered walls date to the middle ages.)

Just as we were making our way from Quasimodo to a little area where we could have some lunch, the skies opened and it began to rain.  Did I say rain?  It poured!  I'm from a rainy city - and this was some rain!  We ran into an ATM vestibule so we could all get out of the rain and hear Arnaud's suggestions for lunch.  

Bridgete and I dashed next door for a sandwich and wine and waited for the rain to ease up.  Then she ran and bought herself an umbrella for 5 euro.  Mine wasn't quite big enough for both of us. 

The rest of our afternoon was spent walking the Latin Quarter and Left Bank of Paris.  We briefly visited the Cluny Museum where we were able to see (but not photograph) the famous tapestry of the Lady and the Unicorn.  So amazing.  After, Cluny and a walk around the area of the Sorbonne, we were on our own for the rest of the day.  I got directions to Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore of Sylvia Beach, and we headed out.  Still not having my bearings completely, we almost missed it, but some how my nose sniffed out the wonderful dusty place.  Resisting my impulse to buy all the books, I picked out one and jotted down a few titles. 

From here we walked along the Quai de Montebello to the corner of Rue Lagrange where Bridgete's beautiful French (and beautiful legs) got her a free cup on coffee outside the cafe.  We sat and acted like Parisians, sans smoking, watching the tourists walking  across Le Petit Pont from Notre Dame.  
The clouds returned and fearing the worst, we decided to go back inside Notre Dame and soak in a little more of the magic.  As the sun went in and out of the clouds, the light inside the cathedral brightened and dimmed, adding to our already countless memories of Paris.

By the time the doors were closed, the chandeliers lit, and the mass begun, I was covered in goose flesh and my contact with the divine was complete.  I'll never forget it.

Earlier in the day, we had the opportunity to sign up to attend a concert of Vivaldi back at Sainte-Chapelle.  Bridgete wanted to find an ATM before we were scheduled to meet our group.  So, using her iPhone, she located one and we were back on foot.  ATM adventure complete, we walked around the perimeter of the Palais de Justice to the designated meeting point.   Once more, we got to watch Paris from a perspective not often seen by tourists.  We even saw a gendarme stop a bicyclist and give him a warning for talking on his cell phone while bicycling.  It was all so polite and civilized.  I was already in love with the politeness of Paris.  Now I was in danger of being won over for good.

The concert, while it had it's weaknesses, was another realization of how very civilized Paris is.  No one spoke during the concert.  No one rustled their programs, which they had paid 2 euro for.  No one played with a video game or texted or shifted about in their seats or tried to call attention to themselves.  One cell phone did go off - but the ringtone was so quiet, it was almost unnoticed.  And when others looked at the offender, he quickly apologized and turned off his phone.  Yep....I LOVE PARIS.

Dinner – Steak and Pomme Frittes
Cotes du Rhone
Mousse au Chocolat

Paris - Day One

We arrive in Paris at about 1:00 in the afternoon, after flying overnight from Boston.  So it's actually about 7 AM for us and we haven't slept a wink.  But excitement overtakes us.  We are in Paris.  CDG is a strange airport.  There are moving sidewalks that are more like escalators, going up and down the central core of the airport.  Other than that, it looks pretty much like any airport of any major city.  We collect our luggage, and since we went through passport control in Reykjavik, we just leave like any other EU passenger.   
We neatly avoid the illegal taxi services right outside of baggage claim and proceed to the taxi stand.  After we get all the baggage into the taxi, we give the address of our hotel - Hôtel de Londres Eiffel 1 rue Augereau.  He mumbles a few things in French and off we go.  

There's a middling sense of deprivation.  It's a big city, with high rises and graffiti and trains - then suddenly, you leave La Defense and you are in PARIS.  Beautiful Paris.  The one you've read about, dreamed of, longed for.  Paris. 

The cab driver pulls over the the side of the road and is playing with his GPS.  He keeps checking the address, and it's not making sense to him.  But he keeps telling you (in English) "I'm not lost. I'm not lost."  Bridgete searches on her iPhone and shows him the map.  "Ah," he says.  A turn here, turn there and you are in front of the Hôtel. 

It looks just like the web site.  We obtain our room keys, our French still feeling strange on the tongue.  And we push our luggage into the tiny elevator.  Bridgete has to sit on her suitcase to get us both in!  We laugh and love it all, because WE'RE IN PARIS!  Room cinquante et un (51) is perfectly tiny and charming and french and perfect.  

It's 2:30 and we are meeting with our group at 3:00, so we quickly clean up and try to look presentable.  After a round of introductions and small glass of wine (yum), we head out for a walking tour of our neighborhood and bus tour of Paris.  We've been reminded to always say "Bonjour", "Merci" "S'il Vous Plait"  and try to blend in as best we can.  The French are polite and kind and quiet.  It's true!  This is a major metropolitan city that has been a center of culture and politics and commerce for hundreds, thousands of years, and it feels less crowded and busy and rude than Portland, OR. 

The bus tour is pleasant and we're learning where everything is in relation to one another.  The Eiffel Tower is HUGE!  I've grown used to things not being as grand as I imagine them, but this is grand!  Bridgete is having an hard time staying awake.   We drive to The Louvre and her head pops up a bit, looks around and then her eyes close again.  

At last we stop for dinner – Kir, Salad Nicoisse, Salmon with a lovely Burgundy and Strawberry Soup!  Divine.  We've held off sleep as long as possible.  Our heads hit the pillows and we're out!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Existential Crisis

I couldn't think of a better title.  I'm not really having an existential crisis, not questioning my place in the great scheme of things; but I am having some sort of of "what now?" moment.  At this very moment, my daughter Bridgete is enduring the last day of the Massachusetts State Bar exam.   All my energy is directed at her and holding her in my thoughts.  It's the least I can do.  It's the only thing I can do from here.  And it's probably best that I am here and not anywhere near her.  I'd be one of those  awful hovering parents - and I don't hover well. 

But I love well.  As much as it breaks my heart to be so far from her, I celebrate the fact that she has become this amazing person.  So strong and capable.  Wise and funny.  Kind and honest.  With such great friends, people I would be proud to call my friends.  And I just sit back and love her. 

There is great joy in being a parent at these moments.  And there is great sadness as well.  I can't fix her boo-boos with a kiss and a Popples band-aid.  I can't give her pudding cups and strawberry milkshakes and get her to laugh again.  Well, sometimes I can.  And I have a huge fear of letting her down, because she is beyond me now.  Smarter and braver and surer of herself.  And I just sit back and love her. 

And I love her well.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Sorry I've been so long in writing.  The block is strong in this one.  But I did want to update everyone. 
Feeling much better.  Still not 100% back to strong, but I have to pat myself on the back for seeing things coming and knowing there was a cause and fighting the demons away.  Seeing Dr. Molly tomorrow for an update on the Vitamin D and thyroid issues.
I'm getting very excited about Paris.  VERY EXCITED.  I just have to get my plane ticket to and from Boston!  I've been waiting for prices to drop, but so far, no luck.  I don't have enough miles with Alaska to get a half price ticket just yet.   So it's down to Continental which would not be a direct flight but reasonably priced or my usual direct flights on Alaska.  Have to decide by next week - or at the very latest - the first of August.
I promise to update you later.  REALLY!  I do!!