Yesterday was a glorious, sunny, literary day. Paris of the 1920s fascinates me and we did our best to pretend we were there with the prohibition-refugee ex-pat writers, artists and composers. We wandered for hours and visited Hemingway’s haunts in Montparnasse – Le Select, La Coupole and Le Dôme cafes -- and stopped at 10 rue Delambre, around the corner from Le Dôme, where he first met F. Scott Fitzgerald. Previously The Dingo Bar (a play on the word dingue, French for crazy), number 10 is now an Italian restaurant, L’Auberge de Venise. We had lunch at another of Hemingway’s favorite cafes on the corner of the Boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail, La Rotonde. The red velvet-upholstered place was packed, our goat cheese and niçoise salads were delicious, and we heard not a word of English. A perfect lunch in Paris.
We recently had two very different dining experiences, one right after the other, with Americans who are here for long stays sitting next to us. The first was with a couple in their 60s from Reno, Nevada who have been coming for to Paris for several years at the end of every summer for six weeks. The second was with a couple in their fifties from unknown parts (although her accent gave her away as coming from the deep south). He teaches something somewhere in Paris and she was stating indignantly that she “could not take another year over here – one year was enough.” Everyone has a story. Some of their details they shared with us and other bits we overheard. What absolutely amazed me, however, in fact made me wince, was that none of these four Americans even attempted to speak French to the waiters. I totally understand not knowing a language (just wait ‘til we get to Greece!) but all of these people had spent significant time in France. Would it have been so difficult to read off the menu and say, “la salade” and ”le poulet” instead of “the salad” and “the chicken?” Could the guy who’s been teaching here a year at least have learned to say, “l’addition, s’il vous plaît” instead of “the bill, please?” I’m a bit more sympathetic towards tourists here for a brief visit, but six weeks every year and a full twelve months? There’s just no excuse.
After our lunch with Ernest, we headed down the Boulevard Montparnasse past the lovely lilac and wisteria covered La Closeries de Lilas,(another favorite hang-out of Hemingway, Picasso and other notables and at which we had a nice dinner a couple trips to Paris ago). We made our way down to the Boulevard St. Germain with a leisurely stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens. I’ve always loved the beautiful flowers in this park, more English than French in their natural style. Exploring Paris is the never-ending peeling of an onion with something new to discover with each layer. We’ve walked through these gardens on dozens of occasions over the years but for the first time we came upon the Medici Fountain in a green grotto just to the east of the palace. In the cool shade of a canopy of trees, the surprising Italianate fountain and its long, narrow pool has a completely different feel from that of the rest of the park. We then walked through the Place de L’Odéon, admired the recently sandblasted stone of the Odéon Theater, and crossed the Boulevard St. German to the narrow streets of the neighborhood between the Boulevard and the Seine. We made our way to the understated elegance of the difficult-to-find Place Furstenberg, suggested by some writers as a “lovely place for a kiss.” We happily followed their recommendation and then enjoyed the quiet of the small, paulownia-shaded square in the middle of the otherwise bustling quartier. Next up was a walk along the narrow rue Jacob and rue de Seine to see the former residences of Colette and George Sand. I had little difficulty imagining them writing in the 19th and early 20th centuries ago behind the ashen walls and white shutters of the ancient buildings.
We returned home after a peripatetic day to take care of some mundane chores. Our first experiment with the washer/dryer combo had its problems. My sister Peggy, who lived in London for many years with her family, always bemoaned the unforgiving nature of these appliances. A complete cycle takes about 4 hours, makes as much noise as if there were soup cans in the drum, and leaves permanent wrinkles if clothes aren’t removed the very second the drying is complete. The water heats to the point of boiling and destroys the personality of any fabric it touches. My crisp, pink and white striped Victoria’s Secret pajamas are now dingy shades of rose and gray more fitting as prison garb in Papillon than for evenings in Paris.
From Ernest Hemingway to Colette to Henri Charrière, and all in the space of one day.