My trip to Paris coincided with a complete change in my blood pressure medicine, which was close to being a disaster. I managed to drag myself home, but just barely. I almost stayed home but found a cheap hotel at the last minute in the Latin Quarter. This turned out to be the perfect place for me to stay with lots of handy restaurants and Metro stations. A number of the sights of Paris turned out to be nearby.
I went around mainly by Metro, armed with my Streetwise Paris map. Some of the Metro stations are huge and very confusing. To get to Garnier and Salle Pleyel involved taking RER B followed by RER A. The first time I tried his I wandered all over the Chatelet station looking for the other train and ended up on the platform where I had started. You walk across the platform. I got on the wrong train only once. It would be extremely helpful if the trains were identified by the next stop instead of the final station, but that is probably an out-of-towner perspective. It would be handy to know if the train were taking me to Chatelet or Luxembourg instead of to the long list of end stations.
Giulio Cesare ended after the last Metro and threw me on to the mercy of the Paris night buses. In the daytime the buses are filled with well behaved old ladies such as myself, but the night buses seem to be reserved for the sort of people who get into shouting matches with the driver. And they didn’t seem to go anywhere near my hotel. Luckily when the bus put me down near the flower market on Ile de la Cite, I had already been in Paris long enough to recognize the flower market and the path home. The lights had been turned off on Notre Dame. Everything looked quite forlorn at that hour of the night. One bar on Rue Saint Jacques was still open and going strong, but everything else was dark and quiet by 2 am.
I appeared to blend in. I noticed that older women seem to wear their hair very short in Paris which may account for why people would constantly approach me and start speaking French. When I tried to speak French, about half the words turned out to be Italian.
I was interested in the contrast with Rome. In Rome the wreckage was caused by invading armies who destroyed everything indiscriminately. In Paris the lower classes did their best to wreck anything that seemed to symbolize the aristocracy. In the Cluny Museum are the heads of the kings of Israel that were knocked off by the angry mobs of the revolution who thought they were kings of France.
At the ballet the young man who gave me a ticket and I discussed Paris traffic. I held that it was not nearly as bad as I remembered it from the early seventies. I remember being afraid that they were going to come up on the sidewalk after me. He pointed out that now there are cameras all over Paris filming you, much as I know is the case in London, so it is much more difficult to get away with things than before.
I was hobbling feebly across a street in the Place de la Concorde after visiting the Orangerie when a small van seemed on a trajectory to run right over me. I suddenly became spry and jumped out of his way.
Clearly this trip was meant to be for the miraculous encounter with Cecilia in the auditorium of Salle Pleyel. Two thirds of the way down the left aisle, I calculate. She looked especially beautiful in her black suit, and did not seem to mind this time that I never do or say the right things. Thank you. I think I squeezed back, or at least I hope so.
I returned home with memories and a lot of dark, gloomy pictures. Maybe Paris in the spring would be different.
Marc-Andre Hamelin at Mills
4 hours ago