January 24 2013
We took the bullet train last Friday, hurtling through the snow-clad fields and villages to the great city of Paris where, courtesy of La Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, (MEP) we were to stay for the next 5 days at the Hotel Lutetia.
To our surprise we were given the David Lynch Suite, complete with his lithographs and photographs. One could almost feel the atmosphere of Blue Velvet and the horror of Dennis Hopper’s imminent approach. Or had he already been and left? The suite was ice-cold, the air duct exhaling a whisper of barely warm breath; the Nespresso machine was on the blink, literally, while outside a heavy snow began its descent.
We called the front desk for help. Apologies were profuse; the suite had just been vacated by a heavy smoker – Dennis, methinks – and so while the maids had prepared the room they’d kept all the balcony doors flung open. It was 21˚F in Paris that day. Two space heaters were sent up, tout suite, along with a man and his ladder to attend to the heating vent. A florist arrived with an armful of the most glorious poppies for me from the Director of the MEP, but no vase. I call the front desk again. Meanwhile I’m trying to have a Skype conversation with my daughter in New York while Joel prepares to leave for a meeting at the museum.
The doorbell rings again; the vase. Back to my daughter. Doorbell; Nespresso man (not, unfortunately, George Clooney). Daughter. Front desk calls; have the heaters arrived? Daughter. Nespresso man, ici, regardez vous la machine, ca va? Daughter. Joel leaves. But not before turning both space heaters up to 2000 volts instantly blowing all fuses and plunging the suite into heatless, nespresso-less, daughter-less, dark-ness. A British farce couldn’t have done better.
And so the days went by in a blur of snow and ice; the parks heartbreakingly beautiful in their white velvet attire, the streets and sidewalks a slick challenge, cars at a crawl. The Parisiennes, nonchalant as ever, sitting at outside cafes with their coffee and cigarettes, pursed lips exhaling smoke and vapor. The air perfumed with butter and sugar, and a chocolate shop on every block; the women a study in the art of wearing a scarf and men carrying baguettes, albeit sans berets.
January in Paris is a feast. The month of soldes, or sales, you could just drool over the bargains – or go bankrupt buying them! It is also the month of the Gallette des Rois, the airy almond filled flaky cake inside which a little crown hides…or if really traditional, a favé bean. Whoever gets the slice with the trinket becomes King or Queen for the day and wears the gold crown that comes in the cake box.
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a northern city in January that is so filled with warmth. You hear so much bad-mouthing of the French, particularly the Parisiennes and their attitude, but I have never experienced this in the many years I’ve been coming here.
I first came to Paris as an 18 year-old, back in the 60’s. It was my first stop on a 3- month hitch-hiking trip around Europe. I had worked 2 jobs a day for months, in London, in order to be able to make that long-held dream come true. I had decided, as a 5 year-old, that I was destined for France after we had a French student live with us that summer. Pierre was 16 and spoke no English when he arrived, but he called me Marguerite and I fell in love with him and the sound of his language. Many an hour I spent in my room speaking pretend French and then, as he gradually learned English, I, too, would speak it with a French accent deigning it superior to the affectless accent of our region.
Pierre was fluent by the time he left, 6 weeks later. I, on the other hand, after 5 years of grammar school French, was shocked to discover on that first and heady trip to France, that the French I had been taught by a Welsh teacher, was far from fluent. But really, who cared? To be that young and yet to have dreamed for so long of Paris, and then to arrive at dawn, just as the city was waking up! The sluicing of the streets, the chairs being put at outdoor tables, awnings unfurling, metal shutters rolling up with a squeak and a clang and yes, the air, perfumed with butter.
Paris is still that magical to me and this sojourn no exception. On Sunday, we had tea in our dear friend’s home near the Seine, the fire ablaze, the tray of luscious dates and plump apricots. The two cats as storybook as ever. Our friend’s son a surrogate son of ours whose generous heart always makes us feel ageless. The snowy walk back to the hotel hours later, sharing a cone of caramel ice cream as we went.
And there were soufflés that lifted us heavenward, white truffle and hazelnut macaroons, crab bisque and steamed bar…well, enough with the food, because really this trip was about Joel’s retrospective exhibition at MEP (it will be up for 3 months in case any of you have a trip to Paris planned).
What an exhibition! Look, I’ve lived with this man for more than 22 years, I know his work pretty well, but here’s the thing about Joel’s photographs: they keep on coming. Every image gives you more the more you look. The wonder of his vision, timing, humor, his toughness and his tenderness fills me with awe every time…as it does everyone else. The opening was packed; hundreds and hundreds of people shoulder to shoulder for 3 hours. Bravo my Joely! Bravo!
After the opening our generous friend, Philippe, took 9 of us to dinner, including our friend and her son and friends from London who’d come over just for the opening. We ate and talked and laughed until midnight; 9 of us ranging in age from 27 to 75, all of a piece. We closed the place and then stood on the street fooling around like teenagers before going our different ways; on foot, by metro, and taxi. And so perhaps the lasting image for me will always be our friend who lost the love of her life last spring. A true Parisienne and a profound spirit, we watched as she bicycled into the night, golden hair and coat flying in the icy wind.
We, too, took flight the next day; back on the bullet to Bonnieux, to the beauty of this medieval village and the tranquility of the countryside. Back to the fireplace and our cozy bed. And this morning, blue sky and sun warm enough to enjoy our cappuccinos out on the terrace.
In a little while we’ll make dinner; fresh chicken livers with salad from the farmers’ market. Oh, and we’ll be shaving some of that black truffle we bought on our afternoon walk…up there on the hillside, far from the madding crowds.
NOTE: a reminder and a request:
Remember to submit your email address on the Blog-site’s opening page
upper right hand. That way you’ll receive each post directly into your
inbox. And we would love it if you would recommend our blog to friends
(give them the “submit” instructions). We also would be thrilled to hear
from you. With thanks, Maggie and Joel.