Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Paris stirs my soul...........

Hard to believe it's been a week since I landed in Paris on January 3rd.  My first days were a whirlwind of activity ~ settling into my apartment, shopping for grocery basics, catching up with friends, touring my new 'hood and just getting my bearings.

It hasn't really sunk in that I'm here for a year.  I'm still on vacation mode.  Since I've been to Paris so many times, for weeks at a time, it still feels like the same kind of routine.  Drinking and eating with friends. Hitting the G20 supermarket a few doors up from my place for food and wine.  Meeting Roniece at LPC. Charging up my Navigo for the month and figuring out which buses go where and what metro stops get me closest to where I want to be.

But sometimes,  out of the blue, it will hit me that I don't have to pack it all in in 15 days this time.  I can stay in my pjs drinking coffee and listening to music until 2pm if I want.  I can go sit in the cafe next door and nurse an espresso for an hour, listening to the soft jazz in the background and not worry I should be doing more than just exactly that.  Roniece and I can have a dinner that becomes a sleepover than becomes a jammy day until 4pm the next day.  I can sit with friends for 6 hours, sipping wine and calling dibs on the cute men that wander by the big windows of LPC. I can do all these things because I have the luxury of time.  For the first time in my life, I am not on someone else's clock. I have no responsibilities except to myself.  To the woman in me who just wants to see what it's like to be herself.  To like herself.  To please herself.

I thought it would be hard for me to let go of taking care of everyone else.  I've done it for so long, it's just who I am.  But amazingly enough, being a lazy bitch seems to be coming easier than I thought.  I'm slowly finding a rhythm of my own.  It's still very early days and I know my days will change and take on some kind of structure, but I am enjoying not having to do anything, not having to be anywhere, going at my own pace.

Yesterday was a day that reminded me why I love Paris so much.  Initially I was to meet a friend for lunch but he had to cancel due to a migraine.  So I decided to attend a lecture on War Brides in WWI and WWII I had read about online.  I made my way to the 3rd arrondissement where the cafe was located a few hours before the lecture was scheduled to start.  I love the haut Marais and its little windy streets full of shops.  I dressed warmly in my Canadian down coat so I could withstand the rainy gloomy temperature.  It's very different to wander around in winter.  The streets are not teeming with tourists and you can find a place to sit anywhere you want to.  I took some photos of places I had seen in spring or fall but that looked very different with the bare trees revealing more of what lay behind the leaves usually there.

I was getting a little peckish after about 2 hours of strolling so I went in search of a tiny place I had seen in October when I was in this area with my friends.  I pushed open the wooden door to Le Troisième Cafe and entered a small place with maybe 6 tables and a little bar with about 4 stools.  I ordered the soup and a glass of wine and sat myself down, pushing my huge coat in a corner where it wouldn't hamper the other patrons.  Within minutes of sitting down, I was talking with people on either side of me.  From one, I learned that the cafe is actually a non-profit co-op.  Through their small 5 euro membership fee and their volunteers, they have created a little place where people in the quartier can come for an inexpensive meal or drink, chat with friends, and share in some activities.  Any tips go towards paying it forward for food or drink to someone who can't pay for themselves and they also organize outings where they bring food to the homeless in the area.  I really liked this place and I want to make it a regular place to go, although it's not really that close to me.  I will think about volunteering and joining in some of the activities.  I know that I have an advantage because I can speak French.  One of the promises I made to myself was to try to meet more French people while I'm here.  I love all my expat friends but I also want to see if I can integrate a little more into French culture.

Warmed by my soup and wine and the welcome I was given, I walked quickly to the Cafe de la Marie on rue de Bretagne where the lecture was to take place.  The lecture is a series organized by Adrian Leeds called Apres Midi which takes place the second Wednesday of every month.  It's free (!) and it's a wonderful way to spend an afternoon listening to someone from the community speak about different subjects.  Hilary Kaiser, a historian who has spent over 40 years in Paris, gave a fascinating talk about the trials and tribulations of the women who married American soldiers during WWI and WWII.  She specializes in oral histories and has spent much of her career talking with and preserving the memories of the men and women who lived through the war in France. The upstairs room at the cafe was full and we spent 2 hours learning about the difficulties these women endured and the logistics of getting them to America once the wars ended.  I love history and I hope to be able to indulge that love this year by attending events such as this or auditing History or Art History courses either at museums or universities.

After the lecture, I decided to walk down to the Seine. I was toying with attending a reading by an author at Shakespeare and Company across the river in the 5ieme arrondissement. I wandered slowly down rue des Archives, into the BHV to warm up and then across rue de Rivoli to the beautifully grand building that is the Hotel de Ville of Paris.  As I was getting ready to take some photos, I noticed there was a free exhibit on Che Guevara.  I spent about an hour exploring the influences of this man who become a legend of Cuban history.  I found it interesting and well worth the time to visit.

I then crossed over to Ile La Cite and was happy to see that the Christmas tree in front of Notre Dame was still up.  The church bells began to peal just as I approached and I spent a joyful moment drinking up the beauty that is Paris.

I arrived for the reading at Shakespeare and Company about 40 minutes before the start.  The small space was already beginning to fill up and most of the seats were reserved for students and faculty of New York University where the author Nathan Englander teaches. I managed to snag a chair and since I was sitting right in front of the Philosophy section, read a little Bertrand Russell while I waited.  I had not heard of this author and had no idea what his book was about.  I decided to come in part because I had been in the Marais in the afternoon and wanted to wander down to the Seine since I was in the area.  Since the bookstore is just across the river from Notre Dame, it was an easy stroll and took me past favourites I wanted to say bonjour to.  

Nathan Englander captured my attention and imagination from his first words.  He spoke so passionately about the enduring quest for peace in the Middle East.  His anguish over the disappearance of empathy in the US with the current administration.  His belief that if South Africa could overcome apartheid peacefully in our lifetime, that anything is possible.  He spoke about his commitment to writing, to the truth of his characters and their situations, to the need to research properly so as to tell a convincing story.  Most of all, he spoke about the need to be a good human being. He blew me away.  At one point, my eyes were full of tears and I was afraid to blink so I didn't look like some deranged middle aged woman crying at a book reading.  What made me weep was the feeling that I was home.  That it was perfectly normal for people to be sitting and listening to ideas, to an intelligent man speaking to other intelligent people, to discuss what is happening in our world.  

I took the bus home and was back in my cozy apartment having soup and wine within the hour.  I thought about all I had done with my day and just had this sense that I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing. I was exactly where I needed to be.  I know it's  very early in my year.  I know it won't all be perfect moments.  There will be loneliness.  There will be shit that happens.  That's inevitable.  A year here is still a year somewhere.  There will be good and bad.  But yesterday was good.  It was very, very good.  It exemplfied why I left everything I know and came to Paris for a year.  It's the reason I will continue to Let It Be.............. 


  1. Gosh I'm exhausted just reading all you've done let alone doing it! Sounds like a great start!

  2. Sounds perfect, and real. Have you considered getting a meal card at the Madeleine ? Cheap, fair quality but would be an AWESOME WAY TO MEET PEOPLE. I went with Mary Kay and it was a great experience.

    1. (actually, quality borders on "blah"....but a fun way to mingle)

  3. To be doing exactly what you should be doing is where the joy is. As I read I think of all the times I’ve walked as you described and followers hunches and yes it’s that thing of being nourished by ideas and culture and beauty. Of being in a place that gets that. Can’t wait to read more as your year unfolds. When you are lonely your online friends are here:) xx

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  5. I am loving your blog, Johanne. My last time in Paris was February 2017 ... I went to celebrate my 70th birthday by having dinner at Le Grand Colbert ... an absolutely perfect meal. (And just like Diane Keaton in Something's Got to Give!) Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories. I can't wait to read more. I think you are becoming my new hero.