A Travellerspoint blog

From the Blue and the Red from the Orange and Green

Following in Samuel Beckett's footsteps

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I'd intended to do this from about my first day in Paris, when I'd started thinking of writers I adored who I could stalk. It took me a while and several vague google searches to remember that Samuel Beckett did live in Paris for significant portion of his life. So on the first full day in Paris, I wrote several addresses in a notebook.

And then things kept taking longer than I thought. Getting to Montparnasse took longer than I thought, even when I never got lost. It was simply a long way to walk. Then the cemetery took much longer than I thought just to find four graves in it. Then I kind of forgot about him for a few days before I started wondering what I should do today.

It's OK that I forgot about him, because I did remember him eventually, which is more than a lot of Paris could say.

For simplicity's sake (and because, from past precedent, I knew everything would probably take a lot longer than I'd assume) I stuck to things close to the fourteenth arrondisement, and focused on his years from 1937 onward.

I began by looking at where Beckett had lived when he arrived back in Paris in 1937. These were two places in the rue de la Grande Chaumeria. Both of them survive as buildings. One of them has no distinctive marks on it, but is presumably where people live. The other, the former Hotel Liberia, is now a Best Western.

From there, I walked down Avenue General Leclerc. When Beckett walked down it, it was called Avenue d'Orleans, and there are still a few hotels and restaurants that bear that name. I was left alone on that street, which is much better than following exactly in Beckett's footsteps. And drops to the knee. And pools of blood on the ground...

One day, while Beckett was walking there, he was stabbed by a pimp, Prudent. When (after he recovered) Beckett asked Prudent why, he responded “Je ne sais pas, monsieur. Je m'excuse.” Beckett dropped the charges, because he found Prudent likeable. It makes an absurd kind of sense. (And this is why if you wanted to stab an author, Beckett was a much better choice than, say, Dostoevsky.)

Because stab wounds are never pleasant things to have, Beckett went to Broussais hospital. The private room he stayed in was arranged and paid for by James Joyce. Among his visitors was also Suzanne Decheveaux-Dumesnil, former tennis partner and future wife.

Right now, the hospital is mostly being used by the Red Cross and other medical organizations for rehabiliation. In a bit over two years, the site will be used for everything from the Red Cross organization and housing for the elderly to housing for students and artists. Currently, It's not quite under construction yet (scheduled to begin in Autumn 2013) but it's very close.

Samuel Beckett and Suzanne Decheveuax-Dumesnil lived somewhere that I deemed “too far to walk on this expedition” and then they lived in 38 Boulevard Saint-Jacques. That was much like his earlier lodging was- completely nondescript.

After that, I went to Tiers Temps, the nursing home where Samuel Beckett died. That's still around, stil called “Tier Temps,” still a nursing home, and shows no sign that any of those things are about to change.

Finally, I went back to the cemetery. Samuel Beckett's grave was a lot easier to find when I knew exactly where it was. Someone had left a note on it- a short two-line letter followed by a drawing of the inside of En Attendnt Godot. The note was held down with two rocks.

It was the first sign I'd had all day that someone other than me and the website I was taking the adresses from remembered Samuel Beckett had lived and died in Paris. The plaques that I'd grown so accustomed to seeing about what person had lived in this place once for at least a few days were missing from every single place I looked.

I might have considered looking at the places that Samuel Beckett lived when he arrived in Paris for the first time, but there wouldn't have been much point- almost all of the buildings he'd cared about had been replaced by something else.

Even when there is an extant restaurant or bar that he spent a lot of time at, it won't usually mention Beckett. It might mention the time that Hemingway got into a fight with a boxer and had Fitzgerald moderate, but Fitzgerald was so drunk he forgot to tell them when to stop. No mention of the acclaimed author who left Ireland behind forever in favor of France.

I wonder which would bother Beckett more- the fact that Paris forgot him, or the fact that some people didn't. Beckett was extremely private, so much so that Suzanne called his winning the Nobel Prize a “catastrophe” for the publicity it would bring. (Kind of hypocritical for a woman who only started talking to and getting to know Beckett after the publicity him getting stabbed brought...) Perhaps he wouldn't want people following in his footsteps.

With some writers, their fiction gives enough information that you almost don't need to read a biography to figure them out. With Coetzee, if you count his Scenes from Provincial Life trilogy as “fiction” then you have an autobiography. Read enough O'Neill plays and you can tell he probably had tuberculosis, he probably spent a lot of time on or near the sea, he probably struggled with alcohol, he probably struggled with depression, he probably had dreams of being a writer and/or artist, his father was probably a harsh and overbearing actor, his mother was probably loving, but weak and flawed, he probably had experience with prostitutes... there are enough common themes you can practically peace his life together.

Beckett isn't like that. Reading his works can't really bring me close to who he was as a person. If I spent enough time analyzing it with letters and journals and other people's writings about him, I could probably find key passages that reference parts of his life. But without that, I can't just read Waiting for Godot and figure out if or how it relates.

And seeing the outside of buildings where he once spent significant amount of times doesn't let me know Samuel Beckett any better. Seeing the inside of those buildings wouldn't have helped. Neither would a plaque that said “Samuel Beckett stayed here between” and give the years. I might have been walking the same streets he'd walked, but that didn't mean we were any closer together.

It was an interesting walk, even so, and I'm glad I took it. Because the Samuel Beckett who lived in 38 Boulevard Saint-Jacques and hung out in the lobby of the Hotel PLM died in Tiers-Temps and is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery. The other Samuel Beckett, the one who wrote Waiting for Godot and Krapp's Last Tape and Endgame and Watt and dozens of other works lives on in bookstores throughout Paris, throughout France, and throughout the world. You don't need to know the former to appreciate the latter.

I think I'd like to, though.

Posted by Soseki 15:33 Archived in France Comments (0)

Red, the Blood of Angry Men / Black, the Dark of Ages Past

Like fireworks in the night sky

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Today was Bastille day.

The first sign of that was very little being open. Part of this was due to it being Sunday, which only complicated things. (The Louvre was not only open, but free. I found that out too late to take advantage of it.)

At the point at which “very little being open” extended to streets, it was clear that something special was going on. It was refreshing to be able to walk across streets (or right in the middle of multi-lane, usually busy, streets) without worrying about cars running me over..

We did pass one section that had significant numbers of people standing by looking like they were waiting for a parade. Mostly, though, we saw a lot of fairly empty streets.

We also saw flying jets, and a plane that flew across the sky, leaving behind smoke that formed the French flag. So somewhere, things were going on.

After a bit of walking, we managed to find things going on on the ground, and not just in the air. Specifically, we saw a lot of people in uniform and with weapons going past. A lot. There was a huge variety of uniforms, and not all of them carried weapons. It wasn't the parade yet, and the groups moved in differing levels of formality. Some groups were walking in casual clumps, others were fully marching.

We were near the Seine at this point. There were also things going on beneath us. Children were busy walking through a labyrinth that was drawn on the floor. Near it were hopscotch boards, shapes and letters, and what looked like some kind of gambling game. It's important to teach kids values like patience, education, and gambling...

There was also a small staircase set up right next to a trampoline, and someone using it. He'd walk up a few steps, fall down onto the trampoline, bounce back up, step onto the staircase on the same step he'd just left, and start over again. He made it look so effortless that I'm surprised he didn't get bored doing the same thing over and over.

And then I turned around again, and there were more people in matching uniforms and with large weapons walking by.

After watching this for a while, we had to go to the pyramid of the Louvre to meet a French student we'd hosted. It was a crowded and slightly vague statement (there were technically four pyramids near the Louvre of varying sizes) but we managed to find each other without difficulty, even with a nine year difference.

As we were walking looking for someplace open and appealing to eat, our ex-exchange student pointed to a bridge in front of us and said “that's famous.”
“It's Paris. Everything is.”

The bridge in question was Pond des Arts. From a distance it looks like a normal and rather boring bridge. Once actually on the bridge, though, you can see that the sides are covered with locks with names written on them. Most of t hem are scrawled on with Sharpie, but a few of them were engraved with a special message on them. Looking at the dates, I noticed that all of them looked recent- most were from 2013, and I don't think I saw any older than 2011. If the government had removed them, it would make it a much less romantic gesture.

Apparently, putting locks on the bridge is a fairly recent thing to do. However, the oldest lock would have been from May 12, 2010, because a student had gone through and removed every lock during the night to make an art sculpture. It still negates a romantic gesture, but at least it's for art, not politics? (The city of Paris isn't too pleased with the locks either.)

For lunch, we ate at Les Deux Magots. I strongly supported this choice for its former customers (Sartre, Beauvoir, Hemingway, Camus, Joyce, Brecht...) rather than the food they served, a choice that's probably going to end badly for me at some point, but so far has served me well

During lunch, I faced my daily “I really have no idea what I'm doing” challenge. Today, it came in the form of eating a sandwich. The first sign of trouble came when the waiter took my butter knife and replaced it with one much sharper. Who needs a sharp knife to cut a toast and goat cheese sandwich? Me, apparently. Also, the woman sitting next to me, though there was a chance that she only following my example in eating the sandwich. To which I figure if I'm not doing it wrong enough that I have everyone in the restaurant staring at me and asking me what I'm doing, I must be doing something right.

Then there was more wandering through Paris. When I passed through Colette Place, a square that I'd walked through several times a day since arriving in Paris, I heard music. There was an orchestra playing in the square. I found a place in the shade to stand and listen to them for a while, then wandered off.

After dinner, my father and I went to the Tuileries Garden to sit and wait for Bastille Day fireworks. When we arrived, the Eiffel tower was sparkling. It was even shinier than a prom necklace catching the sun. The sun was also setting, so the colors of that got to be the backdrop to the sparkling Eiffel Tower. It was beautiful.

Honestly, it was probably better than the fireworks. The fireworks were kind of underwhelming. It didn't help that they were partially obscured by trees. (I was expecting them to be higher. So was everyone else that was waiting in the Tuileries Garden, as evidenced by the thirty seconds it took most of them to leave to find higher ground.) It didn't help that I could never tell when it was over. (After the initial burst of fireworks, there was a long pause. That better not be it... Then they continued, had a firework that looked like the French flag, there was silence, and the Eiffel Tower lit up again. Now it was clearly over, so my father and I started to leave. We turned around again when we heard more fireworks. The clapping clued us in that it was probably over, even though it hadn't felt like a good finish.) It also didn't help that I can't remember the last time I saw Fourth of July fireworks, even when I try.

The fireworks were certainly pretty. My only real complaints were that the shape they showed was a heart, and they overused the color green.

It's Bastille Day. Marking the storming of the Bastille. It's not a day for a nice, cute little heart!

Even if a heart does belong in the “fraternity” portion of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” green doesn't belong in the colors of the French flag. And there was a lot of green. I'm pretty sure green was even in the finale. (The last firework did not show the flag. That's part of what made it feel so unsatisfying as a conclusion.)

Regardless, they were pretty fireworks, and a nice section of the parade before the parade. Though possibly my favorite part of Bastille Day was after the fireworks, when everyone who was watching from around the Tuilderies Garden area left. Even if it was mostly tourists (real Parisians knew enough to watch from where they got a real view) there was still such a sense of... fraternity. We'd all come from seeing the fireworks, and, even if we weren't French, in a way that was us showing at least partial approval for France as it is now.

It's as far from perfect as every other country. But with all those people, watching the fireworks and the sparkling Eiffel Tower... it was nice to see Paris in one of its most picturesque moments.

Posted by Soseki 15:38 Archived in France Comments (0)

So Be a Tourist, Hear the Call

More touristy things, for possibly the first time this trip.

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It was after dinner Friday night, when I realized that I'd been in Paris for two days and still not seen the Eiffel Tower, that I realized I was probably doing something wrong.

Earlier that day, I'd been walking back to the apartment through the outside of the Louvre, because that was one of the most convenient ways, and I'd heard a woman behind me gasp at how pretty everything was. And I looked around at the things that I'd become amazingly accustomed to in a couple of visits- the arches, the pyramids, the ferris wheel in the background, the people-- and realized that she was right. I'd gotten used to it as just a plaza to walk through, but it was really pretty. And it wasn't the only thing to see in Paris.

So last night after dinner, my father and I set out to see Ile de la Cité and the Notre Dame cathedral. Ile de la Cité was a lot bigger than I would have expected, given it's in the middle of the Seine, and the Seine didn't look that wide from the bridge where I'd been crossing over it. Notre Dame was also rather pretty, with a big, impossible-to-miss sign proclaiming the 850th anniversary of it being built. You don't get history like that in the states...

As we were walking back, it was after 10, so the lights in the city had all come on. We got several glimpses of the Eiffel Tower. So I finally knew that I was in Paris. The entire rest of the time I'd been slightly confused, because it seemed like Paris, but any good movie would have begun with the opening shot of the Eiffel Tour, so...

Today I set off to go see more touristy things. I began with the Tuileries Garden. It was a logical place to begin, because it wasn't far at all off my regular path. It was also nice- lots of benches and chairs, some in the sun and some in the shade. I sat down for a bit and watched the birds.

There were a lot of crows. They were all clearly together as a murder. So they came mostly at the same time (about a minute's separation between the first and last one landing) stuck around for a bit on the ground, cawing, fighting with each other,a and looking for food, and then at a background noise, all got up and flew away.

There are several different rhymes for counting crows. My favorite goes:
One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, for four a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss,
Ten for a time of joyous bliss.

One of the reasons that it's my favorite is that it's one of the few versions I've found that goes past seven. There were more than seven crows in the murder at Tuileries Garden, so that was important. However, there were also more than ten crows, so even that version of the rhyme wasn't terribly useful.

The murder took off, leaving only one bird in clear sight of me. That bird looked like it was in the process of swallowing a ball bigger than its head. Sometimes it would look normal. Other times it would puff out its breasts or other portions of its upper body in a very spherical shape. Then that shape would move around for a little bit. And then the bird would go back to normal. It was very bizarre, and I still have no idea what it was doing.

It might have been trying to get a mate. If so, it seemed to have very impaired social skills, because any time another bird did come by, it would drop lower to the ground and skulk/run over to where the other bird was. Sometimes the other bird would ignore him, other times it would fly away. The overall impression was o fa really bad stalker bird.

Once I left the Tuileries Garden, I started heading for the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysees. Given I could see the Arc de Triomphe from the garden, it wasn't too hard. I did walk through another garden, the Ambassador's Garden, which was much less pretty, and also much less crowded.

The Arc de Triomphe was basically what several years of videos watched in French class told me it would look like. There were a bunch of people right in the middle of it, which confused me. I'd walked all the way around it without finding a way to safely cross the street. Not that that's usually a huge concern in Paris...

At the Arc de Triomphe, I found the problem with huge tourist attractions- tourists. They tended to be loud and obnoxious, and I understood what most of them were saying, which made everything worse. Still, I'd been in Paris for nearly three days, I should try and see the Eiffel Tower from the right side of the river.

Essentially what I did was cross the nearest bridge, look up, go “Oh, that's the Eiffel Tower,” sit on a bench for a little bit, get up, recheck to make sure the Eiffel Tower was still there, then start heading back.

On the way back I did see the beautiful Alexander III Bridge and the Hotel national des Invalides, and I think I passed the Mussee d'Orsay. That, combined with the outside of the Louvre and the Pompidou center I saw on the first day gives me an almost complete tourist view of France!

I'm sure that a lot of people would disagree with me there. But I found the birds in the Tuileries Garden much more interesting than the statues. That, even when some of the birds that I saw were pigeons. I'm kind of a bad tourist...

Posted by Soseki 15:02 Archived in France Comments (0)

This Graveyard Hides a Million Secrets

Montparnasse Cemetery

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A lot of writers and artists lived in Paris. Those who lived there long enough died there, and were usually buried in the Montparnasse cemetery.

The Montparnasse Cemetary is weird in that it is simultaneously both a cemetery and a tourist attraction. So if you walk around for a bit, you will see both people in short, t-shirts, and cameras with guidebooks in hand and people dressed in black and wearing kippahs. The latter category was clustered together, and I mostly tried to avoid them. The former proved to be extremely useful.

As I was walking around, absorbing the atmosphere and trying to get oriented (there were several maps located near exits) I noticed that several people had stopped at one grave. I looked up to read the text on the gravestone.

“Jean Paul Sartre
Simone de Beauvoir

The grave itself was simple. It was white stone, and the palque their names were written on stuck up. The rectangular part over their bodies was plain, minus the items (stones, flowers, candles, etc.) that people had left there.

I'd be expecting something more than that. Sartre and Beaavoir were both writers- surely some epigraph could have been chosen. And couldn't the grave be more elaborate? These were two of the greatest French thinkers in modern times, shouldn't something be marking them apart from a simple white stone?

After looking at it for a bit, and wondering about what in each of their philosophies made this the way they wanted their deaths marked, I moved on.

The graveyard was in two parts. One was much more major than the other. The only person who's grave I wanted to see in the smaller section was Maupassant. So I looked at a map, familiarized myself with the rough idea of where it was, and went to the smaller section. Then I looked at a map over there to tray and get a better idea.

The man I was standing next to asked who I was looking for. When I responded Maupassant, he said that he was as well. Then he asked if I spoke Spanish.
“No, I'm American.”
“Oh, English. That works too.”
And we set off to look for Mauppasant's grave. We were only very roughly in the right area for Maupassant, so he took one direction and I took the other.

(Splitting up in a graveyard- really bad idea, unless you like being eaten by zombies. But it was daylight, neither of us had said “I'll be right back,” and I'd been by myself before meeting him two minutes ago, so it seemed like I'd be about as safe as I had been before. Besides, it was Maupassant,, so I'd be a lot more worried about vampires or counterfeit jewelry than I would be about zombies.)

As I was wandering rather aimlessly, I found some people. They asked if I was looking for Maupassant (apparently I wasn't the only one who though Maupassant was the only one worth seeing in the small graveyard) and when I told them I was, they showed me the way. I thanked them, stood there for a few seconds, then went off to find my Spanish-speaking friend and tried not to forget how to get there.

I found him and then the grave again without too much difficulty.

Maupassant's grave was far more elaborate. Thee plaque with his name on it was held up by two columns fairly high off the ground. There was a small garden held in by fences on top. There was no year of life or death from what I could tell, but there was a sheet of paper with a quote on it.

“La vie, voyez-vous, ça n'est ja;ais si bon ni si mauvais qu'on croit.”
- Une Vie

The man I'd helped to find the grave and I stood there for a bit, thinking, looking, and finally talking. He was a teacher from Mexico, and Maupassant was one of the authors he's used while teaching. He'd just gotten to Paris that morning, and had wanted to see the graves right away. Other writers who he'd found had been Charles Baudelaire, Tristan Tzara, and Julio Cortasar.

We said goodbye and went separate ways- him back to living Paris, and me to go find the grave of Samuel Beckett.

In this search, I was guided more by the map than by people. The map wasn't that close to where I expected Beckett's grave to be, but I kept needing to go back to reference it. I was expecting Beckett's grave to be about halfway through the first row of one of the squares.

I walked through the firs first time, reading names, and couldn't see it. I went back to the map, confirmed I was in the right place, and tried again, reading the names of all easily visible in the first two rows. Still couldn't find it.

Maybe it wasn't in the front row, just near the front? I went another row back and walked, reading those names. Then another row. Back and forth,. Even after the point where I realized I was still too far away from where his grave should be, I kept walking back and forth between the rows. I didn't want to believe that I'd walked bast Bekcett's grave several times without noticing.

Check the map again. No, his grave was definitely supposed to be in the section of the graveyard that I'd been looking in. I went back to that section. I walked slowly, taking time with each individual stone. Some of them were old and faded, and required looking very closely to make out that the name wasn't quite right. Some of them had names written on the right or left side. There were only a couple of stones that I couldn't see anything on, and most of those had giant crosses on them. A giant cross didn't seem like Beckett's style any my more than requesting after his death his body be returned to Ireland so he could be buried in birth country. I was pretty sure he hadn't done either...

I did not see him in the first row. Or the second. I was halfheartedly reading every name I could in the third row when I noticed a woman taking a picture of a grave. It was right around where I'd expected to find Beckett.

I took a mental note of what the back of the grave looked like, figuring (correctly) the woman wouldn't be there when I got out of my row and back to the first one. As I was walking, looking at the the same row of gravestones again, a man sitting on a bench asked (in English) if I was looking for Beckett's grave. When I responded that I was, he told me motioned me until I was standing in front of it.

Now, I could read the letters I couldn't see earlier. They were still faded, but legible.

Suzanne Beckett
née Dechevaux Dumesnell
Samuel Beckett

It wasn't really a surprise I'd missed it the first time. (It was kind of a surprise I'd missed it the third time because it was one of the few graves to have neither a cross nor a Jewish star on it.) The name was faded, and the only items at the grave were two potted, green plants. There were ants crawling over the stone. I hadn't seen them on any other graves, and it felt at once fitting and depressing that they would be on Beckett's.

I wondered if all absurdist playwrights were as hard to find as Beckett, and wandered off in search of Ionesco. Answer: no.

Eugene Ionesco's grave was what I'd been expecting in the other three. It was on the corner of one of the squares in the cemetery, so it was easy to find locationally. His name was very clearly written. There was a big plant behind it, adding another maker. There was both names and dates, and other texts besides.

Eugene Ionesco
Rodica Ionesco
Née Burileanu

Prier le Je Ne Sais Qui
J'espére: Jésus-Christ.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Guy de Maupassant, Samuel Beckett, and Eugene Ionesco. All writers I've read multiple works of, and all writers who I mostly enjoy reading. And none of that seemed to have any relation to their graves. Jean Paul Sartre, writer of the line “Hell is other people,” was buried with someone else. Beckett's grave was ridiculously easy to walk past. Whatever relation their stories had to their lives, those similarities vanished after death. And while their stories and plays and philosophy are still read, their graves are just like anyone else's, and you can't find them unless you're looking And even if you do find them, there's not that much to see.

Posted by Soseki 09:41 Archived in France Comments (0)

Dear Days of Old with the Faces in the Firelight

First Impressions of Paris

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To get out of Carry le Rouet, we needed to take two trains. The first was a train to Marseilles. Then we waited in Marseilles for a few hours. Walking around a city with luggage isn't much fun, so we looked for someplace close to stay. There was a “comfort area” with chairs, sofas, tables, and no requirement that you buy something to sit there, so we went there.

It was a very nice area. There was an entire corner of bookshelves, where you could either take a book to read there or exchange books. I had a book that I finished, so I exchanged that for a Sartre play that was not one of the four plays that was collected in No Exit and Three Other Plays, and had therefore never heard of before.

The chairs were nice. There was food for sale, though it was more like a convenience store than a cafe And there was even a basket that had yarn for sale in it. I could stay comfortably for a long time in any area that has sofas, books, yarn, and food, though there weren't many outlets or wireless signals, so it's probably just as well that I didn't have to. Also, a room in Marseille is no Paris.

The train to Paris was full. I think it's the first time I'd seen that since coming to Europe. A “crowded train” usually meant we didn't all get two seats to ourselves. In the train, I believe that practically every seat had someone in them. Almost like Paris is a popular destination or something.

Buying tickets in the Paris metro was easy. Getting through was more of a challenge. It turns out that a receipt doesn't work the exact same way as a ticket. Less obviously, it turns out that the receipt of a ticket looks identical to the ticket itself for someone who hasn't seen a Paris metro ticket recently, though a policeman can tell the difference instantly.. (We were obviously confused Americans, so we had someone come over, glance to see we were all holding what looked to be tickets, tap his card on the rail and get us through, look at our tickets in more detail, see that two of them were valid and one of them was a receipt, tell us to go back and run our real tickets through, then show us his badge.)

With that over, we took a train, got off, took another train, got off, and walked from there to our apartment. Every seat in those trains was also taken, but that was hardly a surprise.

In some ways, Paris is exactly like Rome. In every other way, they are nothing alike.

Rome and Paris share the “history is everywhere you look” aspect. But where Rome's history is more militaristic, Paris's is more artistic and literary. Walk down the street we're on for a while and, if you're paying attention, you'll see a plaque marking a place near where Stendhal wrote Promenades dans Rome (Interesting that Rome doesn't have that kind of plaque) and The Red and the Black. Walk farther and you'll see a giant statue of Moliere. Walk farther and you'll be at the Louvre.

But Paris is unquestionably a city. It has the pace of a city.. When I was walking around earlier- just exploring and trying to get a feel of the place, not heading anywhere specific, and certainly not with any urgency- I found myself walking faster. Because that's what the people around me were doing. There were certain places- gardens, parks, museums, stores, restaurants- which I entered and slowed down, because the pace there was leisurely. But everywhere else, it had the rush and bustle of a city.

And while it can't claim to be as international as Geneva, it's hardly only French. Our apartment is located by Japanese restaurants, Japanese grocery stores, and a Japanese tourist information center. I've passed Lebanese, Italian, American, and hybrid restaurants. And I've certainly passed all kinds of people. The Louvre was the first place I've been that wasn't just my family where most of the people were speaking English, but, unlike my family, I heard a half-dozen accents there. Only a few were American or French. Beyond that, I can't really tell that much about the people I crossed paths with while walking. But Paris certainly felt a lot more diverse than Carry le Rouet or Aix Les Bains.

Have I mentioned that there's literary history everywhere? Because most French writers came to Paris at some point. Most contemporary authors came to Paris at some point, even if only to go “Pshaw. It's not as good as my native (insert town here.)” And visiting Paris is just the sort of thing that the characters in Henry James and Edith Wharton works had to do, because it's what the people they were based on, the reader's and friends (or enemies) of the author were doing. So Paris has a lot of literary history too.

It has a lot of other kinds of history too. “This is the hotel that writer and founder of Surrealism Andre Breton stayed? So? More importantly, it's the hotel where the painter Paul Gauguin stayed. And it's two blocks down from a hotel that served as a refuge for survivors of Nazi concentration camps immediately after their release.” And it's like two kilometers from the Eiffel Tower. The 1889 World's Fair is important to remember too...

Paris is steeped in everything that makes cities so attractive to outsiders. History, culture, art, people... There are other sides too, but those are as much a part of the city as the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay. And that's why I love the literary aspects, though I suppose it's true of other forms of art too. It blends reality with imagination to create something that never existed, but that you can point to on a map. And dozens of authors, for hundreds of reasons, decided to make Paris a part of their lives and a art of their fiction.

They can't all have been wrong.

Posted by Soseki 15:25 Archived in France Comments (0)

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