One brisk morning last fall Elodie and I ventured to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery to collect chestnuts. We had noticed the hundreds of chrysanthemum plants for sale at the local funerary businesses in our neighborhood (big bright bursting blossoms set out on the street always made me smile). And that morning, we were surprised to see gardeners planting dozens of them on the cemetery grounds. I later learned that the planting was in preparation for All Saint’s Day, or Toussaint as they call it in French. Celebrated on November 1, the public holiday is reserved for spending time visiting the graves of deceased loved ones. I adore strolling the cobbled paths of that crumbling cemetery any time of year, but the profusion of flowers that covers the newer graves in the first weeks of November make the month a particularly pleasant time to pay your respects to Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and all the other luminaries lucky enough to be buried in one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries. It’s also the time of year when we remember my great-grandmother, who would have turned 101 this year.
Here are a few photos from our walk that that beautiful fall morning in Paris.
Writing my last post from Paris feels bittersweet. How many writers have ventured to this fabled city to do one thing – put pen to paper? No matter how the époques turn and the technology advances, the image of the Parisian cafe with its solemn observing devotees persists. Romantic notions die hard.
Of course I imagined myself at the corner cafe watching the tea infuse the hot water as I filled my notebook with inspired prose. But the reality of life with a toddler quickly took hold and we spent more time chasing pigeons than quietly contemplating the beauty and history of the scene around us.
Yes, there were times when we took a seat in one of those pretty woven cafe chairs, but instead of exquisite moody brooding, we played wildly, insisting on drinking the hot chocolate with a spoon and spilling it all over clean white shirts with little French kitty cats.
I’m looking forward to being settled at our new home in California next week. The plane ride will be an adventure, but we’re ready. And I hope in the coming year I can look back at our time in Paris and share some of my favorite memories on Tidepooler, because I sure wasn’t able to share as much of our life here with all its moments of glee and surprise and dismay and confusion as I had hoped.
One thing I learned from living in Paris is that city life suits me. Let’s hope the transition to Berkeley suburbia won’t be too much of a shock, and that summer comes soon, as it often does in the East Bay.
Elodie just got back with her babysitter. Snoozing silently in the poussette. “We were chasing pigeons,” her babysitter said. We’ll miss many things about Paris, but thankfully, they have pigeons in California too.
Our building is beautiful. Classically Parisian. Haussmannian design. It has seven floors and a pretty blue door. We’re on the top floor. Our walls are slanted in because it’s the roof apartment. If I lean out the window I can touch the smooth slate shingles, and I can look down at the balcony below where just the other day I caught sight of my elegant, elderly neighbor pruning her pretty pink geraniums.
Across the boulevard the tall chestnut trees are changing from green to yellow, orange, and brown. Autumn leaves fall upon the graves of deceased writers, poets, rock stars, and composers. Sometimes we go for walks in the Pere Lachaise cemetery and collect the fallen chestnuts. But mostly we amble slowly along the cobbled lanes and admire the achingly beautiful graves. Gothic tombs stand like tiny chapels, offering a peak at a stained glass window and maybe a prayer bench decaying with dampness. The cemetery’s layout doesn’t make it easy for us to do too much exploring with the pousette (French for stroller) but we’ve gotten to know our routes. One takes us past the writer Colette and another to a very old monumental grave complete with a king and a queen lying in state. Here’s our view of the cemetery from our bedroom window.
Our living room window faces south, and if we look to the west we can see the Montparnasse Tower, the dome of the Pantheon, and millions of tiny terra cotta chimneys on the rooftops of Paris. Right now the city’s covered in a smoky haze, but the other night it twinkled just like New York does when your airplane comes in for a landing at Kennedy Airport.
One of the most exciting things about our building is, when you step out into the hall and open the window…
You see this!
I love our building. And I love living in Paris.
When it comes to bringing kids, especially noisy rambunctious toddlers, to restaurants, Paris isn’t the most welcoming of cities. Of course there are a few exceptions, and if your child can sit still, hold his or her fork and knife properly, or simply go to sleep, you’re all set. But for those of you with a little one who thinks they’re a Warhol Superstar at Max’s Kansas City circa 1965, you might want to try a more alternative approach, like we often do.
One great way to enjoy a family dinner in Paris is by having a pizza picnic on the Canal Saint Martin. Pink Flamingo is just around the corner on Rue Bichat, and when you place your order, they give you a balloon, which you take with you to the canal so they know how to find you when they deliver your pizza (and wine). Who doesn’t love a balloon?
p.s. Pink Flamingo is also great for date night (with a toddler).
Pink Flamingo (Canal Location)
67, rue Bichat, 10th arrondissement
We went to the Palais de Tokyo on Saturday. We had never been there before. It was fantastic. The current exhibition La Triennale: Intense Proximite runs through August 26. I discovered a whole bunch of new artists who I love (more about that later), and Elodie found a big colorful room that she loved. She walked in without hesitation and quickly started running around like the big kids. What a great place for children to spend a rainy afternoon in Paris.
One afternoon last week I was over in the Boulevard Saint Michel area over on the Left Bank in Paris when I decided to stop into a church that I had never been to before. Elodie was asleep in her stroller so I thought it would be a nice time to spend some quiet time in a peaceful sanctuary. I was surprised to hear the music of Leonard Cohen when I opened the door. It was just a recording, but sounded so stunningly beautiful in the big old gothic church. Then I realized there was a funeral going on, making the experience all the more poignant. “Who By Fire” could quite possibly be the most beautiful song ever recorded. I have no idea what the images are all about in the video, but it was the best recording of the original song I could find on YouTube. Have a listen.