Adventures in Transit

Last night I went with three students to hear Charles Simic read his poetry at Shakespeare & Co. My friend Darin was right: it was a treat! His poetry seems to be quotidian (in a good way) and profound and funny and bleak all at the same time. I like to hear poetry read aloud but now I want to read some of his poetry on paper as well–a reading is ephemeral and you don’t quite have time to really consider what you’re hearing. In any case it was a perfect night and, of course, an excellent turnout. S&Co. had set up folding chairs and a sound system outside the shop (I don’t know how I thought they would do it inside; there isn’t room to swing a cat in there) and the whole little courtyard was filled. 

We arrived about 1 minute before Simic was introduced, which was a lucky break because we had an adventure getting there. We were on the RER B when it slowed down, stopped briefly between stations (unhelpful recorded announcement: “This train has stopped between stations. Please stay inside the train and do not open the doors.”), slow-rolled through one or two more stops and finally parked, for lack of a better word, at Port-Royal. Incoherent announcements came over the intercom as  is the practice in all transit systems, everywhere. “Mesdames et Messieurs, mumble mumble crackle static mumble. Merci de votre comprehension.” (That last part is the killer: “Thank you for your understanding,” when you have not understood a thing.) I finally worked out that there had been a fire at or near Gare du Nord. It must not have been serious because I can’t find anything about it in the news, but after several minutes they made us all get off the train.
Port-Royal does not connect to any other Métro or RER lines but I remembered Dr. Winchester’s favorite 38 bus and thought we’d try that. Of course, so did the rest of the train passengers, so we were packed into the bus tighter than I thought possible. But it worked! We got out at St. Michel-St. Germain, spotted Notre Dame, and successfully made port at Shakespeare & Co. After the reading we walked around Notre Dame and along the Seine a little bit, and a bouquiniste made some money from my students who bought souvenirs from him. I was the translator so he gave me two free postcards. Then we walked on in search of an uncrowded café and ended up at this small place on the Right Bank with a crusty, white-haired proprietress and a menu on a chalkboard. Sarah ordered an assiette de fromage but she only liked one of the fromages, so Radiance and Lindsay and I helped her finish it. First time I’d eaten proper cheese since arriving, and the only relevant question is why did I wait so long?
Meeting with Dr. Kirk this morning, then some grading, then maybe a nap because it was late by the time we got back. All this daylight makes it easy to stay up late. This afternoon, perhaps a museum?

Les Fleurs de Giverny

We wrapped up our first Parisian week today with a trip outside of Paris, to Giverny. Giverny is a small town in Normandy where Claude Monet’s home and gardens are located. Both the house and the gardens are maintained as they were in Monet’s time when he was using the gardens as inspiration for his paintings. Giverny is about an hour by car from Paris. I was worried about traffic since the summer vacation season kicked off yesterday (Friday was the last day of school all over France and le départ des vacances was actually covered in the media yesterday morning). But we made good time and only had to slow down once, to go through a tollbooth.

Now is the time that I really need pictures, because words can’t do justice to all the amazing flowers at Giverny. It is an “English-style” garden as I loosely understand the term: everything mixed together and slightly wild-looking versus a French-style garden like the one at Versailles that is all restrained, patterned, and manicured. Everything was in bloom and looking beautiful. I had been to Giverny once before but today was an even nicer visit with perfect, warm, bright weather. Lots of people were visiting, so serene contemplation of nature’s beauties was pretty much out of the question. Instead I took my telephoto lens (thanks, Mom & Dad!) and played around photographing the flowers–and a few obliging students. After the gardens we took a quick turn through the house: it must have been a lovely place to live. Big windows, art on the walls (Monet was a big collector of Japanese ukiyo-e pictures), bright yellow dining room, gorgeous tiled kitchen with an enormous stove. And, of course, a great view of the garden! 
We stayed just a couple of hours–it’s not a huge place so it’s easily doable in a half-day. Everyone got a quick sandwich and then we were back in the coach for the return trip. By 3:30 we were back at Cité. I did a tiny bit of shopping, called my parents, went over my notes for tomorrow and then decided to go over to Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre. Sacre-Coeur still reigns as my favorite place in Paris, an enormous white basilica atop a butte on the north side of the city. I took a slightly unfamiliar route and stumbled around a bit trying to find the right street when I exited the Métro. Suddenly I turned a corner, looked up, and there was Sacre-Coeur towering just a few streets away. It is, if nothing else, an unmissable landmark. The courtyards below it were thronging with people (beware of guys offering to make you a friendship bracelet–they are pushy!) so I muscled through and went into the sanctuary without taking as much time as I’d have liked to admire the view. If you go to S-C and are looking up at the basilica, remember to turn around. The view of Paris from the butte is equally incredible!
The sanctuary was crowded but the security guards are strict about quiet, no pictures, etc. so it was a nice atmosphere anyway. S-C has perpetual adoration of the Eucharist (they say it has been continuous since 1885, including through bombings during WWII) so they particularly emphasize that it is a place of prayer and not primarily a tourist attraction. The silver statue of Jesus is breathtaking with all the offertory candles flickering around it. The painted dome above the altar is also beautifully elaborate. Obviously a lot of people come just to see but there are always lots of people praying as well. You can spend the night and participate in the perpetual adoration at night but I think you probably have to be Catholic, so that lets me out.
I rode the funicular back down (in general I scorn the funicular but I wanted to try it), made my way past umpteen souvenir shops to Anvers station, rode 2 stops to La Chapelle, walked through hallways and tunnels to get back to Gare du Nord (where I will depart for London in a couple of weeks!) and from there back to Cité on my good friend the RER B. Public transit is great here. We have these Navigo passes (included in the cost of the program) that give us unlimited Métro, bus, tram, and RER rides in Zones 1-2 (i.e. all of the city proper). It is handy not to fiddle around with tickets and I must admit I feel very authentic scanning my little pass to “validate” my journey. I see people jump the turnstiles all the time but I’ve also seen RATP (Paris transit network) employees on trains checking people’s tickets and passes. The moral is: validez
Almost bedtime. Teaching day tomorrow, plus faculty meeting and program meeting. I am borrowing a colleague’s laptop on our break so maybe I can manage to work on pictures. Here’s hoping. À bientôt!