I VISITED A HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL ON THIS DAY. IT WAS A VERY EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE FOR ME. I DEBATED WHETHER OR NOT TO INCLUDE THE VISIT HERE, BUT I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT. IT IS UP TOU YOU WHETHER YOU CHOOSE TO READ THIS ONE IF IT MIGHT BE EMOTIONAL FOR YOU, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE READING THIS AT WORK.
Sunday Bob woke me up with croissants and intensely strong coffee, the Parisian dream. After wandering around a bit, we went to Pho 67. I had a bit of a cold, and I heard that Viet Namese food in Paris kicks ass. It really does. My Pho was spectacular. I did find a long hair in it, but I always think of that Lynda Barry cartoon:
Home Ec teacher: Be sure to wear you scarf. I can't think of anything worse than finding a hair in your food.
Kid: I can. I can think of way worse things than hair.
So, I removed the hair and kept eating. Bob's "Sauteed beef and vermicelli" was fantastic, with little caramelized bits of pork and lots of lemongrass. While photographing it, I accidentally dunked my camera strap in my pho. Bob said, “That’s the risk you run by documenting all of your meals.”
We had a hard time finding the Memorial de Deportees, but I really felt like I owed the visit to certain people that I love. Behind Notre Dame, there is a small park. Behind THAT park, in-between two bridges, is another, even smaller park. In this smaller park, there is a small entrance leading to a set of stairs. At the bottom of these stairs, you turn and enter a small crypt-like series of rooms.
A hallway off of the main room is lined with over 200,000 crystals, one for every French citizen who was taken by the nazis and who never returned. The crystals are subtlely lit, so they seem to glow, and it seems like the light is emanating from thousands of lost souls. In the center of this hallway lie the remains of one unknown deportee. At the end on a hallway burns an eternal flame.
There are a few small hallways that lead to barred-in cells, or to dead-ends. On the walls are words carved in French with small English translations. They are quotes about loss. I just read them and cried and cried.
On the floor in the center of the room is a circle, which reads around the circumference in French: They went into the earth and did not return.
As you walk out of the room into fresh air, you feel like you are escaping. You do not realize how tight and cramped the space is until you leave. You leave that space with such relief that you cannot help but feel guilty for leaving behind all of those who could not leave. You know that you can walk away when they could not.
All we could do for a long time was stand on the bridge and stare dumbly at the water.
Then I heard the faint strains of accordian music. It was the stereotypical "French" music that they play in movies. We walked over to the accordian player, and he was grinning widely with what teeth he had left. His face was lit with joy. I looked around. Street performers were juggling, children were eating ice cream, and dogs were playing at the edge of the river. This square, once occupied by the nazis, was teeming with life ...almost, it seemed to me at the moment, defiantly.
I realized at that moment what a disservice it would be to the dead, to all dead, to squander the gift of life. I realized that is not disrespectful to feel joy; it is a privilege. So we walked over to the Berthollian ice cream stand and ordered two cones. Bob ordered banana and I ordered cherry. We ate them while watching a yellow lab play in the water. Bob wondered aloud what the "Creole" ice cream on the menu was.
"Go get one" I told him.
"No. Go ahead. Eat two ice cream cones. Live."
We decided that after seeing a monument to captivity, maybe we should see a monument to liberty, so we went to the Eiffel tower. I expected to just take an obligatory photo, and leave 5 minutes later unimpressed. I was so wrong. It is huge, and the girders make cool geometric shapes. It was awe-inspiring.
We stayed at the Eiffel tower longer than expected, so we made it to the Musee de Orsay only an hour before closing. You know how there are walking tours? This was like: Impressionism - the running tour. We saw Dejuneur sur l'Herbe, and Olympia, one of my favorites. We rushed to the fourth floor to zoom through Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and LaTrec. It was like a pie-eating contest of art appreciation. I focused on Van Gogh and Monet, because seeing the actual canvas makes such a difference in appreciating their art. I was kind of surprised at how different Degas and Renoir were "live and in person." Degas does really cool smeary effects, and the colors are irreplicable. Up close, there is just a smudge of paint on a Renoir, but when you step back two feet, that smudge becomes a twinkling eye and ruddy cheek.
As we walked back to the hotel along the Seine, we started to hear music, and suddenly there was a giant crowd coming towards us. A band was playing on the bed of a giant truck for an HIV awareness campaign. Countless students were dancing alongside the truck, and we got caught up in the fun. Then another band came along, and another, and another. It was a huge street festival, and everyone was happy and having fun. People had climbed up on top of the bus stop shelters to dance. It started raining, and we all danced in the rain. It was another one of those chance experiences you just can't plan.
We ducked into a little Cafe, the Cafe Beaux Arts, and had a nice cheese and charcuterie plate as we watched the rain rage outside. Some of the cheeses were pretty stinky, but I loved the pate. We had a dinner party to attend, and the hour was getting late, so off we went.
Festivals are a double-edged sword. As we walked away from the parade, we saw swarms of police vans heading towards the parade. Apparantly taxis are not allowed to pick people up around barricaded streets, so as the rain hammered down on us, one empty taxi after another passed us by. We finally had to go back to the hotel and have them call us a taxi, making us late for dinner.
There is a Bohemian gentleman by the name of Jim Haynes who holds a Sunday evening dinner party every week for anyone who cares to show up. Everyone pitches in 20 Euros apiece, and people come from all over the world. This particular Sunday night had a Greek theme, and the food was delicious. We started with a big Greek salad, not skimping on the kalamatas or feta. Then there were prodigious plates of marinated calamari, fava beans, roasted red peppers, dolmas, hummus, baba ganoush and homemade pitas. I didn't even think I liked dolmas, but I guess I never knew anyone who made them properly before.
There were between 40 and 60 people there. The small apartment was cozy and did not feel crowded, thanks to large windows and a nice patio. I was a little out-of-place at first, but Jim Haynes introduces people around, taking care to match languages and personalities. First we hung out with Ian, a nice British architect. We talked about the design of Bath and the Pompidou, art and music.
Then I met a cool expatriate from New Orleans who reminded me of the satyr from Allegro Non Troppo. He introduced us to his friend, Les, whose sons own a creole restaurant in Los Angeles. Les turned out to be a drummer, so he and Bob impressed eachother with their knowledge of obscure jazz musicians for awhile. Before we left, we had a standing invitation to Les' annual Mardi Gras party.
A passing party guest asked me if I was tired. " A little" I replied, "I just spent a week here in the last three days."
Pho 67 59 Rue Galande 75005 Paris 5 Tel: 43 25 56 69
Cafe Beaux Arts 7 Quai Malaquais 75006 Paris Tel 01 43 54 08 55