Thursday, December 8, 2011

Paris, day four

It was time to visit Miss Stein. It is the rule; when in Paris, all aspiring writers must go and pay homage to Miss Stein and receive advice on their writing. I'm not so young, but still aspiring, so it was off to see Miss Stein. Gertrude and Alice didn't care much about what people wore (they gave Hadley Hemmingway advice about making her own clothes and cutting her own hair so that she and Ernest could save some money and put it to good use - towards his writing). I was, therefore, less concerned about what I wore and more about actually finding the grave.
The plan then was to go to Pere Lachaise and pay respects, and then head to the Bastille, and then go to the Musee Carnavalet (thanks Louise for your suggestion for this). It was a funny day weather wise, but not enough rain for there to be any real problems with this plan.
So to the Metro.
Today we headed to Stalingrad. This is genuinely a station on the Metro (on our line actually: line 7). Paris and Myles couldn't be more excited - it's the little things: ('When we get there, there will be not one step backwards,' Myles declared as we left the apartment. Yes, well ...). From there, we changed lines and headed for Pere Lachaise.
This is the biggest cemetary in Paris (Paris - that is, our son - likes to call cemetaries social clubs for dead people. You can see his point), and the most visited in the world. It was certainly busy when we arrived, with about twenty of us jostling for postitions in front of the sign that tells you where everyone is. Believe it or not, Stein is not on this official sign. We did notice that other guests had actual maps, and so we asked one group where they got their map. Apparently the local newsagent sells them. So off I hopped to the newsagent. 'Bon jour!' I said gaily. 'Map?' 'Ah yes,' said the newsagent man, 'map!' Stein was on this one.
However, there were other people I wanted to visit. I discovered that the Abbe Sieyes was buried here so he was someone I wanted to see and pay my respects. The Abbe Sieyes was a French revolutionary - he was a priest who was sympathetic to the cause of the Third Estate and wrote a very influential pamphlet called 'What is the Third Estate?'. More importantly, for someone so prominent so early in the Revolution, he made it through alive, and died in a more dignified (and elderly) manner in the early 19th century. Myles wanted to visit Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust and we all wanted to see Oscar Wilde. So that was the plan.
The Abbe Sieyes is in section 30 (for your reference) which is the section that abuts the hill. He has a little house and just his name - no dates, no accolades. I think that would have made him happy. And safe.
We then went to see Jim Morrison. So did about fifty other people. Silence as young people stood in awe of a small grave behind some others (and fenced off, so you can't get too close). I can't see it myself. Why (she asks, why when she herself is visiting other graves - the answer, surely, is in her own motivation. No?) is Jim Morrison such a touchstone for others? Anyway ...
It was Miss Stein next. But on the way, Zelda and I began to get interested in the number of graves that include some kind of dog motif. You might be surprised at the number (though it is Paris). We took photos of every one we could find (and we certainly didn't walk around the entire cemetary, so it is an incomplete record). Stein is in section 94, right at the back of the cemetary and right on the walkway. I said hello and smiled at her. Lots of other visitors had left stones and chestnuts and flowers for her. I didn't. A little known fact (or well known, for all I know) is that Alice is buried with Gertrude but instructed that her name be carved into the back of the tombstone (rather than under Stein's name on the front). So I went around the back and visited with Alice too. There were no cakes. Belatedly, I realised I should have bought one myself. And with no letter of introduction to either lady, there was no reading of my ms either. Sigh.
Off we went to see Oscar. He has a rather fabulous tombstone that is protected by glass and bears a sign in French and English warning off would-be defacers. He still raises the ire of many. God love him. Despite the defacing, I think he would like the attention. The only thing worse than being talked about ... and so on.
Then we saw Proust. This might seem like a weird one (it is, just quietly) as none of us have read him, and the closest I have ever been to Proust is eating a madeleine, but Myles and Paris very much like Little Miss Sunshine and Proust is intergral to the plot. So they posed with Proust.
It was time to go. Zelda and Niccolo were over the other members of their family talking to old graves. And we ran dry on the dog references.
Off to the Bastille. In a previous post, I waxed all kinds of lyrical about how the French people know how to preserve history and keep the faith through all kinds of tributes (I was referring to World War I in this case), but I do have to observe that they are rubbish when it comes to the French Revolution. The Bastille - the first moment the people of Paris really showed their power and strength, and the moment the Revolution really became one (and, not to mention, a national holiday) - has nothing to mark its passing except for the name of the square (Place de la Bastille) and a very busy roundabout. I thought (I might have read it somewhere) that there was a red line the marked out the foundations of the Bastille. I thought I did see a red line (under the wheels of many, many cars), but it looked completely round and that can't be right. It also looked small. I think it might have been some kind of traffic control. In the middle of the Place de la Bastille is a large monument celebrating the revolution of 1830. Weird no? I took some photos is a rather gloomy manner.  Most of the photos feature a bus.
So we headed off for the Musee Carnavalet. Now here is a neighbourhood I can get into. This is in the Marais, and it is my kind of place. We wandered through the streets and ended up at the Place des Vosges which is where I will stay next time I'm this way bound. Very pretty.
The Musee Carnavalet is a free museum that charts the history of Paris. It's great; little models of Paris in the 16th century (it was just the island where Notre Dame is) and then through to the 20th century. This is a museum that does actually have a section on the revolution, though not really enough story telling (for my fussy tastes), but amazing artefacts. Cockades from the period, china, a revolutionary pike (whoo, hooo), busts of the main players, locks of hair, a death warrant for a counter-revolutionary, Robsepierre's briefcase. I'm a bit unwell around things like this and kept taking photos. The kids thought I was really strange.
Zelda liked a small bronze statue of a nude man with a dog, with his hand on his chin. She figured he was thinking: 'I have my dog, where are my clothes?' Paris liked the portrait of Louis XVI. Niccolo was more or less unmoved by the whole thing. He was worried about his masterpiece stick that he had found in Pere Lachaise and I had made him leave outside the museum.
When we left, it was lateish, perhaps 5pm. The kids were all wilted and barely able to speak. I wanted to look at hats in a hat shop, but they were speechless. So we sat them down at a little cafe in Place des Vosges (circa 1927, could the Fitzgeralds have eaten here???), and ordered hot chocolate. The cups came out; empty. I told the children that this was all we could afford. Empty but elegant cups of imaginary hot chocolate. And then the waiter came with a tray which was all silver pots and huge dishes of whipped cream. He poured and they got straighter as the cups filled. Then there was a slow but somehow frenzied drinking of chocolate and eating of whipped cream. It revived them to the point that we could return to the hat shop and I could buy a lovely little black hat with a rose on the side. Zelda bought skull earrings. So happy.
We sauntered back to the Metro, a swing in our step and much laughter.
Then I somehow lost my hat. Dang.
We had some hours of clothes washing ahead of us. The apartment was supposed to have a washer and dryer but, as luck would have it, not. So to the glamour of a Parisian laundromat. However, we now have clean clothes.
Paris cooked dinner (God bless him.). Niccolo lost a tooth (and many tears).
And on reflection, what I learned today was that, for this family, happiness is really only one good hot chocolate away.
Treat Friday tomorrow.

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