J’aime me déguiser

This past weekend my friend (who is Californian) and her friend (who is French) had a costume party to celebrate their birthdays. The theme was dessins animés: cartoons.

Now, I love costume parties. One thing I know about attending them in France is that you can bet there will be a number of people who do not dress up. Tant pis. Fortunately, a bunch do get into the spirit. It’s always funny seeing the range from store bought to homemade costumes. I always put something together from items I own and supplementary pieces I make or buy.

The hostesses of this party were minions from the movie “Despicable Me.” In attendance were Bugs Bunny, Dora the Explorer (in boy form), Cruella de Vil, Woody from “Toy Story,” Alice in Wonderland, and, adorned with a platinum blond wig and sunglasses, Johnny Bravo from the channel Cartoon Network. In black-rimmed glasses and a matching red and white bonnet and striped shirt was Charlie, or Wally if you’re from the U.K., or Waldo if you’re from the U.S. It’s funny, I just realized that all of these characters come from American movies or TV shows.

I wore a blue dress with a slight flounce at the bottom and blue ballet flats with ankle socks. I had strung two silver mardi gras necklaces together on which I attached one sign in front and another at the back:

“PSYCHIATRIC HELP 5₵ / THE DOCTOR IS IN”
“ASSISTANCE PSYHIATRIQUE 5₵ / LE DOCTEUR EST LÀ”

I was Lucy Van Pelt from “Peanuts,” of course, or “Snoopy,” as it’s called in France.

I took the metro home around 1:30am. The cars filled up as the train approached the center of Paris. Weekend night rush hour before the last metro: it’s always an interesting ride. You have your inebriated passengers swaying and talking loudly about who knows what, your groups dressed up in flashy skirts and high heels that are probably from out of town, your nuzzling couples, your vagabonds with their tattoos and hefty backpacks and tall short-haired dogs, sometimes an older lady and you wonder where she’s coming from, and the other night, your group of international professional musicians who obviously gave a concert earlier that evening and are speaking English because it is their one common language.

Then, as I’ve done many times before, I come out of the metro station into the cool night air. People are mingling around, and I pass the bars where the last few people linger and pedestrians heading home before the streets become quieter and I enter the codes to my building, climb the stairs to my apartment, take a shower, and maybe have a ‘midnight’ snack and write in my diary before slipping under the covers and into Sunday morning.

Brocante-ing

This past weekend I went to an enormous flea market in Courbevoie, a suburb a stone’s throw from Paris. There were over 100 stands.

Often I walk around these markets and find nothing worth bringing home, but this was an exceptionally fruitful trip. I bought:
– a cozy fitted short-sleeved sweater with big buttons for 3 euros
– a red long-sleeved button-down Uniqlo blouse for 2 euros (!)
– a sleeveless short blue dress for an upcoming costume party for 3 euros
– an unopened copy of Bastille’s two-CD album “Bad Blood” for 1 euro

The only drawback to flea markets is that there are no fitting rooms. Luckily, I was able to slip on the clothes that interested me over my summer dress. Because there were no mirrors available, I asked the sellers to take a picture of me so I could see how the clothes looked. They were nice and happy to oblige. One of the Frenchies with whom I went to the brocante later told me that a French person would not have done that. True or not? It’s what I do when I choose eyeglasses too.88.brocante.2014a 88.brocante.2014bAfter we had exhausted almost all the stands, we took a cat nap on the green overlooking this long bike and roller blading path next to the Seine.88.brocante.2014c

Electrifying

I recently took a nighttime walk past the Louvre, where a thin red filament of light currently runs from the pyramid’s point to base. French artist Claude Lévêque installed the indoor lightning bolt this past spring. You can catch a glimpse of it until next autumn.86.parisbynight.2014a Across the way, our own little “Paris eye” overlooks a summer amusement park next to the Jardin des Tuileries.86.parisbynight.2014bRemember the Eiffel Tower made of chairs? It moved next to the Seine, still with its big sister in sight. I’ll have to keep an eye on it. How do you suppose she transported herself there?86.parisbynight.2014c

Van Gogh Makes Me Go Go

This past weekend two friends and I took a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise, where Van Gogh spent the end of his life. Signs around town drew attention to the impressive fact that he painted more than 70 works in less than 70 days.

Right near the train station is the house where he lived.100_6973I was blown away to stand in front of the Notre Dame d’Auvers, a church he depicted in a painting I love. I had seen the original work at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and here was the actual structure rising up before us. 100_6979We took a self-guided tour of the house that belonged to Doctor Gachet, who welcomed Van Gogh when he was looking for peace. The artist’s famed portrait of the doctor hangs at the Orsay.

Van Gogh-inspired art abounded in the town. This building next to the train station paid homage to his most well-known masterpieces.100_6958The encompassing splashes of color and cheer in this underground passageway connecting the two train platforms entertained us for a while.100_6997100_6996 100_7008When we saw this text giving credit to François Laval for the paintings, my friend said, “I wonder why we he couldn’t finish it.”100_7007I looked at her, confused, looked back at the sign, and burst out laughing.

The sign says, “Fresque réalisée par François Laval » (“Fresco created by François Laval”).

However, she had read it as, « Presque réalisée par François Laval » (“Almost completed by François Laval”).

We enjoyed walking around the quiet town and appreciating the pretty little houses. 100_6962100_6986100_6992The garden behind the Chateau d’Auvers was pleasant with hardly any tourists around. 100_6967As a fan of Van Gogh, I found it quite surreal to stand in the landscapes that he rendered in his unique style during the Post-Impressionist period. We visited his grave and his brother Théo’s, which are side by side. Vincent, as he signed his paintings, was a troubled but gifted man.

Our day in Auvers-sur-Oise was punctuated by a ride back to Paris in a new colorful train that we were enthused about. We had our pick of the rainbow seats.100_7010

You Best Find Another Boulangerie

You sure ain’t gonna get bread from your regular one. It’s August, and many small stores and restaurants here close up shop for several weeks to go on vacation.

Most signs are simple and handwritten, such as this cheery one. 83.august.2014a   “Closed for the summer until Monday, August 25. Have a good vacation”

 Others are multi-part. Below this sign was a smaller one noting the address of a nearby boulangerie that would be open.
83.august.2014b“Annual closing of the boulangerie from August 2 to August 24”

Sometimes you must decipher multiple signs, much like parking in New York. Let’s look at this one together from the bottom-up. 83.august.2014c“Your grocery will be open all summer”
“Closes at 7:30pm on August 3”
“Your grocery will be open Thursday, August 15
CLOSED Saturday, August 17
Thank you for your understanding”

I like being in Paris in August. My commute is quieter, the weather is the best it’s going to get all year, and fun summer events abound. The days are long and made for leisurely walks along the Seine after work.

In this city there will always be another place to buy bread.

Maybe I Want to Know What the Specials Are Too

You know what annoys me? When I dine in a restaurant with a male and the waiter addresses my dining companion when reciting the specials, asks him if we want dessert or coffee, and places the bill in front of him. It doesn’t happen often, but each time is one too many.

Have you experienced this too?

Breathing Deeply

I was recently invited to friends’ old family home in Charente-Maritime, a region in southwest France about three and a half hours by high-speed train from Paris. I can only describe the weekend I spent there as tranquil.

Across the road from their home was a huge field of sunflowers, which in French are tournesolstourner means “to turn” and sol stands for soleil, or sun. Have you ever stood before countless sunflowers, all facing you? The experience blew me away. It was quiet all around, but I didn’t feel alone.100_6850

I walked on past the sunflowers and ended up wandering for about an hour and a half. I might have gotten a little lost. I found my way back, though. I took the “scenic route.” It’s often the best one.

100_6868100_6870 100_6861You won’t be surprised to know that I felt like I could breathe deeply there.100_6829100_6830My hosts attend Mass at this old Roman church that dates from the twelfth century.100_6833 I can only imagine how cold it gets in winter, but on the summer day that I took a look inside, it was airy and bright with the doors wide open.100_6834100_6835All weekend, the other guests and I had the company of a chat abandonné (doesn’t “stray cat” sound so much sadder in French?). When I arrived Friday night, he had already been there for at least two days. My hostess’s brother said that a lot of people come to the countryside and leave their pets that they no longer want to take care of.100_6831We became quite attached to the thin little creature. Well, most of us, anyway. The hostess threw water on him to shoo him away from the front door. She also freaked out when one person who was especially sympathetic to him offered him leftover chicken terrine.

The guest who slipped our feline friend tidbits decided to take him back to Paris. I was relieved. We discussed possible names, how to transport him, and that I would visit him. Imagine our dismay, then, then, when the cat didn’t appear on Sunday morning.

For a few days after I got back to Paris, I wondered what happened. Then yesterday I received an email from the cat’s new best friend. He told me that the cat had reappeared and that he had bought food and a carrier for it. For the moment they were going to leave it with a neighbor, but if no one claimed it, he wanted to eventually bring it to the City of Lights.

To be continued?

Milan

This photo sums up Milan pretty well: business, shopping, and the Milan Cathedral.81.milan.2014cWe saw streets and streets of high-end shopping. It was like being on the Champs-Elysées, except that stores closed far earlier.

The city is much less touristy than Florence and Pisa, and with good reason. There are less tourist sites. Most of them are concentrated around the cathedral.81.milan.2014aSpeaking of which, did I tell you about the time I was turned away from the Milan Cathedral? I was wearing a halter top and shorts, and the man whose job it was to assess visitors’ clothing deemed by outfit impassable. It was quite a sight to see all the girls in line stretching a scarf around their shoulders or legs to make it through. My friend offered me a large t-shirt he had bought earlier, but I felt ridiculous wrapping it half-way around my waist. Luckily, we had one more morning in Milan. We went to the cathedral right before going to the airport. I had my rolling duffel bag with me, so if the guard disapproved of my sleeveless dress I would have had an array of wardrobe changes for him to select from. My choice was fine, though. Of course, we weren’t allowed to bring in our bags, but fortunately there were two of us and hardly any line.

Some unusual and beautiful stained glass adorned the cathedral. Often stained glass figures are abstracted into pieces; these were like illustrations but in glass form.81.milan.2014gWe ventured to the southern part of the city to see the canals. Upon exiting the metro station, the streets seemed a bit grungy and graffiti-covered, but one of the canals was especially pleasant.

81.milan.2014eAfter a day and a night in Milan, we flew back to “real life” in Paris. A presto, Italy!81.milan.2014d81.milan.2014b81.milan.2014f