Friday morning, we woke in Paris. That should have been enough to guarantee happiness, but it was a cold grey Paris we woke to, further narrowing the options in my carry-on-only capsule wardrobe. So I was already a bit disgruntled as we pushed through the faded burgundy doors of the brasserie just kitty-corner, up across the cobblestoned road, back behind the Pantheon. From behind the bar, the server called out Bonjour M'sieur'dame, and we Bonjoured back, working our way to a table. Paul pulled out a chair for me, and we settled in to wait for our server. We could have stood at the bar and saved a coin or two, but we had some time to kill before heading to our art expo; watching the regulars chat energetically over coffees at the zinc counter seemed an easier way of easing into the day than trying to join them there.
Settling into our table in the corner, we were also settling, I think, into the comfort of knowing what to do in a French brasserie after ten days of not being quite sure what was what in the Italian counterparts. Too soon, though, that comfort; too easily felt, and thus suspect. Sure enough, just as the tiny, interior back-slaps and high-fives were arriving to bolster our French self-esteem, the server (or owner, as we have come to believe over subsequent visits) arrived at our table NOT to take our order, but to tell us we'd have to move.
My disgruntlement quickly returned, aimed in the direction of my husband who, after all, had made the embarrassing choice and sat us down (disgruntlement is no guarantor of logic of fairness, let us admit!). But although it took me a moment or two, as we shifted tables, I recognized with a little thrill that every word we'd said or heard since we'd pushed open those doors had been French. Rather than marking us as outsiders, the proprietor's request that we move tables to accommodate his morning deliveries signalled our belonging inside the language.
It's a conditional, tentative belonging, to be sure, but it exists in enough strength to encourage our efforts. I have more examples and more thoughts about the challenges and rewards of learning a language and the differences between travelling with and without a basic ability in the dominant language of the place you're visiting. Those examples and thoughts will have to wait until we're back home, but I offered the brasserie anecdote as a bit of an antidote to the grumbling ahead and to assure you that while I do slump, occasionally, in Paris, I generally find something here that reminds me of my affection for the city.
If you've been keeping an eye on my Instagram feed, you'll have surmised that we spent a very pleasant day wandering Turin before continuing our train journey to Paris. In Rome last Sunday, we peeled off sweaters as the October sun coaxed the thermometer up to 22. Turin wasn't as warm, but I took my Uniqlo light down jacket off in the sunshine there while we drank our Negronis in the afternoon.
Paris, though, when we arrived Thursday afternoon? Well, at least it didn't sport the dusting of snow we'd seen on fields in eastern France as our train moved out of the Alps, but at 5 degrees Celsius, it wasn't doing much better! Nor was this blue-sky crisp cool Fall weather. No, this was the miserable, insinuating damp cold of migraines and sulks and even the occasional snarl about the impossibility of dressing smartly for cold weather from a carry-on wardrobe designed with late summer/early fall in mind. . .
And scarcely had we worked our way through the crowd of passengers disembarking from two trains onto one platform (oh my God! Must they cluster around those stupid torch-like bows, held high by the tour leader for visibility and quasi-military organization that more closely resembles a high-school band trip and Really, if you must bring a bag so large you can scarcely move it, couldn't you wait to let the less encumbered, more mobile, screamingly impatient among us pass by? And finally, How I miss being able to claim PMS when I'm feeling this out-of-sorts, grumpier and, oh, just say it, bitchier by the moment), scarcely, as I was saying, had we got through these crowds and found some breathing space to organize our walk to the hotel, than I realized something that wound my foul mood even tighter.
I'd left my knitting pouch on the train. Probably on the space between our two seats where I'd put it down after contentedly knitting an inch or so, moving along the instep of a second sock, not yet ready to measure it against its completed mate in anticipation of the toe-shaping. Yes, the completed sock was in that pouch also. And two sets of my favourite wooden double-points....
He offered to go back for the bag, my good man. But fighting his way back through that crowd, only to see if he could gain access to a train that was being prepped to go somewhere else? Perhaps I should have said , "Yes! Run!" Perhaps I should have run myself, elbows working agressively through the luggage-challenged stragglers. Instead, busily trying to think of ways it was his fault, even while I knew perfectly well it was my own, I reconciled myself to the loss (Not so the Italian woman who had passengers get up out of the seats backing on to hers so that she and her husband could look underneath them. We never did discover what she had dropped but it was precious enough that train personnel were recruited to the search as well and everyone rousted from their seats yet again.).
I'm writing this on Saturday afternoon, after two 15+-kilometre days, several wonderful meals, exciting (and feet, hip, knee, and back-defying) art expositions, and I've almost let go of those socks. We may stop by the Lost and Found on Monday, but probably not. I'm trying to save for napping any moments left over from galleries and walking and long lunches, in an effort to stave off a threatening sinus infection (yes, more cause for grumbling, but I'll focus on the good food and the great wine and the way the constant walking mitigates, I hope, against the calorie intake).
The grey lifted a bit today. I've been enjoying tea made in the kettle my husband insisted on buying our first evening here (along with a mug and a box of tea bags because he knows I'm a happier camper if I can have a cuppa in the morning and another in the afternoon. So thoughtful, so sweet, even if he does make me leave my knitted socks behind and chooses the wrong seats in brasseries). And we're heading off soon for dinner with friends we haven't seen for almost 30 years, friends whose Paris visit coincided with ours, connection facilitated by FaceBook . . My wise husband reminds me that our last days in Paris are often tinged by an awkward ambivalence. There will always be a gap, desires unmet in a city that evokes them so compellingly, that space between longing and belonging that has everything and nothing to do with place. Soon we'll be home, and I'll sift through my memories for whatever truth or illusion nourishes my Parisian self, such as she dreams of being, and enriches, I hope, the self who lives where she really must. . .
Meanwhile, the big question: do you ever settle in to a patch of disgruntlement when you're travelling? Please tell me you're not as petty as I am and that you never take it out on your travelling companions! Any great techniques for pulling your better self back into the room? (I sent my guy out for a Leffe at that Brasserie across the road while I napped and then tapped away at this on my iPad while sipping a cup of tea--sometimes solitude is the best cure!)
I did try for pictures, but my photos are taking forever to land in the cloud from my iPhone, and I'm using Blogsy on the iPad. The marvels and complications of technology. . . Pretty pictures of Paris coming your way soon, I promise. Happy Saturday! And if you're Canadian, and we don't chat again before Monday, Please Vote!