It's Sunday morning. The streets are much calmer than last evening, and the weather is looking excellent. Time to begin our walking tour of whatever suits our mood.
I end up stopping at a cafe near the Odeon on Blvd St. Michel to have breakfast, or the French version of it: pain et cafe. You take your chances at a cafe if you cannot tolerate cigarette smoke. We sit. Cigarette smoke lofts by, polluting perfectly fresh air. Instantly a formal-looking waiter is whisking off our table, quickly shoving an ashtray onto the tabletop and shuffling the bistro chairs to accommodate us. He is dressed in black slacks, crisp long-sleeved white shirt and black tie, black vest and a long white apron tied around his hips. His hair is perfectly trimmed and combed. He is a professional. Very few American men dressing for their own weddings look as crisp and trim as he does. The order is taken and in a matter of a minute, my espresso and bread arrive at my table and another minute later, my husband's omelette also arrives. Cafe waiters are quick as cats and are snappy about their work, part of the Paris cafe mystique.
You greet the waiter and indicate how many are in your group, you are whisked to a table and cartes handed to you as quickly as if you were caught in an acceleration vortex. There is no lingering conversatio or chat with these guys. Perhaps if I eat at a cafe daily for two years, the waiter will converse. Until then, I am not his friend. Courtesy and friendliness are not to be confused; courtesy is fully present, but friendliness is not required. It's okay. In the States, friendliness is mistaken for courtesy and you often have a waitress who attempts to be your casual friend and tells you about her life. She will ask you in a high plaintive lilt, "Everything okay here, you guys?" A waiter in a Parisian cafe will never ask, but he will rush past while eyeing your table and assessing for missing essentials. He will hasten over when you raise your hand politely to signal him you have a wish and it will be fulfilled as quickly as if you had waved a wand.
I am getting good already about adapting to the practice of eating very little for breakfast and then enjoying a delicious full meal at midday or later and finally supper after dark. After my meal, it is time to board the nearby metro and zoom away to the Fifth Arrondissement where I will be spending the next five days at a writer's retreat. My husband coaches me about how the metro works and how to read the maps. It seems easy. The metro is like the waiter, arriving promptly and whisking us to our destination with efficiency and no fuss.
There is a popular and well-established outdoor market on weekend mornings on Rue de Mouffetard, and it is jostling with local citizens and a few tourists. A vendor sings about his fruits and vegetables and tries to persuade me to purchase some strawberries. On a cobbled parallel street that is closed to traffic, a waltz tune sung by a lady with an accompanying accordionist compels a suave older couple dressed in ballroom clothing to turn and bend in looping circles of dance. They are drawing a crowd and receive applause when the tune finally stops. He dips her very low and she curtsies to the bystanders. He is wearing a white suit and large white plastic sunglasses that look like Girl Watchers from the 60s. Another tune begins, lyrics are handed out to the crowd and everyone is encouraged to sing the chorus when it comes around, "Bambino, bambino!" so we sing. What else would you do on a Sunday in Paris but waltz in the street like Fred Astaire? It's just the thing.
I need to find the address for the workshop and stand on a street corner looking up and down streets and looking like the confused tourist I am when a small wizened woman approaches me and carefully asks, "What are you looking for?"
"Ah, Broca. Allez," she says slowly and indicates I am to follow her. She is bent over, pulling a small grocery trolley and has a scarf wrapped around her hair. She is not likely even 4 ft. 11 in., but she is briskly walking away and intends to show me where my street is. When it is in sight up ahead, she waves to it and says "au revoir," and then disappears so fast I end up thanking the air where she had stood seconds before.
The rest of the morning is spent strolling past the Muslim mosque and over to Jardin des Plantes where hundreds of people are enjoying the soft spring day with their families, walking or jogging or resting on one of the park benches. You don't lounge on the grass in this country apparently. You sit. On chairs or park benches. That's it. The beautifully tended gardens that consist of botanical specimens, vegetable gardens and tender shoots of what will become summer flowering plants are inspiring to see. The gardeners take an inordinate amount of care with the entire acreage and create something that is both natural and formal in appearance.
After the Jardin, we look for the Roman coliseum called Lutece nearby, built about a thousand years ago. It looks very well preserved but we don't have English information to help us understand the dimensions or probable use in its day. Boys slam soccer balls with their feet and resounding explosions of sound echo off the curved stadium walls of stone. I imagine the hard-packed dirt arena soaked in blood with heaving beasts and gladiators grunting and fighting for their lives. A thousand years ago.
The Cluny Museum represents medieval art and culture and today is featuring an interesting exhibits called Epee that depicts the history and construction of swords, epee and daggers. Some of them are magnificently preserved pieces that served as ceremonial weaponry only. Much of them, though probably whacked a few skulls in their day. King Arthur might have held one or two of them; at least it is appealing to think so. The Cluny is a museum worth seeing and occupies a former Abbey. Work brick work is evident all through the building, which is many centuries old.
We meander back to the Latin Quarter on tired feet and find we have roaring appetites. A bistro seems like a logical choice and our midday meal of boeuf bourguignon is really good. After a nap, we decide to take a tour boat on the Seine and set off on our hour-long cruise at 8 PM. The sun is low on the horizon but sets the gold on various bridges and statuary blazing. For 15 Euro you get a bilingual tour and unique views of many of the bridges in the heart of the Seine. Many long bateaux host parties and dinner tours. Music thumps from one of them and a dance party is in progress. Girls have so many opportunities to be pretty and feminine here. The dancing couples are having a good time and many young women in chic clothes are having the time of their lives with their handsome young dates.
The crown jewel, the one the Parisians initially thought would come crashing down on their heads back in the day, stands so far above all else in Paris that it's really bigger than life. I've seen it up close; there is no view of it that seems ugly, and everyone on the boat snaps a few zillion photos of it, me included.
The day is done for us, but the cafes and bistros will be doing a roaring business for several more hours. My head feels like a heavy sack; time to go to bed and rest for tomorrow.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way