I've been in Paris for three days. Or is it four. Time continues to zip and unzip itself from the usual bounds of reality. Paris is old, new, fast and slow, and it is seeping deep into my bones.
The Latin Quarter throbs with life until well into the wee hours of the morning, and last night was no exception. It became obvious at 1 AM that a drunken young Frenchman had lost all inhibition, whacking things with a long rattling stick and screaming who knows what in loud wailing French. Because I could not understand his words, I heard instead the voice intonations and emotion as he half-yelled half-sang, which did not sound angry so much as unleashed and undone. He quieted eventually, and I returned to sleep.
In the morning, random thumps and friendly shouts echo up from the street four stories below my hotel window as shops prepare to open. It is Monday morning and I am dressed in comfortable summer clothes, ready to try my hand at metro riding on my own, no help from my husband. We say good-bye at the Odeon metro stop; he is departing in a few hours for Chartres to take part in his own retreat while I am bound for the Fifth Arrondissement to meet co-retreaters who are taking part in the Paris Writers Retreat this week. I descend into the metro below the city street, pay my fare and immediately get onto the wrong metro train. After going two stations on it, I realize my mistake, hustle off the train, read the signs a lot more carefully and get myself straightened out. I find out later my husband made the same mistake and we laugh about it since we thought we had it all figured out.
I arrive at my destination with plenty of time to spare. The door at this particular address is one of the typical ones I see in the area. I push it open and step into a courtyard. Inside that space, there is yet another keypad for the individual spaces in the apartment building within. I make my way to the indoor hall upstairs, and then find myself in a loft which is essentially a huge apartment with comfortable and eclectic furnishings and a collection of modern and tribal art. The space is very conducive to creative effort as the light is natural and the surroundings spacious. The Retreat has rented it from a man who uses it as a second home when not in his native Spain, we are told.
Anxiety is not exactly palpable in the room, but attendees are alert for cues from Wendy Rohm, our instructor, about what will be required of us. We are given plenty of tasty croissants, fruit, juice, coffee and tea. We make our introductions and dig into the meat of the work we are here for: Developing ideas for books, plays, any written work that has a story line. We are reassured with information like: Make a big mess and clean it up later; they are only words, don't be afraid to throw them around and get rid of them if you want to; there is a difference between personal writing and private.
We break for lunch and walk up Rue de Mouffetard for a delightful repast at a restaurant perched on an elevated corner lot above the street. I have the plat du jour (special of the day) consisting of a leg of guinea hen roasted in herbed sauce, potatoes and pearl onions. I want to lick my plate again, but I am in the company of polite people who know better than that, so I sit on my hands.
We are getting to know each other. The attendees are mostly professional people with an idea that they might like to write a novel or two, make their mark in the literary world somehow. We are getting along well, figuring out how this week will go. I notice that the slender women at my end of the table are leaving quite a bit of their meals uneaten and feel like I will never be able to get my appetite under control, that I don't have any idea in the world how these nice women can eat like mice. It's a mystery.
The afternoon session continues the work we began in the morning, and ideas are getting fleshed out a bit more. No one has much conviction as yet, so I feel better as I think my own idea is garbage and not worthy of any work at all. Not so fast, says Ms. Rohm; the ideas will change quite a bit and we will be surprised at what we end up with. I decide to trust her and do not ball up my paper. I will be patient and give it a good shot, this extended writing, as I am new to it and, after all, that's why I'm here.
We break for the day later than planned, and I walk back to my hotel area with two other women, Camille and Marilyn, who have a hotel nearby mine. I plan to do some more photography this evening, but by the time I make it out of the supermarket across the street from La Louisianne with items I've bought for supper, I decide to call it a day, even though there is some light out even yet. Paris is out there, I think, but realize a lot of it is in my heart and mind, and it is there for good now.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way