z nori heikkinen ~ france, winter break 2001

France journal 2001

From January 11, 2001, to the 19th, my mom and I went to France with a group from Concordia University Wisconsin, where she's a professor of Islam, among other things. It was cool to finally speak the language I'd studied for years, even if I did forget the Apollinaire poem; chill time in many random museums and cafés with my mom was cool; and the students made me appreciate Swatties all the more. Below, the journal i kept during that week.

January 11th, 2001, 4:30 PM, Pittsburg International Airport

Evidently, the Brothers Wright were not musicians. Someone really ought to teach this plane, humming and whirring indiscriminately in various octaves, counterpoint. The air hums faster, rising in pitch in parallel motion with the ascending, growling basso of the engine and its audible tenor overtones. Palestrina rolls in his grave.

the clock at the musée d'orsay

« Personne là ? » asks the woman opposite me, gesturing to a blank set. It's clear she's addressing me and has no idea I don't speak French. « J'pense pas ... » I stammer, and she smiles and sits down. My eyes are still open a little wider than they should be--my illusion, for now, had been preserved. Paris will waste no time in destroying that, I'm sure.

January 12, CDG, 6:40 AM

We flew into pre-dawn Paris and it was Italo Calvino's cities of the sky, the lights mirroring the stars; it was his cities of eyes, a million pointillistic dots regarding us; it was hits continuous cities, stretching across the wings of the plane and covering the entire horizon in both directions; it was his Invisible Cities, still dark.

a fuzzy picture of a bridge
a window at versailles
Café Trocadero, 9:45 AM

The daylight is much welcome. I see less of M. Eiffel's towering lattice than I do the muddy leaves among cobblestones, golden inscriptions on immeubles. My mother and Michel chat idly in French; I cross the Seine and think of Apollinaire. Picturesque bare trees--this place must be beautiful in the spring. Traffic circus; tiny cars -- « deux chevaux » -- j'en veux. The Champs-Elysées through the windows of a bus.

Hôtel Kyriad, 9 rue de Reuilly (12e), January 13, 2001, 9:03 AM

Yesterday a march through the Île de Cité, Notre Dame, Montmartre. All beautiful but too much of the same Gothic architecture for someone who fell asleep full of mediocre quiche à fromage on the steps of a money-changing office that won't give her French francs for her old Czech crowns.

me asleep in a money-changing office
view from the inside of the Musée D'Orsay

the little girl we followed around

the big clock on the wall reflected in Mom's wine
11:24 PM, Hôtel Kyriad

Ditched the Christians, finally, for a day of non-vapidness. Much to my profound relief. Found Ross at his Hôtel Esméralda sur le rue St. Julien le Pauvre--right next to Notre Dame, practically--not on the Île but 100 paces across the Seine from it. Traveling with his family, he couldn't make plans, but we'll find him later.

Après ça, le Musée D'Orsay. (I said I was feeling more impressionistic than Italian masters, an day.) As or more interesting than the art (some neat Cézanne, Redon, Degas, &c.) were the people and how they blended themselves with the mélange of architectural styles that was this modern, almost cubist museum in three open levels née 19th-century train station. A man and his adorable daughter in a pink and purple crocheted top. Fromage for lunch and wine.

Nap à l'hôtel, puis Indian food (incensed when my mom interprets the waiter--"did you get that, honey?"), and the Mozart Requiem. Just like Prague except not. Better cuisine indienne there, and Prague's Requiem could have come north and kicked this Parisian one's ass all over the Champs-Elysées. Still fun and (a) good to ditch the idiots who wanted to fly to Scotland and back just because they could, and (b) fuck, we're in Paris.

January 14, 7:28 PM, Hôtel Kyriad (/11:34 PM)

At Notre Dame I left my mother to the Catholic mass and found Ross & famille at their hotel. Le père had a graduate reading-knowledge French, which translates, spoken, into menu-card. My quasi-fluency proved useful.

Petit déjuner, Ross looking for apple mentos in the Métro station, and then a small city of tenantless houses, a calligramme on Apollinaire's, a busted winkie on Oscar Wilde's--la Cimitère Père-Lachaise. Chopin, Callas, Bellini, Kreutzer, Jim Morrison, whom people say isn't dead. So neither are Balzac, Molière, La Fontaine (all allegedly buried there). A bunch of Americans standing around Morrison's grave, trying to decipher the Greek epitaph: kata ton daimona eautou. Another kid said, "with the spirit of ..." and Ross filled in, "U2?"

After Wilde we headed to Bofinger (specialité les fruits de mer) where I realized that the upper-class French still haven't fully grasped the concept of vegetarianism. Good fun and excellent company. What the hell was « Munster au Cumin--et sa pomme de terre en robe des champs »?!

Notre Dame in an organ concert (even only the last fifteen minutes of one) is so resonant, unearthly huge, grey gothic and reverberant. (I like the long waterspout gargoyles that stick out, mouths open.) We scrutinized the façade as Quasimodo struck 100, then, parents breaking off, frère, s&oe;ur Martha, and I strolled along the Seine (the bells still tolling, 200 o'clock and counting). I only got slightly lost on my way back to the Métro.

Dinner with the Concordia group at some random Brasserie with the group (I remember faster and faster why I love Swat and its intelligent company). Tom can't open his beer the way the Chinese ("how can you tell?") waiter shows him, with a fork, so I do it and take the applause and a swig. The riverboat (Bateaux de Mouches) tours aren't running but it's fun to listen to the gabbing of Mom, Michel, son ami Gilbert, and now and then, Matt. Come on, TRY to uvularize y our R's! --Next time I come back with un ami (ou bien un amant).

the cemetary of Père-Lachaise

Chopin's Grave

Ross on the métroRoss's sister Martha with a boiled lobster

the façade of Notre Dame cathedral
inside chartres cathedral
15 janvier 2001, bus to Charters, ~9:30 AM

If for no other reason, you must come to Paris to eat the croissants. My mom thinks that its' something special about French butter; I think the atmosphere (garcons with handlebar mustaches firing rapidly: « mesdames messieurs un café au lait un chocolat chaud »; the intelligible (!) susurrations of the language) is half of it.

Hôtel Kyraid, 25:58 AM

All morning (on a bus and) at a looming half-Gothic cathedral an hour and some out of Paris--Chartres. The stained glass windows and the symbolism of Christianity, the parallels between the Old and New Testaments, make much more sense when explained by the guy who wrote the [guide]book, Malcolm Miller.

The « Reine de Saba » tea shop was closed, so Mom and I settled for an excellent little pseudo-Italian place that served me Italian pizza with decidedly French cheese, served Mom decidedly French pesto, and served us both decidedly French wine. Quite funny but a damn good meal. Found Ross's apple mentos in a gift shop and drove back to Paris with the group, Michel narrating a tour of the Seine's bridges.


Hop on the Métro (why would you ever need a car here, cool as those little bathtub-size ones are?) down to the Place du Louvre, where I discover that (a) my French ain't quite perfect yet, (b) I did not in fact finish reading Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in French IV, and (c) that other Parisians wear jeans to the Comédie Française, too. Despite the two former, I got almost all of it and it was a splendid production. Hommage à Molière (his 379th birthday was today) by the whole compagnie, and the audience clapped in rhythm to Mozart's Turkish March. Poked a toe into the Louvre courtyard (I'm already intimidated--should I even bother?), walked around the pyramid munching on mom's leftover sandwich au fromage, and back chez nous.

Chartres cathedral

idevotional candles inside chartres

chartres     chartres

the pyramid of the louvre
a métro stop

a rose in Rodin's Gardens

Rodin's 'the kiss'
17 janvier 2001, Hôtel Kyriad, 10:04 AM

Yesterday a ridiculous museum day (at least we're using the 3-day pass). Saint-Chapelle to begin with--they x-rayed your bags like at the airport, and the little orange carte gained us admittance to a 13th-century chapel full of beautiful vitraux (stained-glass windows). I think I should appreciate these architectural and aesthetic marvels more. Mom wanted to listen to several teachers lecturing hordes of nine-year-olds about the Biblical stories depicted in the glass, but I was cold, my nose was runny, and there was no David slaying Goliath (like the guide-card insisted there was) anywhere to be found on the fourth lancet, third level, upper part of quatrefoil medallion.

On to Rodin's gardens. We passed the Soleil D'Or café before we got on the Métro, but how was I to remember that? They didn't like it any better than in the Orsay when I sat down opposite Le Baiser and took my shoes off. I like Rodin. Seeing all his works (or a huge number of them, at least) all together in one place makes one realize why the famous ones are famous and why others (the billion-and-a-half statues of the ugly Balzac, for example) aren't. Where had I seen the big marble caryatids recently? The Met in NY? I'll ask Allison; she'll remember that. (She remembered my grandmother's birthday!) [23.I.2001--yes, it was the Met.]

A petty argument over which café. I remembered the distinctly-yellow Soleil D'Or but all Mom wanted was food, oblivious to my urgent crêpe attack. (I, for my part, walked on, oblivious to her urgent food attack.) Reaching a Métro/RER stop, we said (in so many words), « fuck it », hopped on, and went to Versailles, still undernourished.

Versailles is not Brittany. Even so, it's France, and that's a lot closer to Bretagne (Mme Delord maintains that the two are separate-- « non, je suis de Bretagne », she always corrects us) than the States. So it made more sense than it possibly could have to find a restaurant nommé « la coiffe Breton », serving galettes & crêpes.

16 janvier 2001, un café / restaurant Breton à Versailles, 3:10 PM

Un galette au fromage. Gruyère. Two interesting memories: (1) Madame Delord, the vraie française who taught those of us who were willing to listen the French language, one day didn't even bother trying, and made us galettes from her native Bretagne. They didn't make much sense then, in the context of a home-ec. classroom and little squabbling Americans who couldn't speak French to save their asses, but here this is delicious.

(2) Every morning before Calc III / Linear Algebra Honors senior year, Ben would pick me up on the way back from his crack-of-dawn crew practice. We'd stop at his house and read the New York Times while his dad fixed us excellent Chinese green tea and bagels with gruyère. The only other pace I've ever had that cheese.

The Breton beer that mom and I get to accompany it is perfect--red, a little sweet, with a label in an unintelligible Celtic language local to Brittany.

the 3-day museum pass

the label from our Breton beer
mom in the hall of mirrors

a statue in a Versailles fishpond
17 janvier 2001, Hôtel Kyriad, 10:04 AM

I expected the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to be more, well, mirrory. One wall was mostly mirrors. And, as mom pointed out, they reflect the gardens (which look a lot better in the summertime). We trooped through the palace in under an hour, ,and I was glad of it--how can you spend an entire day looking at random dauphins' random suites of random rooms? Ornately decorated, yes; museum-worthy, yes; particularly fascinating, no. Which is fine. It's something one needs to see in France, and now I've seen it. Cool.

Back on the train to the hotel, exhausted, ,where the intention was to nap and then grab some dinner and stroll along some rue, possibly the Champs-Elysées. As it was I just slept rather fitfully (feeling rather shitty; coming down with a cold) until 8:30 AM. A lovely 13 hours.

17 janvier 2001, 11:46 PM, Hôtel Kyriad

This morning, in an effort to combat sickness, I got several Vitamin C tablets and two glasses of pamplemousse juice (and Mom got her requisite sock juice, as the French apparently call American coffee--« jus de chaussettes »).. We strolled down the rue Faidherbe towards the Place de la Bastille, stopping in a cute bookshop / paper store (some folders & Voltaire for me) and a Monoprix (a French screwdriver for Mom). At the Bastille, the opera was sold out of tickets to Don Giovanni for tonight--had been for a while, apparently--but we got some from a scalper. Nosebleeds but who cares.

Attacked the Louvre after a Métro stop or two. And "attack" is just about the only way to go about it--all those crazy Italian / French / German / Flemish / &c. masters. So many ecstasies of so many saints. So many Christs nailed to so many crosses. I realized I'm directly echoing what I wrote about the Uffizi this summer--it's about the same, except the Louvre is bigger (the biggest museum in the world, thank God) and more French. Which doesn't help at all. That kind and period of art just doesn't do it for me, I guess. My favorite works that I saw there were LeBrun's studies for "The Triumph of Alexander the Great" or something--two roomsful of sepia-and-white sketches. Very nice. Aside from those, however, I was more than ready to leave by 5:30 or so. (Meantime we'd had a Lebanese lunch and a pleasant séjour into Virgin bookstore, the Borders of France. Mom had a field day.)

Barely did I have time to let my feet pop back into foot-shape from the flat floor-shape they'd become, before we changed into our black dresses and trooped out again--to the Opéra. The seats were nosebleed, and you had to lean forward to be able to see, but I understood the French supertitles (and got a very little of the Italian lyrics), and the music was great. A very enjoyable soirée. Paris rocks.

I, too, am a saint

the louvre

Mom has a field day in the french bookstore
stained-glass window fragements at the Cluny Museum

me conversing with a fountain in the Cluny Museum's courtyard

inside the Centre Pompidou, Rothko & Miró

the sculpture that greets you as you enter the Centre Pompidou Museum

Notre Dame
19 janvier 2001, plane CDG à Pittsburg

« Les fonctionnes publiques » were considering whether or not to strike in the morning. They'd been deciding this for a while, apparently, but were meeting in the morning to decided definitively. This meant that the Louvre couldn't decide which of its doors to open (said those who went that way). Mom and I strolled down towards Notre Dame looking for tickets to the organ recital--we haven't exactly been living on a shoestring budget here, but what with Concordia paying half we haven't done half bad by Paris. Tickets were obtained, along with more Kleenex and « pseudo-éphedrine »--French Sudafed. Vive les pharmacies!

The Cluny Museum (ou « Musée d'Art du Moyen-Age », or something) was in fact open, so we spent some time in there while Mom joyously poked around stained-glass fragments, ancient tapestries, translated some medieval French calligraphy,, and saw the Unicorn Tapestries.

Lunch was obtained a step or two off the beaten path, at another quasi-Breton crêperie / galetterie (<- if that word exists). The menu came with a « boulée de cidre »--much better than Cider Jack--which also provided the needed "attitude adjustment" (a phrase which Mom and I realized the other day that she picked up from an inspirational speaker/singer, Leotha Stanley, whom Alexis used to mock when he was in residence at her elementary school). I stuffed my face with two huge galettes and a chocolate crêpe, and was full till the next morning.

Jumping at least 800 years from the Cluny, Mom and I stopped off at the Centre Pompidou--Musée d'Art Moderne--next. I prefer 1905 - 1960 (5e niveau) to the post-1960 stuff, but the whole thing was pretty damn cool. Next time I'll have to check out the Espace Dalí and the Musée Picasso--I think The Old Guitarist and Femme Assise Devant le Miroir are in the latter. Oh well, a reason to come back. (That and to recite Apollinaire's « Le Pont Mirabeau » on the Pont Mirabeau. We drove by it once, and it was easily accessible by Métro, but I couldn't remember the last strophe, nor did any we looked in have it. And what's the point of reciting incomplete poetry?)

If not a nap, at least some manner of sedentary repose was obtained before the organ concert. Mom bought sandwiches; I was still too full to eat more than three bites. A small group of us métroed back to Notre Dame for an organ concert by André Issor, and then hôtel-wards.

Back now at Swarthmore, people ask, how was your break? --I slept; I worked on papers, i respond, and I went to Paris for a week with my mom. --And what did you do? --museums. cafés. I found that while my mother may be far more fluent in French than I am, I'm at least competent, and that she lacks the way of walking into a café as if she owned it like the French have, so I took over that bit (then she ordered the galettes au fromage and the attitude adjustments). I don't smell a lot of cigarette smoke here, so it reminds me now of France. Place of real crossiants and espresso (not sock juice) at a bar, leaving a lipstick mark on the demitasse before the opera. I'm not sure I could deal with the daily chic-ness, but I shall certainly return, if only to recite Le Pont Mirabeau on Apollinaire's bridge.

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

tout cela (sauf, assurément, l'Apollinaire) © Nori Heikkinen, January 2001

~ to my daily journal ~