What I did on my summer vacation

I lay on the sand, my head propped up by my beach bag, earbuds in so I didn’t have to listen to unwanted conversation, on a borrowed towel that had Snoopy grinning from ear to ear.  I had my bathing suit on but felt self-conscious and didn’t take my sun dress off until I was sitting down and felt invisible amongst all the other beach goers.  Two gorgeous young blonds of maybe twenty years old lay near me, topless, their breasts being the very definition of perky. In front of me, closer to the water, two Italian women were talking as one put up a sunbrella.  I had picked my spot carefully as it seemed one of the few places where I wouldn’t be kicking sand into someone else’s belongings if I so much as moved an inch.

I was spending the week in Antibes on the Cote d’Azur.  My friend, Meg, lives there and we like to trade apartments periodically so that she has time in Paris.  I had no idea what to expect. In Paris, Barbara warned me away from the Riviera during the months of July and August knowing I hated crowds and might well be miserable. 

“Posh” said Meg, “come down and see for yourself”. 

And so I did, slightly intimidated by all the rumors, gossip, stories infamous and otherwise of life on the French Riviera.

It took me three days to find a real beach.  Not because they didn’t exist but because I was slow to acknowledge that sand, sun and blue water were the true attractions along this pricey real estate that extended from Marseilles to Menton close to the Italian border.  I put towel, book, iPhone and earbuds and a bottle of drinking water in my beach bag and found my way to the Quai. I walked 15 minutes east to the free beach.  I passed a large cafe with at least one hundred chaise longues for those who wanted to be pampered with soft towels, coffee and sturdy umbrellas.  I never learned the price of admission.  The rest of us took our chances.  Our chances were far better the earlier in the morning we got there.  I’d arrived about 9:30am, stood looking out at the sea then at all the bodies that had already set themselves up for the day.  And found my perfect spot.  It seemed to have my name on it.  A large empty area about half way between me and the small waves defining the edge of sand and water.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had just laid prone on sand lusciously soaking up sun feeling like some kind of lizard on a rock.  I slowly relaxed, shed Paris and all my responsibilities, and literally was in the moment.  That lasted about 60 seconds.  A small voice urged me rather vociferously to get up and go into the water.  Getting my very thick hair wet is an unexamined dislike of mine that often prevents me from enjoying swimming, swimming pools in general and other forms of sea and ocean play.  I got up and went to the edge of the water.  I stuck one foot in. It was cold, not freezing but cold.  I started walking and found the bottom was full of stones.  It hurt to walk on them.  I couldn’t see how far the stones went.  I forced myself to continue delicately trying to avoid the biggest stones.  Then I just went for it.  Splashed myself all over and jumped in up to my neck. 

How to explain.  I was swimming in the shallow blue sea.  I looked to my left and could see what was still standing of the Antibes battlements from the Greek age.  I looked in front of me and saw endless blue and boats bobbing on the blue.  I looked to my right and saw Cap d’Antibes jutting out from the beach, green, foresty and what looked to be large villas peeking out of the trees.  I was in love.  I was immersed in a warmth that delicious doesn’t begin to describe.  I felt about ten years old doing a doggy paddle, flipping over and doing a back stroke, dunking my head so that my hair was good and wet.  I watched other beach goers step their way carefully though the stones and get wet.  They were large people, small people, beautiful people and not so beautiful people.  I loved them all.  I took a deep breath turned over onto my back and floated.

I’m the star of my video

Walking home from my Carrefour this morning, I passed a young woman in her late twenties.  She had a huge smile on her face.  In her right hand, she was holding one of those sticks that allows you to hold your phone at arm’s length, camera pointing at you, so you are the focus, front and center, of your own video.  She  was walking down rue Saint Andre des Arts oblivious to other strollers.  Rue Saint Andre des Arts is more a walking street than driving but taxis use it, delivery trucks use it and people who don’t know better use it.  If one walks down the center of the street, it is advised to pay attention!  The street is also very touristy.  It runs from Place Saint Andre des Arts, which is close to the Saint Michel fountain, several blocks and becomes rue Buci.  Students and walkers can get cheap food that doesn’t require sitting at a table: pizza, crepes, veggie Libyan fare, etc. It’s a fun street, a noisy street but not particularly photogenic.

I don’t think any of this mattered to the young woman.  She video herself in front of buildings, in front of the neighborhood movie theatre, in front of people eating their food never  once looking at the sights themselves.  I thought to myself “Is there anything more self-centered than walking down streets in Paris videoing yourself?”  I find it astounding.   it has become common place to walk in Paris this way if you are a tourist.  Never once looking at the real thing, younger people go home with a video of Paris in which they are the star.

The other day I was at the Musee d’Orsay about a 20 minute walk from my apartment.  I was in the Van Gogh room during a rare moment of low tourist presence.  Suddenly a man darted in front of me taking a photo of the painting that I was looking at with his iPhone.  Then he took a photo of the description at the bottom and right of the painting.  I watched him go around the entire room repeating the same action.  Photo the painting first then the name and description of the painting.  He never once looked at a painting.  It boggles the brain.  These people, that man, the young woman, had to have spent a considerable amount of money to get to Paris, the #1 tourist city in the world. They have to be staying somewhere.  Paris is not cheap.  It is beautiful, extraordinarily beautiful.  When the sun is out, it doesn’t matter where in the city you are, one can’t help but catch her breath and smile.  They will go to wherever their homes are, show the video, show the photos and friends will sigh and say “You are so lucky that you got to go to Paris”  But are they really here?

Of course, I may be totally off base.  Perhaps the man was working on a thesis of Van Gogh’s painting in the d’Orsay.  He knew the paintings by heart and just needed photos to support his writing.  And maybe the young woman was Parisian and walks rue Saint Andre des Arts every day.  And today she was playing at being a tourist.

Welcome to my blog

My dining room table sits at one of the four windows in my living room.  I have positioned myself so that I see the Pont Neuf and the river Seine whenever I sit to eat, to work on my computer or to read.  My view out my window reminds me daily of the extraordinary path I’ve taken to be sitting here, how very lucky I am and how much I appreciate it.

I see both daily life and tourist life out my window.  The bouquinistas line the Quai along the Seine and both tourists and Parisians alike stop to have a look.  They are full of old books, sometimes first print books, old posters as well as magnets, various sizes of the Eiffel Tower and paris postcards.  Everyone looks though not everyone stops.  The bouquinistas are Paris as much as Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower are Paris.

The buses 27 and 24 on their way to Gare St. Lazare pass under my window.  Parisians going to work, getting to the trains to go the suburbs or just going one or two stops because of fatigue.  Along side the buses are the Hop On Hop Off buses, the upper level full of tourists getting the complete tour of this beautiful city before deciding where to get off and spend some time.

The river hardly has a ripple today.  The Bateaux Mouches come through one of the arches of the Pont Neuf carrying hundreds of tourists who want their first look of Paris to be from the water.  The river Pompiers are just up the river and some mornings, one can see their inflatable boats come by slowly while a couple of the men will be swimming the river in wet suits looking for debris, god forbid people, anything that shouldn’t be in the river but is.  Across the river from me is the famous 36 Quai d’Orfeveres, the homicide unit of the French police.  A movie by that name has made it into one of the better French Film Noir movies of that era.

So now you know where I live.  This is a blog about daily life; books that I’ve read, writers that come through Paris often stopping to give a talk at the American Library; movies that I’ve seen and recomment, events big and small that happen here in Paris. This is not a blog about wine or food.  There are plenty of those and much better than I could ever do.  But I might mention a fairly inexpensive restaurant and why I like it.

I hope you enjoy!