The Paris and Normandy Diaries: Days Six and Seven
The Last Day
My feelings from the previous night bleed into my sleep -- as in, I didn't get any. I woke up at 4 am, back on the pillow, eyes up at the curtains. I was wired and anxious. My mind flooded with existential questions and impatience at not ever having answered them. I am full of contradictions. I change my mind so many times, and the only conclusion I make, (a trivial one) is that all my heroes are French women who misbehaved -- George Sand, Colette, and St. Therese (in her own way). I draft emails that I quickly delete, my arms folded, scowling. I'm this way till sun up.
In the morning, after dressing, we walked out of the hotel into a cloudy, damp day. It was breakfast, so we rounded a few corners and landed at Maison Prichard, a bakery voted best croissants in 2018. We take our croissants back to the hotel lobby then return to the room to do some work and plan out the rest of the day: a visit to Buly, dim sum with one of Alistair's old friends, the Musee d'Orsay, a dip in the hotel pool, and dinner out.
We took the metro and walk a bit, then slip into the open door of Universelle Buly 1803. Alistair and I immediately coo. The whole store is decorated in a very old style, as if it remains unchanged from the 1800s. A shopkeeper in a modest black dress with a white collar (very French) approaches us. She procures delicate soaps, beautiful faux tortoise combs and brushes. She has an accent with edges, my favorite kind. She lifts the bell jar off of a candle and holds it to my nose and whispers:
"Tuberose, rose, vetiver."
I want everything. But more importantly, I want to be living in the 1800s. I look at the clock, ten minutes till our lunch meeting a few blocks away. I leave without buying anything.
We find a very quiet dim sum restaurant. I become nervous, I'm meeting Alistair's friend for the first time, a celebrated physicist. I always get a little nervous around his friends, they are so wealthy, so different from the people I know. It turned out to be quite a laugh.
We walk from there to Musee d'Orsay. There are two things of interest: Glenn Ligon's installation and the exhibit it's based off of: Le Modèle Noir on the representation of black models in black figures in visual art.
I love Glenn Ligon. He had a work up at the Whitney (back in the day when it was on the Upper East Side and I lived just a few blocks away). I would pass it in cabs at night and catch it in motion, which always made me smile. Le Modèle Noir was extensive, and eye opening. We shuffled through it for almost an hour then decided to have a snack. I wanted another terrace snack -- because it's so indicative of Paris and I would miss it when I returned to New York -- but Alistair insisted I had to see the cafe at the museum. I stepped inside and clasped my hands and immediately figured out why. It was beautiful. It was the decadent baroque French style that I adore -- gold molding, chandeliers, rooms meant for taffeta dresses.
We went back to the hotel on foot, a walk that would take us past Les Invalides, where we went two years prior. The sun crested off the top of the dome, wind blew the trees around us. I had an idea to stop in a newspaper shop to see if we could get the copy of Le Monde with our names in it (we missed it by a day).
At the hotel we took our bathing suits to the saunas and the pool. We swam for a bit, the water was warm and relaxing. I've written a million times before, but I'm happiest in the pool. There is something childlike about lifting up your feet and marveling at temporary weightlessness.
Alistair wanted to show me one of his favorite spots in Paris: Candeleria. We took the metro to the 3rd and squeezed into the doorway of a narrow taqueria blasting Spanish music. You could have found this place in Brooklyn, undoubtedly. People in fancy dresses were going to the secret speakeasy through a secret back door, which led to a dark, crowded cocktail bar. We got three of each type of taco and midway a family from Ecuador, with two pregnant people in their party, came in for a table.
"That's how you know it's good," someone said under their breath.
After dinner we walked around the corner to their sister bar for cocktails. In my notes, I have that we saw the Eiffel tower glittering on Thursday on the way home, but my photos suggest otherwise, or maybe it was both?
Saturday was our last day in Paris. Our 4 pm flight had been shifted to a new plane and a new time, 8 pm. We'd have a day to fill.
Another croissant for breakfast from Maison Prichard, then a short walk to the Eiffel Tower. We kept going, which meant swimming through crowds of tourists and hawkers and street sellers, climbing up the stairs of the Trocadero, and landing in a terrace seat at Carette.
We have along lunch, take the tube back to our hotel, a cab to our RER stop. I stop with the luggage on a pont I've been on many times before, so that Alistair can walk up and see Notre Dame.
It's a busy corner. I've been here so many times before, when I stayed on the Ile Saint Louis. It was different then, raining. Memories flood back to me, though, for me they are always here. I'm lucky in that way, to always be writing, describing, putting ideas into boxes that I can spit back out. Through my writing I forget nothing, I see the past and present all in one big overlay.
To my left I see myself that day I tried to shop at the booksellers on the embankment. I see myself swallowing, staving off a prozac nausea spell after having a pizza just across the street. I see that woman who was also eating alone with me in the window -- that woman I speculated about so sharply! Oh and there I am! There I am with Henri, talking excitedly, holding hands.
I turn to see the view behind me, the seine. Alistair appears and we get on the RER. It is time to leave Paris.