So I haven’t posted since the end of December? Really, I haven’t? Gosh.
After dropping my mother off in Montpellier I went on up to Paris for New Years to see a jazz concert and hopefully dance. A spontaneous, one minute to the next, 200-Euro decision that I started to have second thoughts about almost as soon as I hit “confirm purchase.” Who was I to go gaily skipping up to Paris when Emilie needed bus fare? Exactly how tight was it going to be for the rest of the month of January?
But what’s done is done. I spent one night in my flat in Nîmes and the morning of the 31, I caught the train to Paris.
It may sound like a cliché but I love wandering around Paris, especially the Quartier Latin. The gray-green of the Seine, the islands which manage to be quiet despite the throngs of tourists, the maze of streets with their neon signs, the bouquinistes with their stalls along the river. I spent a few hours in one of my favourite Latin Quarter haunts, Shakespeare and Company, an English-language used bookshop that has sat on the Seine for fifty years, that Allen Ginsberg visited.
Its founder, George Whitman, died in December, adding to a distressingly long list of people who passed away that I’m sad to see go, although I never met him. More on that in the belated New Year’s entry.
I sat for quite a while in the almost too cozy upstairs reading room, writing a chapter that may sprout a novel about a North America/Africa culture clash.
I walked over to Notre Dame cathedral, joined the queue of tourists and walked in, because it was there and it was free. Darkness and candles and statues of saints and awed tourists everywhere. I lit a candle for all the Catholics I know, starting with my grandma and Pierre.
I took the metro and then climbed a ton of stairs to get to Montmartre cathedral, which was pretty much the first place I ever saw when I came to Paris the first time, with my mother, as a 16-year-old. A beautiful white marble cathedral on a hill looking out over the whole city; it looks like the Taj Mahal or (perhaps more appropriately) a bishop’s hat. The fog made the whole city look like it had been covered in Christmas lights ansd then draped in spiderwebs.
Montmartre is always a place where you can find junk sellers and buskers. The buskers were playing lamentably bad Bob Marley covers, but as it was New Year’s Eve and hundreds of people there were already drunk, so no one much cared. I felt kind of alone with everyone there in their little groups of friends, to be honest.
I’m not religious, but there does seem to me something wrong about slugging hard liquor on the steps of a cahedral and leaving the bottle behind.Is that some kind of residual Catholicism or would you be annoyed by that too?
I wandered around brushing off come-ons from drunks and chatting up the vendors- the Russian matryoshka seller and the Senegalese bracelet vendors. One of the bracelet guys had, interestingly enough, learnt Russian from his brother who studied in Moscow, and was using it to scare a group of young, female Russian tourists, who nearly jumped out of their skin when this tall, black Frenchman started yelling at them in their language. He made me a lucky bracelet and didn’t even charge me for it.
Before too long it was time to go to the concert. Le Caveau de la Huchette is reputed to be a jazz and swing bar par excellence. And the musicians, a British band, were really top. But it was so crowded you could barely walk, let alone dance. It was after three by the time it started to clear out, and then we could enjoy ourselves.
I met a nice guy who I’ll call Charles (not his real name of course). He is an animal trainer in a circus. He took a picture of me in front of Notre Dame, all lit up in the dark, and later he and some friends of his, guys and girls, invited me for a walk down the Champs-Elysées.
Before you could say “Joe Dassin” though, it was time to go back to the Garde de Lyon for my 7 a.m. train back. Charles and I grabbed a coffee near the station beforehand.
Because it was New Years Eve, everything was surcharged. Our two shot-glass espressos cost nearly 10 euros. At the Huchette, a pint of Heineken cost 14 euros! I left, found a Cuban bar where they were still 5 euros, had a drink and came back. I refuse to pay that much! The upside is, no getting drunk, no hangover. But still!
14 euros x 1700 Burundian francs to the euro = 23,800 FBU.
Just about a week’s salary for Athanase. And/or no less than twelve enormous beers at a non-expat bar in Burundi.
Two different planets.