Monday, July 07, 2008

Cafe Musings

Finally, after 18 days of absolutely no privacy (except in the bathroom), I am sitting in a café near our hotel, “completely alone” in the way that cafés allow a lovely sort of privacy in the midst of the crowd. It is a breezy day so the place where I am sitting, normally outdoors, is protected by a flexible, zippered canopy. While this partition keeps me from experiencing the totality of being in the street, it actually offers me a much-desired veil. I can see people well enough: many mothers wheeling their kids home from wherever, and nannies in their native dress, others who are assimilated looking worn out after a long day of being separated from their own families to care for the children of others much more wealthy. The strollers seem to be causing traffic jams on this very, busy pedestrian street.

Sitting in a café, surrounded by the music of people speaking French and sipping a cup of Vervaine tea, I am easily moved to write screenplays, or at least abstracts about the lives of each character I observe: the young American student whose outward style almost passes for that of a Parisian except she’s eating dinner way too early and she sadly doesn’t speak French; the two forty-something women who are longtime Parisians who are sharing many confidences and whose laughter flows past my ears like sparkling rivers; the aging but still very debonair writer or philosophy professor with his considerably younger companion who looks like a 70’s era French movie star). So much in Paris is about the pose, but it is different than the homogenous, nihilistic poses found in NYC underground nightclubs of my youth, or the flaunting of testosterone or flashy surfaces that one might find in a suburban mall. Here pose is about establishing identity, a distinct and authentic one in a diverse city where there is little personal space, but delicious public space. One’s ability to claim that space with the gesture of a hand, the sonority of one’s speech, one’s posture at the café table, is what allows you to be fully present, to breathe, to create some momentary meaning.

Ohmigoddess, I feel I am falling prey to the self-indulgent musings that have claimed thousands who have sat in similar café seats. My apologies to each and every indulgent reader, I hope that what I am sharing here is not too banal.

What continually startles me is that I am of the age of so many who seem quite old to me. I know that I am not the age of the young ones, but I feel frozen in time, as if my younger selves, the ones who have been to Paris before (1970, 1987, & 1990) are sitting on my shoulders, contemplating the scenes and evaluating their meanings.

Paris makes me want to write short stories and take photos, and have the legs and feet of a younger self. I can no longer walk all day and run from museum to museum. This is the most discouraging thing about aging.

We went to two museums today – and did not view things thoroughly in either one. The first visit was for Sam – the Military Museum at Les Invalides: swords, sabers, armor, pistols, cannons, galore and Napoleon’s tomb. Bob and I were patient with his enthusiasm, but he was deeply annoyed when he learned that Bob was bored, and I had had enough after the first half hour. In truth, during those thirty minutes, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the forces that have shaped our violent culture, the skills routed into creating such consummate craftsmanship and what it means to have people so enthusiastic about weaponry – the museum was as busy as any art museum in town.

Our second museum trip was to the Grand Palais Nationale, and there we saw a show about Figurative Narrative art from 1966-1976. I was grateful because the show was not crowded and there was content that interested me. The exhibition focused on a group of male artists (what else is new?) who were influenced by cartooning, pop art, politics, etc. and much of that made it into their work. Fahlstrom and Peter Saul were among the artists featured, and I was so excited to see work with serious content, that I bought the catalog, despite the fact that every woman in every photo (including Simone de Beauvoir) was unnamed.

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