A few days ago Sylviane at the Guerlain cosmetic counter reminded me of what I should be about this morning. On July 10 my family and I will be boarding a plane for Paris and my plan was to review what little French I know before then, particularly the polite phrases. (Ignorance is more palatable if spread liberally with grace and humility, I’ve found, in a non-English-speaking country.) So until the particulars of my daily routine went awry, I had been spending 30 minutes a day with Pimsleur’s tapes, about as basic as one can get.
I thought I was doing well. Bonjour. Au revoir. Comment allez vous? Ou est la rue Saint Jacques? You know the drill. Sylviane has been in the states for 35 years, and has lived in the south much of that time, but it has not slowed her Parisian accent one millisecond. I could barely manage to understand her English, and certainly if I had tried my French, she may have doubled over laughing. I simply smiled a lot as I listened to her rapid history of the special orchids grown in China, three strains from which a hybrid was developed... for the delicious-smelling, exquisite-looking, too-pricey face and throat cream called Orchide Imperial.
This morning, I was still thinking Paris, but I was cutting zinnias for my son’s family from my garden. The bed surrounds a cedar tree transplanted from the woods of my oldest sister, the same one who gave me seeds for the old timey multi-colored zinnias. A certain panic set in: my son is just out of the hospital and needs special care; each day I go by Whole Foods and pick up something nutritious to prepare for his lunch. I haven’t practiced my polite French phrases; but most of all, I haven’t given much thought to the reading I’m supposed to do in preparation for the writing residency I’ll be attending with Spalding University, my alma mater for the MFA in Writing.
As if to intensify my alarm as my husband can sometimes do with his morning pronouncements, he said entering the kitchen for coffee, “Know how many days it is until we leave for Paris?”
Ah, did I ever know. Three weeks, two days until flight time.
Panic and packing will wait. Here’s what I’d like to know. I’ve decided to blog for WELD from Paris if I can determine what readers might like to hear about: architecture; art museums; my workshop in Creative Nonfiction; food; my ekphrastic poetry project with my eighteen year-old grandson, Nicholas, who will be taking this trip before heading off to study architecture at Syracuse this fall, or simply the weather??
That last topic sounds facetious but I’m serious. One of the mentors at Spalding, Ellie Bryant, who incidentally will be leading my CNF workshop, has an exercise for her students much like a diary entry for the day. She calls it the Weather Journal project. One of my good friends Edie Hemingway allowed me to read the journal entries which she kept during a crisis in her family. I was very touched by the simplicity and profundity of her manuscript—all of which emanated from faithfully recording her “weather journal.”
Another avenue of discussion might be books. Preparatory and requisite reading for my workshop includes THE GREATER JOURNEY Americans in Paris by David McCullough. McCullough contends that not all explorers went west. He writes of the earliest American “explorers” to visit Paris in the 1830s. Another required reading is A MOVEABLE FEAST (the Restored Version) by Hemingway.
Perhaps some readers know these books and have thoughts to share. I’d like to hear if you have a particular interest in what news I send back home during those three weeks.