Saturday, July 28, 2012

Glace, Sorbet, or Gelato?

Glace, Sorbet, or Gelato?

Ice cream, my dear readers. I know that is what you’re looking for and what I’ve promised. Yesterday our first stop was La Tour Eiffel and I tried Patiche et Citron (Pistachio and Lemon) from a little market on wheels. Sweet, sweet. I may not be able to top that one.

And for our first full day in Paris, it is the Louvre, of course. We must see if Mona Lisa is still smiling and whether “The Wedding at Cana” is still covering the whole wall at the other end of the room and, for the most part, being overlooked. This time we are not astonished by how small the smiling lady is in the grand room. Always before our first visit there in 1981 I had imagined this wonder by Michelangelo to be big, really big. The proportion of painting to wall seems as skewed as my stairwell looked when I only had one family photograph hanging there. What is surprising on this day is that the standing spaces before the woman and the wedding seem equally crowded. It is the day before Bastille Day, so Paris is packed.

We met up with Claire, Nicholas’s friend, at the ticket agency within the metro just outside the door of the Louvre. Claire’s home is in Canada but her mother is working in Hong Kong and her family will soon move there. She and Nicholas met in an architecture summer class at Cornell last summer. The student hostel where she was staying became so rowdy as groups of students came and went that she decided to move into a hotel. Unwittingly, she ended up in the red light district near Montmartre. But she is an amazing girl. She plans simply to “embrace the situation.” I haven’t seen someone with that attitude since my college days. An original flower child, L.L., used to sneak out of Hayden Harris to smoke pot and read poetry on the quadrangle pre-dawn—or so I heard. I was on the goodytwoshoes Judiciary Committee that heard the accusations.

Our group of five arrived early at the Louvre but the waiting lines had already serpentined around the foyer several times. By the time we were ready to enter, Nicholas couldn’t find his ticket. Luckily, a well-dressed man in a suit (who spoke no English or French, it seemed) had found it after, Nicholas surmised, he had pulled it from his back pocket along with his cell phone. Some situations require only hand signals. Before the visit ended, Claire had totally lost her ticket. But she and Nicholas, future architects, both had good excuses. They were preoccupied with what they would do to best use their time inside. Nicholas planned to record his impressions with his cell phone, and Claire carried a sizeable sketch pad and several colored pencils. Juggling equipment can be a bit of problem.

In 2006 when we first brought Nicholas, cameras were still frowned upon. You dared not leave your flash on by mistake. We saw flashes going off rather frequently in the large crowds and no sign of irate docents. A buzzer would go off if you leaned a little too far over into the roped-off area of a painting. It happened to me once this time when I was photographing the info about Roselli’s “Le Triompe de David.” If I had seen this wonderful depiction before of David in his dress holding the giant’s head by his hair, and the persons around David holding musical instruments (cymbal, flute, lute, triangle—that’s my best guess at what they were), I couldn’t remember it. I was so taken with the painting that my daughter Teresa had to point out to me that I had triggered a buzzer.

Planning what you will see in the Louvre is essential before you become so saturated your gray matter becomes goop. Nicholas apprised me at some point during the morning that the ancient sculpture “Victoire,” aka, the “The Winged Victory” might be a good possibility for our ekprastic project, so I added that to my list—a marble sculpture from the 2nd century of Greek goddess Nike. Nike stands atop the prow of a ship; her arms have never been recovered and only one of her outstretched wings. Still it is glorious even to my untrained eye that her flowing garments are exquisitely wrought to suggest the flowing drapery of cloth in the wind. He also wanted me not to miss “Le Pandemonium” by John Martin and “Le Bain Turc” by Jean-Auguste Dominique. The first is based on a scene from John Milton’s Paradise Lost when Satan is cast out of heaven. The second is an intimate look at a harem enjoying a Turkish bath, where the most striking detail for me is not the the nude body, but the luxurious and colorful scarf binding up the woman’s hair.

I’m addicted to the children’s books found in the gift shops of museums, so I always have to end with a shop visit. Here I had the choice of an array of shops. I only bought two books, a Richard Scary with both l’anglais/le francais for my grandson Will and a more sophisticated one for Victoria, 9, about how the eye can be tricked by illusion in art. I must take care not to load my bag over 50 pounds or I’ll end up having to leave the heavies at the airport.

Somehow as we board the metro to go back to our hotel, I become introspective. The slice of humanity getting off and on—the fear, the wonder, the sheer reality of whizzing through the earth as I grip onto a silver pole, aware that a pickpocket may be pressed up against me—all finally dulls the senses. I wonder if this may be my last trip ever to the Louvre. A big, big birthday is looming ahead in a few days. This trip has required a lot of strength—no problem for a young ingĂ©nue—but for this old bird, very taxing. Then I hear a French voice announcing: “Le Placide.” It’s our stop. We shoulder our way out.

Shall we look for glace? At a tiny tearoom across from our hotel, one may take a cooking lesson in macaroons, the signature sweet of Paris. As my daughter and I sip our Earl Grey, a fast chatter of French is nonstop in the adjoining kitchen. And then a loud whacking which must be the manual grinding of almonds for almond paste. We inquired about the class. Classes in English? “Oui, Madame.” It is so tempting to forget this writing business and take up making French pastries…

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where's the feast?

So, you think you’re flying to Paris? I was looking for Hemingway's "Moveable Feast," so I had plans of flying to Paris.


Our flight plan had two legs, Birmingham to Atlanta and Atlanta to Charles DeGaulle. Eazy-peazy, right. We planned to board the plane at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, have dinner during the layover in Atlanta, and arrive in Paris midafternoon Wednesday. We would check into our little Hotel de Sevres St. Germaine in a quiet neighborhood on l’abbe gregoire.

Instead of French baguettes et buerre this morning, and coffee so strong it tastes like espresso, I’ve awakened to a tiny one-cup coffee maker in this dingy hotel room in College Park, Atlanta. Not a Krups coffee pot. Not anywhere close. But after yesterday I was glad to see it. We didn’t get into this hotel room until 1:00 a.m. today, Wednesday, and we left for the airport in Birmingham at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. I didn’t notice the coffee pot at all last night. Who cares at that hour? I turn into a pumpkin at nine nightly, so I could barely turn back the covers.
A storm grounded all flights in Atlanta last night, and we missed not just one but two flights to Paris. As soon as we learned at the Bham terminal that we were going to miss our straight shot to Charles DeGaulle, we re-booked on KLM through Amsterdam. Three planes were trying to leave B.ham for Atlanta and all were stuck without permission to leave. One plane ahead of ours loaded and unloaded twice. You can imagine the sweetness and light surrounding that particular gate, right. Bedlam truly. Somehow our plane got bumped up to first horse out the gate. At about eight o’clock a Delta official who’d been fielding irate and weary and handicapped customers for hours suddenly became animated. He threw the phone down, jerked up the microphone, and announced boarding instructions with an urgency that might suggest the impending savagery of a tornado. “We have a ten-minute window to get boarded…” and continued to bark directions to the gathering crowd. The crowd, too, became alive. They texted, they zipped up bags, closed computers, got up off the floor, trashed fresh drinks, and jockeyed for a position closest to that opening our gate.

Naturally my group of four got waylaid and set to the side. We were different. We had two boarding passes, the old flight we’d missed and the one that we were going to miss if we didn’t get in the air by 8:30. The attendant assured us that it was truly only a twenty-five minute flight to Atlanta and that we should make it.
I’ve never seen such disorder and haste in a boarding process. It was such a small plane that large carry-on’s were simply thrown to the side to be put elsewhere. My carry-on held this laptop and I wasn’t about to part with it, so I just stuck it in front of me—it would not fit up top nor underneath the seat. Attendants usually so persnickety about where that item goes didn’t even blink an eye. They were shoving things and pressing flyers to get seated. By some miracle and more than a little chaos, we had eight minutes left to spare on the runway to get into our “slot.” My party of four relaxed for the first time since we’d heard about the flight delay. Nicholas, my grandson, offered me his personal pillow. Ah…rest…

…until we began to speculate about the large cities of light below us: there aren’t that many big cities between Bham and Atlanta. And then came the fatal announcement. “We are in a holding pattern with several other planes and will be circling Atlanta a bit before we’re able to land.” Clock watching again. Tick tock. Will this plane run out of gas? A plan began forming. “Gran, my jacket is above us. You grab it. I’m going to bolt out the door first, check the board, and start running to the international terminal. You check with the guy outside for directions to the terminal.” I imparted his plan to my husband and daughter seated behind us.
Have you ever raced through Atlanta’s airport? Nicholas at eighteen was way ahead of us as planned. The Delta attendant waiting to greet us with information had to use the board himself. The board said “BOARDING, F-9.” Fortunately the tram and escalators got us there in record time, but my heart rate had not been that high for that long since before I fell and crushed a kneecap over a year ago. At one point my daughter stopped long enough to ask for a ride for me in an empty vehicle not being used, but got fluffed off by some employee trying to make it home herself, no doubt.

When we got off the last escalator under the huge chandelier in Concourse F, my daughter lamented, “There’s Nicholas. We’ve missed our flight.” She had spotted Nicholas and his demeanor told the story.

Now I find that this wretched little coffee maker won’t even work. I was so happy to see it, filled up the paper cup, ignored the dust that had collected, pressed the button and no red light. I changed the plug-in. Still no red light. I restrained myself from screaming and throwing it through the window.

We were sent to this hotel by a disgruntled airline employee. I’m the only one awake here. I’m drinking a Dasani water from the vending machine downstairs that sells sodas and condoms (Nicholas noted as we entered last night they were sold out of condoms!TMI.) and munching on a bag of mini-pretzels from the plane.
I’m wearing my new pink raincoat (as a robe since my luggage was checked in Bham) purchased at Burlington Coat Factory just for this trip since it is expected to be rainy and cooler in Paris.

I’ve had a very unsettling thought: where is our luggage?