Beginning to feel the mental transition as I start to say my goodbye to Paris. As I wander the different neighborhoods, I wonder if this is the last time I will see such and such. Having my comadre, Kate, visit along with the girls Amanda and Tania, has added to the poignancy of that. All three were keeping illustrated travel journals, and we reviewed them at different points of the day. A funny cartoon, Amanda's 12 great ideas, funny things that came up with language. When they asked me how to say to someone they did not speak French, for example, we came up with the phrase "Desolé, mais tragiquement je ne parle pas français, est-ce que vous parlez anglais?" (sorry, but tragicaly I don't speak french, do you speak english?) This had the effect of stunning people, and for the most part, they would smile and speak English. On one occassion, however, a lady in a store responded to Kate, 'why no, you speak French perfectly, let's go on in French!' which of course brought the whole thing to a grinding halt! There are so many mental pictures, snatches of conversation, and thoughts that come up, and only a few make it the journal, much less the blog. I'm trying to catch a bit more by walking around with a notebook, to see if that adds to my recall.
I wanted the girls to meet the folks I have met in Paris, so I organized a picnic for all to come to. At final count we had 21 people, out of about 28 I invited, which was not bad, and the weather cooperated by not raining. We ate well, laughed a lot, and Tania played the accordeon some in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
The Fairy Fingers (Doigts de Fée) Salon de Thé was a big hit with the girls and Kate, a little place on Rue des Pyrennes that has the greatest selection of middle eastern pastries I have ever seen. We took in the Musée de Quai Branly which is the new version of the former Museum of Oceania, Asia and the Americas, with a fabulous show of textiles from the Paracas region of Peru, and fabrics with indigenous themes designed by a woman named Elena Izcue in the 30's in Paris for the haute couture houses. The outside of the building is covered with vegetation that sprouts right out of the walls. I had not been to the Musée d'Orsay yet on this visit, but went with the girls and Kate...it's amazing each time to look at the work of the impressionists so up close, especially in the company of three artists that have their own favorites and bits of art history to add to the richness of the exhibit itself. The museum of the middle ages was also lovely. The stained glass right up close reveals it as a craft made by human hands, instead of the ethereal nature of it in situ in the churches. The story of the tapestries of the lady and the unicorn also brings to mind how many treasures of the artists of the past are lost because there is no one to speak for it's preservation, like George Sand did for this.
Bringing kids to museums is a big part of the curriculum of schools in France, and one of the threatened cuts to education involves the transportation budget for schools. This would differentially affect kids from the poorer suburbs of Paris, as the schools cover the costs of trasporting them to the museums, most of them in more central Paris. There are weekly demonstrations here related to budget cuts to education and the health system. Sadly familiar.
Prague was magical and much easier to get around in than I had imagined. The distances in the old parts of the city are all manageable on foot, and the early architecture is so well preserved and lovely, that it has a fairy tale feeling to it, especially in the light the moon. We spent a day wandering the Chateau, the old city centre with the mechanical clock that has the saints peering out every hour on the hour, went back to the castle to visit the toy museum (not to be missed even if you don't have little kids!). Tania met with folks from the the theatre and alternative puppett program, to check into the Masters program there...(I'll let her speak to that) and it seems that the diploma has a picture of a Unicorn, how cool is that!
Other Prague highlights: garlic soup, a crazy extravagant cake made from figs and chocolate that is so rich, Tania and I together could not finish a slice. We went to see a black light theatre production titled "Aspects of Alice" enigmatically billed as covering the time from when Alice in Wonderland comfronts the grownup world, love, sadness, her sexuality...anyway, we went. Lots of special effects, including an inexplicable crucifiction at the beginning, done in shadow images, (huh?!) and after the first half and an intermission, a lesbian sex scene with nudity, a man who gives her a baby made of fabric bunched up into his arms...it was particularly amusing because there were a lot of tourists from Spain, and families with little kids, and the puzzled expressions on their faces were priceless. Tania was trying so hard not to laugh out loud that she got a headache, and we still continue to laugh about the play. So much much so, that when we came back to Paris and went to the thatre to see a puppett production of Don Quixote (amazing, with life sized and small puppetts integrated into the live actors) Amanda commented that what this production needed was less dialogue and more nudity!
The Old Jewish section of the city was also very moving, with what remains of the old Jewish cemetery behind walls and protected by one of the synagogues. We managed fine with English, until we went into grocery stores, which were run by Vietnamese who spoke only Czech and Vietnamese. We were able to get most what we needed by appearance, though never did figure out what butter was in Czech! Prague seems to be a popular place for stag parties, from what we could see in the bars, and weddings are popular in the old town center.
The girls and Kate are gone, and my little place is feeling quite palatial after having shared it with 3 other people. Getting back to my routine of classes, yoga, trying to get a little more writing done, and making the last weeks count, seeing some of the sights I have not seen yet. I'm planning on making sure I do at least 2 things per week, in the genre of arts or performance, and test my French in actual theater. I'll keep you posted!
Love from Paris,