Éminence Grise

Grey it certainly is, but how influential is hard to tell.

I walked about in the heart of Paris yesterday, until fading light and some spatters of rain drove me back down into the Métropolitain, or Paris subway. I still feel the magic of this special city, and can’t really begin to tell why or how. I expected to hate it nowadays, as other large cities I used to love, New York City and Portland, Oregon for two, have entered a dismal era. Paris proper is smaller than the Portland metro area, but it has such a history of coping with power in its own unique style, that it keeps a spirit that always must come from the people who make a life here.

It houses a couple UN agencies, and a couple more European Union agencies, those in charge of regulating banks and securities. It does carry the extreme cachet (a French word, naturally) of  being (as a city) the ultimate symbol of wealth and luxury, which is happily flaunted everywhere, whether in the crisp and stylish way the people dress for every day, or on some scaffolding at The Louvre. The Louvre, by the way, was the palace of the Sun King before he built Versailles, and frankly is much more impressive as an edifice. It is a work of many centuries, but after his mother died, he picked up and moved the whole court to the countryside. She had a special wing, which I think they still call by her name. I did not go in.

It is impossible to capture the feeling of Paris in photographs, nor even explain it fully. Walking on the quai on the Seine, and looking at the Île de la Cité where the work on Notre Dame cathedral is covered in white plastic, I felt the sense of romance, and imagined the trees in bud in April. It’s a real thing, I swear I’m not crazy.

On the Pont Neuf, the New Bridge (probably the oldest, because Europeans like to do that), I bought some roasted chestnuts, because my hands were cold, walked past the oldest extant castle the kings used, forgot the name, and then crossed back over to the Right Bank at the next bridge. The rain was increasing, so I took shelter under the awning of one of the many romantic cafes and plotted my return on the Metro.

I felt I had mastered it on the way down from the edge of Montmartre, where my hotel is, but in the large station of Châtelet, I became confused, because the violet colored line I wanted was hard to tell from several others. I checked again on a map, and saw that aside from violet, no less than four other lines are pale pink, peachy pink, dark pink, and magenta. Really? I don’t think NYC has even one pink line. Blue, orange, green, yellow, brown, grey …don’t think so.

After a last, very zippy drive, I had dropped Greta off at the car rental, and since I had filled her a last time before I got to Aéroport Charles de Gaulle, my charge was a big fat zero! Whew. I spent $135 in gas for the whole trip, two weeks of driving I am not sure how many hundreds of miles, much of it like a bat out of hell. I wound it out many more RPMs than the bossy little dash sign told me to, because I am not trying to save the planet, Greta. But she saved me plenty of argent, for which I’m grateful.

Did a little light shopping, I mean light, because on the way here I had stopped in a small town post office to mail back the souvenirs I’ve purchased, and it was ridiculously expensive. The postal workers were very helpful, and found me slightly ridiculous, especially when the man asked me what was in the box, to declare for customs, and I told him. At each item he clearly felt my utter foolishness. He said he didn’t know if it would clear customs, because I had food products in there, and I said if it never makes it, so be it. Then I had to sign five pieces of paper, because, as the woman said, the French love their bureaucracy–another word from the French. But we joked and they chuckled a time or two.

The little passage where I bought a poster (which I guess I must carry all the way home) was a charming find, and frankly that is where the charm resides here: the little streets with the many, many little shops and bakeries and cafes, all so beautifully decorated and refined. A simple sack or little box to carry your purchase is furnished with clever little handles and often gilded paper or stickers–just a bag of tangerines from a little corner bodega had tiny paper handles. Nothing is plastic. The incredible pastry shop, just one of innumerable pâtisseries, had soft blankets on every other velvet chair, in case you were cold. I fear I can never find the place again, as the little streets go every direction, and on foot it is all I can do not to get lost. I do know where my nearest Métro stop is, St. Georges, and it is nice and peaceful and tucked away.


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