March 15, 2007

"Les Bateaux! Les Bateaux!"

Les Bateaux

During this trip to City Where Young Waiters Follow My Daughter to the Curb to Blow Her Kisses, we've visited museums and cemeteries, historic monuments and churches. I think I've climbed every spiral stone staircase in the city, which has been a strain on my still-recovering knee, although I will say the magnificent views have been well worth it. My favourite way to explore a city is to choose a neighborhood and walk around aimlessly. I especially love the curving streets of European cities, where anything might be around the bend: a cafe with red awnings, a fromage shop brilliantly yellow, a patisserie with fruit tarts in the window, a flower shop bursting with clusters of colour, a corner park where children play, or a cathedral where old women shuffle across the stone floor to light candles.

On sunny spring days in City Where Breakfast Includes Croissants and Pain Au Chocolat, there are all kinds of beautiful places to stop and take a rest. This morning after strolling along a canal hung with the branches of old trees and lined with trendy shops, we took the metro to the Big Gardens With Fountains Near Palace, snagged three green metal chairs, and soaked up the sun. Little kids were sailing boats in the fountain pools, carrying long sticks to push the sailboats with and yelling to each other excitedly in French. When we'd get a good gust of wind, the whole fleet of boats would glide from one side of the stone-edged pond to the other, and the kids would jump up and down, laughing.

When we got hungry, we wandered to a place Artist Friend had told me about, a dark red cafe on a sunny corner near the shadows of the palace. The Cafe Where Artist Friend Spent Many Afternoons When He Was Young juts out into a busy intersection where all kinds of people hurried past as we sat at the very corner under the red awning and ate our lunch. The young waiter teased me about being a vegetarian ("Dessert? Nous avons dessert vegetarienne.") while my Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter teased me about having to have the "Artist Friend experience." A little boy on a bicycle with faulty brakes came hurtling down the sidewalk and crashed right into us.

Of course, I went inside to see what the rest of the cafe looked like. A short flight of stairs led down into the kitchen, where the waiter laughed at my curiosity and talked to me in French. Above my head, people clustered at small tables in a cosy loft-like room. To the left, a spiral staircase led down to two tiny restrooms, each about the size of the bathroom on an airplane, with a little sink in the wall for both. A few more tables were tucked up against the windows on the ground level, making use of every inch of space. I stared out at the scene in front of the cafe – students hurrying by, the high walls of the palace in the background – and tried to imagine what it would be like to be Artist Friend, sitting here on a sunny afternoon, his whole self opening to City Where Language is Music and Bright Colours Sail in Fountain Pools. As I watched, a woman sauntered by, carrying a sheaf of flowers, her long legs clad in black silk stockings.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm just out of bed and not awake yet, semi-bed-ridden with a severely broken bone in my shoulder. I checked my email, went to your blog, and found a really lovely gift! Thank you! I did indeed spend many an afternoon twenty years ago at those three tiny tables by the window in front, writing long postcards to friends at home in the tiniest hand I could make legible, drinking coffee, breathing in tons of second hand smoke that I didn't really mind because of the beautiful women behind the cigarettes, and thrilling to the city, the language, and those gorgeous black lace stockings everywhere. Merci. Because of this memory you were so good to trigger, I have a good (if immobile) day ahead of me now.

Artist Friend

kathy a said...

it sounds so lovely and wonderful, jo(e). i love those little boats -- the fountain must be enormous!

YourFireAnt said...

Hey, you there with the fleurs in your cheveuxes, the snowbanks here in Snowstorm City are indeed on the melt.

And new-in-town birds are making their spring song&dance in bushes, trees and marshes everywhere, the afernoon sex not being limited to afternoons, if my eyes don'deceive me.

As for waiters, yesterday the boyfriend and I went to a small west side bar where Ukrainian and Polish food specials are served and the guy who served us our simple meal of pirogis and borscht would not let us sit at any table that had not yet been cleared from the last customer (he being the only waiter on duty in the mostly empty place).

That left two choices, and as tried to entice me to order out-of-season strawberry sundae for dessert but I demurred, thinking that it being Lent, and this being a Polish place, it hadn't oughta be on the menu in the first place, n'est-ce pas?

Next time I will try Paris.

FA

cieux autres said...

Ah jo(e), you're killing me with these pictures and descriptions. I think I dined at the cafe below. And pastries, and the wine. I still have firm ambitions to live here some day. If only for a few months or a year. Thanks for the reminder of how necessary it is to go back.

BeachMama said...

I second 'cieux autres', "you are killing me with these pictures". One day our turn will come. I love that you are enjoying it so much.

Aliki2006 said...

Oh, I'm drooling with desire to be right there, in that fabulous city! Today it's pouring rain and your pictures and words are transformative!

Nicole said...

Quite honestly, I am one of those rare people that has never had the real desire to travel to Europe. Your posts & pictures are changing my mind!

KathyR said...

I am having such a fabulous time in Paris.

Oh, wait, that's you doing that.

Yankee, Transferred said...

It's been too long since I was in City Where Grandma Blue and I Last Vacationed Together 25 Years Ago.
You make me want to go back.

LMC said...

Oh my gosh, you make me want to go there so bad! I was there once, like 7 years ago... ah.

Your pictures are beautiful and your prose, as well. It's almost (but not quite) as if I am on vacation myself. :)

Anonymous said...

Deep sigh.

jo(e), I am curious: do you have a Ph.D.? If this is the type of life one might expect after one earns it, then I might just finish . . .

jo(e) said...

Anonymous: No, I don't have a Ph.D. I never planned to be an academic. But somehow, I ended up with an academic job.

Anonymous said...

jo(e) - There is hope for me, then! Thanks for responding. I love your blog. Anon.