April 5, 2018
Paris Day 4 is a mix; a hodgepodge of everything. It twists and turns a little something like this…
The light in the hallway outside my room continues to click on and off, on and off, adding to my nightmares. The room is alive. I toss and turn and never feel I can sleep peacefully. But who I am kidding? Haven’t had a decent sleep in weeks.
I’m off early with a grand plan of art and exploration. The Paris metro is easy to navigate. It’s like the NY subway system, if the MTA was regular, fast and efficient. Okay, so nothing like the MTA. I also love how some cars you need to open the door yourself from the inside. Parisians do this as the train is still pulling into the station. If you are on the platform the door will often fly open while the train is moving, pedestrians ready to step off like an army transport. Folks are CRAZY rude. They will push, shove and fight their way on before you can even attempt to get off. There really are no manners on the metro in France.
I’m surprised to see it sitting there with no fanfare. It rests in an outdoor courtyard circled by modest, manicured trees. It’s about 15 feet high. There’s a small wooden bench in front where I plop down. Funny it’s out here, exposed to the elements. He looks as though he was always there, inside the bronze and Rodin just cracked it open like an egg shell. An amazing thing, something I discovered in Italy thanks to Michelangelo; that sculptures could present life. His hands are massive and powerful. Too big but it works. Blood courses through his veins. There’s a real problem he’s struggling with; I wonder what it is. I take my time, sit for a while, thinking across from The Thinker.
Started at the Rodin Museum. Turns out most of his works are outside on the grounds. I see one tortured soul I know too well. Rodin always leaves one part unfinished, just original bronze, like the figure is escaping from it. Or does the metal cling to it’s inhabitant for life? At the end of the garden, I happen upon an enormous door, inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. It is massive in size and emotion. But then again, up close, it doesn’t seem to be pain and torture. More….fucking? It’s carnal, hedonistic, and baroque but upon inspection, little “suffering” depicted, despite the description. I dig it. A small British girl comes running up calling over her shoulder in glee, “Mum, we found the Gates of Hell!l”
When I head into museum proper, every great statue I just saw in the garden has 5-10 smaller, practice models. Clay? It’s a rare behind the scenes treat into the work and workings of a great artist. Rodin, trying to get it right. After I leave I get to walking. I wander over bridges, past landmarks and museums. Wander for two hours or so.
Sainte-Chapelle is a study in opulence. 360 degrees of stained glass windows; intricate, colorful, gold and nuanced designs. This city makes a man holy. Believe it or not, the thirty five minute wait to get in is the longest line I will ever suffer in Paris. I read my Hemingway the whole time and try to ignore the beautiful young woman who is showering kisses and climbing all over a chubby older man she is with in front of me on line.
After Saint Chappelle, more wandering. I’m doing that thing I end up doing a lot on this trip. I am starving but keep going without food. I am tired but don’t stop. I push on and push on. I can see more this way. I explore narrow, cobblestone streets, walk on bridges across the Seine and back again. Eventually, hunger wins and I find an outdoor cafe perfect for people watching and an afternoon snack. I order a Boudreaux, (medium bodied, slightly acidic, blueberry, mushroom) and some cheese and more snails. These snails are smaller than the last but pack more flavor. Bread served with every meal reminds me of Grandma Erma. Two Grandparents joining me for this meal. Traveling alone here is altogether different then Belize. In Paris, I’m thrilled I’m traveling alone and wouldn’t want it any other way. I can set my own pace, see exactly what I want to see, see more, linger when I linger, accelerate when I need. I feel no loneliness here, no ex shit or angst. Maybe I’m further down the road? Maybe it’s … maybe it’s… Warned Paris is the city of romance, it doesn’t play on me that way. Belize was tropical paradise and romantic. Paris is melancholy, full of the old ennui, releasing me from my own.
Service in Paris…it’s awful. I know that’s supposed to be part of the city’s charm, but I feel differently. It was in Italy, but not here. Generally, they let you know right off the bat you’re an annoyance. Then, after ordering the waiter will never come back again. Never. If I want a second drink, pay the bill, order more food, tough fucking luck. Half of my meals end with me walking up and finding the waiter to pay who will only then say “no cafe?”. It doesn’t even make sense. They could make more money simply by being a touch more attentive! But as Irit explained to me, it’s frowned upon, hustling for money. Life is to be enjoyed. A job is just a job. Okay, fine! You win Paris.
I’m walking again, I walk all of 10, 3, and 4 arrondissements. I see grand theaters, outdoor monuments, crowded streets, intriguing alley ways, old buildings, scores of restaurants and all with outdoor seating. I follow my wandering as far North as I can till I hit the train terminal. Modern but it looks just like in the movies. Funny there is more outdoor seating, more outdoor everything here then any other city I’ve been in, including LA. It mostly rains here. Life is be enjoyed.
I take a different road back south form the train station. It’s unmistakable, I am in an immigrant, African part of Paris. Like in too many cities around the globe this equals the poor part of town. Streets are crowded, there’s an overwhelming number of wig shops, doo-rag shops, nail & hair salons, liquor stores, low end cheap food options and Algerian restaurants. 95% of folks I see are dark skinned. I don’t speak French but I can pick up the difference in dialect. As poor and run down as it appears, there’s never any fear in me, (and not just I don’t tend to traffic in that kind of fear, preferring fear of failure and financial ruin), I simply never feel threatened. Honestly, I’m barely noticed. I walk through like a ghost. I see a fight. I see guys yelling. I see women getting their hair straightened. All the windows are dirty. This, the world over? We, white Europeans, just industrialized first? So forever we fuck over a race? Globally?
More walking. More following any winding, cobblestone street that looks good. Through the 3rd and 4th. In the 3rd I hit a few blocks where there’s suddenly a falafel shop on every corner. In the 4th I pass a bar crowded wall to wall with guys. I wonder, “is there a game on?”. Then I catch a dude’s eye looking at me like…and I laugh. I’m in boys town. Is there a game on?!! Haha. Back to walking. So many old buildings.
By design, my roaming comes to an end at Robert & Louise, a restaurant featured in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown Paris. When I booked my flight I knew one night I’d eat here. There’s an hour wait for a table but I nab the 1 seat at their miniature bar; benefits of traveling alone. Robert & Louise is as perfect as I dreamt. Old English style thatched roof with wood beams and plaster ceiling. Brick walls, tile floors and a huge open fireplace at one end of the restaurant where all the food is cooked, billowing smoke and smells into the establishment. The walls are covered in art; paintings equal parts fat Frenchmen, nude women and Paris streets. I want to make love to this place. My waitress is an older, short, stout French woman. She has no problem trying to pressure me into a bottle over a glass of wine. I like her. I’m cold and have been walking for hours so I order my ribeye and a bottle of French GSM. Behind the bar is Pierre. His fucking name is Pierre. Come on! Tall, lanky, with a pot belly and a pencil thin mustache. Completing his perfect Frenchman destiny, he smells of cigarettes. Pierre looks like he’s miserable and desperately wants to off himself. How great is this place? I devour my ribeye, potatoes and salad. The ribeye boasts a, “best steak in France” marker from Mr. Bourdain, but the potatoes are the surprise revelation. I don’t finish the bottle of wine but, as prescribed, take it with. It comes in handy the next night in my hotel room. I am sad to leave Robert & Louise when my time is up. It’s classic, Parisian, culinary, old school and vibrantly alive. It feels like real life happens here. For 90 minutes, so did I.
rodin museum paris