Je m’en fiche 02

Well, it’s April

Six days until I surrender my fair share of blood and receive the good or bad news re my PSA. And that reminds me, I am not sorry my testicles are gone. It is fascinating, disturbing, and a relief, to be without them. And let’s be perfectly honest, they’re fucking slave drivers. They hijack the male brain and force it to be really stupid. I’m happy I am able to experience life without their incessant goading. Every male should try it at least once. Caveat: let’s be absolutely clear; once is all you get. You can’t undo it, so time your experience carefully. Deciding you’ll dispense with them in your early forties for a year or two will lead to disappointment and chagrin if later you decide that the experience, while novel, is not something you want to continue. Doesn’t work that way.

Did I really want to write that? TMI? Well, no one reads my stream of consciousness prose, so, yes, I did want to write that. I’ll reread it at some point, and these words are even now streaming into the cosmos on some quantum stream. Nice thought.

This is a headline in a travel website I recently encountered: “London Heathrow turns into travel bloodbath as British Airways cancels 115 flights today alone”. Our decision to eschew Heathrow, and the UK in general, seems wise. At the present moment the onerous covid testing that plagued us last year is no longer necessary, but Vogons are Vogons, and I want nothing more to do with them.

It’s 2022, and this will be our 2nd EU trip since my diagnosis. Paris, it seems, will be hosting the Olympic games in 2024, so even if I am by some miracle able to travel then, we shall likely bypass the City of Light.

Thinking back on the day I was told my cancer was incurable, I can remember being close to tears, informing some medical staff at MGH, who’d been prodding and scanning me, that I had hoped to sit in a Paris cafe again. One of the medical types smiled a bit, and said that would likely be possible. I didn’t understand his optimism, coming right on the heels of being shown dark spots on my bones that indicated the metastasized naughty cells had spread, and that my lungs and liver might be next. I mean, what the hell? What the hell.

[And yet … remember what I wrote about my trip to MGH two days ago? No!? Grrr.. Go reread it, because a lot of cancer related text has been deleted from this version. Fuchsia.]

The day after my April MGH visit

I guess I can start packing now. Well, as soon as I recover from my PTSD [due to pre-visit stress I wrote about above].

We leave in 5 weeks. I should mention that Francesca and I are devoted to each other. Her steadfast support in accompanying me to each and every … it’s really something. Really really something.

T minus 3 days

Had a flu thing that mimicked covid but wasn’t. Then pollen, as thick as molasses, coated my lungs to a depth of 3 meters. But we’re packed. EU Locator Forms completed, submitted, and QR codes received. All ducks in a row.

Curiously, although we are spending two weeks in Paris, we may have only 3 days of that to ourselves. Francesca’s french friend, Maryline, whom she met in Tucson years ago when Francesca was working on the Phoenix Mars Lander Mission, will be landing in Paris the same day we are, and she’ll be staying not far away. So that’s Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Then Saturday my former inamorata Heidi, and friend Clara, will arrive from Basel. We shall spend Saturday, and half of Sunday, with them.

Hmm. Even as I write, things are changing. There’ll be more days just for us. Yay.

Anyway, good friends are then going to visit us in Chamonix, and two couples, also good friends, will be meeting us in Paris at the end.

So, next year, if healthy enough (I need to feel at least as good as I do now), and financially stable enough (my IRA has lost 14% in recent decline towards recession), we may not tell so many people our plans.

And besides, 73 is an age at which, I once read, people start really heading south into whatever comes next. Still, my remaining sibling is over 80, and she seems spry, so fuchsia the cancer. Let’s go for the survivability record.

T plus some days

Air France once again fulfilled our expectations. If you haven’t seen their advert with the young woman climbing the Eiffel Tower in a red dress with a super long red train, all set to an excellent version of Les Moulins de Mon Cœur, then do so. And if you do so and your reaction is “meh”, then please stop reading. You’re just making both of us uncomfortable.

We arrived at CDG before sunrise. Thinking it would take much more time than it did to disembark … Oh!

So we have this young spectral friend, Francesca’s former student, who – when he gets enthused about anything – absorbs it entirely. He has no pilot’s license, but his proficiency with Microsoft’s flight simulator is astonishing, and I wouldn’t hesitate to let him take over the controls of any commercial flight I might be on in an emergency.

Anyway, he came all the way to the airport to see us off, and before we left he told us (mostly Francesca, who has the capacity to take in information and recall it later) a considerable number of details about the Airbus plane we would be flying, including that it was top of the line and had been in service only 6 months. Yeah, so anyway, somewhere over the Atlantic nature calls, and Francesca moseys to the front of the plane where she encounters one of the pilots. She dazzles him with her knowledge of the aircraft, and she gets invited to see the cockpit when we land. Yes, please.

I took this picture from a pilot’s seat, an actual pilot in the adjoining seat. I told him that Airbus had benefited greatly when Boeing merged with McDonnell-Douglas, whose management demoted Boeing’s engineers, causing planes to fall out of the sky, and sending Boeing’s reputation down the toilet. I didn’t use all those words, but the pilot agreed, uncertain if as an American I was bothered by this. But I gave him a winning smile and all was good. I am bothered by it, but not as an American, but as someone with a strong STEM education. As far as I’m concerned Boeing’s post merger treatment of its engineers was idiotic, and they deserved their downfall, albeit incomplete, as the US military still buys from them.

All right, we arrive before sunrise, and because French customs are largely Vogon-free, we accomplish getting through all that and into Paris proper in record time, and hours before we thought we’d be there. Cafe time!

6 day summary, and then some

We sat at a cafe for 2 hours, had café and croissants, and killed time in the best way possible. We were too early to be let into our Airbnb. Eventually, upon leaving the café, and finding no taxis – despite a sign advertising taxis 10 feet from where we were seated – we pushed our wheelie luggage about a kilometer to our new home, located a short walk from the Tour Montparnasse.

[Sadly, it was only after our return that I bought and read “This Must Be The Place”, the Montparnasse memoirs of Jimmie “the Barman” Charters. So I never tried to find the bars he worked at, and, you know, he often mentioned a woman named Kiki who was big beans in Montparnasse in the 1920s, and I’d never heard of her. Part of the reason for that was that she’d been forgotten. She’d been written out of Montparnasse history. Later, in the WSJ I read a review of a book that intended to rectify this matter. It’s called, “Kiki Man Ray”, and it’s #1 on my to be read list. Another book published 3 years ago, refers to her as the Forgotten It Girl. Below is a photograph of Kiki by the surrealist Man Ray.]

Being in the open enabled us to see a curious Parisian fashion statement. We passed an attractive young woman whose top shirt-like thing ended just below the collar bone. This did not come close to covering her enormous breasts, which were covered in a frilly bra. Cool. And in fact I found this an ooh la la moment. But how, why, you are wondering. You don’t have, you know, those things … you know. Do you still have, as it were …

Ok. Think about it. My brain is still hardwired to find female bits and pieces visually pleasurable. A mountain climber, too old, or maybe too injured, to climb anymore, that person is certainly going to be impressed by mountains, even if he can no longer climb them. Anyway, …

When booking Airbnbs I frequently make one huge mistake: if the apartment is on an upper floor, is there an elevator one can use to get to it? I unfortunately made no effort to find out if this was true of our first Paris apartment, and I regretted that lapse. Its stairs seemed to stretch upward into some unknowable dizzy height, so we were required to laboriously lug our luggage, one step at a time, up and up.

Having done so, a very friendly man and woman duo greeted us, gave us the lay of the land, some keys, and pointed out the nice flowers they’d put on a central table. Then goodbyes were said, and I do not believe we saw them again.

The apartment was quite nice. We checked for feather pillows, which would have to be stowed away to avoid the postnasal debacle of 2021 in Lyon. That being taken care of, my sinuses went into overdrive. WTF? Was it the flowers? Francesca bagged them, and my sinuses dried up. Crap. Crap crap crap. That was not a big bouquet, but it was lethal.

Soon after ensconced we had lunch with Maryline at Le Dôme. Very pleasurable – a trip high point. Maryline is an excellent companion. After lunch we took a walk to the Montparnasse cemetery and passed a grammar school en route. Maryline told us that all such schools had plaques affixed to them in some noticeable place near the front door containing information about the tribulations experienced by the students during WWII (students removed by Nazi occupiers, etc). As to American students and their schools … sigh.

Much later in the trip – in Nice – Francesca and I visited and art museum, and, as had happened in Paris on a previous trip, once again encountered scads of school children brought there to learn about art, in this case mostly depicting naked people. As to American students and their schools … sigh.

When in the cemetery, Francesca and Maryline were frequently separated from me, so I missed her point out Man Ray’s grave, which had been recently vandalized, possibly a result of antisemitism. Maryline and I have a running text exchange about me being a drama queen. I used a picture of Kiki, Man Ray’s best known model, to lend weight to my drama queenliness. Then she mentioned the vandalized grave. I replied: “I just finished a book by a bartender in Montparnasse. He mentioned Kiki prominently, but in all my readings of Paris in 1920s, she’d never [previously] been mentioned – or, if so, only in passing. Then the Wall Street Journal had a glowing review of the new book, “Kiki Man Ray”, and it mentioned Man Ray’s full name, which I thought, because of the spelling, was Polish Jew. You’ve verified the Jew aspect, and if this attack was antisemitic, well fuck. As it seems that grave site was singled out, it seems likely.”

And before I forget I should mention that last year I developed the habit, when crossing the Seine on some picturesque bridge, and espying a tour boat going underneath … yeah, so, I give everyone on the boat the Star Trek Vulcan salute. Last year I think I managed to get only one person to return the salute. This year it was over half a dozen. Most gratifying. (Have I mentioned I’m not very mature.)

The day after Le Dôme, and educational cemetery walk, Francesca and I had a rare day in Paris just to ourselves. Our morning routine is dictated by my medical condition, consisting of breakfast with scads of pills, then a two hour wait at the end of which I take the serious ADT meds. Then, an hour after that I can eat. Being on our own, and not willing to take any of my visiting friends with us later in the week to our favorite restaurant, we headed to Le Récamier on our own (Maryline could come, but the opportunity never arose). And while one needn’t order soufflés while there, since it’s Paris’s number one soufflé restaurant, it’s what we always order. As usual, although I glanced on occasion at our fellow diners, I did not really take in the finer points of what was going on around us. But Francesca has excellent ears, a magical surreptitiousness, and an eager curiosity to observe and assess social interactions of all sorts. Here’s what she experienced, while I was blissfully in my own little world. (it’s by-and-large not an unpleasant world, but I’ll spare you the details of what goes on there.)

Proof that Francesca’s world vastly transcends mine

“Second full day in Paris and we filled it with things we love and the reason we return to Paris again and again.

“First we wandered out of our artist studio loft apartment – just moseying in the general direction of the most ethereal soufflés in the world – a walk bathed in angles, balconies, cascading flowers, big bright buildings, and spacious streets, and green more than any other big city.  We came upon a nice café…oh, yes, please.  Perfect.  Suited men to one side sit arguing, sipping, smoking; ladies dressed in flowers to the other side gossiping, sipping, smoking. And a couple individuals just watching Paris drift by.  We joined the collection to write and sip and soak it all in.

“As lunch time grew near, we slipped our notes away and wandered to Le Récamier, heaven in wee ceramic crocks. It was the first time we were seated inside. The ceiling was painted with a huge cross-section of an open book – yet another sign we were with our people.  We both had the special crustacean soufflés – clearly what happens when clouds kiss lobsters.  A soufflé has the texture and weight of a cloud – but a cloud miraculously full of flavor.  Red dots here and there throughout the soufflés did show a lobster had been near the ethereal creation.

“Sitting inside we got to see all locals who were clearly very well known to the waitstaff and bartender. People stop by the bar on the side to have a moment of merriment and exchange on their way in or out. A tall, suave gentlemen with large wavy hair and a very practiced look of loose but exquisite light linen clothing, with just the perfect amount of wrinkle, hung at the bar for a while joking and basking in the appropriately deferential motions and words of the staff, all the while glancing around at the ‘house’ to see if people knew who he was. Unfortunately for him, we were the closest table he examined; alas we failed the test. Geoffrey said, ‘I think he is somebody.’ Indeed. And he thinks so too!

“Before Geoffrey finished his appetizer soup and I my crunchy fresh salad – prior to be taken to heaven – the inside and glassed-in patio filled up.  To our right, there was a table of ladies from work in competing designer clothes….fascinatingly, all were in blouses and skirts.  And the blouses were not that different, save that one was Chanel, and one was Louis Vuitton, and one was Prada, and one was Valentino.  There was a competition of high-end perfumes as well, judging from the cloud of complex floral and spice smells drifting from their direction, and yet amorphously changing with each air movement from waitstaff passing by.  They shared a chocolate soufflé for dessert.  OMG, how can we never have had that!?  Next time.  Absolutely next time I am doing that and we will be back 2-3-4 more times on this trip.  I have a date with a chocolate cloud.

“In front of me, behind Geoffrey, out on the glassed-in patio, was a couple on a date….or at least in a state of very advanced flirting.  She wore a perfectly gleaming white blouse – so white it seemed to glow, so starched it made only severe angles in draping, a huge pointed collar and rolled up French cuffs.   Without having any cigarette in her hand, she seemed to always have a reason to have her elbow bent and on the table and her hand floating skyward, either to display a long collection of, not one, but ALL this seasons Tiffany gold and diamond bangles, all in a jangly collection along her French thin arm.  She jangled and pouted, then jangled and glowed with smiles and giggles, alternately throughout the entire meal.  Pull him in, push him away, in a dance without ever moving from her seat. [This is a classic French dance of seduction, rendering the male alternately despondent and desperate. Or so I – Geoffrey – have been led to believe in readings on the subject.]

“In the glassed-in patio to the left, there were French elders, likely in their 80s, if not 90s or more.  Very seasoned, very sophisticated, very elegant, draped in scarves like shawls and chains of gold and pearl, and heavy wine lip stick and manicured nails on hands that took flight often in the saga.  One very dapper gentleman in a palest grey boxed cut suit, of thinnest wool, and pale pink shirt, and merlot colored tie, sat listening to the collection of elderly women – just sipping wine after wine. The bartender seemed to know to serve them himself and keep and eye on their glasses.  The women talked far too much to have much wine, but the bottle was long gone before their beautiful clouds arrived and silence suddenly descended upon the table at first bites.  Even one’s 100th or 1000th soufflé at Le Récamier is awe inspiring.

“In the back of the restaurant, inside, a long row of tables that fit end to end in the second room. They were filled with a family of 4 generations, all dressed to the nines, from eldest, with an elaborately carved cane with an ivory top, to the smallest infant napping in a carriage in her layers of lace embroidered in sweet little flowers, and a cap to match. Even the more rambunctious lads of 6-9 years old had perfect fancy blue or gray trousers. The combination of knowing the French mutter, plus the configuration of the 2 dining rooms, meant not a word of distinct conversation was heard in the other dining room.

“When we finally could stand no more delight for the moment, we wanted to pay. Geoffrey got up to go to the restroom, and he pointed a female of the waitstaff to me. I had the bill and my card out. The thin young black girl, with huge bright yellow and red earrings, and a gorgeous gleaming smile that she was more quick to use than the French are, crinkled her face up like this was sooooo wrong! She took my card and processed it, all the while looking disconcerted.  When Geoffrey returned, she looked at him and wagged a finger over this wife paying stuff.  Geoffrey, I believe, told her in French he was my gigolo. That made her burst into joyous laughter for a split second before she covered her mouth to stifle the outburst.  We then got conspiratorial gleaming looks whenever we caught her eye on the way out (and in a future visit).

“When we left, we continued our tour of all thing we love in Paris.  We drifted through a neighborhood of perfumeries that had been there since 1720 and 1760, then through a street of designer stores – a street so narrow the window displays were reflecting in each other’s windows.  One of the secret places to buy designer clothes – with no line a block long – no line at all!  Then we found a long street and a whole area of art galleries and antique shops and the festival of photography began.  Geoffrey particularly liked big green leaves on lampshades and many golden framed small paintings.  We found a Ukrainian cathedral. And along the Seine, I bought some prints of different species of octopus from the Belle Epoch period.

“I saw the coolest purse in Etad with an old-fashioned muted tapestry body, but very modern thick leather trim and a huge turquoise button. It was classy, but unusual and evocative of so many things and time periods. It had a very practical nice flat base and was sturdy, and the perfect size to be my school purse in autumn. I plan to return to get it at the end the trip and so I photographed street names and marked the corner on my map with a dropped pin and screen shot.”

Ok, so that was her take on a small part of our trip, and I am reduced to a drooling imbecile when I consider how much she observed and experienced compared to my meager observations. I mean, what the hell. Wine lipstick? Palest grey boxed cut suit? Was I even there? She should write this travelogue … of course, it would be a few thousand pages long, though enjoyable nevertheless.