Francine in Paris – Day 3

Today, I made the trek to Porte de Clingancourt for Les Puces, the flea market.  The last few times I was there I had a favorite area, a narrow strip along a road with many vendors under a row of trees.  Some vendors gathered for their weekly card game under an awning.  I enjoyed looking through the bins of junk looking for treasures.  One man always responded to my questions of “how much” (in French) with “un Euro.”  Can’t beat that price!

This time, there was a mass of construction that obliterated my landmarks.  Traffic was thick everywhere.  Dozens of young men along the street walked  around hawking watches and purses.  The walkway was full of vendors selling tennis shoes and jeans.  I did find a wonderful section that I had missed before that was like a rabbit warren.  Narrow paths lead among a jumble of very small shops.  Some of the vendors looked very elderly indeed.  They had been selling antiques, methinks, for a long time and were not planning to retire.  Many of the shops sold exquisite antique French furniture.  Many other shops sold a hodge-podge of things such as Native American headdresses, old harps with broken strings, antique guns and swords, Baccarat glassware, paintings, lithographs,sets of china, tiny marbles, a horse-drawn cart without the horse, sculptures, old post cards, Persian rugs, juke boxes, marionettes and silver.  My favorite was a long, white evening gown with a black/white photo of David Bowie on the chest.  Out of my price range.   I enjoyed photographing the scene.  Only one young man rushed out of his shop to prevent me from snapping a picture of his collection of compasses.  All in all though a lot of fun.  I caught the metro back to my apartment, caught my breath, and went out to rue Cler to the bakery (brioche), the flower shop (tulips), the Charcuterie (roast chicken) and the fromagerie (Brie) gathering things for dinner.  The day was clear and sunny.  Parisians filled the cafes and the metro.  Lots of children with their proud parents were enjoying the day together.

Yesterday, I also visited the Rodin Museum and Gardens.  They just finished a major renovation of Hotel Biron where Rodin lived and worked.  Rilke was also there for a time. This time I rented the audio guide which was well worth six Euros.  Rodin was a contemporary of Impressionists such as Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir. As a collector of art, Rodin sometimes traded his bronzes for paintings by his friends, so some of these works also hang in this museum.

The exhibition traces the life and development of Rodin over his amazing life.  He worked and reworked some themes over time such as the story of Paulo and Francesca from Dante.  The Gates of Hell (based on Dante’s stories) is a gigantic bronze “gate”in the garden.  In the museum are works that explore the same stories.  For example, Paulo and Francesca became a large super-romantic sculpture known as The Kiss.  Well, the story in Dante is that Francesca fell in love with her husband’s brother, Paulo.  When they kissed for the first time, her husband saw it and stabbed them both to death.   There’s also the man who ate his children.  Hell, indeed.

Many of Rodin’s works are breathtakingly beautiful.  Rodin thought that beauty derived from character.  Ugliness was anything false or artificial.  “According to the artist, everything in nature is beautiful.”  True beauty also lies in ugliness.  One example of this is a bronze called “She who was the helmet makers once beautiful wife.”  This is based on a poem by Francoise Villon (1460) about a woman who mourns her lost beauty.  Rodin made a nude sculpture of a very aged woman who he considered beautiful.

One feature of this museum is a series of short films. In one film, Rodin in old-age is enthusiastically chipping away at a sculpture with hammer and chisel with flecks of stone landing on his bushy beard.  He’s talking to someone off-camera and laughing.  How wonderful to be able to see this man not as a long-dead icon  but as a man enjoying his art and being the center of attention.  I loved seeing his art, but it was the film clip that brought it all alive to me.

Yippee skippee, tomorrow Deanna arrives, and we’ll go to the Bois de Boulonge to see the Louis Vuitton building.  C’est la vie.Paris Three 2010 182














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Francine in Paris -Day 2

Paris Three 2010 087Today was a lovely, sunny, coolish day in Paris – just cold enough for some to wear their full-length mink coats and for others to sit outside of a cafe with a bottle of wine on ice.    Not me, I did not even stop for lunch, as I was on a mission:  two museums in one day.

The Picasso Museum just opened an exhibition Of 240 sculptures and a few ceramics thrown in.   The exhibition is housed in Hotel Sale (accent ague over the E), a work of art in itself which was probably never really a hotel.  Picasso liked to meld the arts together – sculpture, painting, found materials like buttons and bicycle seats, and  ceramics.  He was a larger than life figure with serial mistresses like Rodin.   He started out humbly, then became a political figure (communist), then he became a public figure.  He and Francoise Gilot were often featured in Paris-Match – “La vie fabuleuse de Picasso.”   He preferred the mouvement de la pensees (“movement of thought” ) to the pensee elle-meme, “thought itself.”  The saddest room is a small one composed of  a myriad of blank canvases each with a number on them which represent the 87 works of Picasso stolen by the Nazis and never recovered.  They show the one that was recovered, Portrait de Madame Rosenberg et fille, an early work which demonstrated to me, at least, that he was a master of the traditional portrait. Among other amazing things, he illustrated a text on bullfighting called La Tauromaquia.  What a pleasure to be among the works of this playful, whimsical, innovative artist.  Wow.

I also made it to the Rodin Museum and gardens, and I ate dinner at Cafe Verlaine in theLatin Quarter Paris Three 2010 104with friends.  More later.

PS The nude is by Delacroix.


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Francine in Paris – Day 1

IMG_0164One of the pleasures of travel is meeting folks along the way. On the 9 1/2 hour flight from Seattle to Paris today, I encountered a Brit who investigated UFO sitings for the British department of  Defense.  He flew to Paris to be on a talk show about UFOs.  He said he had never seen a UFO himself, so was it the Russians or something from outer space he wondered.  Naturally, a fan recognized him on the plane and they had a selfie moment of adoration together.  I need to broaden my horizons, so to speak.

My seatmate, Kathy, had a dual career as a beat cop in Seattle and Santa Monica as well as a stunt woman in the movies.  She started by doing the ski scene stunts for Glenda Jackson in Lost and Found.  Her favorite work was on Magnum PI in Hawaii.  Her only injury was a cracked rib.  In Santa Monica, she hung out with Nick Nolte who she said was an organic gardener and a heck of a nice guy.  Kathy was on her way to ski the Alps with her buddies as she has done for the past 40 years.

My first problem was that my cell phone said “no service” although I had added an international plan the week before.  I needed to call Scott  to let me into my apartment.  The tourist office at the airport helped me make the call.  However, when I got to the exterior of the apartment building, no one was outside waiting.  Two hours later in the cold, Scott emerged from the building having waited INSIDE the apartment.  With a dead phone I had no way to call him.  So that was frustrating to both of us.  As I discovered when I left, there are four locked doors to this apartment and each is an obstacle with a different method for access.   At one point, I starting knocking on a glass door that I could not figure out.  A woman  emerged from her apartment.  She opened the door angrily. Unable to replicate her success, I called Scott.  Just then a couple  came down the stairs.  Bless them as my French failed me, so I just handed them the phone!  Scott spoke to them in French, and they showed me the techniques to open each side  of the door.  So four doors and six different ways to open them.  At 5 A.M. my time, I went out with my string bag to get groceries near rue Cler.  Then I entered Cafe Rousillion  to eat.  I had a window seat which was far more fun than the fish plat du jour they served me. Ugh. So, I bought a croissant and pain au chocolat at a patisserie on the way back. Ok, I have been up 24 hours straight.  The jet lag strategy is to just stay up when you arrive and stave off sleep as long as possible.  There are 9 hours difference between Seattle amd Paris, I believe.  Even though it is light out, I keep nodding off, so Bon Soir.  C’est la vie!

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Sr. Antoinette at the Monastery

Paris Two 2010 183Now is her quiet season

all the contemplation

a meditation within

all turned inward, a divina lectio.


She said, everything we do

must be spiritual, bloom with intention,

a deepening of the spirit, the

singing of the psalms, the reading of

the scripture, so that when work

ceases, the nurturing continues,

ripening in the secret crevices of the soul.

A plant deepens its roots

develops the tiny buds that will

bloom later. So you, too,

in that hour, come

into yourself.


I will write you a note,

slip it under your closed door, certain

that your hand will grasp it, your

eyes will read it, your heart will keep

me in the prayerful spaces of your being

until our hands clasp again

and then, oh yes,

what rejoicing!



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At the Nursing Home

Paris Two 2010 055As I walk in,

a woman straightens the chair on the patio outside her room.

Her Easter lily, parched, sits untended, one bloom left.

As I pass she says, I’m nuts, and blows me kisses,

her fingers touching her lips and the empty space between us.


One aide plays “string the pearls” with five women,

then plays “follow the leader”

and leads them off for rest time.

Each woman has a place at the table

and a room of her own.


In one room, ceramic dolls

in elegant kimonos bow

in a silent dance.


Into Louise’s room walks a stranger

saying, where’s my false teeth,

sure she left them here.


The rhodies by Louise’s window

at the peak of their exuberance

bloom red and sturdy, as if

they will never droop

or leave the walkway carpeted with softness.


An aide comes to her room,

hands white with rubber gloves.

She puts her arm around Louise,

turns her away from me, and chats about the weather

as I slip away.


I was never there.



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For Encouragement

IMG_0365I send you my daughter

who could not be

her body magical as fog

rising in wisps among the grasses

playing dress-up


wrapping herself in parachute silk

dancing free

in the hills of cedar



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His scent lingers

near his bedroom door,

I sniff the air –

a startled deer –

then feel his absence

in the molted room.

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The Folly

IMG_5591If I were young in Wales,

and studying Chaucer in Swansea with students

from Llanelli or Carmarthen or Merthyr Tydfil,

I would hear the cleaning woman who chatted as she worked near

my room that overlooked the gardens not the Bay.

She would say, arms outstretched,

“Open your arms wide to life,

take it all in, right now,

nothing between you and life,”

then she would hug me breast to breast.


If I were young and in Wales,

I would go to the gardens

my student’s black gown worn over my clothes,

climb the tower, a “folly,” twenty steps up to nowhere

going round and round to the pinnacle and

stand among the tree tops and pink rhododendrons.

On my perch, in my American accent,

I would shout to the students

strolling in the gardens after dinner

(after we prayed in Latin at high table),

“Open your arms wide to life,

do you hear me,

you bloody, swotting fools?”



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Samples of Stitching April 8, 1935

Paris 2010 314In the notebook, five by eight inches, are examples of sewing arranged on lined paper that my mother made in high school. Cardboard, front and back, then a metal ring holds all the pages together. The examples of her work are in white cotton with white thread attached to each page with tiny gummed-back circles used then in photograph albums.

Her expertise shines in examples of the French seam, the hemmed felled seam, the mitered corner and the bias facing. Each sample pinked around the edges and labeled. The fagoted seam creates a small space between two pieces of cloth, ties them together with a single thread, barely catching each piece of fabric along the seam, twisting and looping the thread to hold the pieces together so delicately who could wear it without breaking? The example of a continuous placket was rated “good” in red pencil by the teacher.

The buttonholes carefully made: bound buttonhole, worked buttonhole with plain ends, worked buttonhole with bar ends.

The trade of tailors laid out: how to sew on a button, snap, hook. You can see how to smock, make a welt pocket or cord piping or the French tack.

She showed with shaped pieces of brown paper how to lengthen a pattern, shorten a pattern, change the pattern for narrow shoulders and larger hips or rounded back and flat chest.

Only the stitched felled seam was marked in red as “seam uneven.” For this, she received an “A-” for all her effort by her teacher.

Later, she could take the most complex Vogue pattern for a suit, lay it out on the wool or silk or cotton, cut it out, sew it up on a treadle machine, iron it and hang it in the closet (after the fashion show, of course).

She made her children’s clothes so each garment fit perfectly, so the lines flowed.

After World War II, she turned parachute silk into blouses with jabots. Then, some store-bought clothes appeared.  Finally, she sewed no more. Then her fingers went still. She asked once late in life at a dinner party, what was the use of all this accumulated wisdom as we just die. Some days are like that, perhaps, but she did love to create beauty.


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Paris 2010 054When

I am turned to ash

I want you


that I hear your footfalls

in the ancient forest,

the scream of hawks,

the water crazy-mad flowing

down to the sea


and I want

you knowing

that I see you

on your knees in the garden

your hands a riot of colors

poppies, begonias, columbine and larkspur

that grow beneath you, beside you, near you


and I want you

knowing that I feel

your beating heart

a still-questing spirit

even with everything that has happened

so when I am ash

you will have these words

to sustain you.

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