Another glorious day, we woke to more blue sky and bright sunshine. Today the bells are tolling for All Saints’ Day, a public holiday. Everyone slept in after a couple of hard days’ enjoyment: a slow start, coffee and tea and gradual surfacing.
Yesterday the youngsters came home with a beautiful pink box each
from a very special Patisserie near by, Gerard Mulot. After a meal out at the Place des Vosges they came home (I was in bed by that time!), and split a small bottle of champagne and each ate their special cake:
to celebrate their last evening in Paris.
This morning they have gone out to eat breakfast at a cafe, then on to Pere Lachaise cemetery to see Oscar Wilde’s and Jim Morrison’s graves, then a stroll down the Champs Elysee, a look at the Arc de Triomphe, and whatever else takes their fancy, before returning here in the late afternoon for their evening Eurostar home.
Incidentally, this is a magnificent graveyard. I visited several years ago and Edith Piaf, Moliere, Marcel Proust, Chopin, Balzac, are amongst the famous people interred there. It is well worth a visit: many of the graves are really magnificent.
I’m taking it easy, catching up on e-mails and blogging: nephew’s cold has decided to try to get a hold and I still have not fully recovered from last week’s migraine so I am resting today and drinking plenty in order to get 100% again.
Yesterday afternoon I went on a small trip out. Wanting a good dictionary (mine at home is far too large and heavy to travel with) I took myself down to Rue St. Antoine, crossed over, went down Rue St. Paul and into The Red Wheelbarrow.
The books are shelved from floor to ceiling, two deep, and often on top of each other and stacked on every available table and chair, and a good portion of the floor, but the owner, Penelope knows exactly where everything is: you only have to ask, and she knows whether she has a copy and where to find it if so! The name of the shop comes from the title of the poem –
The Red Wheelbarrow – 1932
William Carlos Williams – American Poet.
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
(For more about this poem or Haiku, not sure which it is, see the end of this post).
The word which had finally precipitated me on this quest was ‘bourdaine’ found on the jar of honey I bought yesterday. Google translation had given me ‘blunder’ or ‘howler’ – clearly not right! Working on the various translation tools I had come up with a species of Magnolia, then a species of Buckthorn. It turns out that both these are related so I was getting nearer the truth. But the time it took to get that far made me long for dictionary that I could quickly rifffle through. I just don’t have that kind of time when reading.
So Penelope and I looked up ‘bourdaine’ in both the small and the very large Collins Dictionaries thinking this would be a good test of the breadth covered, but neither had it. Clearly this is getting into the realms of the botanically exotic. However, I decided to go for a good pocket size dictionary anyway trusting that most of what I shall need to look up will be nothing like as abstruse!
I mentioned that so far I had heard nothing back from my tutor, Blanche, and was getting rather worried since I do not have time to sit and wait around: did she by any chance know of anyone? Silly question, she not only knew but gave me the name and card of a tutor and said to mention her, Penelope’s, name when making enquiries. Not only knowledgeable then, but also kind!
This tutor is an actress, Natalie, apparently a quiet, kind lady with a good reputation for getting good results. I feel much happier now that I have two strings to my bow. I cannot really expect to hear from Blanche today being a holiday, but since I e-mailed her last Thursday, if I hear nothing on Tuesday morning I shall lose no time in contacting Natalie instead. I will already have been here for over a week and although I have been very happy settling in and reacquainting myself with my surroundings I shall have to begin to get down to work.
Penelope comes from “an island off an island off Vancouver” – Hornby Island. She came to Paris 20 years ago, found this property for sale, stayed and created this gem of a bookshop. She has made this which is one of the nicest I’ve ever been into.
I can do little better than quote another blog by Rob of http://www.thefictiondesk.com/blog/the-red-wheelbarrow-profile-of-a-paris-bookshop/
“What really makes the Red Wheelbarrow special, though, is the sense of community that surrounds it. I visited one afternoon last month, and while we talked bookselling and drank ginger beer, a constant stream of people entered both the shop and the conversation: there were tourists looking for guidebooks and leaving with a stack of novels; locals paying their daily visit while walking the dog, friends dropping in to catch up on the gossip of the night before (plenty of readings and other events take place here in the evenings). At one point, an American couple appeared, known regulars by virtue of an annual visit during their vacation. Several times Penelope made introductions among her customers and there was the sense of new friendships being made.
While I left with a book—and would have taken a great deal more if I’d had a fatter wallet that day—it’s not the richly stocked shelves that makes the Red Wheelbarrow special, so much as the role it plays in the local community. It’s good to know that there are still bookshops like this, places where ideas are exchanged and lasting friendships are made, where you can while away the afternoon talking even without the assistance of a coffee concession. It’s the kind of place you’d want to exist if you’d just moved to a new town. Ultimately, it’s also a reminder that independent bookshops like The Red Wheelbarrow can have an importance to the community that even outweighs their importance as bookshops. And that’s saying something.”
Me again: although I was not spending a lot of money Penelope was very helpful. When I asked how I might join a Parisian library she gave me all the gen: it was only later that I realised that this may have been a less than tactful query in a bookshop. But of course she is selling books in English and the library will contain mostly books in French.
We were talking about her bravery in moving here so young and I asked her if there were any other lives she would like to be living. She looked thoughtful and said that “Yes there were three lives she would like to try: 1, being a Literature Professor in Cambridge UK, 2, being a housewife in Canada with no living to earn, and 3, being an author somewhere warm. With priority at the moment to no. 3. It would be a sad day for the Marais were she to leave to pursue these other dreams.
I note that on 29 November there is a reading at the shop by Ben Crystal, author of Shakespeare on Toast, so I might try to get to that.
Then on to take a cup of tea with my friends. Crossing Rue St. Antoine there was suddenly a great howling of sirens and flashing of blue lights as three fire engines roared out through a narrow archway, across the road and down the wrong side of the main road. The Pompiers of Paris were on their way to a fire.
A scantily clad Pompier in a bright yellow vest was keeping the road clear of people and traffic so that the engines could negotiate their way through the gate way. The engines are very narrow but they have to be considering the age of the gateway. As soon as the last engine was out he flung the doors shut very fast indeed, I could only manage to snatch a photo as they slammed. All very slick!
Then home for a last chat and another cuppa with the nephew and his lass, and they were off to catch their train. They did not want to leave and I felt so sorry for them having to go. If I could have helped them extend their stay I would
For anyone interested in the poem here is an analysis:
“The 1932 poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” is the most famous poem that the doctor/poet William Carlos Williams wrote. It’s in many anthologies, where it is often the shortest poem, unless the anthology also contains haiku.
It consists of one sentence, broken up into two-line stanzas. Everything except for the first stanza depicts a concrete image: “a red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens.” What stands out the most, on first reading, are the colors – the red wheelbarrow, the white chickens. The image is simple and soothing, and has a Zen quality to it. All the words are short, only one or two syllables each (wheelbarrow and rainwater would have three syllables, but in the poem they are each written as two words, which keeps the maximum syllable count to two). The simplicity and directness of the words adds to the Zen feeling.
The first stanza, though, is different. It says “so much depends upon.” Unlike the rest of the poem, this is an abstract statement. It’s also mysterious, leading the reader to ask, What is it that depends upon (the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens)? Why does so MUCH depend upon that?
I think there are two basic ways to answer those questions. You can consider the objects in the poem, and say that it is wheelbarrows and chickens that matter, perhaps because they are useful objects, or because of their everyday nature, or because the countryside matters more, in some sense, than the cities.
Alternately, you can say that it’s not the objects themselves that matter, but the image that they create. It’s the redness of the wheelbarrow and the whiteness of the chickens that matters, and the pleasing contrast those colors make when found next to each other. The line “glazed with rain water” appears to support this interpretation, with its suggestion of a painter or a potter’s decorative glaze.
Finally, the form of the poem is interesting. Lines in poetry are usually measured in syllables, but here the lines are measured instead in words. Each stanza has one line with three words and one line with one word. But the three-word lines do not all have the same meter. half have three syllables and half have four”.