Paris retrospective

I came to Paris to find the muse that inspired The Lost Generation of writers like Hemingway and the force that motivated the great painters like Picasso and Monet, but I did not find it. I was not moved to write. I was driven to take photographs. Does this mean that the old muse is dead? I don't think so. For some it might be there.
For me it has been replaced by a happy curiosity. The old creative energy is in the parks. It is the promenades; the small cafes, the Boulangeres, the fruit stands, the wine stores, chocolate stores and the movement of people.
The Des Halles is the only exception. It is the Mall of Paris and as such it is the opposite of what my Paris is. There is no sunshine here. No street corner buzz of conversation, only a drive to consume without the Bonjour and au revoir of our daily interactions in the street stores. Instead it is the hypnotic use of lights and music and motion. I must stay away from this monstrosity.
We have walked so many neighborhoods and I am still impressed by the ability of the small shop owner. I will miss this when I return to the land of the big box stores.
Just like our walk around Lake Superior my muse is in walking and the slower pace that lets me see more details.
In the past I have heard and read about the French and Parisian attitude but I can't say anything negative. The US has such a drive to guns and fists that no country is without some anger and insults.
Yet here in the city on subways younger people consistently give up their seats to us. People tolerate and help me get past my language challenge.
Paris contrasts the ancient and the modern and it continues to keep its own personality. That is the muse and it does inspire people of creativity by whispering in unique ways from settings and pace.
For me it will be a place to walk.
There are benefits to a long stay like this month in Paris that are not apparent in the planning stage, but become evident as time passes. With just two days left in our journey and seven weeks behind us I am aware of how at home I feel and the fact that returning to our permanent home is not urgent.
We have traveled almost every subway line and can make transfers with a glance as we are swept along with the crowds. I am treated with such courtesy on each car because of age and cane and we know how to make connections with ease.
Now we are on a railroad car to go to Reims and again we have lost the anxiety of our first ventures. We just walk in to the station and ease on to the train like it is routine. (Footnote here on this train they asked for our passports which we have not been carrying. It worked out fine but reminds us that we are still officially foreign.).
We greet friends who come to visit and find shops and streets with ease.
This is what we hoped for. We know that we are not Parisian but we can guide those who visit with ease. Kate develops her language capability and I reinforce the knowledge that I am lucky to have learned one language. But even with my language limits there is no sense of discomfort being surrounded by another language.
We know the stores in our neighborhood and where to get what we want. The park is a place of comfort and familiarity.

I know that we have not gone to all the museums and that is fine. Museums are fine and we enjoy going to some, but they are not our objective. What has really pleased us is walking through neighborhoods and exploring the small streets and avenues.
As our train leaves L'Est and glides behind the city we can recognize where we are and where we have been. This is both amazing and pleasing.
I am so happy to have Kate willing to share both explore and to engage in my mission. There is no doubt that her presence has made our stay easier and more productive. I am not a solo traveler, I need to talk and share my thoughts. Her calming effect really helps. Plus she is as willing to just walk, wander, and explore as I am.
She also connected with so many of our European family and they brought new energy and ideas. They added to the time we had and to our evenings and pleasure. Plus we had one week with American family members; the first week in Paris after our Bavarian travels. They gave us a feeling of familiarity and the strange feeling of being their hosts. Which is why it was so important that Jerome and his family invited us to their home and gave us a true Parisian welcome and Stephane extended it to Brittany.

There is another aspect of this trip that is so different from past long excursions to Europe. It is the ease of the cell phone and the evenings when I share my photos. I get notes and names from friends all over the world. Isolation is no longer part of the experience. It has been replaced by sharing and caring. What an amazing change this is.
So what stands out as we near the end of our seven weeks is not a place or a work of art; nor is it a store or flower, but rather the sense of place. It is the elusive feeling of being someplace and not feeling like a total stranger. It is the wonderful knowledge that I will miss Paris and it will always be a place where I can place some of my dreams.

This morning Kate said, “This trip is even more like the Lost Generation that inspired you than you expected; since we have lived the last week in a cold water flat!”  Yes the hot water heater died and we have heated water on the stove for our baths/showers and dishwashing.  And that inspired me even more.  Because this was a trip inspired by the Lost Generation; Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris; Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast;   Fitzgerald, Stein, Beech, Picasso, and so many other legendary characters it really is a reflection on their time and experiences.  

And it has been more like Hemingway’s time than I would have thought until this moment of reflection. Like Hemingway we based in Paris, but we wandered elsewhere with friends who shared our moments.  No bullfights for us, but WWII was a bigger part of this story than I would have thought and I have had many emotional moments that built from Nuremburg in Germany where the Nazi party began and the Trials brought it to an end, with Jewish monuments in many cities, the monuments to the Free French and the terror of the concentration camps that made much more of an impression on me in LaChaise than Jim Morrison’s grave.  And then culminating, very unexpectedly, in the Cathedral of Reims where Eisenhower accepted the surrender of the German Nazis.

We have enjoyed the cafes and the Paris predilection to sit outside if at all possible with their coffee, wine, and food.  And we have had a revolving set of friends who have been part of conversations and inspirations throughout our travels.  Like Hemingway, my ideas are shaped by the insights these companions have provided.
Shakespeare and Company was a place where Hemingway was grounded and the new version of the book store has been a great location that we have returned to more than any other (except our local markets).  Hemingway read and grew from the books he checked out and I have explored Hugo and Proust and more Joyce and other authors that I purchased at this fountain of literature.  And Kate found his Mouffetard street near his two Paris flats to be a place she needed to return to and would go there again if we come back.  
Unlike Ernest, I will not be writing a great novel, and I will not be remembered for my Paris time; I will not be part of a Lost Generation; just a sojourner along the inspirational path of this city lost in the tides of travelers who fill the museums and streets. 


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