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  • Ashleigh Ogilvie-Lee

Blog 20. Paris, it's a wrap!

Montmartre


I went to Montmartre and stood in the church on top of the hill, which I had gazed at so many evenings while Maryse blew her life and smoke over me. I had my portrait done while I ate a croissant and drank coffee. I was remarkable just for my aloneness. I couldn’t see how the artist was making me look, but a couple of passers-by gave me the thumbs up. Most, though, just ambled by. I would have taken a good look as I have always been nosy. I prefer to see it as curious. My kids always beg me not to stare when I am out with them. I remember Charley once, outside the Tirau tearooms, pleading so earnestly that I not stare at the Mongrel Mob who were parking around us. I obliged, as he was just too puny to be any help, and I was impressed that he could actually be so serious.


I went into a large tourist shop where even the cheap souvenirs look classy because they say Paris. I bought a porcelain bench cloth holder with an Eiffel Tower on it and some music boxes that play "Ma Vie en Rose" sung by Dalida, whom the shopman told me now sits just down the road. So off I went to find Yolanda Gigliotti, Dalida chanteuse comedienne, 1933-1987, sitting on a pedestal, now just a bronze head and a torso dressed in a light bronze yellow bikini top. If misery loves company, Dalida’s life would put a spring in the step of the most miserable. The curse on her for her blessings of beauty and song was that all those she loved should die. Her fiancé shot himself, her husband shot himself, her best friend leapt off a balcony, and her lover gassed himself in a car. She then killed herself, leaving a note: "La vie m’est insupportable. Pardonnez-moi." (Life is unbearable for me. Forgive me.)


School


In my second-to-last week at school, I understood for the first time the power of a great teacher to tease the brain into thinking learning is fun. I had gone to my usual classroom without checking the board first, and there were a bunch of new students in my room! They were the smartest students in the school and sat official exams (DELF) because they were going on to do worthy things, not just converse with an elderly mother in her native tongue. This elderly mother believed that French should be spoken well or not at all, which made me suspect our conversations probably reminded her of my piano practice, which she fortunately didn’t have to endure for long as my teacher, Miss Stratford, who always had a piece of grass in her eye, fired me.


Like sheepdogs seeing a herd of scattered sheep and waiting to be let off the leash, my class sat poised to show their skills. A perfume called cranium wafted through the air, white hands fluttered like butterflies, and soft leather shoes tapped the floor excitedly. The subject this clever bunch was debating was "What is Art?" Our teacher, the divine Mademoiselle Leah, showed us a picture of an ordinary old urinal bought from an ordinary old plumber’s shop, renamed Fountain, and submitted for display by a famous artist called Marcel du Champ, who wanted to draw attention to the idea that art is a mirage.


We all had to say something clever in French about this old urinal in those beastly round-and-round-the-classroom games. I said if that is art, so is that and pointed to a black rubbish bin in the corner where a dirty little tissue I had just blown my nose in sat forlornly. Charmed by this observation, Leah (unlike my mother) forgave my grammatical mistakes and announced, "You can stay!" For a week, my brain danced like an ugly duckling amongst swans.


To celebrate our brilliance, we went to an art exposition featuring works by Leopold Sedar Senghor, the first president of Senegal (1960-1980), a Francophile, and a poet. (His most famous poem is "Dear white brother cher frere blanc.") The most brilliant student in our class, a German/Swiss boy named Tim, asked if he could walk around with me. Tim has one grey hair on his head and fell down some stairs when he was young, damaging his spine, so he hunches his shoulders to take the weight off his back. He says the Swiss have more guns per capita than the USA because military service is compulsory, and they get to keep their guns when they've finished, which suggests that the problem in America is the culture, not the guns, perhaps. Tim spent a year in Namibia and says that just before World War 1, the Germans nearly wiped out two tribes there, the Herero and Nama, by making them sign over their lands and then herding them up and making them jump off the cliffs when they returned from banishment because they had nowhere else to go. Tim says that these atrocities have been forgiven, and these gentle people welcome you even if you are German. I want to hug him and his sore back for his innate goodness. Tim says Switzerland is clean, and Paris is salty. Tim and I looked at Senghor's timeline, 1906-2001, and he said, "Wow, he died in the year I was born," which made Tim 22. Before the class trip, Leah had asked who was under 25 because their admission was free. Worried that she might ask if I was over 60, I stared directly at my dirty tissue in the rubbish bin. Leah left at the end of the week, and I left with her.


Sainte-Chapelle


I went to see the Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, as Jamie's friends told me that this is the must-see house of God in all of Europe. I walked into a small run chapel first, with dappled light peeping shyly through small stained glass windows and beams that were tumbling down, and I thought how interesting that this humble little church should be Jamie's friends' favourite place. But then I saw everyone going up a small winding staircase, and I followed them and heard the lady before give me a big gasp as I stepped into a galaxy of splinters of red and blue glass reaching their pointy tips up to God. It was beautiful, but I preferred the little chapel and wondered if God might feel more at home there since a manger is where he chose to have his only begotten son.


Fabienne


Fabienne, my new friend who put me on the train to Sete, came to visit me from her home in Dijon and, as I have now come to expect, gave me a present: a book to write in and a pen. Fabienne took me for a tour of the covered passages (1826), which were the first original shopping malls made of iron and glass with mosaic floors. They were designed so idle people like me (flaneurs) don't have to walk in the mud while being pickpocketed. The two entrepreneurial butchers who built them made a fortune, but as in the cyclical nature of fortunes, it was lost when the Gallery La Fayette, the Grand Marche, and the other big chains ruined them.


She then took me to the 5th and the 6th arrondissements where you'll find the Pantheon, the Fontaine Saint-Michel, the Musee de Cluny, the Sorbonne, and bookshops that only sell clever books in plain covers. Funny, isn't it, that my three friends in France showed me the cultural center as culture is what they value the most, which is why Julien, when visiting Auckland, was disappointed when he headed down to Queen Street but couldn't find any rearing horses, topless men slaying dragons, or pantheons, only bubble tea shops and Maccas.


Recognition in the Boulangerie


There are no workers in the whole wide world who work as hard as the dispensers of tartes and baguettes in the Parisian boulangerie. When ordering, you must be confident with a tinge of servility. While it is commendable to try and order in French, remember that the favorite sport of boulangeristas is translating your order in perfect English back at you or asking you loudly to "repetez" while other tourists in the queue snigger silently at your French pretensions. One day, the boulangerista who had taunted me every day for 4 weeks smiled and said, "une baguette de thon?" She knew me and my order! I took her photo because it meant so much to me, a wannabe Parisienne, to be acknowledged by a real one. The thing about traveling alone is that random small acts of kindness are packed away like souvenirs as your instinct seems sharper, and kindness puts a little chink in the armor you put on every day.


My Hairdresser


I found a lovely coiffeuse in Paris called Esme who smokes a lot in the doorway of her salon, does her own hair while waiting for my colour to take, and when in the mood, belly dances round and round my chair. When Esme was 5, her mother left her in Algeria and went to France to find work and an apartment so she could bring little Esme to Paris. Esme arrived when she was 8 but returns to North Africa a lot as it is increasingly hard for Arabs to visit France, even for holidays, as once they arrive, they try and stay. When I go to Marrakesh, Esme says I ride camels, sit in a tent on ancient rugs, eat tajine, peppers, carrots, and onions while I listen to the lute. My people are hospitable. They are not like the French who never smile. The French are always en train de courir (running off somewhere more important). They come for a blow dry, and I say, "How are you?" and I smile, and they say "ca va" in a way that ends the conversation. I deal with these grumpy people all day. Sometimes they say their children are sick as if they have the only sick children in the world, and I have sick children, but there are more important things. The French bah if they don’t have a problem; they transform something into a problem.


Just hanging with my own family.


In the last days before I left Paris, I did not go back to school. Charley is delighted when he hears this and asks what is wrong with me that I never finish a French course, whether it be online during Covid, in Sete, or in a school under the Eiffel tower in the middle of Paris. I explain that Leah had left, and my nephew and his family had arrived from Ibiza, and I smile and say, "Charley, let’s face it, I’m a quitter," and that seems to satisfy him. The truth is that I reach the same plateau in every course where I can be understood in French, but I can’t be ironic. I like to speak ironically, so I can’t be myself when I speak in French. I have accepted that the purpose of my visit was to accept Maman will always be mum and to put her out of her misery I will only ever speak to her in English.


My last memory of Paris is lying under the sun in the grass littered with cigarette butts and dog poo under the Eiffel Tower with Saulie, my little nephew, watching the thin Africans trying to sell cheap Eiffel towers that light up. We were so pleased when one of them made a sale, but just as the woman was about to hand over her money, he suddenly swept his towers into a bundle and ran like Usain Bolt with all the other Eiffel Tower salesmen running with their worldly possessions in their kerchiefs. In hot pursuit were three French policemen, puffing and panting with their heavy uniforms, guns, and truncheons. It was like hippos chasing gazelles.


But the impossible gaiety of the scene illustrates the wonder of France: the complete absurdity, the impossible beauty, the language that will always be just a little out of our reach. But the French don’t want to be anything else but French. They are happy in their skins, and if we can be that wherever we come from, we too will have that je ne sais quoi.


Tips when traveling in France:


1) When in a queue, slouch against a wall if possible, look bored but never ever impatient.

2) Never put an exact time on an arrangement.

3) When asking a French person in the street a question, never forget to say "bonjour" first. If you don’t, they will say "Bonjour" firmly and wait like a ticket inspector until you produce your "ticket de politesse." When you remember and apologize and say "oh pardon Bonjour," they will smile snidely.

4) Say "au revoir," "à la prochaine fois," "passez une bonne journée," and "merci" in a little sing-song way when leaving a shop or café. Keep up these different forms of farewell until you are out of earshot.

5) If alone in a café, write in a book with small squares with a pencil and chew the end if someone is looking.

6) Do not talk on your phone in public places.

7) When talking to a friend in a café, talk enthusiastically, gesticulate, poke in the air, and spit occasionally for authenticity.

8) Smoke but don’t inhale; it’s for the Casablanca look, not the nicotine.

9) Sip two glasses of wine when in public and then say "pouf I’ve drunk too much."

10) The conversation must be better than the food or the wine.

11) Use only green leaves with vinaigrette in a salad and eat them anytime but especially before profiteroles slathered in chocolate sauce, as salad leaves protect your organs.

12) When waiting for a train, rush to a carriage, stop abruptly, and pretend you’re not showing how polite you are to wait for everyone to get off before you rush on and scout frantically for a seat.

13) When sitting on a flapping seat in the subway, stand up when it gets crowded but do it nonchalantly, although you will feel petulant.

14) Go to cafes and bars; do not sit at home. Stay up till midnight sitting on a wicker chair in a crowded café in a tree-lined boulevard; tomorrow doesn’t start until 10.

15) Do not go to Versailles alone; opulence magnifies loneliness.

16) Do not wear clothes that are flashy, designer, or new. It’s originality that counts. It’s all in the toss of your head, the slouch, the strut, and the absolute pretence you have no idea how fabulous you are.

17) Wear scarves round the neck, round the waist, through your belt, and round and in your hair, which you have backcombed.

18) Never get up and pay at the till in restaurants. Allow your waiter to take his time getting the addition (bill). He’s an important man and is enjoying every minute of his power over you, especially if he senses you are in a hurry.


"La vie est une ivresse continuelle: le plaisir passe, le mal de tête reste."

Life is a continual intoxication; the pleasure passes, the headache remains.


Enjoy the photos:


Basilique du Scare-Coeur which I stared at while Maryse blew her smoke and life over me.


Dalida


Artist of Montmarte



The divine Mademoiselle Leah


Mon travail


Tim



My brilliant class




The famous St Chapelle



The humble manger





Fabienne and my present



The Covered walkways of Paris


Fontaine Saint-Michel

Fountain Marcel Duchamp







La Boulangista


My coiffeuse






Ma Famille


The Eiffel Tower salesmen


Out and about in Paris






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5 Comments


Guest
Nov 12, 2023

like any great story I am sorry to reach the end. All your characters have become family and I want to know what next. and I want to see the street portait. . .


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Guest
Nov 09, 2023

Magnifique Ash. What a gift you have. What a gift reading these has been thankyou.

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Guest
Nov 10, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much for reading my blogs. There would be no point in writing them if they were just for me and it's nice to know they give a tiny bit of a smile and they certainly help me make a bit of sense of things if I write about them. Going to short snappy weekly Sunday blogs now. I hope you like them... Do let me know love Juliet

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Guest
Nov 08, 2023

Have loved following your year in Paris Macka . Great writing 👏

Love how you have bravely immersed yourself in Parisian life

- warts and all. i suspect you are more Parisian than you think. Next chapter ??

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Guest
Nov 10, 2023
Replying to

I can only think this is Jenny as you are the only person who calls me Macka which of course I am again now as the Ogilvie_lee part of my life is not dearly but departed.The next chapter will be Sunday blogs on the trials and tribulations of everyday life.Writing about them makes it easier to put them in perspective as Charlie Chaplin said life is a tragedy up close but a comedy from afar.Thanks so much for your support. It makes writing worthwhile knowing you enjoy it. Like baking an apple pie just for you.


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