Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wiggling my toes


     Waking up my first morning, I wiggle my toes and examine my bedroom in the apartment I’ve rented for the month. The bold pink flowered print of the wallpaper repeats itself in the full curtains and in the chair’s upholstery. Yet with the antique dresses and armoire, the effect is warm, old-world French. Outside the window, in the small public garden facing the apartment, the trees and shrubs give no hint that spring has materialized overnight. Pedestrians are wearing heavy coats, hats and gloves. No matter. Paris is staring at me in that little garden. It is supposedly a city square, but it is in fact a triangle, and the name “city square” conjures an urban, asphalt-paved intersection, while this is a lovely oasis of  unpaved paths, groomed flower beds awaiting bloom, benches and an ancient fountain. Stylized stone buildings edging the garden, with very small cars parked in front of them. My corner apartment has many windows that let in light. To the far left is the Sorbonne university, to the far right the Museum of Middle Ages. Most importantly, yesterday, upon my arrival, I glimpsed the back of a garden next to the museum, and to my delighted surprise I realized that this is the herbal garden I so often like to visit when in Paris. 
            Jetlagged I’ve permitted myself to sleep late. I think it is 3 pm, but am surprised to discover that it is only 10:15.  Tomorrow I must leave 8:15 to start my first French classes. I turn on the TV. Since yesterday, as part of my language immersion, I’ve been keeping it on, half-listening—rather than watching—a fashion show, news of military upheaval in Central Africa, a Hawaiian dance lesson, and a documentary about elephants. Forgotten words return, contractions are broken down back to their original words to make them comprehensible.
            Tonight, I will meet a group of expats for dinner. Next Sunday, I will be their featured speaker. Having made my research and contacted groups of interest to me, my calendar is already filled with lessons, French conversations, lectures and programs—sometimes five a day. When I visit the gym around the corner to inquire about exercise classes, I realize that I won’t be able to participate in any.
            Later in the afternoon:
Taking a four-hour walk through the Latin Quarter, my temporary home, and into Le Marais, the area I researched a few years ago for my novel Jerusalem Maiden, I find it hard to avoid stepping back in time to 1924 into the days my protagonist, Esther, visited here. In my mind’s eye I strip off the dozens of souvenirs and T-shirt stores overflowing into the sidewalks in these tourist areas and I try to ignore the restaurants that are an insult to French cuisine. (I tried one last night for dinner and another today for lunch.) But then there are the patisseries, the French bakeries whose aroma of baking butter may cause one to cross the line into serious sinning, and the crêperies, with their carmelized sugar and hazlenut cream—all competing for my passion….
            Instead, I diverted my attention to the refurbished buildings with their ornamental metal works and roof-dormer windows. Gentrification has preserved whole city blocks that otherwise would have been grazed down, like Montparnasse, but the pricy boutiques have also stripped Le Marais from its Jewish character. Or perhaps, the Jewish refugees of WWI that crowded this neighborhood learned during WWII the hard lesson that they weren’t safe among their French neighbors. The memorial day for Ha'shoah, as the French call the Holocaust--adapted from Hebrew--will start tonight. One could not feel it in the Sunday bustling Le Marais, teeming with shoppers, long lines for the Falafel store, and street musicians. But then there was the Holocuast museum, guarded by security, a reminder that all is not behind us.
           As I light a candle for the victims of  the Holocuast, I turn my thoughts toward French Jews who were rounded up for deportation during the Vichy regime not by a single Nazi, but by French gendermes.
            My candle filickers. What is one candle when compared to the lives of six million Jews?

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