Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sweet Home Jerusalem

It was very weird landing at Ben Gurion for the second time. Usually, after a vacation, I return home to my very pretty apartment in Toronto

and this time I was returning to my new home at kfar haStudentim.
The first person I met after getting my luggage was a taxi driver offering me a very good deal to Jerusalem, only 300 shekelim = about 100$ CDN. I kept walking, "No way. I'll take a sherut." "Oh," he says, "you'll be waiting for hours." I stopped and looked him in the eye: "No, I won't. I live here now and I know you're wrong." I waited ten minutes at the sherut stand and was home in the next hour or so for the low, low price of 50 shekelim = about 17$ CDN. Without traffic, it takes less time to go from the airport to the kfar than it does to drive from Yorkdale to Barrie, and here we're travelling a narrow width of the country. I think that's so cool.

Paris. Wow. I'm trying to figure out a way that I can live there after my Masters is earned. Alain, about whom I'll speak in a minute, told me that the Louvre has a school. I'm going to investigate their programs. I admit that I didn't spend the three days there that I had hoped, but did spend most of one day there, and saw the Mesha Stele, the Law Code of Hammurabai, her holiness the Mona Lisa, the apartments of Napoleon III, and the history of the Louvre itself. We saw quite a bit and didn't even get through 1% of the museum - first reason to return to Paris. It was great hanging out with Alain: his knowledge of French and Mesopotamian history is astounding; he's a native Parisian and has been going to the Louvre since he was a little boy; he was my personal tourguide and professor of all things French for three whole days. Both he and his friend, Christian, welcomed me with open arms, fed me, and sent me home with cool books and music.

For the first five days I was in Bougival with Jason, and the final five days I stayed in an apartment in Montmartre, one floor up from Alain. There is so much to tell you that I'll give an overview then when the photos are developed will post them with stories to fill in the blanks.

Bougival is just west of Paris, about an hour by bus to La Defense then on the Metro to, for example, the Left Bank/Latin Quarter or Montmartre. These were the two areas where I spent the most time. This little village is nestled along the Seine amidst mature oak and maple trees now turning gold and auburn, parks with bike- and walking paths, old old houses with glassed-in sunrooms and gables, and a high street boasting a beautiful Catholic church undergoing restoration at the top of its summit. Versailles is not far away. An ancient Roman wall runs behind the church. On one of the arches leading to an alley off the high street is a very faded painting of the Virgin; it's above eye level and you wouldn't ordinarily notice it while walking. The Tabac and Cafe down the street from the hotel became a favourite haunt for me: the proprietor is a young man, maybe late thirties or early forties, whose shiny, shaved bald head and t-shirt and jeans made him seem more suited to working in a head shop on Queen. After breakfast at the hotel I liked to walk and have a cafe creme and sit outside to write in my journal. The air is clean and the rolling hills not far away are thickly populated with forests, green, gold and red.

Getting to Montmartre was easy. I'm glad my back is better because I had to carry my suitcase up two flights of stairs upon my arrival at Blanche Metro Station on line 2. The Moulin Rouge is the first sight one sees upon exiting the station. The air smells like warm sugar. On my way to Alain's on Rue Constance I passed by the cafe made famous in Amelie. My heart skipped a beat. I had coffee there on Wednesday before heading home. The streets are narrow, winding, and easily shared by pedestrians, cyclists and motorized vehicles. If I ever live in Paris I would want a motorcycle. But, everyone walks everywhere; everyone uses the metro. I think one of the things that attracts me most to this city (aside from the fashion) is its combination of living/working environments in the neighbourhoods: shops and businesses are beneath apartments, people use public space, people use the parks on a daily basis (I'm in love with Parc de Monceau), people buy their baguettes in one of the patisseries and it's an opportunity to connect with those in the community while waiting in line, getting to work (if you don't work in your neighbourhood) is an easy commute. A take-away coffee is a rare thing: people sit at the sidewalk cafes, have their coffee, take a real break. Life is not experienced far away from where one sleeps. Home is not just your apartment or your cottage or your office in an area that closes at 5pm: home is your city. Life is lived, whether you're making plans or not.

Montmartre is a beautiful area, and it mixes tourism with daily living, combines culture with the profane. Parisians wait with people from all over the world to cross the street, on the platforms to take the subway, in the cafes taking their coffee. The Boulevard de Clechy is dominated by sex shops and theatres with live sex shows. Just behind this street is Sacre Coeur, holy and beautiful with its meringue-like architecture but you have to pass through swarms of Sengalese men selling you string bracelets at outrageous prices. Behind the Cathedral and the even older Celtic church is the area where the artists used to hang out and paint and some artists are still there but the square itself is a series of cafes. People own hundred year old (or older) houses with gardens or own apartments, some with balconies decorated with potted plants and flowers. Alain and I popped our heads into a bocci-ball club, an oasis amidst the noise of the city where foursomes played beneath gnarled trees in the walled area of their club lit by twinkling electric lights. Right outside the gate was the Witch's Stone which reminded me very much of the rocks and wee caves in the garden my mother and I chanced upon outside the walls of Blarney Castle 7 years ago. As Alain and I walked on Monday evening I silently thanked all the people who left their curtains open so I could see inside their homes. Yes, I'm a decorating voyeur: I love to see how other people live, how they make their space beautiful, what I can be inspired by to make my own little home a welcoming place for myself and others.

The apartment I stayed in was very tiny, on the top floor of a six storey building built in the 19th century. The living/sleeping area was a good size and the bed was very comfortable. The shower stall was very tiny as was the kitchen. But, the apartment boasts three balconies with only enough space for two people to stand shoulder to shoulder, with flower boxes blooming red mums and the view was incredible: directly in front I could see the tree tops of the cemetery where, amongst other famous folk, Jim Morrison is buried; to the right, the street where Van Gogh lived and worked; to the left, the Eiffel Tower. Sunsets were incredible, sunrises even more beautiful.

We walked so much! Ordinarily, I am very aware of my surroundings and am an excellent navigator, but with Alain I just let myself be swept along and enjoyed seeing and experiencing and learning what he had to teach. Every time a question formulated in my mind about what we were seeing, he was already answering it. He photocopied maps of where we walked and used a highlighter to mark our journeys; I have glued them into my new journal, purchased at one of the shops in the mall at the Louvre. Christian said it makes me look like a "vraie explorateure." Oh! and we went to a concert on saturday night to see Buika, a Spanish flamenco/infusion singer. What I saw of the concert was fantastic: I was exhausted and the theatre was too too hot so I nodded off a few times. My Dad is the only person I know who will relate to this: when I was maybe 12 or 13, we went as a family to see The Nutcracker. Again, the theatre was so hot that he and I slept through the second act. My stepmother was not impressed and ever since then we, as a family, seem to stick to musicals that will hold our attention and we never, ever, wear winter boots anymore to a performance.

Jason and I had a very fun time together. His colleagues whom I met were all interesting and fun. One of the Americans, Steve, brought his wife Patty along on this trip and she and I hung out quite often. I'm proud to say that I introduced her to creme brulee. On wednesday night Jason and I went with three of the French guys - Patrice, Gaulthier and David - to the Left Bank for drinks and dinner. They were hilarious: it was very refreshing to talk footwear, specifically boots, with straight men. And, they have this very funny theory: huge handbags are all the fashion right now. The guys believe that the bigger the handbag, the greater the sex drive of the woman carrying said handbag. They of course inspected mine, and since my grandmother reads this, I won't go into how it was judged. (I think it's enough that I'm including this story!) I did, however, ask if this is the same line of reasoning that explains how the 'size' of a man is inversely proportionate to the size of his pickup truck. They said it was. I laughed so hard. And drank more Hoegarden.

The best part of the trip? Walking by myself with impunity. Not worrying about my "distinctive Western feminine self," as Adrienne phrases it, attracting unwanted attention. Having said that, though, I'm happy to be home in Jerusalem.

2 comments:

EmilyMac said...

Tanya,

As always, great to read your updates!

As for that Nutcracker story - I think what you're referring to can actually be described as True Essence of Being a MacIntosh - some will argue its the ability to sum up all you have to say in six words or less. They are wrong.

It is the ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any given time if one feels a cat nap is necessary.

Love you lots,

Emily

Anonymous said...

Hi Tanya

Loved your blog re: handbags...especially as I always seem to have an over-sized hand bag. Ha, ha, ha. Your parcel went out in the mail today. Love the photos, love your writing, love you! Love, Mom