Sunday, November 15, 2009

Paris Journal - by M.F.K. Fisher (Literary Entry)

This is a required reading assignment for a university literary class. As this work is found in a few places elsewhere online, I have decided to set a precedent for many college students everywhere who so desperately look for a re-posted work online to copy-&-paste to a text-to-speech program. By having it read back to them, they spend a fraction of the effort otherwise spent manually reading this passage. Students seek paths of least resistance. I am constructing one of them.

I want to keep a not-too-sketchy list of meals, for fun. On the plane, there was the usual drawn-out procedure: two martinis, with olives and mixed nuts in a generous dish between my neighbor and me; a spoonful of mediocre caviar which tasted very good; turbot with mushrooms and little peas, which I nibbled; a few bites of Gruyere. I drank a poor white wine and a glass of good champagne and a very small brandy, over some three artfully prolonged hours. About two hours before we landed, I drank two more martinis in the long Northern dawn (it was dark only an hour or so on that flight), and then ate part of a very good crèpe filled with creamed chicken and drank another glass of the white wine-- still not good, but I enjoyed it.

About 6:30 yesterday, after settling into my delightful little room, and a deep bath, and a long fine sleep, I roamed this way and that, sniffing out old paths like a hound dog, and of course ended at le Café de la Paix. It was Sunday, and June, and Bright. Tout le monde et son petit fils! I spent an hour or so on a brandy and soda. I asked the waiter if one could eat at that hour, and when he pointed into the new snack bar Pacific, I asked him if it was all right for a single woman, which amazed him. He was nice. (Everybody is nice to me. It is my fat gentle face!)

I'm just about cured of that preoccupation with being alone. For this alone the Time/Life job is worth every hazard. I was not really morbid, nor even apprehensive. But it is true that I do not enjoy eating alone in American restaurants. In Fowler's and lower-class places the countless other single people depress me physically. In places where I pay for attention and better food I am suspect: all single women are either lushes or on the prowl, good waiters and restauranteurs have assured me. So . . . I am put near the bar if I look like a quick pickup (which I don't), and behind an aspidistra or a service table if I look like a troublesome drinker (which I may, judging by the aspidistras and service tables I have peeked through and over). In even "good" places I am served in a cursory way, something to be got through.

Well, all this seemed especially dismal when I thought of it in terms of French meals, to be eaten alone too. Where would I go? Should I ask the concierge? Would he send me to Smith's Tearoom? Was I doomed to replace the Clift French Room (where I go to be quiet) with the Continental--Paris and London dowagers instead of San Franciscan?

Le Pacific, where I sat once more watching the sidewalk, was quiet, rather busy, with harried waiters. I had a small carafe of a rather acrid but pleasant "Beaujolais," a good but oniony beef tartare, a silver of almost infamous Brie. It was fun. I needed to eat. It was right for then.

This morning I awoke very early. Across the empty rue de Rivoli the birds sang wildly in the lush trees. I waited as long as I could, but was almost surely the first one to ring for breakfast (I am reading a good Simenon-non-Maigret: l'homme du petit chien).

I drank half the coffee and milk hot. Delicious. Then I ate most of a croissant and a roll, all the butter, most of the strawberry jam. Then I finished the coffee and milk-- almost too cool, but bitter and good. (The bread, like that at la Paix, was disappointing. Of course yesterday was Sunday.) The butter was sweet and pale, in a little foil thing, as was the jam. Ho hum for the old sticky messy unsanitary pots . . . I felt fine.

This morning I made motions toward my employers. Nobody was there. Finally mme. Dupont was. She sounds nice-- quite efficient for a change. I was to call at 2:30ish.

I went out and walked great distances-- really not more than about two miles probably, but getting used to traffic, and going in little shops, and crawling over street repairs . . . I bought some bath oil, eau de cologne and soap!!! Worth's Je reviens. I would never do such a self-indulgent thing if I weren't alone. I bought six oeillets, yellow and red, and two bunches of a clear light yellow flower that looks like a little thistle blossom. They are lovely in the room. I got this cahier, air paper, pencils and so on.

When I came back, Janet Flanner had called. She called again. I went up to her room, above mine. She has just moved here permanently. It is exactly like mine but perhaps four feet more shallow, being higher in the mansard. It made me dream again of coming here when I am old.

She is effusive, amusing, kind and cold. I like her very much, and am attracted to her sureness of power.

I roamed off again, to find a small charcuterie-restaurant the room waiter told me about last night and JF verified as good, and amusing. It was both-- La Quetsch, on the rue des Capucines. Downstairs stools (high-- JF is afraid of falling off one) and a wild business at the sausage counter, for things to take out; upstairs on a good balcony on two sides, the restaurant. The prices are high, the food is much better than at le Pacific, the portions are very big.

I was fascinated by the delicatessen and snack bar below me. I had a good waiter. I ordered a vin blanc-- Cassis, which he surprised me by calling a Kir, which I thought was strictly Dijonnais. It did not interest me-- tepid, watery, sweet. Then I ate viande crue de Grisons, the first time I ever saw it in France. It was very good. Then asparagus. It was good, but I really did not want it-- I had eaten all the v.c., most of a really good roll (the first truly fresh good bread so far), and some sweet butter. (This was served instead of the olive oil of the ticino, I suppose-- a good idea, to cut the salt.) I drank most of the half bottle of an Alsatian rosé, which I did not know existed, a specialité de la maison. It was good. It had more character than most Provencal rosés. Rather like Heitz'Grignolino . . .

This afternoon I planned to go to the Orangerie to see an exhibit of a big collection given to the nation-- four great Cézannes. Instead I slept. It is very nice to be removed enough from Duty to remain unabashed (which I do) . . .

I put some order in my papers, and after the apparently routine rain storm between six and seven went out for a walk. I went to the Rond Point and then the whole length of the Tuileries, straight down the middle except for a few wanderings to locate the Punch & Judy, with no luck. This is one of the longest days of the year, with the sun almost directly due west, shining straight through the Arc de Triomphe. The children and old people had gone home, but lovers still tangled, and people walked briskly.

I am in favor, as always, of the knowing tender slow embraces in the public of the French. I find them sane. The surly furtive lovemaking in movies and parks of American teenagers is sad and ugly in comparison.

In the same way I really enjoy being noticed here as a human female being. At home men are supposed to look openly only at toothsome young girls. Here men of all ages look at me and in an instant place me, not with shy lust but with instinct and logic: I am "of a certain age," sure of myself, not interested in dalliance, experienced in living, clean, well-dressed but not modish, etc., etc. This flasyh of appraisal pleases me. It makes me enjoy things more, perhaps, than the cautious limited looks on Geary or Park can ever do. There is complete lack of interest, past the one appreciative recognition. Unless I myself would ask for it, of course . . .

That reminds me that last night I was "bothered," except that it did not bother me at all, by one of those men who fall into step to one side of a single woman and a little behind her, and mutter feeble obscenities. I did not even look at this one. I strode along, wondering if I should give him a straight va-t-en, and stayed toward the curb, and dropped him in six or seven blocks. I wonder if those men ever really go with women, or get their kicks from the possible fright they may induce, or even the things they mutter. I admit I was a little surprised-- the first time was in Paris too, 1929! Then I felt more actively bothered, or menaced, or smirched perhaps, being more innocent.

Well-- I prowled like a wary beast through the traffic after I left the Tuileries this afternoon, and stopped at a small bar on the Ave. de l'Opera, after looking for some time at the Comédie, very rosy now in its clean face. I ordered a vermouth-gin-sans-glacé. It was delicious. Next to me two sisters dressed alike in pale pink linen and white gloves and so on, about twelve and fourteen, sat with their parents drinking hot chocolate. The younger was pretty and coquettish, and the parents were enslaved. The older was intense and gawky, quite homely. So she tipped all her chocolate into her pink lap. The mother led her dripping down to the lavabo, and the younger sister flirted wildly with her father. Guiltily he turned stern, and confiscated a little book on Dufy she had bought.

I got back here about nine, and ordered a vegetable soup and a salad, with a half bottle of 1962 Pouilly-Fuissé. Very good. Just right. I ate three bowls of soup, all the salad, and am now three swallows from the end of the little bottle.

I feel very well. I am glad I am here, and alone here.

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