Paris… on my own

Enjoying the first two weeks of January alone in Paris (i.e., without travel companions to whom I felt obliged to play tour guide) and without a personal tourist agenda was heavenly. I rented a cozy apartment off rue des Martyrs in the 9th (Opéra) arrondissement where Sacre Coeur overlooks the quartier like a grande dame wearing a necklace of sex shops and clubs strung along the Boulevard de Clichy. The juxtaposition of the two images suggests both sublime and ridiculous aspects of the legend of St. Denis.

I was pleased to learn that the wonders of modern technology make postcards passé—except, of course, for family and friends who don’t do email. A photo of the Tour Eiffel, for example, taken with and shared by email using my BlackBerry, was shot from the Jardins des Tuileries, between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. Apparently, I moved as I snapped the photo, resulting in its fuzzy quality—an impressionist effect, I think. Alors, je suis un artiste!

The best part of my stay in Paris was connecting with old friends and making new friends. I connected with Pam, a friend who lives in Paris—we chat often online but hadn’t seen each other in over two years. We spent a delightful afternoon (one of several) together exploring rue des Martyrs and adjacent streets. Pam and I love Indian food and we found a great Indian restaurant in the Place Gustave Toudouze where we enjoyed a lunch of hot curry, dal, cold rice pudding with cardamom, and hot coffee.

After lunch, I introduced Pam to À l’Étoile d’Or, a well-known chocolaterie owned by Denise Acabo, an eccentric dame d’un certain age, who knows everything about chocolate from every part of the world. She’s had her shop for over 38 years, dresses in a French school girl’s uniform, and wears her hair in pigtails. Denise is the friend of a friend who asked me to stop by to give her his meilleurs voeux. The impact of the visit on Pam was a 30€ expenditure on chocolate and, the following morning, an effusive blog post about her chocolaterie experience.


On another day, over coffee at a cafe in the Marais, I was introduced to Claire, a lively, witty, and intelligent woman who is a “national treasure” in terms of what she knows about and who she knows in Paris. For example, she introduced me to La Bibliothèque des Amis de l’Instruction, an organization founded in the 19th century to promote education among those who, because of social class or lack of resources, did not have access to education. I am excited to know about this library because the idea of its founding relates to similar organizations founded about the same time in the U.S. of which I learned when doing research years ago for my dissertation. Claire offered to introduce me to the director of the library. Perhaps there’s a sabbatical in my future.

Paris winters can be unpleasantly cold and rainy, but my stay in Paris was blessed with mild temperatures and several sunny days ideal for getting out and exploring my favorite place on earth. My Paris séjour came to an end.

Which book are you?

A friend, who I refer to as “the muse of my online life,” blogged about a personality test she recently discovered. By answering only six questions, it is possible to learn which book represents your personality. My attempt at the test identified me as Siddhartha. The precision of the personality description is uncanny… except for the “lonely” bit.

You’re Siddhartha!

by Hermann Hesse

You simply don’t know what to believe, but you’re willing to try anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you’ve spent some time in every camp. But you still don’t have any idea what camp you belong in. This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It’s time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in ferries.

Star Splangled Sex Education

In 1956, when I was 12 years old, my mom and dad bought a 13-acre farm in Fulton, California, seven miles north of Santa Rosa, where we lived for three years before moving back to town.

My sister, Gaynl, age 9, brother, Mike, age 7, and I enjoyed many wonderful experiences that provided us with childhood memories we are still fond of sharing. On the farm we had a Collie named Bonnie, a horse named Princess, cats, chickens, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees. We had fresh-laid eggs with brilliant yellow yolks and we learned that fresh eggs, when hardboiled, are nearly impossible to peel.

Mom was the quintessential Good Housekeeping Mom who canned peaches, pears, apples, pickles, jams, and jellies. Each summer she would make an embarrassment of applesauce, apple pies, and apple butter with Gravenstein apples grown in orchards not far from us in Graton. She froze the pies and we enjoyed them on cold winter evenings, still warm from baking, as we watched TV in front of a blazing fire. Canned pears were used to make pear crisp, my favorite dessert, which we enjoyed warm with fresh cream.

To enhance our awareness of and appreciation for the miracle of life, Dad bought two ewes that had been bred and who, in due course, produced a single lamb each—unlike our female cats who regularly produced large litters of kittens. Following an early morning walk around the farm on the spring morning that the first lamb was born, Dad came into the house to herald its arrival. “It’s a beautiful day in Fulton, California!” he proclaimed in a booming voice. “Come greet our new lamb!”

Mom, Gaynl, Mike, and I jumped out of bed and hurried to dress. We walked excitedly to the pen where the sheep were kept. Silent with wonder, we stood at the fence staring at the new arrival.

“Is it a boy lamb or a girl lamb?” Mike asked.

“It’s a little boy lamb,” Mom said. “A ram.”

“How do you know?” he asked.

“Because,” said Mom, “I saw his ram parts.” Silence ensued as we watched the little ram wobble tentatively testing his unsteady legs.

“So that’s what that means!” I said, breaking the silence.

“What what means?” Mom asked.

“O’er the ram parts we watched,” I said.

God bless the moon!

My oldest nephew, Kenneth, spent a lot of time with us when he was two to three years old. Afternoons, when I would put him down for a nap, I would read to him from a Hallmark nursery rhyme pop-up book given to me by my mother on my first Fathers’ Day. Kenny loved hearing the rhymes and pulling the tabs to see Jack jump over the candlestick, the mouse run up and down the clock, and turning the page to reveal a pop-up scene of a frightened Miss Muffett running from a menacing spider hanging over her head. His favorite, though, was making a smiling full moon rise in the night-time sky as I read: “I see the moon, the moon sees me; God bless the moon, and God bless me.”

Often, at dinner time, Kenny would “help” me in the kitchen with the preparations. I would place him on a stool opposite me on the other side of a counter separating the kitchen and the dining area. He would measure, pour, mix, and stir ingredients, crack eggs, and grate cheese. On one occasion, I was drinking a beer as we were preparing a favorite dish, macaroni and cheese. Kenny asked if he could have a taste of my beer. Recalling that my dad occasionally let me have a small amount of beer in a shot glass, I took a shot glass from the cupboard and poured some beer into it. Kenny picked up the shot glass and was about to drink when I stopped him. “Just a minute,” I said. “We have to have a toast.”

“What’s a toast?” he asked.

“It’s like making a wish,” I said. “Here. Hold up your glass.” He raised his glass. I clinked the rim of my glass against his. “Here’s to your health,” I said. We both drank, then went on with the macaroni and cheese preparations. A bit later, Kenny asked if he could have more beer. I poured another splash into his glass which he picked up. “Make a toast,” he said.

“No,” I said. “It’s your turn. You make the toast.”

Closing one eye and twisting up his mouth, I could see he was thinking hard as he continued to hold up his glass. Suddenly, shoving his glass toward me, he shouted, “God bless the moon!”

Thirty-some years later, when our family is together for holidays, celebrations, or other occasions at which a toast might be appropriate, a family member will offer the family’s traditional toast, “God bless the moon!”