I’m getting my bearings in Paris. Now, for example, I know how to order breakfast with my kind of coffee, rather than their tiny little ‘café’ which is a pathetic sip otherwise known as espresso. I’ve had lots of baguettes. I’m pretty much French.
Yesterday, I began with a literary trip. I went to Le Select in Montparnasse where, apparently, F. Scott Fitzgerald used to hang out. Small warning about the croissants here: although photogenic, they are not actually that good. The orange juice, however, is wonderful. Somehow a glass of orange juice tastes just right with brasserie noises. I actually had the sensation of déjà-vu, even though I’ve never had a glass of juice in a brasserie before. That’s how perfect the combination is. Alternatively, maybe I was F. Scott Fitzgerald in a past life. I can’t decide whether I want that to be true or not…
The people-watching from this spot is lovely, even if the croissants didn’t really do it for me. There is a constant stream of potential characters walking past the window. While I was having breakfast there was even a real protest march! Sadly, all the signs of protest were in French so I have no idea what the parade was supposed to accomplish. Traveling alone, I’ve become a little bit addicted to writing in my notebook during meals. I exhausted the pages to read on Paris in my guidebook so I took up another diversion for the requisite Parisian hour spent over my food. Writing to myself is a poor substitute for talking to someone but sometimes it feels quite cool. You know, very: “I’m channeling the spirits of literary genius through the straw of my orange juice!“ I wonder whether Le Select looked the same when Fitzgerald came here. The indoor patio and sunroof must certainly have been more filled with cigarette smoke but it probably still had those lovely windows to the well-trodden street. Either way, Fitzgerald wrote either much more autobiographically or much more about America to have spent too much time observing strangers. He also probably hung out at the bar, which is in the back away from the window. So I guess that means F. is not responsible for my déjà-vu…
Still, you can’t have too many encounters with the haunts of literature, or with art. Paris is actually a very small city once you get walking so the Orangerie in the Tulleries, a small gallery separate from the Louvre meant to showcase late Monnet, is just up the street and across the river—only about a 30-minute meandering walk.
I’m pretty obsessed with Monet. I know that is so cliché. Indeed, some of my reasons are stupid. For example, I love purple and flowers…duh water lilies. The best thing about that series, however, and especially the ones in the Orangerie is a disturbing anger under their tranquility. Disclaimer: I’m NOT an art historian or expert of any kind. These wide canvases, painted while Monet was going blind, don’t have an up or a down, their just weightless, cloudy, and on first glance, a reflection of peace. When you get closer I think they get perfectly creepy. There is something frantic and confused in the directions of dry brush strokes that sometimes look like they barely cover the canvas. Then the colors beneath colors are ominous, especially because the flowers are sometimes both in and on the surface. Suddenly you really want some grounding in these wide horizontal scenes. You want somewhere to put a finger and say, this is definite but hazes just continue to hover over the canvas.
Clearly I was in the mood for something definite. Some affirmation. I headed to Fouchan, a famous French food market near La Madeline. It was an epic lunch.
I committed the wonderful faux-pas of ordering Medoc instead of Champagne to pair with my gingerbread crusted Foi Gras. When the waitress said, “the red?” I said, “yes” with certainty.