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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


Chasing Matisse: The Book

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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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December 17, 2002

The Temptation of Ruben

Poor Jim, he coughed his head off in the middle of the night. I felt bad for him. It obviously was not a malady that would be gone by morning. This is the reason I bring a pharmacy on my trips. I've gotten sick too many places, sometimes obscure, and usually as soon as I arrive. But we've also been in U.S. cities when stricken, and here's how it goes: It's Sunday morning. No doctor is about. No drug store is open. You can't even reach your friends who are physicians at home, and you've got a child vomiting and having diarrhea. My zip-loc baggies of medicine take up precious space in my carry-on, but they go with me.

We had taken time and trouble to have our regular prescriptions filled for as many months as our insurance companies would allow. (If you're going to be gone for an extended period, why do they care to fill your medications for the requested amount of time? Wouldn't that be more efficient than making it as hard as possible when you're out of the country?) Of course, I always get medications for everything I can remotely imagine afflicting me. I have been glad every time.

I had more success with my Blue Cross than Jim with United Healthcare. It took several weeks and many phone calls to find the right person to help me. As usual, the department I was calling would send me back to the one that had directed me there in the first place. It didn't just drive me crazy, it wore me out. We were slammed all day every day attending to all the minute details necessary for us to shut our lives in Little Rock and attempt to be ready for France. When you have to repeat the same piece of business on your list over and over again, and you're getting the run- round, it sucks up your time, your energy and spirit. By the time we left home, our bodies and souls were bereft from the thousands of minutiae that had consumed us, not to mention the big issues like our house hadn't sold yet.

I finally got the okay to have my prescriptions filled for three months, but Jim didn't have this good fortune. He also ran out of endurance. He called the number of his insurance company on the back of his card for days before the person told him he needed to call his insurance company. He thought he had been, but it was some other company that did something for his. Why is their number on the back of the card?

Anyway, I had some cough syrup, as our friend Kenwood Kennon would say, "on board." It stilled Jim's cough, but he stayed in bed most of the day until we were due at St. Sulpice, where our new friend Ruben, who teaches art to autistic kids and adults, was involved in a Christmas Fair to benefit handicapped children. His students' art was on display. Ruben and Patricia hadn't arrived yet. For once, we were early, so we climbed the stairs of St. Sulpice and stepped into the cavernous church with its commanding neoclassical facade. The lighting was dim, but we had a chance to see the Delacroix murals in the first chapel on the right. This was the first time either one of us had been to St. Sulpice and probably wouldn't have come if not for our appointment. It was another of those moments that crystallize and fall out of the sky, a little lagniappe. We took the time to wander through. It's an amazing structure, but there's much more restoration to be done. Many of the chapels are black with the layers and layers of lives being lived, wars being fought, history unfolding-which amounts to a lot of crud.

By the time we left the church, Ruben, Patricia, and their friends had arrived. The little fair was bright with festive lights, and delectable smells were wafting from the food booths. Wines were being tasted and sold (this is not an activity you'd find at an Arkansas fair), and crafts were on display (this would be). The sweet scene made me feel Christmasy for the first time. The fair was dear and Ruben's students were so excited and proud to have their work shown. A young black man named Malik had painted the picture Jim and I liked best. His parents were so proud of him, and he was so proud of himself. What a wonderful program for handicapped students to express themselves with art. And we met more of Ruben's friends, more of the Paris artist crowd.

It was real life in Paris, and we liked being, feeling part of it. "You'll know everyone in Paris," Ruben said, "if you stay long enough."

posted by Beth on December 17, 2002 | View All Diary Entries

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