Chasing Matisse: The Book
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December 27, 2002
Going to Graceland
I don't know how I've missed the holes-in-the-floor toilettes in France, but I've managed so far. Blair, Bret, and Holly have had the unfortunate surprise of a few and have been reduced to squatting, but once they've reported this vital information back, I've chosen not to "go there." I'm old enough that somewhere in my distant past, I've encountered an outhouse or two, not to mention the port-a-potties and rest stops that have been the only alternative for necessary relief. (What is there to do when nature screams for a bathroom?) But my real distaste for toilet "holes" was acquired as a child during my summer sessions at Camp Crossed Arrows, which entailed using and cleaning latrines for two solid weeks. I'd much rather have collected sticks for a fire in the searing Arkansas heat. The first (and only) summer I took Blair to camp in Tennessee and found old-fashioned latrines there, I cried all the way to Knoxville because I'd left her. There's nothing character building about using a toilet that doesn't flush. I wish flushing technology for the whole world, but asking for money for toilets may not be as high on the list as food, medicine, or say, education. That's not to say I don't appreciate the art of squatting, and I've done my share along dirt roads in Arkansas, but they don't reek.
In Liane de Pougy's diary, she writes of her grandmother lifting the back of her skirt in late afternoon, and with company present, a servant would insert an enema. A few minutes later grandmama would leave the room and relieve herself, be done for the day. This is a social more that I'm glad has bit the dust. It gives me the willies just thinking of it.
The girls can't get caught up on their sleep, and who can blame them with the change in their bodies' clocks and the constant gray of Paris. It hardly seems like day even when it is. The sun comes out occasionally. I promoted the idea of a visit to Sacre Coeur. If I'd ever been before, I don't remember it. We walked, then rode the metro and walked some more, climbed stair after stair, and finally made it huffing and puffing. Dark had descended, and the white basilica was washed in lights. As a soaring aerie in the black Paris sky, Sacre Coeur looked like the palace of a great sultan. In this case, that would be God. The interior was laden with rich blue and gold, and the nuns dressed in white habits with black headdresses began singing, a chorus of angel voices wafting to the heavens above. We all sat and listened. It was mesmerizing. We'd arrived at Graceland, after all.
On the way home, a man at the metro stop had had too much to drink. He was pacing the track and would come over and stand between us or put his leg up and stretch and preen. It was odd, and he was getting into our space. Blair was ready to hit him with her bag, if he got too weird. Bret was stifling a laugh. Once we got into the car, Blair and I were talking, and we somehow interrupted a beggar's diatribe, and he yelled, "Please, shut up!" And we obeyed. I was tempted to give him money so he would shut up. People were rolling their eyes at each other. Going to Graceland ended up as Nut Day.
The next day marked our three week anniversary of being in Paris and the first time we'd seen someone from home-Winston Vickers and his wife, Susan. Winston is an old family friend, one of my brother, Blair's, best friends growing up and still is. Blair had told them that we're here, they'd read our website and called. Winston has lived in California for many years, and I hadn't seen him in a long time. Winston was standing outside his hotel on the Ile St. Louis (charming, elegant, and lovely), looking like Winston but with a beard. He didn't recognize me at first with my neon orange hair. We found an intimate restaurant and caught up about ourselves and our families with a crisp bottle of white wine and good food. Winston and Susan are changing their lives too, closing businesses, getting more degrees, and deciding on how they're going to approach the world. Brave new beginnings all round in this confluence of past and present, Arkansas, California, and France. It was a fine lunch and time we had together.
Afterward, we met the girls at Le Bon Marche, with all the glorious foods at La Grande Epicerie de Paris turning our heads that way and this, so many choices with so little time, a gourmet menagerie that leads to indecision of what exactly to buy, although no indecision about sampling the Veuve Cliquot. At one point, Bret was sitting outside the store resting, and a little French woman walked up off the street, pointed her finger at her, and words flew. Maybe she thought Bret was begging, or maybe she thought Bret had too many piercings-the ears, the eyebrow, the nose. We were all standing and watching in awe at the scene, then the woman walked into the store. We laughed and laughed. We had no idea what the woman said.
Across the street, smartly dressed women were shopping for shoes and clothes and fragrances. A Dalmatian ran through the store without her leash. Le Bon Marche is a fabulous store with fabulous wares. One of my favorite departments is the hats, and there was one I was dying for, but it was so large, I couldn't carry it all over France unless I strapped it to the car. The other is the lingerie-sex galore with bustiers, camisoles, bras, and underpants that we'd never see at home. Then there are the bed linens, and jacquard tablecloths, and china.I could go on and on.
We rode the metro home-nutless, this time-ate a snack, ordered some pizzas, and stayed in. Bret was disappointed, because she'd been dying to go to the Moulin Rouge this trip, and there was no room. Plus she has parents who are writers and artists and chasing Matisse around France. The Moulin Rouge is $130 a pop. I promised her we'd go the next time.
I've always wished to give my children a big view of the world, and I've tried their whole lives. I don't like to be told no. I don't like boundaries. I don't like being put in a pigeon hole. I want to be Auntie Mame and to crack the world open for myself and for those I love.
Heard on the Rue: "rk%lr!oh;w87-40t!iefy0=ei$euf&yej+goo+uyw=kgl?wug>ow."
---Little French woman, who stopped and shook her finger at Bret and said whatever she said, then walked off.
posted by Beth on December 27, 2002 | View All Diary Entries
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