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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 31, 2002

Ghosts of Christmas Past

There was chasing and hiding. Children and their mothers, I think (or caretakers at least), were being put in.something.and being told they were being sent somewhere. I felt the fear of the mothers and their children, fear of my own.

Whoever it was shut the door and threw, pushed, dumped what turned out to be a submarine into the water with the women and children, me in it. It sank. It was meant to be a coffin. Someone (maybe me) cracked one of the windows with a high-heeled shoe. Water came rushing in, and we all knew we would die. The mothers wanted to protect their children, and they couldn't.

The dream stopped, and my eyes were open like I was looking out into the bedroom. There was a wispy ghost-not fashioned as a person-but whimsically created as a Japanese kite sailing through the room. Then there were others floating by me. Many, many, many came and went, but I was not afraid. Suddenly, somehow I had the feeling these ghosts were Jewish children from the Marais who the Nazis took and killed, and they wanted my attention. They wanted me to write about them. This dream that came from thin air, or somewhere in my head, was about the Nazis murdering these children.

Could this be true? I have no idea. I only know the simplest history about this area, but there is a Jewish Museum a few blocks away. I must try to go.

But if my dream is true, and the wispy kites of children called me, I have done as they wished.

On the Sunday before Christmas, Jim had gone to the store to buy a few necessities. He returned home to tell me the streets were full of people on their marketing excursions. I woke up Blair, and we went out to join the throng. Men and women of all ages were carrying sacks and bags or pulling their carts full of leeks and aubergines and haricots verts, clementines and pomegranates and lemons. Jewels of flowers spilled over the tops. Small crates of fresh oysters still in their shells were being sold outside the marches. Lines of people waited patiently for their turns in candy shops and boulangeries. (Americans would loudly complain and be rude to some poor salesperson about these waits.) It's a lesson in patience for me as well.

Our first stop was to Rotisserie Man. We missed the line there, which also can be long with the eaters of birds waiting for his or her chance at just the right one. He sent his tall, good-looking nephew over to help, since his English is good. While I was admiring the roasted chickens and turkey breasts brown and succulent, boned and rolled guinea hens, chickens Provencal, and ducks with orange or olives, Rotisserie Man blew a gust of his wind on the back of my neck as a joke and pretended he hadn't done a thing. I laughed, and so did he. I was pleased he'd make a joke with me. Rather than deciding on one, Blair and I purchased duck, turkey, and Provencal chicken. I wanted to have meat in the refrigerator at home, food in the kitchen. And we ordered Quail and half a Chapon (capon) stuffed with mushrooms for Christmas. I've never cooked a capon before. They're a nice sized fowl-between turkey and chicken.

We passed the entrance to the market, Marche des Enfants Rouge, where I had been by many times before without stopping. Blair said, "Let's go." And we did. What had I been thinking?

Stepping into a French market is an explosion of beauty with the freshest and most-perfect array of produce and flowers in loud and subtle colors (that a painter would do well to copy) and the buyers sorting through these natural wonders and picking the choicest of each. Then there are the producers of wine and cheese, sausage and foie gras, and in this case, snails, jellies, olive oils, Fleur de Sel, bath salts, and much more. It's a total sensory experience that truly makes marketing one of the great pleasures in France. I believe you feel the heart beat of a place and a people in its markets.

We ordered our Buche de Noel from La Fougasse. There was a line there, too. The variety went from Lime with Basil to Hazlenut to Chocolate Truffle with Grand Marnier, which we got. These traditional Christmas cakes look like logs with all kinds of little decorations on top.

The girls had their first trip to the BHV that afternoon. It was jammed with shoppers, a madhouse. Jim traded us and this horror for the Pompidou to sketch some of his hero's work. He also wandered over to the Quai St. Michel, where Matisse lived for a time, painting Notre Dame, the Seine, and more from his window. Jim was elated, because he talked his way into the building and found the apartment that was Monsieur Matisse's. He conversed through the door to a woman who would not let him in. She couldn't speak English, and he muddled his French. She probably thought he was a lunatic. He's determined to try again, and we were happy for his (limited) success, but a delightfully artistic afternoon. Ours had been in shopping hell.

It was to the Budda Bar that evening. Holly had been a couple of times before and loved it. She wanted to take us as her guests, and we accepted with pleasure. We all dressed up, carefully crafted our make-up (except Jim who might like to have some to hide his Rosacea but certainly wouldn't say it out loud), and called a car that we could all fit into. It was wonderful driving down the rue de Rivoli to the Place de la Concorde with the lights of Paris showering us with night shine. Our driver dropped us in front of the Crillion (I might like to go back there for a swish drink), and we walked half a block to the restaurant.

Paris was shimmering.

posted by Beth on December 31, 2002 | View All Diary Entries

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