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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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January 13, 2003

The Conversations

I was running as fast as I could in winter clothes, coat, and pair of boots (without heels) down the Boulevard Montparnasse. The Parisians I passed by looked at me askance as not many people jog along the rues fully dressed. Jim wasn't so unseemly. He'd been trying to take care of business from home with the usual horror of bureaucracy made worse, instead of better, by the Internet. He was not in the happiest of moods and strolled down the well-known boulevard to find one of the residences of artist Matisse. We were late, as our friend Ruben would say, for an appointment. I was rushing.

I arrived at Le Select looking for our "date." On the phone, I'd told him he'd know me by my neon orange hair. Like every other woman in France, he'd said. I told him Jim had a beard, like every other man in France, I added. He saw me and waved. I sat down, huffing and puffing, explaining our lateness and my haste. He, on the other hand, was quite comfortable with a kir in front of him. I was giving him the basic rundown about us, when Jim pulled out his chair. We placed an order for the same as his, the excellent French drink of white wine sweetened with a berry liqueur-most often Cassis-and sipped. We needed it, and cafés are the most social of places for any drink.

We were meeting Richard Allen, an editor of the International Herald-Tribune, who is from Little Rock originally but has lived in Paris for 21 years. We were finding out-as other Americans who have lived abroad had told us-that there are ups and downs, and it's good to make contacts with other of your countrymen who have the same points of reference. And since he is in the writing business as well, we were particularly curious about his experience. As we found out, Richard left Arkansas for New York, New York for Paris. He is here to stay.

In fact, Richard resides in this so-Hemingway of neighborhoods with his French wife and their three children. Every day he walks through the Jardins du Luxumbourg for exercise and the garden's majesty, through and by many of Paris's other splendors. He never stops seeing the beauty of this city he calls home-around a street corner, through the door to a courtyard, on the façade of a building, all on his same route. It is one of the great pleasures of his days.

But still it's life in a big city with scurrying about, the time it takes to get from one neighborhood to another, and on and on. "Paris is a tough nut to crack," Richard said. He was glad to read in Adam Gopnik's book Paris to the Moon that it was also hard for him-validation. We all crave it, the fact that we are separate but the same in the universal fundamentals, in art and life. Jim and I are not unlike others who have come before and will come later and are pulling out their hair (although we might have underestimated the period of acclimation, thinking we could jump in)!

It has been easier for me than for Jim, for whom the gray in the sky somehow permeates his head. Six months of gray, six months of glorious light, Richard said. The darkness seeps in Jim's mind, and he tries to process what it means in terms of this book and himself. I am totally and completely happy to be here. I don't mind fighting the people on the sidewalks and in the Metro when it's crowded. I think Jim sees the gray as Monsieur Matisse did, and as Jim says, he knows why Matisse was so profoundly affected by the light of the South when he finally found it.

Our conversation with Richard was affirming to both of us. After we left him, we stopped and had another drink. Jim sketched Le Dome before we ambled up the street. The building where Monsieur and Madame Matisse lived on the Boulevard Montparnasse is quite elegant with a handsome entry and the decorative wrought iron grillwork that embroiders the edifices of Paris. We had a dinner on the same block as our apartment-a bowl piled high with moules (mussels) and plate of frites, another culinary joy of France and especially to us, happy memories from out last trip to France and stopping on the roadside of the Emerald Coast in Normandy, just down from Cancale, to indulge in this treat. The delicacies we find here that aren't accessible at home make us happy, even when something is stressing us out. Our friend from home Sandy McMath called and, as always, made me laugh and smile.

The next day it snowed. Everyone says it never snows in Paris, but this is the second time it has for us. We were here at Thanksgiving of 1997, and the city was blanketed then as well. In the City of Light, the snowflakes reflect it, and the frozen white light rains down from the sky.

The day after was Sunday, our last one in Paris. The weather was frigid with a sprinkling of snow still covering the more shaded streets. I went marketing in Mother's mink coat (which I'm deliriously happy to have in this bitter cold) at my favorite and nearby rue de Bretagne. I bought a bunch of mild, young radishes bright red with dark greens, tender infant turnips and a bag of baby spinach which I chose leaf by leaf, more Clementines of course, tomatoes with their stems, and a perfectly formed and wrapped Betterave. Monsieur Bernard, the Rotisserie Man, and his birds were a must. I was too late for chicken but purchased one of his roasted guinea fowls and his juicy turkey breast, leg and thigh, and potatoes. Bernard complimented my coat, and I said, merci, that I would soon be leaving for the country. He, his nephew, and I all pronounced we would see each other on my next visit. Then it was on to La Fougasse where I only had enough money left to buy a perfect bread. The dark-haired woman with heart-shaped lips smiled and wished me Happy New Year. I would miss my new friends, but Jim and I had a feast!

That night I talked to my friend Dianne from home. We caught up and told each other our heartaches as we always have, and then I read Liane. She writes of her furs and jewels, miles of pearls, couture dresses, luncheons, teas, and parties with witty conversation and characters galore. I wear my black leggings and pants, a sweater or pullover shirt, and a black leather jacket over which I top MMC (Mother's mink coat). I can look very chic myself when occasion calls, but I am a traveler, a nomad with too much luggage and haven't had much cause to dress up.

That's the way it is with nomads, even with pearls.

posted by Beth on January 13, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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