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


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

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January 17, 2003

A Paris Home!
(Dreams and Dream-Makers)

There is no furrow in my brow, which is a particularly pleasing discovery. At home, it was getting deeper, virtually digging its own trench. A furrow is one of those unattractive attributes of age that a woman doesn't want to see on her, gasp, face. Even though we have burdens and problems here, I feel lighter in spirit. My shoulders have lifted.

Shopping is a temptation I resist, which is tricky, since there are so many wild and wonderful, beautiful and chic costumes, shoes, and bags. Jim says I’m really a bag lady at heart, and he's got a point. I love to buy bags of all sorts.

I pass by the shop Madame Zaza of Marseille, which is a block away and catches my eye every time I see it. I love the name as well as looking in her window. The clothes are quite nice, very femininely French, but a little fou-fou for me. They remind me of Liane de Pougy though they're not expensive enough for her taste. Madame Zaza of Marseille is a name Liane might have given to one of her friends, and I’d like to know Liane's friend, Madame Zaza.

A shoe store off the rue de Turrene has delicate ballet slipper pumps in blacks, reds, and pale pastel colors with fabulous gold heels. I haven’t seen them anywhere else, and of all the stylish chaussures that dot the window landscapes, these are most appealing. I will not let them cruelly coax me in to buy them.

A smart brown boucle suit—long skirt and jacket with matching coat—captures the window of a store on the rue du Pt Louis Phillipe on our way home from the Ile St Louis. As striking as this ensemble is, I’m not lured by any clothing until I can lose this excess weight. I can see a little difference from our marathon walking but not enough. I’m enjoying too much of a Bon Appetit with delicious glasses of wine.

Jim and I went out for a day of money changing which is not particularly easy with Traveler’s checks in dollars. The banks will not take them anymore—the €uro is king—and you get a bad rate at the Change bureaus. The American Express office is the best bet, and it's certainly worth being a member.

I strolled about in MMC (Mother’s mink coat). I love wearing it. It keeps me warm in this icy cold, not to mention the pleasure I receive from the other envious fur-wearers on the street comparing mine to theirs.

I picked up a schedule at the Opera and hope we can attend a performance in this exquisite building. I want to dress up, drink coupes of champagne, and listen to arias.

It is Epiphany. Michel came over for dinner and brought a traditional King cake with flaky pastry layers and almond filling. We drank and ate and talked with a background of jazz. Bret called. She was upset and crying, wishing I was there to help her. I tried to reassure her and gave advice like a good Southern mother. Get in bed and pull up the covers over your head, go to sleep. I felt a motherly heave for my baby. We called her back later, and she'd talked to a friend and felt better. Jim and I were reassured as she was.

The next morning we met with Monsieur Malric of the lovely Hotel Saint Germain. We were looking for a place to leave some of our belongings (a few of our too many suitcases), when we left Paris at the end of the week. We needed and desired a hotel to come back to and receive our mail, a hotel to make ours. We craved a Paris home, and the Hotel Saint Germain was our dream. We loved our stay there before, its comfy elegance and intimate ambience on the oh-so-chic rue du Bac. M. Malric's two French bull dogs, Jules and Ouen, that loll in the lobby give the hotel just the right touch. They remind us of our sweet Snapp, who is curled up in his grandmother’s chair. He has become the Duke of Maple Street in Batesville, Arkansas.

Monsieur Malric is the epitome of male French style in crisp shirt and handsome vest with a cantaloupe-colored back. (French men aren’t afraid of color as most Americans are.) He has a thick head of dark hair and moves easily in his space, the wonderful hotel. We told stories and laughed, explained our coveting. He thought our adventure more French than American in essence. We remembered his fashionable mother from our last visit, and he told the comical story of how he’d given first Jules and then Ouen to her as presents, and how she’d returned first Jules and then Ouen back to him. They became Hotel Saint Germain residents just as we wished for ourselves. Before the end of our interview, the dapper Monsieur became the Genie of Aladdin’s Lamp and granted us our wish. “You have a home in Paris on the rue du Bac,” he said, laughing. “Not bad.” Not bad, indeed. We had our dream home and were thrilled!

We celebrated by returning to one of our favorite museums, the Rodin, and then lunched at the Restaurant Voltaire. The ambience is brimming with Parisian romance and appointed with lush and discrete banquettes and swish service. We indulged in a perfectly dressed endive salad with Roquefort frommage, a pureed vegetable soup and omelet, a half-bottle of wine.

Afterwards, we walked through the cutting wind to the Galerie Daniel Besseiche for a date with gallery representative, Alice Pennington-Mellor, and Anne Pierre-Humbert. Anne is the widow of the painter of Jim’s Holy Grail, the rich painting that called like a siren through the gray winter skies. Anne is a beautiful woman with blue eyes that are as filled with light as her late husband’s paintings. Her face is framed by well-cut gray pageboy, and her spirit carried us away with its effervescence. As Alice kindly translated, Anne talked of Pierre and their life together. She was an actress who performed on the radio when they met. Pierre knew her voice before he ever laid eyes on her. They lived most of the year in Paris, though they had a summer and holiday house in the South. It is such a civilized life.

Many of their friends were artists as well, and even when they were competitive, they supported each other. After an opening, they would all go out to dinner together. Pierre said this was the last of the good artist times. Anne believes artists were more supportive of one another then than now. Money was sometimes hard to come by, but when they needed it the most, a miracle would happen. “When you are doing the work you love," she said, "you may not live as well, but it’s all you need.”

I studied Pierre’s paintings in the gallery. Anne said that Pierre always looked for the light in his paintings, and I could see what she meant. His paintings resonated with color, life, and light. I admire his images which seemed to me “suggestions” of the scenes and objects he painted and dreamed.

Alice has become our dream-maker as well. It had been eight long weeks since I’d gotten a hair-cut or color. I looked like a drab and shaggy ghost of myself and was so mentally exhausted I couldn't figure out what to do. Alice came to my rescue and organized an appointment down her street. But the best of all is that she believes she may be able to help us find a house in Brittany, where Jim can paint and write. Genie, genie, come again. Let dear Alice bring us a house.

When we got home, we had an email from our sweet friend Patti. She’d rented our house in Arkansas for a month, and our accountant, Lloyd had sent a message, "Don’t worry, be happy," it said.

This was such a great day! We have a home in Paris on the rue du Bac (not bad), and we received gifts of hope, courage, and kindness from some people we knew and others we’d never laid eyes on. One imagines friends and family to be supportive, and many of ours have in remarkable ways, but the generosity of strangers is stunning. These people I've described don’t know us, but they understand our dream and adventure, and are helping us make it.

My furrow has escaped from my brow. Our dream-makers continue to dream.

posted by Beth on January 17, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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