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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 27, 2004

Starting Over
We returned on the sixth of January to the city we love with its gray winter skies. When we left in late September, the idea was we'd be away for six weeks, but they turned into 14 long and hard ones. There was much sad and lonely work to do in shutting down the house my parents built, where my brothers and I grew up, learned, and loved to be a family, where after my father died, my mother laid oak logs in the fireplace for 35 more years. She'd long since made the house her own.

Those days are gone. I shut the door and walked away. That life is over, and Paris welcomed me back with her graceful open arms.

We brought along one more to add to our illustrious group of three (You haven't forgotten Frida?!). Our dog, Snapp, drove with Bret and us from Arkansas to Virginia and Bret's home. We stayed two days with her friend, Chris, and her. Bret had been dying for us to visit. She was proud of her apartment and rightly so. A fusion of young adult/college and art student/France and moments from her past and future stylishly thread through it. She is a tasteful girl, and her space shows this. The kitten, Janie, is obviously spoiled, but Bret displayed signs of becoming a strong disciplinarian and a potential tyrant to me, her mother, when I am old.

Getting Snapp's papers ready had been a lot of trouble, and our vet's office had helped tremendously. There was still one possible hang-up. If the weather was too cold, Snapp wouldn't be able to fly and would become another Virginia resident. The morning of the 5th we drove to Roanoke which is where we were leaving. The weather was unseasonably warm, but the Paris prediction was a degree too cool. The Delta agent was accommodating, and our vet faxed a letter giving his permission. They let Snapp onboard, and he flew to Paris--his first plane trip ever--and he did fine. He's now been in his new country of residence for three weeks. The sights and smells have thrilled him, and he can't believe his good fortune in being able to go into stores and restaurants. His first experience in Paris was at le swank, Le Bon Marche. Like an American gentleman, he rode the escalator up and perused the sales. It goes to show the old cliche is wrong. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

As always, the beauty of Paris filled my senses. How can you compare a radiant summer day to a silky winter evening with a walk along the Seine? Being in this city again was enthralling, but I also have to admit, it didn't seem as exotic. It felt familiar, natural to fly into Paris. Does that make it home? Is this the question we'll ask from now on? We still have roots in Arkansas, but our home is not. Our life there has been buried in the soil and flutters through the trees of Earth and Heaven with ancient spirits of time.

We found out after we'd returned to France how much Bret wishes we weren't so far away. Oh, we knew, but she'd never expressed it so succinctly or directly. Did we leave too soon? Should we have waited another year or two, when she may have been more settled and confident in her own shoes? Does that time ever come?

We were walking by the Louvre on the rue de Rivoli and happened to notice the Musee des Arts Decoratifs was open. I've wanted to go for years and haven't had the time, or my timing was off in some way. Today it was not. But instead of being thrilled with the decorative arts or costumes (the current show was okay but not great), I was giddy with delight over the bookstore. I could've dropped a bundle on volumes to ooh and ah over, to savor the tactile quality of the pages, and to arrange in my very own library in my chic Paris apartment if I only had one. Note for 2004: Get chic Paris apartment--large, filled with light, and loaded with charm. Ship furniture? Maybe.

And after all, it was January. I had to hit a few sales. From our ever wonderful Hotel St. Germain at 88, rue du Bac, it was a skip down the vintage blocks with lovely stores to Le Bon Marche. I purchased a few items along the way and there that were then wrapped impeccably and beautifully as gifts for friends in France as well as my dearest Libboi. On our last morning in this city I broke down and made the irrational decision to buy my first real French lingerie. This humiliating experience may not be quite as bad as trying on swimsuits, but this is hard to gauge. Le Bon Marche's lingerie department (which is too-too, frou-frou, and woo-woo) was packed full of women all sizes and shapes. French women adore sexy bras, panties, bustiers, thongs, anything. They all wear them, and I suppose they all try them on. This supports my previous theory that French females accept their bodies (by their apparel or lack of it and conduct at the beach) publicly. They must go into those dressing rooms, see their own images, and like them fine or well enough to purchase these undergarments that are often scant and always have a come-and-get-me attitude. They are not going to buy boring or ugly. I went. I laid out my credit card. I got away from there. Man, oh man. (I guess that's the point.)

After a quick trip to Brittany and a lovely visit with St. Alice of Auray and Guy, we had a most pleasant drive through France. By the time we skirted around Toulouse, we had that "almost home" feeling. It was dark and rainy, when we arrived in Collioure. We unloaded our packed-to-the-gills car and took Snapp up the elevator to his new abode. It felt a little strange we'd been away so long, but we were happy to be here. We invited our friend Gerard up for a drink when he returned from dinner. We were glad to see his tall, angular body and cropped white hair and hear his voice.

The next morning we carried our straw bag to the Sunday market, where we bought roasted chicken and fresh vegetables. On this first outing, we ran into two more friends. One we met for cafe at Les Templiers. The other surprised us on the stone path that curves around the chateau with its demilune of sea. She'd also been away and just returned the day before as we did. She and her husband are Dubliners.

Since then, we have stocked the pantry and rearranged the furniture. We've even bought some new stuff--a funky 50's lamp and a 30's leather club chair. We've taken a few spectacular jaunts to see Pyrenees vistas we hadn't seen before, and we finally found a new bed for Snapp who is settling in, while Jim is working on revisions.

Collioure and our apartment are our own again.

Note: The continuation of my diary will start with the present by telling you what we're doing now, but I'll also drop back to catch you up on what happened/how things ended up before. Thanks for your patience during my absence. Believe me. I'd much rather have been here writing my column.

posted by Beth on January 27, 2004 | View All Diary Entries

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