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Sunday
Oct022016

Points of Interest

 

 

We used to play a game in Berkeley called Points of Interest. You opened old books and magazines and circled with a magic marker little details of whatever caught your eye. Richard and I will approach our past weekend in Honfleur, on the Normandie coast, by playing this game.

We arrive in Le Havre by train from Paris at two on a Friday and find that Avis, the only rental car company in town, is closed from noon to 4 p.m. Seriously? Can you imagine such a lack of entrepreneurial spirit in any major U.S. city?

On the drive to Honfleur, our Moroccan-French cab driver tells us about places to visit in Morocco, and about the anti-terrorist security there, more rigorous than in France. Just what we need to hear to make that trip.

At the top of our building on rue Lucie Delarue Mardus we find our Airbnb apartment:

 

 

Green hills rise to the south, the mouth of the Seine to the north.

The Pont de Normandie spanning the Seine with its spider web pattern, mirrored by three delicate spider weavings outside the windows to the south.

What a pleasing sense of color the owner, Beatrice, has!

 

 

Celery green, a color I’d never think to use on kitchen walls, echoed in the couch, splashes of red and bright patterns on the throw pillows.

Look at the array of colors in the scissors and knife handles.

A basket of talking sticks, or—what are they?

 

A meander around town looking for a restaurant open at 5 pm. Snacks, yes, but we’re in France. Most open at 7 p.m. We settle for galettes.

A visit to friends in the country. Donkeys, white horses, fields of long-legged stallions.

 

A cab driver who slows down, warns of boars crossing the road.  I remember the scene in the film “La Reine Margot” where King Charles IX’s treacherous brother, the Duke of Anjou, lures him on a boar hunt in the forest where he is left to die from a ravaging boar, before his friend, the future Henri IV, comes to his rescue.

A long conversation with Richard about one of the wellsprings of his latest struggle with paralyzing depression: disappointment at not having mastered French in his last course at the Sorbonne, or the one before that at Alliance Française, or the five years of daily attempts at conversation.

How hard on yourself you are! Let’s approach learning French like children, who only want to connect! Let’s approach it like buddhas and laugh at ourselves! Let’s be surrealists and speak French, Spanish and English all at once, as Salvador Dali and our friend Jane Eliot did over dinner! We decide to take an immersion course together.

Reading a memoir that my friend Diane lent me, A Woman in Berlin, about the last months of World War II in Berlin, when German women were raped multiple times a day by Russian soldiers, written anonymously because the shame and repression of returning German soldiers was so profound. An eloquent document about the cost of war.

 

Richard is reading Swerve; How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt about the effect the poet Lucretius had on the Enlightenment, on Renaissance artists, and on my beloved Montaigne.

 

Flâneuring around town together and seeing a wedding outside the oldest wooden church in France, l’Église Sainte-Catherine, its bell tower in a separate building so the parishioners wouldn’t perish in case of a fire if it was struck by lightning.

 

 

The town reminds me of Bergen from which my maternal ancestors left for America during the mid-nineteenth century.

Small white gulls swooping above the harbor, making me think of my sister, Jane.

 

Handsome schooners lining the Vieux Bassin—memories of my years living on a schooner, as cook.

A sullen North African-looking man on a motorbike, with boom box blasting hostile rap. I give him a thumb’s up and he flashes a bashful grin.

Picking L’Hippocampe for dinner, and savoring a plate of choucroute with every kind of seafood: salmon, cabillaud, bream, langoustine, mussels, shrimp.

Richard urging me to write about my years on The Flying Cloud, the characters packed in, ten to the schooner, the groupies the single men attracted, the famous rock singers moored nearby in Lido Shipyard and Catalina Island, the stress for an introvert of communal living, dawning feminist awareness.

Struck by the mythical resonance of the seahorse, the hippocampe, one of Poseidon’s emblems, and our talk about a story of the sea. 

The English man and woman at the next table who strike up a conversation with me when Richard leaves the table for a moment after dinner. The Englishman is a weight lifter, who cheers the Brexit decision, says he didn’t like NYC because there were “too many foreigners there.” Code for racism, which Richard catches on his return, and refuses to engage in, walking out of the restaurant to go photograph the port at night.

 

L’esprit d’escalier: the too-late comeback that occurs to you on the staircase after you leave: You mean a foreigner like you? Everyone in America is a foreigner except Native Americans.

Glimpses of the Seine to our left on the train back to Paris. One white swan. An egret.

The big-bellied train conductor, to whom we offer some Algerian Deglet Nour dates and two kinds of cheese. He turns up his nose. “I only eat fresh Medjool dates,” he says. “That cheese,” he says, pointing to Richard’s, “is industrial cheese. But the Camembert looks good.” Ah, these wonderful discerning French, experts in all matters of taste.

 

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Reader Comments (10)

Great to read once again about your perspectives! We are all born with a diversity of talents. Tell Richard that what he may lack in his ears is more than made up by the gift of his eyes as evidenced by his photographs.

Monday, October 3, 2016 at 21:12 | Unregistered CommenterVarya

Oh what a beautiful little town and wonderful descriptions! Thanks for circling all the best points of interest for us!
Seagulls reminding you of Jane, an AirBnB with such tasteful colors and decor, delicious food, a brilliant plan for
learning French...like children and with laughter in an immersed setting, and all the beautiful sites and sounds and flavors.

I am transported!!!

Hugs and kisses from finally-cooler AZ,
Suki

Monday, October 3, 2016 at 21:50 | Unregistered CommenterSuki

Varya,

Thank you for this. I passed it on to Richard, who thanks you, too.

The problem for him is that he has the highest command of English, and thought mastery of a second language would come more easily.

We keep on practicing, though.

See you soon!

XO,

Kaaren (and Richard)

Monday, October 3, 2016 at 22:02 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Suki,

We love your message! We're finally traveling again, after a few years of finding it hard to leave Paris.

I think you and Fred would love Honfleur, if you two world travelers haven't already been there. You could moor your boat in the Vieux Bassin--all you'd have to do is cross the Atlantic.

I heard about the weather in Arizona from Betty. Global warming brought us the balmiest September I can remember here in Paris.

Hugs and love to you and Fred,

Kaaren & Richard

Monday, October 3, 2016 at 22:09 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

This is a delightful, entertaining and informational piece as always. I love the images and meandering text, that give me the sense of an idle walk in a place I've never experienced before. Thank you, Kaaren and Richard, for sharing your experiences in this way.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 4:59 | Unregistered CommenterCarole

Delighted to " have you back", dear Kaaren .... I've missed your Paris Post and Richard's always-intriguing photographs. It's lovely to hear about Honfleur, on the Normandie coast .... including your colorful Airbnb, and your wonderfully perceptive observations.

Becoming proficient in learning a second language is tough when you're older .... it's a gift not everyone has, like reading music or learning to play an instrument exceptionally well, Our "very bright" son, Farid, who has lived in Switzerland for over 10 years, whose wife is Swiss, whose children are bilingual, and who has taken Swiss German courses for years, still struggles to attain the proficiency of at least an 8 year old! But don't despair, Richard, practice and the immersion course should help!!

My life on my own, without Abdal-Hayy's physical presence, is a whole new world for me, but not without magic .... I'm surrounded by his amazing spirit and I'm so grateful for the 36 years we had together! The free-swooping seagulls would have reminded me of him, too, like you thinking of Jane .
So I'm wishing you guys all the best.... may you have many more loving, creative and interesting years together. Love, Malika

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 15:45 | Unregistered CommenterMalika Moore

I agree with your posted comment: Richard has such mastery of English that anything less in any other language would be a horror. And oh, if we could just learn like children! — how wonderful (and humbling) that would be…!

So glad to read PP again. I've missed it. It's like having you around for a little while. I also agree with Richard: you should write about The Flying Cloud. Talk about having a ready-made canvas!

Please don't let so much time elapse between stories. (Or any time elapse.)

Love, love, love.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 17:43 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Dear Carole,

Thank you so much. It's good to be idle once in a while, isn't it? We're glad you enjoyed our impressions of Honfleur on the "flowery coast" of France.

Love to you,

Kaaren & Richard

Friday, October 7, 2016 at 18:50 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Maliki!

So good to hear from you. We've been working on poems and photos, just not here on Paris Play.

As a painter, you know everything about color and how welcome it is when it's done well.

Thank you for the reminder of how intelligence and facility with languages are not the same thing. Farid is really in an ideal position to learn with a Swiss wife and children fluent in German. Good luck to him and to all of us in improving our language skills!

I'm glad to hear of your sense of being surrounded by Abdal-Hayy's spirit. That does not surprise me a bit. If anyone could travel beyond the physical sense, it's a Sufi poet like him. Jane, too, continues to visit me in dreams and in other ways.

36 years? Wow! I didn't realize you'd been together that long.

Thank you for your good wishes, and sending them back to you.

Love and hugs,

Kaaren & Richard

Friday, October 7, 2016 at 19:05 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Anna,

Merci, danke, gracias!

Maybe the whole point is to return to the simplicity of a child's point of view. We're working on it.

I've been down in the depths working on poems. But stories are bubbling up again. I'd forgotten that Paris Play is really a letter to our friends, and we must keep up our correspondence that way. We're going to try to post shorter anecdotes with photos, though, so even those with full time jobs will have time to scan our news.

Abrazos,

Kaaren & Richard

Friday, October 7, 2016 at 19:12 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

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