Monday, 31 October 2011

Six Days In France: An Afternoon in the Parc du Buttes-Chaumont

Cineastes will know this as the park where Eric Rohmer sets the second act of The Aviator's Wife, when Anne-Laure Meury upstages everyone, on- or off-screen in the film. I've wanted to go there since forever but never got round to it.

You can take the 7 line to Botzaris and appear right at the corner, but I took the 11 line and got off at Place des Fetes. Take the escalator to street level and, on a Sunday, you will emerge into a busy local market. The area is working-class and the market fits it: I had a goat's cheese and salmon crepe from a stand there and didn't feel hungry for the rest of the day. Walk down the Rue du Crimee to the park.

I think there's a loi de 25 juillet 1856 that requires all the residents of the nineteenth to spend at least an hour in the Parc when the temperature is above 70F - I imagine town hall employees banging on apartment doors saying "Au Parc Messieur, Medames!. The last shot is outside the park, it's the Petite Ceinture, an abandoned equivalent of the Circle Line.

And so my time in fairy-land ended. The difference between this and the train out to Charles de Gaulle could not be greater. Or the cab ride from Terminal Four to my house. Or the next day at work. People wisely left me alone.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Six Days in France: On The Rue des Archives I Stopped and Wept

There are four places in the world I want to live: the Centrum in Amsterdam, the East Village in Manhatten, Soho in London and the Marais in Paris. Don't misunderstand me: if you would like to give me the keys to your flat in St Germain, or Kensington, or the Upper East Side, I'll move my books and CD's in tomorrow. But those are the places where I would spend my own money to live.

And when I am where I want to be and brought back to myself, I am brought face-to-face with the truth that I am not living the life I would like to lead in any of the places I would like to lead it. This is something I know, but rarely feel. Walking through the Marais that Sunday, I felt it. And I did what any decent, feeling person would do: I cried for the things that I have missed, and not been brave enough, or hard-working enough, or lucky enough, or talented enough, or courageous enough, or connected enough, or wealthy enough, or foolhardy enough, or sober enough, or clear-headed enough, to have tried for.

The rules changed during my lifetime. It turns out that to be my age and employed in a proper full-time job is not, after all, to be taken for granted. I have survived five or so years of unemployment in the last two decades, sunk into alcoholism in my thirties and spent eighteen years in recovery, have had and lost a long-term relationship, gained enough weight to have been diagnosed with so-called "type two diabetes" and then lost enough and become fit enough to be passed more or less flawless in my medicals, and I am still learning abstract mathematics and reading philosophy. It is also a life with little rest or ease. Even my sleep is filled with detailed, busy dreams. Sometimes tears are a relief. A relief from the endless effort of pretence, of being thankful for what I've got, of living in the moment, of resisting the temptation to turn round and quit everything, of showing up every freaking day.

And that's why, on the Rue des Archives, I stopped and wept. Because it was beautiful, because I was tired, and because I could afford for a few moments to feel honestly.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Six Days In France: Marche des Enfants Rouge, Sunday Morning

I arrived in Paris by sleeper at 07:00 on Sunday, showered and changed in the Gare d'Austerlitz, and had breakfast at 07:30 (!) in a cafe across the road as dawn broke. There was a young man tapping on his Macbook, a BoBo couple with huge backpacks looking at train timetables and waiting for friends to collect them, and a couple of locals. All of us had the coffee-juice-croissant-bread-and-jam breakfast. Which in those circumstances is perfect.

My timetable included a visit to the Marche des Enfants Rouge and the morning organ recital at Saint Sulpice. You could walk right past this little market on the Rue de Bretagne (Metro Filles de Calvaire) in the Marais. The entrance is on a section of road filled with butchers, greengrocers, mini-supermarkets, bakers, a fantastic patissiere - and at 09:00 on a Sunday morning all of them are open for business. Even at 09:00 the Caribbean and other exotica stands are cooking up their various stews, soups and meats, while I'm guessing the crowds don't arrive until about 10:30.

When you go, there's a cafe on the right-hand side, that I'm sitting outside in the third photo down, go get your morning coffee and croissant / bread basket there rather than the cafes on the street. I had a chocolate chaud, with sugar. I needed it. I was slightly out of sorts for that hour or so, as the next post will explain.

Monday, 24 October 2011

This Week At The Gym: Week 47, The Neutron Bug

I have some weird A/W (autumn / winter) bug that makes me want to give up any plans I might have had for the evening and go home to crawl into bed. I can't think at all, and the very thought of having to apply my will or intellect makes some reluctance hormone flow through my arteries. By Thursday evening I have seriously lost the will to live (henceforth LTWL: Lost The Will to Live). My heart says GO, but my body says NO.

It's not what I'm eating at lunchtime, and no, it's not because work is dull or boring, and I have a lifetime of practice at showing up for a life I've compromised my way into. I am always amazed at the way I try to blame my psychology, diet, work or anything else, for what is Mother Bloody Nature's fault. This is a Neutron Bug (it makes you feel weak but leaves no other outward symptoms) and I am not taking the blame for it. Nor am I going to let it make my decisions for me. I'm not sure what I do about hitting The Wall at three in the afternoon: the usual trick is to find something routine to do, put in the earphones and wait for it to pass. Catch is, I don't have a lot that's routine to do at the moment: all my projects require thinking at pretty much every stage and it's the thinking bit that suffers during an LTWL episode.

The reason I know that something is wrong is that my breathing is tight: four weeks ago, I aced two miles in just over sixteen minutes and now I can only keep the same pace up with a lot of heavy breathing and only for a mile-and-a-half. I nearly cut my usual Sunday trip to the gym last week, and I'm very glad I didn't. I put in a mile-and-a-half, twenty squats, fifteen push-ups and twenty sit-ups, followed by about twenty minutes of swimming. Not great, but way better than staying in bed. (Or maybe not, but we'll come to that in a while.)

I'm as up for Receiving Messages From Myself as the next new-age crystal-gazer, and there are usually a couple of days every year when I get the "don't even think of leaving the front door" message and since I'm coughing and blowing my nose frequently when it happens I accept those messages. No heroic showing up for work. This doesn't feel like that: it feels like I've just lost the will to live. That may be a sign I need to spend a few days in bed doing nothing, and, well, maybe I do. I can train hurt - or more to the point, I can train through a cough and cold. What I can't do, because very few people can, is train through LTWL hell. So maybe this is the but where I learn to train when mentally weak. And to show up at work, even if it's an hour late so I can drag my sorry ass out the door.

There is something going on in my soul about the life I'm living. I'm not denying that. But it's not the reason I get a case of the LTWL's. I have more frequently found that being pissed off with my circumstances can send me into the gym with the will to work out and hard. That, I think, is the other reason I'm assuming this is a Neutron Bug. I'm rather hoping that the very fact I've identified this as one of this year's A/W collection of bugs may let me beat it.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Six Days In France: Saturday, Cotes des Basques

Having almost fried my shoulders at Anglet, I had to spend Saturday in as much shade as possible. Also, I had to check out of the hotel at ten o'clock, though the hotel let me store my bags and change in the evening into restaurant-suitable clothes. Shade is in short supply in Biarritz, but there's a cliff that provides some until about eleven o'clock, a park on the cliff that will get you by until about midday, restaurants, and another park with winding paths and trees. I began the very long day about ten-fifteen, and the tide was in. Really in.
After about an hour, it had turned and was on its way out... I retreated into the first park-on-the-hillside...
By the time I'd taken that photograph, there was no hiding from the sun, so I went to the Bar de la Cote and settled in for lunch. After I could extend that no longer - they don't do "service continu" - I wandered a few dozen metres into another park on the cliffside and spent a while there. Which brings us to the surfers.
You need to click on the photograph below to see how many there are out there, bobbing about. This was about four o'clock in the afternoon, I think. And there had been no decent waves since the morning. But they all paddled out and hung around waiting for the waves. Or maybe the point was just to hang out in the water: like people fishing in public ponds and lakes. The point is not to catch fish, it's to be fishing - and therefore not to be any of the many places you don't want to be.
And when that pine-tree refuge could hide me from the sun no more, I snuck along the shady side of the streets to the old town and down to the beach, thinking I would pass some time in a cafe with losts of shade above the beach, and which was closed. ("Ferme le samdi" - va savoir) So I finally went down to the beach and found a shady spot, where I listened to Miles' On The Corner.
Of course the kids jump into the water. Always have, always will. Some things will never change, and a good thing too.
From there, I had a chocolate chaud at a cafe in the town, changed in the hotel, had a wonderful supper at Chez Ospio, waited at the hotel until ten, when a taxi took me down to the station in about five minutes flat. Thirteen euros. And so to the sleeper back to the Gare d'Austerlitz.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Six Days In France: Street Art at Anglet Beach

There's a path that runs all the way along the beach from Anglet Plages to Anglet Barre, to save you trudging through the sand, and about half-way down is a concrete thing with an platform and benches on top. Some enterprising writers have made it their own.

Click on the photographs to get more detail. It's worth it.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Six Days in France: The Beaches at Anglet

Anglet is on the end of the 10 bus from Biarritz. The bus has a slightly bizarre timetable...

... ummm, why are there fewer buses in the school holidays, Sundays and Public Holidays than during the regular days, because wouldn't there be more people wanting to go to the beach during the holidays? Anyway, even if it has a bizzare timetable, it has this really great route announcement system...

...apologies for the shake. The journey costs one euro and takes about twenty minutes. There was a stop just outside my hotel. 

Anglet is where the serious surfers go. Some of the afternoon waves were two metres or slightly more, and I understand that's a pretty big deal on this side of the Atlantic. There are no fancy shops or restaurants, and the new centre at Anglet Plages

is fairly, well, tacky-fun-stuff. Grown-ups can ignore it and they seem to. I had lunch at Marinella Spot and competently tasty it was. Lots of bourgeois surfers...

Though how anyone can sit in that sun is beyond me. And so to the sand and sea...

As ever, do click on the photographs to get the larger versions, which give you a much better impression. Except for the bit where it was 82-86 degrees in old money.