Appreciating Lots of Things Including Feet!

Appreciating Feet!  Monday October 9 2017

This trip has been a lesson in how important it is to have working feet!  Being in a large city like Paris brings this necessity into high relief.  Doing anything or going anywhere for a relaxed afternoon of visiting, shopping, exploring, looking, listening, or eating and drinking  seems to involve walking for 1.5 to 2 miles, judging by Nancy’s Fitbit and its reliable data recording. This is our average walking distance when  we are using public transportation to get around.

I guess I’ve always taken feet for granted, even though mine are often troublesome and painful and have, all my life, rebelled against shoes.

This episode of the epic infected toe is the first time I’ve actually had to count every step in considering whether to do something and what the consequences might be.

We were scheduled today for a visit to the Centre Georges Pompidou, where several interesting exhibits are scheduled this year at this time. We were planning to meet friends there, to enjoy a couple of shows and a meal together.

But during the night and when I woke up, the wound on my toe seemed more painful than it had previously. It seemed imperative to do something about it, in light of the fact that I’m going to have to fly back to the US on Thursday – in three days. Airports require a LOT of standing and walking.

I hadn’t previously been aware of “Urgent Care” in Paris, as opposed to the doctors making house calls (SOS Medecins) or the hospital emergency rooms.  But I googled to see if it exists, and indeed the idea has started to be implemented here.  Good!  This is hardly a life threatening emergency in this age of antibiotics – though as little as 76 years ago, it could well have caused a fatal case of blood poisoning.  One of my little research projects  in studying French history in Missouri led me on a memorable detour perusing death certificates from the 1860s in Washington County, and discovering that an amazing number of people of all ages died a few weeks after sustaining slight wounds to their feet or lower legs. As I think about it, I really appreciate having been born in the age of antibiotics — just barely — and to have had a long, healthy life as a result. If penicillin had not just become at least somewhat available to the public (it was first used to cure an ordinary person in 1941), I would have died of pneumonia in 1942, as a toddler.

As I thought about it, I hadn’t seen any changes in my toe this morning. I didn’t figure that urgent care doctors would be able to tell me any more than I already knew and was doing, thanks to the doctor who had made the house call last week and prescribed antibiotics.  What I really needed was a pair of shoes that didn’t rub that toe and make it worse every time I took a step, and a pair of fuzzy slippers so that I could keep my feet warm while in the apartment. I’m grateful that I was guided to change my thinking from seeking a medical solution to finding a more practical outcome.

October in Paris is beautiful, but the weather is starting to cool off a bit, and the 19th century building where our apartment is has cold, uninsulated floors, even though the electric baseboard heaters do a nice job heating the air. My feet have been like icicles, and I’m sure that with icy feet, my circulation must be pretty slow, rather than vigorously helping the wound to heal.

I need to say at this point that I’ve (of course) been using Unity spiritual tools to envision and facilitate a successful change for the better. I’ve spent time meditating, centering, simply envisioning a healed, whole toe, and affirming the love and wholeness that gives me life. One axiom of affirmative prayer is that we choose the outcome, and turn the means by which it happens over to the Universe. This leads to some interesting surprises as envisioned outcomes happen in ways totally different than one might ever have thought.

It’s Monday, and a lot of shoe stores are closed, so I was having trouble figuring out where I might find a shoe store with comfortable, non – irritating shoes. Plus, my feet are very long and narrow. I have always had trouble finding shoes that fit in the US – how would I find any here? I was very tempted to not go anywhere.

On the other hand, finding shoes that wouldn’t rub that toe – maybe something like Birkenstock sandals — would probably not cost a whole lot more than the clinic visit, and would probably address the problem more directly. Not knowing where to look but in the interests of doing something, I found online a shoe store that was open on Monday on the Boulevard St. Michel, fairly accessible to the apartment.  We figured we’d take the bus, see what we could find, and then end up at our favorite department store, BHV, on the right bank by the Hotel de Ville (City Hall).  The shoe store didn’t have anything that looked promising, and the available clerk wasn’t very interested in our request, so we forged ahead to BHV, which proved to have a very extensive selection of different brands and types of shoes.

We both looked in different areas of the shoe department, and Nancy found a section with Mephisto shoes.  I had never considered these shoes before, because of their very high price in the US. My consciousness of lack had led me to simply avoid considering them. But now, as a result of praying, I was just following where circumstances led. I was also curious now because a friend of ours had said a couple of days previously that he had finally found relief from persistent foot problems when he started wearing Mephisto shoes. So I was ready to suspend my previous beliefs, at least a little.

I explained the problem to the sales clerk who clearly specialized in this one brand, and he brought out two different styles. I tried them on.  Nancy had told me these shoes work really well for long narrow feet, and wow!  Was she right!  I have never in my life, going all the way back to early childhood when I ended up wearing special orthopedic shoes, found shoes that were really comfortable. Suddenly my feet felt made for shoes, rather than feeling like they were alien extremities destined never to fit into anything that I could then actually walk in. I’ve always felt like the ugly stepsisters in the Cinderella story trying to fit into the glass slipper.   I discovered today that I must have French feet!

We were flabbergasted to find that in France in general and at BHV in particular, where a good sale was going on, the prices are  about two- thirds less  than what the same shoes cost in the US – they were actually less expensive than many good US brands cost at home. What a wonderful example of an apparent coincidence that was the result of prayer and willingness to respond in the moment!

I hadn’t felt terribly optimistic about finding sandals in Paris in October, when winter is fast approaching. Posters on walls and in stores are all about winter and being ready for it, and winter is a big deal at this northern latitude. Indeed we didn’t find any sandals – and no one offered any hope that we would.  But what we found is so much better!  Real shoes that fit!  Who would think that we might be so lucky?  I feel truly blessed and guided.  And the amount we saved by finding these shoes here in Paris paid for a nice chunk of airfare —   a big deal!

When we left the store, I could actually walk freely and easily, without any pain, and with no pressure on the sore area, which I’m pretty sure was caused in the first place by walking around the city in the shoes I had been wearing since arriving here, which, when push comes to shove, are obviously too short and wide. This was a good lesson in being sure that the footwear I bring with me on a foreign trip will support a lot of walking without causing any problems with my feet!

I am so happy that I can once again think about where we would like to go and feel that we can get there and back, no matter how hard the bus stop is to find, how many different places we have to try to find what we’re looking for, or how long the walk might be from where we get off the bus to the destination we’re seeking or to the connecting bus line.

On the way home, we passed by a different store that had lots of warm fuzzy slippers, and I bought a pair, so now, at home, my feet are even warm.  Heaven!  I plan to write myself a note to remind me that next year we need to pack warm slippers and a hot water bottle, and we need to plan to buy more fabulous French shoes when we come back to Paris.

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Parisian Sunday Spirit

Sunday Spirit

Sunday in Paris is special.  One sees a lightheartedness, a disposition to play, that is not visible on regular days.

Traffic is seriously diminished for one thing. People are strolling, often in family groups or in couples. Every other day (including Saturday), we  see children being walked home from school by their mamans.. Those walks are clearly purposeful,  even if the duo stop off at a patisserie for a four o’clock snack. Way back when, the snack was often a slice of baguette and a couple of squares of dark chocolate, referred to as “the four o’clock.”

I don’t know if bakery treats were always a part of upscale Parisian weekdays, as I experienced this tradition in smaller towns and in the country.  However, we have seen a fair number of bakery visits on these walks home from school.

Sunday walks are different, though.  On Sunday, it’s common to see a schoolchild enjoying breakfast or brunch in a café with a father, for instance. All you can eat, for the child. Or it’s very common to see a family with a little one in a pram, and possibly one or two older siblings along for the walk – everyone walking together, Dad often carrying or pushing the little one.

Sunday’s also a day when people take dogs for a stroll. It seems overall that there are fewer dogs in Paris this year. Most of the ones we saw were cute little purebreds on leashes walking along with their people or making friends with each other while their people chatted on the sidewalk. Today we saw a Lhasa Apso, reminding us of our ongoing grieving for the Lhasa we had to put down for temperament problems before coming here. We also saw a chihuahua (long-haired), a Maltese, a Shih-tsu, a Pomeranian, a shorthaired fox terrier, and several King Charles spaniels, the breed that seems to be most popular this year.  In previous years, we’ve seen several papillons, but we saw none of those today.

Since it was Sunday, after all, we decided this morning to start off by attending Mass at St. Medard Church, which is at the end of the rue Mouffetard, where we planned to stroll and shop after Mass.  Rue Mouffetard on Sunday is famous for the popular singing and dancing, to Parisian accordion music, which has gone on there every Sunday since at least the end of the second World War. While watching old French movies from the 1930s, we’ve seen similar street gatherings to sing and dance– so the idea has been around for a while.

The street singing and music apparently started today at around the same time as Mass.  As we were listening to recited prayers and chanted church music inside the Gothic church of St. Medard, and attempting to find the silence within to pray, we could hear, coming loudly from the square outside, the strains of bouncy accordion tunes and loudly sung popular songs. The music outside sounded so joyous and inviting, it was hard to stay focused on the liturgy in which we were participating.  I entertained the thought of Dueling Parties!

The church was quite full with people of all ages, which surprised us a bit. No one around us appeared to give in to the temptation coming from the street party going on outside. Mass was over in due time, of course, and we streamed out into the street with all those who had been praying with us. At that point, the street was really full of movement and cheerfulness.

We decided to walk up the hill a bit and shop for food for later meals.  Rue Mouffetard is such a feast for the senses! We could imagine ourselves at the beach while standing outside the poissonnerie enjoying the fresh, salty smell, and the multiple cheeses in the Cremerie were equally fragrant and appealing.  Great lines waited outside what was obviously a favorite pastry shop, and also outside the butcher with his outdoor rotisserie , from which wafted the aroma of sizzling meats. The grocers’ huge displays of fresh produce drew us (and also many wasps)  with the fragrances of perfectly ripe fruits of all descriptions.  One grocer had a huge display of different, vibrantly colored mushrooms of many shapes and sizes.

One store that was delightful to explore was an old fashioned hardware and notions store.  I wish that store were online!!  The space  wound back  through at least three different buildings – a single narrow corridor leading back, lined floor to ceiling on both sides with tightly packed items, and another, parallel passage  bringing the shopper back to the checkout line. The store had all kinds of gizmos and gadgets and substances and tools…  We finally found there the net shopping bags that we had been able to purchase in Paris years before, but which have in recent years  become extremely hard to find .

These bags are brilliant.  They are compact and lightweight to carry around, and they expand enormously when filled with objects to carry.  Nancy had one she had gotten a long time ago, and I had one I had purchased when I first got to Paris in 1961 –  they’re remarkably durable and reusable — but we hadn’t been able to augment our meager supply. Today, we each found a new color to our individual liking, and now we each have two “filets.”  I had asked just the other day in our neighborhood grocery where we might find them,  and everyone standing in line to check out had gotten involved in the discussion, as often happens in neighborhood settings in Paris. At the end, everyone agreed they hadn’t seen one in a very long time. I was so happy we chanced on  a supply!

Finally, it really was time for lunch and some of the massive crowd that been in the Square Medard, in front of the church, as Mass was letting out, had dissipated.  So we strolled back down the hill to the Square, where the accordionist was still playing , and bunches of people were sitting at tables on the square eating, while a couple of dozen others were dancing enthusiastically or singing  in chorus to the accordion melodies. Different dances succeeded one another.  Ballroom demonstrations such as tangos and waltzes morphed into individualistic exuberance, gave place to line dances, and finally ended up as traditional reels and squares, a la francaise.  While watching the traditional dancing, I was reminded of dancing I’d experienced in Old Mines, Missouri, as fiddlers played historical French dance tunes and people swung and swayed and clogged enthusiastically in some of these same figures.

Only two musicians – accordionists —  have kept the party going every Sunday since at least the 1940s.  The fellow today, a man in his sixties, perhaps, who was Mr. Personality, has been leading, he says, for 30 years.  I felt really appreciative of his devotion over all this time so that we can still in 2017 enjoy this traditional Parisian street party. I hope his successor is already being trained in the wings!

As the party was drawing to a close, a large green municipal solid waste truck pulled up, slowly rounding the beautiful fountain in the square, and stopped.  Out of it hopped at least five young people, men and women, wearing gray and yellow safety vests.  Together, with great verve, they hoisted into the truck at least half a block’s worth of green trash cans and huge black trash bags.  They swept the place where the trash had been waiting, and hoisted the plastic barriers that had surrounded it into a trailer.  Five minutes after they arrived, they drove off again, leaving no trace of the mountain of waste matter that had been waiting for them.  It was a neat magic trick! It was Sunday, and I find it hard to believe that city workers would be busy on what generally in Paris is a solemnly observed day of rest.  Plus the youthfulness of the crew and the fact that it included attractive young women makes me think this was some kind of volunteer gig.

We Ubered from the Square, having thoroughly enjoyed our worship, shopping, lunch and participation in the street party, because at 3:30, it was time to be on our way to the other event we had planned for today – a free concert on the famous and historic organ at St. Sulpice Church. The occasion was a celebration of the 17th century pastor of that church who also founded the religious order of Sulpician priests, who originally had been trained at the enormous seminary that M Ollio, the priest in question, had built next to St. Sulpice Church. Members of the parish read aloud some of the spiritual letters of the pastor/ founder, and the parish organist and some of the male choir members performed music that (mostly) had been composed in the 17th century for that organ. The organ showed its stuff beautifully.

A fascinating aspect of the concert was that a videographer or two were upstairs in the organ loft transmitting to a screen set up in front by the altar an ongoing video of the organist and his assistants, whom we could not see from downstairs. Watching the organist’s hands flitting from one keyboard to another (there were five of them) and watching his feet dancing on the pedals added a whole new dimension to the organ concert experience.  Another new dimension was to see that the organist wasn’t alone. There was one assistant on each side of him, and in between pieces, both young men were very busy pushing and pulling stops according to a list each had on a piece of paper. Neither Nancy nor I had ever before thought about the possibility of the organist at one of these enormous instruments having assistants at his side to help change up all the registers and timbres between pieces.

When the concert finished, it was 5:30 – time to go home and prepare a simple evening meal.  We discovered that the bus we needed wasn’t running on Sunday – we guessed that  as we approached the bus stop from a block away, because no one was anywhere near it, and, sure enough, the schedule showed that the line doesn’t run on Sundays.  Fortunately, the square had a taxi stand and we were able to get a cab to take us home – driven by a very pleasant and attractive young woman.

It was quite a day, with three different celebrations, each so different from the other, but all animated  by music.  The day was memorable, a high point of this year’s stay here in Paris.

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A Community of Diners

A Community of Diners

 

After spending most of three days housebound because of my infected toe and the doctor’s warnings and instructions on how to care for it (crutches, no shoe, no pressure on the ground…) I was really ready to bust out of the house and do something.  Nancy had spent the afternoon taking a pleasant walk around the neighborhood – different streets than we’d explored previously.  She returned with a suggestion for a new restaurant we could visit that looked appealing and had a good menu. When dinner time came around, I was ready to go!  We called Uber for door to door service, and off we went.

The restaurant was “Le Languedoc” on Boulevard Port-Royal, Despite its regional name, it had a good traditional Parisian  menu that gave lip service to southwestern France in offering a (delicious) Cassoulet, the Southwestern French traditional stew of white beans and sausage.

We entered the charming restaurant, a small to medium sized “salle” with maybe 30 tables total – tables for two or for four — with a bar at the back. The décor was “sympa,” with red checked gingham curtains at the windows, white table cloths, and light yellow walls with  pleasant country scenes and polished copper pots intermingled on all sides. The resulting ambiance seemed more charming  and homey that one generally finds in French restaurants.  We were on the early side for dinner, for which the restaurant opened at 7 pm.  As our meal and the evening progressed, a steady stream of smiling customers  came in, greeted and were greeted, and took seats at different tables.  The service was assured by the owner and his wife, who appeared to be in their late forties.

Their team work was delightful.  As the restaurant filled, it became obvious that a high percentage of the customers were “regulars”  whom the owners greeted warmly.  The customers were for the most part middle aged couples or small groups of friends, also middle aged.  And from a surprisingly high percentage of tables we heard conversations in mixed French and English – French people speaking partly in English, or Americans who obviously were well habituated and integrated in France.

The sense of camaraderie and friendliness reminded me of neighborhood restaurants I had known while here in the 1960s. Neighborhoods then had friendly restaurants where the cooking was good, with fresh ingredients, without any manner of “haute cuisine.”  In those days, some of these neighborhood restaurants went so far as to have napkins wrapped in napkin rings stashed in cubby holes for the regular customers.

As the intensity of the service rose in proportion with the number of full tables, it became clear that the choreography of serving —  greeting, bringing menus, asking people’s choices, serviing and clearing  three or four courses for each table – brought  a certain adrenaline rush that the owners enjoyed.  They were “in the zone,” turning, smiling, asking, attending to multiple tables in turn. The rhythm of the different steps was carried out flawlessly, with no apparent verbal communication about who should go where.  As is common in French restaurants, tables were quite close to each other, so we could overhear conversations at nearby tables, and anyone who needed to get up occasioned smiles and comments from neighbors at adjoining tables.

The food was also very good – excellent “bourgeois” cooking – grandmother cooking.  Doneness was perfect and sauces were well seasoned.  As an appetizer, I had a tomato salad with a lovely vinaigrette that Nancy also enjoyed garnishing an artichoke heart that was fully four inches in diameter  and over a half inch thick – the largest I have ever seen.  I had fun trying to imagine the size of the artichoke from which it came!  Nancy ordered the cassoulet and I had a steak.  Having a little “salade” of lettuce with vinaigrette to serve around the table, “a la francaise,”  after the main course was a nice touch. For dessert, Nancy had her new favorite, “café gourmand,” which includes a cup of espresso along with small portions of three different house-made desserts.  Her Cafe Gourmand at Le Languedoc consisted of a small pot of chocolate mousse, a small scoop of what looked like homemade ice cream, and a small but delicious looking slice of apple pie. My dessert was two scoops of homemade pear sorbet that was fruity  and fresh and delicate.

When we were finished, and after we had paid the check (Nancy had to get out and go up to the cash register because they did not have a card reader at the table), we collected ourselves and prepared to leave.  We were delighted when, as we were going toward the door, a whole bunch of our evening’s dining companions called out in friendly unison, “Bonsoir!  Bonne Soiree!”  It was really cheerful and friendly – a sense of neighborly connectedness that I hadn’t previously realized was missing from this modern polyglot Paris with its hordes of visitors and tourists.

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Exploring Fast Food in Paris

Fast Food in Paris

Really?  Isn’t Paris the anti-fast-food location par excellence?

It turns out that Paris is not immune to the influence of ever increasing numbers of tourists, or the onslaught of fads imported from elsewhere.  The post office and other official sanctums may still honor the ages- old two hour French lunch, but fast food is rapidly increasing in availability. Mcdonald’s is everywhere in Paris that tourists congregate, although the Golden Arches are sometimes discreetly hidden in  upscale areas such as the Champs Elysees.

Over the last few years, we have been aware of the McDonalds on a major corner in our district – at Boulevard St Michel and rue Gay-Lussac.  This McDonald’s is poised at the cutting edge, with robot machines to use in ordering food visible from the street.  On an opposite corner was a distinctly French burger joint offering essentially the same menu and traditional counter service.  We were dismayed this year to discover that the French burgers have disappeared.  In their place, a Burger King outlet is being prepared.  It seems  excessive and disappointing  to witness an American burger war on a hallowed corner of two major Parisian arteries.

While on one of our shopping expeditions a week ago, we had decided to eat lunch in the department store we were exploring, Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville (BHV Marais). Several restaurants were offered, including an attractive space called “Le Grand Fernand.” This turned out to be a gourmet burger joint, with exceptionally delicious grass fed beef – a worthy French adaption of a perennially successful restaurant idea.

Since I’ve basically been grounded for the moment with my infected toe, Nancy and I have felt it was time to explore food delivery in Paris. Apparently, as recently as two years ago, this was essentially non-existent, but” Uber Eats” has opened wide the field.  Several companies are competing to offer food  service, delivering international fast foods based on the cuisines of many countries – Japan, China, Vietnam, India, Thailand, Italy, Turkey, Lebanon, North Africa,  and of course United States. Paris has enormous populations of immigrants from all over the former French empire.  In addition, tourists flock here from the US and – now, most recently – from China.

We decided tonight we would order from Le Grand Fernand (I  assume named for Ferdinand the Bull?) , and to ask Uber Eats to deliver it.

Uber has suddenly, in the past year or so, become extremely popular in Paris, as has Airbnb. Last year, it was hotly controversial.  This year it is everywhere – and very useful. We have generally taken city buses to most of our destinations.  However, there have been moments when Uber has been extremely helpful.  For instance, when we went to the theatre in Nanterre, after our adventure following the underground maze, we found ourselves on a suburban street outside the rapid transit station, with no indications at all of how to get from there to the theatre, and no human beings anywhere.  The station had  been automated (no humans around), and it was Sunday afternoon, with all visible stores closed. It felt vaguely as if we had landed on an alien planet, with twenty minutes before curtain time at a theatre somewhere within a 10-15 minute drive.  We waited, hoping a human whom we could ask might  come into view – no luck.  So we called Uber, and in two minutes a car pulled up. The  driver knew exactly how to get to the national theatre in the shortest possible time, and we got there in plenty of time for our play.  Coming back, we  followed a bunch of other theatre goers to the city bus that connected with the RER, and climbed aboard. However, after we got back to Paris and tried to orient ourselves late in the evening on streets that were becoming deserted, we didn’t know where the nearest bus stop was, and there were no taxis coming by.  Again Uber came to the rescue.

Unfortunately, Paris, like London and New York, is feeling constrained to somehow regulate (meaning to tax)  the booming “sharing economy.”  Our favorite Paris apartment, which we found through Airbnb, may no longer be available next fall for this reason.  And now that we’ve experienced its many advantages, we’ll be very disappointed if Uber also, as is happening in London, gets cut off. Meanwhile, our “Uber Eats” delivery is arriving momentarily.  We’re anticipating enjoying a “bon appetit.”

P.S.  I love this company’s sense of humor…

(This was the place we visited where the supply closet was labeled “Acces Piscine” — “Way to the Pool.” )

Our food came complete with “rince- coude” towelettes, complete with visual instructions for opening the packet, shaking out the towelette, and producing shiny clean …..   elbows!    And I loved the French twist on the burger/ fries menu — fries complete with garnishment of parsley and herbes de Provence —   Gourmet all the way!

 

 

 

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SOS Doctors

SOS Doctors

There’s something about being away from home – engaging in unaccustomed activities, eating new foods, drinking different water, being susceptible to a place’s germs or insect bites…. Sooner or later minor emergencies happen, especially over a longer stay. Every year it’s something different – I guess we might as well expect that something will come along. We’ve been doing so well this year! Two whole weeks with no health problems after a couple of initial accidental encounters with gluten while undergoing the initial stress of jet lag.

But last night, I knew that I had a problem with my big toe on one foot. It hurt. I limped home and looked, and sure enough, it was red and swollen, and the nail looked bruised. I put triple antibiotic lotion on it and a Bandaid, and went to sleep hoping that by this morning, it would look much better.

But it didn’t.

In fact, it looked really ugly. I knew I’d better get it attended to, so it wouldn’t get worse.
Fortunately, we have learned that Paris has good options for quick doctor appointments for people who aren’t at home and don’t have a personal physician. It’s called SOS Doctors, and if you look it up online, you will find a French phone number to call to make a house visit appointment. There are tens of thousands of English speaking residents in Paris, and thousands more English speaking visitors in Paris at any time of year, so the receptionist and the doctors speak a little English. You call the number and get a live person who asks where you are staying and gets all the information necessary to access you at that place. Then they ask what you are experiencing, and if that sounds like a doctor is needed, they dispatch a mobile doctor who arrives at your hotel or apartment with a large bag of medical supplies and equipment.

In Paris, if you have a health-related question, you can also go to the nearest pharmacy and show/ tell the pharmacist what you are concerned about. The pharmacists know all the nearby doctors, or they may tell you to call SOS Doctors – or if the ailment is not likely to require imaging or prescription medication, they will tell you how to treat it and sell you the appropriate remedies.

My toe definitely looked infected, and it hurt to put on a shoe and walk, so I figured it would probably require a prescription for antibiotics and just called the SOS Doctors number.
A half hour or so later, our apartment doorbell rang, and we opened to greet the doctor. Other Parisian doctors we’ve experienced have carried traditional doctor bags. In contrast, this one – up to the minute – had a carry-on spinner suitcase that he could wheel along.

The doctors who sign on for this kind of practice have offices in the neighborhood, but they also like the variety of different people and languages and situations and buildings, and they are very good at on the spot diagnosis without fancy equipment. European medical schools still teach what is called “Physical Diagnosis” which is the art of direct physical observation and case taking to arrove at a reliable diagnosis. I’m sure that most situations for which calls are made are actually reasonably minor – ours over the years have been potentially serious situations in preliminary stages that are likely to respond to antibiotic prescriptions – things like pneumonia, bronchitis, and now this infected toenail.

This situation on the surface seems so minor as to be embarrassing to ask about. But, indeed, the doctor cautioned me about staying off the foot (Drat!!!) and prescribed several medications to abort the infection, saying that if it doesn’t heal promptly, I will have no choice but to go to a hospital and have it operated on. Yikes!!

It helps to have a traveling companion – odds are that when one is laid low, the other can still go out and get food and medications. I was very grateful that Nancy could do those things. I’m now doing as told – staying off the foot and taking medicine (and, of course, praying and using homeopathic remedies.. it never hurts to do everything possible.). I envision the infection starting to look much better tomorrow or the next day, so that at least I will get back home with no surgery having been performed.

In any case, I’m really glad that we learned about SOS Doctors on our first stay in Paris. It’s a piece of knowledge that has come in handy often enough that it’s worth sharing.

Also worth knowing: If you have a real life or death emergency in Paris, or most places in Europe, the number to call is 112. This is the European equivalent to the American 911.

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Histories and Mysteries – Place St. Sulpice

Exploring New Neighborhoods – St Sulpice

 

Like most large cities, Paris is subdivided into functioning neighborhoods—communities containing all the resources supporting daily life.  It will take us years, if ever, to become acquainted with all of Paris’ neighborhoods.  Each year, we do extend our acquaintance a bit with different areas of Paris.  We are, of course, still exploring our own wider neighborhood in the 5th arondissement, which includes the famed Latin Quarter, an area historically and still today thick with university level and advanced professional schools.

Next door, in the 6th arondissement, the area of St. Germain des Pres, we have still not explored vast swaths of streets and squares.  We were pleased a couple of days ago to have the opportunity of exploring further the streets surrounding St. Germain, which include some of the oldest neighborhoods still standing in Paris.  Most of the oldest buildings we can still find in Paris date from the 1600s.  Aside from royal, governmental, or church-owned buildings, commercial/ apartment buildings from that earlier time mostly occur in tiny side streets that were not affected by Haussmann’s vast reconstruction and design of Paris in the mid 1800s.

These streets are clustered together in different areas of Paris.  A bunch of  them can be found in the 6th arondissement, starting from Place St. Sulpice. We were fortunate to have a Parisian acquaintance offer to show us around the neighborhood, where he had formerly lived, in the same apartment building as Jeanne Moreau, the famous French movie actress.  (It’s interesting how people enjoy dropping names, even if they don’t actually know the famous individually personally – I know about famous neighbors of a bunch of friends who have lived in places where that might happen).

Fortunately, we found a bus we could take from the Luxembourg area in our neighborhood straight to Place St. Sulpice, where we had agreed to meet with our friend.  The Place is pleasantly vast, with an absolutely enormous fountain in the center, from which the sound of tumultuous water was overwhelming.  I was glad to imagine that a recirculating pump is lurking in the fountain’s innards!

The Place is pleasant and bright, and the façade of the church for which the place is named is unusual and interesting – an Italianate two story structure, surmounted by two towers which allegedy had been contracted out to two different architects.  One tower was completed, in perfect harmony with the classical Italian style of the façade.  The other tower remains in a state of incompleteness.  Clearly the second architect had totally different ideas for his tower. The stone pieces are affixed, and their shapes are roughly obvious.  But all finish carving is absent, and the tower is likewise not built to the prescribed height.  The top five meters or so (roughly 15 feet) were never added. The legend apparently says – although our friend, a professional historian pooh poohed the story – that the second architect got depressed and threw himself off his unfinished tower to his death. This would have happened in the 1600s.  One does wonder why no further work has been done on that unfinished section of the church for the last 500 years. Surely that could have been enough time to finish it.  Another story I have found about the towers is that both towers were essentially completed, and then one of them was bombed during some war, and it was never fully rebuilt. Who knows? Parisian folklore is obviously alive and well!

Another interesting mystery of the church is the presence of several figures carved in stone placed on the second story balcony of the façade.  I could make out that one was wearing a bishop’s hat. They are shown participating in a dramatic event, judging by the dynamic postures I could discern through the balcony’s railings.  Nowhere can I find any mention of these sculpted figures. We’ll just have to call them the Mystery of l’Eglise St.-Sulpice.

The Place St. Sulpice, despite its spectacular church – just slightly smaller than Notre Dame de Paris, apparently,( though in a much different style) – and despite the huge fountain and the two massive government buildings found there — the town hall of the Sixth Arondissement on one side, and the block-long building where individuals in Paris go to pay income taxes on another side – does not have a major reason to prompt Parisian tourists to visit.

The church of St. Sulpice figured prominently in Dan Brown’s novel, the DaVinci code.  And apparently everything that Brown wrote about the church is completely made up, with no historic truth whatsoever. It’s a fascinating example of a spectacularly grand site with little back story – rare in Paris.

For us, the fascination of St. Sulpice became the number and complexity of winding, narrow old streets that we accessed from it.  This was not just a single medieval street leading from one Avenue to another.  Nor was it a medieval street lined with houses built in the mid 1800s.  The area offered a network – a web – of ancient streets with many buildings still standing from the 1600s and 1700s – a peek back into an earlier Paris that one doesn’t find so often here today.

Since one of the unique dimensions of Paris as a place to visit is the broad presence of a much older continuous culture from the past than we find in modern cities and towns  in the US, Nancy and I thoroughly enjoyed just wandering from one old street to another.  It was an energetic experience, not a mental one. No narrative exists for this neighborhood other than its age. We were anonymous strangers from one time period absorbing the faint traces of energy left by anonymous strangers from a long-disappeared different era. No words come forth to describe such an experience – one that I deeply enjoy and appreciate as I wander and discover different Parisian areas.  Like many things that evoke wonder, it simply is.  And that’s enough.

 

 

 

Posted in Change over time, Haussmann, Medieval streets, Paris, Paris streets, weight of history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Paris Surprises – What’s in a Name?

October 3, 2017  Surprises: Place de l’Estrapade

 

Paris is full of surprises, often where they’re least expected.  The other day, Nancy and I set off to revisit the haunts of our first shared visit to Paris in 2013, rue Soufflot, which runs from the Pantheon down a broad avenue to the Jardin du Luxembourg.  We decided to walk from our present neighborhood, rue des Feuillantines, down rue d’Ulm, at the end of which the Pantheon is clearly visible.  Short and straight, piece of cake, we’ll be there in a jiffy.  We walked along, enjoying a beautiful afternoon, and then were tempted on a detour, as so easily happens while walking along minding one’s business in Paris.  To the left, we could see a small square, with a little park in the middle, and thought we’d explore.  We emerged onto Place de l’Estrapade, and sat on a bench in the leafy square, just enjoying the peacefulness of the place.  A couple of other folks were also lazing on benches, including a homeless fellow who had set up quite a little home for himself in one corner.  It was clear that he had settled there for several weeks.  He had cardboard boxes festooned with found objects that were clearly treasures—including several deformed coat hangers attached to a large flat box in which a television screen had originally lived.  In a way, it was an interesting, potentially decorative composition.  We could see behind and around the boxes a stash of bottles, some partially full.  While we were there, he took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one.  He leaned back and enjoyed the relaxation of the smoke as he inhaled deeply. Why not?  Comfort seems a basic human right, and I felt glad to witness his moment of rest and ease.

A woman passed pushing her baby in a stroller.  A couple sat together, relishing being peaceful together. Early autumn leaves drifted lazily to the pavement. We enjoyed a few moments of relaxation ourselves.

We looked around the Place.  A store window filled with Arabic books occupied one façade, and an empty café terrace sat next to the bookstore.  A group of middle aged men stood in the kind of circle that remains after a group of friends have shaken hands with each other – the obligatory greeting gesture.  Two exquisitely groomed men in luxuriously tailored suits passed by. They were also wearing  dark ties and impeccably pressed white shirts, and each of them was carrying a slim and elegant leather portfolio. We were a short block from the Law School.  They had to be lawyers.

Then our eye was drawn to a boulangerie patisserie at the other end of the Place.  Hmmm….  We crossed over to look, and soon  found ourselves sitting on the inviting terrace set up in front, enjoying bottled lemonade and baked “gourmandises.”  It was a delightful late afternoon pause on a short walk – totally unexpected.

The mood of the Place was friendly and very laid back.  I wondered about its name.  It didn’t sound like the name of a family or a hero – the source of many street names. French street names always refer back to something or someone.  Like buildings, they bear unspoken witness to centuries of events and experiences that have taken place on the same spot.

And some past history is rather gruesome, especially here where so many ages have left their mark.  A bit of research let me know that l’Estrapade was an early form of torture which involved hanging someone up by his wrists.  Apparently this small Place was the location of the apparatus for that peculiar and gruesome punishment, which was reserved for Protestants, until King Louis XIII specifically outlawed it in the 1600s.  I’m sure none of today’s buildings dates from any earlier than the 1800s. How strange that the name for this really awful form of torture should remain attached for 500 years to this specific square of ground in today’s 5th  Arondissement in Paris!  The word itself has not been in common usage since the practice was outlawed. Virtually no one today could tell you the meaning of this 21st century Parisian street name.

In the same burst of online research, I also, quite by coincidence learned more about the order of Benedictine – Cistercian – nuns for whom our street, rue des Feuillantines, is named. They too have been a mystery shrouded in historical mists. I knew the street was named for a convent of nuns that had occupied this location.  I also knew the order had disappeared after the French Revolution.  Apparently the convent building, however, remained for a considerable while. A protégée of Emperor Louis Napoleon was recorded as having lived there in the 1850s, and apparently the famous French writer Victor Hugo spent a good part of his childhood living there, because his mother was the building’s concierge. But who were the Feuillantines that gave their name to the convent and the street?

Apparently, they were an order of cloistered Cistercian nuns, followers of an equivalent order of Cistercian brothers, both from the southwest of France, Toulouse.  They were “reformed” (fundamentalist) Cistercians who believed that the purpose of life was to do penance. French Royalty invited them to send groups to settle in Paris, and they did. Again, the surprise of excessive purposeful suffering appears. The daily life of both Feuillants (men) and Feuillantines (women) consisted in inflicting physical discomfort to the maximum amount possible – sleeping on bare boards, eating in silence while on their knees on cold stone, administering daily self-inflicted flagellations. Such self punishment was considered the height of virtue at the time, and the royals who invited these monastics  to Paris must have assumed that they were surrounding themselves with saintliness by inviting the orders to settle nearby, and by supporting them financially and politically.

Not too surprisingly, both orders had dwindled to tiny numbers by the 1700s, although the kings continued to endow massive gifts on them – one of the royal excesses that brought about the French Revolution, and the final dissolution of the orders themselves.

This was another bizarre episode in Parisian history that somehow got preserved in a street name. And the Feuillantine convent exists no longer, having been replaced by the enormous  lycee (secondary school) that is still here, and that  was built as a part of Haussmann’s massive redesigning of Paris and its amenities in all arondissements.

I guess if I knew the source of all place and street names in Paris, I would be more than usually knowledgeable about Parisian history!!

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