Like New York, Paris is a solipsism — totally self-involved, self-referential — a hyperactive collective act of navel gazing. In people's minds, nothing exists beyond its glorious borders.
Yesterday was our last day, for this trip, in the capital. We visited the oldest Parisian church, St Germain-des-Pres, another time machine experience of standing in one place with each foot firmly planted in a widely differing century. I wonder what early Franks would think to visit their city briefly today in 2013 and find, amid the wildly unimaginable, the changed and yet obviously familiar faces of important landmarks from their earlier lives. They would know they were in the same place, even though it's been 1600 years, over a millennium and a half, since their time.
On the other end of the time spectrum, we also visited yesterday the newest museum in Paris, the garish, brightly colored Centre Pompidou. Its bright exterior displays blues with chartreuse and turquoise, with what appear to be pipes and tubes serving as walls — its interior is marked by neon signs and galleries full of 20th century art, from beginning to end. We focused on the art created since 1960, figuring that we did not know as well this more contemporary period. I walked into one room and let out a cry — there in front of me was a very familiar painting, a wildly colorful call girl painted by Ed. Paschke, who had taught briefly at the community college in St. Louis, MO, where my ex-husband Ron and I taught for over 35 years, and who, before that, had been Ron's classmate at the Art Institute of Chicago. In this foreign and disorienting place, to come face to face with such a blatant reminder of a home now in my own past was a bit disorienting. Such is the nature of time and space — it's actually unreal — one of our basic illusions of earthly experience.
After a little “aperitif” — a before dinner rest and drink (in our case non-alcoholic) — we tried to find a bus stop to get back to “our neighborhood” for the trip, the Pantheon, to dine in the cafe that had become our temporary “neighborhood hangout” where a jazz band was holding a concert during the dinner hour. They were very good — a four piece band with strings and woodwinds, playing Parisian – tinged jazz reminiscent of the 20s and 30s. We enjoyed our simple dinner and, hand in hand, returned to the hotel to pack for a very early departure this morning — Friday May 10.
I'm writing this on the train as we speed eastward on one of France's amazing high speed trains. It will stop only once before we reach Nancy, our destination, and we're hurtling along through hilly green, brown, and yellow- flowered fields — clover, plowed and planted but still bare, and mustard-filled. W'e'll soon disembark in Nancy, where we plan to spend three days. Finding myself once again, after 50 years of absence, in the eastern French countryside provides yet another experience of the total elasticity of time.
And finally here I am, back in Nancy, where I first felt truly at home in the world in my early 20s, in 1962 to 1964! I haven't made it back here even once since then. A lot has changed. But some things remain recognizable. I'm now playing the role of the Franks I imagined revisiting their former haunts around St-Germain inn Paris, as I revisit my city. Nancy has grown much larger — there is new construction — a lot of it — meaning that whole neighborhoods of earlier times have disappeared. I could hardly wait to come back to the very house that I was so happy to live in during my second year here — a formerly prestigious (even in the 1960s!) individual house in the row of similar houses built in the 1600s for the associates of the ruler of the province, Duke of Lorraine. This is on the central boulevard in downtown Nancy, leading to the Ducal Palace,which is next to Number 36, the house where I lived. Today the house is unpainted, stained, sagging, cracked — in very sad condition. It is still occupied, at least. I stood before it, thinking back to the happy times I had spent right there, and felt sad to see its neglected condition, and at the same time felt glad that I'd had the memorably good experience to live there.
In this life, time is immaterial and largely fictional, even as it provides a grid upon which we can suspend specific moments we have lived. A basic experience of this trip is timelessness — or perhaps we can say its a form of time-travel! Since arriving in France, I've felt that I've in fact been playing Hide and Seek (cache-cache) with time.