Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Paris Pages, From my Travel Journal

Back to Paris? Come along with me, and perhaps you can enjoy a café allongé at the next table, as I scribble in my travel journal. Okay, yes, our travel will be of the armchair variety, but that has its pleasures too, no? And I've written so many words on other projects this week that rather than dredge up new ones to post here, I'll share some written this past May as I sat at a table in a café on Rue du Bac.

Here's a photo of a page from that journal, but don't worry, I'll transcribe my writing for you below, adding some translations and explanations in square brackets [thus]. . .


May 24, 2017, 7:00 a.m. 

Here we go, living the dream, writing my morning pages in my travel journal at the table of a café on Rue du Bac.
"Puis-je m'asseoir là?" [Can I sit there?]
"Bien sûr, comme vous voulez." [Of course, as you wish]
"Merci, je prends un café allongé avec du lait à coté, s'il vous plait." [Thanks, I'll have a coffee (the expresso lengthened with hot water) with milk on the side, please]
This trip, it's as if we've -- or perhaps just me [Paul crossed it some time ago] -- finally, have crossed some threshhold. No one switches to English at my first hesitation. The desk clerk [at the hotel] almost did yesterday -- It always takes me a moment longer to catch some words and jet-lagged, exhausted, I hesitated. But I came right back in French and then chatted a bit about last December [we'd stayed in the same hotel for a few days] and we were in, on, "lit" as the kids say (okay, probably not. . . )




Strolling last night then admiring the beehive -- Ruche d'abeille -- in the window of Cire Trudon -- 

gorgeous window display -- gold letters and bees on the glass and the cunning little handmade bees covering the rough-surfaced hive in the window. 

I was interrupted in my photo-snapping by a young man who turned out to be a shop employee. En français, he commented something simple, how effective the display was, C'est joli, n'est-ce pas? or something similar. I think I was a bit discomfited at being caught at such a touristy action and perhaps trying to establish myself as more authentically or seriously engaged or something. At any rate, I pointed to the letters in the banner, Deo Regina Laborat and said, "J'essaie de me souvenir mon Latin." [I'm trying to remember my Latin] Perhaps I should have said "rappeler" but he understood and answered by directing my attention to, and reading out, the French translation at the bottom -- "The bees are working for God and the King."

I asked him who the window artist was, and he pointed inside to "le Maître," the owner, and then explained that Cire Trudon (and he pointed to the signage we'd missed on the shop wall) was the oldest candle maker in the world still operating. Then he chuckled and said that of course it was "les abeilles qui ont fait la ruche" [the bees that had made the hive]. 



Until then, we hadn't realized the "sculpture," as we'd seen it, was "une vraie ruche" -- an actual beehive. 


So then I told him that "la vitrine m'interesse parce que j'ai une amie qui a écrit un livre dont les abeilles jouent un rôle très important" [the window interests me because I have a friend who's written a book in which bees play an important role].*  At least, I think I conveyed that idea, but I bungled some syntax which, of course, I only realized and corrected to myself later. . . .

We thought we'd get back to Cire Trudon before we left Paris last visit, get back and pick up either some candles or some sealing wax to embellish my new letter-writing practice, but sadly, we didn't manage that. Maybe in December. . . .

I have more to share with you from that day's journal entry, but perhaps that's enough for now. What do you think? Do you keep a journal when you travel? When and where do you manage to write your entries? And have you ever seen a bee-made beehive? I'd only ever seen the boxes that beekeepers make for them, like these ones that I sketched in the Jardin du Luxembourg

Did you know there were beehives in Paris' Luxembourg Gardens? I first saw these for myself in 2009 after reading about the prevalence of beekeepers in the City of Light. The Palais Garnier, for example, hosts hives and produces its own organic honey, as now does the Bastille Opera House, and many restaurants and hotels around the city, the National Assembly buildings. . . indeed, there are more than 700 hives in this officially pesticide-free city. To keep up with Paris' bee-keeping, its api-culture, you might like to follow the InstagramAccount @apisurbanica, or just have a look-in. . . .

So journals? Paris? bees? speaking a second language? What topics haven't I folded in today? Just waiting for your feedback now -- Go To! (or just wave quietly, if you prefer, and I thank you for reading).

* My friend Cynthea Masson's book, if you're interested, is called The Alchemists' Council, published by ECW Press. The first in a trilogy of which the second is soon to be published. Cynthea's novel won an Independent Publisher Award for Fantasy. Find out more here.


24 comments:

  1. Love the unfolding dialogues in French (and good French too!) Do you write them down afterwards so that you remember the moment, or as an aid to progress in French? The getting started again exchange on arriving in France is always a challenge. My moment this summer came on the airport bus from Merignac to the centre of town. The driver asked me if I had 'la pointe'. Two French degrees, a year living in the country (but in 79/80!!), and sadly sparse visits since then had not exposed me to this expression. Of course I second later I realised that she meant 'exact change' but it was too late and she had already repeated herself...slowly. I was so cross to have failed at the first exchange. Probably accounts for why next morning I launched into a long conversation at the tabac when I was buying my tram pass. I think the man behind the counter wondered if this strange woman was going to be there all day.
    I haven't kept a journal since getting married. But as a student I kept one and wish now I'd not thrown out the one from my year in France, including lots of travel in Italy. I still remember some of the descriptions I wrote. Have you kept journals from that far back?
    Ah, bees. I am a teetering on the edge would-be bee-keeper. I have got to know someone this year who keeps bees and it's very very intricate, so maybe with our desire for more travel I should just have the most bee-friendly garden I can. Will look out for the book you recommend, and in turn you might like is 'Travels in Blood and Honey - becoming a bee-keeper in Kosovo' by Elizabeth Gowing. Having spent time in Kosovo through work I was fascinated to read this. The author works with an NGO in Kosovo. It is a beautiful, welcoming country and I intend to go back with my husband and travel there. One for your next Balkans visit?

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    1. No, I don't usually write French conversations down afterward, but I was thinking on paper about the whole language-progress issue, so. . .
      Yours is a good example of the way the target or the goal moves ever further away. Achieve one level of competence and be good enough to see what you lack for the next. Scale that next wall and . . . well, you know. . . But honestly, it's the same in our native tongue as well, there are always expressions we still don't know, regional and generational and professional dialects and jargons and idioms. . . .
      I'll note the bee book title, which sounds quite wonderful. I have bee-keeping friends as well, and that will have to do for me, as I suspect the Strata Council probably has a rule against hosting them here on the terrace. . .

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  2. Loving your travel pages and almost keeping up with your French before translations ;). Wonderful to see the bee made hives, I'm fascinated by all things bee these days. No I don't keep a travel diary, perhaps I should. I guess that is how I use my blog but seeing your pages there is a little more depth. B x

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    1. Bees are very much in all our consciousness these days, I think, as we realize how precarious their situation is and how much we need the work they do.
      Interesting what you say about the difference between blog and hand-written travel journal -- I kept the latter before I began the former, and there's always been a gap between them. The polish required for a blog tends to mean that writing can be deferred beyond what memory hangs onto, whereas I can scribble notes in my journal that can trigger richer descriptions later.

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  3. I've never seen such a beehive before , thanks for that . We have friends who are keen beekeepers & it sounds a fascinating hobby but it wouldn't do for us . Hubby is seriously allergic to bee stings . I have a pile of holiday journals from all our travels , scribbled last thing at night , usually in bed - with sketches & bits of plants etc stuck in too . They are more evocative to me than our photos , reminding me of all the little things & how I felt about everything at the time .
    Wendy in York

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    1. No, that wouldn't do at all for you -- do you keep an Epi pen around always?
      That's what I do as well, last thing at night. Don't think I've ever tucked in bits of plants, though ;-) And yes, I find these jottings more evocative than photos -- they require more of us, don't they? involve us more both physically and mentally. . .

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  4. I've seen beehives,together with the bees,honey and wax as a child,I even remember tasting this raw honey together with pieces of something....could it have been wax?.....but,it was a long time ago and I can't recall the structure
    Your French is admirable and trés charmant. I adore to travel and "exist" in a foreign language for a while,isn't it great?
    Travel diaries- they are invaluable,I used to write a couple of sentences every evening ,one simply forgets a lot of precious little moments,but not any more-it's a pity
    Dottoressa

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    1. Yes!! Sometimes at Farmers' Markets here you can buy honey with big chunks of the honeycomb in the jar, and I love chewing that wax. . .

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  5. I have never visited Cire Trudon but it sounds fascinating. I haven't kept a travel journal for some time. We read an article about bees in Paris when I was studying there. I'll look at the Instagram account. Your sketches enhance the written comments and I'm sure that they help to focus on the experiences.

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    1. Funny, with all the time we've both spent in Paris, that neither of us have stopped at that window before. . .

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  6. There are some (very few) bee keepers in this country who house their bees in baskets (instead of boxes)which have the exact shape of the bee hive in your shop window. Some of these baskets are almost 100 years old, but as the office of making them is dying out, so will this type of bee hive eventually.
    I tried to keep travel journals several times, combining notes, sketches, postcards and objects, and in a few cases I later added some photos. But when I do not get down to this last step fairly soon after coming home, the thing never gets done at all. There are journals of the trips to Scotland and to Costa Rice which I took with my son, and quite a fat volume about Istanbul (all those cats!).

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    1. There's a corner in Paris (near the Pompidou, I think) that has a sculpture, on a wall, of just such a hive-basket. . . I've never seen the real thing, but they sound quite beautiful. . .
      Oh, I know what you mean about that last step not getting done. I have a big box of travel journals that I mean to go through and sort some day. Some day . . . .

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  7. I will happily join you for coffee, I drink my allongé black, with sugar (milk at home, never sugar. Why, I wonder?).
    I have not seen those bee hives but there is an hôtel à abeilles (sauvages) in the Jardin des Plantes. It is beyond a fence but was maybe the size of a small garden shed. I have seen these here but they are only about the size of...a breadbox? (What will people who have never seen a breadbox say?)
    You are at a good place with your French, I would like to some day be there but we will see. Classes begin again first week of September. I have tried to do a bit each day over the summer but will be rusty conversation-wise.

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    1. I'll have to look for that -- is it the kind that are intended to attract mason bees? I do like the Jardin des Plantes (especially that labyrinth)
      Ah, breadboxes, from the days before gluten-free was happening. . .
      So much of the problem I have with speaking French is confidence, and our most recent tutor has been great. . .

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  8. Our younger son was assigned to keep a travel journal to make up for missing a couple of weeks of school in second grade - we went exploring in the Yucatan. We got a sketch book and colored pencils and all of us made drawings and transcribed the 2nd grader's words, mainly. It was a huge hit both with us and with his teacher, who read it to the class over several afternoon story times.....I hadn't envisioned quite such public consumption but it was fine. We kept up the practice until our boys grew up.....there is a stack of sketchbooks on the shelf with our map and "real" travel books - maybe I'll re-read them soon!

    ceci

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    1. This is so great! These will surely be a very important part of their heritage. . .

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  9. Your French is so very good. I'm so impressed. I can barely get by. I used to practice and try to read French magazines. I seem to have lost interest in learning more phrases to form better constructed sentences. It does seem quite bizarre as we go to France often. It's problably because we can get by...just.
    We have kept a form of journal with photos. It is fun to revisit. We each seem to write about the same subject in a different way..
    Ali

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    1. My French has lots of room for improvement, but with patient interlocutors, I can communicate, which is satisfying, and I can read novels with little trouble. But it's sometimes an enjoyable relief to travel in countries where we have to use our English, although I never, then, feel quite the same connection. . .
      So interesting that you both keep journals and can compare them. . .

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  10. During the fourteen or so years during which I traveled internationally several times each month, or lived abroad, I kept notes in my diaries and collected beautiful little things (rocks, leaves, flower blooms, etc.) to remind me of an event or place...or just because they were beautiful. I was moving so fast that there was not time for much more than that. In the decades since then, life (parenting and a career) has been another kind of (and much more challenging) mad dash, and although I sometimes now write journal entries (this comment will be the basis of one), I have not looked at my diary notes and keepsakes from those times spent abroad. Sometime I will, I think (although the present remains quite time-consuming). And when I travel abroad, I will make space for more quiet time and write more, I think...

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    1. Diana Athill writes in one of her post-90 memoirs about the pleasures of just sitting and having so many places to revisit in memory. Even now, I can enjoy being transported that way, when I find time, whether through my journals or simply through some memory, triggered by whatever . . . Those 14 years, and the travel since, will afford you a wealth of travel through memory should you enjoy the ripe old age that Athill has moved to. . .

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  11. I love that you have crossed a major threshold in your ability to call forth coherent colloquial French on the spot--at least some of the time! Congratulations! I am still very slow--and somewhat limited--in my responses (a bit better when I am the initiator). Think Yoda, or shy child. Ugh!

    I keep a travel journal, usually a bit of observation or reflection, aided by a glue stick for stubs etc. I'm not much of a multi-tasker though, e.g., no earbuds while walking (how can I listen to the birds and to music at the same time?) so sometimes when I see travelers journaling in cafes, I think of the Firesign Theatre's piece" How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All". I wonder how sketching and writing differ in that regard. Or taking photos.

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    1. Thanks, Elle, I was going to begin by playing down the achievement, self-deprecation being a default mode, but I'll accept those congratulations, as I'm very pleased to have noticed some change in my comfort with the language. So far to go still, but why not celebrate where we are along the way?!
      Interesting point you make, and for me it depends on how long I have in a place. My cafe-journalling is, for me at least, a way of deeply experiencing the present moment, as is sketching. I don't find that it takes me away from, but rather I find myself suffused by sensory awareness, attentive. This wouldn't be the case, of course, were I writing a novel or research paper or whatever. . . although there's a sense in which I feel a greater belonging to a place when I'm doing things there that I might do at home: running or writing or sketching. . . Not sure if that answers your questions in anyway. . .

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    2. Yes, more food for thought....

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  12. On the subject of language immersion and cafe journaling I hope you might find this video amusing, from the excellent British comedy duo Armstrong and Miller:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GYPf0JFl1M

    Also do you know their WW2 pilots series? Much loved here in the UK. Two Battle of Britain pilots re-imagined as two adolescents in the British youth-speak of today:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM8MLJjwT84

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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