This time last year I was in southern California, under skies about as blue and soft as those we have been enjoying in Paris this last while. I recall marvelling at the expenditure of effort and money on all things Hallowe’en – front steps lined with pumpkin lanterns, cauldrons, black cats; witches and skeletons hanging off garage doors and basketball hoops; yards and yards of petro-chemical spider webbery wrapped shroudlike round bushes and hedges. And all those Hallowe’en pop-up shops selling tat, some of it, like the life-size programmable Cerberus dogs I saw in one, costing in the hundreds of dollars.
There is stuff of that kind to
buy in Paris too but the world does not turn orange and black as I felt last
year and whenever I am back in the UK in late October. Le Jour des Morts, All
Souls’ Day, 1st November is an important day in the calendar
though, the one day of the year when people visit cemeteries of their own
volition, to pull weeds from a grave, fill a pot with flowers, leave some
|a typical front yard in a southern Californian home, week of 23 October 2016|
Since my last bulletin the Paris Nuit Blanche has been and gone, new exhibitions have opened and one or two have closed again. Gaugin, l’Alchimiste opened at the Orsay on 11 October and will run right through almost to the end of January. Anders Zorn is on at the Petit Palais and if you get your skates on you can still just catch the Derain, Balthus and Giacometti, une amitié artistique at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris (ends 29 October).
Seeing how fine the weather has been and that these days of golden leaves and pink sunsets will not last much longer I have been making it my business to get out of Paris at least one day a week, to explore the further reaches of the Ile de France on the transilien network. So far I have only done two of my planned routes. The first was to Meaux, better known to many for its cheese (brie de Meaux), than for its church. But the cathedral is very fine and so is the bishop’s palace adjacent to it. You take a train from the Gare de l’Est and before too long you follow the meanders of the river Marne. Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627 – 1704) was bishop there for 23 years, Bossuet who believed in the divine right of kings and the wrongness of Protestantism and devoted much of his career to writing and preaching on those topics. He has a gi-normous statue inside the church and he’s buried there.
My second outing was to Dourdon, at the far end of the line D of the RER, a longer and less interesting train-ride, although you do run along side the Orge, another tributary of the Seine, for a short while. The town is quaint, tidy and has an ancient château fort, a free-standing donjon which you can’t visit at present and another very large medieval church with a couple of non-matching spires, slightly reminiscent of Chartres in that respect.
|partial view of the church through the inner keep of the château, Dourdon|
October saw me make a start in a painting class run by the Mairie de Paris in the primary school on the rue Littré. To begin with it didn’t look promising. Our teacher had extraordinary difficulty with the registration process, leaving us to do 20-minute pencil sketches of a modèle as best we might.That phase is now past. The main external threat is the concierge who must be handled with extreme care. This means we don't leave the building until everyone’s bags are packed, we line up like school children in the yard and wait prayerfully for her to unlock the gate to the street.
Even closer to home the refugee numbers rise and fall like the tide, although this is a tide that never goes out completely. We are still serving food and drink every day to between 100 and 200 hungry men, most of whom have slept outside on the cold earth. There continue to be regular rafles (raids) by the police and far too many reports of their violent (and illegal) removal of people’s covers and other possessions. At that level things don’t look good at all.
|Quartiers Solidaires brings up the rear of the demo, Saturday afternoon 21st October|
But at the micro-level of our small efforts it’s not so awful We get to know faces, names, and stories. Every day strangers hand over money, clothes and food. I want to celebrate the gratitude and helpfulness of the refugees and their friendliness, the good-humoured vibe of those doing the serving and the staunch support of a number of local shops and cafes that provide us with bread, hot water, unsold produce and storage space. Serving breakfasts mean you end up with les doigts poisseux and a pile of jam pots for recycling but you have a better day for having done it. You want more good news? Someone is building us a state-of-the-art, custom-made caddie, which judging by the description should be magnificent affair, with an awning. I hope to have a photo of it by the next bulletin.
After the wailing had already begun
along the walls, their ruin certain,
the Trojans fidgeted with bits of wood
in the three-ply doors, itsy-bitsy
pieces of wood, fussing with them.
And began to get their nerve back and feel hopeful.