My Secret Garden in Paris: Journals from the Seventies


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Photo by Chris Card Fuller, “Monet’s Garden – a garden for all seasons”

Here is another excerpt from Paris Journals in the Seventies. As I mentioned in an earlier post, these appear only upon Paris Logue readers’ requests. No requests and the journal goes back to Christina’s Crypt (where perhaps it should stay for the next 2000 years!)

August 1977

It’s almost the end of my stay in Paris – but it seems like the beginning. I’m sitting in Parc Montsouris. It’s beautifully flower-filled and sunny, all green and blue with brown dirt footpaths and birds chirping.

This entire week has been a of series of short stories, moving out of and into new apartments, and always strange dreams. I’ll start with last night:

I’ve finally entered headlong into the Cinematheque frenzy. I asked Mary Meerson for lodging until the end of the month because it was a choice between her wild world and the quiet sterility of ‘chez mon copain’ who lived in the 13th arrondissement. If truth be told, I have a lot of apartment keys in my handbag.
Before moving into Mary Meerson’s world at Palais du Chaillot and Rue Gazin overlooking Parc Montsouris , I’d also have to say goodbye to Catherine’s world, way up in the north of Paris at Place des Fetes. Here is where I’m doing some au pair work for a professor and her three-year-old son. When I au pair, I stay with the professor’s best friend Catherine who lives in the apartment building. She’s also a professor at the university.

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Living with Catherine is a retreat into a completely organized apartment (and life). I doubt that has helped my writing much. “Chaque chose a sa place, everything in its place”. Always a spotless bathtub. Dishes washed, dried and meticulously returned to their rightful place in the cupboard. Tea and classical music at night. Early to bed and early to rise. For Catherine it’s a very good life. But Catherine has been suddenly hard hit with a new ‘burden.’

Can you possibly imagine? A woman she has only known as an acquaintance lost her husband. He was old but died suddenly. This woman has no friends besides Catherine.
When Catherine got the woman’s phone call, she took off, leaving her sweater soaking in the sink to drive to Versailles. I teased her about leaving something out of place when she returned that evening. Her hair was tousled and she huffed out of breath:
“I’m beat and I’m hungry.”

Then she told me about the dead husband.
“She discovered him on the floor. I stayed with her while the body was taken for embalming. It was a little strange. Not knowing the man, I couldn’t feel any grief, only compassion for her. So what does one say? What can one do for the woman? Nothing, except be there. The woman has no one. Not even family. Is it possible in Paris? Yes. Always. We talked about the irony of being alone in this city as we watched the sunset from Catherine’s apartment window, We stared at the rows of apartments facing us, window after window.

“Look at all these people in Paris, and so many are alone in their rooms in their small spaced lives. It isn’t like this in the villages!” Catherine exclaimed. “When my grandfather died, the entire village was deserted. Even the shops were closed because everyone was at the cemetery. In the villages, a widow isn’t alone in her grief. The friends come, the relatives come. They bring food. But this woman – what can I do? I suggested she spend a couple of days with us. I couldn’t sleep there. There was only one bed. She sleeps with her husband’s corpse in the same bed.”

A shiver rippled down my back. “In the same bed?”
“It isn’t that unusual – when you know the person. When a person is dead, you continue to care for the body as it is necessary. Its presence is familiar. You understand?”

Stories flash to mind, stories I’ve heard of families who keep the bodies of their beloved at the house until the smell of decay reaches the streets. They don’t have enough money for the burial.

How different is the treatment of the dead in the US where the bodies are carted away, embalmed and made antiseptic. One is not even allowed the time to decompose.

“I felt sympathy for the woman but it isn’t like the death of someone very close to you. That is painful. No sense searching for the right words to say. There aren’t any.”

So, now Madame will stay with Catherine for a while – which is why I decided to move out last night. I can’t go back ‘chez le copain’ I need chaos and disorder to feel alive which is why I’m going to the Cinematheque. Catherine fixed dinner for me before I left. Victor, Catherine’s Siamese cat curled up in the widow’s lap. We watched McCloud on television – it was funny watching the NYC cowboy speaking French. Suddenly, I remembered that I had promised to go out tonight with a real Texan that I’d bumped into in the Metro. We were supposed to have met at the Red Lion Café at 8 pm, but instead I was sitting here watching McCloud with Catherine, the widow, and Victor the Cat. Another exciting night in Paris.