Scenes d’un eté Parisian

Stay Calm: Eat

PARIS — With summer finally here — forget about spring — Parisians converged on the canals and did what they do best Friday night, pique-niquing (following the suggestion painted on the side of a Thai food truck at the opening of the Bassin La Villette on the Place Stalingrad, a repository of old administrative bones: “Stay Calm: Eat”), gabbing, drinking, drinking in the late-setting Sun (as I begin writing this, it’s almost 10 p.m. and the sky is still blue, over a cotton-mouth of golden-gray clouds), smoking (unfortunately for the lungs of a flaneur making his way slowly home after a one-man feast on the Canal St. Martin preceded by a tour of the Place de la Republique where the dwindling memorials for the 13 novembre dead have been confined to a petty portion of the pedestal of the Lady of the Republic, the writing on the notes fading, and increasingly straying off topic — one from “” quoted Alfonse Lamartine, the 19th century poet-politician, lauding the Prophet because he did more with less). I like the dominant summer fashion, which the Parisiennes finally got a chance to break out, of peek-a-boo blouses, more appealing than the increasingly pre-torn jeans which I suppose are meant as peek-a-boo pants.  My eyes gorging on this eye candy, my stomach was sated by a bit of leftover rotisserie chicken, with spicy olives and the rest of the zucchini-red pepper-tomato gateau the colocataire Sabine had pulled out of the oven before jumping ship for Montpellier, le tout washed down with the last of my icey cold Southwest rosé, followed by what was left of my Earl Grey thermos tea (after a tea-break on the ramp above the Grands Boulevards), while gazing across the Canal St.-Martin at the Creation of the World Design Bookstore from my nook besides the Lancry – Granges aux Belles bridge. The Sun was right on time sending its dapples through the poplar tree shadowing the bridge. (Waiting in line for the sanitaire on the other side of the canal and joking with a gaggle of young Americans about the exploding toilet, I told myself the one with the straight black hair, long red checkered lumberjack shirt over tight shorts and black Doc Martins was out of my league; when they left, she turned to smile at me and say, “Bye!”) But even the filthy rue de Fauborg St.-Denis, from where I’d come, was magical, the terraces not so much full as relaxed; I’d finally taken refuge from the toxic melange of heat, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke (City Hall banned pre-1997 vehicles starting July 1, but I don’t breathe any better) in the Velan Indian goods store nestled in the cool Passage Brady, stocking up on citronelle, cinnamon, and eucalyptus (the scent of San Francisco)  incense, as well as cardoman seeds and masala curry powder before I head back to the Dordogne Monday.

We earned this summer, in blood and rain, in a bedraggled European Union (French friends confirm that the ambiance went south in 2001, when we switched to the Euro money; out with the Little Prince — who adorned the 50-franc note — and in with…what?  And for young people, there are no reperes.), in gloomy presidential solutions on both sides of the Atlantic, in killings of blacks followed by killings of cops, in the losses of Prince and Bowie and Maurice White, in more personal losses, in cynicism from up top and too much pessimism below, in this gangrene of a war with no borders in which no one is left tranquil, in flooding and forest fires — if this isn’t the apocalypse, it’s damned near close — in the massacres of gentle people in the land of Disney, in Dallas bloodshed deja vu all over again, in too much angst, too much fear, too much hate, too much envy, too much ignorance, too much stupidity, in too late too little for the planet and our lungs, in culture wars and wars of religion after we thought we’d grown out of that.

I sometimes wonder what an extra-terrestrial looking down on this planet would think of us: “Why can’t they stop killing each other and killing their planet?” I like to think that if my ET caught a glimpse of us Friday night, of the Parisians  and the Parisiennes pique-niqueing along the canals from the rue Faubourg du Temple — where two of the massacres occurred — to the ancient Magasins Generaux in Pantin, the pique-nicqing groups so deep that at one point I joked, “Traffic jam!,” with the young and not a few older people fishing for slippery skinny carp in the Ourcq, smoking from hookahs, jabbering in English, French, Arabic, Hindu, Chinese, and various African dialects (I was tempted to close my eyes and just listen to the sounds) — I like to think my ET might  say “Okay, that’s better. This is a people that knows what it is to be alive.”

— Paul Ben-Itzak


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