The hotel door makes a soft swoosh behind me. Strolling up Rue Vaneau, with the Fran Prix at my back, passing magasin du vin, racks of those “rent-a-bike” stands, office supply stores, sensing a neighborhood that could be lived in. I reach Rue des Babylones. Turning right, I am nagged that life has been unfair, feeling abused, knowing that I will never live on a street called Babylone. But the regrets fade as I amble along looking at this and that.
I am afraid I’m not much of a purposeful walker when walking foreign. Mostly looking up, I see construction dates, medallions of builders, little angels, finely wrought metal work, stone in fantastic shapes resembling lions and elephants and looming gargoyles.
Across the street is an old wall, a cobwebby carriage gate carved into it, a gate little used, unlike the pedestrian entrance a bit farther on.
It is the Jardin Catherine Laboure. Transported instantly to the moiling mass known as the seventh grade at St Helena’s Grade School, I stand before Sr. Catherine Laboure, a young, dour nun, severely taxed by 50 7th graders but later in the year, free with smiles, introducing me to the exotics of “Civics”, perhaps priming me for a lifetime interest in politics. As I stand soaking up the ancient stone wall, the pedestrian door swings open with a bang, a suited man strides out, almost colliding with me as I stare up. We quickly exchange “Pardons,” he strides off, my gaze returns up.
A busy street must be crossed so I wait for the Little White Man to appear and I start out. Crossing streets is particularly fun because you get to see long rows of apartments into the distance. Beautiful buildings, each more stylish than the last, built by people who care what things look like, different than me in my faded jeans, blue sweatshirt and Rippletech cap.
Reaching the curb, I avoid bumping into an old couple, she in a scarf, he in a beret. They are softly quarreling, a ritual that brings them closer at the end. He takes her arm and they shuffle down the sidewalk, happy to be together, happy to be alive.
The Metro stop of Sevres-Babylon swarms with shoppers and commuters. I jaywalk across the street to avoid the confusion. Serious men with briefcases, serious women with briefcases, young mothers with strollers, there is a painter hurrying along with a carpenter to an appointment in one of those beautiful buildings. I see the old couple disappear into the maw of the station.
The sun streams, warm and bright, no indication it is January. Shops with blazing “Soldes” signs are everywhere, “Quel beau matin!” echoes everywhere. Drawn to a boulangerie, I enter and am blessed with cheery “Bonjour”. With my barely adequate French and a generous portion of pointing, I manage to get one of the true delights of French cuisine.
On a previous trip, I had stayed behind due to an annoying cough while my family went down to Chartres to see the cathedral. The doctor seen, the ampicillin tucked in my pocket, I strolled down Avenue des Ternes. Rumblings led me to examine the boulangeries along the street. Seeing what appeared to be a filled baguette, I ran the gauntlet and emerged triumphant with an impossibly fresh baguette, split lengthwise, lined with fully ripe tomato slices, a mild cheese (Provolone?) and just enough mayo to bind it all together. A memorable experience I have attempted with some success to duplicate at home, the French have no trouble, and here I am with two (count’em) – food of the gods is a pale description.
The rush hour crowds diminish as I stroll towards the Luxembourg. Traffic is present but not overwhelming. Not overwhelming until a taxi, a Puegot, comes up the street at a rapid pace, swings into a space defined by two parking spaces and with a great roar and squealing of tires, spins a U and races back down the street.
The massive gates of the Gardens appear. I marvel at the design, the execution of the work and my view expands to green grass and strolling couples and more young mothers. I settle onto a bench, sunny and warm, the Luxembourg soothes and inspires.