We’ve been in Paris for 10 days; 10 days stuffed with Paris stuff: restaurants, museums, the l’Arc de Triomphe draped á la Christo (and Jean-Claude), photo exhibits, wine and friends.
After weeks of fretting, getting here was easy. The border agent stamped my passport and waved me in without a glance at my raft of supporting documentation. Blink. That was it.
It was an omen of normalcy.
In the city, people must wear masks inside (the surgical type are the standard). The passe sanitaire is the golden ticket into restaurants, bars, and cafés. Once scanned, you can sit, mask-free, inside or out. Museums require the passe sanitaire plus masks.
I follow the rules and travel freely around the city with no concerns. Net: if you want to come to France and you are vaccinated, come.
That’s all I plan to say about it. It’s not the purpose of this post.
Below are notes I pecked into my phone during an overnight trip earlier this week to Chartres. I’m a spotty journalist at best. More often, I jot notes on a map or a scrap of paper and then toss them away when I return home.
This blog, more than anything, will provide me with reading material in my dotage. Indulge me. It’s time that I kept a better record of my time. I’ll mark these types of post as “journal” entries so you can ignore them.
Here’s my first such entry.
Journal: Chartres, France
September 14, 2021
I’m in Chartres because it’s near Maintenon—and I’m headed to Maintenon because it relates to Louis the 14th. He’s an emerging theme of this trip—one which I hadn’t anticipated. For now, I’m willing to soak up the sun (king).
I haven’t been to Chartres in years. My friend Mary told me about a light show. It’s nightly from April through October. Consequently, I decided to spend the night, catch the show, and take the ten minute train ride to Maintenon in the morning before heading back to Paris.
I arrive by train into Chartres and head straight to the chambres d’hôte (B&B) where I’m staying. The home is beautiful. My hostess gives me a tour—the garden, dining room. She announces breakfast will be at 9. I hear the non-negotiable period at the end of that sentence. Nine is fine by me.
Check-in is at 5 (no surprise). Since it’s only noon, I head out. I had intended to leave my pack but decide not to. It’s small and weighs nothing.
Things in my backpack: journal and pens, passport, travel-size deodorant and toothpaste, toothbrush, clean socks, underwear, T-shirt.
I set out to find lunch, picking a restaurant like I always do … Someplace crowded.
-Delicious chicken with one of those sauces
-Baguette to mop any of those sauces
-A 4 euro glass of wine from a chateau Pat and I had once biked to in the Loire
I don’t understand my dessert option. The waiter makes it sound like “Pfffft.” I say yes anyway—after all, it’s France. There’s no possible dessert downside.
It’s arrives—a cherry clafoutis. Cream, sugar, yellow cherries, pits. It’s delicious.
After lunch, I wander the medieval town and stumble upon a hulking relic of a church. Enormous. Black streaks. It’s like a battleship hoisted onto dry dock. Maybe someday they’ll scrub the hull.
Inside, nets are stretched beneath the ceiling to catch, I surmise, falling debris. I wonder if it’s safer to sit under them? Or further back? I decide to stay back. Sit for a few minutes. Leave.
I hear a dove coo. Smell marijuana. Pull over on the sidewalk to tap that memory into my phone.
Afterwards, I walk the canal. Past other churches. Smaller. More like ferries lashed against the shore.
I eventually head to the cathedral and opt to buy Malcolm Miller’s descriptive book in lieu of an audio guide. I sit beneath one of the stained glass windows and read his description of the story told in shards of brilliant glass. I study the individual panes—each a paragraph in the larger story, the window. These are arguably the most important medieval stained glass windows in the world.
I wonder if kids growing up in Chartres are allowed to play baseball.
A green laser dot circles one of the panes.
I turn to find Malcom Miller at the controls. A private tour. For me, this is Elvis in Graceland. The Beatles crossing Abbey Road. The most knowledgeable person about this place is in this place. He’s well into his 80s. My daughter, Taylor, and I took his tour years ago.
I text my friend Mary, my husband Pat. Malcolm Miller is here! For a few moments I follow (stalk?) at a distance. Until it’s 5 o’clock.
I check into my room and nap in preparation for the light show that will play out across town from 9 until 1AM.
Dinner is at a modestly rated place that my hostess recommends on the market square. I sit under the market’s massive glass and steel awning and face the restaurant.
I’m alone so I listen to the chatter of others:
A waiter apologizes for his English (a French waiter!)
The diners apologize for their French.
Note: the newly-opened world feels kinder.
After a round of beer the English tourists want wine. One bottle. No two.
The madly dashing waiter apologizes for forgetting something for the 10th time.
A kid’s menu has 2 choices: hamburger or grilled salmon. I think of my grandson, Jack. Salmon is his favorite food.
A man at the table next to me seems annoyed that he has to go inside to pay. The waiter apologizes. When the man leaves, I notice he has the price tags still attached to the back of his jacket. It feels like karma.
The rain that’s promised all day holds off. The sun sets. A breeze blows in. I pull on my jacket.
I’m reading the book Bird by Bird. If there’s a lead character in my story, it’s my waiter. He pretends to beat his colleague because he has forgotten to ask me if I wanted coffee (I do. Decaf.)
After dinner, I spend 30 minutes at my table reading my book. No one disturbs me.
I go inside to pay. The man at the cash register thanks me for coming to France.
Note: Always take the recommendation of the B&B owner.
The food is fine.
It’s not about the food.
The glass and steel awning illuminates red, blue and white. It’s time. My table is encapsulated into the light show.
For a few hours, I watch the lights dance across the buildings. A flood dashes a bridge. Tulips bloom on the side of a church and then die. World War 2 plays out on the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The cathedral is built by flying elves. Music ebbs and flows. Few things intrigue me after dark. This is incredible.
I turn towards my house. Sleep soundly. Sketch in my journal the next morning until breakfast.
I shower and realize I forgot a comb. I use my fingers instead.
Note: it’s not about my hair.
It’s time to catch the train to Maintenon.
De la Sully (lunch)
La Table du Marché (dinner)
Le Jardin Cathédrale (chambres d’hôte)
I’ll never write about Maintenon. I learned this from Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. The story’s never about what you think it is.
It was beautiful. I’m glad I went. Here’s some photos.