For us, “Dodge,” meant working over at the Archives in Suresnes, where the English lectures of Inayat Khan were being assembled and published chronologically. It also meant picking the child up from school at noon, feeding her and often friends, and returning her by 13h30, French military time. We did all this à pied, walking. Now this literally means to the foot. Why wouldn’t it be to the feet? Ah, I recently saw an English translation. Do you remember the word afoot? Well there it is!
Our other responsibilities included painting the basement in some cheap, white, stinky paint. Writing, don’t forget that! And then trying to get a job in the French sector (or at least thinking about getting a job). And every so often, it was time to get out of Dodge. For me, this is what Beckett’s play celebrates. You gotta get off that rat race wheel.
Ligne One was our closest metro. Ten miles across Paris, it was Paris’ very first metro. It carries about half a million people a day. The metro was not just a means of transport. It was our first destination. We would fix on it, like the north star in the firmament. Walk to the bus stop. Wait forever. Having missed the previous bus, you now have a chance to redirect all of your bad karma as you wait. And wait. The bus going in the other direction passes by, one, two, three times. Are they driving off the ends of the earth? Why aren’t they making the return trip? Ah, at last. And ah, at last, again as the second 244 pulls up behind the first. Seriously? The third bus is there now too? Frustration! (See also Godot).
A pretty drive on the bus through the Bois de Boulogne, the king’s hunting grounds, to Porte Maillot. And voilà, the gateway into Paris. It is something of a qualified voilà, though, because you must remember that the bus taking you back home stops running a little after 22h. If, like Cinderella, you run like the devil out of the metro to the bus stop, and miss that bus, there’s a long, winding roundabout way to get back to Suresnes, but your heart does sink as you watch the taillights on the last bus drive out of sight.
I don’t know if you can imagine the fondness you can develop for a metro line. Let me initiate you. There you are, on the metro, heading into Paris.
Here’s a little clip.
Now the funny thing is that I was completely delighted to watch people get on and off a metro, now that I am back in the States. And the bell. Ring, little bell. I had forgotten about the bell! So dear. Now naturally, when you are getting on and off the metro, there is nothing sentimental about it. Will you find a seat? Probably not. And that bell. It only means the doors are closing, a sound with motivates the youth to jump down the stairs five at a time in a hurry to reach the car before it closes, which miraculously they do manage, unlike the rest of us.
Surely, though, the affection is mutual. Can you imagine the point of view of the metro car, watching all these people get on and off over the years? Ah, there’s le Président of the République. And look, there’s that woman who is going to feature me in a blog post. Be sure she gets a seat!
This metro clip features Champs-Elysses Clemanceau, an important stop for us because we had to change here to get to my daughter’s Suzuki violin lesson on the rue Odinot, at the end of a beautiful flowering courtyard. Clemanceau was French prime minister twice and took an especially hard line with the Germans after WWI because, for one thing, the retreating soldiers devastated the beautiful French countryside as they left. He wanted to cripple Germany, which, while probably understandable from a nationalist perspective, only put France in harm’s way again. A warning, isn’t it, for our times?
The stops on Ligne One include Charles de Gaulle-Etoile, something familiar to you drivers. When Place de l’Étoile was renamed for President Charles de Gaulle, people still called the traffic roundabout Étoile anyway, so they just hyphenated it. May I coach you on the pronunciation of this president’s name? It is not and never will be like the word gall, as in, “Girl, you have some kind of gall.” Once I said de Gaulle like that to a group of well-behaved 5th graders and they promptly burst out laughing. Think of the word, “go.” Now say, Gaulle as if you were saying, “go” at the beginning of the word. A little flip of the tongue at the end for the le. Very good!
A LITTLE MAGIC ON THE TRAIN
The St Lazare train, though, was the most desirable transport. To get there from Suresnes, it was a bit of a hike to get to the Val d’Or station. Yes, Valley of Gold. Train schedule was kind of okay, every 15 or 20 minutes. And you were on your way!
Located on the rue St Lazare, which is named for Lazarus, the saint Jesus raised from the dead, St Lazare happened to be the closest train station on the western side of Paris. And, also, it happened to be a place of fascination for Claude Monet, who adored trains.
A charming children’s book which takes Linnea on a tour of Monet’s art is called, Linnea in Monet’s Garden.
In the old days the train station used to be a simple affair with marble steps leading up to the train platform. Today it has footsteps painted on the floor in different colors so you can find your way to the various connections. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/later-europe-and-americas/modernity-ap/v/monet-gare-saint-lazare
Ah, we have arrived for an afternoon in Paris, walking up the rue de Rome where you can watch the luthiers fix stringed instruments, shopping at La Galerie Lafayette, catching an art film.
TIME TO GO HOME
I buy a coffee and a book at the little bookstore, which is a chain called RELAY. When my train chugs in, I find a seat. Just as the bell rings, a man sits down across from me.
Often passengers are in a daze and turn their gaze inward. He smiles. I lean across. “See that Russian princess?” I say in French. A furtive glance in her direction on his part. Adorned in an old-fashioned red fabric, her hair swept up in a regal bun, who else could she be? “J’adore ce train,” I told him. I adore this train line. He did too. `
Just at that moment a Romani breezed into our compartment, playing the accordion. Whether you like the accordion or not, it is truly a festive instrument. This dark-eyed man played with gusto, sparkling the train with a little musical fairy dust.
My fellow traveler then remarked on a building along the route belonging to a wealthy manufacturer from the 19th century. Il y a un expression en anglais, I said. (There is an expression) “robber baron” pour les capitaines d’industrie de cet epoch.» (for the captains of industry at that time.) He was curious. I explained further about robber barons. A term from the Medieval Ages, it describes a ruthless businessman squashing competition. His phone rang. The train stopped at his stop. He grinned, flashed his phone so I could read the name of the caller: Robert Baron.