The airplane left late thanks to last-minute reparations to accommodate Parisian snow, and so I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle late – the airport the chaotic free-for-all I was warned it would be. I spent what was left of the very cold afternoon exploring the Latin Quarter and settling in – which I was able to do comfortably once I discovered the corner grocery that furnished me with good dark, dark coffee, French cheese, German bread, Belgian endive, almonds, and Pellegrino.
There are a few pleasant literary associations with my digs a block from the Eiffel Tower. I am across the street … well, kitty-corner, really … from the stately townhouse where Edmond Rostand perished in the 1918 flu epidemic.
“The success of Cyrano de Bergerac was a turning-point in Rostand’s life,” writes Sue Lloyd in her 2003 biography of the writer. “His future was assured but he had to live up to the expectations of the French people… the fame he had set out to achieve from his very first book of poems turned into a crushing burden from which only death released him.”
I was rather taken with Cyrano de Bergerac‘s overblown romanticism as a young ‘un … to see my schnozz might help you understand the sympatico.
My favorite quote in maturer years: ”To joke in the face of danger is the supreme politeness, a delicate refusal to cast oneself as a tragic hero.”
Or how about this one? “It is at night that faith in light is admirable.” A little more commonplace, perhaps, but even the commonplace is worth remembering in troubled times.
We choose our neighbors, as we choose our ancestors. Can Dante not offer us as much guidance as any father? As for neighbors, what company do we keep in an idle hour, and what reading is on our bedside table?
So, after scanty airplane fare (my vegetarian order was mishandled; perhaps it’s somewhere in the Atlantic), what could be more French than to be holed up in the busy little café where I had a late-lunch omelette aux champignons and strong coffee, finally getting to Book 2 Stendhal‘s The Red and the Black:
A few minutes later, Julien found himself alone in a magnificent library: it was an exquisite moment. So as not to be taken by surprise in his emotion, he went and hid himself in a little dark corner; from which he gazed with rapture at the glittering backs of the books. “I can read all of those,” he told himself. “And how should I fail to be happy here?”
Suitable words for my visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France tomorrow. May I reprise the words of eminent Polish poet Julia Hartwig on getting a permanent seat at the BnF (courtesy Web of Stories)