Cristin is back in Paris












Dear Friends,

During the first week of January 2010, I went to Paris to have Cristin's ashes scattered in Père-Lachaise Cemetery.  Cristin wasn't Parisian or French or even European and--unlike Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison--didn't die in Paris, but she wanted to be buried there.

So I wrote the cemetery’s conservatrice to request permission for the dispersion, citing Cristin's love of Paris, our State Department tour there, her years in the town of Agen, and my father's wartime service (which included being shot down over Saint-Colomban, France, followed by two years in a German prison camp).  The request was approved and off I went with the ashes.

Arrived in the morning and as I wearily dragged my wheeled suitcase up the metro steps toward my hotel--bang, bang, bang--the case suddenly got light and the banging stopped.  I looked back and a young woman (20s?) with a child had lifted the bottom of the case to assist me.  I said merci but felt very old.

The hotel was on Rue Chevert in the 7th Arrondissement, a few doors down from where we'd lived and not far from Napoleon's tomb.

It was good to be in our city again.  Didn't do any actual touristing--no Louvre or Eiffel Tower--kept on the move, revisiting our old spots.  Zipped all over town on the metro and took one long crosstown bus trip on the east-west 69.  Another favorite line goes north-south but didn't get to that one. Had a street crêpe as I always do when in Paris.  Walked a lot and understood why we lost weight there.

The city looks clean and mostly prosperous.  Prices are high and dogs abundant, as expected.  But there are more homeless than I remember, cardboard squatters like DC.  And tiny kids go to school carrying huge backpacks, same as here.

France has finally banned smoking in restaurants, so establishments have heated terraces to accommodate fumeurs.  Most of the smokers are young.  As always, hip young folk wear black so I fit right in with my noir Ralph Lauren trench coat.  Only saw one beret in three days.  Ran into a couple of scamsters, a young woman who chanced to find on the sidewalk a flashy gold ring she was sure must be mine, and an Italian who wanted to give me a leather coat, also quite flashy.  Not my style, I said to both, firmly.

Several of our former haunts have gone upscale.  Each morning on my way to the Embassy I'd stop for a coffee and a croissant at a modest cafe where I'd sit next to workers enjoying an alcool blanc to begin the day.  Now the place is very tony, leather banquettes and tablecloths with lots of waiters but no workers.  I passed on a coffee there.

More French people speak English now, good English.  But receipts still provide totals in francs as well as in Euros.  The first time I went to France in 1966, older people continued to calculate prices in old (devalued) francs, or 100 times the cost in the new franc of 1960.

Felt perfectly comfortable wandering around the familiar city yet got seriously turned around once, heading toward the Eiffel Tower when I wanted to go toward Notre Dame—a difficult error to make if you know anything about Paris.

Was sorry that I couldn't share my observations with Cristin, comparing thoughts on how Paris had changed since we lived there, what was better back then and what we liked more now.  

Cristin's ashes were scattered in Père-Lachaise Cemetery’s Jardin du Souvenir (Garden of Memory) at 10:00 AM on the morning of Friday, January 8, 2010. 

This will be her permanent resting place.  In Parisian cemeteries, plots and columbarium niches are quite expensive so many people choose to rent for a period of time--10, 20, or 30 years.  If at some point one's descendants decline to renew the rental, the abandoned  remains get evicted.  But scattered ashes are forever. 

The trip brought back many happy memories of our 
wonderful life in France but I'm home now and moving on.

Love to all, 

Bill
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