Paris:- Tuesday, 8. April 1997:- This is one of the brightest days of the year. If you've lived here for a time, you know there will only be a handful of them; and this is definitely one of them. It could be warmer, but it is warm enough.
The cloudless sky does not go together with today's mission - a rendez-vous with a 'secret agent' at the Gare de Lyon. When the date was made, I imagined that the weather would be typical for Paris in April - it could be nearly snowing, definitely grey, possibly cold and maybe raining. It is none of these.
My 'agent' has a 'call-off' number but I have none. We have no recognition signals either: no salmon-colored Financial Times or red-bordered Der Spiegel fixed as flags. 'They' will be three, but they will not be getting off the Stamboul train; they will be in the 'Big Ben' bar of Le Train Bleu restaurant - picked for coziness and dreary weather.
I am nearly late. In another part of Paris, I have to wait for a shopkeeper to return from lunch and he is late. Before he can unlock the metal shutter I ask him if he has what I want - he doesn't. Another blown contact.
The métro trains are timely, but I have to make two changes - one involving a long tunnel. I gain the Gare de Lyon's platform with five minutes to spare. The station is a lot brighter than a couple of weeks ago; and there are just as few people around. I check the time on my chronograph with the five dials; it is 14:57. Really, it is 'about' 14:57; with all the dials, all I can make out are the big hand and the little hand without my closeup glasses. I should get one with big minutes on it.The cactus' 'winter- garden' in the Jardin des Plantes.
My 'agents,' if it is them, show a minute later. I follow them up the stairway to the restaurant. As they stop at the top to take in the sweep of the station, I sidle up and whisper, "Hey man, wanna buy a watch?"
This is not a pre-arranged code - in fact I didn't say it, and I'm kicking myself for not doing it. It was done to me once, in Spain, when I least expected it; but it worked. I have heard it in German too; and then the guy opens his coat and there are forty watches hanging inside. Up at Barbés, they only show one watch - a 'real' Rolex, only 700 francs!
Whatever I said, these were my 'agents.' It is the man who is the 'agent.' He is also a Metropole reader, and he wrote about the velvet grey colors and good smells of Paris, in issue 2.09 in early March; it is Walter Conway. I meet his wife, Meredith and their friend, Kazuko, from Tokyo. This is where the 'secret agent' stuff stops, because we are just going to have a café together.
After a quick tour of the 'Big Ben' bar of Le Train Bleu, we leave and take a table on a café's terrace across the Cour Diderot from the station. The sun is coming in strong, the wind is light, the service is alert, the traffic is occasionally noisy, and the station's big clock is surrounded by a lot of blue sky - not grey.
For once I have open-ended time and I enjoy the company fully and the sun is full on my face for the first time since Spain last year. The Conways are too truthful about the weather in their hometown and I'm sorry to hear about it, because it is a mythical place for me and I hope to see it someday. It sounds like it is a year-round wear-a-sweater place, just in case. If you don't know this in advance, you'll probably have to buy one there.
This one session adds up to about a year's worth of terrace sitting for me by the time they have to go, and since they are going towards the sun, towards the Pont d'Austerlitz, and there may be a fallback place over there where I can get the thing I'm looking for, I go too.
At the end of winter, it is good to have sun in the face. It is good on the Pont d'Austerlitz, on its wide sidewalks. The traffic is at rush-hour frenzy now, but it is 'over there' and the bridge is safe. At the end, we cross to the other side and then again, to the Jardin des Plantes.
The sun is slanting down the main aisle of the formal garden, which is very colorful, between its grass and flowers. We walk up the right side, up an aisle between trees that have advanced green on them. Before the end, we turn between two iron-framed glass houses - one with palms and the other with cactus.' Some of the glass is tinted purple, perhaps from age, or perhaps for solar reasons. Palm trees in Paris! Must be nice to see them on a bright day in winter.The 'Arénes de Lutéce,' are just off the rue Linnés, but we did not see them today. Roman arena, date unknown; not over-restored.
Following a curving path out of the gardens, we finally parted. My 'agents' took the rue Lacépède and I went down the rue Linné, past Jussieu, to a bar at Cardinal Lemoine where I have had a few drinks a couple of times, more than ten years ago. It is 'fixed-up' and boring now, of course. But so am I; I have Evian.
It is positively warm now and this is so good that I go all the way up the boulevard Saint-Germain, past Saint-Michel, to Odéon. I'd like to hang around a bit more, but lunch lost its time-slot today, and I still have a long way to go. With a last glance at the sky, I dive into the shadow of the métro.
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