Neither This Nor That Winter

photo: luxembourg palace, pool, winter

My main destination when I'm not going anywhere.

The 'Big Day of the Week' that Wasn't

Paris:- Friday, 18. January 2002:- The climate has decided to be grey today. It was more sunny, but getting less as last Wednesday wore on. It started out grey yesterday and a bit of sun spread itself around the city at the time of day when it does the most good. The temperatures are 'normal,' but chilly if you stay out. At night they are not much lower.

It is just real winter, average in every way. There is no rain, snow, ice, sleet or freezing winds. Yet, with New Years past by a couple of weeks, now officially a month into winter, it is being calm about it. There is no drama.

All the trees are bare. Their branches are presented like ragged brooms of scratched lines, in front of the upper floors of buildings. With the grey overcast, there is neither white nor black. The branches are like a filter of blur, an ill-defined jumble, reaching towards the sky descending from not far above.

On Wednesday I passed through the Luxembourg gardens. I wasn't sure I wanted to because there are photo: pelouse closed temporarily many regimented trees there, just as I suppose Marie de Médicis would have wanted it and got her way. I saw that some new ones have been put in recently, to add more shade next summer to the west side of the park.

The sign says, 'Keep Off the Grass, Temporarily.'

Near the big pool a crew of gardeners were working on a big flower-bed, turning over its soil for a new season. It looked like they were doing it with ordinary shovels and would be doing it for some time to come. At one end of the flower-bed I saw there was some sort of tank contraption that looked like it was heating water and pumping it underground, underneath the un-turned-over part of the dirt.

The sun was trying to get out from behind some clouds. A few people were waiting for it, sitting on the light side of the snack chalet where it could get to them. In winter they may actually get more sun there than in summer.

I took all of this in without hurry. I was in the Luxembourg because I hadn't figured out where I should be instead - and going through the garden is on my way even if I don't know where I was going.

It could just as easily have been the Tuileries or the Jardin des Plantes or up at the Buttes-Chaumont, all of which I had considered before deciding there wasn't much need for more ambition to go further for what I intended to do in the Luxembourg, which was not much.

I think I must have 'toured' myself out in New York. Without thinking about it at the time, I'm sure I circled Central Park instead of going in it, because it will be there next time.

It is the same with the Luxembourg, but with the difference that it is on my way, even if I'm not going anywhere in particular.

But by the time I reached the Rue de Médicis side, I was thinking of looking for a book. Most of the time I am in too much of a hurry to do this. I know that going into a bookstore, or several, is very frustrating if there is some need to rush.

Many bookstores in Paris start on the sidewalk, with cut-price lures to tempt hurrying pedestrians. On Wednesday, I felt like being tempted, so when I came out of the park on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, I finally knew what I was going to do even if I didn't know where I was going.

The first bookstore I tried was in front of the Sorbonne. It might have had a list of the Cafés-Philos photo: snack chalet, luxembourg since it was a philosophy place, but I was told it stuck to books. I think, to this bookstore, the Cafés-Philos may be suspect, because anybody can go to them. You don't need a book or a degree to buy a café and sit and listen.

Just warm enough to be sitting outside the chalet - with just about enough sun/

On the boulevard again, I went into the first big shop I came to. Its ground floor was full of very thick software books, which surprised me. Another surprise was accidently finding the exact one I wanted - what a surprise without looking for it!

I looked the rest of the place over before actually buying the book, and enquired for the book I thought I was looking for. I not only don't know what its title is, I don't even know what sort of book it is - in French.

The friendly suggestion I got was to look for it in the other big bookstore that has a similar name, down the boulevard, by the Seine. It is always pretty crowded about rush-hour time, but going down the boulevard without being in a hurry was much more relaxing than the way I usually do it.

At the Place Saint-Michel a good part of the bookstore's main location has appropriated a fair bit if sidewalk for itself, going right around the corner. It has a cover from the elements and pedestrians don't walk through it, so the only problem is the narrowness of the space for browsers. All of these outside books are discounted in some way or another.

The book I am looking for does not have to be new, even a ten year-old one will do. Outside I didn't find anything like what I was seeking, even through I found one with the English name I know - it turned out to be a year-old diary - which nobody is looking for.

Inside the store, it is best to ride the escalators to the top floor and then cruise the lower floors on the way down. To end the riddle, I am looking for a farmer's almanac. Where are these?

I think one of these could be handy for figuring out whether the TV-weather forecasters are telling the truth when they say the temperatures are 'normal' for this time of year. I am sure almanacs are printed for French farmers to use - but I can't figure out what classification one might fall into in a bookstore or library.

Today, on Friday with its grey climate, I am undecided for quite a time and even take this outside with me. At the avenue at the end of the block I surprisingly turn right instead of turning left. 'Left' is the rest of Paris and 'right' is my own corner of it. What am I doing?

Evidently I am not doing much because I go towards the Porte d'Orléans, but not far, and take a random left before getting to Alésia. Here are odd streets, going any old way, with curves and diagonals.

photo: flags rue couedic Most of the buildings are not too fancy. The florid Haussmannian style of building apartments didn't get down here. There is little traffic on the streets, and as few pedestrians as in summer. From the corner of René Coty I see a house in the Rue du Couédic that is flying a lot of flags. No other houses in any of the other streets have any flags out.

The 'Thanks For...' flags in the Rue du Couédic on Friday.

A sign in the doorway of the house with flags, says 'thank you' to all the neighbors. Since there isn't any other explanation I can see, I guess the whole thing is a sort of New Years' card. If any cards are sent, they are for New Years and not Christmas.

The advantages of this are less clogged mails and the whole month of January to get it done. I haven't gotten any New Years cards this year, so this house with the flags will do.

In fact, it will do for today. Once I have decided this, without any interior discussion, it occurs to me that my library must be open and maybe it has the book I'm looking for.

If I can find it then I will know it exists, and then I will know what it is called if I look for it again in bookstores. But I look at all the reference books - which can only be consulted on the spot - and do not remotely find anything.

Oh, I find books of chronologies - one of these I could use for the Café page's 'count-down' or whatever it is. As in, 'On this day in 1378, Louis the Fourth found out his treasury was empty, and decided to start the 14-year 'War of the Coins,' or something similar.

The trouble is, many of the early dates are not precise. Many entries merely mention the year - no day, number or month. This is no good for 'On this Day.'

All of the other reference books I glance through have their faults too. In general, French books have their contents pages in the back. If there are indexes, they are rare and difficult to use. For 'On this Day' there doesn't seem to be any collection of significant events for, say, 15. March. Instead you have to turn over pages by years, to look for every 15th of March - it could take years to find a nugget.

For some reason I don't feel like photo: av rene coty asking one of the librarians. I know that librarians 'know' more than databases, but this is a type of day for poking around in a limited circle, while hoping for a chance discovery.

Winter's trees lining both side of the central path in the Avenue René Coty.

There is a reason I can afford to do this. The weather forecast for Sunday is optimistic and I figure I'll do all of the routine work on Metropole before then, and Sunday will be the issue's 'big day.'

By now you will have guessed that a week's worth of weather forecasts for Sunday will come to nothing more than the grey skies that have been hanging over Paris for most of the week.

For this issue of Metropole, there is no 'Big Day of the Week.' There is only what is here. This is how it is in winter sometimes. Even small ideas do not work out.

I could say I could have stayed in my cave. While I was counting on Sunday to provide enough light to show a better side of Paris in winter - this soft winter - I would have settled for some real rain too. But it has been 'in-between,' a neither this nor that week in winter.

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