Paris 18-June-2010

After a five hour layover in Amsterdam, I boarded a KLM flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I took the train to Gare du Nord, and then a taxi to the Hotel Bastille Charonne in the 11th Arrondissement. Last year I stayed at my friend Caroline's apartment off of Rue de Charonne and fell in love with this neighborhood, between the Pere Lachaise Cemetary and Place de La Bastille, with its mixture of working class brasseries, quirky bars, and its hip but unpretentious feel.

Across the street from the hotel, I introduced myself to the bartender and a regular at La Machine à Écrire (bar inside a former typewriter repair shop). I enjoyed a few drinks and the atmosphere of the place, then went back across the street to sleep. A family in the room next to mine were talking loudly late into the night, but I eventually fell asleep and passed the night restfully.



Paris 19-June-2010

The next day I went to my favorite place in the 11th, Le Pure Café where I met my friend Jacqueline. We walked down Rue de Charonne to Place de la Bastille, and browsed the art market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. We had a light lunch and enjoyed some window shopping, peeking into the galleries on Place des Vosges.

In the late afternoon I went to the railway station, Gare de Montparnasse, to scope out the hotel where the delegation would meet on Monday, the Hotel Concorde-Montparnasse. From the lobby I call some Parisian friends: Caroline, who graciously offers me the use of her rental apartment for the week after the voyage; and Kevin Gironnay, the son of a fellow Neil Young fan whom we call MoMo.

I had sent MoMo a message a couple of weeks earlier, including the program/brochure (PDF) I had received from le Comité national français en hommage à Aristides de Sousa Mendes. I wanted to explain the reason I was coming to France, and to let him know I would like to see him while I am in Paris.

MoMo forwarded the program to his son Kevin. Now a 20 year old student and musician, I met Kevin as a young boy in 2002 when he came with his father to the annual Bridge School Benefit concert in California. You can see Kevin and me in the same row (lower right) of this group picture taken at Shoreline Amphitheatre. We also met again last year when I came to see Neil Young at Le Zenith in Paris.

Kevin had just completed an internship with Radio France/France Couture, and expressed an interest in interviewing me and the other delegates, as well as recording some of the special events scheduled for the 70th Anniversary Voyage en hommage à Aristides de Sousa Mendes. I encouraged Kevin to contact Hellen Kaufmann, the coordinator for the voyage, and we agreed to meet the next morning at the Café Bastille.

I now decided to pick a hotel for the following Saturday when I am to return to Paris. I have a fair amount of baggage, as I brought dress clothes and shoes, and so I want to find a nice affordable hotel near Montparnasse. I take a liking to a little street called Rue d'Odessa, enjoy a beer at Cafe Odessa, on the corner where several streets intersect. I make a reservation at the Hotel d'Odessa above the cafe, then walk across the street to a restaurant, Maison Micouleau, that specializes in cuisine featuring fresh ingredients from the Southwest region of France.



Facebook Status Update: J'ai manger la terrine, le cassoulet, et mousse au chocalat... je suis rempli!

I feel rather tired after this rich and filling meal, so I return to the Hotel Bastille Charonne rather early to get a good night's sleep.


Paris 20-June-2010

In the morning I meet with Kevin at the Café Bastille. We get reacquainted over coffee, and I tell him a little bit more about my family history and how I came to be invited on this voyage. He tells me about his recent experience as an intern at Radio France, and his plan to put together an audio feature. Rather than directly tell the story of Sousa Mendes and the refugees in Bordeaux, he intends to use my perspective and my particular experience as a participant in this voyage as the focus of the piece. I am honored and grateful for his interest, and enjoy the growing friendship between us.

Kevin has made arrangements with Hellen Kaufmann to accompany the delegation in Paris and Bordeaux, but can not join us for the last two days in Bayonne and Hendaye. He will be bringing along microphones and recording equipment, and we agree to meet at the Hotel Concorde-Montparnasse early the next afternoon, to record a preliminary interview before meeting the delegation.

I walk again through the market stalls on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Yesterday there was only artwork for sale, but today it is a farmer's market. I discover a delightfully rich and chewy custard pastry called Canelé de Bordeaux.

I return to Coton Doux, a men's clothing store that caught my eye yesterday with it's beautifully tailored and wildly colorful shirts. I choose a green polka-dot chemise and a purple one with red buttons. The clerks are very friendly and courteous, and help me select a cravat to go with the green one. I return to the Hotel Bastille Charonne to try on my new shirts and am pleased with the way they look!

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I ride the Metro to Place Denfert-Rochereau and meet Jacqueline. We watch as crowds line up to tour the famous Catacombs of Paris. Its a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and it looks like a very long wait, so we take an outside table at a brasserie across the street, and enjoy watching the people and a fantastic wine from Saint-Émilion (Bordeaux). I give a few cigarettes to a pair of young men at the table beside us (interesting only because I bumped into one of them in the Metro a week later, and he remembered me).

Later I return to the 11th Arrondissement, where I treat myself to a dinner of filet mignon and white asparagus at a very traditional and popular bistro, Chez Paul, situated at the end of the lively Rue de Lappe. I should have tried the escargot! Next time...

It's been a wonderful day, and I sleep soundly in advance of the
"big day" tomorrow.