Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Trip to Europe 1: Back to the Past

On my last rainy day in Paris, I decided to walk around the old quartier. Here is the building where my family lived during the 60s and early 70s:

The one where my father worked:

Some of the places where we bought food each day are still there: M. Durand's grocery store (renamed), one of the two bakeries...but the butcher is gone, and so is the charcuterie, the deli that made those wonderful champignons à la Grecque. Also the other boulangerie/pâtisserie where my sister and I would buy snacks after school -- chausson aux pommes for me, pain au chocolat for her. My sister and I earned our allowances by doing the family's daily shopping every morning before going to school.

The café across the street where my father would often retreat after dinner for a café Calva while mom put us kids to bed is still there.

Of all the long gone landmarks, I miss the corner toy store the most. My sister and I used to spend many moments mesmerized before its Christmas display windows, making our lists for Santa in our heads. I can never quite believe it's really gone, replaced by a beauty salon.

The kiosk where we bought our newspapers and magazines is still there and the Place de l'École Militaire has not changed that much.

There are new places, though. Near the old pharmacie and librairie, there is now a Punjabi restaurant, and the Zambians have, unaccountably, set up their embassy on our block.

Here is the statue of Maréchal Joffre at the head of the Champs de Mars. My sister and I used to play there, climbing on its ledge and chasing each other around it. Buses would pull up, disgorging hordes of American tourists to take the obligatory photos of the Eiffel Tower. Some would also want to take pictures of "those cute little French girls" and would slip us a franc to pose. We happily obliged, laughing in English after the buses had pulled away.

Now there is no longer an unbroken view from the École Militaire across the Champs de Mars (the God of War). A new "monument" to peace has been erected, a sort of shelter with the word "peace" written in many different languages. I welcome it as a sign of a new and better era.

Our elementary school has relocated and the old building became a condo. The lycée I attended for one year is still there, but it became co-ed soon after I moved on.

But one place I loved has not changed. It had been about 30 years since I last set foot in the Fontaine de Jade, the old Chinese restaurant where my family used to dine. The menu seems to be unchanged with time and so my last real meal in the City of Light was their wonderful pork with black mushrooms and bamboo shoots. I'm glad some things stay the same.

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