In which I travel halfway around the world in order to have a 95-year-old tell me she doesn’t like my outfit. The day started with pigeons loving on each other outside my window, and continued with a three-hour train ride to Craiova, where my grandma and my old lizard live. 97 and 95 respectively, the two are sisters 👯 who live together and quarrel every day. Right now, for example, my old lizard is trying to watch TV and grandma, who can’t hear a thing, asks her every 2 minutes is it isn’t maybe time for them to go to bed. Why bedtime needs to be a synchronized experience I have no clue.
As for me, all the clothes I brought with me on the trip, including my beautiful green dress from Tangerine, have been declared by the old lizard to be fit for the circus. Grandma doesn’t really care what I wear, but she did ask me about 50 times what I ate, also told me about 50 times that I need to come back home from where I live, which according to her is “at the ass of the world,” and that I better do so before she dies. I expect a lot of creative discussions of death tomorrow.
I developed a little routine on my walks through the city. I like to eat covrigi in two different places (and if you don’t know what they are, you need to read my first novel, Dogs with Bagels, and its follow-up, Lost Path to Solitude). I buy my first covrig at University Square. I ask for a sesame seed one, and the lady serving me, always the same one, gives it to me with an attitude like I’m wasting her time. My second covrig is more expensive: it has sunflower seeds on it, and as I eat the fresh tender dough, the seeds fall into the paper bag. I love fishing them out and eating them later. I like to sit on a park bench enjoying the second covrig. My friends, the pigeons, come to investigate, but I don’t share my treat. In my defense, they are fat and well cared for and I often see people feeding them.
This all is very pleasant, but to keep things interesting, tonight I went to an art auction. It was quite exciting, the room abuzz with energy. They auctioned off contemporary Romanian paintings, some by artists I was familiar with. The most expensive one went for € 50,000. The room was full of bidders, then some bids came in from online or over the phone. It felt good to be part of it, to soak up the energy. But my favorite was my walk home. I’ve always loved Bucharest at night. All the covrig stands were closed, except for one, which seemed very lively. I resolve to try it soon.
Still obsessed with urban pigeons, I spent a long time today trying to take pictures of their shadows. I also took a long walk, went to my favorite bookstore, then later sat on a bench in the park. There I got to watch the pigeons some more. I also got to see a beautiful raven. It was perched on top of a fountain, a piece of dried bread in its beak, which it soaked in the water so it could eat it. Ravens are obviously very intelligent birds.
I also remembered that one of the houses by the park is part of my inspiration for The Adventures of Miss Vulpe. I can picture Louise’s parties in that house, and later Ana’s antics.
Today I bought watercolor paper. I also bought two absolutely ginormous bouquets of lilac. The whole house is scented with it. But it now seems irrelevant as everyone’s heartbroken about the fire at Notre Dame cathedral. I found a picture of it taken two years ago, during a very short trip to Paris, when I took a long walk at midnight. I have no pictures of it from this trip, when I only saw it in passing from the bus.
Today it rained. I still walked around to reconnect with the city – and also to get a little exercise. I saw some new books in bookstores, looked at what’s playing in theaters, went on a futile search for watercolor paper. Three of the stores I used to buy it from no longer sell anything I like. My dad said he’ll take me to an art supply place he knows of on Monday.
My favorite thing about my long rainy walk were the pigeons. I love urban pigeons, and the ones in Bucharest are fat, plentiful, and very vocal. I wonder if the rain upsets them.
I’m back in Bucharest and there are red tulips in every room of the house. They smell like spring. It wasn’t a very long journey, but I feel tired. I’m in the room facing the street, where I can hear the streetcars. I love the streetcars. My dad warned that they start up at 4:30 in the morning, but tangled up in my dreams, their sound is very sweet to me. The tulips on the credenza are so unbelievably beautiful and the whole room smells like them. I think I’ll sleep very well tonight.
My day started with coffee at the Plaza Athénée. It’s a special place for any serious Sex and the City fan, and one of my collectors actually got to spend her honeymoon there! How fabulous is that? Of course I had to go investigate, take pictures, stock up on inspiration, and paint.
After this lovely incursion into a world of glamour I had myself a little lunch at a nearby restaurant, then set out for the Fondation Louis Vuitton – a state of the art museum in the Bois de Boulogne, designed by Frank Gehry, housing an impressive modern art collection and currently hosting an exhibit of some of the most famous impressionist paintings. The building itself is spectacular, and the art was quite fabulous. Having spent so much time in New York, back in the good old days when the Met was free, I’ve seen a lot of great art in my life. But I’m pretty sure this was my first encounter with a real life Gerhard Richter piece, and it was so very amazing. I could see flakes of paint doing all these amazing texture things and it made me so very happy.
The evening held something special too: Dinner at Chez Françoise. Hidden in the old Air France building, this restaurant is known as a hangout of Members of Parliament. In fact, I deduced from the conversation he was having with the waiter, that the gentleman at the table next to me, with whom I was sharing a bench, and who, like me, ordered the mackerel, was an MP. The restaurant got crowded, with people I might have recognized had I been more familiar with the French Legislature, and the atmosphere was abuzz with energy. It was definitely an interesting place to be, and one I shall return to perhaps. Especially since the restaurant offers very reasonable prices for Paris – and especially for a locale with such a special atmosphere.
Today I got to cross this beautiful bridge several times. First, to go to the Musée de L’Orangerie to see Monet’s water lilies, which were so breathtakingly amazing I take back my statement about how he should have lived in Paris instead of Giverny. The man needed uninterrupted water lily access and his own sizable pond! Here’s a situation where inspiration is more important than parties, and I’m thankful to Claude Monet that he chose country life.
Later in the evening, after painting and resting and feasting on the most amazing strawberries in the comfort of my own room, I crossed Pont Alexandre again to go to the Champs Elysées on a secret mission. While there, I ended up checking out the outfits of the Chanel girls, then having quite a lovely little dinner in a restaurant with street view, where it was fun to hang out for a while and people watch.
All in all, it’s been a beautiful day, and a lot of its beauty resided in little details: the peach tissue with subtle glitter they wrapped my new dress in in my favorite store (Des Petits Hauts), the strawberries from Southern France I ate in my room this afternoon, even the umbrella I borrowed from my hotel, and the way the pavement shone after the rain. Everything here is so very beautiful.
There is no oatmeal at the Ritz, but their basket of freshly baked breakfast breads is pretty good. Among its offerings, I found this tiny round brioche that was perfectly heavenly. I wish they had two, and still regret not asking for more. Would that have been a faux pas? Luxury hotels always make me think of Liliana, one of the protagonists in my first novel, Dogs with Bagels. So, breakfasting alone in one of the world’s top hotels, what would Liliana do? I figured she’d hang out for a while and check the place out. It’s most important, for example, to go to the restroom. That’s where the swans are! Seriously, each bathroom stall contains a Villeroy & Boch porcelain sink with a faucet shaped like a golden swan. Now isn’t that something? The other magical thing about the Ritz is the scent. It smells so wonderful in there! Also, the gift shop is stocked with all kinds of goodies, and I found something perfectly magical that I needed to buy for someone special. By the afternoon, once I’d walked back to my hotel, through the beautiful Jardins des Tuileries, past the Louvre, and across the Seine, by the time I painted my daily watercolor, John, who’d been unable to join me for breakfast, was texting me about getting together. We decided to go have drinks at the Bar Hemingway, also at the Ritz – an adventure we’d anticipated with much enthusiasm. After all, a luxury breakfast is a lovely thing, but bars are where the stories are. Bar Hemingway is small and cozy, smaller than I’d imagined, which makes it feel even more exclusive. John had champagne. I had mini-burgers – one of the two snack options available. At some point I excused myself to go to the swan room. There I examined myself from all angles wrapped in my John Ross Palmer Landscapes scarf, and not wearing much else. When I returned, one of the older servers, dressed in an elegant white suit, stopped me at the entrance to Bar Hemingway.
“Who are you with?” he asked.
I said: “I’m with John Ross Palmer, the artist.”
“Oh, but you are an artist too,” he said.
I assented, and he told me I was perfect. I enjoyed that exchange a lot.