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VOL. 128 | NO. 139 | Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vic Fleming

We’ll Always Have Paris

By Vic Fleming

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ARDEN, N.C. – This suburb of Asheville is home to my newest favorite burger place. Don’t get me started on the Old-Fashioned – mustard, onions, chili, slaw. Check out frenchfryz.net.

Still on vacation. This column has to be about Paris. See the past two weeks’ columns. Last week’s dateline was Marseille, which was a bit of a fudge. As the column strongly hints toward the end, I was on a train.

Susan has reserved us seats on the fast train to Paris. Paris is 500 miles north of Nice. For two hours, we meander west, stopping frequently to pick up passengers. We traverse 115 miles, putting us in Marseille, leaving us still 500 miles from Paris.

The train driver veers north, puts the pedal to the metal. Two hours later, we’re in a cab headed toward the 39-room Hotel Brittanique, in Paris’ first arrondissement. It’s walking distance from the Louvre and Saint Michel. A warm, cozy room features a flat-screen TV, double-glazed windows, and free Wi-Fi.

On our to-visit list are Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, Musee Rodin, the Left Bank, and Avenue des Champs-Elysees. And more.

Day 1, Friday afternoon: We walk seven miles and buy a three-day Metro pass. Ornate bridges over the Seine bring to mind the debate back home about a bridge across the Arkansas. I laugh. The shopping area along Champs-Elysees is mind-boggling. There must be a million people in sight in every direction.

Day 2, Saturday: We buy a ticket that gets us into Musee d’Orsay, where we spend the entire morning. We are mesmerized by van Gogh’s oil on canvass, “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” painted a few weeks before the artist’s December 1888 breakdown. The more familiar “Starry Night,” painted months later and depicting the view outside his sanitarium room’s window, hangs at MoMA in New York City.

I am struck by “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” better known as “Whistler’s Mother.” This American icon was bought by the French in 1897, 20 years after Whistler painted it. The facility is overwhelming – a renovated railway station that goes on forever, stuffed with Monets, Manets, Renoirs, Gaugins and more.

Same tickets get us into Musee Rodin, where I am disappointed by my reaction to “The Thinker,” the “Gates of Hell,” and other things Rodin. One of the essays about him catches my attention. He was said to have spent a great deal of time with his nude models.

Day 3, Sunday: We trek to the area Susan frequented when she was a student in Paris in 1971. We find the address that was hers. It is labeled “Student Hostel.” It being Sunday, we make no effort to enter. Like a dog that chases a train, what would we have done with it had we caught it? Sunday afternoon, we do Notre Dame and La Sainte-Chapelle, both in walking distance of our hotel. Through Sunday night fog, we see the Eiffel Tower lit up across the river after dining at a touristy spot in Saint Michel.

Monday: Cab ride to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Ten-hour flight to Charlotte arrives mid-afternoon. We spend a couple hours reminding our 4-month-old granddaughter who we are. Then we head west, determined to put 100 miles behind us before dark, the better to make it home on Tuesday. Hark! What sign is this? Exit…Eat…French Fryz. Having just been in France, how can we not go there? How can we not?!

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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