The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, April 13, 2007

May Day in the Park with Bob

by Melissa Bell

Bob and I have been quietly and understatedly acknowledging the anniversary of our friendship for many years now. Come May 1, he and I will have been perfecting the fine art of hanging out for 27 years. That’s longer than a lot of my friends have even been alive.

Five years ago, Bob and I went to Paris and celebrated Year 22 there; we didn’t plan our trip around the anniversary or anything – it just worked out that way. Also turned out that May 1 in France is a public holiday, so any visits to galleries or museums were just going to have to wait until the following day. We had no choice but to just find some pleasant place to drink some wine, eat some cheese, and…well, hang out.

We got up early on our anniversary and walked over to our local Parisian equivalent of a 7-11. In Toronto, my corner gas station/convenience store serves up fresh Tim Horton’s doughnuts. In Paris, you get fresh-baked baguettes, white or whole wheat. You can also find a rather decent selection of ridiculously cheap but highly drinkable wine (a bottle of wine is cheaper than a bottle of Diet Coke). We also loaded up on several intriguing smelly cheeses, a tube of paprika-flavoured Pringles (paprika Pringles? crazy!), and some plastic glasses. Then it was off to les Jardins du Luxembourg.

It was the first sunny, warm day in Paris since we’d arrived five days earlier. But I still packed my parapluie in case we’d need it. As we walked to the gardens, we encountered another lovely surprise tradition in Paris. Dozens of people on the streets selling small bunches of lily-of-the-valley (les muguets). Their incredible scent was everywhere. They are probably one of my favourite flowers of all time, and if I lived in Paris, every May 1 my modest flat Parisian mansion would be stuffed with them. But on this day I didn’t buy even one small bouquet. Yes, it hurt – it hurt bad to refuse them - but I couldn’t walk around carrying a bunch of flowers all day and a big plastic cup of wine and our big bag of picnicky goodness.

Once at the J du L, we took a bench at la fontaine des Médicis and uncorked a bottle of red. It was maybe 10 a.m. While a lot of things are nicely tolerated in Toronto, drinking in a public park, especially before noon, is not one of them. But this was/is Paris and everyone there is considered a grown-up, even dogs. And for all the drinking of wine that goes on over there, Bob and I witnessed only one very brief scene of obvious inebriation in 10 days and that was a very, very drunk man seated at a Metro stop with vomit all over his shoes.

I won't go into the details of les Jardins - there's plenty of info on the innernets. Now one might be inclined to think "It looks like it's just a park! How boring!" when there are so many other exciting things to do in Paris. But while it may be "just a park", it is a park in Paris. And in Paris, when it's sunny and the air is filled with the scent of muguets and you're slightly wobbly on Parisian gas station wine and cheese, there could be no place more perfect on Earth to spend a day. And (here's a secret bonus for the writers among our readers), the park is pretty much dedicated to les écrivains. Busts of famous French writers dot the landscape everywhere you walk there - sometimes obvious and out in the open, sometimes a sweet discovery slightly hidden from view behind a tree or hedge of boxwood.

We walked and we walked and we walked, eventually finding ourselves at les Jardins des Plantes. I know that must sound about as creatively-named as The Tree Forest or The Animal Zoo or The Snowy Ski Hill, but it had its own particular charm, different from the Luxembourg gardens. I remember a series of dark greenhouses and conservatories, closed because the high season was still a week or two away. I also remember dreamy long avenues of tall, trimmed trees. Vines, untamed, and in need of a gardener. Stylish Parisians and their charming French-speaking, beribboned-hat-wearing little children, and well-behaved dogs. A steel-coloured sky full of thunder. A writer friend of mine recently complained about the overuse of the word "surreal" these days. But that's how it felt, how it was that day. Surreal. Like all the paintings by Magritte (yes, I know he was Belgian) and Kay Sage and Giorgio de Chirico made sense, the way Emily Carr's style gels once you actually get to see the BC rainforests. I'm digressing. I'm indulging. I apologize. No, I don't.

When it started to rain, it rained hard, and Bob and I took shelter in the doorway of the Reptiles building, shared by an enormous statue of a Pope – a statue that seemed to have been placed there the way we might put an extra sofa or a washing machine on the back porch until we figured out what to do with it. We drank another bottle of wine as we hung out with the Pope statue, waiting for the rain to abate. We giggled a lot and reminisced. Sometimes we were very loud with our laughter. But nobody seemed to take any notice. Springtime. Paris. Two best friends with 22 years of extraordinarily happy memories. Loud laughter is permitted and expected.

Happy soon-to-be Year 27, Bob. Happy very soon-to-be Year 1 to the CWC.

And happy wonderful weekend to the rest of you, Friday the One-Three and all!


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Oh Mel, this is so lovely and touching. None of my marriages have lasted that long! I love so many of your words, not the least of them: "a statue that seemed to have been placed there the way we might put an extra sofa or a washing machine on the back porch until we figured out what to do with it."

Wonderful writing. Thanks.

Fri Apr 13, 01:31:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

What a lovely day I've just had reading this. When it was done I was back from Paris in the cave of my office. Sigh. Thanks Mel!

Fri Apr 13, 09:44:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

beautiful, mel. having picnicked in Paris years ago, you brought me back...

Fri Apr 13, 12:12:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

This makes me want to be your friend forever. Will you take me to Paris? I'll be loyal and fun and won't hog all the wine, I promise. I'm generous like that.

Fri Apr 13, 02:33:00 pm GMT-4  

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