Carpe Diem

Sculpted Trees

The getaway did not go as planned.

I made great progress over the weekend.

Weekend Work

I’ve given up on being frustrated at the hopelessness of it all.

Long ago, I had an itch on my calf. It swelled to the size of a strawberry and began to hurt. In the center of the swelling, there was a black dot.

“Spider bite,” my doctor and friend told me. “It’ll either get better or it won’t.”

Apparently, there was no treatment.

It kept swelling until it was nearly the size of a half grapefruit.

I became pretty much bedridden.

If I moved the leg, flashing lights and excruciating pain would fill my head until I stopped moving and things subsided after a while.

Eventually, my leg got better.

The “endless” backlog of better books here?

It’ll either get better or it won’t.

The agony of there being too many books for me to get to?

I can’t stress over it any longer.

Because the stress “hurts” now—physically. I can’t give in to it. It slows me down.

The family took me out to Founding Farmers for an early Father’s Day dinner on Sunday.

It was great fun. My 9-month-old grandson is becoming more and more human. He interacts and loves to smile at anyone’s loving attention.

There was other thrilling news as well. It looks as though some dreams may come true. I hadn’t given up hope on those. I just didn’t think it would take so long.

Who knows? Maybe the other dreams I’ve given up on will happen. I’ll be happily surprised.

But I won’t stress over it.

That stress hurts.

I think that the powers-that-be know when I’m going away or if I’m up against some big consuming project.

I got an email to renew my driver’s license a month or so ago. I had plenty of time until my birthday—now just a month away. (Please don’t send me anything too expensive.)

My state stated I could do it all online. They’d mail a new license to me. I didn’t even need to update my photo. That surprised me.

I spent an hour filling the form out last Friday. I needed a username, password. I had to get a verification text. Then it asked for my password. I hadn’t written it down. My laptop usually “remembers” them. So I’d used the one the state recommended. It was something like:


I went through the process again, using my own password and writing it down.

(That was after telling them I’d forgotten my password and waiting for… verifications… etc.)

I pushed the button for Checkout.

“You need to submit an eye exam.”


I’d read the instructions several times and never saw that requirement.

I’d gotten a paper renewal which had spurred me to do the online one. I opened it and filled it out. It had a form for an exam that needed to be filled out by a professional.

I called my eye doctor. I see them a couple times a year for checkups.

“We don’t do those. You need to go to an optician.”

I called the optician at Walmart—the only optician I’d ever gone to. That was when I went to the DMV in person for an eye test about 8 years ago. They told me I needed glasses to drive. That was odd, but I did as I was told. The German-accented optician at Walmart told me, “You don’t need glasses! Go back and tell them to change it. Here are my results to show them!”

It worked. They changed my license requirements.

This time… not so easy. They were busy and offered an appointment some weeks out. I pleaded for something sooner.

“Can you come today at 5?”

Well, the rest of the story is just too tedious.

There was a two-hour wait when I arrived at 5. I couldn’t wait. I had plans for dinner with a friend I’ve been estranged from for… a while. I left saying I would call to reschedule.

Turns out my friend was running late.

Turns out there was an eyeglass outfit just a couple of doors from where we were having dinner. I stopped in. Got a “rush” appointment for Monday morning.

We had a good dinner. But things will never be the same.

Saturday and Sunday, I threw myself at books.

Going away gives me adrenaline.

I also got into the backlog of framed things and CD, DVD, LP, stereo equipment and other things that are not books.

Backlog Work

Come Monday morning, I only had a million things to do before going away instead of two million.

I did a bunch of getaway chores around the house and bumped down to work extra early. Then I remembered the eye exam form was back home in a different vehicle.

It was going to be that kind of “getaway” day.

I passed the test. I can drive without glasses. They still wanted to sell me glasses—just to make me feel better. I had to explain that I didn’t have time to pick out glasses (I didn’t need), but I would think about it.

The rest of Monday went like that.

I had to go to the accountant. Twice. Urgent forms needed by the government.

What would have happened if I wasn’t going away?

I had to go get the big truck. I’m the only one who can drive it now.

The two jack russells needed to get with their sitter…

By Monday night, there was no way I would get the haircut I was planning on.

I’d travel with the mop atop my head.

Tuesday? I had to leave for the Philly airport by midafternoon. I aimed for 2. A surprise problem dropped in my email. Out of hundreds of thousands of customers, one had gotten the attention of an authority, and only I could respond to it.

A smack in the face.

I left about 3.

The two-hour trip turned into almost four.

I got a text that I needed to respond to some payroll questions.

I pulled off the highway and figured out how to do that on my phone.

I finally got to the Philly airport—which is like a Third World facility compared to Dulles and BWI. But there were some nice people who sped me on my way.

Instead of several hours to hang out in the American lounge and write and wind down, I had about 45 minutes before it was time to go to the gate and go through that cattle call.

(I remember now. The horrid process of passport screening at home and abroad has been fixed by our government and others—mostly through facial recognition. It now just takes minutes to get in or out of a country. Why can’t airlines figure out a way to stop the mad rush to get on a plane when you already have a seat number printed on your ticket?)

I’m on a flight to Paris.

A Moveable Feast is wedged next to my left hip and up against the armrest separating me from the bald man who is too big for his seat. He spills over into mine. It is the same to the right of me. Only he is bigger and not bald. Supposedly, I am in a section that gives you more space. It must be leg space. In fact, I can’t complain about that because I am in the front row. I can stretch my legs up against the bulkhead separating my section from the somewhat better section between us and first class. Sardines must feel that way. Or they would if they weren’t dead. Their length is accommodated by sardine cans, but not their width.

I read the first 5 or 6 chapters of the Hemingway book during takeoff and ascent and the first bit of cruising at 39,000 feet. Since my addiction to Midnight in Paris, I get what Hemingway is writing about much better.

“Un age d’or.”

Tomorrow morning, I will taxi in from De Gaulle to my hotel. If they are merciful, I will wash up before heading out and letting my feet take me to the Seine and Notre Dame and… all the magic that is Paris.

It has been 5 years. Life was so much different then.

I am much, much older now.

The person I was so close to is gone. I don’t even text when I’m at some place we shared or find something I know would be loved.

Strange. I am as constant as Polaris. (Well, at least til I’m not.) They run hot but flame out quickly (if a year or two can be termed “quickly.”) Then, like a broken engine, they become cold dead iron and steel.

My fault, I’m sure.

Poor driver, perhaps. I ran them too hard.

I try too hard.

I try to make it “un age d’or.”

If it ever happens again, perhaps I’ll try being cheap and sullen and moody and inattentive.


It will take on a new dimension this time.

I tried so hard to get you to go. Too hard, I suppose. (Vide the above.)

I wish sleep would come. Time passes painlessly during sleep. But it is so uncomfortable.

I eschewed the meal I was offered. A white plastic tub of something I wouldn’t buy for a dollar ninety-nine from the freezer section in the grocery. I had some food in the lounge. It was free, but hardly worth that price.

I would like some more red wine. British Air gives you two small bottles. This airline poured a plastic cup and left.

And never returned. Decent French wine can be had for five bucks.

(Trader Joe’s used to offer 2-Buck Chuck. It’s probably 5-Buck Chuck now with inflation. Still, that’s cheaper than beer. Why are some airlines so stingy with it?)

The price of loyalty. You’re stuck with a partner that sucks.


Maxim’s… I tried for reservations, but apparently it is closed til fall. The website wasn’t completely clear.

Paris… I hunger for it.

I’ll pay the price.

The foolish long trip to Philly to avoid a connection from a closer airport. The traffic was bad above Baltimore and then terrible before the airport. A stressful drive after a stressful day, after a shocking email, after a long morning of getaway surprises.

The chestnut trees will be in leaf. Sculpted into flat planes and right angles.

It is after 8—French time. We will be in Paris around 9:30. The plane is passing south of Cork and Killarney. 37,000 feet high—about 7 miles.

I slept some. How long I don’t know.

“No breakfast please. Coffee. Black.”

(Breakfast appears to be a tub of yogurt and a small packet of granola.)

We will have traveled about 3800 miles.

The men on either side of me press in. Their upper arms touch mine.

The flight will have taken about 6 hours. We left Philadelphia after 9 p.m. The screen reads that we will land at 9:39 a.m.

I didn’t watch any TV—except the flight map, which I just turned on.

I feel ok. Perhaps the exhaustion will set in when we land and I begin walking through the airport.

I won’t drive to Philadelphia for a flight again. I’ll suffer any connection I might have to make. Or I will use a different airline that has a direct flight to wherever I’m going.

We are now below the southwestern tip of Cornwall. I was there with my older son about a year ago.

Land’s End.

The Lizard Peninsula. I bought a Lizard hoodie and a bottle of Lizard gin.

That was a magical trip.

I’ve got a bit of a beard. I hope I can rectify that before I head out exploring. I went to the water closet—aptly named in this case. My hair is so long. My hair genes are pretty good.

Over Cherbourg. I’ve never been. Add that and Normandy to the list.

We have landed. It is 3:41 a.m. Wednesday in Philadelphia. So my sleep is not all that different from what I’ve been experiencing in recent months. We will taxi to the gate, enter the terminal and proceed to customs.

It is Friday, June 14th. Exactly a month til my birthday. I’m in denial.

It is 6 a.m. I slept well. Better than I thought. When I awoke, I thought it might be 2 or 3. The soft light coming in through the white translucent curtains told me it was close to dawn. My sleep was uneasy but must have been solid. It was full of exotic dreams—all gone now.

I’m staying in the Maison Astor. It is a Hilton Curio hotel. I chose it because of the location and the price. It was not expensive. A lucky surprise. The room is lovely and comfortable. Quiet too—it faces onto a high whitewashed courtyard. I only just read its story. The staff has been impeccable.

I’ve been looking forward to this visit to Paris mostly because of a movie.

Midnight in Paris.

I put on the DVD as a random choice 2 or 3 years ago—during COVID’s dark days. I had no idea what I was getting into. I can’t give away the story. Let me just say it is very bookish—especially after the first 25 minutes or so. (I think I had put it on some years and stopped it after 15 minutes.)

Anyway, here is the three-minute opening. (It doesn’t give anything away.)

I became addicted—dépendant.

Have I watched it two-dozen times?

I’m surprised it took me so long to want to come back to Paris. Maybe because my last visit—about 5 years ago—ended in line at the airport with Notre Dame on the TV screen—burning. I didn’t want to come back to see that, that impossible thing.

I’ve always appreciated the city.

Now I am in love with it.

All because of a movie which opened the history and the “meaning” of the city to me.

Now I “get” it.

The taxi ride in from De Gaulle on Wednesday was pretty quick and not too expensive. When I got out on the sidewalk outside the hotel, my mind was a bit… stupefied… anesthetized… lobotomized. But entering the intimate lobby, I was welcomed so warmly; it was as if the staff really wanted me there and wanted me to be happy. It was about 11 a.m. My room wasn’t ready, but they would call me when it was. “I have already contacted housekeeping, and they will start on it right away.”

I checked my bag and backpack and headed out.

It is now just after 8 on Friday. I breakfasted and bathed. Now I want to get this done so I can go out and explore.

I was hungry. All I ate Thursday was snails. 6 of them.


That’s Île Saint-Louis in the background.

I just never got around to dinner. I’ll write why later.

Two things I do in hotels that I almost never, never do at home.

I take tub baths. (TMI?)

And I eat bacon.

Travel Breakfast

Both were wonderful. Also, where do you get a chance to dig honey from a comb?


My first destination in Paris was Maxim’s.


It was close—and on the way to the Seine. I’d tried to make reservations online a number of times. But I couldn’t make it work. I suspected they were closed from something I saw on their website. I got to the Rue Royale and found the last block was closed to most vehicular traffic. Up ahead, I saw the reason. A major Olympic venue is in the Place de la Concorde. Temporary seating and scaffolding and… it is all closed and a mess.

Paris Olympic Venue

I turned around and returned the few hundred yards to Maxim’s. I stood on the cobbles looking at it and saw someone unlocked the door, step out and go back in. I’m a little shy. Pathologically so in some cases. But I screwed up my courage and crossed the threshold. A lovely French woman greeted me from behind the counter. I politely asked if she spoke English—knowing she did. The place is red and black and a bit dim and full of mirrors and Belle Époque accouterments.

“Can I make a reservation?”

“Certainly. When would you like?”

“Is tonight possible?”

“Yes. What time?”

“7?” I guessed, supposing any time much earlier or later would be possible.

“Yes.” She had my email and phone number and some other data—I guess from my failed attempts to book from Maryland. “We ask our guests to wear a jacket.”

“Do I need a tie?”

“Not really.” She sensed my hesitation. “You will enjoy it.”

I asked if I could look around, but she demurred. “We are just getting ready for luncheon service.”

I stepped back out into the light and wondered what to do next.

‘What’s close?’ I wondered. I didn’t want to wander too far in case I actually got a call that my room was ready.

The opera house—Palais Garnier! I headed looking for a place to buy a tie. I have dozens at home. Wonder Book has hundreds for sale hanging around the store. I didn’t think I’d have occasion to need one. I did have my brother’s (now ancient) Orvis blue blazer. I almost always bring it along on trips in his honor and memory. It is as if he is traveling with me. It is casual enough for many occasions. It can be formal enough for most.

Gone. 22 years now.

Palais Garnier is in the Place de l’Opéra. They offer self-guided tours.

Part of me was exhausted. But the thrill of being in Paris energized me. I trudged up the stairs. Then more flights of stairs.

The building is stunningly beautiful.

When will I go to the opera again?

My phone buzzed, and I put it to my ear. My room was ready. It was just before 1.

What struck me most?

Perhaps the soaring Chagall dome above the orchestra and stage.

The stairs and gilded foyers and the… library?

Opera House Library

I’d noticed the Galeries Lafayette were just across the street. I knew I could buy a tie at this enormous department store. It seems to have spread over several blocks since my last visit long ago. I found the “hommes” department—all five floors or so of it.

Up and down the escalator. Swimwear. Underwear. No ties.

Back to “suits and shirts.”

The whole place is like Harrods. They have their own brand, but most of it is given over to areas sublet to various designers.

I finally broke down and asked, “Do you have any ties?” A confused look. “Ummm, cravats?”


She turned and bent and retrieved a small plastic tub from a drawer with about a dozen ties in it.

Not very inspiring.

I continued looking and finally had success.

Back to the hotel.

I checked in and waited for my bags to be brought up.

A quick bath and shave, and I was out again.

Down to Rue Royale. The Tuileries Garden is fenced off for the Olympics, but I found they had temporary metal stairs up and over the old iron fences at one spot. Then I was amongst the hundreds of small sculpted horse chestnut and lime trees.

Sculpted Trees

I crossed the Seine and went to the Musée d’Orsay.

I had the foresight to book the Paris Museum Pass online. I printed out the brochure and barcode. That contained the maps and lists of sites the pass gets you into. I’d gotten the 6-day pass for about 90 Euros.

It paid for itself immediately in some ways, as I was pointed to an entrance that had no line and then walked into the galleries. It had only taken a couple of minutes to go through security and get my barcode. It seems too easy to be true.

I spent a couple of hours wandering through the five floors. The 5th floor was the most popular. The Van Gogh room was the most popular up there. But it was never overwhelmingly crowded. And I was able to stand before any painting or sculpture I wanted with a little patience.

Back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at Maxim’s.

I got to the restaurant after 6. I thought I might start with a cocktail in the bar. I started to enter, but a hostess sitting at a bistro table outside smoking told me they didn’t open til 7.

So much for having a fashionable table time.

I had time to kill, so I wandered around.

Maille was the name above a boutique, amongst others like Prada and Bulgari. I recognized the name but couldn’t place it til I looked in the window and saw it was a mustard store.

I love mustard, and I’m sure there will be some Maille going home with me.


Back to Maxim’s.

I was one of the first to be seated. The dining room was dark and red and had a warmth to it. My phone had little charge left. That was good, as I wasn’t tempted to turn the flashlight on to read the menu as others did. Nor did I check my texts or Instagram or…

The waiter set three menus before me. Drinks list. Wine list. Dinner menu.

I ordered a gin martini, up, very dry.

It arrived in the ancient version of a martini glass. The cup shape on a stem.

But it was perfect.

(All my images are reddish. It is the room and its lighting.)

Maxim's Inside

I ordered an exotic appetizer which was a salad with gizzard and foie gras.

“Good choice.”

The waiter recommended sole or fillet (“fill it.”)

I chose the beef and asked if it could be prepared Pittsburgh style. That was met with a confused look.

“Charred on the outside, but rare inside.”

“Ahhh, ‘bleu’…” His description went on for a sentence or two, and I really wanted to ask him to write it all down.

I’d forgotten to ask for a side of petit pois—green peas with…

But it was not too late when he brought the appetizer. It came in a silver serving dish with a large fork and spoon.

Was I supposed to serve myself? I think so, but didn’t want to make a faux pas, so I asked.

He scooped the first serving on to my salad plate.

Maxim's Appetizer

It was beyond wonderful.

As was the glass of wine, steak, peas and side of truffled potatoes gratin.

Here are the images of the menu I read. They have been filtered to brighten them as much as possible.

The meal was beyond wonderful.

Time travel…

Checking online this morning, that menu is nothing like what I was offered. The website is problematic as well.

Maxim's Website

You can understand my confusion.

Maybe it was all magic and didn’t really happen. It wouldn’t surprise me much after seeing Midnight in Paris.

I was too exhausted for dessert.

I found my way back to the hotel, put the phone in the charger and went straight to dreamland.

Thursday, I awoke at 8:30.

Unheard of.

I felt the need to finish the Last Round and Round story and so stayed in bed for a couple of hours after breakfast and coffee before heading out.

I’d booked entry times (required) for my Museum Pass at the Hôtel de la Marine and the Louvre.

I had no idea what the “Hotel” was, but it was on the list and on the way.

It is a wonderful tour through aristocratic rooms and galleries overlooking the Place de la Concorde where Louis and Marie Antoinette and so many others lost their heads.

I took this image through one of the holes cut in a shutter as a lookout during the beginning of the revolution.

French Revolution Lookout

Perhaps it is appropriate that it is out of focus.

The audio guide you are given on a headset was the best I’ve ever experienced. It was like the sound track of a well-acted movie.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Paris has been through a lot in its history. That must certainly affect the culture and lifestyle and attitude.

Then it was out and up the clanging metals step and across to the Tuileries Garden. I wandered that formal manmade first until it was time for the Louvre.

My pass got me into a line for my 1:30 entrance. The wait was only about 10 minutes. Not bad for a beautiful late spring day.

I had no plan and didn’t want to parse out a map. I’d seen the highlights five years. I had no need to search out Mona Lisa or Winged Victory. If I crossed their path, fine.

The museum is so vast it never felt crowded.

I was able to sit before the Vermeers and bask in their reflected glory, with only occasional people walking in front of me.


I have seen all the existing Vermeers. I even saw the one that was stolen decades ago from the Gardner in Boston and hasn’t been seen since.

I made a quest to find the tough ones during trips to Europe with the kids about 20 years ago.

And, of course, I’ve been gifted to revisits with several exhibitions over the years.

After a few hours, I found my way out (not simple.) Eventually, I exited through the vast gallery of underground boutiques, which are now part of the show. There is even a Maxim’s. It is mostly a candy store with a display of the familiar red “hatboxes” rising 20 feet or so to the ceiling.

Then I was out on the Rue de Rivoli.

I made my way to the Pont Neuf. I crossed to the Île de la Cité and headed for Notre Dame. I dreaded this in some ways, though I’d read they have made great strides in its restoration. It may reopen late this year.

They installed a wooden grandstand in the plaza so you can sit and look at the facade.

Notre Dame

An acrobat was busking before the captive audience.

I sat for a while before heading around the side and looking up into the scaffolding.

Notre Dame Scaffolding

I had no other definitive plans. I would eventually wander to the Centre Pompidou and then back to the hotel.

It was about 4:30. I stopped at a venerable bistro after crossing the bridge from Île Saint-Louis.

I was hungry and thirsty. A Belgian beer and a half dozen snails and view of the bridge above the Seine were enough.

I rested there a while and then headed for the absurd Centre Pompidou Modern Art Museum.

There was a comic exhibition. “1964—2024.” I thought I should go. I’m in the comic business. I grew up on comic books and newspaper strips. It was confusing and very French. I no longer understand “comics”—especially the stark, troubling black and white artsy ones. But it was memorable.

I expended the remaining mental energy I had exploring some of the modern art.

The galleries are pretty vast and much of the art is older—think Matisse and Hergé (Tintin.)

My phone was dying, and I had the forethought to write down the name and address of the hotel should it die and I need a cab to find my way back across Paris.

To walk would take about 45 minutes. The map looked to be a pretty straight shot.

I put one foot in front of the other and headed out.

I’d check my phone occasionally but only for a second or two to be sure I was on the right path.

The neighborhoods I passed through were so delightful I didn’t even consider getting a cab… much.

I’d never seen this before for example. Though I’d certainly heard of it.

Au Pied de Cochon

The Pig’s Foot. Open 24 hours.

I eventually got back to the familiar neighborhood and found the hotel. It was after 9 but still light out. The phone says sunset here isn’t until 9:55.

I wasn’t hungry for dinner. I guess I’d passed that point. In my room, the phone was hooked up to the charger. I took my laptop down to the tiny—four-stool—bar. I had a beer while I wrote some of this. Then a rosé. Then I took a gin and tonic to my room.

Thus ended my second day in Paris. I was satisfied I’d spent them wisely.

Carpe diem.

8 Comments on Article

  1. Mary Hill commented on

    What luck, Chuck, to find yourself in Paris! It is my favorite city…the art, the architecture, the food, the wine, the shops, the passages, the energy, the parks and so much more. We hope to go next spring.

    Passe un très bon moment!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I am very lucky. And it was a great visit.

      So much to do and see.

      And the next cafe looks so good!

      Thank you!

  2. Michel Dirda commented on

    You have to stop writing these travelogues! Your poor readers are now dying to go to Paris, just as they were when you were in Italy, Egypt or the other places you’ve visited in recent years. By contrast, I just came back from five days in Ohio, mainly Lorain and Youngstown, both decaying rust-belt steel towns. Not quite the same as the Ville Lumiere.
    You do have a knack for packing a lot into a day’s sight-seeing.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      If Michael Dirda wrote about his trip to Ohio there would be a run on lit/hist itineraries of those rust belt towns and their virtues.
      Let’s get together soon. Lots to catch up on.

  3. Gary Fowler commented on

    I too am addicted to Midnight in Paris, and I think the blame/credit is yours for mentioning it two or three years ago in this blog. We also share a lifelong addiction to books, but that one’s not your fault.
    Thank you so much for your open and entertaining sharing.
    And take care!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      It wasn’t til my last day that I thought: “I could find some of the places where scenes were shot.”
      Of there are multiple websites. Who knew.
      .. in next week’s story.
      Thank you for writing!

  4. Gregory commented on

    Sounds like a great trip, Charles. When I went to college (long, long ago), my friends and I took a trip to visit Au Pied du Cochon in Washington, DC, a rare French restaurant that we could actually afford. I wonder if you might have gone there (or at least passed it), which could be why the French version seems familiar.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Maybe … I’d seen ads.
      I went to Chez Francois in DC way back when – for prom and a couple special occasions.
      (Now C F l’Auberge – where I took family last year for a birthday)
      Still wonderful – if bank-breaking

      There was another on Montgomery County – but the name escapes …

      (Hell! I remember Magic Pan seeming exotic in MoCo)

      90’s and 2000-teens Bistro du Coin was VERY French – above Georgetown.
      Wonderful and affordable

      Pied Cochon in Paris is a landmark. Since 1947.

      WONDERFUL! I could go 20 times and still be challenged by choices.

      Cheers! And thanks for the memories.


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