“B” is for (Rue) Bréa
When a friend or relative begins to show problems with memory, often friends and loved ones gather photos into an album, write memories on slips of paper and place them in a memory box, or perform similar kindnesses in an effort to assist the loved one in remembering significant people or places from the past. One of the pleasures of growing old with one’s memory reasonably intact is the art of gathering one’s memories, creating gilded and bejewelled mental memory boxes for them; and having the ability to open the boxes, bringing the remembrances to mind again and again. Additionally, for one with sleep difficulties like me, the activity of gathering and reminiscing is a pleasant way of inducing sleep, a self-guided imagery exercise.
In creating one of my memory boxes, I have dwelt recently on one of my favorite cities. It has been nearly fifty years since I first set eyes on Paris. Arriving at the Gare du Nord on the boat train from Le Havre (Does anyone really travel to Europe by ship anymore?), I caught a taxi to meet a friend at the Alliance Française, where she would study for the year. I planned to spend a week in Paris before traveling on to Madrid for my own studies. I was overwhelmed at seeing the city for the first time after years of dreaming of that day; and I believe the taxi driver thought me a bit odd, since all I could say as we drove down the Champs Elysées was, “I cannot believe it! I cannot believe it!” En français – in French, of course!
Since my friend had housing arranged for the year in a student dormitory and I had not made lodging plans, one of her roommates suggested a small pension hotel nearby, on Rue Bréa. And there began my love affair with the City of Light. One of my fondest memories are of the sweet landlady who brought me a tray each morning with my breakfast – warm croissants, with fresh butter, marmalade, and steaming café au lait. Oh, how I relished the morning light streaming in the window – is there any light as remarkable as that of Paris – and the luxury of breakfast in bed!
Later, walking down Rue Bréa to Rue Vavin, and finding oneself just a few steps from the Luxembourg Gardens, I could meander through the park. Or, if I chose, I could turn onto the Rue d’Assas and stroll along to Rue de Fleurus, following Hemmingway’s route on his visits to the home of Gertrude Stein. In A Moveable Feast, he wrote of a girl he observed in a café, “I’ve seen you beauty, and you belong to me now…and all of Paris belongs to me.” In that moment, and in these memories, Paris belongs to me as well.
B is for Bréa. I remember the charcuterie across the quiet street as I looked out the window of my room in the pension and I can re-create the sound of the heavier traffic on the Boulevard Raspail. I remember as well the short walk to the Metro that I took to meet my friend. We would walk the streets until we were hungry, and then buy a baguette of French bread, some cheese and wine, and sit to have a picnic along a quay, gazing across the Seine up at the Eiffel Tower. I remember one evening going to Montmartre with some Germans who were studying at the Alliance. We spent the evening on the steps of the gleaming white Sacré-Coeur basilica, singing American folk songs with young people from all over the world, sounds of guitars wafting into the night.
Yes. Paris belonged to me in those days and I possess it once again in this remembrance.
Mental memory boxes, filled and bejewelled. Paris – Rue Bréa. B is for Bréa.
Hemingway, E. (1964). A Moveable Feast. New York, NY: Charles Scribners Sons.
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z (2016) Challenge. Click here. to see all of the blogs in the A to Z Challenge.
* Photo by Ivanna Salgado ~ https://goo.gl/VNXefO