What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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The Last of the Just
by Andre Schwarz-Bart

Field-Tested by Megan Price

on the train in Paris, France

August

I spent eight hours in Paris yesterday - a perfectly, excellent day.

I left the house at 6:00 am and made the hour drive to La Rochelle to catch the train. I arrived, found my way from the Montparnasse station to the Marais district, walked to the Pompidou Center and stopped to have a coffee and croissant across from the museum. There was a light rain and it was warmish.

The museum had some great exhibits and I was attracted to two pieces in particular. One, "Man with a Guitar," painted by Georges Braque and the other I can’t recall: It looked as if the canvas was torn and the color was spreading from the inside out onto the canvas. It was supposed to be a portrait of someone. After a bit I headed upstairs to the cafe at the top of the museum with a clear view of the city; the grey weather made everything cinematic. I had a meal of grilled vegetables and mozzarella, a small melted chocolate cake with a little vanilla ice cream, and a coffee. The food, the view and the restaurant music put me in a wonderfully moody state.

I looked on my map to see what other places I could visit in the neighborhood and saw that the Jewish museum of art and history was just a few blocks away. I had an hour before I needed to head back to the TGV station. After a bit of searching I found the museum, which had an English—version audio tour, saw some interesting pieces, learned about traditions and artists and realized I need to become educated about Emile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus.

After the museum, I wandered around the Marais, picked up a gift and headed back to the metro. When I arrived at the train station I still had an hour so I headed back out, no direction in particular, knowing I could use the Montparnasse Tower to find my way back. I went straight, stopped for coffee, walked some more, turned left, admired store fronts and shop windows, turned left again and ended up in front of the famous Montparnasse Cemetery. There seemed to be many access points so I wandered in, and walked by a tomb bearing my grandmother’s family name. Of all the places...

I had about a half hour left, looked up and saw that the tower seemed to be awfully far away, so I started to hoof it, walking fast to the corner of the cemetery where I hoped there would be an opening. When there wasn’t one I began a slow jog in uncomfortable shoes, over to where I had seen one earlier. A security guard came running towards me gesturing that I need to stop running. I pointed at my watch and apologized. It turned out I was only about five minutes from the station, so I took my time from there getting back.

I had brought the novel I'm reading, The Last of the Just, to finish on the train. It’s based on the legend of the Thirty—Six Just Men, the Lamed Vov, who carry the suffering of the world. It traces the Levy family, from the 1100s to the Holocaust, each generation of which contains one of the Just Men. At one point Ernie Levy, the last of the just men, has moved to Paris and is living in the Marais, the district I had just visited. As I was reading I traced the places he visited and followed his walks through the streets on the map of Paris I had brought. To say that the last part of the story is moving would certainly be an understatement. It’s a swirling of emotion, love, hate, fear, suffering and acceptance that I’m really failing to describe here.

The clarity I felt on that train ride home was exceptional.

Megan Price is a San Franciscan who loves to travel. She chronicled her family’s journey abroad on her now somewhat defunct blog L’Aventure des Price—Dickersons, which she hopes to pick up again as new adventures arise.

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