Cruise Journal, Part II


Les Andelys is a lovely little place, or two places, as the name suggests. It is the home of Nicolas Poussin. In fact, there’s a Poussin Museum. There’s also a statue in a park — which says something nice, almost touching: “Poussin, enfant des Andelys” (i.e., “child of Les Andelys”).

Later, on the ship, I mention Poussin. David P-J says, “You know who was an expert on him, don’t you?” I say no. He says, “Anthony Blunt” — i.e., the art historian and “fourth man” (Soviet spy). Bastard.

Another of our special guests is Bing West, the military man, military analyst, and military writer. He’s simply one of the manliest men you’ll ever be around. It’s one thing to be manly; some practically abuse it. Introducing him to the audience, I remark that I heard Bing inviting someone to go spear-fishing with him. I say, “Figures. Bing can’t catch fish in a normal way. He has to spear them. Can you imagine him just throwing a line in, with a worm and a bobber? I’m surprised he doesn’t dive beneath the surface and strangle the fish to death with his bare hands.”

Busloads of us go to Rueil-Malmaison, on a sunny Saturday. Why? To tour Josephine’s chateau — Josephine as in Napoleon. The town itself is almost a parody of Frenchness: a quaint-but-alive place, offering cheese shops, butchers, patisseries, and all the rest. Given that it’s Saturday, the farmers of the area sell the fruits of their labor. Children play on a carousel. City Hall is decked out in flags. It’s as though Walt Disney had sent down word to his illustrators: “Give me a typical French scene.”

A policeman, whom I approach for directions, salutes me. The policeman is black, incidentally: something I don’t recall seeing in France, when I first visited, years ago.

One of the shops is called Etincelles — Sparks. That is the title of a spiffy little piece by Moszkowski. Did you ever hear Horowitz play it?

I see a sign for Suresnes — site of a cemetery where Woodrow Wilson gave an important speech, a kind of eulogy, after the war. It’s one of his greatest orations or statements. Some who were present said it was a second Gettysburg address. When I was in high school, I translated it into French, just as an exercise. I even remember a little.

Do you know that Wilson was the first president — sitting president — to travel to Europe?

The pains au chocolat look just like the pains au chocolat at home. They look just like the ones in the bakeries of New York, and in our supermarkets, too. But they don’t taste like the ones at home. Why?

Carol Buckley has a one-word answer: Butter. And good butter, at that.

Years ago, I heard one chef — the master of a New York restaurant — criticizing another chef. “He’s a butter cook,” he said. I thought (though did not say), “Sounds all right to me . . .”

On the upper deck of our ship, a passenger sits wearing a beret. He is a Texan, and one of our readers. Furthermore, he is tall, thin, mustachioed, and distinguished. I say, “You look perfectly natural, sailing along in this country, in that beret.” He points out what has escaped my notice: an American-flag pin, affixed to the headgear in question. “I don’t want to look too natural.”

Back in Paris, a headline blares out from a newsstand. “AMERICA IS BACK,” it says (and in English, too). There is a big picture of Barack Obama, looking determined. Interesting.

As you would expect on a Sunday morning, the streets are jammed with Parisians, going to church. Lame attempt at a joke. Sorry. In fact, the streets are empty, except for the bums, of whom there are quite a few — Hogarthian figures. Or should I say Rabelaisian?

I have mentioned the Marcel Dupré Alley in Rouen. There is an Allée Maria Callas in Paris — the sign says “artiste lyrique.” It’s not a boulevard, no, but an alley in Paris is pretty good for a Greek girl named Mary from New York.

Beethoven has, not an alley, but a street: Rue Beethoven. And I think, “One would never rue Beethoven” — which is possibly a lamer joke than the above, on which I will end. Thanks for joining me, friends, and I’ll write you soon from Oslo: a graver journal, centered on human rights.



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