Juliette Binoche is one of my favorite actresses, and definitely my favorite French actress. I think the first film I saw her in was The Horseman on the Roof, which had something to do with European history and something to do with cholera. She was great as the nurse in The English Patient, whether scrambling a precious egg for her patient or dangling from a rope high inside a church’s dome, ecstatic at the beauty of the Renaissance frescoes that had survived war’s destruction.
In preparation for our trip to France, Joe and I decided to watch only French films, whatever we could get from Netflix, with English subtitles of course. Juliette Binoche starred in at least two of these, including the beautiful but enigmatic Certified Copy, in which a couple who may or may not have once been married go on a day-long drive through the Italian countryside. She is French, a gallery owner living in Italy with a young son. He is English, an art historian on a book and lecture tour. In one scene Binoche’s character goes into the ladies’ room at a restaurant and applies lipstick. We see this from the perspective of the mirror. The lipstick is an intense shade of red, and Binoche applies it generously, at one point smoothing it with her finger. I had forgotten that women do this. I wear lipstick, of course, but I tend to favor colors with names like Saint Nude and Nude Blush, colors that don’t need to be applied carefully because mistakes won’t show. Possibly it was the mirror’s eye view that made the lipstick scene the high point of the film for me. I made a point of watching the credits at the end and learned that Binoche’s makeup was from Make Up For Ever.
So Joe and I were walking down a shopping street in the Marais a few days ago, and we came upon a Make Up For Ever store. I just had to go inside. The nice sales clerk, who was fluent in English, didn’t know which color lipstick Juliette Binoche had worn in Certified Copy and hadn’t seen the film, but she suggested a couple of shades that fit my description, including Make Up For Ever’s classic red, No. 43 (Moulin Rouge). I asked her if she thought I could carry it off, and she said I could—well she had to say that, I guess—and I bought it.
We are on our way to Normandy and Brittany, planning to see the Bayeux Tapestry and Mont Saint-Michel and then possibly the Loire Valley before heading back to Paris. In Paris we will have a treat. We have tickets to see Juliette Binoche in Antigone at the Theatre de Ville. The play is in English with French surtitles; the script was written by Anne Carson, based on her translation from the ancient Greek. I’m sure I will enjoy Binoche’s performance regardless of her lip color. As for me, I will be wearing No. 43. When I started this trip, I said I wanted it to change my life. I think it already has.
Last Christmas, when our trip to Paris was still in the planning stages, my brother, Edward, and his girlfriend, Susan, gave Joe and me a French language map, a laminated collection of all the phrases a traveler would need to know when meeting people, changing money, eating out, shopping, or dealing with emergencies. We already knew how to say “good morning” and “thank you,” but the French phrase for “I’m sorry” was unfamiliar to us. Je suis désolé sounded like something we might write on a sympathy card, not something we’d toss off after accidentally stepping on a stranger’s foot.
Last Friday was the big day in all the Apple Stores, including those in Paris, and we were there early. I wanted to see the Apple Watch in person, compare the various models, and try on a couple of the bands. It was great fun! But as I was taking a last look at one of the watch tables, an Apple employee took a step backward and accidentally stepped on my foot. Je suis désole, he said, and he really, truly did look désolé. In fact, he looked so désolé that I forgot all about my foot, which really didn’t hurt at all, and tried to console him in his desolation.
Now I think I understand a few things about how Parisians interact with one another. Je suis désolée that we will be leaving this city of surprising courtesies just as we are beginning to feel at home.
I am well into a virtual walking tour from Le Puy, France, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, with a further trip to Finisterre. I reached Léon, Spain, on April 1, during a long layover at Heathrow Airport on my actual trip from Ithaca to Paris. Right now I’m virtually between Léon and Santiago but actually in Paris. I’m thinking this is sort of like being stuck inside of Mobile while wanting to be in Memphis, which was pretty much the pattern of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, as I think I remember one reviewer saying, but that was a long time ago.
Neither virtually nor actually, but truly, madly, deeply, I am not stuck anywhere. I am where I want to be–in Paris and in Léon–and there are a few other places I would also like visit all at the same time. I think that’s what life is like, and while living in the moment has its benefits it also has its limitations. Why should geography deter us when the mind can fly faster than a speeding bullet or a powerful locomotive?
Three days ago we took a day trip from Paris to Chartres, toured the Cathedral, saw the sights. One sight I didn’t expect to see, although perhaps I should have, was a marker in the sidewalk indicating that Chartres is on the route to Santiago de Compostela–not my route, which began much closer to the Spanish border, but the one that starts in Paris. Pilgrims can begin anywhere they want. Where you are is always the starting point, and the journey radiates outward.
Every journey starts with a long to-do list, a small suitcase, and a fear of being jolted out of my everyday life and into a new identity. It’s a fear, but also a desire. I want this trip to change my life.