Monthly Archives: February 2012

White Doves by John-Michael Papirchuk

White Doves by John-Michael Papirchuk

Few events stand out in my life, as this story I’m about to reveal.   Undoubtedly it was another of those seminal moments when a child takes a large step forward in maturity.  I had been given two white doves and through my fecklessness had lost them.  At first I believed it to be the biggest tragedy in my life.  Not long afterwards, a subsequent incident forever changed my mind on that subject – it was a lesson learned that when things look at their worse there are two possible scenarios in the offing – either things will look up or they’ll get worse, at times much worse.

Mack the Magpie by Jean-Michel Papirchuk

Mack the Magpie by Jean-Michel Papirchuk

Admittedly, this story has the power to elicit a wistful sigh from my heart. Certainly there’s joyful remembrance but more so, the realization that life could become a harsh reality even for a little boy who had until that episode known mostly blue skies above an insouciant head.  The hard lesson learned has been nurtured and acted upon since, and for that I can only be thankful for a significant chapter, poignant though it was, in my life’s yet unfolding story.

La Belle Dame en Rouge by John-Michael Papirchuk

La Belle Dame en Rouge by John-Michael Papirchuk

La Belle Dame en Rouge is a reminiscence of a youthful episode when I learned something profound about myself but the lesson didn’t become clear until many years had passed.  That incident predicted much of my future reticence towards accepting any kind of gift for whatever reason.  I hasten to add not out of a noble attitude or a superior code of conduct, but simply because I was loathe to accept that which I’d not earned through my own efforts.  And yet, there are surely times when it is the right thing to do, to allow someone the opportunity to offer a gift freely without expecting anything in return.  It’s always a conundrum for me but one that is worth resolving per each individual case.

Drunk as a Moufette by John-Michael Papirchuk

Bonjour mon ami!

     James, delicately put forward, you expressed perhaps a slight doubt to my admission of a youthful misadventure, as I described in Ay-Champagne: My hometown.  But yes indeed I was drunk at the tender age of perhaps seven and a half, or it may have been a year later, whatever it happened in late September or early October during the ‘vendange’ in Champagne.  At that time most of the town’s folks worked in the vineyards harvesting the grapes and the various Champagne houses provided excellent hot meals at noon as well as a morning and afternoon snack; it was delivered to the fields on horse drawn carts, in large vats full of flavorsome food.  Ratatouille with chunks of braised beef I remember as being a favourite with everyone.  We’d all sit around and have a fine time renewing acquaintances with a workforce that came down from the north of France; they were almost all coal miners, Polish and Italians for the most part who’d use their holidays to come down to clear their lungs, earn extra money but mostly for the fun they had each evening. Wives also tagged along, as did girlfriends. Many returned year after year and long friendships were formed; for example my oldest sister kept a correspondence for decades with an attractive Italian girl by name of Laeticia. Those were the days when people were happy with the simpler things in life, such as good friendships.

     The big companies, Pommery, Moet et Chandon, Bollinger, Taittinger, Roederer, Deutz and Ayala too, each housed a couple dozen or so who made the trip down for about ten days in all.  Amongst them, there was always someone who played an accordion, a guitar and of course there’d be a drummer too.  Each night was party time with dancing and I’m sure lots of romance going on but I was a kid, had no notion of such and consequently didn’t pay attention to such activities; rather, I was running around with other kids and even doing my bit dancing with sisters or occasionally with my cousin although I really didn’t like that.  You may remember I was often the only fellow dancing at the Frat parties while the ‘boys’ gathered around the fridge hugging a beer.  I tell you James, I always thanked my lucky stars those early lessons resulted in my dancing rather well and liking it; needless to point out it was also a gallant way to get close to a potential amorous dalliance.

     Naturally, this being France along with the meal came the wine too.  An old geezer with a pronounced limp was the custodian of a smallish barrel (perhaps contained 20 litres) and he’d make the rounds filling tin cups that were held up to him with a clatter, a hue and cry.  He’s name was Adolphe but the shout was, “Hé-hé, Dodolfe, içi! Et moi?” And so on. He’d mutter and laboriously limp over but it was all in good fun and he made sure everyone got his or her fill.  I most often joined my mother and sisters who were already old enough to participate as pickers, as it was great fun to find them in the vineyards.  I’d either hike up the hills looking for Pommery’s white flag (each company flew their own colours) to see in which sector the harvesting was going on or I’d hitch a ride on the back of a horse draw cart going up to bring back the empty large 100 kilo wicker baskets and return with full ones to be pressed immediately.   When the weather was good I’d stay in the fields fooling around, tossing grapes at comely young women (yes, James, already) and ducking behind several rows away.  Of course I didn’t fool any of my targets and I’d hear, “Jeannot, you’re going to be spanked bad boy!”  And I’d reply, “It wasn’t me but Jo-Jo,” or the nearest young stalwart.

     However when the weather wasn’t good enough for me to hang around, whether too cool or even raining (except under the heaviest rain the ‘vendange‘ went on) I’d go spend my time with Dad at the Pommery Pressoir. That’s where the grapes where the tons of Pinot Noir grapes were ferried to be crushed and then processed into creating the famed bubbly.  I had lots of time on my hands as Dad would be busy doing what he was doing and curious as always I wandered around the two-floor building without supervision. That’s how I nearly lost a finger, but that’s too stupid a story to recount (me being the stupid part) and of course there was the drunken incident.  The advantage to visiting my father at the pressoir was that the men who were permanent employees of the company also had their meals served in an adjacent ‘réfectoire’ and being the unchallenged elite of the works they sat at long tables, with white linen, real China and wine glasses.  The food too was plentiful and of a superior quality; between two men facing each other at the table (probably about ten such pairs) the foreman came along and plunked down a litre of wine.

      And so it happened that one day I was present at lunch given a seat at a little table to the side so the men wouldn’t feel restricted in their rough conversations often laced with profanities for emphasis; nothing vicious simply the usual banter of rough hewn men.   I was sitting with Pierrot (yep, him again) whose father also worked there and for a joke or whatever the foreman walked by and exclaimed, “Hey, two more men here, I almost missed them.”  With that he plunked down a full bottle of wine between the two of us. Well, James, I won’t prevaricate but immediately I’ll point an accusing finger at Pierrot for the disgraceful episode that ensued.  Zola’s ‘J’accuse’ has nothing on what comes next.

     Pierrot was almost three years older but we were good friends nonetheless.  He was also an altar boy, hardly like angelic me but always full of mischief even while serving mass.  If we were serving together at a High Mass, he’d be the senior one and thus would be the one (I envied him that) to ring the bells at the time of consecration.  But he’d do so with a beat, if you can imagine he’d ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding but instead of the third, ring-a-ding he syncopated a snappy ding-ding!  I remember once the Monsignor turned around during this the most solemn part of the mass and throwing him a look that would have dropped a mongoose.  As soon as the priest turned back, Pierrot turned to me, cocked his finger on an imaginary revolver, aimed and shot the unsuspecting victim meanwhile throwing me a wicked wink.  Well, what do you suppose? I was overtaken by violent fits of laughter I tried to disguise as hiccups. Pierrot whose antics weren’t missed by his father caught hell and a few welts from the liberally applied leather belt but he was always unrepentant.  Okay, James, I’m getting to it but I want to lay blame where it should rightfully be hung, around his neck.  I had, when the bottle was dropped on our table, realized the man was joking and I had not imagined drinking any of it but that wasn’t in Pierrot’s plans.  Immediately he reached for the bottle in case it was taken away and deliberately poured himself a full glass and in a spirit of equal sharing, mine too.  NO, no, I shock my head but he assured me, “It’s alright, he put it down here for us to drink.  Don’t be a “trou-de-cul.”  Of course I didn’t want to be an asshole so I drank and he kept on pouring and I kept on downing the contents.

     The lunch was not the usual French affair that lasted forever but only about 30 minutes as the men needed to get back to the wine presses.  That was the primary reason for having the meals provided by Pommery as it was crucial to have the grapes crushed in a slow and very delicate manner so that the skins wouldn’t break or that would have been disastrous to the Champagne process.  I’m sure you know it but since the Pinot Noir grape is dark skinned only the white juice could be extracted and God forbid a pressing would go awry.  Three thousand kilos of grapes would be spoiled and considered good only for making red wine and what’s that compared to the incomparable Champagne? Thus everyone ate fully but quickly and rushed back to keep an eye on proceedings although one man was always left to keep a vigilant eye on one of the three presses.

     Be that as it may, in 30 minutes or a little less, not wanting to have a drop less than my compadre, I drank a half bottle of wine that was probably at least 13 degrees.  No one seemed to pay any attention to that fact; as soon as the men got up from the table, wily Pierrot somehow managed to make a clean get away leaving me on my own.  It wasn’t too long before I realized something was not as usual; I had blurred vision and a hard time walking.  In fact, as has been recounted (ad nauseam) I staggered my way back to the pressoir to rejoin my father.  My condition was soon noticed;  “Hey, Michel, take a look, your son is loaded!”  Sure enough I was drunk as a skunk.  Worse I was close to bringing up my lunch, and that would have been humiliating, so much more than being inebriated.

     You may think I was severely punished but none of that as drinking wine was no big deal.  I’d been drinking wine since I could remember, sure a little watered down but wine nonetheless.  In Ay it was a lot cheaper than pop or non-alcoholic beer.  In fact, the story goes that a couple drops of Champagne were dropped on my lips at birth, a local custom.  My father merely took me to the back of the working area but close enough where he could keep an eye on me and laid me down to sleep it off on several burlap bags he’d piled up for the purpose.  I didn’t wake up until he’d shaken my shoulders and announced in a neutral voice it was time to go home.  He took me by the hand and said nothing as he could tell from the looks of me I was already suffering from a horrible hangover.  My father never scolded me or even indicated he was pissed-off; my mother on the other hand gave him plenty of guff for letting it happen.  It was only when a couple days later I went to visit my father at work that some of his co-workers made a little fun of me but nothing nasty.  The foreman in particular asked if I’d found the vintage to my taste.  That was the last time I visited my father at work that particular vendange preferring to stay away until the shame of it all would melt into the fog of ancient personal history.

     James, I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret – when my son created an accordion out of my car’s hood, an artistic, full-blown metal origami, I didn’t utter one word of reproach.  Dredged up from a long forgotten recess in my memory bank, I had thankfully remembered how my own father’s forebearance had spared me when I was already full of remorse.  Piling on the blame would have been overkill and who wants to be such a ‘trou-de-cul’? Finally, there’s one additional sidebar to this episode and that is I’m actually grateful for the certain knowledge that if I get loaded undoubtedly the price I pay the next morning is much too steep.  Sure I’ve overdone on occasion but considering the opportunities and the fact I love a good glass of wine or a fine liqueur it’s been on the whole well controlled.  My passing moment of folly has actually paid long-term dividends and that’s a most fortunate turn of events, considering the genesis of it all.

     So there you have it mon ami, the long and the short of it, the explanation to a youthful peccadillo you may or may not have been seeking.

                                                                          – 30 –

Copyright: Vancouver, February 23, 2012

Ay-Champagne – My hometown

Let me introduce Ay-Champagne, my hometown and source of much background for my tales, mostly true but often enhanced by the ever fermenting action of time passing.  I discovered on my first trip back that all things in my imagination had grown by a factor of three.  In other words the physical world of my youth was greatly enhanced by a fanciful imagination.  As for the emotional content of my life, well, the good blossomed in felicity and tragedy was thankfully  veiled in the mist of a fading memory.

Classed a national historic monument, I point to Saint Brice, the 15th Century Gothic church where I dutifully served the weekday 6 a.m. mass as a half-asleep altar boy.  I do believe the hard knot on my knees is a direct result of kneeling on cold, hard granite steps in front of the altar.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

Beyond the Marne Valley on the opposite ‘versant‘ is the famed Cote des Blancs.  As Ay is famed for its fine Pinot Noir, Chardonnay dominates the vineyards seen in the hazy distance.  Rising from the alluvial soil of the valley haze is almost inevitable and makes for difficult long-distance photography.

A view of Ay from the hill directly above.  Beyond is the historic Marne Valley a natural access route to Paris taken by many an invading army.

Fine statuary that wasn’t destroyed by the frenzied mobs of the Révolution and the bombings during World War 1 and World War II – art somehow endures through the centuries no thanks to man’s savagery.

Interior of the church where I spent many an hour kneeling in front of the altar as a pious altar boy – if only I’d remained that way!

When I was serving there were three priests in permanence in Ay, a Doyen, a second priest and often a postulant or newly ordained padre sent to learn ‘the ropes’ from the rather formidable Monsignor.  Now the priest lives in another town and only manages to make the rounds on a weekly basis.  No more daily masses at six, vespers in the early evening or any other time.  It’s a crying shame that the calling to serve God has fallen so dramatically; one wonders what the future has in store for those still clinging on to the faith of their ancestors.

Ay is justly proud of its splendid pipe organ.  The pure sounds it generates vibrates throughout the vaulted ceiling and in the hands of a fine organist sure to elicit shivers.  The instrument first was installed in 1750, then was ‘modernized’ in 1898 to finally be thoroughly refurbished in 1990-91.

The hillsides above Ay are the almost exclusive domain of the finest Pinot Noir grapes and to a lesser acreage of Chardonnay vineyards.  Ay vineyards are classified as Grand Cru, in other words at the top of the ratings system for the production of Champagne.

If perchance you read ‘Apricot Fever’ this dirt lane was the road to perdition I had to face up to.  Just beyond view, at the bottom of the rise was the ‘orchard of temptation’ and then the return journey in fear and shame.

Below the lateral canal where I spent hours hiding in the reeds with a fishing pole in my hands. eluding my mother’s organized search parties.  God how I hated hearing my name called over and over; she went so far as dragooning my pals to help in the search.  Oh, the humiliation!  Jean H., my best pal usually found me first and then he’d just cough a warning.  I’ve since retained a pronounced liking for long hours spent in solitary peace, a rod in my hand , (an obligatory bottle of wine cooling in the reeds,) along Canada’s isolated rivers, lakes and sea shores.

This fellow fisherman was absolutely fixated on his trembling bobber.  I stood by very quietly watching  hoping he’d get a hit – sure enough, nothing after fifteen minutes and I moved on.  No sooner my back turned, I heard a triumphant, “AH!” Almost immediately followed by a heartfelt, “MERDE!”  Needless to say he blew the catch: fish one – fisherman zero!

Along the same waterway each Saturday local farmers offer their fresh vegetables and assorted meats.  The surrounding area folks come to meet and chat with those from other villages and at the same time plan Sunday’s fare.

Ay’s prize winning ‘Roi du Boudin’ – surely the best blood pudding I’ve had in years and years.  With french fries and a green salad you have a delicious brunch, anytime.  Oh, of course a good red wine to wash it down nicely.

The train station I remember so well but with a fresh coat of paint.  Anytime I went there it was a thrill; imagine, I was going to ‘travel’ at the very least 3 kliks to Epernay or journey to Reims all of 29 kilometres away.  Guaranteed I spent every minute with my nose firmly glued to the window pane spotting the names that sounded so exotic somehow; Rilly la Montagne, Chigny-les-Roses, Maison Blanche.  The latter was the source of great frustration as I never did spot the ‘white house’.

The avenue where I lived except not one of the ancient buildings remain and that’s not a bad thing at all.  The ever growing popularity of Champagne world-wide has brought prosperity to the town and it shows in it’s modern structures and newly widened cross-town thoroughfare.

Do I dare say the absolute, uncontested creators of scrumptious, mouth-watering  patisserie can be found anywhere in the most remote corner of France and my home-town didn’t take a back seat to anyone or any place.  Every day I’m spending in Ay means another visit and to be candid I’d go back every day for a year if I were that fortunate.  Oh, yes, the baguettes were fresh and crispy but that goes without saying, n’est ce pas?

The main business thoroughfare – I remember the establishment at the forefront was a ‘bistro’ that had a couple of billiards table.  My pal and I would sneak in and start playing, quietly, surreptitiously.  The owner would close his eyes for a while and then shoo us away.  I’m pleased to announce Jean kept at it and eventually was crowned co-champion of all of France.  Not bad, Jean, too bad though I wasn’t around to give you a good challenge; instead I hustled a bit of pool in Toronto when I skipped classes.  Oy!

The chestnut trees under which my pals and I played games of tag and soccer except these are a new generation.  The old, magnificent chestnuts of my youth were all chopped down to allow for the widening of the avenue.

The main gate to the former ‘Moulin Bleu’ kindergarten, my true ‘alma mater’.  An exceptional couple intent on preserving this vestige of local lore from the wrecking ball decided to remodel the old house and turn it into a Bed and Breakfast venture.   They also attended the pre-school facility but a few years later than I did.  No doubt there’s a heavy price to pay for immigrating anywhere as one can never recreate the same atmosphere, the indefinite but very real unique aura  of a birthplace.

This photo was taken in a downpour but somehow it captured perfectly  a very blue memory of the long ago past.   I could hear the echoes of childish sing-songs, game playing, giggles and the occasional scraped knee eliciting tears and sobs.  Sweet, dark-maned, Mademoiselle Françoise, soon took care of the pain with a hug and a kiss.  Merçi Mademoiselle!

Would you believe it – the same playroom and same little benches and same best pal!

Yes, I did hear the echoes of our childish laughter chiming sweetly in my ears; or was it the fervent desire to latch on to a better world and time?

The breakfast room where a copious and tasty breakfast was self-served.  No need to watch how much you ate for fear of appearing greedy – no one was looking!

P1010947It seems every town in France can boast of a centuries old structure and Ay is no different.  This well-preserved still lived-in home is claimed to have belonged to a favourite French king, Henri IV.  He apparently enjoyed the local wines and why not be close to the source?

A few kilometres up a few vineyard hills from Ay, Hautvillers, nestled below the Forest de Reims, is a neat village  immensely more important that it’s small size – it was here, at the Abbey d’Hautvillers that 3 centuries ago an ingenious monk invented Champagne.  The méthode champenoise that has directly contributed to the well-being of several thousand vineyard owners and of course the large Champagne houses.  The abbey is seen from below it’s spire looking on the famed Pineau Noir vineyards.
Sadly vocations to the cloth are so lacking the monastery is no longer a place of worship, yet strolling around the grounds there’s an aura of peaceful timelessness and  songbirds seemingly sing better here, really, I’m not dreaming this up.  Just as Dom Perignon was inspired to capture the blissful bubbles that have gladdened countless hearts the world over, so do the birds thrill and whistle better than elsewhere.  When you  make that journey (as you surely must in the happy future), lean under that oak tree, hold your breath and listen, you’ll agree with me, no doubt about it.
I’m pointing to the simple flat marble stone that marks the great man’s resting place. I’d have built a mausoleum fit for a king but on the other hand he was a monk, and such  ostentatiousness, especially in death would have been unwanted by a man who after all gave up the outside world for one of quiet contemplation and prayer.
Seen from Hautvillers my hometown in the mid-foreground and Epernay (where I was born and baptized)  in the left distance, along with a part of the famed Cote des Blancs, so-called as the vineyards are producing almost nothing other than Chardonnay grapes.
By chance came across a procession of locals  celebrating the re-opening of the local school after major renovations.  Any excuse for a parade, right?
How lucky am I? Let me merely inform that Jean, my very dearest childhood friend, is the owner of his own Pinot Noir vineyards and the past Directeur of the Co-operative of the local vineyard owners, those with holdings too small to market their own label pool their first-rate grapes (Ay is top-rated Premier Cru) under the label ‘Champagne de La Brèche‘.  It’s a very fine bubbly indeed and I get to sample, and sample and … yes, sample some more.   All the Champagnes are fine but for my money the Rosé is really splendid – it’s not pushed as they bottle just a small percentage of the overall production, something near one hundred thousand bottles per year.

I couldn’t help but offer you a close look at the famed Ange au Sourire (it adorns a nook above the main entrance to the splendid Reims cathedral, 30 minutes away or twenty if Jean is driving); it is seriously claimed that very   unique, engaging smile is due to having sampled the local bubbly.  Do you see any resemblance to the sparkle in my own eyes?

Magnificent Reims cathedral is the third largest in all of Christendom.   It’s superlative Gothic design and statuary perched on every imaginable nook and cranny give it a lace-like appearance.  Reims is the ‘big city’ of my youth.  A trip there was akin to going to Timbuktu – nah, no comparison, Reims was infinitely better and still retains all of its charm for me.  In time I’ll devote an entire ‘post’ to display its history, culture and especially the several great churches (Jeanne d’Arc crowned the king in the cathedral) and of course the Champagne culture.

Inside a view of the famed Marc Chagal stained glassed windows.

The height and perfect symmetry of the central nave is awe-inspiring. Muted echoes of shuffling feet and whispered prayers is conducive to reflection.

Jean’s lovely wife, Evelyne.  As good as Jean is as a bubbly maker so is she a gourmet cook – imagine the feasting and joyful atmosphere.  Yes, check out my eyes and you can guess I was not suffering from thirst.  You may think,  hmmm… what is he admitting to? Nothing other than I was happy as could be and incidentally, I’ve never been inebriated due to imbibing Champagne.  I guess it’s in my blood.  How lucky am I?  I think I asked that before, didn’t I?

This handsome fellow is son Christof and in keeping with family tradition, after years of study and rigorous apprenticeship, he is now a bona fide ‘oenophile’.  He is an integral cog for a world renowned Champagne house; his is the ultimate responsibility to yearly create a wine that will attest to that house’s long tradition of great Champagnes.

My father worked in the Pommery wine press and I spent countless hours visiting him on the job.  That was one of the great privileges of living in a small town, you were never far from parents and no one thought it inappropriate for a youngster to visit the work place.  I did on occasion cause my father more grief than he deserved, for example the day I almost chopped off a finger or the time a buddy and I (Pierrot who is talked about in An Owling Tale) got drunk at lunch.  Imagine we downed a full bottle of wine and me not even 8 years old.  However, no one made a federal case out of it, rather it was found amusing by his co-workers.  Yeah, but what about my hang-over?

One of the many Champagne House of Ay, discreetly tucked away beyond high walls. Deutz and Ayala are known world wide by Champagne connoisseurs.   I ran around and about these vineyards without suspecting the existence of this particular grand house.

The great Bollinger name needs no introduction to Champagne fanciers the world wide.

Mutigny is a hamlet overlooking Ay a couple kilometres distance.  It is backed by a deep forest and below it boast a magnificent panoramic view of the Marne Valley and the opposite Cote des Blancs.  We had a potato field where now vineyards have taken over as the land is much too valuable for growing mere spuds.  On a hot day I was often set off to bring back water from a well just below the church.  The water was so cool and delicious.  I was happy to see it was still functioning years later.  When I mentioned to a woman who was also filling a large jug she claimed, “This well has been here since for ever and it has never gone dry!  We have running water at home,” she hastened to add, “but we like to use this water for our coffee.”   “That makes sense,” I was just a tad cheeky, “it’s  holy water, after all its right in the shadows of your church.”  “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” she smiled sweetly, “mais après tout pourquoi pas.”  Indeed, why not.  It’s such a French thing to care for such details as getting better quality water for brewing coffee.  I must have picked up some vibes from my long ago days as a water-bearer as I generally only use spring water for my brew.   We parted with a cheerful aurevoir and a wave.

Seen from the vantage of Mutigny is Ay’s ‘suburb’ of Mareuil-sur-Ay, although they’d drown me in a vat of Champagne if they heard me describe their fine village in such an haughty manner.  Well, it really is less than one short kilometre away and after all it is called partially Ay, right? The truth is their part of the canal and nearby Marne River offers better fishing and that’s not negligible by any means.

Flowing peacefully now, the historic Marne River has seen more invading armies than the French populace cares to remember.  The Marne Valley is a natural route for armies marching in from across the Rhine River.

Jean H. the finest friend a man can hope to have waves goodbye – he was my constant companion from kindergarden until I left for shores unknown.  Adieu mon cher ami.

An Owling Tale by John-Michael Papirchuk

AN OWLING TALE by John-Michael Papirchuk

An Owling Tale is the telling of a long forgotten episode that tormented my early years.  I was a sensitive lad who easily believed what he heard coming from an adult mouth; blind trust in an elder’s story was normal and doubt wouldn’t be contemplated, not for one second.  When an especially older and authoritative figure claimed that owls predicted death I had no reservation whatsoever over the veracity of that statement.  Hence, the sound or sight of an owl pierced me with dread for years to come.  It was palpable fear that haunted my nights – if only adults would take into account the presence of children instead of ignoring their existence much psychological harm would never take root.  Too bad the adult in question didn’t take heed of a very French saying when discussing delicate subjects, “Shush, pas devant les enfants.”  In other words take into consideration that children believe literally and fail to see the figurative in an anecdote.  This lesson I took to heart in my own dealings with children; if reading this true tale makes one adult more circumspect in the future, I’ll be satisfied it wasn’t  merely  a spooky event and my travails for naught.

Apricot Fever by John-Michael Papirchuk

APRICOT FEVER by John-Michael Papirchuk

Apricot Fever is a cautionary tale, one that may shock the pusillanimous and the weak of heart but surely it will provide more than one amused snicker, certainly a smile and perhaps elicit a sardonic ‘hard cheese’ comment from the less than sympathetic reader.  Still, it was a hard knock introduction to the realization that adults all too often aren’t deep in the wisdom department; in fact the skin of an onion has more substance.  The incident is a true-life event that since has resulted in an immediate state of skeptical alert when confronted by an attitude of superiority based on longevity or seniority alone.


“Never go on  trips with someone you don’t love.”                                                      Ernest Hemingway – ‘A Moveable Feast’

Paris by night is dazzling as a courtesan without being garish; enchanting as a demure debutante without ever becoming trite.  For young and old it’s a feast for the eyes, a boost to a weary spirit and gentle massage of the senses.  No need to identify the iconic images of the City of Lights, enjoy.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

It’s worth mentioning each night, every hour on the hour there’s a zippy five minute laser show that elicits oohs and aahs from the shadows where you didn’t even suspect anyone was there waiting for the show to start.

Walk under and look up, only in this manner can you get a real idea of just how big and high the Eiffel Tower is; no wonder it dominates the skyline from almost any angle.  

Late into the night ‘bateau mouche‘ ferry enchanted tourists along the world’s most romantic river – the Seine of song and poems.

For my money nothing beats the Arc de Triumph at night and then a stroll down the Champs Elysées to check out the other tourists who are checking you out – harmless fun.

Notre Dame’s superb stained glass windows, especially moving at night when the muted whispers of visitors lend a serene, spiritual tone to the house of God.

Wandering at night somewhere not far from Parc Monceau, I was surprised to see an onion-domed church that serves Eastern rite parishioners.  I’ve got to find the name.

Style, elegance and class!

A show room on the Champs Elysées – the old boy displayed a je ne sais quoi that might be envied today.

Even a casual car fancier might fall for this one; fast and fancy, like a showgirl from the Moulin Rouge.

One last glance before heading to the hotel; after a long, pleasant stroll through the City of Lights sleep will come easy tonight.

The wondrous legend of Omega and Aurora Borealis

Omega and Aurora Borealis by John-Michael Papirchuk

A wondrous, inspiring tale that will delight even as it will break your heart.  Indeed, there’s a lesson to be learned by all of us especially those who seem to always be that brief moment too late, who see their dream ship sail away in the sunset.  Read, find solace and a valuable lesson in the inspired dénouement to this epic tale.

Paris – Ville Lumière Part 1

Travel cognoscenti, well-heeled jet-setters and youthful backpackers, illustrious artists and writers have heaped  praise on  Paris as the finest walking city worldwide par excellence and I’m in total agreement.  During my visits I generally eschew the speedy métro or convenient surface bus service although there are a few bus routes that provide splendid tours of the city for the price of an ordinary fare – I’ll let you in on a few as I go along.  For now, let me assure one and all nothing beats a good pair of walking shoes, a street map in the hip pocket – start bright and early so you can dawdle over your café au lait and croissant at one of the ubiquitous corner bistros and mull over your day’s itinerary.  With a powerful caffeine jolt propelling you start hiking being sure to keep your keen eyes on a swivel, eagle-eyes checking left and right, up and even down so you miss nothing of the wonderful sights of Paris.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)


It’s important to understand the physical lay-out of the great avenues you’ll surely walk along (Champs Elysées, for one); Baron Haussmann designed the city central avenues to radiate from a central ‘place’ like the spokes on a bicycle wheel.  No matter how often I try to remind myself, avenues, even the major ones, do not run parallel to each other but gradually diverge until after several blocks you’re no longer where you may have imagined to be.  Don’t worry, get the map out and adjust to head in the direction you wished for in the first place; in the meantime nothing will have been lost as I’m sure you’ll discover numbers of fascinating nooks of the city about which you had no knowledge.   Have your camera ready at all times – there’s a photo op at every corner.



Spanning 2000 years of an often turbulent and illustrious history, Paris is an amazing amalgam of the old and new and if you are a neophyte visitor you’ll surely head for the sparkling, high tone boulevards a courtesy of Napoleon’s desire to beautify his capital city and Haussmann’s urban planning genius.  You’ll come across parks, large and small, choose a comfortable bench and catch the sight of hurried Parisians and other travelers such as you; it will surprise and simultaneously charm you far beyond what you had dreamed of when you closed your eyes and planned this very moment.

For my part it’s a fundamental precept that wherever I travel I seek accommodations centrally located with a view from the window (when possible), comfortable certainly and of course affordable.  It’s one reason I never (really never) book a hotel ahead but rather chance on finding what I need first seeing with my own eyes.  Admittedly it is at times stressful but in the final analysis always worth the sometimes hard work.  On my latest jaunt to Paris I was extremely fortunate.  Serendipitously, I discovered cheery accomodations in a wonderful location one street from the Marché Poncelet.  The leafy view from inside the room demonstrates what I mean by cheery.  


At the front desk, Julien, a fine fellow whose cheerful demeanor and tips concerning things to do and see in the neighborhood of the Hôtel Flaubert was proof Parisians are friendly notwithstanding occasional bad-mouthing by unsophisticated visitors who are surprised they’re not impressing anyone because they’re paying for the privilege to gape at the treasures in plain sight everywhere int the City of Lights.  


From my room window I’m checking for signs the sun is about to come out again.  However, I hasten to add there’s absolutely no reason not to go wandering about the streets of Paris, rain or shine, it’s always a magnificent outing worth any small weather related discomfort.


There are historic and interestingly designed places (squares) within a few minutes walk of each other, featuring grandiose statues of famed figures (some are obscure to most foreigners, but it’s fun to make a note of the name and Google it later) reminding passersby they once contributed to the city and country.  The not-to-be-missed Place de la Concorde, Place Vendome, Place de l’Opéra, Place Pigale, of course you want to go there to snap a good shot of the Moulin Rouge, but save your money, it’s a tarted up old whore not worth the cheap Champagne at a premium price.  From there start climbing the  steep, winding streets of Montmartre where a succession of great and unknown artists lived their dreams of fame, and of course take a long gander upon the city from the imposing viewpoint on the steps below the iconic Basilique du Sacré Coeur.




Rather than endlessly going on rapturously, let me lay out for you some of my favourite sites, the famed and the less so but each one in my opinion worthy of a lingering look.
When I downloaded this photo I realized it was the first time I’d actually visualized this particular angle of three iconic views of Paris.

Place de la Concorde fountain and of course the ever-present Tour Eiffel keeping a sharp eye on all of Paris.  A couple of centuries ago the ‘place’ was hardly harmonious as thousands including Danton, Robespierre and not a few noble heads lost their heads, literally, to the Révolution‘s blood thirst. 

 One of the unusual acts  you’ll come across all over the city: this one set up ‘shop’ steps from the Pompidou Centre.  I admit I was just as happy as the giddy gamins who were cheering him on urging bigger and bigger bubbles.  

So delightful especially for children of all ages, me included.  I wonder it there’s a secret formula? It may be fun to try it out for yourself, what do you think? Hmm… warm water, dishwashing soap and two sticks – nothing to it, right?

The arch called Le Carousel  is pictured with the Louvres to your back and looking down (or up) the Champs Elysées.  Framed in the far distances the iconic Arc de Triomphe.  

In front of the most visited site in Paris, Le Centre Pompidou (pour les Arts) that incidentally is not close to being my favourite, however, there’s always lots of action in the wide plaza, with musicians, acrobats, mimes, buskers of all types showing off their skills for a multitude of tourists.  Some of the acts are really first class and worth spending the time to watch, applaud and drop a few coins in appreciation.



Considered as one of the world’s very finest art gallery, the Louvres seen from the main concourse and central fountain.


The glass pyramid located amongst classical architecture set off passionate debate when it first came into existence.  Today the functional aspects (main entrance and ticket counters) cleverly camouflaged as an artistic creation is praised by one and all.  I for one had been dubious until I actually saw it with my own eyes – bravo!



A free preview of what you can discover inside, for the price of a ticket.  On the other hand, if you’re in a hurry and just want to take a look from the outside, there are several viewpoints that are meant for you to enjoy, perhaps entice you to buy that ticket after all.

There’s never enough time in one visit to see it all with the  proper respect for the masterpieces and unique artistry on display.  Choose a few theme rooms, relax on a bench and take your time to enjoy.  Come back another time, the Mona Lisa will always be there to greet you.

Visiting Paris from a southern provincial town, this band put on a spirited show with fine style and good toe-tapping offerings.  The young fellow on the small snare drum who beat the beat with gusto was a fun front-man.

Le Moulin Rouge needs no introduction.  Look but don’t bother getting clipped inside.  A good starting point to the Sacré Coeur.

There seems to be yet another antique children’s carousel all over the city; laughter of happy children and organ music always evokes sweet memories.

This lovely mademoiselle played a fine rendition of the theme from Emilie, the movie that enchanted the world some years ago.

Energetically cranking the small mechanical organ, this fine songstress was a throw-back to the early street chanteuse of Paris, Edit Piaf being the best known, of course.  Her voice was evocative of Patachou and Juliette Gréco, singers known  and loved for their Parisian roots.

This Parisian icon is even more exciting at night.

A pretty tourist exclaimed, “Ah, worse than Tokyo traffic.  Crazy!”  She took video to show back home they don’t have it as bad as the Parisian ‘Kamikaze drivers!”

Seen from above the traffic is simply too ridiculous to contemplate challenging, and yet, after my first go around (yep, I couldn’t get off at my avenue) I managed to navigate my way out.  Since then each trip I make it a must to go around at least once to sharpen me up for the frantic Parisian traffic.  Oh, one secret of not getting stuck – NEVER stop, no matter what keep on going even when you’re sure the other driver will hit you or vice-versa.  Magically the slow dance winds its way around without a pause and everyone finds their way out.  Admittedly once I did see a minor fender bender but it was of no account as both drivers waved to each other and kept on their merry way.  I found it splendidly civilized behaviour.

A night view of the Champs Elysées.

La Madeleine – fine classical architecture and splendid interior.

It’s on every woman’s shopping agenda, especially for cosmetics. Gallery Lafayette and adjacent Printemps are a shopper’s mecca, even men can find something to like about shopping.

Have to have one of the Tour Eiffel but many more to come in Paris City of Lights Number 2

Finally a view of the Sacré Coeur from the viewpoint provided by le magazin Printemps.  It’s one of the great tourist bargains of Paris, the open air café on the top floor provides a splendid panoramic view of the city.  More to come next post, hope you enjoyed a small sampling of what you’ll discover for yourself some day soon, I hope.  Aurevoir mes amis.