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THE BOOK: Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, by Trudi Kanter
IN SHORT: This is the ridiculously titled, profoundly moving memoir, originally published in the 1980s, of a singularly wily Viennese hat designer whose relentless invention saved her family from the Holocaust.
I am hiking the Thames Path, a path that follows the Thames for 180 miles, from the Thames Barrier in London to its source, near Cirencester.
Day Two: Vauxhall Tube to Hammersmith Bridge
So: day two!
The start was not a particularly inspirational one: In addition to smashing the screen of my phone into a million small pieces (to record the Pulitzer-worthy sight of a cyclist wearing a yellow vest), I also destroyed my earphones. After nearly being sold a pair of fake Apple earphones, I turned around and took the Tube into central London to go to the Apple store.
Really, if you are at the Apple store at 9:50 a.m. on a Monday morning, you have made a serious error/dropped something within the previous 12 hours.
And then I couldn’t avoid stopping at the Waterstone’s. And getting lunch (to pack, at least) at Eat. In short: No walking was done (in the intended direction, at least) until 11 a.m. (So much for that 7 a.m. start.)
The good news was that once I did start hiking — well, it kind of sucked. However many luxury condos are being built in yesterday’s bit of the Thames, many many times that number are being built on today’s bit.
Crane City, if you will.
Not my city, not my circus. But I found it sad that the river was so hard to access in these sections. I assume that all these super luxe developments will offer residents/city dwellers/river walkers better access to the actual river once they’re finished building, whenever that might be. In the meantime, it’s a mess, and a mess with many many detours. Detours that were not particularly well marked.
Yes, but where to now? This was a frustrating day of walking.
Sigh. NO RIVER IN SIGHT.
To be fair, once I finally got there, Wandsworth Park, though quite small, was very pretty. I don’t know how they grow trees like that. That’s Putney Bridge in the distance, and weirdly enough, the entire day turned around after I crossed it.
I don’t know what sort of zoning law changes at the foot of Putney Bridge, but instead of luxury condo developments, there was nothing but river, and rowing clubs.
I rowed in college, and I find the whole thing magical. You’re also a million times closer to the river than at any point previously: It was weird to think of how removed you are from the river in the beginning: It’s so industrial; it seems like it’s accessible only by warship. But here the river was basically level with the street — there were a number of signs warning against flooding. I liked it so much that I ended up sitting on a bench and calling home (resulting in a $120 phone call that I blame on failing to read my phone contract properly.)
As it turned out, Putney was the next-to-last bridge for the day: I got as far as Hammersmith, and then tubed it to my hotel: Muse Haus Chiswick. I actually loved it, though it was still €€€ for the money. (London, argh.) Single room, shared bathroom. I honestly don’t know why shared bathrooms aren’t more of a thing. I would so much rather pay (less) for a shared bathroom than a private one — especially on a trip like this, when I’m just staying somewhere to sleep and heading out as early as possible.
Day two: completed!
Day two information Start: Vauxhall Tube
Finish: Hammersmith Bridge
Lunch: Nowhere I remember
Dinner: Literally bags of nuts from Boots
Accommodations: Muse Haus Chiswick
Mileage (trail): 7.6 miles (impacted by the morning trip into Soho to the Apple Store)
Paris’s Marais neighborhood doesn’t have an expansive park like the Jardin des Plantes or the bois that edge the city’s western and eastern edges — instead, it has gorgeous pocket parks, ranging from a fraction of an acre to several city blocks. See below for my five top picks, with a number of lunch suggestions — this list is a biased list of personal favorites, and does not include iconic spots like the Place des Vosges — simply because I prefer these. Vive la différence!
1. Square Léopold-Achille
Bigger than the Square Georges Cain around the corner, Léopold-Achille was once part of the expansive royal park that stretched all the way to the Place des Vosges. The statues were rescued from the former City Hall, which burned to the ground during the Paris Commune. This park is especially nice in the spring, when the flowering trees are in bloom.
2. Square Georges Cain
There’s a beautiful ornamental garden in this pocket park, organized around a 17th-century statue at its center. This park is equally well suited to snacks: Go across the street to the Swedish Institute for a cinnamon roll and coffee and settle in here. (There’s free wifi, too.)
2. Square du Temple
There’s nothing subtle about the appeal of the Square du Temple, which borders the main commercial street in the 3rd arrondissement: rue de Bretagne. Step inside and you’ll find decorative ponds bordered by weeping willows, ducks swimming along the edge. There’s a large play area for kids and tons of benches. (Our choice for lunch: Mmmozza, across the street — superior mozzarella sandwiches.)
5. Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph Migneret
If you like (a) parks and (b) falafel, you need to know about the Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph Migneret, accessible through an entryway on rue des Rosiers. Get lunch at Mi-Va-Mi (our choice of the rue des Rosiers falafel vendors; YMMV) and pick out a bench in the back.
I am hiking the Thames Path, a path that follows the Thames for 180 miles, from the Thames Barrier in London to its source, near Cirencester.
Day One: Paris to Vauxhall
I do not remember the last time I was so excited to do something I couldn’t sleep the night before — which is difficult, because it means you are excited to do something having slept the hours of 2 to 5 the previous night, and you make questionable decisions like not bringing your sunglasses. Also, you are very tired, in that wiry, jittery way. But who cares: I am hiking as much as I can of the Thames Path before I need to return to France in five days: Sunday to Friday.
I have not been to England for three years, though I used to spend enough time in London to require a long-stay visitor’s visa. (It is a less permissive visa than the long-stay visitor’s visa I have in France. I am forever a visitor, but I stay for long times.) I have never had a conversation with a French immigration official: It’s always passport-stamp-au revoir bai!!! The last time I went to London, I found myself explaining the plot of the book I was writing to the British official: “But as soon as they return to Amsterdam, war breaks out….”
This time was no different: “You’re working the what?” the immigration official said to me.
“I’m walking the Thames Path,” I said.
This continued for a few more minutes.
“You’re working where?”
“I’m walking the Thames Path,” I said. I was about to pull out my guide book and hold it to her window when she let me through.
In London, I took the train from St. Pancras to Charlton. From there, it was about a mile to the river. It was not super nice.
Once you’re on the trail, though, it is better. It is marginally better. The Thames Barrier was quite cool, though not as big as I thought it would be. Instagram lies. Also, I acknowledge this may be the least photogenic image of the Thames Barrier ever taken. (I did slightly better on Instagram.)
And so I set off! Now here is the amazing thing. It is amazing that people can do this. I woke up in France, took a train to London, and I had packed in my bag: two pairs of leggings, two t-shirts, one dress, one pair of jeans (which I was wearing — a terrible error), a pair of black Havaianas, as much clean underwear and as many clean socks as I could fit, three books (idiocy), a laptop, and assorted chargers. Also sunscreen, medicine, toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, BB cream, mascara, lipstick, three weeks’ of contact lenses, and a granola bar. And I could walk anywhere. I could probably walk to China, if I wanted to. (I did not.) But that’s amazing.
Anyway: I had studied the Thames Path Distance Calculator and I had reserved my first night’s stay, for a tidy $60, at a two-star hotel in “Chelsea” (read: Vauxhall), about 15 miles away. So I set off. It took a few miles to sink in that this stretch of the Thames is very much a worksite, a place of industry — like real industry, not just digital marketing firms. Like this:
This situation did not evolve as much as I thought it might have when I got close to, and then circled, the O2. Truth, this wasn’t the nicest morning of hiking I’d ever done. It was fascinating — to be so close to London City airport, to see all the working docks, to pass by a food truck selling jellied eels — but it was not lovely.
This part of the trail also had a number of aggravating diversions, at one point past and around a driving range and at another forcing me onto the approach for the Blackwater Tunnel. This was not glamorous.
At a certain point I became very concerned about where I would be eating lunch. Since it was Sunday, I had determined that I would under no circumstances miss Sunday roast. (My typical MO is too hike until it is too late to eat and go to bed angry.) Was 12:30 too early? It most certainly was not! I went to a riverside pub called the Cutty Sark, and it was delicious. Eh, it was OK. I was really hungry. And I love riverside pubs. If someone was like, you have to walk 184 miles but you can eat in all the riverside pubs you want, I would have been like Yes, thank you.
I changed out of my jeans — I have no idea why I thought that was a good idea — and got back to the path.
Maybe I should have been more excited about passing the actual Cutty Sark (“the world’s only surviving tea clipper”). Not to be all “Rome is where we saw the yellow dog” but I’d been to Greenwich before and it was packed and there seemed to be 100,000 people watching clowns. I kept walking. And walking and walking, because the section that followed, through Deptford, was so poorly marked that I spent most of my time crafting elegantly nasty letters to various editors in chief of major newspapers about the poor nature of path indicators in Britain.
There were a lot of developments for luxury condos. I felt I was witnessing an extreme level of wealth disparity, and it made me uncomfortable and sad. Rents in Paris are half, or less, what they would be in London. I am not a Communist, but I see some advantages in having strong pressure from the left advocating for the working class, at the expense of the global rich. Who does a country, and a city, serve? Wealthy expats? Poorer members of its own citizenry? What if those wealthy expats pay taxes that provide schools for that citizenry? What if, instead, they find enough loopholes to ensure they don’t? These are some of the things I was thinking as I got lost in Deptford and slowly made my way back to the river.
I took a break, saw a pig, and drank a Diet Coke at Surrey Docks City Farm, and it was tremendous. We should have a million of these in New York. Just farm after farm, all along the East River. Also: bees.
As you can see, I was getting extremely loopy, and probably quite dehydrated, at this point. I kept walking. Walking walking walking. It was extremely boring, and then I made a turn, and saw Tower Bridge, and it was completely magical. Here it is, closer up:
This next section — magic. I don’t know how it could be anything else. After Tower Bridge comes London Bridge, then Southwark, Blackfriars, and Waterloo. This was the first in a long series of pictures of bridges. (This is Southwark, with London Bridge in the background.)
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July, and though it was extremely, extremely crowded, I don’t know how you can do much better, in terms of a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July, than the South Bank. At some point, I stopped for dinner at a Pizza Express and ate like a wolf, like an actual wolf who was very hungry. At one point, the waitress, who I believe did not think I spoke English, asked if I wanted a knife, making that sawing action with her hands. I did not need a knife because I had basically already eaten the entire pizza.
I was at this point extremely tired. I was close enough to my hotel that I could take the Tube there and return to this spot in the morning, but I decided to press on — as mentioned earlier, I was extremely wired.
Eventually I got to Vauxhall, was like CA SUFFIT and got an Uber so I would get to my hotel before 10 PM. (Cost: £6, which I felt very good about.)
Tell you the truth, I love a basic hotel as long as it’s safe, which this place seemed to be. And there was a TV, so I could watch Poldark. It was perfect.
Day one: completed!
Day one information Start: Thames Barrier
Finish: Vauxhall Tube
Lunch: Cutty Sark
Dinner: Pizza Express (I was starving)
Accommodations: Chelsea Guest House ($60)
Mileage (trail): 14 miles
It’s August in Paris, which is my favorite time of the year — because the weather is perfect and no one is there. So either you’re on vacation and it’s awesome or you’re in the city and it’s empty and wonderful. Fact: My last trip to the airport took 26 minutes and even my Uber driver was like, “Fuck this place I’m outta here Barcelone a demain!!!!!”
My choice this year, as the Uber-to-the-airport suggests, was not to be in the city. Because I am endeavoring to not forget all of the French language (as usual) I’ve been making a point of watching French movies on Netflix. Tonight: Young and Beautiful (a.k.a. Jeune et jolie). Marine Vacth is the star and she is very good, as a 17-year-old student who embarks upon a career in prostitution.
TBH I’m not usually seduced, as it were, by 23-year-old (as she was when filming) former models-turned-actresses, but she is great, and there are important lessons to uncover here in her off-duty/red-carpet style — specifically her hair and makeup, which is basically the most Parisienne thing I’ve ever seen.
Let’s begin with her straight-leg, above-the-ankle mom jeans. I think I’m just in calling them mom jeans. In this interview with W, she says her top style choice is “Levi’s 501 jeans and a nice quality top, whether cotton or cashmere.” I guess that’s what’s happening here.
But also: look at that hair! It is the essence of the Parisian done-undone hair. I’m obsessed with it. How can you not be?
I mean look at that freaking bee’s nest of a hairstyle. I mean, the silk pajamas are random enough — but that hair!
Okay, so slightly more polished here:
And, uh, very polished here — check that also-very-Parisian red lip.
I don’t know what’s happening here though I assume it’s for a role:
THE BOOK: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid
IN SHORT: This is the story of one man’s rise from poverty to wealth — and then, possibly, to contentment and companionship.
THE BEST BIT: It’s impossible to talk about this book without spoiling everything, so — SPOILERS.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is the story of an unnamed “you” who travels “from my-shit-just-sits-there-until-it-rains poverty to which-of-my-toilets-shall-I-use affluence.” It is also the story, told in parallel, of the near-biological evolution of the city (and country) where he lives, and finally, his love for “the pretty girl,” a woman whose story is told in a manner more complex than her moniker might suggest.
I read this book in 32 hours (not straight), which I found amazing considering that my last ATW book — Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday — took about 50 times that. It is, as they say, propulsive reading, especially in the final chapters.
I thought two main things about this book, one in its opening chapters and one right at its end.
The first first. The depiction of the poverty of the narrator’s early years is remarkable. I have not been to Pakistan, but I have been as close as 11 miles away, camping in the Thar Desert — close enough to see the halogen glare of the border lights at night. I remember, quite clearly, the experience of arriving at a city in India at night, and the sensation of being engulfed by a metropolis that was buzzing with energy — an energy all its own, and not the same as the cities I knew best. I do believe that it is easiest to imagine lives in places most like the ones where we come from, and this city was perhaps the opposite of my own. As kids on motorbikes drove past, I wondered where they might have been from, what their lives were like, what their ambitions were. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia puts forth a series of plausible answers: delivering DVDs to beautiful women, making money and getting rich.
There arises in this book a peculiar three-way relationship between the book’s “you,” the narrator, and the reader. Because of the strange alchemy of the second person, there is a back-and-forth (well, perhaps just a forth) between the narrator and the “you” — the latter is observed, analyzed, considered, pitied. One problem with this, for me at least, was how, at times, this treatment — the narrator’s treatment of “you” — was only glancing: observant and wry and funny and true though perhaps not investigative. I wished, at points, I had seen more deeply into “you”‘s heart. At others, though, I was nonetheless deeply moved, especially toward the book’s end, in a unique way — a way that felt like a product of that strange rapport, an eternal narrator spending a bit of time with “you,” this mortal and flawed creation.
That’s a pretty technical consideration, so let me close with this: I found the penultimate chapter hugely moving — like stand-by-the-window-and-cry-40-minutes-later moving. This is the spoiler: In these final passages, the narrator and the pretty girl at last reunite — or unite, perhaps — in companionable old age. Mohsin Hamid is not old, but I hope his rendition of love at this age is as true as it feels:
At times the pretty girl feels shocked looking at you, the shock of being mortal, of seeing you as a cane-propped mirror, of your frail and gaunt form’s inescapable contemporaneity to her own. These impressions tend to occur in the first moments of your encounters, when an absence of a few days has run itself like a soft cloth over her short-term visual memory. But quickly other data begin to accrue, likely starting with your eyes and your mouth, her image of you resolving itself into something different, something timeless, or if not entirely timeless, still beautiful, handsome to behold. She sees in the cock of your head your awareness of the world around you, in your hand your armored gentleness, in your chin your temper. She sees you as a boy and as a man.
Weekend destination: Kaysersberg, Alsace Why: It’s the prettiest village in France! Also, hiking. Total travel time, door to door: Going out: 3:45 (Uber-direct TGV-cab). Coming back: 5 hours (bus-direct TGV-metro) Time spent: Three nights Glad I went? Yeah — it was neat to get a look at a part of France so different from Paris and the Normandy/Brittany corridor I know best Would I go back? Maybe, at Christmas
1. Kaysersberg itself
Kaysersberg was just named France’s prettiest villages, a title which I personally feel is as meaningful as World’s Most Adorable Puppy or The Planet We Like Best. Still: It is exceptionally pretty, and after endless miles of limestone in Paris, all the colorful timber-frame houses were hallucinogenic. (Normandy, say, has plenty of timber-frames, but they’re nearly always white.) It is, for sure, a tourist town: I was worried about finding an ATM, only to find that there’s one on every other block, no doubt to facilitate the purchase of stuffed storks or Alsace-themed soup rests.
I don’t know if the person who created this trail did so like immediately after a particularly moving section with the Ents from Lord of the Rings or what, but this is a four-hour hiking trail visiting notable trees above and around Kaysersberg. You may think, as I did, that the fact that the trail is led by a talking tree would indicate that it would not be particularly difficult. This would be incorrect. It wasn’t killer, but it was a pretty solid four hours, and the first 45 minutes are straight up.
Look for the trailhead in the extremely pretty garden behind the mairie, on the way up the steps to the castle. From there, you’ll be following the dancing tree signs.
3. All the other hiking
Local hiking groups have created a bunch of other, color-coded hikes in the hills above Kaysersberg. I found them poorly and intermittently marked, though after a few days I realized that 30 minutes of hiking without an indicator was not, in fact, a sign that I had missed a turn (unless, of course, it was). Look for red, blue, and green circles on white signs. I followed the green-circle tour from Place Gourad (at the northern edge of the historic district), got lost midway through, and came back, disgruntled. That said, the walk itself was lovely.
4. Le Winstub de Chambard
My biggest mistake in booking this trip was overlooking the fact that though it was listed as an “entire apartment,” my Airbnb lacked a kitchen, which was sad because there’s nothing I enjoy more than buying groceries for a little weekend away. (Also: significantly cheaper.) My first dinner in Kaysersberg was so bad I almost cried: €20 for a plate of raw scallops and shrimp, a hot stone on which to cook them, and a “Thai sauce” that I’m pretty sure was just a dish of sesame oil. (“C’est vous qui jouez au chef!”) For my first lunch, I had a hunk of pork rolled in an inch of fat. I did not enjoy this.
Having completely given up, the following night I booked a table for the best restaurant with online reservations: Le Winstub de Chambard, the cheap(ish)/cheerful addition to the Michelin-starred 64° at Le Chambard, the fanciest hotel in town. The menu is exceptionally meat heavy — and not just meat but like “the stag we just killed in the surrounding forest” meat — so I had exactly the same thing the two nights I went there: the entrecôte with salad and fries, followed by the chocolat moelleux, which is like a hot brownie and extremely delicious. I am not a food person, so take this recommendation with a grain of salt, but it was one of the best meals I’ve had in France.
5. The garden below the castle
That probably sounds like a very small and specific recommendation, and it is — but it is also lovely, and the view of the vineyards above is equally so. (This is a really good place to take pictures if you don’t want to commit to a hike into the forest above.) From here, it’s a not-terrible climb to the ruined 13th-century castle above, which I found most interesting for the surrounding landscape.
A few logistical notes. I did not like my Airbnb, so I cannot recommend it here. Thanks to the exceptional speed of the TGV to Colmar (2:20, if direct), this could conceivably be done as a long day trip from Paris, though I would think it would necessitate the use of taxis (about €30) each way from Colmar to Kaysersberg — otherwise there’s a (slow and intermittent) bus between Colmar and Kaysersberg for €3.70 each way, every day except Sundays.
This week’s free map is Montmartre! The most romantic neighborhood in Paris, especially if your romance is with hills.
To download the map, shown below, just click here. Save it, print it out and frame it — it’s distressingly indistinguishable from a screenprint. The better quality the printer, the better quality the print, though even a super-cheap printer (like mine) will do a half-decent job. Each map is only available for free for a week, so download away.
In Bloom was not the movie I intended to see: That would have been Happy Families, the second film by the team of “Nina and Simon,” or Georgian writer/director Nana Ekvtimishvili and her German partner, Simon Gross. Happy Families is playing in Paris, in Georgian, with French subtitles. And so, it seemed, that In Bloom might be the better place to begin.
It is, in fact, quite a beginning, to Ekvtimishvili’s career as a chronicler of life in Georgia, a country many of us know best as the one with the same name as the American state. In Bloom is set in 1992, when the country was only newly released from its time under Soviet rule; judging from the state of things in Tbilisi, it does not seem to have been a propitious relationship — even two decades later, when this film was shot. Broken, brutal Tbilisi is the home for the film’s two central character: beautiful Natia and her serious best friend, Eka. (Natia looks like the most beautiful possible Kardashian sister; Eka, like the smartest.) War rages in the north. There is violence at home and in the street. A gun is passed between the girls, though as a token of what — resistance, aggression, love, terror — it is difficult to say (and in fact, it shifts, beguilingly, from one to the other.) One of the girls is kidnapped and connived into marriage; another performs a dance at the wedding, in a long, single take, that is captivating for the audience, and for the character, a hesitant — though somehow also insistent — declaration at having entered into womanhood.
Two girls struggling beneath the weight of a repressive, regressive, male-dominated society is not a new story; as it follows the girls’ descent into an ever-more-uneasy adulthood, In Bloom reminded me both of Elena Ferrante’s book, My Brilliant Friend, and the similarly themed Mustang, about a quintet of sister’s in Turkey. Like in My Brilliant Friend, one of the friends enters into a marriage she might do better to avoid; as in Mustang, girls-becoming-women must reckon with a narrowing set of options and violence at every turn. It is perhaps a benefit of time — Mustang is set in contemporary, if not explicitly present-day Turkey — and Turkey’s proximity to Europe that Mustang ends with a run for freedom. In Bloom is not quite so hopeful. It is, though, resolute, with a flinty heart, one perhaps sharpened by the knowledge that Ekvtimishvili has said that the film’s story is in part autobiographical: It is easy to imagine determined Eka as the sort of girl who would simply find a way to outrun her limitations, whatever the cost.
I found this film incredibly beautiful, despite the disrepair of its environments, and the performances of the two lead actresses — Mariam Bokeria as Natia and Lika Babluani as Eka — are utterly convincing. Some of the credit for the former belongs to the brilliant Moldovan cinematographer, Oleg Mutu, who shot two of my favorite films: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. (Truth: I barely remember the second, but I know that when I saw it, I loved it. And 4 Weeks is a masterpiece, one I do remember quite clearly, indeed.) It also ably straddles the line between impressionistic character study and melodrama — as well as document. (In its review of In Bloom, NPR’s critic referenced a documentary about young Georgians, which I’m trying to track down.) Highly recommended.