I arrived in Paris a few days ago, stepped out of my taxi onto the cobblestone street outside of the Hotel Henriette, and looked up to see Doug Ashford! Doug was an influential teacher and friend during my years in grad school at VCFA, and though we’ve stayed in touch over the years, we hadn’t seen each other face to face in a while. He and his partner, Alice, were staying at the same hotel, catching exhibits in Paris on route to Doug’s show at Wilfried Lentz in Rotterdam. What a great way to start my Paris adventure!
I’m in France for two weeks with my mother, Alison H. Deming, doing research on my great, great grandmother, Louisa de Saint-Isle, and steeping ourselves in Parisian culture. Louisa and my great grandmother, Marie Bregny, were both dressmakers. In the late 19th century, Louisa worked for the Empress Eugenie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III, and Louisa’s narrative has some fascinating, mysterious twists and turns. With the help of Jen, a fabulous research assistant, we’re mapping out some of the details of that mystery. I’ll be using the visual narrative in drawings and my mother will be writing about the history in an upcoming book. On our visit to Notre Dame, My mother lit a candle in Louisa’s honor.
As has become my pattern, when I travel, I explore by running, and I always check for races when I’m in a new city. When I arrived in Paris I discovered Les Bacchantes, a fundraiser for prostate cancer research, which would take place two days after my arrival. I decided to run up to the packet pick up at Planet Jogging to see if a late registration was possible. It was a longer trek than I’d realized, around 5 ½ miles, but after running up the Champs-Élysées and past the Arc de Triomphe, I found the store. The first few people I asked about the race spoke no English, but eventually I was directed to Karen Decter, an American living in Paris who is one of the organizers for International Triathalon Club. She raved about the race, mentioning that it’s still organized by the couple who founded it. Karen offered to help me through the process, starting with my medical release form. It turns out this is a requirement for every participant in European races. In the States, we simply sign a waiver–I’d never been asked for a medical form! Seeing the disappointment on my face, Karen suggested the possibility of running as a member of her Triathalon club, which would circumvent the need for the form! Done! There was one more obstacle: I needed cash for payment, which I didn’t have. Promising a quick return, I ran the 5 ½ miles back to the hotel, quickly changed, and took the Metro back to the store with cash in hand. I caught Karen just as she was walking out the door!
The next morning, I got my jet-lagged self to the starting line by following orange shirts and painted mustaches through the streets. It was Armistice Day, and as I walked toward the park, military personnel marched in formation toward the Arc de Triomphe.
I eventually found the bag check, did a quick warm up, and then joined the sea of orange shirts. There was no indication of pace seeding, so I just squeezed into the crowd where I could. The crowd was hyped, chanting the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army intro and other call and response shouts that I couldn’t make sense of. I took a quick video to capture the crowd!
When the race actually started, I couldn’t move for several minutes. When we did start “running” I was stuck in a thicket of runners and there was no way to pick up the pace beyond 9:30 min/miles. After the first ½ mile, the pack charged into the wooded trails of Parc du Bois, making the pack denser. There were slippery leaves underfoot, hidden roots, chain link fences that were hard to spot, and runners of all abilities trying to drop back or get ahead. Eventually, there was a slow acceleration, but it wasn’t until the 3rd mile that I could really take a full stride and was able to get my pace into the 7:45-7:50 range. I realized pretty quickly this was going to be a casual run and not a race!
Still, the spirit of the event was inspiring. Runners sang and chanted as we navigated the woods (mostly in French, though there was a vigorous version of the YMCA). The post-race feast included fruit, coffee, hot chocolate, soup, pastries, and heaps of dark chocolate! It was a fun day.
Many of the runners made it clear that they were participating in honor of family and friends who had struggled with prostate cancer. I was able to remember my Uncle Rodney,
who died from the disease several years ago–to bring him into my mother’s and my Parisian exploration of the family history.