When I go to Paris alone, I always attend English speaking meetings of Alcoholic Anonymous. This is part of my retreat, my therapy. It helps me look at myself, take stock, leave it behind and move on with my life.
My friends ask me why I still go after all these years and I explain that AA theory is that alcoholics somehow react differently to alcohol than other people and one drink may set me off on the rocky road again. There is the saying “it’s the first drink that does the damage”
Personally I have no desire to test this theory, I am happy to be abstinent. Furthermore the AA way of life, through the 12 step programme is good for me. I have seen too many good people disintegrate after many years of abstinence when they picked up a drink again.
In Paris I can truly be anonymous at AA, I can get away from the inevitable politics and personalities that familiarity brings at local meetings. I have made many friends in Paris AA. I suppose being alone in a strange city where wine is a way of life I could be tempted to think “one would not make any difference”.
But really it is not about stopping drinking, more about living sober.
Anyway what I am coming to is that on visits to Paris I have spent many an hour in AA meetings at 58 Rue Madame, at the side of the Jardin de Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement, which is now a united Reform church. Then last year, my friend Lizzie dragged me reluctantly in to an exhibition at the Grande Palace of the Stein family story and collection.
The Steins, Gertrude and her brothers Leo , Michael and his wife Sarah, were well off well educated Americans, who lived in Paris in the early 20th century. They amassed a huge collection of art and sponsored many of the artist of the time. Holding soirées at their houses at 27 Rue Fleurus and the nearby 58 rue Madame. Later Gertrude particularly, was a patron to many writers of the time and there grew up a mythology around this crowd of people and their hedonistic lifestyle.
This is documented in Hemingway “A moveable feast ( a rather boring book in my opinion, whose only interest is the fact that is it is set in Paris) and the more recent and interesting “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLean, which is a fictional account of the same events from Hemingway wife’s perspective. Although I never could understand why they called their son “Bumby”!
To my surprise I really enjoyed the exhibition but even more exciting, I learned that the house at 58 rue Madame, where I had innocently sat in AA meetings, had once been the salon where the Steins kept some of their collection and entertained many famous artists.
Today 58 Rue Madame is a rather austere Eglise Reforme, the elegance of the original house furnished by Sarah Stein is gone, but as I sit in the front room of the house, I cannot help imagining all the masterpieces that once hung on the walls and the people who sat where I sit. Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne . Ironically a lot of that hedonistic Hemmingway crowd could probably have done with some AA wisdom.
After my visit to tour Montparnasse I continued to the meeting at Rue Madame. Somehow there is always a “message” for me at AA and this meeting was no different. Sitting and chatting to the man next to me I discovered that his father had died suddenly the day before and he had to go back to New York as soon as he could.
This certainly put my self pity into perspective
Here is the list of English speaking Paris AA metings.
To be continued
and what was I talking about a year ago?