Hi. There --
A Paris Journal by
From: Maurice Naughton
Subject: In which I reveal my secret life
To: "John Whiting" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm a failed poet but try to write every day for a while. In Paris I produce some quirky and egocentric reports that I e-mail to a small list of subscribers every few days. If you'd like, I'll add you to the list. I'm including some samples at the bottom of this note, so you'll get the gist.
Your Googling probably didn't reveal that I spent my first nineteen years in an Irish Catholic Ghetto in Kansas City, under the thumbs of the Sisters of St. Joseph till I was twelve, when I got to be under the heels of the Jesuits in schools little different from Stephen Daedalus's in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
I did not realize till I left home at nineteen that not everybody had boiled potatoes every night. My acquaintence with fish was limited to canned sockeye salmon, the Friday night staple, and an occasional halibut steak that my mother kept under the grill till she was sure it was dead.. I ate canned asparagus. And on Thanksgiving we had orange jello with shredded carrots and mini-marshmallows. My mother made hamburger patties that were lens shaped, and sharp enough on the edges to shave with.
The only truly interesting eating I did started when I was about three, and my dad would stop at Arthur Bryant's barbecue on the way home from work on Saturdays and pick up some barbecued beef brisket sandwiches, with big handfulls of sour pickles and genuine lard fried potatoes. The Belgians had nothing on Bryant.
After my first three trimesters in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, the summer I turned twenty, I spent four months hitching around Europe, where life was genuinely cheap. And that's where mine began.
You got an early start in Europe too, didn't you. With Pound's "Cantos." Egad. Since you seem to have such a genuine tollerance for the weird, you might like some of my reports.
Anyway, I live in a third floor walkup in an upper-lower class industrial neighborhood in Flint, Michigan, where for eight months I'm an Eremite and brown recluse so that I can metamorphose into a Parisian flaneur for four months. I think of it as life imitating Kafka.
1710 Nebraska Ave. #3
Paris, Monday, October 15, Almost ten in the morning.
I stayed home all day Saturday, sleeping, reading, soaking my foot, allowing it to recuperate a bit. I'd planned a day off, so it was OK, but I did miss a steam-train excursion to Orleans (I nurture my childish romance with steam engines whenever possible). And there was a Cheese Festival in the village of Meulan that offered an opportunity to taste 360 different cheeses. (I figure I could have managed about two thirds of that.)
Finally, I missed an outing at Planete Paintball, "A service of Quality," fifteen minutes east of Paris in Ferte-Alais, offering two wooded venues with an assortment of gaming environments for fifteen to a hundred people. In each venue, one finds changing-rooms, lavatories, giant barbecues, picnic tables, and shelters for intemperate times (my translation from the announcement in "Pariscope"). I long to creep up behind a giant barbecue and blast the barbecue-ees with my paintball tommy-gun. There'll be another time.
Yesterday, I went back to the big Bastille market on boulevard Richard-Lenoir. I see so much deliciosity that I have to remind myself all the time that I've a fridge full of food that won't keep long and I shouldn't add to it lest some goes to waste before I get a chance to let it go to waist. I did buy some dried herbs, but they keep. Next time, when my grapes and figs are gone, I'm going to get some fresh dates. They come in grape-like clusters, oval, and a quite pale orangy-yellow color. I've never seen fresh ones before.
What follows now is a list, a miscellany of market observations, questions, curiosities. It has no order.
In Paris, beets are always sold already cooked, in supermarkets, market streets, and canvas covered stalls in the roving markets. I have not been able to discover why you can't find raw beets.
There are, it seems, about thirty varieties of potatoes in France [correction: my market book says 360, one for each day of the year except fat Tuesday, good Friday, H, and at all different prices. The sort of ordinary looking white ones, smaller than our long California whites, are called Charlottes and cost about nine francs a kilo (about fifty-nine cents a pound. Some little ones, called rattes (a word not in my fairly good dictionary. It doesn't mean rat. The French word for rat is rat) are more expensive, around nineteen francs a kilo ($1.21 a pound). They are about the size and shape of a big person's thumb. There are also purple potatoes, blue potatoes, yellow potatoes and orange ones, but those last may be sweets. I'm going to try as many varieties as I can.
I'm fairly easily amused. I spent about fifteen minutes watching some crayfish trying to escape. They had climbed out of their wooden crate and gotten in among the cooked crabs (torteau) on a bed of crushed ice. And they were headed for another ice dune where whole bar (sort of like seabass, but about the size of a rainbow trout from Meijers) and rascasse (My dictionary calls them gurnard or scorpion fish, colored pink to red; they're a kind of rockfish and look a little like big-mouthed snapper) were enjoying their final rest, clear-eyed and cool.
There was more game this Sunday than last, partridge (perdrix), rabbit (lapin), hare (lievre), wood pigeon (palombes), and savage ducks (canard sauvage), all in their furry or feathery finery. An English food critic in the London Times says the French don't hang game birds long enough, so they don't reach their full flavor potential. On the other hand, to my certain knowledge, hanging a bird until you can pull its beak off with a gentle tug (English advice as to how you know your bird's hung long enough) gets you very tender and full-flavored birds because the meat is beginning to decompose, an unsavory notion for us colonials.
I bought a little parmesan cheese at an Italian stand. I don't care what the French say about their cheese, genuine 18 month old Parmiggiano Reggiano from Italy is maybe the best cheese in the world. If I were abandoned on an island with only one cheese . . . .
I also bought a little tiny loaf (about the size of a really big russet potato) of home-made bread to snack on with the cheese. Best bread I've had in Paris thus far. Pretty close to being as good as the bread Sharon and I had from a Portuguese village bakery, many years ago.
A butcher's stand had some large oval things, very pale-cream color, with a pale tracery of subcutaneous veins. The sign said "Rognons blancs" (white kidneys). I asked the guy, "Those aren't really kidneys, are they?" He said, "No." I said, "Are they what I think they are?" He said, "What do you think they are?" I said, "Testicules?" He said, "Oui!" Too big to be human, too small to be bull. Maybe goat or sheep or veal.
The fish stand with the highest prices had the biggest crowds. Maybe the quality is tastily higher. The whole fish, un-cleaned, had really clear eyes and really red gills. The cut fish, steaks and filets, smelled of the sea. No fishy odors anywhere.
You can buy roasted chickens, cockerels, and guinea fowl almost everywhere, hot off the rotisserie out in front of the shop or behind the counter. They look mouth-wateringly good, but they're expensive, seventy percent more than raw ones, and you have to trust your dealer when he says they're cooked just right, still juicy, but not pink ("a point" means "just right.")
The range of prices is very wide. Charentais melons are everywhere right now. In the Barbes-Rochechouart metro station (open-air, because the metro here is on elevated track, not underground), they're two for ten francs. In various stands at today's market, they range from two for twelve francs to 18 francs apiece. There is some variance in size and appearance, but every fruit stand has some cut to show the flesh, and they all look the same inside.
I'll get off food for a while.
A hairdresser I passed had her prices in the window. "Decapage" is 220 francs. My dictionary doesn't tell me what Decapage is, and I'm afraid to ask.
A big signboard near the Champs-Elysees recommends frequent checks for breast cancer. It draws attention to itself because the twenty-something representing the campaign is facing full front, nude from the hips up.
Visitors to Paris stupid enough to bring cars complain about the lack of parking on the streets. The French don't have much trouble with that. If a Frenchman wants to park near his destination, he can always find a place. In a bus lane, a crosswalk, or a driveway. Next to a no-stopping sign. In front of a bus-stop shelter. On the sidewalk. In the little space between two parallel-parked cars, but nose-in to the curb, front wheels up on it, the back end of the car halfway into the traffic lane. I was on a bus the other day that didn't use the bus lane at all. It was full of parked cars.
The French people are very much inside themselves most of the time. They are more conscious of themselves and their goals than of others. Thus they tend to stand in the middle of a grocery store aisle examining the Confitures de Maman, until your loud Excusez Moi snaps them from their framboise revery and they grudgingly allow you to squeeze by. They'll walk down a sidewalk five abreast and run into you rather than break formation. In the metro, ten people will be getting off a train and ten more are trying to get on by pushing through the off-getters.
So much for my list.
In the far north, in the 19th arrondissement, just before you fall off the edge of the world, is la Villette, the largest park in Paris. It's the home of the Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie, an ultra-modern museum complex designed to educate, amuse, and amaze its clients, goals it achieves easily. I'll wax wise upon it at some later time. The Park's grand hall, a great iron and glass pavilion that started out in the nineteenth century as a cattle auction house. It's reminiscent of the food pavilions at the late city market, Les Halles, torn down in 1964 to be replaced by the unfortunate Forum des Halles, a park and underground shopping mall. The grand hall has venues for concerts, plays, demonstrations, dancing, and so on. It's Jazz venue is the Salle Charlie Parker.
When I was a kid in Kansas City, Jay McShann had a jazz band that played weekends in an amusement park called Fairyland. It was at seventy-fifth and Prospect, and Art Riley and I would walk over there (took about twenty minutes) and sit behind the bandstand to listen. McShann was a very big deal back then, and his sax man was none other than the Yardbird his own self.
From about 1860, La Villette was the slaughterhouse of Paris, a vast array of abattoirs that covered almost 46 acres (yes). The bloody ground is now covered by innocuous, uninspired apartment blocks of a dreary, gray sameness. But the park is exceptional and filled with people on Sunday afternoons, with great playgrounds for kids, greens and meadows for picnics or running your dog, gardens, and tree lined walks. A worthy excursion, as long as you don't go too far and fall off.
My brain is going mushy, so I think I'll stop here. I have to go the Bazar de l'Hotel de Ville to replace the glass I broke last night. Then, flaneuring shamelessly and aimlessly.
The BBC is discussing the phrase "Rule of Thumb." The popular belief is that an eighteenth century law in England allowed a husband to chastise his wife by beating her with a stick no wider than his thumb. No such law. But a widely ridiculed judge in the seventeenth century is said to have made a comment from the bench to the same effect. Reminds me of the wonderful little radio spot Kon Prokos organized called "A Word in Edgewise." It was scholarly and funny, and talked about words, ancient meanings, etymologies, and so on.
The sky is blue and I must away.
Paris, Sunday 29 October 2001 And Now Monday Too
The weather has been cold and rainy, and so have I. So I didn't write much last week. But I read a lot, about Paris, mainly. Just now, I was about to say, thoughtlessly, that I'm feeling under the weather. But that's a silly phrase. The weather is essentially above us whenever we go out, and we're all under it. I have a cold. Aches and pains. Age showing mightily. But I don't have anthrax nor hoof and mouth disease, and that's a relief.
Which leads to a word about medicaments. Anything even slightly resembling medicine here must come from a pharmacie. You can't buy even an antacid mint at the supermarche. And pharmacies are tests of your linguistic vigor. The pert young things who work there are very serious professionals. When you ask for "un analgesic," they ask for what kind of malady. When you say the obvious, "Pain," they come back with, of the head? of the tooth? of the joint? of the foot? of the ear? They are as passionate for specifics as an English teacher. They find "du corps entier" an entirely unsatisfactory answer. So you must give up and say "Of the head."
Then they go back into the shelving behind them (they won't let your own ignorant self anywhere near the drugs) and start looking at what they might have that would be suitable for a headache. What they have, of course, is Aspirin, ibuprofen, and aceteminephen. And nothing is generic. Aspirin is proprietary; Bayer owns the name and the rights and the formula. Whatever they bring out (in my case, twenty ibuprofen) is hideously expensive (in my case, a little over five bucks).
Then they give you a little lecture about just how and when to ingest it, how much water you need, how often, whether you can operate heavy equipment, if your mother knows what you're doing, and that there may be dangerous interactions with other pharmaceutical products. "What else are you taking?" If you know what's good for you (ha ha), you'll say, "Nothing!"
Bring your own pain meds, antacids, and hemmorhoid ointment. Be safe.
Anyway, I'm taking some time off, and time off is not a bad deal. Lets me get my batteries recharged and return to my abnormal state of mens sana in corpore sano.
Wednesday, 31 October 2001, around two in the afternoon. i. e. 14h00, and the sooner we all start using that notation for time, the better.
I have returned from my preprandial walk early, cause it's raining like a . . . .
I have not had much to criticize the French people for in my past reports, but I was much reminded in my walk this morning of an annoyance that I shall now complain about.
The French are lousy pedestrians. They seem to know nothing at all about pedestering. A knowledgeable pedestrian sometimes looks ahead of himself to see someone coming and alters his geographical aim to avoid the left-right dance of indetermination that otherwise will result. The French are incapable of this navigational ploy.
If the sidewalk will scarcely accommodate four abreast, the French will walk four abreast, no matter what's coming at them head-on. A French couple will pick the narrowest part of the sidewalk, between the motorcycle and the pizza-delivery bike, to stop and have a face-to-face, regardless of what's ahead or astern. If you are keeping to the right, with the buildings just off your shoulder, an oncoming Frenchman, talking on his cell phone and possibly on rollerblades, will automatically drift left so that he is shoulder-by-the-wall, and you gotta move curbward real quick to stay alive. These are not proper ways to pedester.
It all has to do with their odd sense of place and personal space. They like to keep it. They do not like to give way. That's why you see so many drivers making obscene gestures to others and why you hear so much shouting of, "Merde!" "Salopard!" and "Putain!" at tricky intersections. And it's why in the narrow aisles at the supermarche you have to say, "Excusez Moi," real loud to get a shoppiste and her ugly little dog to move over enough so you can get by.
After I got this far in my writing, the rain stopped and the sun came out and I couldn't thus stay here. I spent the balance of the afternoon walking around the lovely Jardin des Plantes, which was opened to the public in 1640. Yes. But enlarged several times thereafter.
It contains Paris's (by the way, if there are any hidebound English teacher types out there, I follow pronunciation rather than rules in the matter of making possessives--who would ever say "My boss' car?) botanical gardens, greenhouses, a great herbarium, a twelve-hundred-animal menagerie, scientific collections of fossils and minerals, and the huge National Museum of Natural History. I've seen the garden in spring and high summer, but in autumn it's specially beautiful in its somber tones, the avenues of lime trees (lindens) in color, chrysanthemums afire, roses blasted and fading, herbs struggling with last green, quite a lovely place to spend a late afternoon and contemplate the coming of winter, and possibly what some of my Irish forbears used to call "The Long Meander."
The Museum of Natural History was still open by the time I left, but I'll save that for a cloudy day. I spent a lot of time in the Jardin because it's such a big place, almost as big as the Luxembourg gardens, and bigger than the Ile St-Louis.
And that segues me to yesterday afternoon, also sunny. I spent most of that walking around the Ile St-Louis, one of the most beautiful venues in Paris. (Making gross distinctions like this is maddening, of course, and useless in the end.) It was at first two islands, and in the middle of the seventeenth century, some smart contractor got Louis XIII to agree to let him join them up, build a bridge for access, and develop the new spot into lots that he could sell. The result is a striking continuity of streets intersecting at ninety degrees and excellent seventeenth century classical facades.
It's full of little shops, antique vendors, picture galleries, fashion boutiques, pricey restaurants, creperies, and the renowned Berthillon, ice-cream maker to kings and queens. People who've never been to a gelateria in Florence believe Berthillon's is the best ice-cream in the world. Not being much of an ice-cream fan, I had a raspberry sorbet that was as intense raspberry experience that anyone could have, like the first time that the reality of a chilled Eau de Vie de Framboise rings your taste-buds' alarms. (Note the possessive.)
Were I a multimillionaire, that's where I'd have my Paris apartment, ten or twelve rooms, small staff, excellent cook, and a BMW, a little one (it's Paris, after all), in a garage under my building.
It's Halloween today, at least that's what the French call it. They started celebrating it four or five years ago, and now it's almost an institution. (There are dissenters. Last week there was a quite small protest gathering decrying it as another slip of sacred French culture a foot deeper into the slough of Americana.) Pumpkins wink from every shop windows. At the Monoprix department stores, you can get witch's hats and brooms, fearful masks, children's costumes of all sorts. There's a theatrical costumer just around the corner from where I live who's showing a window full of seasonal adult motley. (I myself am going out as Georges Pompidou or Charlotte Corday, whichever seems scarier. I keep meaning to ask my landlord the French for "Trick 'r Treat!" I'm going to do the Ile St-Louis in hope that one of the gentry there drops a tin of Petrossian's caviar into my Louis Vuitton bag.)
The American steak house, Joe Allen, imported years ago from New York, is having a big children's party from six-thirty to nine-thirty and a bigger adultery party from nine-thirty to whenever. I'll give both of them a pass. Many more standard Parisian eateries will have special Halloween menus. And of course, tomorrow, almost everything will be closed, because All Hallows' Day is the feast of Toussaint, a national day off.
If it's sunny, I'll find me another park. If not, I may see a movie. Bridget Jones is around, as is a newly opened one called 101 Reykjavik. It's star is a young woman named Victoria Abril, and the ads show her shoving a cherry through her tightly pursed lips with her right middle finger, a gesture we all recognize. The back of her finger has a string of tattoos from nail to knuckle, the only two of which I can identify are a question mark and a sprig of cannabis leaves. An English blurb says the movie, "gives an honest insight into [Reykjavik's] hedonist and insular world." It will be shown in its original version which offers dialog, some in English, some in Icelandic. French subtitles. I don't know enough Icelandic to enjoy the movie fully.
This leads me to a question that may appear as a non-sequitur. Can any of you explain Bjork to me? This is a question that I suspect Jim Drummond might not understand.
Here's another non-sequitur. A very expensive restaurant called Apicius (say $150.00 per person) has as its speciality pied de porc rotis en crepinette. That's roasted pigs feet wrapped in caul fat.
And the final. Today through Sunday there's a Salon du Chocolate at the Carrousel du Louvre. Some of the world's greatest chocolate makers will be there displaying their wares and offering free samples. Entry is $10.00. On Friday at seven, models will stroll down a catwalk clad in fashionable chocolate couture.
Friday, 2 November 2001, around nine at night
It's been a very long day, and clearly my several days abed have punied me up a little.
I left home this morning earlier than usual, about ten thirty, an hour when I'm just as often looking for another ludicrous analogy or simile to plug into one of these reports. (I came up with a dandy to describe the size of the gherkins I had at lunch today, but I'm insufficiently tasteless to tell it. And in any case, my conceits don't seem to have amused anyone but me.)
It was just too fine a day to keep writing. Glorious autumn, the sun slanting in from deep in the south sky, the sky itself cloudless, the temperature in the high fifties, perfect jacket weather for us street-walkers, if I can pervert an old perversion. The temperature not having reached 16 degrees Celsius, the Parisians are all bundled up for winter, swathed and wrapped and insulated. (The locution that begins that last sentence is, grammatically, an ablative absolute, for those of you who are curious about what my Jesuit education has led me to know.) The scarf of choice, by the way, is the generally unimaginative Burberry tartan, tan in major, and aesthetically unredeemed by its brown and gray and black crosshatching. Such is the way of fashion.
I spent most of the last month on the right bank. This month I intend to stay mostly on the left, where the really old, interesting stuff is and where I was today.
I loitered taking pictures the good part of an hour in the exquisite Cour de Rohan and in the Cour du Commerce-St-Andre to which it leads, a little humpbacked alley-courtyard a couple of blocks long opened in 1776 where there used to be a tennis court. The cobbles are big breadloaf ones here, slippery when wet and very hard on the pieds and calves. Dr. Guillotin had a loft here where he enjoyed decapitating sheep for practice. Here too, Jean-Paul Marat published his news sheet, "The People's Friend," an entirely unfriendly scream for murder and mayhem. Charlotte de Corday stuck him in his bathtub not far from here with a two franc chef's knife.
And here again is the back end of the oldest coffee house in Paris, Le Procope, where Jefferson and Franklin debated revolutionary philosophy with the grave thinkers of Paris. It was opened long before them, around 1685, by an Italian named Francisco Procopio dei Coltelli, but called today Francois Procope. Coffee houses were the incubators of modern France. Today, this one is a brasserie that attracts more tourists then Frenchmen. But its ghosts abide.
Good morning. It's Saturday the third.
I awoke for the final time at about 8:30 after a broken night. It's going to be another super day, and I'm not going to spend my entire morning catering to y'all. There are, honest to God, seventeen marionette shows and twelve circuses I could go to today. I probably won't, but I could. At the Marionettes du Ranlagh, I could see "Les aventures du Chat Botte," you know, the one about the cat with the boots. At the Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione, I could see animals, clowns, and a trapeze gang that performs triple turns in mid-air. For about twenty-one bucks.
There's going to be a brocante (used stuff) fair with sixty stallistes today in front of the Hopital de la Pitie et Salpetriere. (Yes, indeed, the Hospital of Pity and Saltpetre. You work on this one for yourselves. I expect a full report in the morning.) And I may spend a little time there.
An antiques and brocante fair at the Porte de Champerette in the 17th (northwest corner of Paris) ends tomorrow, and I may also trek out there. I continue to look for a special order (not all of you, by the way, are free to order things specially) and an 18th Century map of Paris and a book of photographs by Robert Doisneau, the great recorder of la vie Parisian, who died in 1994. It's always wise to have specific shopping goals at these big outdoor markets, to insure that the day won't be a complete success. I learned this too at the knee of the Jesuits.
And I hope to have a better lunch than I had yesterday, about which more later.
'Bye for now.
Hello again. It's eight-thirty Saturday night.
I wandered around in places most tourists don't go, to continue my effort to get a feel for Frenchness. I walked around the Port Royal area and up the avenue des Gobelins (where I had considered spending Hallowe'en). The state tapestry factory is still there, and they give tours, and I may go on one. The techniques evidently have not changed since the beginnings. They say that a weaver working with cartoons and mirrors, can do about one to eight square yards a year. The product belongs, of course, to France.
The avenue ends (or starts, depending on your point-of-view) at the Place d'Italie, one of those huge circular squares; I mentioned it before. It has a mammoth, modern, ugly movie complex, and Paris's Chinatown starts a little east of it. The adjoining Butte des Cailles has a restaurant called Chez Paul, where I went for lunch. Those of you who aren't interested in my lunch may now skip ahead.
I mentioned above that I hoped today's lunch would be better than yesterday's, and it was, by leagues and kilometers. Yesterday's was mediocre drifting down to lousy. My own fault. I ordered badly. The food was quite well prepared and served and the welcome was charming and correct. It's just that what I ordered was not at all to my taste. I may make this more specific at a future date, but I don't want to think about it now.
Today I started out with artichoke vinaigrette. It was super (I like artichokes a lot and don't usually order them because of my resolve to eat only things I've never had. That's what got me a lousy lunch yesterday). It was a whole hot globe artichoke about the size of a whiffleball, and there was a little dish of superb vinaigrette with it. I ate it the standard way and when I got down to the heart, the choke was gone, the succulent fond was left. How'd they do that? It's a miracle.
The main course was roast suckling pig. It had been boned and then rolled up like a rug before roasting, although I'm not sure why you'd want to roast a rug. I got three nice round thick succulent slices of piggy spirals. Along side rode mashed potatoes that were creamy and fluffy (almost frothy, actually) and garlicky and so good I can't believe it. And the whole affair was floating in a pool of pork gravy. The meal was a huge success with my stomach, which congratulated me for being wise for once.
I declined dessert and coffee, expressing utter contentment with all that had been. Then the waiter brought me a little tiny footed glass, really really tiny. It contained five seedless cherries preserved in cherry liqueur, made on the premises during last year's cherry season, he told me. They were the best dessert I've ever had. And I noted that none of the other patrons got a sample. Just me. So I'm evidently not as snake-like as Drummond implies.
It's now Sunday morning. When I sat down to finish this report, the left lens fell out of my glasses. I find this disconcerting. Could've happened on the bus, of course, or on the street, which'd've (virtuoso, huh?) been more trouble. Took me half-an-hour to fix it.
After lunch, I took a bus to the brocante at l'Hopital. Big crowd, lots of fine stuff. I didn't need an 18th Century armoire, nor a life-sized iron goat, nor a book of 1920s pornography, nor a silver punch bowl you could bathe your kid in, nor a Belgian army helmet, nor a foot-and-a-half long carved ivory opium pipe, but I looked at 'em. I found, Mirabile Dictu, the Doisneau photos, six-hundred-and-eighty pages of them, and, in lieu of the map, I found a book of engravings, views of Paris from the 14th through the 19th Centuries. It had turned out to be an almost perfect day in all its aspects.
I was scared for a while that it'd turn out wholly perfect, which would have rung the final tolling to my future happiness. I seem to recall that St. Thomas d'Aquin, in the "Summa Contra Gentiles," developed a syllogism to prove that enjoying one perfect day would deny you forever "more than a handful of just only barely pretty good ones" from then on. I believe I have quoted Aquinas's conclusion exactly. I believe a lot of things.
I believe, for example, that this report is done and that a Paris Sunday, overcast and colder, but still Paris, awaits me. I fly to her embrace (you'll have to pardon me. I've been reading Henry Fielding's 18th Century prose, and I am susceptible to what the guys at "Shrinks 'R' Us" call "imprinting").
Tuesday, April tooth, 2002
I had meant to send youse an e-mail warning about this trip. I even wrote one. But I forgot to send it.
After four airports, three planes, "Bridget Jones' Diary," and an hour or so of Diana Krall (the best living woman jazz singer around, and very fine to look at), I arrived at Paris's Aerogare Charles de Gaulle at 9:00 am, twelve hours after leaving Detroit.
Once again I was treated to the spectacle of everybody else leaping to their (I'm conscious of the fact that Fr. O'Sullivan, my high-school English teacher, would have punished me for not using "his," but I try to keep up with trends) feet and getting their carry-ons from above and below so they could stand in the aisle fully impeded for ten or fifteen minutes till the plane's door finaly opened.
I debarked last, leisured my way through passport control, and arrived at the baggage claim about four minutes before my suitcase, one of the first dozen or so, showed up on the moving belt.
The ride in to Paris on the bus is ugly, lined with tasteless concrete apartment blocks and factories and warehouses. Reminded me of pictures I've seen from Moscow. It would hardly lead you to suspect that these were the suburbs of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
I was welcomed warmly at my apartment and it felt like coming home.
After a long reacquaintence walk round the neighborhood, watching big French families of three generateions seeking a late Easter lunch in their spring finery (most of the women wearing Paris black), I went to the big street market off the place de la Bastille and laid in some supplies--a demi baguette, tomatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, a Crottin de Chavignol (a goat cheese about the size of one of those little cans of deviled ham that some people must actually buy), a chunk of St Paulin (also known as Port Salut, a mild and pleasant cheese originally made by Trappist Monks. It's creamy and buttery, yet firm enough for slicing. and goes well with fruit or good bread), some mache, a pale yellow Belgian endive, a fat garlic slicing sausage, and a bottle of dry cider.
I was exhausted and jet-lagged and came home about four in the afternoon to finish unpacking and to make supper from said supplies.
Monday morning, I didn't feel like writing anything, so I got dressed and ran errands, buying my monthly transit pass (le Carte Orange) and a round trip ticket to Bruges (Belgium), where I'm going on May 12 for four nights (or, as the travel-idiots would say, "Five Days and Four Nights").
Then I went to Bercy Village, thinking to have lunch at Compagnie de Crepes in the Cour St. Emilion. But no such luck. Easter Monday is evidently a holiday, with most shops and businesses closed, so the village was crowded with peeps who didn't have to go to work. There was a line of about twenty people at every restaurant (about eight of them in these old wine warehouses)waiting for the outdoor tables, in lovely milky sixty-five degree sunshine. I did some shopping, browsing in the stores that were open (outrageous prices: a simple little wood pepper mill for twenty-five bucks, a one cup teapot for thirty), and I checked the lines every twenty minutes till four o'clock. They never got shorter.
After four months of lazy winter in Flint, I'm out of shape for walking all day, so I went to the Cineplex to see "Gosford Park," a beautiful movie to look at, but whose plot sort of collapses into chaos at the end. I was lucky to get there early, because the show was sold out ten minutes after I got my ticket ($8.00 standard adult, $5.00 for seniors). Not a seat to be had at a four o'clock seance.
On the way home, I stopped at the supermarket in my neighborhood Monoprix department store and finished furnishing my kitchen with vinegar, olive oil, condements, and blood-orange juice.
I'm not particularly happy with this report. I guess I've not slipped seamlessly into my reportage mode yet. And I should mention that I have a bunch of new subscribers who may be a little confused because I unconsciously assume familiarity with my reports from last fall.
Well, newbies, welcome aboard, and write to me when you can.
Subject: In which I taste olive oil and buy a fugasse.
The last four days have been wonderful, temperature about sixty-five degrees, sunshine, great shirtsleeve weather. Last April, it rained 25 out of 30 days. I'm hoping for a reversal of fortunes this year.
I was invited to an olive oil tasting yesterday, twenty French, Italian, Greek, Tunisian, Israeli, Croatian, and Spanish oils of the harvest October to December last year. Yes, the French treat olive oil much as they do salt and wine--elaborate tastings (but without spitting) replete with descriptive terms defining various nuances--red pepper, artichoke, dried leaves, mown grass, toasted bread, hawthorn, cedar, dandelion, and fig milk. I personally have not eaten enough hawthorn nor drunk enough fig milk to note those particular nuances, but then I didn't note any of the other nuances either. My taste-buds have said to hell with it, we're old now and retired.
I could tell that the oils were remarkably different in taste and aroma, and I bought a half-liter of one I liked, Fontana San Giovanni from Azienda Agricola de Falco in Compania. It's made from Leccino, Pendolino, Picholine, and Coratina olives, is said to taste of fig milk, almonds, and artichokes, and is recommended for salads, raw vegetables, and pasta. I trust the non-foodies out there are wincing nicely. Not the way they'd spend eleven bucks, I'm sure.
I had lunch at the Compagnie de Crepes, a flammekueche, pronounced by the French as flamm cooch. It's a pizza sized round of very thin bread (like the Ethiopians and Moroccans use to scoop up a tagine), I mean thin like the cardboard stiffener in a new shirt, and its lathered with creme fraiche (semi-fermented, a little like sour cream), fromage fraiche (a sort of liquid cheese, often served over fruit for dessert), onions, and lardons (julienne of bacon). I had a pichet of jus de poire (fresh pear juice) to go with. Why a Breton creperie is serving an Alsatian tarte is beyond me. Perhaps because it's flat and thin.
I wandered around after that, aimlessly like a true flaneur, ended up near the department Au Bon Marche and the Hotel Lutetia at Metro Sevres-Babylone. I stopped in the Hotel to steal a "Where" magazine and to see if there were any International Herald Tribunes left. They're for guests, but I steal them under the benign gaze of the regal concierge. As I've often said, I try to live cheap.
I went to a park that Carl and Leatha know about, but the rest of you don't. I sat in the sun and read my IHT and watched the passers-by, of which there were two.
Finally, I went to the Epicerie de Paris in the Bon Marche and bought a fougasse au lardons (a kind of trellis shaped bread with bacon baked in) and made a lunch reservation at l'Epi Dupin, a little bistro I've always liked. It's got some good publicity in the past couple of years, and I have to see if it has been thus ruined.
The French for "yummy yummy" is "miam miam." You've no reason to doubt me.
In the movies, a medium popcorn, no butter, is two-and-a-.half bucks, and they ask you, "Sale ou Sucre?" My short survey seemed to say that most Parisian movie-goers get sugar rather than salt.
The metro that runs between place de la Nation and place de l'Etoile is a mixed blessing. On the good side, much of its route from the Seine to place Denfert-Rochereau is elevated, not subterranean, so you can see stuff. On the bad side, all the stuff you see is really ugly. Big concrete apartment blocks designed by architects who specialize in prisons, with no unifying principles and no style whatsoever. Hives for the worker bees.
Le Pariscope, a little magazine that tells you everything that's happening in Paris all week comes out every Wednesday. I study it religiously. Paris has five big pool halls, seven bowling centers, two permanent ice-rinks, and fifteen swimming pools. And there's a big fair in the Bois de Vincennes till May 26, with three hundred rides, shooting galleries, fun-houses, crepe stands, beer stands, sausage stands, falafel stands, funnel-cake stands, and, for all I know, orange-jello-with-grated-carrot stands, and merry-go-rounds.
Maybe you didn't get your money's worth today. I'm fairly forgetful.
Subject: In which I prowl the Belleville market and think about dog
Paris, Saturday 6 April 2002, about nine in the morning
Yesterday was wonderful again, balmy, hazy sun. I put my jacket in my backpack and walked around in shirtsleeves, while most of the natives were bundled up in overcoats and scarves. I think Parisiens don't stop bundling till June.
I went to darkest Belleville, near the edge of the earth in the 20th Arrondissement. A couple of kilometres farther north-west, and you fall off. My landlady says that Parisiens have a saying, "When birds get to Belleville, they turn back." Word is that it's not a particularly safe place to go walking alone at night.
On the second highest hill in Paris, it was once the summer retreat of the Merovingian kings. Later, it and its neighboring hamlet of Montilmontant, were the home of quarry workers and vinyardists. Now, its populist residents are largely immigrants, pan-Oriental, north African, Arab, Turk, Indian.
There's a Friday street market there that's teeming with dark people in bright native clothes, laughing, shouting, haggling. The stalls start to close about two in the afternoon, and suddenly the air is filed with the vendors' shouts of "Un Euro!" as close-out specials are hawked. The kilo barquette of strawberries that was 2.50 Euros ten minutes ago is one Euro now, as are those baby purple artichokes I like so much. This is another key to living in Paris on the cheap.
If you need to be cheaper yet, you could join the old Asian women, the gleaners, who burrow into the garbage bins looking for presentable lettuce leaves and bruised eggplants. This is a very lively, very crowded, very ethnic market, and a bit cheaper than those better known and better located.
Belleville is also Paris's second China town, or rather Oriental town, with beaucoup Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thai restaurants. Their authenticity seems guaranteed when you look in and see none but Asian faces. I have a little trouble with oriental restaurants, because waiters have been known to say no to some of my requests, on the grounds that round-eyes no like. And I always have the feeling that the Asians surrounding me are getting the really good stuff and westerners are getting mutations suitable to the mysterious Oriental notion of their palates. I want to point to a happy table and say, "I want what they're having," but "they" are a family of eleven and I can't eat that much food.
And there are Chinese supermarkets with tea-smoked ducks hanging in the windows and cans and bottles and cartons and bags of inscrutable comestibles. I bought a little bamboo steamer for my artichokes, but no winter melons nor dried lychees.
There's a pretty little park, cascading down the hill in tiers, where one could go to picnic, read Tao, sit in warm sunshine, enjoy the yellow and purple and orange spring flowers, and watch the young couples getting in some face-time.
On my way there, and because I wanted to arrive around closing time, I ate lunch at the Bar du Metro in the place Gambetta (equal stress on all syllables).
It had long been my intention to recapture my youth, gastronomically. The first restaurant I ate in in Paris forty two years ago was a working-man's cafe like this one, where I ate oeufs mayonnaise and steack frites. So I ordered the same meal here.
A halved egg with a generous dollop of home-made olive-oil mayonnaise, some greens and tomato wedges dressed with a simple vinaigrette, followed by a perfectly cooked pink-centered piece of boeuf with dark grill marks and a mound of French fries. The eggs were wonderful (I being a mayonnaise freak), the steak, not tough exactly, but what a polite review would call "chewy," and the fries yellow and crisp with a mealy potato interior that smacked of earth and the best potatoiness. I would have like them browner, and must remember always to order my frites "bien cuit," well-done. Eleven bucks with a citron presse.
Half the steak (which was about the size of my passport) and half the fries went home with me in my little zip-lock bag, and was the basis for my supper. More living on the cheap.
And now some observations.
When you're out walking, you'll often find a block of sidewalk that's all wet. The City of Paris employs many tidy fiends, who tool around in their bright green overalls and Paris green tank truck hosing down and sweeping the sidewalks, which they seem to do randomly and irregularly.
You'll also see that some gutters are running with water. Paris requires dog owners to make their dogs poop in the gutter, and the water is for purging the turds. And since early March, Parisiens have been required to get their dogs to foul the gutters or to pick up the deposits by hand and bank them in the lamppost trash bags or get ticketed by the sanitation police. Parisiens have been slow to abandon tradition here, but there does seem to be less dog crap in the walkways than previously.
The trees are in young leaf, spring flowers color window-boxes and windowsills and the little green squares dotted all over Paris. And the buses and metro cars, at business-day's end, are full of peeps with cones of tulips, daffodils, and roses, taking them home to brighten their living rooms.
The Paris way. What do you do when you're driving down the narrow rue de Charonne and you come to a stop in what seems like a mile-long gridlock? You get out of your car, like all the other drivers, leaving the door open and the motor running, and you walk down a few blocks to where you think the stoppage is. When you get close enough to see the fire truck or the ambulance or the fender-bender or the spontaneous demonstration against Lionel Jospin, the mayor of Paris, you turn around and go back to your car and start blowing the horn. And if the traffic starts to move when you're a couple blocks from your car, you start running back, to prevent the angry driver in the delivery van behind you from clearing his path by getting in your car and driving it onto the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, the bicyclists and motorcyclists have taken to the sidewalks already and bypass the clog with little loss of life.
God, I love Paris.
Subject: In which I talk to farmers and visit Monet and Bouchard
Tuesday, 9 April 2002, nearly 10h00
I've been busy doing stuff and accumulating the chronic insomniac's due sleep deficit. After lunch yesterday, I had in mind to sit in the Jardin du Luxembourg and watch the flowers grow, but I was overcome by exhaustion and so went home and slept for twelve hours straight.
Saturday last was lovely. I took the RER train (suburban access) to Joinville le Pont on the river Marne, where there was a Foire du Fermiers, a farmers' food fair, with artisanal honey, charcuterie, foie gras, canned goods (like big jars of white asparagus), preserved duck, confitures de fruits, wine, beer, cheese, country hams, and other sorts of home-made Feinschmekerie, forty stands in all.
The fair was in Saint Maurice, a village not far from Joinville le Pont, and I had to take a bus from the train station to get there. I asked the driver to let me off near the Place Montgolfier, where the fair was happening. He said ok. Later, when I asked my seat mate how far it was, she said we'd passed it ten minutes earlier. I thanked the driver as I descended. On the bus back, I told the driver where I wanted to go, and he said ok. When we were almost back to the train station, I asked him where exactly the Place Montgolfier was, and he slapped his forehead, having forgotten to let me off. So after four bucks in bus fare, I ended up walking a couple of K.
I had fun talking to the vendors, who were friendly and voluble in a charming deeply rural way, and who didn't mind my lousy French at all. They just kept rambling on about how to cure a ham, train bees to make for the lavender fields, or milk goats for making Rocamadour cheese, and they worried not a whit that I didn't understand half of what they said.
Unfortunately for my arteries, I bought some Rocamadour, Feuille de Limousin, Tome de Brebis, and St. Laurent raw milk cheeses, all unknown to me, all exquisite. I skipped the sausages out of respect for my diet, which I've based on the four basic food groups, protein, fat, sugar, and salt, and I'd overstretched the protein, fat, and salt parts with the cheese.
A nun from a fruit-growing convent gave me a wedge of Tarte de Myrtille, which was delicious, and then told me I owed her one Euro. Nuns are the same all over the world. Myrtilles, by the way, are described in almost all guides as blueberries. They are not. They are bilberries, an entirely unrelated deep purple-red fruit with an intense berry flavor that can't be beat.
When I got back home, I supped on bread and cheese an strawberries and apple juice. It was a day well-spent. I felt sort of sorry for the tourists who spent it in the Louvre.
Sunday was again bright and clear. It was both the first Sunday in the month and the fete of Le Printemps de Musees, so almost all the museums in France let you in for nothing. The Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, and the big ugly Pompidou were expected to be slopping over with gawkers, so I went to the Musee de Marmottan-Monet (recently renamed from Marmottan to Marmottan-Monet to capitalize on their superb Monet collection).
I saw stuff I've never seen before in reproduction. Most memorable: a little minimalist outliney water color of Monet's, "Le Mexicaine," very desirable; a water-color by Delacroix, 1838, of some seaside cliffs, "Falaises d'Etretat, le Pied du Cheval"; a self-portrait etching (the technique is called "eau forte," strong water, in French) by Pissarro, "Le Place du Palais Royale" by Henri le Sidaner, a painter I've never before heard of, and a super etching of Victor Hugo by Rodin. Fine pictures by Berthe Morisot, Renoir, Gilbert de Severac, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas (whose father spelled it De Gas); three wonderful Sisleys, a fine Jongkind ("Avignon, 1873"), and some forgettable Caillebottes. It's a museum not to be missed.
From there I walked several blocks through the Parc de Ranlagh and the elegant, expensive 16th (Passy) to the little Musee Henri Bouchard. Bouchard was a very successful sculptor, died at eighty-five in 1960. The museum is his atelier, which he built in 1920. It has been left pretty much as he left it, full of tools, spare statues, maquettes, unfinished works. It's tiny, and generally only open two afternoons a week in the summer. So I felt lucky to find it. I didn't think his stuff too compelling, but I'm spoiled by Rodin.
When I got home, I make a wonderful salad of avocado, smoked herring, tomato, frisee, mache, chicory, Belgian endive, and fromage St. Laurent in a garlicky vinaigrette extended with a little creme fraiche and mustardy mayonnaise. Wow. Spelled Waou in French.
Monday, I had a lot of things to take care of, and I won't bore you with a catalog. Still seeking my lost youth, I went to a very old bistro in the Quartier Latin, a place called Polidor, which hasn't changed any since I was there forty years ago, and probably hasn't changed since the turn of the last century. Big place, the crowd swelled from about twelve to about sixty in the hour and a half that I was there, light wainscoting (poplar maybe), tile floors with the vaguely Spanish motif almost worn off in the traffic lanes, cheerful patron, efficient, smiley waitresses, plain, old-fashioned peasant food. The plat du jour was petit sale aux lentilles, and I and almost everyone else in the place ordered it.
Petit sale (accent ague on the e) is salt-cured pork belly, what Hormel would make bacon out of, with thick strips of lean and not a lot of fat, boiled, I think, with the lentils and bits of carrot, celery and onion. Best lentils I ever had, worth going back for. And the pork was deep-flavored and savory. I brought half home in a zip-lock, along with half my tarte citron, what an American lemon meringue pie wished it could be, without its ridiculous egg-white blanket.
Daily specials include tripes a la mode de Caen (tripes is cow stomach, and a la mode de Caen is with carrots, onions, leeks, and spices, stewed in water and apple juice and Calvados--apple brandy, a dish I'm not fond of), palette roti haricots blanc (palette means shoulder, and the white beans suggest to me that it's shoulder of lamb), hachis parmentier (chopped meat with potatoes), chou farcis (stuffed cabbage), and calamars a l'Amoricaine (squid in white wine, brandy, tomatoes, and butter), rognons sauce madere (Kidneys--veal, pork, lamb, who knows--in Madeira wine), and Poulet basquaise (chicken with tomatoes and red peppers). As I said, all peasant food, bistro food, pas de haute cuisine.
Sorry, Fred, about all the food. I get carried away.
Well, that's this installment. I'm headed for the cyber station, thenlunch, and more flaneuring, aimless and feckless.
Subject: In which I lunch Chez Maurice and sideways looks at Paris
Paris, Friday 12 April 2002, 8:15 am
I started a report yesterday morning, and after about four paragraphi, I noticed that every other sentence was beginning, "And then I . . . " and I was boring myself. I don't intend to send catalogs.
So I abandoned it. I was going to try to pump it up a little this morning, but it's on a floppy that I apparently left in a machine at the cyber station. So I'll skip a couple of days and begin anew with yesterday.
Today started sunny again, twelfth day in a row, but cooler, a three layer day (undershirt, shirt, light jacket). It began to cloud over at about one in the afternoon, and it started to rain about three, very lightly for fifteen minutes, and then the sun came out again. Almost like being in Ireland.
I left here generally aimed at the Air and Space Museum at the old airport north of town, Le Bourget, where Lucky Charlie landed years ago. But when my bus turned into the boulevard Magenta and rolled into the tenth arrondissement where I lived a year ago, I got a little nostalgic and got off near the rue des Vinaigriers, vinegar maker's street, where there's a little Burgundian restaurant called Chez Maurice, and I thought to stroll around a bit and then eat lunch there, lunch at my house, which seemed fitting.
The tenth is usually dismissed in guidebooks as declassee, and so tourists don't often go there. But it has the lovely Canal St. Martin and a lot of interesting little shops in its various pockets of ethnicity (Greek, Turkish, Indian, and Arabic, mainly). There's a turnbridge over the canal where the rue des Vinaigriers ends, the old ratty Hotel du Nord (made famous by a movie of the same name in 1939) on the Quai Jemmapes (very unFrench sounding, to me), and leather tailors, oriental rug shops, and bijouteries where the artisans do lovely stuff in gold in the rue Beaurepaire.
The rue Lancry hosts a selection of ethnic restaurants, an elegant Italian traiteur, a high-quality greengrocer, an artisanal Boulangerie, and a couple of boutique boucheries, one of which seems so exclusive that you have to order what you want and the butcher brings it with him to work the next day. In his shop, he has only some essentials for last minute shoppers, a couple of chickens, some chunks of pale pinkish white veal for cutting scallops, a few chops, lamb and pork, some garlic sausage, and some fatless beef for grinding. And he has a rotisserie oven, from which he'll sell you a perfectly roasted poulet de ferme (free-run chicken from his own farm near Bresse) for ten dollars, big bucks for a neighborhood Fodor thinks is a touristic desert.
[This next part is for foodies. The rest of you doofusses can jump it.]
Chez Maurice is a classical neighborhood bistro, family run. The kind of place to take your aunt from Terre Haute who wants to see what the "real Paris" eats like. It has red and white checked tablecloths, paper napkins, wainscoted yellowed walls, hexagonal terra-cotta tiles on the floor, a zinc bar and a crowd of locals, laughing, talking, eating, greeting newcomers, and joking with the waitstaff. American tourists are almost unknown here. Every one else is well-known, or else will soon be. And none of them are wearing suits and ties.
Maurice himself, a very large, cheerful, gray-bearded pater familias in a blue Lacoste shirt, is either sitting at a table with cronies or on a stool, like Paul Prudhomme, behind the bar, dispensing wisdom, wine, and beer in unequal quantities. The youthful waiter and the waitress are either hiskids or apprentices to the trade, and no doubt it is his wife in the kitchen slinging hash.
There are three menus, at 7.50, 8.00, and 8.50 Euros. Having prix fixe formules in fifty cent increments seems truly eccentric. The food is grandma's, with classic bistro entrees like marinated herring with potato chunks dressed with olive oil, the ubiquitous egg mayonnaise, crudites, and the equally ubiquitous "salads" of grated celery root or grated carrots.(These last two items are available at every traiteur as well as at every traditional bistro. Evidently there are people in the world for whom a plateful of grated carrot is a satisfactory first course.)
The plats feature boeuf bourguigonne with a choice of fried, mashed, sauted, or butcher style (cooked in the stew and with onions and a couple of slices of carrot) potatoes, some chicken, some veal, and steack frites.
Dessert is either chocolate mousse or caramel-topped custard.
The bill of fare would have been entirely familiar to Hemingway, Proust, Hugo, and probably Corneille, way back when.
The hareng pomme a l'huile was lovely. The boeuf bourguingnonne was tender and comforting, the potatoes were "a point," and the naturally thick gravy was hearty, vinegar tinged, and worth buying a quart of if they sold it that way. The chocolate mousse was competent if not memorable. Not bad for an eight dollar lunch.
My active outdoor day ended with a post-prandial wander along St. Martin's canal to where it ends in the yacht basin, le bassin de la Villette at avenue Jean Jaures.
I'm in love with my digital camera, a Canon s300 digital Elph. It has a three power zoom lens, 2.1 megapixels for high resolution, and a one-twenty-eight mb FlashCard to store pictures. I really like being able to take four or five pictures of a subject, and then erase all but the one or two that seem to work. And to take pictures of people and then show them the result is a good entree to intrusion on someone's privacy, and often sparks a conversation.
My french is evidently improving. I bought some grana padano cheese from an Italian shop in the covered Marche Beauvau St Antoine in the place de Aligre, and the patron asked if I were Italian. So I've shed my American accent. Or not. (I was remembering there the comment Leon Martorelli's old pop Vincenzo made about grating cheeses. "Always use grana. It's just like parmigiano reggiano, but cheaper." Words to prosper by.)
You know you're in the boonies when the Presse kiosk doesn't have the International Herald Tribune.
Parisiens seem to favor tiny little yip-yap dogs that can't outrun them and look like dustmops.
Most of the traiteurs Asiatiques sell reprehensible egg rolls (squeeze one over a cup if you need some cooking oil), and their brochettes (skewers) of pork or chicken are dry and old. Their solitary virtue is they've cheap.
The best seat in a bus is the first one on the right side, from which you can see a hundred and thirty degrees front and right.
They're rebuilding the vestibule part of the Musee d'Orsay, and it's not well posted so the entrance is hard to find.
Drummond writes that a friend of his says that the area around the Pompidou museum is not safe. Not quite true. The area, called Beaubourg, is a little rough at night, the rue St Denis running through its center being the place to go to find whores, sex-shops, dirty movies shown in "cabines privees," or the occasional pickpocket. Otherwise it's merely a huge crossroads, a little north of the Paris City hall and just east of the Forum des Halles and the big metro/RER terminal at Chatelet-Les Halles, with lots of solidly middle-class shops and restaurants and souvinir schlock and a large transitory population of multi-cultural tourists. It's too central to be dangerous. It's only expensive and touristy.
Maybe I'll try for Le Bourget again. Who knows. A la prochaine fois, as the French say when they mean "next time."
Went to the marche biolgique on boulevard Raspail, yesterday, and met the muffin man. His van (huge) is marked Michael Muffin, but he's Michael Healey and lives at Boudru 49490 Broc. His phone number is 02.41.82.11.18.
He's a very charming guy and we spent some time talking mainly about buttermilk pancakes and the general atrocity of cultured buttermilk.
Keep your pecker up, as an old friend, Brendan Moran, used to say. He liked mocking the British.
Subject: In which I treat with youth of different sorts
Monday, 15 April 2002, 09h15
More than two weeks gone, already, and they mainly sunshine but lately cooler. Where does time go? I keep leaving home with a mild intent to go somewhere specific, and then my fireman says, lets pull off on this siding and let the faster trains go by. And I always do what he says.
Yesterday, however, I did fulfill a mission of point and purpose. I went to the marche biologique on the boulevard Raspail and sought out a guy whose van says, "Michael Muffin," but who's really Michael Healey and lives south of Tours and comes to market every Sunday to sell freshly made English muffins, or scones if you suffer from Anglophilia. They're damn near as good as Wolferman's. (I know only one or two of you are going to get it, the allusion, but that's ok by me.)
We discussed mainly the lamentable state of the buttermilk pancake since real buttermilk has been totally supplanted by the cultured crap on your supermarket shelves. He knows a butter-churner by where he lives, and gets the genuine article. He gave me a half liter and a generally vague recipe,and I may try it out tomorrow. I've strawberries and raspberries, and they'd dress a BM pancake up nicely.
The previous day, I was wandering through the Saturday market along the boulevard Auguste Blanqui, intending later to lunch at a restaurant called l'Avant Gout, where I'm told that the owner-chef (almost always an excellent combination) makes a pot-au-feu (lets say a stew beatified) out of pigmeat rather than beef, and serves it properly, in two courses, soup followed by meat and vegetables.
That's what I intended, but one of the vendors had a big pile of morel mushrooms under his canvas, so I forwent lunch (I've never tried "forgo" in the past tense; sounds and looks odd, don't it) in favor of a hundred grammes of morels, which cost me eight bucks. I'll relate the morel adventure in a separate posting, so Boyles can skip it.
The day before that, Friday, I was sitting on a bench near where the avenue Ledru-Rollin crosses the rue du Faubourg St. Antoine. Behind me sitting on the sidewalk against a storefront, was a more or less common sight—a middle-eastern-looking woman in what looked like a hybrid cross of caftan, mu mu, and sari, two kids beside her, a paper cup on the pavement in front of her, and a piteous look on her face.
Pretty soon, the little girl, maybe seven, but I'm a bad judge, climbed over the back of the bench and settled between me and a dour chap wearing an Irish tweed cap next by. She reached across me to take my left hand pull it over to her. She then examined my watch. After some contemplation, she asked me to give it to her. I said no. Then she began taking things one at a time out of my grocery bag, asking of each article if she could have it. I said no. She then, in a remarkable feat of memory and without returning to the groceries, named each item and asked again that I give it to her. "Les haricots verts?" "Non." "Le sanguinella?" "Non." "Le tomate?" "Non." . . . ending with, "Votre montre (wristwatch)?" "Non."
She started over. Midway through the recitative, I said, "Allez, j'en ai assez," (roughly "That's enough; beat it"). She gave me a long, pained look, then turned to the cap next to me. At this point, he took his grocery bag and skedaddled. Since we were both waiting for a bus, he must have thought his destination wasn't worth a little child's game. Finally, her mother called her back. I turned back and mom tented her hands in front of her face and make a little obeisance in my direction. I smiled back. As the bus was coming, I went over and dropped a Euro in her cup. I had been entertained. It was worth it.
Later, that evening, I walked five or six blocks down Ledru-Rollin to rue Charonne, to a belle epoch bar called le Bistrot a Peintre, a genuine historical monument, with a real zinc bar and a mixed neighborhood clientele. I was to meet Cyrille, a whisky trade middle-man about twenty-five, who had an apartment to rent since he'd just moved in with his girlfriend. We were to be joined by an American girl who wanted to move out of her boyfriend's flat to "get her own space."
I got there at precisely seven, our appointed time. He arrived about seven-thirty, running on French time. About eight o'clock, he began to wonder where Jamie was, the American girl, so he went to a callbox and phoned. She was on a bus, on the way, held up by "traffic." Cyrille was ok with that. He told me that being late was a woman's prerogative. Besides, he said, she's American.
When she arrived, she didn't look American. About my height, black boots, snug black pants, black pullover, black and white scarf, black tam, and a knee-length black coat. She was twenty-two, taking "a French year" from college and trying to learn French, but clearly not trying very hard. She was quite poised and quick and articulate, and Cyrille made a wonderful audience for her coy, finger-jabbing badinage, a sort of fawn-eyed acolyte to her American flirt. Henry James limned her perfectly in "The Portrait of a Lady." Isabel Archer, in the flesh.
Then her girl-friend arrived, a class mate on the same purposeful voyage to France. This was her opposite, but another thoroughly American archetype. The new girl, tall, rangy, plain, chatty, curious, wide-eyed, was not Jamie's secret sharer. She was in sneakers, jeans, a gypsy blouse, sweat shirt tied around her waist, denim jacket. And remarkably, named Martina Navratil. she was there, now about eight thirty, to go to dinner with Jamie after examining the apartment. I asked her if she played tennis. She said a little.
Neither girl expected a slack-faced old man at the party, and each made the best of it in her own way. Jamie asked about my background, what I was doing in France, how long I was staying. Martina asked where I was living, what I had been doing for fun, what I liked best about Paris, where I got my backpack. Cyrille and I were taking turns buying drinks. Jamie went through three beers in a hurry, Martina lagged behind, Cyrille kept up, but he had had a head-start and announced that he was getting drunk. I was nursing a lemonade (read Seven-Up).
We finally went to the apartment, around the corner on the rue Charonne. We climbed a ratty set of curving steps with cracked treads, two flights up to an odd apartment. Square living room with two futons on the floor, minimal other furniture. Kitchen off to the side and down four very narrow steps, hazardous when you were drunk, Cyrille offered. Untidy bathroom beyond that, tiny shower, sink, toilet. The girls behaved as if charmed by the impoverished student look, oh-ing and ah-ing. I wouldn't have liked it even if were clean.
I said an abrupt good bye, "phone call waiting," and I scrammed. The girls and I parted Frenchly, with the double-cheek-to-cheek-kiss-manque. I shook hands with Cyrille, who was clearly unsteady on his feet and focused entirely on Jamie, asking me sotto voce if I wanted to take Martina home with me on the grounds that, "She likes you." Cyrille drunk was not what you'd call deep. But he was charming and good-looking and I'd liked learning earlier his philosophy of women, vrai chauviniste, vrai jeune.
So I had enjoyed myself, and thought myself lucky in having terrific specimens to analyze. I was satisfied for the time being to be sixty-two and alone.
I think that's enough for now.
Subject: (No Subject)
Monday night and Tuesday, 16 April 2002 morning
The brilliant writer and philosopher, M. F. K. Fisher, said that the three necessary components of human happiness are security, love, and food. Most of you know (all too well), that I'm fairly compulsive about food, eating it, thinking about it, and talking about it. As far as happiness is concerned, I go with what I got left. And the first food I ever got really interested in was cheese.
It was in Kansas City that it started, simple enough, with cream cheese. My mother used to make cream cheese and olive sandwiches, mushing up the cheese with about the top two inches of cream from a fresh bottle of milk. We were unhomogenized then, in a lot of ways. Whenever she'd turn away, I'd scoop some up some creamy cheese with my fingers and savor it as a sublime blessing.
Then she'd stir in some chopped pimiento-stuffed olives. I was five, so I thought everybody got cream cheese and olive sandwiches, and I wondered why everybody wasn't going around talking about how good they are. (Nevertheless, I haven't had one in more than thirty years. But I'm thinking that may change.)
And when I was about thirteen I discovered that the Merlis, down the street, the only Italian family in an Irish Catholic ghetto, put garlic and herbs in their cream cheese, mascarpone, rather than olives. Dana Merli was my first true love (or maybe second; Maureen Teasdale got the call either just before Dana or after), and I loved the way she smelled after lunch.
So I asked my mom to put some garlic in, but she recoiled in horror.
We were also getting cheese in the mail. My dad's brother Tom was a Trappist monk at the monastery of Gethsemane in the middle of Kentucky's bourbon land, and they made cheese there out of raw milk, as their mother-house had done in France, and they called it the same name, "Port du Salut," later abbreviated, as in France, to Port Salut (Now in France, Port Salut is a commercial name and the mother cheese is called St. Paulin). They used raw milk until the feds violated church and state and made them pasteurize it. It was never the same again.
Tom had become the head cheese monk and sent us a wheel every few months. The Kentucky version was a powerfully foul smelling thing at room temperature, like sickness, but wonderful all over the inside of your mouth. My dad said beer was the only beverage to drink with it, and he drank Griesedieck from St. Louis, pronounced greezy-dick, a genuine hilarity to all the kids on the block. I was seventeen when I confirmed his rightness in this matter.
(By the way, they now call it Trappist Cheese, and I'm happy about it. Now if the California wine people would stop calling their products Burgundy, Chablis, and Champagne, we'd be another step down the road to gastro-oeno-independance.)
Why do I bring this up in a Paris letter? It's an intro to some cheese remarks, and establishes my bona fides as a cheese guy. I have a plate with six kinds of cheese on it, wrapped each in plastic, one sheep, two goats, and three cows. I open them all up at the same time, when they've reached room temperature, and, going round in circles, I stick a little on torn chunks of fresh baguette, each in its turn. With some cornichons (my spell-checker wants me to change this to corncobs. I think not.) and a couple of translucent slices of country ham, Serra from Spain or Ardennes from up north or Savoyard, from the base of the Alps, and a little mesclun salad, it does for supper.
You'll never see these cheeses in the U. S. Feuille de Limousin, a creamy, mild white goat, and the wettest cheese I've ever had. By the time I got it home from the little farmer's exhibit in St. Maurice, its paper wrapping was soaked through and dripping whey. St. Laurent, a soft-ripened pale-yellow cow's milk from around Correze, tangy and, geez, spicy? Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, a young goaty thing from the Loire, shaped like a little pyramid with its top cut off, soft and ivory white inside, that tastes like, . . . well, goats. (Aged, it's as hard as a hammer head.) Tamie, cow, made by Savoyard Trappists, a little like Reblochon. Tomme de Camargue, cow and goat mixed, smooth, silky, a bit sharp.
I can't remember the name of the very distinctive ewe's milk cheese, but that's ok. I'll recognize it when I see it, and I wouldn't touch it ever again even with a rubber glove on, ugly little warty thing with an unpleasant schmeck. Now I remember: Tome de Brebis. But that's sort of a generic name, tome (more usually spelled tomme, as above), meaning cheese, and brebis, meaning ewe. There are several sorts of fromage de brebis, so maybe there'll be some I like.
None of these can be brought into the US. Unsanitary, health hazards, made in uninspected farms by folks who don't wear rubber gloves and hairnets, French, distinctive, flavorful. Try to bring some in and they'll arrest you for smuggling contraband.
Americans always seem to want to know if you eat the rind. I'm taking a flyer and saying yes, *if you can*. The soft ripened cheeses like brie and coulomiers have a pleasant rind, creamy looking and powdery, sometimes with little orangish spots. Some cheeses, however, have a rind that looks like the sole of a hobnailed boot, and most people take one look and cut it off.
But when I was at the organic market Sunday, I saw that the cheesemongers had put out little bits of cheese for the tasting, and even the blackish, bluish, brownish, thickish rinds were left on, and the tasters were eating them. So eat the rind, if you can bring yourself to. (You simply can't eat the rinds of hard grating cheeses like grana, because they've the density of an aluminum ingot and couldn't be chewed anyway.)
This makes up for my last report, in which I said, I think, almost nothing about food.
Wednesday, 15 April 2002
I seem to be getting a little behind in my work, as the butcher said when he. . . .
The previous cheesy disquisition got in the way of simple reportage, which I'll resume now.
Monday, I went way south to the Parc Montsouris above the Cite Universitaire in the 14th, intending to lunch at the newly renovated Pavillon Montsouris on the park's verge at 20 rue Gazan for a déjeuner under the park's hundred-years-old trees, but it was just too damned expensive, so I found a boulangerie and got a sandwich jambon beurre and a coke and went to the park to sit on a sunny bench by the lake and eat it while reading the International Herald Tribune and watching the ducks and geese and swans and the nannies pushing prams.
One of the simplest and most common snacks, a third of a baguette smeared with a little butter and topped with a scrimpy little pink sliver of jambon de Paris (ordinary boiled ham, but unlike that in America, not having been injected with salt water and rendered almost tasteless by processing), is for me a delightful lunch, and would have been even better had I been able to find a tomato to go with it. So I didn't feel cheated out of a restaurant lunch and I saved twenty-five bucks.
Later, I went to the Metro-RER station at the Luxembourg Gardens to meet a lady about an apartment. I got off the train and headed for the nearest sortie, where I found an escalator to the street. We had agreed on the phone to meet at the top of the escalator. There was a bench there, in the place Louis Marin, in front of the restaurant Della Stella, and I sat there and finished reading the paper. I sat for forty-five minutes, decided she was a no-show, and gave up, to wander along the boulevard St Michel toward the islands. That's when I discovered that I'd taken a subsidiary exit, and there was a much bigger main station way up the street. With another escalator. I'd stood the lady up through sheer ignorance and lack of memory.
I called her again, but got no answer, so I found a cybershop and sent her an e-mail. I hope to find a reply when I post this. And I went home, a bit dispirited.
Yesterday, I . . . . Well, let's save it, shall we, until later?
Subject: In which I recognize French politics
24th April 2002
My notebook is filling up, but I haven't written much for you guys in the past week. I need a theme, as Yeats sought in "The Circus Animals Desertion."
Maybe I'll try politics. France has just had a primary presidential election. Everyone, from the paris priest to the guy who washes the sidewalks, knew, dead cert, that the top two candidates from a field of eighteen would be the current President, Jacques Chirac, and the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, whom in a previous report I called the Mayor of Paris. Silly me.
Silly French citizens. Jospin came in third, after a guy named Jean-Marie Le Pen, a mean-spirited recidivist right-winger who wants France out of the European Alliance, who wants to can the Euro and return to Francs, and who wants to deport Jews, Arabs, and Africans, among others. I hear people calling him a fascist, jingoist, racist rat, but he got more votes than Jospin and will be on the ballot with Chirac when the final election occurs in two weeks.
That he will lose is a certainty. The people who voted for the other sixteen candidates, mostly liberals of one stripe or another, will shun him.
Nevertheless, his win over Jospin has fired up the French rabble (comprising all French citizens and their dogs) and led to demonstrations and some violence in the places de la Bastille and de la Republique. I didn't personally attend any of those parties, but the number 20 bus that was taking me home from the Gare St. Lazare, and that was supposed to go through Bastille, changed routes and did an end run around it. The Xeroxed notice in the bus shelters had already told me that "manifestations" might cause a "perturbation" in the "circulation" on this and a few other "lignes."
It's as if Pat Buchanan had been elected President of the US. Le Pen's platform: outlaw abortion, cease to recognize same-sex marriages, end legal immigration, deport illegals, end dual citizenship, give French nationals priority in all jobs and housing, change medical benefits so that French money is not spent of the care of foreigners, allow only French citizens to teach in French schools, institute in the schools morality classes and require students to participate in public events and holidays, disallow the wearing of yarmulkes and muslim headgear in schools, enlarge the prisons by 200,000 beds, expand the police forces and give the police sweeping new powers.
I wonder if he'd let the kids wear basque berets or Mickey Mouse ears.
(The violence, by the way, is visible in my neighborhood. The glass in the bus shelters on the Avenue Desmaniles a block east of me and many of the windows in the Viaduc des Arts, running alongside it, were broken Monday night, probably by rocks but maybe bullets.)
One of the presidential candidates has as a motto "Pour faire enfin bouger a France." It does not mean "For a fair infant bugger in France."
It's time for me to put this on a floppy disk and head for the cyberstation. I have some complaints about my cyberstation, but I'll air them at another time.
Subject: In which I dine at home and consider beggars
Friday, 26 April, 2002, about nine in the morning
It rained in the night but quit before I woke up a while ago. Cloudy now, and cooler, but still satisfactory.
I've been skipping lunch and eating dinner chez moi for the past lot of days, getting stuff from the Marche Beauvau in the place Aligre nearby. In restaurants, I tend to eat everything in sight (on my table, that is; I haven't started poaching. Yet. I may get to be a danger if I start goingto restaurants that serve table d'hote, community style.) and that's not good for me.
And the stuff I bring home from the market, Fiore di Sarde sec (a hard, dry cheese from Sardinia, superb with good bread and prosciutto-style ham) and lasagne d'aubergine (eggplant lasagna, made even better with Fiore grated on top) from the epicier Italienne, chou farci and tomate farci (stuffed cabbage and tomato, which may sound pedestrian but certainly aren't) from the charcuterie, poulet fermier roti (roasted free-range chicken, what American supermarket chicken only dreams of tasting like) from the boucherie muselmane (the islamic version of a bucherie cacher (one of the French words for kosher)), and other goodies, has (singular verb; subject is "stuff," in case I lost you) more than sustained me. They've given comfort, contentment, and satisfaction. (Sorry. When I start being hyperparenthetical, I lose my head. The sentence, however, can be parsed.)
This segues me into the announcement that I intend to quit the writing for a while to go out for lunch at a restaurant and maybe a movie.
Monday 29 April 2002 early in the morning
My, my, that was a long excursion, wasn't it? I did go out. I did have lunch at a Greco/Turkish joint on the boulevard Diderot, of which more later, possibly, and I did see a movie, "Panic Room," which I also will get back to later, maybe. And it started to rain again in the afternoon.
Before the rain, I occupied myself reading "Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic Wars" on the banks of the Canal St. Martin very near the Hotel du Nord, about which a movie was made in 1939. 't's the truth about reading Caesar. I found him at a used bookstore (shouldn't that be "a used-bookstore? To kill off any possible ambiguity?) called Tea and Tattered Pages, on the rue Mayet, for fifty cents, and I wanted to see if the vainglorious, megalomanic, egotistical old sod is as boring as he was when evil black-robed forces made me translate him from the Latin when I was thirteen and beginning to worry about sex rather than the fifth conjugation. By God, he is.
The cast of characters is about as large as that in "War and Peace" but not as memorable. It is a tedious procession of battles in thumbnail-sketch quilted out with his insights into the brave ignorance of the Gallic hoards and the mischief of their leaders. Some details about the events might have livened them up a bit.
It rained a little again on Saturday, mostly at that rate that falls right between the slowest and the second slowest speeds on your car's windshield wipers. So I went to the laundromat to spiffy up my stuff. Most travel writers don't spend much time talking about the Paris laundromat, and I know why.
The Paris laundromat is small, with maybe ten little washers and five little dryers, and they're not state-of-the-art. It has a wall-mounted machine that sells detergent and softener and bleach for a buck and a half each, dispensing it into the container you brought with you for the purpose, or down a drain if you did not have the foresight to bring a little container. Someone told me that these were the last coin-operated machines to be refitted for the Euro, and that customers were pissed-off that they had to go buy francs to get clean. So there's more than one reason to get pissed-off at the laundromat.
It lacks the ambiance one wishes for in his laundromat--bright colors, comfortable seats, a big-screen color television, and a collection of year-old Reader's Digests. It also lacks an attendant to show you how to work the damned machines, the instructions having been worn to unreadability. And it lacks a money changing machine and electronic arcade games.
The other sojourners there are middle-aged women who've let themselves go. They stare unabashedly at the paunchy white-haired American who is cursing softly in the far corner of the room. Probably not many tourists go here, and I'm a special treat.
My 700 page French/English dictionary is called "Dictionaire de Poche Anglais," which does not necessarily translate to "Dictionary of Pocket English," and it is "de Poche" only if your pockets are real big. The inside info tells me that (I translate from the French a little) it was realized under the direction of Denis Girard, "Inspecteur Generale Honaraire." I haven't discovered what he inspected. One of his henchmen is described in somewhat greater detail. She is Genevieve Krebs, "Ancienne Inspectrice Pedagogique Regional d'Anglais," so she's a very old broad who goes around inspecting regional English. I mention the dictionary because I picked it up to see how it translated "Clochard(e)": It says "bag/homeless person." Take a second. You'll get it.
Paris abounds with mendicants of varous sorts. The true clochards will have all their goods about them, but haven't learned the American trick of swiping a grocery cart from the Franprix to use as luggage.
Some beggars make a sort of permanent office. There's an old man in my neighborhood who shows up in front of the Franprix on avenue Ledru-Rollin at ten o'clock every morning as it opens. He has a little stool he sits on next to the entrance, and he has a paper cup down by his feet. He doesn't look at passers-by. Sometimes he reads a newspaper but mostly he just stares off into space. He has worn down shoes, baggy gray pants, a baggy old tweed suit coat, a tattered wool scarf around his neck and a shapeless tweed cap. He's strategic about location. Shoppers coming out often have their change in their hands, counting it. Sometimes one will drip a pittance in the cup. He leaves when the store closes, going I don't know where.
Another beggar-with-a-turf sits at the bottom of the steps at the Metro in front of the Gare de Lyon. He tries to look every passer in the eye, and has a little cardboard sign saying he's hungry and out of work. His mouth is moving, and you can sometimes catch a little of the sotto voce monologue he's into. He's been there every time I have used that entrance.
The beggar at the Sunday morning market on the boulevard Richard-Lenoir kneels on the asphalt just by the ped traffic, his back straight and one arm stuck strait out in front of him, his hand cupped. He repeats a plaintive, "Sil vous plait" over and over and never smiles, even when someone drops a coin in his hand. When I was in third-grade, Sister Honorius used to punish malefactors by making them kneel on the edge of the low wooden platform her desk was on and hold out their arms like Christ crucified. So I know the guy is in real pain. But he stays rigid and unmoving for hours.
The Metro trains get their share of mendicants. Sometimes a guy will play his accordion or guitar or violin for the distance of a stop or two, then circulate with a cup for donations. Others walk down the aisle (they have to choose slack times when the cars aren't standing-room-only) putting little printed slips of paper on seats next to or in front of the other passengers. They inform you that the person is hungry, sick, and unemployed and has a wife and four children to support. Then he comes back down the aisle collecting his tickets and what dole he can. These folks are sometimes paired with a little child, who does the cup-passing.
A woman who begs at the corner where the rue du Faubourg de St. Antoine empties into the place de la Bastille sits against the building with her legs stretched our in front of her. She has horribly mutilated feet, which she rests shoeless on a little wooden stand. Others like her can be seen around, the amputees, the maimed, the scarred, the hunched, the twisted. Poor souls without recourse.
In many of the corridors and tunnels at Metro stations, a woman dressed in colorful ethnic costume, often with a small child in her lap, sits silent and motionless behind a little placard that says, "J'ai Faim," I'm hungry.
Sometimes you'll find an entertainer, someone who juggles or does sleight of hand or sings or plays an instrument. These folks do better than the others because they are clearly working for a living, and not relying on pity as a goad to humanity.
There seem to be no panhandlers of the rough-hewn and aggressive type who get in your face on the sidewalks of New York, for which I personally am grateful.
So the poor try to stay alive. And I think I can't learn to harden my heart against them. In comparison, I'm insanely rich and have much more than I need. So a Euro here or there seems appropriate.
There were more political demonstrations over the weekend, parades and speeches, mostly anti-Le Pen. I learn about them from the Ratrap (my mnemonic for the R.A.T.P, the public transit authority), which puts signs in the bus shelters saying that this or that line is going to experience some "perturbation" in its service because of "les Manifestations." If a parade is going from the Gare du Nord through the place de la Republique and on to la Bastille, a lot of bus riders are forced underground to the trains. (Me, for one.) The turmoil will be done with after next week, when the elections are over. I expect that Wednesday, Labor Day, May 1, will be noisy and everything but the movies and a few restaurants will be closed.
Well, I think I've gone on enough for now.
Subject: In which I learn things from children
Wednesday, 1 May 2002, around noon, part 1
It's late for me to be sitting at my machine, writing. But on this day, sunny and mild though it is, I don't have much motive for leaving my room soon. It's one of the biggest public days in France, May day, Labor day, le fete du travail, and everything, museums, boutiques, antiquaires, restaurants, cyber stations, swimming pools, sex shops, supermarkets, laundromats, and zoos will be closed for the celebrations. Well, maybe not sex shops.
There will be parades, starting in Belleville and Montilmontant in the east, the traditional locus of the working classes. In addition, Le Pen's defeat of Jospin will certainly bring out anti-right manifestations and noisy orations with plenty of audience participation. The Bastille, off to my left, will eventually be crowded with sign-bearers, skinheads, goths, prams, the pierced and tattooed, les blues de travail, punks, mugs, pickpockets, fanatics, soccer fans, pregnant women, and the press. I can already hear police klaxons.
I don't relish the notion of standing in a Paris square shoulder to shoulder with Paris's political factions listening to harangues I can't understand and smelling sweat and anger. Attractive as that may sound.
The buses are sufficiently perturbed that I'm not sure where I can get to to get away. The Parc Montsouris in the southern regions is an attractive idea, beautiful place near University City and far from the processions, where tourists never go; I could sit by the lake and read and throw hunks of baguette at swans and geese and penguins and watch apolitical youth grope and writhe, as is their wont on any patch of green bigger than ten by sixteen. (The penguins were a flightless fancy, just to see if you're paying attention.)
Or I could stay here and lend you my thoughts. About yesterday, maybe.
After I got my e-mail sorted out (In addition to the usual Viagra, weight-loss, make-a-fortune-from-your-kitchen-table, and penis enlargement scams, , I'm now getting French spam, comprising sincere commercial love letters: "Hi, I'm Nicollette. I'm from Toulouse, and maybe you'd like . . . ," and invitations to places like Le Club Liaison, where you find ". . . rencontres de qualite en toute discretion et toute securite, entre personnes libertines, libres ou engagees." Rough translation: Do you need a time-out, a whiff of oxygen? Here you'll find assignations (encounters, meetings, bump-intos; rencontres is a fairly flexible word with many connotations) of quality completely discrete and completely secure between libertines, both married and single), I sought out lunch.
Near the Eglise St Sulpice in the 6th is the big modern indoor Marche St Germain, an agglomeration of fancy boutiques (think Somerset Mall, you Michiganders) and an excellent if pricey food hall. Across the street on its south side, rue Lobineau, is a tiny restaurant called Le Petit Vatel, the kind of place I seek out and am usually pleased to find. Its chef is the owner, the waitress is his wife, it seats eighteen max, and the clientele is all local. There's nothing about it that would attract tourists, it being a little untidy, always crowded, and too much like the lunchroom in a very tiny factory (dingy yellow walls, garage-sale chairs, no bar, old movie posters, wood-grained Formica).
In spite of its size, it has a chalkboard full of eats, seven entrees (including soupe au citron vert, chickpeas with capers, and goose rillettes) and seven plats (including beef stew, roast pork, a Savoyard sausage called diot, and polenta with mushrooms) for a prix fixe lunch at 11 Euros, dirt cheap in Paris. In Detroit, too, as I think about it.
I wish I could tell you that the food was outstanding and the restaurant a terrific secret bargain. That would be quite a stretch. On the recommendation of Catherine Grandjacques, the patronne, I had the lime soup, a recipe they brought home to Paris from the Yucatan. I had had lime soup there, and this was a splendid version, except missing the big handful of chopped coriander that the Yucatecas traditionally drop on top. She and I discussed it. She had concluded that coriander in quantity was an acquired taste, not native Parisian, and they thus added only a tablespoonful or so.
The boeuf miraton, (also Catherine's recommendation), a stew with onions, carrots, and a couple of boiled potatoes (the color of Yukon Golds), was probably (and sadly) much like your grandma's pot roast or beef stew: undistinguished. It needed a heartier jolt of onion and some garlic, lots of garlic. The two large chunks of beef were without fat and gristle and were fork tender, having been simmered, I'm sure, for many hours. The carrots were a little overcooked, but the potatoes were perfect (has any ordinary meal ever been made significant by a perfect boiled potato?). But there was no special character to the dish. A pedestrian recipe out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. I wish I'd gone for the polenta.
Nevertheless, Catherine was warm and charming, and maybe I'll try the place again.
I ate everything, as is my habit, and it was too much, as is usual. So I spent an hour walking it off, revisiting the Cour du Commerce St Andre and the rue du Jardinet, "Passages" across the boulevard St-Germain from Danton's statue in the Carrefour d'Odeon. I mentioned it in a report from last fall, charming alley behind the ancient restaurant Le Procope (where Ben Franklin debated revolutionary politics with French deep-thinkers), vrai Paris ancienne.
I decided to go to see a movie, "Femme Fatale," in preview at the Forum des Halles, and I had some time to kill. I found another used-book store for anglophones in the rue Monsieur le Prince, and bought an old C.P.Snow novel for rereading (I had begun in grad school research for a doctoral dissertation on Snow, before I came to my senses and went back to teaching full-time). Then I took a bus to the Marais and went to the Place Ste-Catherine to read and to become Chance, the Gardener ("I like to watch").
It's a wonderful spot to sit--a small cobbled rectangle with eight small plane trees, four to a side, six double-benches (seats facing opposite directions, sharing a common backrest), always a dog or two, surrounded mainly by cafe/restaurants.
The first one, Le Marche, with its dark-green facade and trailing vines was empty, too late for lunch, too early for dinner. Next door, the tables out front at Au Bistrot de la Place had a dozen occupants under a white canvas awning and more vines, doing tea-time snacks and drinks. Next to that one, Arirange, a big Korean-Japanese place on a corner, was gearing up for pre-prandial arrivistes. Across the cobbled entry to the place from the rue Jarente, the kosher restaurant Pitchi Poi was also doing tea-time. At the corner of the rue d'Ormesson and the rue Caron, just off the square, the white-jacketed waiters at the Le Marais Ste-Catherine were gearing up for dinner, putting down white napery, setting out silver, napkins, two stemmed glasses at each place. In front of the restaurant behind where I was sitting, waiters and bus boys were putting up their yellow tables and red folding chairs under their red awning.
People in twos and threes and fours were strolling through the square from the rue Caron to the rue Jarente, the various benches held kissing couples, two old ladies with a black and white dog, a couple of codgers reading Figaro or Le Monde, a pair playing cribbage. a guy drinking beer from a can, and me.
But the center of attention were two kids, a boy and a girl maybe eight years old (but I'm a terrible judge of this). they had a big yellow rubber ball and were playing at soccer with it, practicing some moves. They seemed equally adept. But their aim was wildly erratic, and everyone was on the watch to be hit in the head with a stray kick. I had started out reading Snow, but after being hit a couple of times with the yellow ball, I just watched.
They had a couple of accidents; the worst being clearing a table of its glassware at Pitchi Poi. The patron there was remarkable sanguine and forbearing about it, smiling at the kids as he admonished them. A few times the ball bounced in among the tea-timers and the dog ladies. It often went out into the rue Ormesson where they followed close upon it, heedless of cars. Those passing through the square often played a little defense with them, arresting the ball with their feet, kicking it back, showing a little soccer savvy.
After the ball missed me by a hair, the girl, Suzy, came over and sat down next to me, said, " ' suis desole," and cast an inquisitive look at my little digital camera. I told her to get her friend (Jean, she said) and I'd take their picture. It's a good pic, but neither liked it. Jean evidently just didn't like his face much, but Suzy didn't like the T-shirt she was wearing and the way her hair looked. They asked me to erase the picture (so some capabilities of digital cameras were no mystery to either of them).
Suzy stepped forward, leaned in, pressed her forehead against mine, looked soulfully into my eyes, and said, "S'il vous plait," in her best flirty kid's voice. I said ok, and she hugged me. I had lied. And I was waiting to get grabbed at any second by undercover vice cops for child molestation. I didn't know how to say, "But she was doing the molesting!" And I thought I'd not be believed anyway. Were I a producer of commercials, I would have this essence of gaminerie selling chocolate milk on TV tomorrow.
They stayed closer to my bench after that, to talk a bit, to try some English, to teach me French. I asked what English words they knew. Jean knew hello and goodbye and how you doin' (did he watch "Friends?"). I asked her and she said, "fuck." And I started looking for the cops again. I asked her where she'd learned it, and she said it was written on walls, graffiti. I asked her if she knew what it meant and she did: "relations sexuals". I asked her how she knew that and she said her mother explained it when she asked. She out-blaiséed me by a mile.
When I started traveling in Europe forty-some years ago, I used to go to parks so I could talk to kids. They didn't mind repeating words again and again till I got the pronunciation near-right, and they didn't mind writing phrases in my notebook, and they didn't mind playing word names like point-and-name. Nowadays, however, seeking kids in parks is a dangerous thing to do, dangerous for me, not the kids. I love civilization.
That's probably enough for now. I think I hear some yawning.
P. S. I know all of you want to know what dinner at Guy Savoy's is like. Send a lot of money and I'll find out. By the way, this is the antipenultimate postscript, for those of you who think "limn" is the only expensive word I know.
P. P. S. Somewhere in the midst of this spewing, I went out to see about the crowd noises coming from my street, the rue de Lyon. A splinter parade, anti-Le Pen was going by, raising a group cheer every time the guy in the van with the loudspeaker made a telling point, I suppose.
Subject: In which I join a parade and go to church
Wednesday, 1 May 2002, almost nine pm, part 2
I went outside again to look at the goin's on.
The labor unions, the communists, the student union, the youth movement, and the gay federation (I didn't see the Mothers Against Drunk Driving or the Arbor Day Militants, but I didn't read all the banners and placards) were all marching together late this afternoon, from the Bastille down the avenue Daumesnil (for the carping few: I can spell it; I just can't type it), to oppose "The Colonial War of Ariel Sharon," "The Fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen," and all forms of racism and discrimination, social, sexual, and political. Banners for the Parti Communiste Francais and women's solidarity were in lockstep, so I walked with them, between a girl with fuchsia hair and a pretty blonde Japanese, down to the boulevard Diderot where I peeled off and came back home. Everyone seemed in good spirits. I saw no one noticeably drunk.
There must have been twenty busloads of flics, the Paris police, the Gendarmerie (Police Nationale), and some real tough cookies that may have been the anti-terrorist force I've heard about. They were trailing along at the end of the parade, looking bored and in need of a drink.
M Le Pen sponsored his own substantial manifestation for Jeanne d'Arc day (a very nationalistic occasion always). A huge crowd of police were on the ground while helicopters made regular sweeps of the area up above, to see that the two rallies didn't bump into one another. The radio and television people didn't report any disturbances nor bloodshed, but the damned Paris rabble further disgraced themselves by defacing the entire Bastille area with spray paint. I think it's safe to infer that the same thing happened at Republique, Nation, Gambetta, Belleville, and other places of assembly.
When I mentioned to some of the inmates here that I didn't want to stay for speeches I couldn't understand. Monica, who lives downstairs, said she'd rather those than the ones she did understand. I conceded the point.
This next should probably have been included in an earlier report.
I've been to three churches thus far. I don't usually go to churches but I went to St-Sulpice to see the two huge Delacroix murals, and was disappointed because they are grimy and ill-lit and shadowy and faint. On the other hand, the life-sized photo of the famous Shroud of Turin X-ray is backlit and easy to see. As far as I'm concerned, the chief attractions of St-Sulpice are the organ and the pulpit. It's a fine big seventeenth century organ with a substantial sound that easily fills up the great hollow empty space of the church. Someone was running through some Bach while I was inside.
And the pulpit is a dandy. If I were in the market for a pulpit, that's the one I'd choose. It like a wishbone parallel to the chancel between the pillars supporting the roof, with two curved marble staircases left and right and the canopied speakatorium itself suspended between them, twenty feet up, like the little paddle where the arms of the wishbone come together. It's all colorful marble, lapis, and yellow, red, maroon, beige, pink, blue, and green. Beyond that, the church is somber and funereal.
I also went to a Chopin concert on Friday night in le Eglise St Julian-le-Pauvre, which some books call the oldest church in Paris. The setting is quite wonderful, but the acoustics ain't so hot.
I also went back for the first time in years to Notre Dame. Forty years, ago, and again thirty-four years ago, when I was there, inside, I still owned some residual piety, though lastingly scarred by the Jesuits' description of hell in exactly the same Ignatian retreat that so bothered Steven Daedelus in Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist."
It's a far more commercial enterprise today than it was last time I was there, with vending machines for dispensing postcards and votives, a souvenir shop open like a news kiosk in the left aisle, where you can get a bronze Notre Dame paperweight, posted schedules of tours and their prices, and money boxes next to the free pamphlets and folders.
The famed rose windows are very far away, and to study them with some artistic discernment, you're better off looking at a postcard or a 35mm slide. But the polychrome carvings in very deep relief of biblical scenes on the tops of the backs of the monk's chantiers are stupendous, well-lit and well-preserved.
There will be a Armenian Rite mass there on Sunday, to mourn those who died when Mustafa Kamal Ataturk attempted to wipe Armenians from the face of the earth, 1915-1918. Hitler learned a lot from Ataturk. I may go.
Finally, there are areas that are segregated by signs saying "Prayer Only." This reminded me of a story I've never written down. A New-York poet, Ned O'Gorman, whom I met once . . . .
Subject: In which I lament carelessness and recall an incident
Thursday 2 May 2002, evening, just before eight, and later, next morning.
I sent off a couple of reports earlier today, trying to catch up with the notes in my notebook (where would YOU keep notes? A journal, you say? Humbug).
And on rereading them just now, I was ashamed of myself for not proofing more carefully.
In the first one, I got done with the kids in the place Marche Ste-Catherine and simply quit after that, though I had mentioned earlier that I was on my way to a movie. So then . . . .
Actually, after some loud "Goodbyes!" from the kids and some quiet "au revoirs" from some of our audience, I went to CineCite in the Forum des Halles to see "Femme Fatal" in preview. I was about forty minutes early, having learned from experience that there was usually a final stampede to get the good seats and that being last in the queue meant sitting on the far right end of the first row, looking left and up at the screen. And going quietly nuts.
I needn't have worried. After I was in the ticket line for five minutes, the town crier went by, announcing that "Femme Fatale" was sold out.
So I went to Bercy Village, spent an hour chatting during lulls in her service with the prototypical British pudding who was waitressing at The Frog (an English brew-pub there, with copper brew tanks big enough for homeless people to live in), and then went to see a movie called "Showtime," with Robert DiNiro and Eddie Murphy.
It was competent comedic entertainment if you like seeing cinematic cliches, listening to stupid dialog, and laughing at what damage a quintet of big automatic guns can do to houses and cars (roughly the same damage that a battery of 3.5 inch recoilless rifles would achieve with twelve or fourteen broadsides).
I'd never seen DiNiro in anything quite so determinedly trivial before, if you don't count "Father-in-law," or whatever it was called, with Ben Stiller, I think. I'm glad I didn't pay full price.
And, as Sam Pepys liked to say, so to bed.
In my second report, I ended up with the segregated, "Prayer Only" sections of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the untold Ned O'Gorman story.
O'Gorman's a poet who lives in New York; he's also an Irish catholic, really Irish, sort of catholic. He was walking down Fifth Avenue one day with a sack of books he'd just bought at Doubleday's, and when he got to St. Patrick's, he decided to go in and take a little rest, look at his books.
He was sitting in a pew, reading from one of them, when a churchwarden came along and asked what he was doing. Ned, who has a stutter that gets worse when he gets excited, said, "Just l-l-looking at these b-books." The Churchwarden said, "Don't you know that this is a church, God's house? Pray or get out."
This lit Ned's fire, pressed his attack button. He bundled up his books and stormed out and around the corner to the Cardinal's residence and rang the doorbell. A priest answered and Ned asked to s-s-see the C-C-C-Cardinal. The priest said that was not possible, but if there was a problem, perhaps he could help.
Ned, empurpled, said, "I was just in your c-c-c-cathedral, l-l-looking at my b-b-books, and a ch-ch-church g-g-guy said, 'P-P-Pray or get out.' I'm g-g-g-g-gonna go back there, and I'm g-g-gonna, c-c-curse, and I'm g-g-gonna swear, and I'm g-g-g-gonna blaspheme, and the C-C-C-Cardinal isg-g-g-g-gonna have to get his f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-fuckin' cathedral RECONSECRATED!"
Well, that's what the "Prayer Only" signs made me remember. And so I thought I'd better leave.
Curiously, just as I stepped out onto the lefthand porch, the bells above me started ringing, dirge-like, and kept doing so for fifteen minutes, as I walked slowly away. It's God, I thought, saying Goodbye! And maybe, "Don't come back." And then I remembered that I was at kilometer zero, marked right in the pavement in front of the church, the point from which all distances from Paris is measured. A strange conjunction, for a maker of metaphor. And food for thought.
I spent the rest of the afternoon by the Seine, seeing what the bouquinistes had to offer (those guys who have the big green boxes open like stalls along the quais, with old books and pictures, posters and postcards, and gimcracks of the tourist sort), watching the amorous young couples sitting below near the water, taking some pictures, flaneuring like crazy.
(An aside: I think I said before that the coin operated laundries were the last to be converted from francs to Euros. I'm told that's wrong. The last to be changed were the condom dispensers in the metro stations. I've paid close attention to the behavior of young couples on metro trains. October may see the start of a baby boom.)
Subject: In which I skulk among the rich and . .
Saturday, 4 May 2002, already past noon because I couldn't fall asleep till past five and then slept six hours straight, which is pretty good for me.
I haven't hit you with a miscellany for some time, so here goes.
If you're looking for "The Right Encounter," you can get in touch with Madame Desachy at the Union Elitistes Internationales by dialing 36 15 Madame Desachy or going to www.madamedesachy.com. She's a madam for all seasons.
Some of the RER trains (they share underground living space with the Metro and take you to the suburbs) are double deckers. You enter on the mezzanine and go up to the penthouse or down the to cellar.
My dictionary calls a brioche "a bun." Big mistake. It's a small bread with a little topknot, made with milk and butter, I think, and slightly sweetened, often baked in a fluted form. Cut in slices and put in a hot buttered skillet, it makes a sublime version of what the Irish call "fried bread." Thereafter, all ordinary toast will cease to have meaning.
The Paris of Contradictions: A clochard sitting in a Metro passage is eating a ham sandwich. Her sign, next to the paper cup, says "J'ai faim."
There is a masochist's bread store called Au Plaisir du Pain.
The Great Wheel (Ferris, that is) is gone from the place de la Concorde. It was an excellent photo platform. It went up for the millennium and was kept on for another year.
Sooaydam is a word you hear all the time in Paris, but you can't find it in any dictionary. Shopkeepers greet couples with it, mendicants of the Metro begin their speeches with it, bus driver's use it when they want to tell their customers that a perturbation caused by a manifestation is going to take the bus off-route. It's the accepted synonym for "Monsieurs et Mesdames."
Floods and bells on women looked last spring like they were going to be a fashion trend, but it seems now that I see fewer and fewer women wearing them. And Capris aren't anywhere.
Men's suits in the windows at Hugo Boss and Damiani look very '60s, with high, narrow lapels and three buttons, only the bottom one undone.
I sometimes like to see how the other half lives, feeling that the occasional twinge of envy is good for the soul and provides some needed perspective.
So I took a long walk, gawking and trespassing from the Madeleine along the rue du Faubourg St-Honore, where the swells go to get Versace gowns and Hermes silks. Go into Prada or Fendi, and you leave the real world far behind. Tastefully attired waitpersons, who have a radar that detects
Americans on sight, glide across the marble floor and say, "Good afternoon. May I help you find something?" In English, of course, not even waiting for your, "Bone Jurr, Ma-damm. jeh voo dray un fur coat."
Fortunately, in these parts, the twinge of envy lasts only about ten minutes, until when you're admiring the Oriental rugs in the lobby of the Bristol hotel and overhear, "No, Louise, I simply will not pay $75 for a T-shirt." "Earth to Mother, you just paid $800 for a pair of sandals!"
In the lobby of the Bristol, by the way, you could set up a tennis court, build some bleachers, and accommodate the overflow from Stade Roland Garros during the French Open.
Four out of five people who go into the Bristol speak English. The other one speaks Japanese. "Megs, tell the concierge we'll need a limo at eight-thirty. I've asked Chip and Muffin to dinner at Ledoyen. They just got a third star." "Hey buddy, park this thing somewhere it won't get all dinged up." "Not now, Clara; I must have walked two miles today, and I need a drink." Imagine here for yourself some eavesdroppings in Japanese. The polyglot doorman probably earns more than you do. In tips.
As a swank hotel, the Bristol falls short of the George V, not having free Herald Tribunes and cellophane wrapped hard candies.
In the restaurant there, the maitre d' and the sommelier deduce who's throwing the party and give the rest of the folks English menus with no prices. "Let me recommend the fois gras d'oie with truffles and gold pieces on a bed of white asparagus." "I'd suggest the Chateau Petrus '45. I think we have three bottles left. It should be off its lees for a half hour before you drink it. Shall I see to decanting all three? What? Fourteen hundred Euros. Each." "Si'l vous plait, Monsieur, may I have the name of your bank?"
Over on the Champs-Elysees, there are a couple of auto show rooms, a fact I lied about in a report last fall. The Mercedes one is unlike any other in the world. It displays three cars on a multi tiered showfloor in a space the size of the Gare d'Austerlitz. And it has a boutique, where you can buy leather jackets, cashmere sweaters, Cross fountain pens, a miniature electric 300 SL for the kid, Prada gloves with no fingers, waiter's corkscrews in leather cases, a tiny race drivers's firesuit for the littler kid, a Lalique vase, and two pairs of chopsticks (yes) with silver ferrules on the butt end. All of these display the Mercedes star, but very tastefully.
I must now go out and seek my fortune.
Subject: In which I reveal many kinds of ignorance
Sunday, 5 May 2002, Early afternoon, following a wasted morning (geez, I hate laundromats)
It's election day here, so maybe the bars are all closed. Nah. There are only two candidates this time, Chirac and Le Pen. Pundits say that if Le Pen gets more than 25% of the vote, he'll remain a power to be reckoned with. They also say that the election is no contest, but the turnout is expected to be heavy, because so many are against Le Pen. [1:00 am Monday: Chirac got 82.5%, Le Pen 17.5%]
The musee Mallot has Lautrec's posters on tap, and I think I'll go draw a pint or two.
There're three big brasseries en face de Gare de Lyon, a short walk from here. l'Europeen is the handsomest, right out of the thirties. Maitre Kanter, across the street is part of a chain, so I don't expect to try it, except I can get a half a crab with mayonnaise there for less than ten bucks, and I'm very tempted.
The third one, Les Deux Savoies (one Savoie is haut, and the other isn't) has Savoyard specialties (duh), and I ate dinner there last night. Downstairs (street level) is casual and bar-like. "Fine dining" is up the circular stairs on several intermediate levels and a big room on top. I ate an omellette savoyarde on level three. Excellent, filled with bacon, potatoes, leeks, and cheese (tomme de Savoie), crisp on the edges, soft in the middle, unlike the overcooked omlets I've had in other venues. It came with a a plain lettuce and tomato salad in a truly fine vinaigrette. Just enough for me, for about ten bucks.
Brasseries are generally famed for their shellfish and crustaceans, displayed out front on great, ice-filled stainless steel tray tables, four or five kinds of oysters, clams, winkles, cockles, shrimp, langoustines (spiny lobsters), crabs, snails from land and sea, sometimes urchins. The platters of a grand assortment are very expensive (for me, that is), from twenty-five to fifty bucks. I'd sincerely like to find a dining companion who knows such stuff and is willing to buy me a lovely shellocrustasogastropodle dinner, but the prospects aren't good. (If I've said this before, be patient with me. My mind has turned to oatmeal and I forget everything within a couple of hours.)
In any case, I wanted mussels (in garlic cream) and frites for dinner last night, and Les Deux Savoies had run out. Drat.
[Later} Went to see Lautrec and was delighted. His full name is Count Henri Marie-Raymond de Toulose-Lautrec-Monfa. His father was le compte de Toulouse-Lautrec and his mother was le comptesse Adele Zoe Marie Marquette Tapie del Celeyran, but everybody called her Buffy. Maybe not. In spite of the impress of his noble name and line, he decided to be an artist, which evidently stupified his family. His legs broke spontaneously, one after the other, which stopped their development and left him generally disabled.
He spent a lot of time in brothels drawing pictures and taking care of other matters. He also took photographs of whores and dancers without any clothes on (they were nude; he wasn't, at least while working the camera). Those photos were, in my estimation, a serious mistake. The Ws and Ds should have left their clothes on. Evidently W-ing and D-ing gave them plenty of muscle and (also evidently) they were used to dining fully and well. They wouldn't have got anywhere near Playboy's centerfold were they alive today. (I know, were they alive today they'd be all wrinkly and wizened, but that's not what I meant.)
[Later still. The next day, even.] The Jardin des Plantes, just across the river from me, has walkways lined with cheery yellow, white, orange, salmon, and red flowers shaped like those pseudo-plastic poppies you used to get on Armistice Day from the guy on the corner near the drugstore. Some of you won't remember that.
The roses are still aborning, with the dark maroon leaves of their youth, but I expect them to be showing flowers before June. Irises are just starting out. The lawns (which I like to think of as "landscaped areas of greensward," an allusion that only a few of you will get, but that's the breaks) are starting to show those little white English daisies. I'd like to tell you more, but I'm mainly ignorant of horticultural things, knowing roses, irises, and daisies because my mother had them.
At the west end of the Jardin are a couple of museums, the geological one having a grand collection of rocks and the natural history one having something about every living creature that ever existed.
There's a gold nugget from California there, in the first, the size of a frying pan and a hunk of quartz as big as a one of those old-fashioned stand-alone gas pumps you used to see at the Texaco. I don't know anything about rocks, either, and I find geodes specially mysterious, but all the stuff there was interesting and most of it beautiful and sort of amazing--like a clear quartz crystal filled with little blue rods of tourmaline small as toothpicks. How do things like that happen? Why didn't I take a course in geology?
The natural history museum is also amazing and delightful, quite superior to the one in Central Park. It's in a wonderful old iron building four stories high (after the Eiffel Tower, architects saw the possibilities of iron and started making buildings with iron skeletons of decorative pillars and columns and sometimes with glass roofs. This museum is one of those. If you were lucky enough to see the old iron food pavilions at the old Les Halles market, which "they" tore down in 1964 to make an underground shopping mall, the bastards, you know what I mean).
It's been modernized inside on the ground floor, but the rest of the building above that is an atrium with deep balconies around the second and third floors and modern glass elevators and shafts to take you up and down. It's very high-tech and multimedia, and the displays are imaginatively put together to combine delight and teaching. There are TV screens everywhere, showing animals or fish or whatever's in the associated display in their habitats, some with comments, some without. There are many touch-screen interactive exhibits (at a display case full of taxidermy birds, you touch the screen on a bird, for example, and hidden speakers play its call). Some stalls or kiosks scattered around have ten or twelve seats and show short nature videos on big screens.
The place (unlike the geology museum, which was empty save for me and one other geek) was teeming, with kids, classes, groups. A class full of six-year-olds would march from the east end of the Jardin in double file, with six or seven supervisors, some holding kids hands, fairly orderly, into the museum. Each kid had a plastic picture ID hanging from his neck. Inside, banks of kids ogled the exhibits while teachers explained things and answered questions. Sometimes the teacher sat on the floor with her kids in discussion (groups comprised six or eight children, no full classes of thirty). The talk was not loud but animated, with lots of raised hands and questions.
High-schoolers, on their own, had some kind of booklet with them, about like a bluebook, and they were going from exhibit to exhibit writing stuff. It looked like the books had questions for them to find the answers to. Some of the kids were also sketching things. They weren't farting around at all, and although there was obvious badinage and soft laughter, they were doing what they were there for, without supervision.
A wonderful place that can't be absorbed in one four hour visit. A place to come back to five or six times. At five bucks a shot. And the lunches, salads. cold plates, tartines, in the display case in the eating area looked very good and weren't expensive.
I went from there to a Spanish grocery called Galicia that I had found last fall and got some Jamon Serrano and some real Spanish chorizo, like which there is no other, even though a lot of sausages are labeled "chorizo." The Portuguese sausages called chourico (put a cedilla on that final "c") are their own class of goods and don't intend to imitate the Spaniards.
Then I kept an appointment I had made, had some mussels and fries at a fine Belgian restaurant called Bouillon, and called it a long, long day.
I hope some of you are enjoying this stuff.
Subject: In which I excurse to Brugge and suffer food frustration
Monday, 13 May 2002, 7:15 pm, Brugge, Belgium
Hi, There, or rather Goeden Dag--
You will note that I am not in Paris. Before I left the US, I decided to spend four days of my adventure in Brugge (or Bruges, if you prefer), one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, and one of the two cities nominated by the European Union as the cultural capital of Europe in 2002.
I was to have left Paris at around noon on the high-speed Thalys train and to have got to Bruges around two-thirty. Because of an error entirely due to my own stupidly faulty inferences, I actually left at two in the afternoon and arrived after seven. (I was much comforted to discover that the Flanders flaneuring I had planned for the afternoon was drear andrainy.)
I ended up on a moderately fast train to Lille, passing on the way flattish farmland with fields of tan, brown, and about six shades of green, cut out like pieces for a quilt. A few farms had cows, the Gateway kind, some had brown sheep. It wasn't compelling viewing.
In Lille, I had to change. I managed to change a little, but not much. The layover was an hour or so, and I walked around for forty-five minutes, near the station. I passed about thirteen sex shops and dirty movies, and twenty-two bars and cafes. I don't think I can infer anything significant about Lillians (Lilleys, Lillettes, Lillers and Lilleuses?) from this experience.
The last train was slow and pretty stoppy, but it got me here. I took a bus to the fishmarket, near where my bed and breakfast is. It's a house built in 1640, externally unprepossessing, but gorgeous inside, lots of paintings (in very good taste), wonderful antique furniture, and an assortment of good oriental rugs. My hosts are Koen and Annemie Dieltiens-DeBruyne. Koen is pronounced Coon, which bothers me a bit. But I haven't met him yet, so I haven't been put to the test. He's a musician, piano and organ, and I note that he's doing one in a series of organ concerts in the Cathedral here.
Today, Monday, was wonderfully sunny and mild and I spent from nine-thirty till after six walking around ogling and taking pictures. I walked until the cows came home (or until I was blue in the face, pick one) and my pedal extremities are now in mild revolt, having told me that they will never walk for a whole day over cobblestones ever again. My position is that the issue is negotiable.
The thing I noticed immediately after my arrival yesterday is that, though Belgium is officially bilingual, the Flemings speak Vlaams first, English next, and French only when absolutely necessary. All your tour books will tell you that the Flemish speak Dutch. This is difficult for them because there is no such language as Dutch. The language of the Netherlands is Nederlands, and the language or northern Belgium is Vlaams, Flemish; these two languages are very close to one another, and it could be said that Nederlands is a dialect of Vlaams or vice versa. The citizens of Brugge, however, have accepted the false world as true, and tell you, in English, if you ask, that they speak Dutch, a pointer, as the computer programmers would say, to two almost identical tongues, a virtual reality. (This last sentence is as close as I can come to Henry James.)
[This is an aside. More about reality and how it's perceived. Some Professor in England said that everybody thinks his own race and nationality is better than others'. The British press, or rather the BBC TV news, have reported this as the Professor having endorsed racism as natural and acceptable. Some Conservative Party representative says the Professor is ok. Now the Labor Party is saying that that Tory ought to be fired. Evidently England is a lot like the USA. Politicians make judgements based on the inferences of the news media rather than on what someone has actually said or done.]
Brugge is visually a knockout, and small enough that a dedicated tourist could walk most of its streets in four days. I came looking, of course, for food, mussels and frites, for example, and eels in green sauce, and waterzooi of chicken, and more frites (with mayonnaise), and Vlaamse stovije(beef carbonade), and so on. After looking at thirty seven menus posted outside restaurants, I suggest that if you come to Brugge, you bring a big pile of Euros or plan never to eat in a restaurant. The prices are double those at the places I've eaten in Paris.
Mussels are a special case (at least according to my landlady). They are out of season now, small and not very tasty, she says. But I found that they can be had--for a price. An order of mosselen nature (just steamed), served with frites, costs an average of 16 bucks in the big restaurants in the center of things. Add white wine and parsley, it goes up to 18 bucks or more. In even more exotic garb, garlic cream sauce or something Provencal or Andalouse, more than 20.
Fixed price menus at restaurants around town are 20 bucks for the "touristic" version, entree, plat, and dessert (almost invariably mousse au chocolat), double that for the Flemish specialities menu, and triple for the gastronomic one. There are also asparagus menus here and there, starting at about 20 Euros. Some of the restaurants around the Markt (the old market square, immense, surrounded by restaurants with guys out front asking passers-by in English, "Are you looking for a good meal?") have entrees in the twenty to forty Euro range and plats in the forty to sixty. And they all have pretty much the same choices.
There are some Chinese places in odd straats. The Shang Hai has wan tan soup and fried riz. Pizzarias are widespread. There's a Spanish tapas place, a Japanese place, and a couple of north African spots. But I'm sure I missed one or two.
I wrote some of this Sunday night, some Monday morning, some Tuesday night, and I think I haven't finished. But I'll stop here to save you further slogging. Maybe later I'll tell you about Flemish mud shoes.
Subject: In which I discuss the sheep of Belgium
Friday, 17 May 2002, late morning
I have a lot of notes from Brugge, and I don't know when I'll have time to get them sorted out and written down. I think of terrific things to send you when I'm eating lunch or riding the bus, but the wonderful ideas disappear as I throw away the lunch trash or get to my bus stop. I lose ideas in the time it takes to descend a flight of steps. My short-term memory is apparently a goner.
What was I just saying? Yeah, right, no time to write. The Drummonds arrive tomorrow morning, another friend arrives Saturday, and a third on the twenty-fourth. It's going to take some energy to keep these people from meeting one another. They're all staying in Montmartre.
They have to be kept apart because I can't remember which lies I've told to which, and if they meet and start cross-referencing my various tales, I could be in trouble, creditability-wise. In terms of style, x-wise formations suck. And by the way, why does everybody say "In terms of" when they don't have reference to anyone's terms at all, but simply mean "In regard to"? In terms of terms, their terminology sucks.
On the trains to and from Belgium I saw cows, Gateway ones, plain brown ones, a few beige ones, and horses, some of which looked like Appaloosas, but brown with white spots and shadings, and pigs, mainly Babe ones.
In Damme, I walked down a street that became a dirt road, then a path, then a strand of barbed wire to halt my progress. I had gone to see some casemates that were part of the town's defensive walls back when. The casemates were a disappointment. Not much to be excavated there, since the magazine next door exploded and blew the wall all to hell around 1450. But beyond the barbed wire was a field where sheep may safely graze, and the sheep grazing there were the big egg shaped ecru ones with black faces and black wooden sticks for legs, looking ripe for a spring shearing and, as I found, smelling ripe from lanolin and dung. The barbed wire was to keep them in, not me out, so I walked among them for a bit, getting scarcely noticed by grazers who didn't look up as I passed close by.
As you can see, I'm not a very successful tourist, spending a half hour among living sheep when I could have been in the Gruuthuis Museum looking at saints holding lambs that look nothing like dirty real lambs in paintings by Anononieme, evidently a famous painter, sculptor, wood carver, potter, and maker of wooden shoes. His stuff is in all the museums, since he was prolific and evidently lived a very long time.
Trying hard to break my habits of flaneuring, I tried to be a tourist and so took a ride on a canal boat. I was up front sitting next to the driver, who spoke perfect and even poetic English with a British accent. He had the map of Galway all over his face, that smooth, ruddy, thin-lipped phiz that you see on west-coast Irish boatmen, and I guessed he might be a displaced Liverpudlian, the Anglo destination for many failed Galway boatmen. But then he started talking Flemish, and since no normal person can make the sounds embedded in that tongue, I knew he was a native of Bruges (Brugian? Brugger?).
His commentary was knowledgeable, literate, and funny, in both languages. In between comments he talked to me, asking me if I were retired and from what. At one point he offered me his microphone and the opportunity to make any announcements I might want to make, issue lunch invitations, find a dinner-date, whatever. Another opportunity missed. (These boats, by the way, are not Bateaux Mouches on the Seine, but rather little thirty person canal cruisers, all open and equipped with a big stack of umbrellas under the dashboard, in case of inclemecies.) His name is Geraard van den Donc, by the way, and his station is by the bridge where Wollestraat coming south from the Markt crosses the canal and meets Dyver, in case you want to ask him about me.
He pointed out to me the bridge that Chaucer must have crossed, it being the only one left from the time when Chaucer paid his visit. I wonder if Chaucer made it to Damme to see the sheep. (And why do we "pay" a visit?)
It's just noon, and its sunny (and hot, by the way, almost 80 F), so I wanna get outtta here. Coming back from Belgium to Paris seemed a bit like coming home. And after I told Dorota (she's a kind of chamberlain or concierge or maitresse d' here, young Polish woman, about thirty, speaks excellent English and is taking French classes at a local language school to polish (not Polish) up her very good French) a funny story from Brugge, we had a laugh and she asked when I was coming back to Paris after this time. She said I should stay longer next time, and make a few more excursions. Made me feel welcome, and warm all over.
Anyway, I have to go out and prepare myself for Drummond, so I quit here and may tell you more about Brugge later, if I feel you deserve it.
Tot ziens, alstublieft.
Subject: In which I speak of painted hats and false cognates
It's Pentecost here, Monday, 20 May 2002, late morning and I'm waiting to be
filled with the spirit of the Holy Ghost.
The Drummonds arrived safely on Saturday morning and settled in at their apartment on rue Caulaincourt, sixth floor (seventh, American) in an elegant 19th Century building. After sandwiches at the corner bar, we spent some time walking around Sacre Coeur and seeing a bit of Montmartre.
Sunday, we just cruised, lunch at Le Coulee d'Or, of which more later, the place de la Bastille, Jardin du Luxembourg, Boul Mich, rue de la Harpe, Quai Montebello, Latin Quarter, McDonald's. I'm going to be superficial about these joint activities, because Drummond will read this, so I can't very well reveal all, nor can I make up interesting lies. I left them about six or seven o'clock and fervently hope they've made their way home.
I haven't been in touch with my new pal Chris yet. She too was set to arrive Saturday, so we'll meet soon. And Glenn and his wife get here on Friday. So I probably won't spend as much time writing these reports as I usually do.
Here are some bits and pieces. First, your French lessons continue.
There is a Parisian accent. Parisians tend to pronounce "oui" as "way" and not "wee."
False cognates. "Location" means rental, as in "Location de voitures." "Occasion," in advertising and on shop windows, means bargain, more or less. "l'Equipage" and "la Equipe" mean crew, staff, team, "la equipe de Restaurant." "Rat" means rat, a true cognate, but "Ratte" is a kind of potato. "Journee" is day, so bon journee is have a nice day, not have a good trip. "Comment" means "How" as in "Comment sa va?" How's it goin'? "Sauvage" means wild, not savage. You have fraises sauvages, wild strawberries, and canard sauvage, wild duck, and there's nothing really savage about any of them. "Tortue" is "tortoise," "tortueux" is tortuous (true cognate), and "torteau" is "crab," as in, "Boil me up a couple o' them there torteaux, hey Jase?"
By the way, the final "e" in a word isn't generally pronounced except when it has an accent mark above it. So "forte" is properly pronounced "fort" and not "fortay," as most English speakers think. It means essentially "strong suit," as in "Correct pronunciation is not his forte; he thinks restaurateur is pronounced restauranteur."
I take back that first observation about pronouncing the final "e." The French are not unanimous in their usage. Take "Chappelle" or "Pyramide." They most often end with the schwa sound, "uh," but almost unvoiced, very soft, very light, to emphasize the last consonant. I have nevertheless heard Parisians say distinctly and fully, "Chappella" and "Pyramida." If I were using a word processor that had broad typeface control and were it to get through the net unsullied, I would say that forte is pronounced fort and I'd put a tiny, maybe five-point, "uh" on the end, to emphasize that the final consonant is a "t."
You probably don't give a damn, but details interest me.
There's a Carhartt store in Paris. You would think Parisians would have much interest in barn coats and bib overalls, but there you go.
Because today is a holiday, many old French ladies get dolled up and ride the bus. This one poor old girl could hardly walk, seemed as frangible as a flat toothpick. I had to help her up onto the bus. She then sat next to me and, after telling me I was tres gentil, began on her life story. If she knew I didn't understand a word, she clearly didn't care. Bus passengers are a captive audience for such as her. She continued in monotone monologue till I had to curtsy and bow out. I would rather that she had given me a tenner.
I used "frangible" up there because Michael Irwin likes it when I use weird words. Not big words, just weird ones. Big words are like "sesquipedalian," which means having many feet, or, in the case of words, syllables. So an exemplary sesquipedalian word is sesquipedalian. I only use those when I'm in a grinny mood.
I said a while back that, since the Tavern of Master Kanter was a chain brasserie, I probably wouldn't eat there. John Whiting, from whom I've had good counsel indeed about Paris and its eateries, bistros in special, tells me it's an ok chain, and wishes England had a chain restaurant half so honest and reliable in its food. So I went and had an excellent choucroute garni there, sauerkraut with bacon, Strassbourg sausages, pork hock, and schifila (spelled in a wide variety of ways hereabouts) but smoked pork shoulder anyway, a few days before I went to Belgium.
John's book, "Through Darkest Gaul with Trencher and Tastevin" is a gastronomic tour through parts of France, a must read for those of us who travel on our stomachs, or wish we did. ISBN: 1-902110-00-5.
I have told in my pages what in retrospect have turned out to be lies. I did finally see a clochard trundling his life before him in a supermarket chariot. I have seen at least three women in Capri pants. And although I said that bell-bottoms looked to be a fad that's past, I've seen lots of them in the past few days. Floods, too.
Fashion advice I'd offer if asked: If you are an eighty-seven year old woman whose flesh may have lost some of its youthful firmness, don't wear a pale pink tank top. And If you have to wear a pale pink tank top, wear a bra with it. But keep on dying your hair bright orange. It's a useful distraction.
In Bruges, I went to Groeninge Museum to see a van Eyck exhibit. The vlaams title translates literally to "Jan van Eyck, Netherlands Primitive," and that literal translation is not accurate. The English brochure calls it, somewhat more accurately, "Jan van Eyck, Early Netherlandish Painting and Southern Europe." Van Eyck is "primitive" only in the sense that he was "first" to use some painting techniques. He was indeed in the avant-garde (which is not pronounced "avant-garday"). If you look, for example, at crowd scenes in paintings before van Eyck, the people's faces are pretty much interchangeable. But van Eyck gives everyone in the crowd an individual character, a very accurate rendering of a real person, someone you'd recognize if he were sitting on the bar-stool next to you.
My disappointment in the exhibit is that there were too few van Eycks and too many of those he influenced elsewhere in Europe, especially in Italy and Iberia. Certainly Fra Filippo Lippi's "St. Jerome" and paintings by Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling and Fra Angelico are worth knowing, but anonymous copies of van Eyck and paintings by "The Master of Evora" and "A Follower of Hugo van der Goes" and "The Workshop of Simon Marmion," good historical records of van Eyck's influence on painters of all over Europe though they may be, are nowhere in van Eyck's class and tend even to reduce his genius to a smallness, a lesson in landscape form and general composition rather than an entirely new way of rendering faces and using scenes from common life.
My aforementioned interest in details had me concentrating more on the fabulous and thoroughly exotic headgear these other painters stuck on top of Magi, Popes, Turks, governors, aldermen, and street sweepers. I kept missing "the big picture," so to speak.
And I was of course astonished to see how many things Anonieme had done over a remarkably long period of time.
The Lady Church there has a Michelangelo statue, a small one, of Mary and the infant Jesus. The sign in English said that no one who looked at it could fail to be deeply moved by the profound maternal tenderness and love that Mike had imbued the work with. So I suppose I was deeply moved. I liked the pulpit better, and I was just about to take a picture of it for my pulpit book when the churchwardens drove me out. They were closing up for siesta, it seems.
I didn't climb the 366 steps to the top of the Belfort (belfry) in the great marketplace of Bruges, where I was assured that I would be delighted and deafened by the carillon that was being run by a full-time carilloner (?) there.
And I was sorry to have missed the cat fair held every three years. Once upon a time, all the brewers and sacristans and huisvrouws had cats to keep rats out of the granaries and other food stores, and when the cats outlived their usefulness as ratters they were thrown off the top of the belfry. The cat fair reproduces this particular celebration. Unfortunately, they now use artificial cats, which partially mitigated my regret.
I'm out of time, now, not wanting to miss out on the Pentecost celebrations in the bars and cabarets and sex-shops and sink-holes on the rue St. Denis. And I didn't get around to genuflecting in the direction of La Coulee d'Or, my restaurant find of this trip. Well, later, peut etre (which is pronounced "poot etruh" with the "uh" reduced to a mere fraction of itself).
P.S. It's now Wednesday morning. I intended to send this yesterday, but I spent the day with Mrs. Drummond smelling perfume. It generally smelled ok. And we sat for a while in the Parc Monceau watching children play. Beautiful park, charming children. I was glad I was watching in the company of another adult, more or less. It made me feel safe and that I wouldn't be arrested as a kiddie voyeur.
Subject: Language Lullaby
I collected the following last week. I can think of things to say about each of them, but I have finally thought it best to let you have them in their naked splendor. If you want to send me your comments about your favorites, I'd like to have them. And if you can contribute quotes to add to the list, that would be excellent. I might compile them into an article entitled "The Death-Rattle of a Lovely Language." Please be sure quotes are real and are documented, at least in the superficial way I've documented these. And you've wondered how I spend my summer.
There will be dry weather today in terms of storms coming through. [Norma Hall, TV weather person]
[John M. Browning] was the first one to invent the slide, which encloses the barrel of a pistol. [Browning biography]
Please check your formulary before envoy. [French hotel web site, English version.]
This watch looks a lot better in person. [Notation at auction site.]
I have many of these Geneva watches to sell, and this one is no exception! [Notation at auction site]
Toro is a leader in the Professional Turf Maintenence industry. [TV ad]
This is one of the highest end graphics cards. [Gateway computer infomercial]
How often in the past three years have you purchased a beverage for the first time? [Question on an internet survey]
Please indicate the state of your residence. [Instruction on application form]
What is your marital status? (Select one only)
Single, never married
Unsure [Question and possible answers on internet survey]
At rent-a-center, your credit has already been pre-approved. [TV ad]
Drano delivers serious power to a clog. [TV ad]
Avino has super soy complex. [TV ad]
After a long day of dancing, my skin craves nourishment [pronounced "nurshmunt"]. [TV ad]
New Clorox Ready Mop [or perhaps it's Redi-Mop], America's number one mopping system.
Your foreign correspondant.
Subject: My recent Correspondence
Here's the record of a true correspondence that commenced Sunday last:
Me. "I seek lodging in Aix-en-Provence for the month of October, 2002 . . . ."
M Bouges: "If you will tell me the dates, I will then be able to respond . . . ."
Me: "The month of October comprises the dates 1 October to 31 October . . .."
This was by the way only one of a couple of dozen inquiries about places to stay in Provence, Languedoc, and Corsica.
Subject: My Past Life
I've pretty much given up writing poetry, mainly because nobody thinks its any good, which is a sure killer of the writing instinct. Travel stuff seems now more my metier. But I found this, by chance, and can't remember what it was that made me write it. And I said, what the hell, I'll send it along, just to keep my readership content with travelogs.
(The title, "What Do I Know," was the motto of Michel-Eyquem de Montaigne.)
Perhaps when I am whole again,
I'll go to drudging at some university,
and, in row on row of desk-arm chairs,
suit myself with learning.
Read paleography and phenomenology,
unhide the secrets on a palimsest,
by derivative and differential, resolve the slopes of curves,
translate distichs from elegaic Greek,
tease out the thread of enmity of Guelph for Ghibelline,
and ask night's shadows, "Ou sont les neiges d'antan?"
I'll learn the phase of diastrophic change,
why Calidore was made the type of courtesy;
I'll reconcile Angelic Doctor with the Dunce,
calculate the shearing stress in trachyte,
compute the interval of diatesseron
and think about why nightingales sing.
Perhaps when I am learned, then,
I'll go to clerking at the Wal-Mart
and in long rows of plastic fiddle-faddle
ask again, and maybe yet again, "Que s?ais-je?"
Oh, well, there 'tis.
Subject: Re: My Past LifeTo: "John Whiting" <email@example.com>
My, you are an early riser.
I note that the letter "c" with a cedilla hooked on doesn't travel around the web very well. And I curse all servers with a limited letterset.
I've been intending to write to you, but things pile up and I forget. Maybe early-onset Alzheimer's. But here I am. I enjoyed your book entirely, and I thank you very much for sending it along. You've found a wonderful, thoughtful, and witty way to chronicle a journey.
I wish someone would want to publish mine, but I think it may be too ideosyncratic and eccentric for an unwary public.
I'll be back in Paris for September and somewhere else in October, but I'm not sure where.
I trust you are healthy and hardy and I hope your lifestream is a placid one.
P. S. Your Q & A is far more succinct than my poem. Perhaps that's my trouble.
On Mon, 15 Jul 2002 06:50 John Whiting wrote:
>> Que s?ais-je
>Or, as they say in Berkeley:
>Q. What do you call the guy at the check-out?
Subject: Paris Apartment
I'm still working on ways to make attachments with pictures small enough to fit on a floppy disk. This one is a .doc file, for MS Word. If you can't view that format, it's not important enough to mess with. If anyone of you has long-time experience in sending things with pictures, attachments, dry goods,voodoo incantations, and so on (mainly Boyles), I'd like to hear the secrets.
Subject: Your noteTo: "John Whiting" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thank you for the info. It's the kind of thing I'm looking for. Next time I'll try Rich Text Format (.rtf), which should be universal. Don't worry about not seeing the picture. Who needs another Margaret Thatcher nude.
Subject: “She Spys”
I haven't sent a review for a while, and I think you don't deserve to escape that, so here's one.
There's a new TV comedy called "She Spies." It combines elements from "Charlie's Angels," "Mod Squad," "I Spy," "Airplane,""Get Smart," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Police Squad," and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." It has chosen to use the unfunny elements.
I watched episode one. If "She Spies" lasts more than two, the mob must have money in it. Which puts the principals in serious danger of cancelation with extreme prejudice. In one scene, the first Natasha Henstridge wears bell-bottom floods.
Much of "She Spies'" wit lies in captioned scenes, like the one labeled "Gratuitous Cattle Stampede," which features a gratuitous cattle stampede. In another scene, the other Natasha Henstridge (a clone whose name I don't know) duels a sword-wielding malefactor with a baguette. At its end, the baguette is revealed to contain a lead pipe.
The other humor arises from a spate of witty dialog. Spy girl congratulates horny Bill Clinton-like governor, "You really come through when you're up against the wall." The governor leers, "I'd like to come through when you're up against the wall." The show is permeated with such like side-splitters.
I conclude with a line that could've been in the show but wasn't: "Watch me once, you're an idiot. Watch me more than once, you're demonstrably brain-dead and will be removed from life-support." It's just that funny.
I'm trying to find a cheap flight to Paris on 29 August and back on 1 November. I'll spend September in Paris, October on the road somewhere--Provence, Northern Italy, Corsica, I'm looking at them all. I'll keep sending reports to those who don't choose to opt off my list.
Subject: In which I find myself broke but well fed
Begun Friday 6 September 2002, 20h05
8, rue Cail
75010 - PARIS
Tel. 33 (1) 46 07 19 17
I arrived in Paris on Tuesday afternoon and have spent two-and-a-quarter days settling-in, but not without let and hindrance. The huge sum of money I sent by wire-transfer two weeks ago to my landlady here never arrived, although Citibank yelled, "Did, too!" and deducted it from my account balance. My laptop computer won't shake hands with the cable-modem installed here, one of the enticements that lured me to this apartment. And, finally, I've already fried my electric shaver, having forgot to switch the charger from 110 to 220 volts.
So, after buying my onions, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, additional-virgin olive oil, wine vinegar, herbes de Provence, and toilet paper, I've had to buy a tin cup and ratty used bathrobe for the sitting at the subway steps begging alms, and I've had to pay a cyber devil to send this e-mail. The parts of my face neck that usually get shaved are in big trouble.
I should tell those of you who've been reading this Paris-crap all along (or who've quietly added it to your spam-block list) should know that I've signed up a dozen or so new victims, mainly foodies, and in their honor I've agreed to put down what wines my advisors (mainly waitpersons and motorcycle policemen) recommend to accompany some of my meals. Sorry I can't vouch for their choices.
I'll provide some more insights into my living conditions, neighborhood, and peregrinations later. For now, I'll concentrate on today.
I spent the morning being domestic, or piddling-around, if that suits you better. Then I sniffed around the neighborhood till I found Chez Casimir, my target bistrot for lunch, hiding behind the Eglise de St Vincent de Paul (who said, "Your suffering is my suffering" - his benign delusion).
Casimir's mignonettes set before me a thick slice of pressed terrine of red peppers, zucchini, garlic, and eggplant, dressed with walnut-oil vinaigrette, with a bit of mesclun on the side. Very sprightly, colorful, and delicious. The bread was pain Poilane. This was followed by a rolled breast-of-veal, braised with garlic and aromates, and served over white beans, carrot chunks, and shallots. Very rich and delicious. The quite young, petite, and comely waitress suggested a pot of rose de Provence, which I think would have been a good counterpoint to the veal, though I would myself have ordered red. A pot, by the way, is a thick-bottomed Beaujolais bottle, half-liter, I think, generally used as a carafe in Lyon and environs. No coffee, no cheese, no dessert. I'm austerer than some of you think.
Or maybe not. With my morning tea (it's become suddenly Saturday) I'm eating a slice of pain Poilane dressed with a bit of St. Felicien cheese (soft, spreadable stuff with the consistency of cream cheese) and sliced strawberries. This is about as far as one can get from breakfast in Flint, Michigan, for which I bow my head and thank whoever's responsible.
I spent an hour or so after lunch yesterday at the Baccarat museum, where for reasons of his own, Mr. Baccarat don't let nobody take pictures. I was alone there save for two ancient couples buying a substantial table service in the boutique. These folks are in Armani and Carvin and Rykiel and are speaking German among themselves and might have spent $3000 to $20,000 depending on whether their tastes ran to plain, cut, engraved, or one of those kinds gilded.
The twelve minute film showing glassware being made explains the high prices. A plain glass may go through eight or ten hands, but a cut, engraved, or gilded one engages up to sixty fabricators and finishers, and each is finally inspected on a well-lit turntable by an old lady who evidently thinks little of tossing a defective into her work-side barrel. There goes another 150 bucks in glittering shards for recycling.
A thin, plain wine-stem from the Oenology collection goes for $70, an engraved and gilded stem from the Prestige collection is $504. Your kitchen staff had best be damned careful, or they'll have the majordomo to answer to.
The displays of glassware from the start in the 1830s to the present is an excellent introduction to table dressing in the "eras," belle epoch, arts deco and nouveaux, and so on. Briefly, we go from very heavy and highly cut through colored, opalescent, polychrome, cubist, serpentine, and Bauhaus to today's quite thin and elegant.
Outside later, on the rue Paradis, a 32 bus came by, on its way to the Grands Magasins on the boulevard Haussmann, so I went to buy some maps at Printemps and mingle with the haute bourgeoisie. By the way, or en route, I bought a big (11 x 13 inch), heavy (maybe seven pounds) elegant collection of Eugene Atget's photos of Paris a hundred years ago. How the big German arts publisher Taschen manages to produce such a massive, trilingual book for less than sixteen dollars I don't know. But it's a reminder that I have got to stop buying books.
I think that's it for now. Next time I start writing I have to keep the TV off. The BBCs tour of Peru by train was too distracting, and I've wasted a lot of time.
Welcome to my new readers.
Subject: In which I travel alone, mostly
Sunday 8 September 2002 16h30
It's a chilly, rainy Sunday in Paris, and I've come home early from an ethnic festival and a trip to the market to wash the dishes, eat some lunch, and write a little, or rather quite a lot.
Let me go backward a week.
I took a bus from Flint to Detroit and a cab from the bus station to the airport. The cab was a mistake. We were on our way before I noticed that it had no meter. I didn't think there were registered cabs in Detroit without meters, but evidently there are. I knew I'd have to develop a strategy for dealing with what would inevitably be a conflict in the end.
I told the driver to take me to the Berry International terminal, but he took me to the new McNamara terminal instead. I complained, but he pointed to a big Lufthansa sign above one of the gates, and I lost my resolve and crumpled like a cheap suit. Then it came. He told me the fare was fifty dollars. That's nonsense, of course; it would have been about half that in a metered cab. We had a good laugh, then commenced the argument. We argued quite a lot, till a large crowd had gathered, some taking bets, I think, and I finally gave him forty. I suspect he smiled beatifically as he drove off. I scowled darkly.
In the terminal, I headed for the Lufthansa counter but found it bare and vacant. A Northwest agent told me Lufthansa was in the Berry terminal, as I had thought, for another eight days; only then would it move to McNamara. I walked about eleven miles till I found an intra-terminal shuttle and finally got to the right place and into the Lufthansa waiting line, in which I languished for a very long time, between a Russian family of six and a Sikh family of three (the daddy Sikh was wearing the most elegantly wrapped turban I've every seen, in pale lavender, and quite large).
At the security check in, my computer and I were sniffed at electronically and magnetically; the soles of my shoes were examined; and, arms spread Christ-like, I stood for a patting-down. These things I minded not at all. When it was done, I still had more than two hours to kill.
So I sat in the crummy bar off the crummy departure "lounge," drinking a Schweppes Indian Tonic and reading my passport. The guy next to me ordered a draft beer, which the barmaid slid in front of him in a plastic cup. She demanded six dollars and reminded him that in an American bar, service was non compris. Goody. I was heading for the pleasures of France irked and cranky.
The flight on a big Airbus was mainly uneventful. Once, a flight attendant rushed rearward, pushing an oxygen tank and defibrillator package, while the Pilot asked over the speakers if there were a doctor or nurse or paramedic aboard. I think nothing came of it. No ambulance met us on the tarmac in Frankfurt.
The population in my part of the airplane was mainly families, Arabic and Indic primarily (an omen of things to come) , with much confusion about who sat where and lots of arguments over territorial rights and imperatives. By the time everybody got seated and belted (and I would happily have belted and seated a number of them myself, had the stews asked), most of the children were mewling and puking and registering their dissatisfaction with all arrangements, a situation that continued late into the night.
Dinner was better than I expected, penne al dente with a light tomato sauce spiked with slivers of Westphalian ham, a salad with shreds of carrot, red cabbage, romaine lettuce, tiny boiled shrimp, and little chunks of bauern kaese, a good bread roll. Dessert was some goopy tricolored confection I couldn't identify and didn't eat. The beer offered was Warsteiner, the white wine a Hessian Weissburgunder, and the red a Hessian Blauer Portugieser.
In Frankfurt airport, I didn't go through passport control nor customs, but instead spent a few hours wandering through the expensive shops clustered around our arrival point. (The little Canon S300 Elph digital camera I got on eBay for $325 was in the duty-free shop for $650. Cohiba, Romeo y Julietta, and Hoyo de Monterey Havana panatelas, $20-$30 each, Rolex Oyster GMT watches, $2300 and up. Bulgari Blu perfume spray, 7.5 ml, $80. Guerlain's Shalamar Parfum, 7.5 ml, $67. In liters, Dewar's White Label, $15, Johnny Walker Black Label 12 years, $31, and The Famous Grouse, $18. Johnny Walker Blue Label, .75 liter, $123. Cognac Remy Martin Louis XIII, .70 liter, $895. Champagnes: Louis Roederer Cristal, $87; Lanson Black Label, $20. Mont Blanc Meisterstueck Classique fountain pen, $200 and up).
Frankfurt to Paris took forty-five minutes. I was, as always, last man off the plane. I waited half an hour for my bags and then walked through passport control and customs without anyone looking at my passport nor my luggage. So the only person who saw my passport during the entire trip was the ticket clerk in Detroit. Odd, I thought.
I took the RER train from the airport to the Gare du Nord, about twenty minutes, and walked the three blocks to my apartment with my suitcases behind me like puppies on stiff leashes. Twenty-two hours from my house old to my house new, in India.
Subject: In which I get a date and step on apples of sorts
Thursday 12 September 2002 begun at 12h00
It's gone back to being cool and cloudy today, so I think I'll stay home, at least for a while. I've laundry to do and general housekeeping, and I'm afraid to go out lest I buy more books.
I forced myself to get up early yesterday, to get out of here before the TV started offered nothing but 9/11/2001. I'm as affected as anyone else by the hypnotic fascination of horror repeated, but I need it like I need leprosy, so I went out. Imagine my surprise when everything in the neighborhood but the boulangerie and the cafe on the corner was closed. It was still a little before nine, so I walked around to kill time. At ten, things were still closed. Was France shut down in mourning?
No. I hadn't killed time, I'd just got behind it; time had taken a step backward the day before, or the one before that, or even perhaps on Sunday. Daylight Savings had reverted to Standard, and no one told me.
After I finished at the cyber shop, I bought a chicken sandwich and a cold can of tonic and took a bus to the remote lower right hand corner of Paris, the Bois de Vincennes, with its accompanying Chateau, Parc Floral, Parc Zoologique (which I misplaced yesterday in the Parc Buttes-Chaumont), Hippodrome, and Centre Bouddhique.
The parc Floral is hosting the annual Scrap-iron Fair, la Foire a la Ferailles (which I imagine to be bigger and more interesting than the Broad-bean Fair [there must be one, somewhere in France]). It's is an annual five-day flea-market featuring Antiquites et Brocant (brocant meaning anything previously owned, useless, unwanted, and quite possibly broken). But I only brought ten bucks with me. Since the painting of Abelard being castrated that I'm looking for probably costs at least fifteen, I'll put off my visit there till the weekend.
[Interruption: I just had a telephone call from Simona Sevi-Pare, a Sicilienne I met on the internet this summer when I was apartment-hunting, and I have a date for 8:30 tonight. Lest you become agitated, she wants me to meet her boyfriend, to tell me about her recent vacation in Sicily, and to discuss her new business importing and exporting Sicilian foodstuffs. She's offered me a job translating her catalog into English. So we'll meet at the Cafe St. Jean on the rue des Abbesses in Montmartre, which you may remember from the movie "Amalie" (known here as "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain"). I'm giddy with anticipation.]
[More Interruptions: It's now 14h10. I've just come back from buying a sandwich at the truly wonderful Boulangerie Artisanale on the corner and a tomato and an onion from l'arabe two doors down from that.
This neighborhood has an immense number of tiny groceries, Alementations Generales, such as are found in residential neighborhoods all over Paris. I've seen them referred to in tourist books as Paris's Seven-Eleven, which couldn't be more wrong. These are tiny one room stores with the narrowest possible aisles around the center shelving. In front, there are open tray tables with fresh fruits and vegetables. Inside, there's a glass-fronted refrigerator for Heineken and Coke and Yop, a little dairy case with cheese, milk, yogurt and prepared foods like sandwiches, salads, and reheatables, a wall full of wines and serious alcohol, and an island of shelves full of cans and boxes of general alementation.
The whole place is tightly packed and inhospitable for browsers. And snack foods are the tiniest part of the stock. Seven-Eleven indeed. My landlady, Lola, tells me that Parisian slang for such a place is (and here's the point) "l'arabe." Worldwide, tiny groceries are ineluctably (Hi, Mike) associated with the middle-east.]
I walked around the giant bois, looking for some pelouse (lawn) to picnic on, and I finally found a sunny patch. Historically, park greensward was posted with signs, "Pelouse Interdite"; nowadays, however you see more signs saying "Pelouse Ouverte," a very welcome change. What the hell's a park for, anyway? There was a stream going by my chosen spot, and kids playing, so I took a bunch of pictures after lunch.
Then I wandered off along the woody paths toward the zoo. Gouttes of sunlight filtered through the trees, staining the ground with gold. I thought of Yeats's "The Song of Wandering Aengus," which ends,
When I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips, and take her hands,
And wander through long dappled grass,
And pluck, till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
So for a couple of hours, I walked amongst the apples and took the lively air.
This is about as long a piece as I want to subject you to at one time, although pigmy ideas are still knocking at the inside of my brain-pan wanting out. But they must wait.
I'm happy to be in France, where I don't have to listen to Cheney, Ashcroft, and Rumsfeld plant seeds of fear and hyperbolize our danger. (That doesn't mean that I deny Saddam's threat; give him a nuke, a tank car full of anthrax and meningitis, and some long range missiles, and he'll use them. And I know whom he'll use them on.)
On that cheery note, 'bye.
Subject: In which I describe my apartment in excruciating detail
Tuesday 10 September 2002 begun at 11h15. The sky is, at last, brilliantly clear.
I've been here a week now, and have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to connect to the internet by cable modem. I actually connected twice, once for twenty minutes, once for about two hours. I have no idea what sequence of actions and events led to those connections. Although I kept a written log of everything I did all along the way, I couldn't replicate the outcome. Nor do I know why the connections were dropped. My frustration is profound. And I think all of you, or almost all of you, know just how that feels.
So I've resigned myself to using a cyber shop to send this, at least for today, and I'd like to get there (just around the corner on rue Louis Blanc) before prices go up at noon (2 Euro an hour now, 3 Euro an hour then. I've mentioned a hundred times that this letter is about cheap. The Euro, btw, is right now virtually at par with the dollar, up 10% from last April).
I've two rooms and a bath here on rue Cail, painted white, ten-foot ceilings more or less, French windows (duh) overlooking what my rental agreement calls a "courtyard," which is in reality a twelve by twelve foot cobbled and walled pacing area for prisoners, were this a jail. It's shabby, paint peeling and leprous, weathered beige-gray, with two green-plastic Paris Trash barrels and a rough hewn armoire, paint peeling and scabbed to match the walls, and showing the effects of about fifty years in wind and rain. But I didn't rent this place for the view.
The main room is a ten by twenty foot rectangle, the window on a narrow side with a TV stand and fifteen inch TV to the left of it and a small round table with a red and white striped cloth, a complicated telephone-calculator-calendar-alarm clock-defibrillator, and a boom-box radio, CD, and tape player to its right.
Opposite the window is what the French call a "coin de cuisine" or "kitchen corner." It has pale gray cabinetry, a four-door corner-set above a charcoal-gray faux-marble counter top with a double stainless-steel sink drainboard, a stand-alone two burner cook top, and a microwave oven. Under the counter are a washer-dryer (yay) and a two door cabinet. To the right of the sink is a chest-high two door fridge, and coming from the wall to its right, a high peninsula counter for a stand-up breakfast (Actually, there's a tall blue stool if sitting is required). The floor is of large square gray composition tiles.
Across the room from the entrance door and along the wall between the round table and the washer is a studio couch with three floppy little gray throw pillows. Facing it is a pedestal table with a charcoal faux marble top. It's currently my desk and computer station.
I've three pale birch folding chairs and a remarkably uncomfortable armless wicker-and-steel chair for visiting royalty. That about covers it, except for the two six-foot halogen floor lamps, the pedal-driven trash can and the Gaugin print above the couch ("Mafea Faa Ipoipo" if you like to keep track of such things).
The bedroom has a firm double bed, no headboard, under a wall-hung mirror and a shuttered, yellowish nobbly glass window overlooking the hall in front of my entrance door. The floor is speckled whitish composition tiles. The wall opposite the bed has a Japanese watercolor of a couple of cranes, and the wall opposite the bathroom has an inlaid picture of some Japanese pleasure boats on a lake, the boats of mother-of-pearl. Next to the bathroom door are some narrow, ceiling high built in bookshelves and a tall, narrow closet. There's a Larousse Gastronomique on the shelves, along with extra towels.
The bathroom has one of those curious little French tubs, about four feet long and two deep, quite comfortable if you're either nine or a midget, with a mobile shower-head at the end of a chrome hose. Oval pedestal sink under a three-mirror-door cabinet and a very useful toilet next by.
It's all relatively new, comfortable enough, and a Paris bargain at $840 a month. (I'll pay for electricity and for cleaning at the end of my stay, about another $150. Cable modem is free. Ha Ha.)
I'll tell you about the neighborhood, little India, next time.
Subject: In which I document India a Paris and eat curry
Tuesday 10 September 2002 Begun at 19h45
While I was walking from the Gare du Nord to my new apartment on rue Cail, I noted that everybody along the way was swarthier than me. And that the shops, restaurants, and cafes I passed had names like Saran-Alias-Radjesegaa Valaramady, Le Palais de Kashmir, Kentheswaran Naguleswary, Madras Marmara, Perle d'Inde, Singh Kulwant, New Pondicheri, Anarkali Mahal, Kastoori, Sivasothy Magadavan, and Indiran Dishni.
Then I noticed that the dress shops had windows full of gorgeous Saris and shawls, the grocers displayed okra, coconuts, bags of saffron and cumin and basmati rice, tins of garum masala and madras curry, chutneys of all kinds and raw cashews, bottles of rosewater and Kingfisher beer, the bijouteries had elegant, finely crafted necklaces and earrings of gold and pearl like those I'd seen on paintings and statues of Shiva and Parvati, the video stores featured films by Satyjit Ray and Digvijay Singh and Kim Sung-Su, and I could smell tandoors and naan and coriander and sense the heat of vindaloos.
Slowly, I began to put it all together, except for the disturbing instance of Kim Sung-Su. I had arrived in India. And I needed to adjust to that. Everything in my neighborhood is Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan. During the day, there's one light-skinned person for every ten dark-skinned. At night, the ratio seems to be 100 to one. And I'm the one.
It's a lively, noisy place filled with laughter and little knots of people profoundly engaged in discussion and argument, warm greetings on the street, two-cheek kisses, two-handed handshakes, embraces with lots of back patting. There's a sense of dignity and decorum and politeness and respect radiating from everyone on the streets and in the shops and restaurants. I went into the telephone store next to my building to use one of their internet computers (they have five). The proprietor asked my name, and I sent some e-mail, paid my fee and left. When I went back three days later, the he greeted me by name and shook my hand in welcome. I had become a neighbor overnight.
To begin my penetration of the culture, I had lunch Saturday across the street at Restaurant Krisni, chosen not quite at random (it's recommended in "Le Guide du Routard: Restos et Bistrots de Paris").
It's very plain, with steel "bentwood" chairs and wicker seats, red table cloths with pink paper liners on top, semi-sheer cafe curtain across the bottom of the picture window in front, huge mirrors on opposite walls, to make the little room seem lot larger, and plain gray asphalt tiles on the floor. The table setting comprises a knife, a fork, a red paper napkin, and a single wineglass. There are thirty covers and about half were being used. The atmosphere was Saturday family outing, with a few kids amongst their parents.
The menu, at 8.99 Euro (first time I've ever seen this sort of Americanized pricing in Paris) offered an aperitif, an entree, a plat, and dessert. Aperitifs are Kir (white wine with cassis--black current syrup) or orange juice. A choice from three entrees: tandoori chicken, a samosa (meat filled beignet), or badji aubergine--a thick slice of eggplant napped with a chick-pea-flour batter and deep fried. The plats are poulet au curry, boeuf au curry, or poisson au curry, something vegetarian (I pay no attention to vegetarian), or masala with garlic. Desserts are Indian pastry, fruit salad, or ice cream.
I opted for the eggplant beignets and got five of them and three little dishes of sauces, a yogurt, cucumber and parsley sauce, a red sauce of hot pepper (the sneaky kind; you taste it, wait a bit, and decide you'll survive; then the heat escapes and ravages your mouth), and a sweet-and-sour chutney with chunks of various things (I don't understand the theory of chutney, nor its common denominators, so I hardly know what to say). Them badji was the best I ever ate.
The main course comprised a plate of rice in a bowl-shaped mound with a little chunky chick-pea puree on the side, served tiede (French for luke-warm). Next to that was an oblong stainless steel bowl with a chicken leg and thigh (separated at the knee) in a sizeable pond of curry sauce of a dark curry color. It was mild and made an excellent meal for me, and quite enough, thank you. I almost skipped dessert. But fruit salad sounded good.
I had been in a couple of "primeurs" markets earlier and seen fresh strawberries, figs, peaches, pears, plums, currants, and so on. (Primeurs is the standard French greengrocers reference to fresh fruits and vegetables. It suggests that all the fs and vs are the very first offerings of the season picked just that morning and still dripping with dew. It is, in other words, a weasel word, rather than a blatant lie). Was I surprised when what was set before me was just picked fresh and dripping out of a can. Remember about fifty years ago? Cans of Dole fruit salad, with peaches and pears and some other stuff and the occasional red marischino cherry? This was that, without the cherries.
But for a penny less than ten dollars, it was a good sturdy unexceptionable meal. Beer was the obvious beverage of choice, and they had Kingfisher, 33 cl for three bucks, as well as a Sri Lankan lager and a Sri Lankan stout, 50 cl for four bucks fifty. (Kingfisher is always listed as Indian beer, and there're big Kingfisher breweries in all of India's major cities. But I looked at a bottle in the Marche Exotique across the street and it was brewed by UBSN, Ltd, Faversham, Kent, UK, i.e. India across the channel. It also has two notes on the label. One says "Serve Cool." The other says, "Most Thrilling Chilled." Thrilling beer from India by way of a brewery in Faversham. What great good luck.)
Next, the festival of the elephant-faced boy.
Write if you can find me a job.
Subject: In which I think of 9/11 and wax elegaic
Wednesday 11 September 2002 Begun at 08h45
It's an unpleasant anniversary today. A year ago, I was driving Drummond's car to the doctor's office to get some new pills to take to Paris. I pulled over to the side of the road and sat there, listening to the radio. The year before, I'd been standing on top of the World Trade Center, taking pictures of a hazy NYC below me.
For the last few days, 9/11, or 11/9 as the Europeans think it (which of us is backwards?), has been a constant topic on the BBC, CNN, and CNBC, the only English Language TV available to me on the cable service I have.
It's saturation bombing, showing pictures that US network TV largely avoided after the initial impact last year, people jumping from the top floors, choosing between being burned to death and a fatal fall. The process of that decision is inconceivable to me, although I can imagine considering the choice. (I remember too well the awfulness of the two months I spent in Hurley Hospital's burn unit and the horrors I saw, the screams I heard, the pain I endured, and the deaths I knew of, the finally dead wheeled out on their gurneys, wearing white.) What did the jumpers think, going down?
I watch pictures of an airplane slipping into the side of the building, disappearing neatly as if coming gently into some future docking station, looking normal for about two seconds, and then the jets of fire, the gouts of smoke, the first ticks of horror and devistation.
I cannot look at those people and buildings coming down again. I'll spend the day outdoors, probably at the zoo at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, trying to to keep images of Osama bin Ladin out of my mind by imaging other sorts of animals with my little digital camera.
Yesterday, after lunch (which I'll detail at some later time) I drifted vaguely toward the Centre Georges-Pompidou and its Musee national d'Art moderne, to see if Paul Klee still spoke to me, but it was such a lovely day, the first sunny pleasant one since I got here, that I decided to stay outdoors, and so wandered around the quartier Beaubourg and the western edges of the Marais.
It was a mistake in one sense, because I went into the Librarie Mona Lisait on the rue Saint-Martin and ended up buying a couple more books, six so far, and I have to stop doing that. I've more than twenty books with me right now, and I still hope to do some traveling southward next month, an unattractive prospect with suitcases I can't lift and a history of two heart attacks.
I have things to talk about, anecdotes, observations. I haven't done a good rant yet, and I have one in me about the Centre Pompidou. But today seems not one for being funny or engaging; I'm feeling entirely elegaic, so I'm stopping here.
Be of good cheer.
Subject: In which I speak of language
My quarrel with the French Language is its unpredictability. Other languages I'm partially encumbered with, German and Spanish, don't suffer that defect. You look at almost any German or Spanish word, and you can usually pronounce it, That's not true of French.
"Ich bin ein Berliner" is easy enough to say, if you really want to call yourself a breakfast roll. "Habla usted allemand" presents no problems if you remember that initial Hs aren't pronounced.
But who would look at the word fils and say to himself, oh yeah, that's feece. Does Vosges look like Voj? When you see, "Qui'ls soivent" do you think, "Key swa"? Of course you don't. Does "quart" suggest "car"? Unh uh. Pisses me off.
French is a Romance language, like Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanch, derived from "the language of the Romans," and it has a lot of cognate words with English, which sometimes helps language dysfunctionals like me to read and superficially understand a little French even without grammar or vocabulary. But there are dangers here, which I call "false cognates," that can trip a tourist up, particularly in connotations.
Affluence. A crowd. Wealth is "richesse."
Appariel. Equipment. Clothing is "vetements."
Assister. To attend (church or a meeting, for example). To assist is "aider."
Attender. To wait.
Benefice. A profit. A benefit is "un Avantage."
Camera. A movie camera. A snapshooters camera is "appareil photo."
Caution. Security deposit. Caution is "prudence."
Demander. Merely, to ask, not to demand, which is "reclamer."
Enfant. Any child until mid-adolescence. A baby is "bebe."
Flute. As a musical instrument, a true cognate. But it commonly refers to the slender-bellied tulip-shaped glass proper for Champagne.
Infantile. Pertaining to children. It doesn't mean stupidly childish.
Information. The news. Information (about trains or buses, for example) is "renseignements." Try to pronounce that, by the way.
Large. Wide. Big is "grand(e)" (letters in parentheses are added to make a word feminine).
Librarie. A bookshop. A library is "bibliotheque."
Location. Renting, rental. A "location de voitures" is a car rental office. A place is "un lieu."
Occasion. Sometimes a true cognate, but in advertisments it means something like opportunity, special offer or sale, bargain, and sometimes "secondhand."
Parole. In French, it means word (as one's word or a promise), or, in music, lyrics.
Preservatif. A condom.
Roman. A novel. Roman (Italian) is "Romain."
Sauvage. Wild, but not necessarily sensate and dangerous. Myrtilles Sauvage means wild plums, not your Aunt Myrt's coming after you with a chainsaw.
Subject: In which I'm simply miscellaneous
Friday 13 September 2002, begun at 18h05
This is in the form of one of my miscellanies, in which I stick in random snippets of stuff I'm too lazy to weave into a more-or-less coherent narrative.
I confused myself mightily the other day, inferring from the closure of neighborhood shops till an hour later than usual that I'd missed the daylight savings fall-back, as I'd certainly done when I was here last fall. (But that was in October, wasn't it?) This error had two effects that annoyed and ultimately embarrassed me.
First, I was an hour late for my meeting with Simona last night, a fact that she didn't mention and that I only realized, to my horror, at lunch-time today. I realized it when I showed up at Les Maquis for my lunch reservation at one-thirty today and discovered it was two-thirty. I was not looked upon with favor by my friend the patron.
After I reset my watch, I went back to the Parc Floral in the Bois des Vincennes for the scrap-iron fair I skipped yesterday. Unfortunately, an acre of so of antiquites et brocant has lost much of its charm for me, and I was ready to leave after less than an hour. The key for me was that I saw nothing I really would like to own.
In the back, however, where the food and beverages were, just across from the wine tasting stands, was a jolly southwestern woman selling hot sandwiches of ham and veggies. She cut me thick slices of hot roast ham from the bone, loaded them into a half a baguette, piled on sauteed onions and mushrooms and red peppers, braised Belgian endive, and roasted tomatoes, and served it forth, in M. F. K. Fisher's phrase. Enough for two of us common people.
I ate it while reading the International Herald Tribune, and it proved to be not only delicious, but also a restorative. I went back to the brocant and looked at more of it, Zouave uniforms, a dressmaker's dummy, some stringless violins, a wooden ice-box, a fine suite of art deco furniture, some fifteenth century armoires, an Eiffel Tower made from pine-cones, old fountain pens, oil paintings ranging from simply bad to not-very-interesting, and some turn-of-the-century erotica, the last millennium, not this one. And a darning egg. How long since you've seen one of those? If you're young, you've no idea what I'm talking about. And I took pictures (I mean I made photographs; had I actually taken pictures I would have been arrested). It was five o'clock when finally I left.
Before the lunch fiasco at les Maquis and the scrap-iron, I was on the rue St-Lazare, mainly window-shopping, and came on something remarkable, at least to me.
A jeweler there, Gleizes, has a lot of show window space for a small shop, and the displays were chock full of watches and jewelry, crowded with it, on the more-is-more principle. There was an assemblage of considerable wrist-watches there, Rado, Omega, Baume et Mercier, Longines, Universal Geneve, Raymond Weil, Fontenay de Paris. The price-tags on a little clutch of six Omegas added up to 10,000 Euros, and there were another thirty or forty more Omegas that I didn't tally up.
Four gold and ruby necklaces in the next window were another 10,000 Euros. Five diamond rings came to 21,000 Euros, five emerald rings, some with side diamonds, came to 27,000 Euros, and one sapphire ring with two side diamonds was 12,000 all by itself. I did not search for the most expensive items on display, except for that last sapphire and diamond sparkler. And I estimate that those windows held merchandise worth in the neighborhood of a million dollars. Inside the store lurked about three times as much loot in the displays as was in the windows. And most assuredly in the back, out of sight, was a big vault full of loose stones and bespoke adornment.
A great lot of wealth in a little bijouterie on a sort of dreary street surrounded by railroad station hotels and restaurants.
The fourteen ounce bag of Hershey Kisses I brought along to comfort me in my affliction is now empty. As a confirmed low-brow from Kansas City I say to hell with the provender at Le Maison au Chocolat. Hand me a Hershey bar.
On TV, BBC World has a quite astute and uncowable interviewer named Tim Sebastian on a news show called "Hardtalk" Were I one of his interviewees I'd shoot him. There's no way to tell when he's finished asking a question, and he's always interrupting an answer to add his own "insights" or to modify his own question. In an interview with anyone, the dialogue often goes like this.
"Is it going to be very difficult?"
"Well, that's what . . ."
"It is, isn't it?"
"Well, I suppose . . ."
"Going to be very difficult, I mean?"
I wonder how long it took Colin Powell to dissuade the President from surrounding Atlanta with anti-aircraft missiles after dubya heard that Vlad Putin wanted to attack Georgia.
Lola Martinez is a beautiful blonde woman with a mild British accent who describes the weather on CNN. (Actually, I suspect she doesn't give a damn about the weather on CNN. I meant that it's on CNN that she describes the weather, which usually occurs throughout the world.) She punctuates her weather cast with a grunted "uh" about thirty-six times during her two-minute report.
A news streamer across the bottom of the screen just proclaimed "France has arrested three alleged people - smugglers who were trying to take illegal immigrants to the UK." It stopped me short, until I figured out that it was "alleged people-smugglers" who were arrested. Funny what two unwanted spaces can do to a communique (remember, that's pronounced comm unique).
This trip differs from the earlier ones in that I'm writing more and reading less, thinking about food more than actually eating it, and developing the ability to ask people if I can take their pictures, a very hard thing for me to do. At the zoo yesterday, I asked a lot of mothers if I could photograph their children, and they all agreed with smiles. Till I asked a lady with a little girl of about five. She had been watching me take other kids' pictures. But she blenched in horror, said, "NO no no no," far louder than necessary, and actually reached over and covered the child's face with her hand. I seemed to her, I guess, a scarfaced pedophiliac Hannibal Lecter. I bowed out fast, with much apology and soft language. Has that ever happened to Annie Liebowitz or Diane Arbus? It will make my next inquiry a whole lot harder.
With my digital camera, I can show my subjects the pictures I've taken right away, and that seems to make me seem less rude and intrusive. At least the sharing makes me *feel* less rude and intrusive
It's now after midnight and I'm tired and I can't give this busted flush another lookover without going a little nuts, so so long.
Subject: In which I sometimes eat at home
Friday 13 September 2002 begun at 09h15
Attention: This bids fair to be a foodish issue. Those of you who are generally indifferent to foodish issues are, I think, cultural and biological hereticks who don't fully appreciate that in the life of the senses, eating is the second most interesting thing we do.
There's a non-foodie part just at the bottom, for the impatient.
In response those of you who have asked me what I do for eating when I don't go to restaurants (actually, none of you have asked me that, but I know that's only because you're very busy or that you don't care), I will now tell you.
Breakfast is tea, sometimes with bread and cheese, more usually with fresh fruit, which sounds healthy, but I do what I can to mitigate that. Figs are available everywhere and are cheap and I love them. Here is my recipe for the perfect fig breakfast or dessert: mix equal parts of creme fleuri, creme fraiche, and fromage tartine. Slice up a bunch of figs (or for variety, raspberries or peaches or bilberries or . . .), sweeten them with aspartame (ha ha), pour the dressing on; start eating and transport your taste-buds to Valhalla. Actually, the creams are not pourable, so you have to spoon them on.
Creme Fleuri is fresh cream from which all the healthy parts have been removed. It's about four times thicker than whipping cream, but still pourable. Creme fraiche is sort of like sour cream, but not very sour, sold most often in plastic cottage-cheese cartons, but available as a pourable liquid. Fromage tartine is a fresh white cheese, tasting a lot like cream cheese, but lighter and more spreadable and less tangy. This melange is good on almost any fresh fruit, and effectively removes any health stigma that may attach.
Cheeses so far: Murol du Grand Berioux (semisoft yellow cow's milk cheese with orangish rind), le Welsche (Alsatian cheese, soft-ripened, brushed with marc de gewurtztraminer during ripening, for use when brie de Meaux seems too effete), St Felicien (another fat, soft-ripened cheese), a sheep's milk cheese (brebis) whose name I forgot to write down, a couple of good but technically inconsequential supermarket cheeses, parmesano reggiano (almost indispensable anywhere in the world; grana padano is a somewhat cheaper but very similar substitute; you have to be a very experienced cheese guy to tell the difference), and Mimolette vieille, apparently France's only orange-colored cheese, tasting a little like the cheddar it looks like; Mimolette comes in young, middle-aged, and old. I have a difficulty describing cheeses, beyond color and texture. Each has a distinction of taste and smell I can't describe. They all taste just like chicken.
Other stuff I've made meals with at home
Assas de morue, deep fried codfish balls (no, not those ones)
Paniers au lapin, little pastry envelopes full of rabbit
Anguile fumee, smoked eel (a deep passion of mine)
Quiche au fromage et epinard (cheese and spinach quiches)
Merguez de Chevre, a spicy reddish sausage of North African/Spanish
derivation, these favorites of mine are pure goat.
Saucisse de Strasbourg, Saucisse de Franckfort. Unbelieveably good, these
are what every American hotdog longs to be, in its heart of hearts.
Lamb stew (stew made with lamb).
Lardons de poitrine de porc (tiny chunks of bacon)
Jambon de Paris (plain boiled ham)
Jambon de Dinde (turkey ham)
Jambon Serrano (cured raw Spanish ham)
Tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes on a branch, as unnecessarily popular as
they are at home
Potatoes, roasted, boiled, and hash-browned with onions.
Onions, shallots, chives, and leeks.
Baby artichokes, baked or sauteed
Haricots verts (green beans like matchsticks)
Lettuces (scarole, frisee, mesclun, romaine, and so on)
Peaches, strawberries, and nectarines
Surprisingly, I haven't had any smoked salmon yet.
Meals at home are not sit-down affairs with candlelight and violins, but a succession of snackish plates eaten while I'm writing, reading, or cursing my seemingly non-attachable cable modem.
And now for somethings completely different
While writing this I've been watching a free-style dressage competition on CNBC. I think equestriennes in their dressage gear are endearingly romantic. This one's a German girl named Ulla, who's taught her horse moves, prancing, pirouetting, and stepping, very unhorse-like and probably never seen at the Spanish school in Vienna. By God, I think she's even taught the beast to skip. Very beautiful stuff.
Something you won't see in the US: In the supermarket, a boy of about nine buying a shrink-wrapped package of little sausages and three half-liter cans of Heineken. He gonna go for a little after-school party of his own? The Franprix check-out guy didn't bat an eye.
Yesterday and today it's about 24 degrees (75 F.) out, fully sunny and delightful. In tee shirt and shirt, I was a little too warm. Yet the French folk around are still in scarves, jackets, and woolen sweaters, waiting for the meteorological mistake to rectify itself.
Bye for now,
Subject: In which I buy more books and visit a wine and cheese fair
Two reports in one!
Sunday 15 September 2002 Begun at 11h00
Yesterday, after what's becoming my daily hour in the cybershop next door, I went out purposefully, unusual for me.
I took a bus to Brentano's bookstore on l'avenue de l'Opera to get a FUSAC (free magazine for English speakers with classified ads for, among other things, short-term apartment rentals), and an "Irish Eyes" (free mainly English-language magazine with an Irish slant). Big mistake, going to a bookstore. I escaped with only two new books. More suitcase weight, more wounds to lick. (I'm entirely lacking in discipline.)
I then thought to go the the Monoprix near there, my favorite Monoprix in Paris, to buy dinner supplies. Fresh produce: soy bean sprouts (five cents), cepes (wild mushrooms, $1.75), a potato (twenty cents), and mixed salad greens (ready-to-eat in a plastic bag, a la American supermarkets, $1.75). Charcuterie: two slices of dry-cured Jambon d'Ardeche and two saucisses Franckforts ($3.75), and a tartelette de Mirabelle (little plums about the size of Ribier grapes, $1.75).
Next door to that (almost) is Paul, boulanger to the stars, where I got a croissant beurre (my first this trip; I'm totally disciplined) and a fougasse au Olives (lattice-like bread with olives).
Food-motivated, I continued to the Lafayette Gourmet on boulevard Haussmann, a huge grand expensive gourmet market in the big Galeries Lafayette department store, where I got a little packet of ten cuisses de caille fume (smoked quail legs, big splurge at $3.50), a Voisin milk-chocolate bar ($1.80; I completely lack discipline), and an on-sale suprise, a smoked cockerel, ($7.75, knocked to down to $3.00 because it's nearing its expiration date. It's such a disappointment to watch your smoked cockerel expire).
While at the Galeries L, I priced a few things. If you're coming to Paris and you've forgotten to pack shirts and ties, here's what's going. All prices in Euros (now at par with the dollar). Silk ties: Pierre Cardin, 66; Christian Dior, 85. Shirts: Kenzo, 97; Cerruti, 92, Thierry Mugler, 177; Nogaret, 138; Arrow, 82; and Pink, 100.
Some of the Pink shirts have Mr B collars (this will remain a mystery to all of you under sixty. For the rest, I ask how long it's been since you've thought about Mr B collars.) Pink, by the way, is the name of the old Brisish tailor who invented the red riding coat for equestrians, the one we call a "Pink coat." Nothing to do with color.
Alternative shopping: at Monoprix anywhere in Paris: pay half that for house labels; at Tati (metro Barbes-Rochechouart) pay about 80% less for no-name labels. At Gueresol (same metro as Tati), pay $4.00 for a shirt and $1.00 for a tie, used. That's where I shop.
I still don't know exactly what I'm going to do when I leave this place on October 1. I may opt for homelessness and sleep under the Pont Alexander III. Fish in the Seine. Beg in the Metro. Get photographed by tourists. Or I may get a suite at the Crillon to taste life among the Hollywood stars and the corporate crooks from Tyco and Enron. It all depends on the outcome of the races this afternoon at Longchamps in the Bois de Boulogne.
I'm starting my third week. Helas, time flies.
Sunday, 15 September 2002, begun at 20h00
I've had a most wonderfully enjoyable day today. It made me wish that all of you had been here to share it with me.
I spent a lot of the morning writing, and when I left home, I knew my three local cyber shops would be closed, so I went off with no firmly established destination. I walked down to the bus departure courtyard in the Gare du Nord and got on a bus headed for the place de la Republique, thinking to change there for the eastern suburbs and the Porte Bagnolet, where there's a Hypermarche Auchan.
Suburban Parisien hypermarches like Auchan and Carrefour, for those of you who live around Michigan, are a lot like a combination of Meijer's and Sam's Club, only really big, where you can buy anything but a Boeing 757, an elephant, and an Egyptian mummy.
But I glanced at my Pariscope magazine and saw that a three day cheese and wine fair in Antony, a small village just south of the city limits, was ending tonight and that the admission was free. Nothing moves me to visit a fair so quickly as the prospect of free food and admission gratuit. So I got off the bus at the next stop and walked back to the Gare du Nord.
I won't try to explain here why it's hard to find the right RER train (suburban public transit) at the Gare du Nord (the answer involves mainly interminabe construction), but I finally succeeded in the enterprise. Antony's a pretty, flowery townlet, mainly modern but with treacherous cobbled lanes. (A poem S. T. Coleridge wrote about Cologne, Germany, says, "Its streets are fanged with vicious stones," an image not visually satisfying but capturing excellently the ultimate murderous nature of cobblestones, which conduce to tripping and falling.)
A couple of blocks from the train station, in the quartier St-Saturnin, I found the fair's 160 "exposants," each in its own awninged booth. Normandy, Brittany, the Loire valley, the Pays d'Auge, d'Ardeche and d'Ardennes were there, the southeast and the southwest, the Savoie and the Jura and the Massif Central, with all their cheeses and wines. A dedicated fromagophile and oenophile could conquer his osteoporosis and become an alcoholic here in three days flat.
It was here today that I finally perfected the exploitation of my digital camera's power. A family of eight were sitting around their lunch table behind the counter where they displayed the little wooden signs the paterfamilias carved and inlaid, like "Chez Philippe et Dany," "Bagmington Interdit," and "Ici Soient Ogres."
There was a little dog sleeping in a basket on the counter, and I took his picture. The alpha female at table smiled at me, and I showed her the picture on the little LCD screen on the camera's back. She passed it around the table for all to have a look. One of the diners accidentally pushed a button that turned off the display. General consternation. I got the camera back, turned the display back on, and sent it round again.
When I got it back, I asked if I could take a picture of the whole family. Yes, of course. Daddy held up his bottle of pastis, a middle adolescent child spread her mouth open with forefingers and stuck her tongue out, the adolescent next to her, perhaps a twin, crossed his eyes, the others smiled sweetly, and I snapped. Again I passed the result around the table. Cheering and applause. Then I was asked to join them for a glass of wine. I declined with the greatest politeness and gratitude. The dad said, "If you'd got here a couple of hours ago, you could have had lunch with us." I lamented my tardiness. And I left having learned a significant lesson.
That lesson, applied again and again, found me later with some picnickers on the parkish lawn by the Hotel de Ville, eating oysters and bread and butter, joining another family for a big slice of Kugelhopf and a glass of jus de poire, and getting several business cards, autographed by fromagiers and charcutiers, as invitations to stop at their farms for a personally guided tour and an intimate degustation (tasting). I haven't had any offers for sleep-overs yet, but I'm thinking of other enticements to dangle.
The camera got me into lots of discussions with "les exposants" that good French grammar alone couldn't have done. But I was a little disappointed at how fast they identified me as an American tourist. I mean, I was dressed entirely in black, wearing a French shirt and French socks. Was it the American flag I've had tattooed on my nose?
The real downside to the day was the fact that I always want to buy things that I've tasted and liked. Here, I liked everything I tasted. Not buying everything was a challenge to my obsessive-compulsive habit, but I'd only brought forty bucks with me, so after two fresh artisinal chevres (le Roves des Garrigues, chalk white, soft, crumbly, spreadable, and le Provenca, also chalk-white but full of tiny bits of olive; neither one of those is in my comprehensive cheese book), a sausage the size of a Slim-Jim from the Camargue, two slices of Jambon de Savoie, a little glass pot of pickled garlic cloves (fabulously good--eat them like olives; had I a regular supply, I'm sure they'd become a snack passion), a half-loaf of country bread shaped like a curling stone and called Boule de Briarde, five little sausages shaped like big Brazil nuts and called Grevets, a bottle of jus de poire fermier, a half bottle of old wine vinegar infused with tarragon, and a muffin-sized kuglehopf with almonds, sultanas, and currents, I was running short of cash and had to quit.
Excellent day. Met lots of people and had a lot of laughs. And learned a second lesson. One of the women in the oyster-eating picnic group had lived in Osining, New York for six months and started talking to me in muted English, I think to exclude her fellow picnickers. She apologized for the rudeness and mean-spiritedness of the people of Paris, and I disagreed with her assessment. "You're Parisienne?" I asked. "Yes," she said. "And am I not eating *your* oysters?" I asked. Parisiens, I think, have a little problem with self-esteem, which they deal with by a show of arrogance.
Enough. By the way, I'd love to hear from you. I like incoming.
P. S. Half the world's male population smoke cigarettes.
If what I observed in the Paris zoo is typical, baboon copulation lasts about eight seconds, and the male baboon can service three partners in less than twelve minutes. Parisien zoo-goers find this vastly amusing. I merely report it.
The Arabian desert leopard is genetically cross-eyed, and has pale-grayish irises. There are fewer of them than there are giant pandas.
Native speakers of Arabic on the TV news pronounce Qatar "cotter."
Mobilcom, a German portable-telephone company, in some strange way owned by France Telecom, and about to announce bankruptcy, was rescued by the German government. The stock went up two-hundred percent overnight. Had I prescience, I'd be on my way to the Hotel Negresco in Nice.
Anna Kournikova finally won a tennis tournament. Her nude pictures are readily available all over the internet.
In South America, River Plate beat someone or other. Football.
Subject: In which I speak of writing, my dinner, and a movie
Monday 16 September 2002, begun at 22h45
I didn't do much today but write and go to a movie. I figure about half of today's writing output is salvageable, but I'm not Thomas Wolfe, so that's ok. And the movie was superb.
Right now, I'm having my first meal of the day, sitting here by my computer. Entree: salad of mesclun, artichoke, avocado, tomato, and homemade garlic croutons, dressed with a splendid sauce vinaigrette; plat: skinless, boneless smoked chicken breast tiede with tarragon (tiede is French for luke-warm), potato and onion sautee with a little grated parmesan, and roasted garlic, eaten with the chicken as a condiment; afters: olive bread and Welsche cheese. Boisson: citron pressee chez mois (just think of fresh squeezed lemonade). Wonderful meal, quite imaginative and extraordinarily well prepared. I figure it cost about five dollars, the cost per serving prorated against the entire cost of ingredients.
Whoops! It's now Tuesday morn.
This three-way ball game between the US, The UN, and Iraq keeps getting new players, new umpires, new rules, and new balls, in every sense of that term. I keep the TV on CNN as background noise, and so I can get a play-by-play at any instant just by looking up from my computer screen. I play a side-game of my own called "What they said, what they shoulda said, and what I say now." It keeps me amused.
The metaphor in that last paragraph, particularly the phrase "with new balls," above, is what the poets call (or ought to, it they don't) a controlled ambiguity. It's an effect we are always trying to achieve, the best kind of language play. Since there is no single, simple, uncontroverted, and available definition of poetry, let's say that it's "Playing with language so that you say, in very few words, what you've left unsaid." It's entirely appropriate that a definition of poetry should contradict itself.
The movie was Fritz Lang's "While the City Sleeps" (1955), one of those wonderful black and white murder stories with some fine acting and great directing. Lang manages to be funny on purpose and funny because some of the acting is old-fashioned over-the-top, particularly that of the murderer, some of whose "takes" are right out of "The Perils of Pauline." Dana Andrews, Howard Duff, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, Rhonda Fleming, and an astonishingly beautiful and talented blonde whom I simply an't put a name to. If it's at your Blockbusters, take a look. It's fun to take a look at the world as it was the year I graduated from high school. And you can tell me who Dana Andrews's blonde fiancee is.
The movie theater was in the sixth arrondissement, the quartier St-Germain des Pres. I went to flaneuring after the show during my favorite part of the day for walking around, that short period just after sunset when streetlights come on and shop windows have not yet gone dark and the clouds at last light are salmon-colored from the sun gone down.
(I've enough new readers to justify saying again that a flaneur is a person who wanders aimlessly and observes purposefully, who is easily sidetracked, who looks like he wants to be invited to dinner.)
This is of course a very old very beautiful part of Paris. If you go through archways and open doorways you can come into cobbled courtyards with potted plants and sometimes little fountains or some statuary. The courtyard may belong to a secret hotel or a restaurant in one of the old hotels particuliers (townhouses) of the long-ago rich and maybe noble.
One of them is the four-star Relais Christine's in the rue Christine, which you can look at if you wish at www.relais-christine.com. The cheap double is $320.00; the "Apartment" double is $700.00; the English Breakfast buffet is $25.00 (English because it has bacon, eggs, bangers, cold toast, and maybe a bloater, but I'm not sure of that last).
The desk personnel are very friendly and charming, and I'm sure you'd be comfortable there. Get me a room near yours when you get to town, and I'll dedicate myself to your service during your stay. (One of my hobbies is collecting hotel brochures and tariff cards and exploring their public rooms. I do this ostensibly so that I'll have some slightly informed recommendations to make when Anna Nicole Smith next calls).
Another courtyard belongs to the restaurant Roger la Grenouille (Roger the Frog, a mildly English-flavored joke), a well-known eatery that's one of the few in Paris where you can actually get frogs. It's just down the street from the more renowned and respected restaurant of Jacques Cagna, where you can't get frogs.
My writing (remember? first topic mentioned above?) is prolonged nowadays, and sometimes painful. I'm back to doing some poetry, and it's painful because I don't have a good English language dictionary and I have a hard time remembering the words I need. My now chronic memory failure is stressful at times. And my metaphor-making capacity is sorely diminished. What I produce ranges from just OK to truly awful, but I try to maintain a sense of humor about it.
P. S. I ran out of milk for my tea, so I spooned in some creme fraiche. It's an experiment I won't repeat very often.
And here are some shop names I've liked: Grim Art, Heteroclite, Speed Rabbit Pizza, Raoul and Curly, Pupsie, Joli Girls, and 1000 et Une Piles.
If you need to stock up on crysanthemum gelee, salty razor clams, black or red melon seeds, arbutus in syrup, and jackfruit, I can tell you where to go.
Subject: In which I see Emo Philips and anatomize a hypermarche
Thursday 19 September 2002, begun at 03h00
I have the feeling that this is going to be another miscellany. I'm a bit fragmented and unfocused, having just recently woke up. I came home from a shopping spree yesterday, got here about five (that's 17h00 for you globalization freaks) so overwhelmingly tired that I pulled the curtains shut and went to bed. Didn't wake up till after midnight.
Long-time readers may have noticed that I haven't complained recently about insomnia. That doesn't mean I no longer suffer it. So my unwonted nap is probably going to screw up my diurnals nicely, thank you very much indeed.
On Tuesday, walking around the canal St Martin, taking pictures, I finally stopped at one of those little sandwich stands, Greek or Turkish, scattered all about Paris, and bought a Greek sandwich, something I'd been putting off for years. Thin slices are cut from a big log of meat turning vertically before some radiant heat, like a giant shish kebab (or kebap, as some stands advertise it). The slices go into a big bread roll along with lettuce and tomato and mayonnaise and a pile of French fries. Must be more than half a pound of meat; too salty, but I loved it. Four bucks for what would be for me two meals; always have ziplock bags on hand.
That night I went to the Hotel du Nord to witness Emo Philips's standup comedy. His picture on the advert posters were probably taken a hundred years ago, and he's stopped looking quite so nerdish, but he still delivers the goods in a not-quite-normal vocal style, with odd emphasises (is that a word? Or should it have been "emphases"?) and pauses and squeaks.
He practices semi-spontaneous non-sequitur humor. When a guy wearing a beat-up red baseball cap arrived and worked his way up to a front-row table, about ten minutes after he had started, he paused, said, "Glad you finally got here. How was the tractor-pull?" It's semi-spontaneous because he has some set pieces he falls back on when he's not working the audience-participation shtick.
One of his techniques is to ask audience-members where they're from. Then he goes into some nationality humor. He found a table full of young folks from Germany and said, "Welcome to my country [tag line used with everyone]. Did your dads like Paris when they were here?" When he turned to me and asked where I'm from, I said, "Tierra del Fuego," certainly ungentlemanly on my part. Nobody has any Tierra del Fuego jokes. It stopped his progress for a moment but he recovered nicely.
Later, he was talking to a pretty young blonde woman from Sweden. Here's the exchange:
"Where are you from?"
"Why are you in Paris?"
"I live here."
"What do you do?"
"I mean for a living?"
"So you have a lot of time on your hands?"
"Well, after the show, why don't you give the Fuegan here a blow-job. He looks lonely."
When the laughter subsided, he looked at me and said, "OK?" I said, "God love ya, Emo!" It was my turn to get a big laugh.
During the interval, I chatted-up some of the others sitting near me, and got two new subscribers to this letter. It was a very funny evening.
Yesterday morning, I left here early to go to "Tea and Tattered Pages," a used-book store (as opposed to a used bookstore. Hyphens are important tools in textual analysis) cum "tea room" (ha ha). I was overwhelmed by book-need, and hoped to find something on Corsica. And I wanted to pick up the October issue of "Paris Voice," another English-language freebee. I failed at both missions.
But I'd walked off my hunger and decided to skip lunch at l'Epi Dupin and went instead to Auchan, the hypermarche at le porte Bagnolet in the far east. (I mentioned hypermarches in my report on the food and wine fair in Antony, you may remember.) It's the rear-end anchor of an equally huge shopping mall, like most big American malls, except clean, bright and well designed.
I said big. Think enormous. Three or four acres, maybe, on two levels? The wine department alone is as big as a small Metro station. You can get a map at the information counter by the front door, and if you're looking for something specific, you need one.
Prices are good and the selection is enormous. The fish area has an ice-counter half-a-block long with about fifty kinds of seafood. Whole bar (sea bass) from off the coast of Greece, about $3 a pound; codfish filets from the north-Atlantic (sources are almost always identified in Parisien fish markets) at about $4.50 a pound. By Paris standards, this is cheap.
In the produce department, I bought a couple of small handsful of wild mushrooms, trompettes de la mort (45 cents) and girolles (99 cents) and a very small handful of haricots verts (9 cents, honestly). Both kinds of mushrooms are shaped like chanterelles, like the bell end of a trumpet, but are smaller. Girolles are mustard-colored, trompettes de la mort (yes, trumpets of death; wonderful, no?) are almost black. Prices are per handful.
Other prices: a liter of whole milk, $1; 500g (odd that it should be sold by weight; looks like about 33 cl) of creme fleurette (which I think I mistakenly called creme fleuri in an earlier letter), $2; half a liter of house-brand extra virgin olive oil $2.65, two franckfort sausages 95 cents, two slices of Spanish serrano dry-cured ham, $1.60; a picodon cheese, and a bulb of fennel, 85 cents.
For those of you who've asked about wine, here's the scoop on brut Champagne; Auchan offers about thirty brands: Lanson black label NV, $19.50; Ruinart NV, $21.25; Moet et Chandon NV, 23.00, Krug 1995, $82.00; Salon 1993, $130.00. A brand I've never heard of, Delinieres NV, is $8.75. Had you asked before, I'd have denied the possibility of finding AOC Champagne at under $10.00. By the way, Salon is a relatively new marque, quite the darling of the cognoscenti, I'm told.
NV Champagnes--non-vintage, a blend of wines from more than one harvest—are the backbone of the industry and most accurately reveal the style of the marque. Americans tend to get glassy-eyed when there's a vintage date, but vintage wines are hardly ever truly characteristic of the house that made them. Info from my dissolute and glassy-eyed past.
Our catalogs now are ended, if not our revels. Yay.
Non-food items are on the second level. A black pigskin jacket, what the Carhartt people would call a "barn coat," is going for $35. (See? I stopped with one item.)
If you use the store credit card, anything you buy on Tuesdays is 10% off. I may try getting a card next spring.
The battery on my shaver has now expired and has refused to allow itself to be recharged. This is the kind of dereliction of duty that I frown on.
While writing this, I ate a bowl of pureed tomato and vegetable soup out of a box. Highly satisfactory. Most supermarket soups appear to be pureed (mouline, accent aigu on the e) rather than chunky. This one was made by Liebig, somehow associated with Campbells. But it's better and less salty than anything I've ever had from Campbell's.
We've just had (it's now going on 07h00) two fifteen-minute bouts of very heavy rain. The last three days, I should mention, have been sunny and fine, in the high sixties, low seventies. Perfect for me, but the French are back in wool scarves and jackets.
I've gone on too long already, so I'd better stop.
P. S. Sights you don't see back there. Woman sitting at a stop that serves the big red double-decker "See Paris" tour buses; she's with a very large wire bird cage on her lap. There are two birds in there. Is she taking them sightseeing? What a sweetheart!
Subject: In which I trash Bush, give peach lessons, and mention Roland Garros
Thursday 19 September 2002, begun just after 16h00
Is Dubya drinking again? Just as I opened this file, I turned the TV on and there he was, on the screen. I caught the end of a sentence (I think he was referring to the people Israel and Palestine): " . . . and they must strive to reject violence in every form." Then he segued into a statement that the UN Security Council ought, in a real quick hurry, to authorize him to use force in Iraq.
I suspect there are some world leaders, other than me, who note the duplicitous thinking. He rationalizes with aparently witless flexibility. What I wonder is, why, with the incaclulable power he has to hand, and the exigencies of the Iraqi situation he himself has declared, and the sleazy wet work he can always call upon, can't he just arrange to have Saddam assassinated? Because he hears reelection whistling "Stranger by the Shore" in the background?
I'm sure he sees action such as that as neither immoral nor unethical nor generally unsavory. Nah. He's not drinking. I've been mean-spirited. In the end I think he's quite sober. In that, he's been very strong, admirably strong,. It's his association with Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and Cheney that's doing him down.
I can't remember if I've managed a good rant thus far. If not, there it was.
The skipper of the All-England Cricket team is named Nasser Hussein. (Please, English friends, don't get mad if I get team names a little wrong and misspell those of the players. I'm doing my best.)
Note to American investors. Herman Miller looks real good. Buy a few thousand shares for me. When we sell it after it ticks up about five points, I'll pay you back.
I could call this following essay "Market Manners: An Historical perspective." That's the acdemic's way. Or "Breaking the Code of Market Mysteries." That's the tabloid's way.
Here's our situation. We're in Paris and we want to buy two ready-to-eat peaches. We go to a big open-air market. Let's say the Marché Richard-Lenoir off the place de la Bastille, on Thursday morning.
We walk along from stall to stall till we come to a fetching pile of peaches. Forty years ago, the drill from that point was unquestioned. You pointed to the peaches and told the peach guy how many. The peach guy might ask if you want to eat them today or tommorrow. Or the next day. Then he'd go after the ones he considered perfect for your needs, selecting by touch and smell. He'd put them in your string bag, you'd pay, and that would be the end of it after you said something like, "Tres merci, monsieur, al la prochaine fois, au revoir."
Ten years ago, you'd get to your peach pile and, without touching them, you'd point to the ones you wanted one by one. The peach guy would pick them up and bag them. You'd pay and leave, after the requisite politenesses.
But five years ago, things started to get muddy. Maybe you could pick your choices up, hand them to the patron. But maybe the patron, when you moved to touch his produce, would waggle a finger and shakes his head. Until you's shopped that market for a long time, you didn't know which rules applied where. A code had been inserted into the equation, and it blurred things.
Nowadays, mostly you can pick your own produce, even rummage around in a display; it's the supermarket influence. Now, outdoors, there's only the occasional frown, scowl, shake of the finger. But the sellers sometimes offer you a key. If they've laid a pile of plastic bags on the fruit you want, you're clearly expected to do it yourself. If you reach out for the fruit and the patreon turns to get you a bag, ditto.
The only really safe and polite way now is to ask if you can pick your own, if you're a confident fruit picker, or ask the merchant to pick for you. This is the best way if you're dealing with an unknown melon, a little African pineapple, or something you know nothing about, like cactus pears (yeah, they're there too). And now, even the parting politenesses are foregone or truncated.
While I've been writing this, I'm watching tennis at Stade Roland Garros.
French TV is skimpy on screen graphics. In the upper left corner there's a tiny "FRA 2 USA 3" for the match going right now. No player names, no stats, no indication of where things stand in the game. Only set numbers. So I have no idea who's playing in this set. No one I easily recognize.
French sportscasters are a little like the admirable English ones, and aren't afraid of dead air. Only the Americans seem compelled to fill every second of air time with their inanities and personal observations. But I tend to turn the sound off, so it doesn't much matter.
French cameramen like to rove around in the stands (not literally) for pics between games, often focusing on pretty women. Without graphics, we don't know whether the pretty woman is connected to one of the players or to tennis in general, or whether the cameraman is just excercising his own particular taste for toothy white smiles.
A very momentary graphic tells me Grosjean of France just beat Blake of les Etats Unis 6-4 in this set. I've forgot Grosjean's first name, and I think I never knew Blake's. But he's got a headful of spiky dreadlocks and is wearing more than ample white shorts, like a basketballer's, under which is apparently a pair of Pampers. (I just turned the volume up, and it James Blake and Sebastian Grosjean.)
And that's it from Roland Garros. Over to you, Martina.
Subject: In which I resort to country song lyrics
Some of you may be asking, "Where's he been?" Y'know that old Woody Guthrie song,
"I been doin' some hard travelin',
I thought you knowed,
I been doing some hard traveliin'
All down the road."
The last week or so has been amply filled with mixed mishap, but nothing that threatens my always (well, almost always) sunny outlook. Right now, I'm staying in a cheap little hotel (on the rue des Petits Hotels; cute, huh?). I think within the next few days I will have found someplace more permanent to sleep and think of as home, and then I'll get back to my regular clerkish scroogery and flaneuring.
So "Don't worry 'bout me" (the Marty Robbins version).
Subject: In which I threaten not to reveal all
Tuesday 8 October 2002, begun at ten in the morning.
I'm sitting on my bed, my laptop almost on my lap top, writing for the first time in over two weeks. Quelles semaines aventureuses! I'm not going to tell you anything about it, because it would drive you wild with excitement, and the quality of my soldiering-on would strike you dumb with admiration. No point in you being struck any dumber than ususal.
Actually, I think I have not the discipline to keep quiet about mes semaines un peu douleureuses, but I think my report better wait till I can recollect the time in (relative) tranquility. [Sharon, remember "Tiene tranquilledad!"?]
I'm leaving my apartment soon for the millionth time to forge within the smithy of my soul the uncrea . . . . No, that's another guy. Me, I'm going to lunch and a museum after I shoot this off into cyberspace.
During the first paragraph of this note, I thought of three French words I've read in "The New Yorker" and novels and other frivolous enterprises, "elan," "eclat," and "savoir faire" (yes, that's four French words; I can actually count to eight when required), and it occurred to me that I had in past inferred their definitions from context, but that I wasn't sure of them. So I looked them up. "Eclat" means fragment, splinter, shard. "Elan" means impetus or fervor (it also means moose, which should make you kinda careful with it). And "savoir faire" means expertise. Not at all what I had wrongly inferred. So I'm not going to use any of them any more.
I will tell you in conclusion that I have left the Indian sub-continent and am now living south of the Gare de l'Est on the rue Jarry off the rue du Faubourg de Saint-Denis and at the corner of the rue de la Fidelite, on which I was once mugged by two guys pretending to be policemen. This neighborhood is where North Africa meets Black Africa and lets in a few Turks and Chinese. I can smell the couscous, the East African red sauce that'll pock the enamel on your teeth, the tagines, the doner kebabs, and the pot stickers right now.
I've spent exactly an hour at this, and it's time for me to get dressed, choose an aroma, and sniff out lunch. After the cyber shop.
How're things where you are?
Subject: In Which I speak of trouble
ignore mistakes--im at a french heyboard and havent much time.
The floppy drive in my co,puter died:
i write my stuff at home, bring the disk to the cybershop; e-mail from there: So you might not get another report for a few days.
And I broke my glasses.
If I had to zrite on this damned French clavier, I'd
use up about 50 bucks in co,puter time: