E-Mailing Through Europe >> Paris August 13, 1998

Toujours Paris

Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 05:40:16 -0700 (PDT)
From: k p
Subject: Ole, Ole, Ole!

The perfect day continued yesterday despite a small setback involving two beautiful Swedish women.

After submitting my last dispatch I rang up Sondra and Maria, former NYC neighbors of mine who had invited me to stay with them in Sweden. They had seemed genuinely interested in being perfect hostesses to me, but, alors, either Maria is sick and in bed or Sondra's grandmother is sick in bed. I couldn't understand her English--perhaps they are all in bed together, which is how four young swedish women just out of college slept in a one bedroom apartment right below mine. Anyway, alors, they can't put me up right now. It was disappointing to lose one of my raisons d'etre for coming to Europe, so I did what any self-respecting Frenchman would do: find solace in food.

Charming Paris Street  

I wandered from the telephone toward my next destination, Le Musee D'Orsay, northeast on Boulevard St. Germain in search of a perfect little bistro. Walked right past the touristy Deux Maggots then got lost in a small maze of streets that combined residential, professional and government buildings, including the Bureau Defence. (I think the french have legislated that each street in Paris must have a bar, bistro, cafe or a swarmy smelly frenchman with an unbuttoned shirt leaning on a lightpole glaring at you while smoking a gitane. The street gets extra government funds if a second swarmy man joins him talking animatedly until a woman goes by and they stare at her derriere. It's really charming.)

Finally at about 1:00 p.m., the partly sunny clouds parted fully and a ray of sunlight pointed me directly to Le Bistro Gribeauval. As a street musician started to play "Halleluyah" I gently climbed the two steps, lay my bag on the chair opposite me and ascended my throne: a small wooden chair perched dangerously close to the edge of the small patio. It was blissfully shadowed from the hot sun and smack in the path of a cool breeze. Looking at the human stage outside the bistro after ordering a beer, I spied a street filled with the few hundred working Parisians not lucky enough to be on holiday. Across the street a laborer fixed up the side of a building in a NY Giants t-shirt. It was heaven.

I took out my dictionary to translate the words on the menu, which actually became fun. It was like unlocking a little mystery with each menu item, hoping that the next entree will be more enticing than the first. I chose a simple meal, which was probably be the best thing i'll eat while in Europe. Written in franglais in my journal mere minutes after I finished the perfect french lunch:

"j'assite sur un bar/bistro dans le shadow de le musee d'orsay on the Rue de Gribeauval. Just finished with Les Brochettes du Boeff avec moutarde. C'est manifique! The mustard sauce was amazing, with a hint of some sort of liquor--perhaps sherry?--pepper and lemon. The pommes frites seem to have been created by the chef specifically to soak up the moutarde and then melt in my mouth. All this was washed down with a draft german beer (ed note: wine was not sold by the glass at this bistro, and--as I was considering invading a defenseless european country after this meal--I ordered a german beer) Oh, and I've found a number of the beautiful parisian women. They are all either walking by in their business suits or coming into the bar and looking at me and laughing after the waiter told them how in my bad french I ordered Sliced Chicken's Feet with Spoiled Asparagus and Small Children's Toenails while pointing at "La Salad." Or maybe I've got some moutarde on my chin..."

After a couple of hours, I finished the meal with a delicious cafe avec sucre. Then appropriately caffinated and learned from reading 2,000 Years of French History in three pages from my TimeOut Guidebook to Paris, I left the perfect meal in search of le musee for some fine art.

Unfortunately, the only thing I found after trading 40F for an admission ticket were hundreds of pushy French tourists taking flash photography of all the paintings. This is crazy. They weren't even taking pictures of themselves or their families in front of, say, Van Gogh's room at Arles or pretending to pluck some fruit from a Cezanne still life. They were just taking photos of paintings available in the giftshop in convenient full-color postcard size images for 3F!

Meanwhile, surprisingly nice security guards came up and politely reminded them that taking flash photography will result in their children not being able to view their country's artistic heritage because 15,000 flashes a day will ruin each of these paintings. The French tourists would just shrug and move along to ruin the next masterpiece. I really wanted to grab someone's camera, rip out the film and scream "Non de Flash!"

But hey, I'm not in New York.

There was a funny exhibit of small clay busts by Daumier that ridiculed the french noblemen of the time. I guess these were the political cartoons of the time. After walking quickly through the impressionists because it was so packed and then through the pre-impressionists because I don't really find portraits of 17th Century French noblemen interesting--i did slow down at the portraits of their daughters--I took the Metro back to the youth hostel for a little R&R. Drank some bee-ahs, and the Aussies say, talked to my Welsh roommate who hates Iron Maggie (as all good welshmen do, he assured me) an American Nanny visiting from Switzerland and a 10th grade math teacher from San Louis Osbido (sp?) outside San Fran. He just finished a month trip with 16 kids (all expenses paid for him) and is extending the trip by himself for another month. After a while I realized they didn't fit into my plans for a perfect day of solo travel.

I chatted around a few other tables of hostlers, but after not really finding anyone interesting enough to invest an evening of my time with, I left and got myself lost wandering around the streets again for about an hour and a half. Tired and thirsty, I then pulled out my map, found the closest metro and went back to the Hostel for the first early night sleep since I got to Europe. It was about 11:30 when my head hit the pillow...

Woke up today and met a couple of Kiwis for breakfast (Kiwis are New Zealanders, named after their National bird, I learned this morning) for slices of small brown furry fruit. We slowly woke up, showered and then wandered up to the Latin Quarter together for some Crepes des Ouef et Fromage. Then onto the Jardins De Luxembourg for some more laying about in the now warm sun. (It was chilly last night, about 50 degrees, so the sun felt warn, not stifling like two days ago). We noticed that none of the partrons of the park had parked themselves on the grass. However, we felt like the soft, well groomed grass would better suit our tired bodies than cold, hard steel chairs provided by the park keepers to make our bottoms sore. So found a nice-sized section of grass upon which five ethiopian children were playing.

As I lay there, my mind wandered, wondering where to travel next. Copenhagen/Stockholm never really interested me enough to travel 15 hours unless there was a beautiful Swedish woman waiting for me to get off the train. Prague still remains my final destination, and unfortunately the only thing between Paris and Prague is Germany.

The Kiwis suggested Munich is on the way and that it is a lovely city with gardens, beer halls, museums, a major university and concentration camps conveniently located only 15 miles outside the city. I did mention to them that I wanted to buy a pair of Birkenstocks, and they said lots of stores in Germany sell them cheap and in lots of sizes. That's good, because I can't find 12 1/2 shoes in America, and I'd bet that lots of German women have feet as big as mine. Decision made: Next Stop Munich.

Today it's on to Le Le Musée De l'Armée, in which I will see Napoleon's tomb and learn valuable life lessons about never invading Russia during the winter. Au Revoir!

Tomorrow's Dispatch: L'Empereur Napoleon, Au Revoir Paris, and the first episode of "In Search of: Size 12 1/2 Sandals"

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