Tuesday, December 13, 2005

from Paris: a work day

Monday. It’s gray outside. The temp hovers near freezing, just a touch above, but it feels colder. I take the RER to the university. Of course, I get it wrong. I am plenty early, but I manage to pace and wait for my hosts at the wrong platform. The cold is wrapping itself around my new French tights. Soon it will pierce their thin close-fitting shield. After that it’s a short trip to the bone.

Okay, I am saved total embarrassment. The dots connect, I move to the right spot, we meet up. Madame professeur is totally charming. She would make me feel welcome if I showed up in sneakers and a cowboy hat. Even though she herself is dressed ten times more splendidly than I am. And I am in my best teaching duds.

We meet en masse, the whole lot of them – professors, administration, you name it, they are there. It’s all good. I don’t discuss business on Ocean, but believe me, it’s way better than good.

But it gets even more wonderful. There’s our working lunch, for instance. I follow them to the local brasserie. It’s packed. Students, faculty, smokers, nonsmokers – oh, I want to take a photo! But I am on business, Ocean and business do not like to mix much.

I proceed to order what they order: a salad, poached salmon in an herb sauce, apple tart tatin with chantilly cream, white wine. Ooops! Le grand faux pas! I order my espresso with dessert. Wrong! It is an after the meal thing. I don’t think I ever knew that.

The talk wanders to private lives. Women are so skilled at this. By the time we’re done with the (two hour) meal, they know and I know all that could possibly change the course of human history. At least our own human history.

Another set of meetings. More progress. We have ourselves the skeletal form of a deal. The professors here have done their work. This will be a joy to run.

I take the train back to the hotel and change clothing for dinner. I had taken a minute (or two) to stop and shop. At least that which will visible above the table will be presentable.

from Paris: comparative analysis, part 2

Walking briskly to the dinner, don’t want to be late. Oh… wait! I see fruit pates in a store window. I may get hungry later. Enter pastry store. Buy 4, okay 6, okay 8 pates. I take note of pastries. I take photo. I have great lust for these guys, I do.

Paris Dec 05 192
on my way to the Lutetia

Paris Dec 05 195
passing a square with empty tables; too cold to sit out tonight

Arrive at restaurant. Uff! It is big time special, over at the nicest hotel on the left bank. I know it well, I’ve used the bathrooms here before.

I am early. The waiter asks if I would you like an aperitif while I wait. Okay, it will loosen me up. I amuse myself by taking photos in mirrors and sipping an aperitif Lutetia: champagne with spiked cherries and cassis.

Paris Dec 05 205
hi, me!

One by one, my deal makers arrive. They note my aperitif and order the same. We are all spitting cherry pits together. This is going well.

We order the identical main course because everyone at the table except me knows that we are in prime Coquille St Jacque season.

Paris Dec 05 207
over a bed of leeks in spices

The conversation is mostly in French. I tell them I understood 90% of it. I exaggerate. It's closer to maybe 70%. And I keep missing the crucial line. Like, when they were talking about adopting a Chinese girl, I did not get who was doing the adopting: the whole lot of them? The maid? Some movie star?

But I did understand our talk of forthcoming vacations. Here's what I got. And this is honestly presented. Ocean tells it like it is:

Typical American law profs (TALP) – how do they spend their Christmas/New Year’s break?
- grading exams, keeping up with holiday demands and/or hating the holidays

Typical French law profs (TFLP) – how do they spend their Christmas/New Year’s break?
- hanging out with local friends and favorite family members in the Basque region, eating tons of good food and occasionally saying something profound, like isn't this great wine?

TALP during the break between semesters:
- huh? What break is that?

TFLP during the break between semesters:
- three professors, three answers:
o skiing in the Alps
o skiing in the Alps
o skiing in the Alps

TALP during spring/Easter break:
- it’s so short! Who can do anything! Maybe clean the house?

TFLP during spring/Easter break:
- time to open up the country home for friends and family. So come visit, we eat well! You are so on, pal!

TALP during big summer vacation:
- mow lawn. Oh, come on, we just took all that time off on New Year’s! Okay, maybe a day at Devil’s Lake is in order. You got problems with that?

TFLP during big summer vacation, two answers from two professors (I missed the third, I swear she said Guadeloupe, but I could be wrong):
- spend two months at favorite Michelin two star inn at the Perigord and one month hanging out in Sicily
- spend three months at Loire valley summer house.

I am walking back to the hotel, less briskly. I am thinking – I have people in the city of Paris that I would visit now. Strange. Paris, up until today, has always been just my own, left to memories that I created for it. It’s different now. Connecting with people changes things.