Saturday, August 07, 2010

from Paris: easy as peaches (and rosé wine)

Some shopkeepers take such care to make their displays so very lovely!



Yes, I’m in Paris and I have two things to say at the outset: first, it was such an easy (as peaches and rosé wine) and pleasant trip over the ocean that one forgets how difficult and tedious travel can really be when things go wrong.

Secondly – I learned something about my new camera: when you mess with the settings (for instance – prioritize shutter speed, which I did some days back), it keeps your mess in its memory, even when you shut it off. So that the photos from the first half of my day here are less than splendid. Ah well. I tried to fix some of the more obvious issues, but a poorly snapped photo is a poorly snapped photo, so there you have it. I learn from mistakes (one hopes).

(when I first alight from the airport RER train, I always say see this scene; it's telling me now that summer's nearly at an end)

(what can I say...every trip to Paris requires a sighting of the Eiffel Tower and of the River Seine)

(do you see the man and his dog? No?)

(okay, but surely you can see the woman and her dog...)

A day in Paris. For me it is much like a week in a spa would be for a person in desperate need of R&R. I walk so hard here, so fast and hard that at the end of it all, when I finally do sit down, I feel content.

Since I am alone, I am less cautious about destinations. I go to places that I would not drag others to. Like stores that cater to unusual client groups (for example restaurant workers). Stores that are almost rudely disinterested in putting on a pretence, because they know they don’t have to. Almost like the Woodman’s of the food industry. There to serve other goals.


Speaking of food and meals, I should mention that in all that walking, I did not pause to eat. Sure, I had a breakfast – a grand crème and a pain au chocolat and as I sat there munching contentedly, I wondered where all the people disappeared to. My favorite breakfast place was empty.


But then, when I stepped off the train that takes me in from the airport, I thought that all of Paris looked empty. And yes, I know that most Parisians disappear from the city come August. It’s les vacances for Pete’s sake. Still, half the city stays behind. Where is everyone? Where are the tourists? August is their time to swoop down and seize the place.

Saturday morning. That says it all. An August Saturday morning in Paris. The city sleeps.

And did I mention that I am running on too little sleep?

So I walk, and I visit stores, and, somewhat impulsively, I enter a neighborhood hair spot and get my hair chopped off. (You guessed it: cheaper than Jason would be back in Madison! That’s the kind of thing that I am likely to do just to feel connected to a place. If I lived here, after all, I would get my shoes repaired and my hair cut...)


Late in the afternoon, I make my way to the Luxembourg Gardens. This is why I stay just a block away – it is my second most favorite park in the world (close, after Lazienki of Warsaw).





If sky, for me, is big in the Midwest, it is nearly as big in Paris. It’s not static, for one thing. It changes its face constantly – with puffy formations domineering just when you’ve decided that it’s going to be a fine and sunny day.


Dinner? Oh, I go to Le Procope. Just a few blocks down from my hotel.


I’ve said this before (even before the New York Times said it in its 36 hours in Paris piece this spring) – Procope is easy. It comes through even on a warm summer night when so many places run away and hide. It gives me a table by the window even though I am alone, and around me I hear French, and I think – my, eating here couldn’t be more predictably pleasant.

But just so you know, if you were to ask me if I ever ate a meal in Paris that I regret in some way, I’ll say – yep. Indeed. In the end, I greatly regret tonight’s dinner at le Procope. And it’s my own fault. I so wanted the Brittany oysters.  And I had to go off the set menu to get them. I was almost indifferent to what I would have as a main course. I couldn't afford the seasonal lobster and after that, it all seemed equally fine. I pointed to what my neighbor was eating. I’ll have that, I told the waiter.

Sure? The waiter, sensing my non-Frenchness asks. He tells me what it is and now my honor is at stake (it’s an animal part that I would not even think of ordering if I saw it on the menu -- they're called rognons de veaux, just so you know). Yes, sure, I hear myself saying.

And it’s well prepared, and I eat it, but I feel about it like I feel about the fried grasshoppers I ate six years ago in Japan: never again.

Tomorrow I fly the long segment over Asia to Osaka. That’s fine. I have work to keep me busy. One has to pay for the breaks and meals in life. Even if occasionally one wishes one hadn’t quite spent the money on veal kidneys.


Walking back to the hotel, I cross the Boulevard St Germain and I note that it's ever so slightly drizzling. The street looks wet. The air feels pleasantly cool. I can hardly stay awake now. I hurry, so that I can get a post out before my eyes shut down for the night.