Maurice Naughton Posted May 14, 2004 Share Posted May 14, 2004 Hi-- I sometimes post reports about Paris on another site, and some friends have asked me to post them here too. I haven't done well at these reports this spring for a variety of reasons, but I hope to be more consistant during my last six weeks here. Here are the only two I've posted so far. Maurice Naughton == Paris, 2 April 2004, mostly cloudy and cool, report 1 Hi, There-- Getting here wasn't half the fun. I rented a car to go from Flint to the Detroit airport, and a day-drinker promptly rear-ended me at a stoplight. The ensuing brawl (verbal) took up considerable time, but wasn't interesting. I got to the Hertz office at the airport with less than an hour till plane time. The folk there were, to my surprise, wonderous kind and considerate, and I managet to arrive at the British Airways check-in only twenty minutes before departure. Spent some more time at security after that, where the nice lady confiscated by beautiful little German pocket knife that separates into a picnic knife and fork. I had forgot to move it from my pocket to my suitcase. But I made it to the plane, last sod to board. The flight, aided by an 85 mph tailwind and "Something's Gotta Give," (Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson) and not terribly inhibited by the truly lousy lasagna, was fast and Heathrow arrived at six in the morning. The charm of the international departure terminal at Heathrow is minimal at that hour, oh hell, at any hour. I thought two ounces of oscetra caviar at about £60 unreasonable, and I had no need for a Thomas Pink shirt, a Bulgari necklace, a Mont Blanc fountain pen, nor a Vacherin et Constintine wristwatch. And I hadn't enough room in my backpack for an Easter bunny. I settled for a ready-made BLT at Pret á Manger and a pint of Fuller's at J. D. Whetherspoon's Bar, whilst I read the The Daily Telegraph. Come on, guys, it's for laughs. The short hop to Charles de Gaulle brought BA's breakfast--tea, orange juice, and an inedible wedge of something they called "pie." It brought the only memorable moment to the flight, when the collecting attendant showed up and asked, "Finished, sir?" I said, "This thing's not much to my taste." The collector said, "You, sir, are not the first to have made that observation." Brightened the morning a treat. Up and down stairs. RER train to place Denfert-Rochereau. Up and down stairs. Up and down stairs again. Metro to Corvisart. Down stairs. Short hike to apartment. Uneventful but two small suitcases and a backpack are quite a load (I bring lots of books) to schlep up and down stairs for an hour or so. My apartment is in all ways but one excellent. It doesn't have a real oven, just a microwave one. But it has two rooms, and everything in them but the carpet is virgin--brand-new, unused, pristine, from the cookware to the furniture to the sheets and pillows, still wrapped in plastic. I'm glad the carpet has a stain here and there. It gives me peace of mind. And it has that rarest of appliances, a bathtub, one of those astonishing French ones, about four feet long and three feet deep, with water hot enough to cook lobsters. My landlord is a fine fellow, American with a French wife and two grown kids. He and I spent Wednesday late afternoon wandering about the neighborhood (called la Butte aux Cailles), listening to its hum, smelling its smells, catching its mood, savoring its flavor. It's in the 13th Arrondissement, fast by the place d'Italie, near two of my favorite restaurants, Chez Paul and l'Avant-Gout, a personable little neighborhood with twisty streets, short buildings, neighborly shops, and a village feel. When Will (Faas, my landlord) left me to my own devices it was getting on to dinnertime, and I suddenly realized I was numb with wearyness, too tired to think of anything but a hot shower and early bedtime. I did buy a sandwich, just in case, and a wedge of apple crumble tarte (Ah, Paris!), but mainly I tried to find my way home (I'd not brought my map book, and the little twisty streets were a Minotauran maze about which there was apparently no reason). But I kept asking people, "Do you know where I live?", and all of them were warm, cordial, and very thorough in their concern for an âgé perdu . When I ask for directions and have no idea of what's being said to me, which is almost all the time, I watch the hands. The first direction one of them points is the way I go. After a while, I ask someone else, knowing that when he points behind me, I've missed a turn. A half-hour or so of this backing and filling finally got me there, to 19, rue des Cinq Diamants, a fine good-omen of an address--a a 19-high diamond flush is rarely a loser. After my shower and part of the sandwich, I fell in bed and slept. The sun has just popped out, my signal to leave. == Much time has passed since I wrote the preceding, and I've been very busy and wasteful of my time (or not; it's a point of view). I think I'll send this much now and you'll have to wait a bit for the rest. Maurice Paris, May 2, 2004, Report 2 Hi, There-- Let's just pretend that I've not been away and pick things up, like Homer and Virgil, in medias res. This year, May Day, le Fête du Travail, tripped in on the first of May, as scheduled, and as scheduled, it was the occasion of some manifestations social. Lovers of labor, working folk, and the drinking classes in general use this day to celebrate. What they celebrate, ostensibly, is travail, in both its French and English meanings. They don't, however, do it as a united siblinghood of friendly fellows and fellowettes, and in past years political differences have made the day's atmosphere, say, scratchy, but this year everyone managed to be low key, and rival factions generated almost no manifest ugliness. I didn't expect to see any bullet holes in the plate-glass along the Viaduc des Arts and the avenue Daumesnil the next day. Maybe peace prevailed because ten new countries were welcomed to the European union that morning, and Paris didn't want to show itself testy, Or perhaps it was because morning clouds dispersed into mostly sunny and it finally got warm enough, a few degrees above normal, for the younger citoyens to shed their quilted parkas and Burberry scarves and show some pearly bare arm, winter-faded belly, and youthful springtime joie de vivre. The predicted parade routes were published Friday. No newspapers escape their presses on labor day in France (indeed little work of any kind gets done, except by bartenders, waiters, cooks, cops, the unlicensed one–day street-corner vendors selling what must be the entire annual crop of muguet, and the City of Paris's green-clad and ubiquitous sweepers-up, very much later). I say "predicted" carefully because parades, once underway, tend to develop minds of their own, and shoot out splinter sorties like conga-lines or bunny-hoppers. In any case, four parades had been planned and were mapped out. [An aside. Muguet, Lily-of-the-Valley, is what you traditionally give your mom on Mother's day in France. On the day before, every street corner in Paris has its little table or two or three, every curbstone its urchin, with tiny bouquets of Lily-of-the-Valley, or little potted plants of them, to sell you, for a nosegay to be pinned to your mom's lapel on her special day.] Early birds, the Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (the CFTC, certainly not to be confused with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which preys on labor in an entirely different way) begins in the morning around the Gare de Montparnasse and goes to the Champs de Mars, to look at the Eiffel tower for a while and horse around on the greensward. I don't go out that early. The National Front (FN) makes its piddly contribution starting from Châtelet at about nine-thirty, and finds its way to the Opera, to contemplate Garnier's overwrought confection, maybe try to estimate what the gold on all those statues robbed the state coffers of. Why the FN show up on May Day at all makes little sense to me. I think they condemned Juan Peron for leftist tendencies. I skip them, too. The Force Ouvrière starts at noon in the place de la Bastille and migrates eastward, keeping the sun to their backs, to the place Gambetta. They are a more or less cosy, dull, orderly group, reminding me of the May Day procession of pupils and nuns from St. Elizabeth's School parading thinly across 75th and Main in Kansas City in the '50s, to sing "Oh, Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today,/Queen of the angels, queen of the May," in front of her engrottoed statue, whilst a little blonde girl in a blue pinafore climbed a wooden ladder to put a garland of lily-of-the-valley on Mary's polychromed and gold-crowned head. I can do without such reminders. My favorite parade, combining the field operatives of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), the Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes (UNSA), and the Fédération Syndicale Unitaire (FSU) gather under their banners and slogans in the place de la République at the entirely reasonable hour of 15h00 to slap another's back, sing merrily a little, and skip sociably along by way of the Bastille to the place de Nation. I discovered a couple of years ago that the reds and the greens are generally found here. The greens seem austere and abstemious to a fault, regarding their bodies as temples, I suppose, not to be violated by anything that may have been tainted by sulfites, or sealed with the highly unnatural screw cap, and seeming as sanctimonious, pietistic, and devout as shi'a clerics, or inmates of the class of '56 at Notre Dame de Sion Academy for Catholic Girls. I tend to shy away from them. As paraders, on the other hand, the communists are by far the most fun as well as the weirdest. They drink really cheap wine--the young ones, I mean--share it with anybody, and are generally friendly to old white-haired guys with backpacks and digital cameras. They also seem to attract Goths, with fuchsia hair in spikes, eyelids to rival Cleopatra's, and multiple body piercings, most of which they will gladly display for photographs. I set myself north from my apartment a bit before noon. I'll cross the place d'Italie, cruise along the avenue des Gobelins, then the rue Monge to Cardinal Lemoine where I can angle right to the Pont de Sully, crossing the Seine, the tip of the Ile St-Louis, and the Seine again to the boulevard Henri IV, and thence to the place de la Bastille. It's a beautiful day for a walk down interesting thoroughfares. I intend to dawdle and think I may get to the Bastille around two. There are few shops open. You'll find the occasional Arabe du Coin (the odd street name for the tiny grocery stores found every couple of blocks throughout Paris, with the tilt-tables of fresh fruit and veggies on the sidewalk out front, where you can pick up an emergency bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône, a cold can of Heineken, a box of Velouté de Legumes, or a roll of toilet paper, when the supermarchés are closed). Some restaurants and sidewalk cafés are unfurling, but not much more. Almost no traffic, and very quiet. Paris beset by complacencies of the peignoir. By the time I reached the Bastille, Paris seemed to have finished her aubade, done with yawning and stretching behind her morning coffee and brioche and was now settling down for some preprandial drinking. Under the careless eye of the Genie on the Pillar, the outdoor cafés' terraces are full of Parisiens sitting in sunbeams like iguanas soaking up the heat, drinking a pastis or a pression or a citron pressée or an espress', not pressed themselves, no appointments to keep. There's supposed to be an orchestra in the Square Louis XII, surrounded by the pink brick edifice of the most exquisite place des Vosges, and I detour a little westward to have a look. The back entrance, through the Hôtel de Sully has been closed for a while, so I head west on the rue de la Bastille, past the Brasserie Bofinger, turn right on the rue des Tournelles, left on the rue du Pas du Mule (which, surprisingly, means the street of the pace of the mule; French leads you not to expect the obvious), and into the place des Vosges at the corner entrance at the end of the rue des Francs Bourgeois. At the northwest corner, the spilling out into the arcade, the restaurant Ma Bourgogne is very busy and noisy with chattering families in springtime clothes. Not a great kitchen, but a rather renowned steak tartare and a decent boeuf bourgogne, I'm told. The three-star l'Ambrosie is here too, very close at hand and at the same time immensely far away. There's a crowd on the square's pebbled walks, waiting for the music, but the grassy areas are still "resting" and can't be trod upon till they are ouverte, when spring has undone winter's damage. I decide not to wait. All the benches are full and I'd rather be in the open rather than in a crowd today. I go back to the Pas de Mule and east to the boulevard Beaumarchais, then north again on that May-Day-quiet, commercial street, with few café and restaurants, but with an outpost of the British tea company Betjeman and Barton, a big Harley-Davidson showroom and service center, a little luthier (lute-maker by cognate, violin maker in practice), but too-few other shops of much interest to tourists and no "destination" restaurants, so it remains a very Parisien street. A little before boulevard Beaumarchais becomes boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, all without warning and seemingly without reason, you could take a left down the tiny, narrow rue des Arquebusiers and find at a little turning not far along, hidden in a corner, the sequestered, elegant, and very discreet four-star-deluxe Hotel Villa Beaumarchais and its excellent restaurant l'Orangerie. This seems to me about perfect as a Paris honeymoon hotel, or the exactly fastidious place for circumspect weekends with a gilded baroness who's footing the bills. Back on the boulevard, the organizers of the CGT-UNSA-FSU parade have been here, mounting banners that publish slogans like "Rebellez Vous!" and "Syndiquez Vous!" There are a lot of people about, strolling toward the place de la Republique, not getting into position for parade-watching, just rolling along the sunshine dappled sidewalk, on a perfect first of May. It's getting on to half past two, and the crowd is swelling. By the time I pull up even with Chez Jenny, the very beautiful but overrated turn-of-the-century brasserie, the crowd ahead, beyond the restaurant Indiana, Paris's Tex-Mex chain that always makes me laugh, is just milling around in little eddies and waves, not doing much. The outdoor tables at the big chain brasserie Taverne Maître Kanter, with probably better choucroute garni and certainly better prices than Chez Jenny, is chock full, and offers little hope of a front row seat for the pre-parade festivities and antics. Even the Lily-of-the-Valley sellers seem to have been swept away. Last year, over a million showed up for this parade. Some had not even left Republique before the vanguard arrived at Nation. Looks like a repeat this year. I don't do well in shoulder-to-shoulder, breast-to-back crowds. Last year, I hadn't got into the center of things like this; I'd joined the commies late, by the awful Opera Bastille and along the avenue Daumesnil. I determined to escape eastward to the rue du Faubourg du Temple, peel off left along the quai de Valmy and stroll along the quietly lovely Canal St Martin, till the distant shouting and peripheral noise suggested the parade was well underway. Then I'd get a metro to the Gare de Lyon and pick up the parade at Diderot and Daumesnil. Wasn't to happen. There was no way I could make it across the place de la Republique, no way to get through the river of people swarming out of the metro station entries, nothing but to turn back toward the Bastille, try to get to the boulevard Voltaire and the Metro at Oberkampf. That plan worked. Bastille is the third stop south from Oberkampf and I got into the shadow of the Genie on the July column before the parade arrived. I was on the north edge of the place, and headed toward the rue St Antoine. As I got to the Café des Phares' big outdoor dining terrasse, a big group, maybe from a tourist bus, all got up to leave together, and I grabbed a chair. A little rest off my feet would do me fine. I ordered some Belgian beer (Leffe) and a sandwich jambon-fromage and caught my breath. The parade arrived while I was still there in the front row. A great glacier of people--striding along, carrying banners, pushing kids in strollers, carrying them on shoulders and in backpacks (and frontpacks, too), distributing leaflets, chatting and laughing with their camarades-- flowed into the big circle around the July column. Many had red flags, red CGT ribbons on their lapels and shirt-fronts. The folks who'd been "recalculated" were there--the unemployed whose benefits had been slashed on January first. They were the ones with leaflets, explaining their position, why so many had sued for reinstatement of the cuts. One contentious point. But here were many others, too, too many for the unions to agree to any kind of common protest, too many splinter groups for there to be a true coming together. And the little groups marched apart. Nevertheless, flags, balloons, banners, red, yellow orange, sunshine and warm weather blew somberness away, and people were celebrating. I had an uncustomary cup of coffee after my lunch, sat and took pictures for a while, and finally, when I'd calculated maybe half the crowd had passed, I got up to join them. The Unions aren't very picky. If you want to join the parade, choose a group whose ideology or wine you savor, and then just jump in. Instead of turning left across the place de la Bastille and heading east down the rue du Faubourg Saint–Antoine, the parade has come around towards me, past the Café des Phares to move into the rue de Lyon and down the avenue Daumesnil The space running north up the center of the boulevard Richard-Lenoir, where the big Thursday and Sunday Marché Bastille is held, holds an amateur art market today, and across the place to the south, overlooking the Port de l'Arsenal, is installed a more commercial art and brocante market with an entrance fee. The newspaper L'Humanité has a tent by it, with a live rock band, playing music to march to, if you've got the swing. The city has put a fence around the July column in the center of the place, but some nimble youths have hopped it and climb up its base as far as they can to display their "Euro - May Day" banner for a little while. But soon they disembarked and continue their banner along its way to the place Nation. The column has a bit of a raised base, and from this I can see paraders still filling the Boulevard Beaumarchais, with red flags still waving and the balloons still advancing slowly. At previous May Day parades I've attended, the police contingent was huge and mightily visible, with their big transport buses lined up along the boulevards Bourdon and de la Bastille on either side of the yacht anchorage in the arsenal basin, and windowless blue paddy-wagons parked in the rues Lacuée and Jules Caesar branching north from the basin. But the presence is curiously lacking this year, just the officers assigned as parade marshals and some scooter and bike police. No buses, no vans, no black mariahs. I continue with my splinter group of commies and Goths up Daumesnil to boulevard Diderot, where they peeled off to the left down Diderot to Nation. I turned right and stopped at the brasserie Europeen across the street from the Gare de Lyon, for a bowl of moules provencale and a bottomless basket of terrific double-fried frites, bien cuit, and some sauce mayonnaise to dip them in, an artery-hardening bad habit I'd picked up in Belgium years before and remembered with fondness recently. A bottle of Chimay, the trappist-made Belgian beer, made it a meal. Tomorrow is the first Sunday in May, so a lot of the museums will be open with free admission. That means that the lines will be miles longer and the crowds inside several feet thicker than the awful usual. I think I'll get an early start on the Marché Auguste Blanqui just down the street from me, get a half a roast guinea-fowl, some leek and white asparagus vinaigrette, a tomato, a little fromage St-Felicien, a flute ancienne, a bottle of cold vinho verde, and a barquette of strawberries. I already have some crème fraîche. There's a little park by the rue Croulebarbe across from the fine old basque eatery Auberge Etchegorry, just a stone's throw from my apartment, and I think I'll have a picnic there. Later will be soon enough for the Foire de Paris, which began its 11 day run on Thursday, April 29. I'll reveal its wonders to you later. bien amicalment, Maurice Quote Link to post Share on other sites
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