Say It Loud, Say It Proud: Fuck Atkins
I went to Nicolas and was asked if I wanted a smoking or non smoking table. The non smoking part tipped me off to Nicolas being a place that was used to catering Americans or at the very least tourists. I tend to think as Americans as the most rabid of the anti smoking tourists. Perhaps the British are the next. Often when I talk to people who have visited Italy or France they say "It's a beautiful place, but the smoking..." Generally, I follow the when in Rome type of advice. I drank cider and ate curry all through my stay in London. I had haggis in Scotland ( for breakfast no less). And in Paris all I drank was wine and coffee ( well, and occassionally a glass of water for variety). I sat at my smoking table and ordered the cheese plate and a glass of cote du rhone.
Most often when you order a cheese plate in Paris, you will get butter with it as well. I know what you're thinking, "All those carbs, and all that fat isn't enough, you put butter on it too." Listen, if you aren't going to enter into the spirit of the thing, then you might as well not go. Have the french bread ( it is fabulous, and you can not get it here, even at Eli's Vinegar Factory, I'm sorry, but no), have the cheese (oh it's so good) and have the cheese with butter. First the butter there is very tasty, especially if, like at Nicolas, they season it with some chives. They served the cheese with this large dallop of creamy looking, dairy fresh, you can hear the cow lowing in the kitchen if you really listen butter. Not only is the butter very tasty on its own, but it changes the taste of the cheeses. Some of the cheese only taste fabulous with the butter, softening the edge of a slightly bitter cheese. Other cheeses the butter simply transforms the flavor adding a little piquance (the chives) or enriching an already butter cheese.
In short, have the cheese and the bread and the wine and the butter and don't think about your diet. You're on fucking vacation.
"We Are Crazy French, No?"
After filling myself on very tasty cheese and wine and Nicolas, I kept venturing down Rue de L'Opera. I managed to purchase a very expensive bar of chocolate at Fouchard, which if I have ever received proof of the existence of the higher holy assembly it is the chocolate at Fouchard. (They do not have a website but if you are walking down rue de l'opera you will be able to smell, if your nose is tuned to quality chocolat like mine, the store from the sidewalk.)But I tucked my chocolate away, and noticed that the deoderant I had purchased at the drug store at the airport, well, it left a great deal to be desired.
Paris does not have deoderant or even drug stores they way New York does. Here in NYC, drug stores often have two levels. They offere everything from nail polish remover to school supplies to snacks. Drug stores, or pharmacies, in Paris are generally as large as my dorm room. They offer a very limited supply of soaps, sun block (is it really that sunny?), deoderants, condoms, and pregnancy tests. (A side note about condoms. I was told by UDR that most restaurants and cafes have condom dispensers in the bathroom. I didn't notice any, but he assures me that if you purchase such a condom, the package has an eiffel tower on the front.) I had been in a few pharmacies in the vain hope of finding real American deoderant: Mitchum's, Dove, Secret, crickey even Ban., but to no avail.
Finally near the end of Rue de L'Opera, I found a place advertising in bright neon "American Pharmacy", I entered with great hope of finding a real American pharmacy with real American deoderant. I found, instead, a small pharmacy about the size of my dorm room with the same selection of deoderants, augmented by some deoderants that seemed to have Greek and Russian writing on the front. I picked a small bottle of rose scented deoderant. I went up to pay the 18 year old male clerk. We did the usual exchange of pleasantries. Then he suddenly said something to the female clerk and they both started laughing. After the laughter subsided he looked at me. "Do you understand?" he asked in English, surmising from my lack of mirth that I didn't understand French. "I wasn't listening" I told him. "Oh well, there was a plane that went over head. I turned to the other clerk and said 'Maybe it is the Germans coming to re-occupy us.'" AT which point both clerks started laughing again. When he returned to me and my half blank, half incredulous expression he said, "Well, what can you do, we are crazy french, no?"
Uh, crazy would be the operative word in that sentence especially considering that the following day there were to be several celebrations all over Paris dedicated to the liberation of France from the Germans. Humor being a fairly interesting cultural indicator I took this joke as an example of french humor in the same way I took Miracle gro's cow on a crane joke as an example of Russian humor. The humor itself, not the language, is designed to identify members of the cultural group. You can translate the cow joke into english, but you can not, for the love of g-d and all things holy, make it funny to an American.
I was exhausted and decided it was too far to walk to my hotel and I wasn't in the mood to walk even as far as the metro. I picked up a cab at a cab stand. My cab driver was a man in his late thirties with grey hair and a face like one of the brigands in the Belmondo movie Cartouche. He had an expressionless oval face with blue eyes. We chatted amiably in french on the way to the hotel ( cab drivers often do not speak english but can understand the most mangled french and speak slowly enough to be understood by an elementary french student.) Once we got to the hotel he asked me "Would you like to have a drink?" "Now? I just got to my hotel. I want to rest." "OK well how about arond 8? I'll give you a call." So I gave him my phone number, and I went into take a long bath and brief nap before dinner.
Saint Michel
UDR told me before I left that I had to go to place Saint Michel every night for a night cap. "Night caps are very important in Paris" he told me, but I hadn't really had the time for one. I was woken by the phone at eight, but I decided instead of answering the phone to head to St. Michel.
The Statue of St. Michel was lovely, although no one was looking at it. Mostly people were standing in front of it consulting maps. I walked down the rue St. Michel, but wasn't impressed by any of the restaurants on that street and started wandering side streets. Finally, I settled on the Clou de Paris, on rue du danton, which had a nice prix fix dinner including steak au poivre ( one of my favorite dishes to eat and one of the first dishes I learned to make-a dish I made often in high school simply for the joy of flaming the cognac). There were many seats open and so I picked one and ordered dinner while I wrote in my journal and read some of Adam Gopnik.
The steak is ok, although not quite the quality of meet I expected, the frites are amazing. And the sauces are french.
I have dinner and talk to some of the waiters. Although the restaurant is busy when I first get there, business slows down and so the waiters chat with me. Finally I decide to go, I don't want to go home, but I really have no idea what to do. One of the waiters asks for my phone number, he is very young and slender. I wonder at my friend Todd who told me that french men are short, I seem to find all the six foot ones. My waiter, Rafique, the tall slender one, explains he is actually Algerian. We change phone numbers and I decide to walk around.
Crazy Artist Quota
As I am crossing the street I notice I am next to a young guy with a tornado of black hair on his head. He smiles and begins with the usual "Ca va?" His clothes, a faded black, are torn and tattered ont he edges, but he has large brown eyes and seems fairly young. He speaks English and so we walk around the Latin Quarter for a bit. I walk down a side street where there are greek restaurants that break plates when customers leave. The streets are narrow and brightly colored, there is confetti on the cobblestones, and inside the clubs you can see mambo and salsa dancing. There are cocktail bars advertising Sex on the Beach, Blow Jobs, and Viagra shots cheap. Finally we come back to the Siene. We sit at the top of the stairs and talk. He takes out a pack of tarot cards and asks me if I know anything about it. I say I know some, that even read cards before, and he decides we should swap reading. I go first using a celtic cross lay out. I give him a reading making references to astrological signs and the kabbalah. He reads my cards using a simple five card layout. I notice the burning tower is on the left while the lovers is on the right. "What does the positioning of this card mean?" I ask pointing to the Tower. "Oh that's what you are like inside." He points to the lovers. "This is what you are like outside." Had I gone to a shrink I don't think I would have received such an effective analysis of the disparity between my internal and external existence.
We sat chatting by the Seine. Occassionally he kissed me, but he was an awful kisser. I mean not just bad, but nauseating. We talked about past lovers. He had a problem keeping a girl longer than six months. I didn't joke "Well you won't even be able to keep this girl six days." He was 26 and had been with two American girls which accounted for his dexterity with english. He lived in one of the "arab" neighborhoods. His name was David and he was a self proclaimed crazy artist/musician which accounted for his hurricaine like hair arrangement. As he tried to pull me into another kiss, he asked "What? Don't you like crazy artists?" I didn't answer out loud, but I thought to myself "I'm beginning to wonder if there are any other kind of men that exist." Apparently I should have majored in crazy artist in college, I would have had a lot more dates.
Eventually it gets late ( 2 am) and I decide to hail a cab and go home. David wants to meet at Notre Dame at two the next day. I agree already knowing I probably won't be there.

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