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.
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
, 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.
Bad Bunni posted at 9/16/2004 01:30:00 PM
Kiss of the Dragon
As I walked down rue de l'opera, I was struck by the number of perfume shops around. Since I had no perfume, and since I was in Paris, I decided to pop into one where I managed to purchase for my mother Eau des Merveilles
(Hermes) and for myself Le Baisser du Dragon
or Kiss of the Dragon (Cartier). The female perfume clerk who took care of me praised me a great deal claiming that I was very nice for an American. In NY, when a salesperson wants to stroke a client's ego, it is done with a compliment about appearance "You look so thin, young, cool etc," but often in Paris the compliment I received from sales people was that I was nice. I'm not sure if it was because they expected me to be mean or because it was simply an observation about my character ( perhaps the utter lack of make up prevented them from calling me pretty).
After spending more than a human being should on perfume, the clerks loaded me up with extra samples of Mont Blanc perfume (aren't they supposed to make pens?) and shiseido eye cream. I was given so many samples that every day I was in Paris, I wore a different perfume. My favorite would later become Tsar by Van Cleef and Arpels
. One of the other clerks, a man with grey hair, came over to talk to me about, of all things, surf and turf. In turns out he had lived in Los Angeles and he missed being able to get steak and lobster on one plate. The female clerk, when he began to explain surf and turf, appeared not to be able to even understand the concept of steak and lobster together.
The Evil Empire
They were more than happy to chat with me so I asked them to recommend a nearby cafe. "Oh" said the female clerk, "there is a starbuck's right at the end of this block." I started laughing, but I didn't want to say "Listen, I didn't fly all this way and lose my luggage and struggle with fishing around in my memory for useful french to go to a starbuck's." But the male clerk said "No, no" obviously my knowledge of surf and turf impressed him deeply, "go to Nicolas, the cafe next door.
" which I didn't realize is a chain of wine stores which occassionally have a cafe attached. I thanked them both as they stood there both telling each other how nice I was.
As I was about to leave the female clerk said "Wait" and sprayed a big cloud of perfume at me and sent me off into the streets of Paris stinking of Kiss of the Dragon.
Bad Bunni posted at 9/15/2004 03:36:00 PM
The Best Thing I Have Ever Put In My Mouth: Dining in Paris
If you ever happen to be on the rue des matyrs (mentioned in Emile Zola's Nana
as the location of Laure's three fanc dinner for low class courtesans and drag kings) go to 33 rue de navarin home of the Tiger Restaurant. The Tiger specializes in seafood, although there are other things on the menu including goose pate and chicken in lemon sauce.
Running the Tiger is Madame Tiger, a woman in her late forties with half glasses, bright red hair, and a friendly manner. I picked the tiger because it seemed less crowded, and with my french being shaky I wanted to embarass myself in front of the least amount of french people possible. I took a chair outside. (I was told eating outside can often cost twice as much-this is true of cafes and restaurants in many in the more tourist-y areas like outside the Musee D'orsay, but it is not true of all restaurants and if the price is higher for outside it is clearly labeled on the menu.) Madame Tiger remained inside manning the desserts, but she spoke to me through the window. Despite my limited french and her utter lack of english, we managed to talk. We chatted about the election and September 11th. Like many, she wanted to know if I was in NYC during 9/11. I told her I was and the conversation stopped there as I couldn't think of how to describe the event in french.
A young American couple came by and were trying to translate the posted menu. I explained to them that the Tiger had menus in English available upon request. ( Interesting quality considering that no one working at the Tiger including the tall, thin, chain smoking cook spoke a word of English.) They thanked me and asked for a table. After they received the menu, they asked me how to say "We don't eat fish" in french. I tried to teach them, but finally they asked me to say it. I told Madame Tiger "You (pl) don't eat fish." She smiled and nodded. She came out and pointed out other items on the menu, but they thanked her and left.
It took about five minutes for me to realized that I should have said "ils" instead of "vous", but Madame Tiger didn't seem to mind and she understood what I meant. At the end of dinner, she brought me tarte tatin unasked for and uncharged. If the Lord Almighty were to get his angels to pick apples and bake a tarte tatin and then carefully place it upon your tongue like a sacrament, it might taste this good. Possibly. She said it was simply apples, sugar, butter, and cinnamon, but it was divine. If you can go to the Tiger and ask for half a bottle of Cote du Rhone and tarte tatin-it costs as much as dinner other places, but it is worth it.
I went home to my room. Henri had left a message, but I pretended not to see it and I went to sleep full of butter and wine.
More Fun With Crazy Artists
The following morning my plan was to go to the Musee D'orsay, but once I got out of the metro I was distracted and started to walk towards Place de la Concorde
where I saw the Champs Elysees
. I then decided to walk through Les Jardins des Tuileries
towards the Louvre. ( The Tuileries are not very exciting especially when compared to Les Jardins Luxembourg, but it is certainly the most impressive approach to the Louvre.)
The artists who hang on the steps to the Louvre are much more aggressive than the artists at Sacre Coeur. They have no qualms about grabbing single girls by the arm and attempting to physically pull them into sitting for portraits. By this time I was getting annoyed with having to fend off men every time I went to a national monument, and I still had a lot of monuments to go. After I managed to extricate myself from the grip of a particularly aggressive art student from Morrocco, I made my way to the main square of the Louvre and sat for a few minutes. I could have gone in then, but I wanted to spend a whole day in the Louvre.
Things You Can Do Without:
I went out a side entrance and decided to walk on Rue de Rivoli as many friends had told me to go there. I was a little suprised by the giant Sephora store I found there. The large department stores and little tourist shops didn't entice me, so I decided to find the Palais Royale. I had read about it in The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After, and somehow in my mind it had become a large majestic palace worthy of attempting to compete with the Louvre. But once I got there, it was rather boring compared even to "lesser" buildings like the Bourse.
St.Eustache and Les Halles
Since I was already in the neighborhood, I decided to go to St. Eustache. Unlike Notre Dame and even Sacre Coeur, St Eustache is relatively empty most of time. The visitors actually respect the signs asking for silence without having to be reminded, but as a result there is almost no staff (unlike at Notre Dame which is bustling with guides and guards). Richelieu ( the villian of Three Musketeers) and Moliere are buried there. There is a lovely stained glass window of a young king whose feet do not touch the ground as he sits on his throne. Instead he sits, crown on head, feet dangling above the floor.
But at St. Eustache I saw the beginnings of attempts at "modernization." In the midst of this sixteenth century cathedral, there was a Keith Haring triptych in buffed steel. In California or even in some areas of NY, I would have accepted it, but under the high vaulted ceilings and stained glass, it was revolting. Why was it there? To try to be "hip" and "cool"? It reminded me of the scene between the father and john cusack in Better Off Dead when the father is reading some book on slang from the late sixties. "Hey, you're really bringing me over, dude." "That's down, dad. Instead of being hip, it just reaffirms the suspicion of utter cluelessness.
Unfortunately many of the paintings were being restored. They appeared to be under patches of duct tape, giving them a kind of Modrian like appearance. I left and decided to find some place to eat.
Damsel in Distress
Before I could find a cafe, I noticed an old man with stained pants was following me. I tried to lose him and make my displeasure absolute, but just as soon as I thought I had lost him, I would see him again. I realized that in NY I would have simply said "fuck off" and felt better about it (in fact I have had done exactly that on occassion) and much of the anxiety I felt was about not knowing how to say it. Finally, I headed back to the Louvre thinking he wouldn't attack me ina square with surveillance and guards.
As I crossed the square he continued to follow me, only closer, maybe about five or six feet away. Originally I was going to go up to the guards, but considering how close he was I ran up a man working in the yard. I explained in french that I needed his help and then switched to english explaining that an older man was following me. Meanwhile the man, who I pointed out, kept walking. He walked right past me and out a side entrance as if he had merely been strolling in the neighborhood. The guard talked to me in english and french telling me not to be afraid. "Don't be scared. It 's ok. The square is on video. There are guards here. You are safe. He didn't try to touch you? No just followed you, yes? It's ok. He just thought you were pretty and wanted to get close. You are fine now. You are safe." Finally, I calmed down. I was thanking him and about to say good-bye when he said, "Are you visiting the Louvre today? I get off of work in about an hour and I'd love to give you a tour. What's your name?"
Kiss of the Dragon
I managed to get out of the Louvre courtyard, by this time I'm starving and in deep need of a glass of wine. I walk down Rue de L'Opera
, which is gorgeous,. More to come...
Bad Bunni posted at 9/14/2004 04:33:00 PM
I wrote a big long post which was then eaten by my evil computer so I'm afraid you are going to have to wait until tomorrow to get another installment. Apologies, but I just don't have the strength to type it all over again today.
Bad Bunni posted at 9/13/2004 05:18:00 PM
A Digression on Behalf of my Cyber Crush
Having grown up disabled with many illnesses and problems, I made a silent agreement with the universe. That agreement is it's ok that I was the one who got sick because I would rather it be me than my mother or my friends or even the guy who walks his chihuahuas every night with flashing lights on their collars. I would rather, if any of us have to be sick, that it be me. But see then the universe goes and violates the deal. Orionoir
( my secret cyber crush) has, well, I'll let him tell you, but just go and see. And another friend of mine has lung cancer which may have spread to his liver. And another friend of mine's mother suddenly died while gardening. And as an atheist I don't really have any place to direct complaints. All I can do is say "Hey...uh...universe. Freakin' BEHAVE will ya? And please lay off the very few people on the planet that I actually like. " But the universe, much like my cat, doesn't acknowledge my complaints.
Bad Bunni posted at 9/13/2004 03:41:00 PM