The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Paris Snapshots

Figurative snapshots not associated with the literal snapshots that accompany them:

In Parc Montsouris, deep in the 14th, there are benches that, when one sits on them, launch a looped audio recording of students from the adjacent university softly whispering declarations of love in their native languages...about 50 of them. A pleasant idea, but a little strange to be strolling along and then encounter a park bench whispering unintelligibly to itself.

[pic: Signs of the times, St. Sulpice]

Paris has joggers, by the way. Lyon, not so much, especially not in great flowing streams of sweat bands, Adidases and shorts.

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Lifetime goal achieved: I've been mistaken for a Parisian by a Parisian. The counter lady at the Korean traitteur in Chinatown asked if I lived in the neighborhood. This is far from any tourist area, and I was carrying a bag of groceries, so I suppose I didn't look like a tourist, but it says something about Paris that a tall blond etranger with bad French and a thick American accent could possibly be a local.

[Pic: Jacob v. Angel, as intrepreted by Delacroix, St. Sulpice. Remarkable how well the painting's composition and colors work with the very limited available light. No flash here, sorry about the lens flare.]

That Korean take-out, by the way... superb. One of the better meals I've had in France, even if it was eaten sitting on the floor of a tiny hotel room with a view of an elevator shaft. A "triple room" sometimes means "a regular-sized double room with a third bed jammed in there somehow."

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Paris' metro makes Lyon's metro look like a Disney monorail pulled by magic unicorns. The Paris metro is much older, which explains a lot, but the cars are ancient and filthy (except on the new, modern 14 line), it's not air-conditioned, and the stations are a rat's warren of tunnels, some unmarked. Most criminally, at least for a person pushing a stroller or lugging two overstuffed roll-on suitcases, there are no elevators and very few escalators. At one changeover at Gare St. Lazare, V. counted eight flights of stairs between one line's platform and another. I didn't notice because I was too beat from lugging Tater's stroller up and down the steps. A person in a wheelchair would have no chance at all.

The good news: smelling hospital disinfectant in a Metro station is better than smelling urine. [pic: The clergy at St. Sulpice have had it up to here with those Davinci Coders. Click to embiggen.]

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You know how Paris is supposed to be filled with fabulously-dressed people sporting the lastest couture? We didn't find that to be the case at all. I alluded to this in the previous Paris post, but it really was unusual to see so many people--women especially-- so casually dressed.

Part of my observation may be due to the large number of sloppy tourists thinning out the style quotient, but we spent a fair amount of time away from the touristy areas as well.

Here in Lyon, V. gets dressed up to go to the grocery store, and women seem to go to much greater lengths to present a pulled-together look on a daily basis. Dare to appear in public wearing a t-shirt and (gasp!) shorts, and you face the silent judgment, sneers, and pointed looks of the Lyonnais.

I was talking about this with a Parisian colleague, who said that Lyon is much more conservative (socially, not politically) than Paris. As she put it, the Lyonnais feel they have everything they need-- a big city that's close to the country, close to the mountains and the beaches, good restaurants, good-enough arts and culture-- so they feel they never have the need to look outward or make any changes.

[Pic: Faces on the Pont-Neuf]


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When you're naming your Indian restaurant, you might consider not naming it after a guy most famous for starving himself. [pic]

"Hey, we've won civil rights concessions from the British colonial government...anybody hungry? Let's go to my place and chow down!"


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Shakespeare & Co. is no longer in the same place it was when it published Ulysses, and when Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Stein hung out there, but it is still a quite worthy bookstore [pic].

It's strange, after hundreds of everyday shopping encounters that occur according to a familiar script in French, to buy something at a store where the entire staff is American. I had to stop myself from repeating my half of the ritual en francais.

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About the nursing bra thing: A few months back V. was reading Entertainment Weekly or People or one of those other things she reads when not translating the early philosophic works of de Beauvoir. There was a brief blurb/quote from Angelina Jolie or some other recent-mother celebrity about how much she loved her nursing bras from Agent Provocateur, that they were pretty enough to wear with straps showing or under something see-through, etc., etc. The London-based Agent Provocateur has a website (which you probably don't want to visit at work), but of course one doesn't buy bras without trying them on first (er...I'm told). V. found that they did have one store in France, in the lingerie department at Printemps in Paris.

Which is how I ended up rather sheepishly hanging around the lower level of Printemps with a fussy baby strapped to my chest, admiring a display case of rhinestone-studded riding crops (I said they were British, yeah?) and silk pasties, idly thumbing through racks of articles with prices totally out of proportion to the volume of material presented, while Boog lolled on a heart-shaped red crushed-velvet bench playing with... "It's a feather-duster, kiddo".

As it turned out, the design V. liked so much didn't fit her well, so she walked away empty-handed and resigned to nursing bras with the industrial appeal of farming apparatus.

[Pic: Speaking of beautiful supporting structures. I said no touristy photos, but you gotta admit it's a very pretty church. And did I ever tell you the one about the bell-ringer of Notre-Dame?]

The Printemps on Boulevard Hausmann, and the adjacent Galeries Lafayette, are astounding for the sheer volume of tourists shuffling through them, gawking at astronomical price tags, taking photos of racks of clothes, filing off motorcoaches and back on again. The Asian tourists seem to have this bug particularly bad, as if a trip to Paris would be incomplete without a purchase of something Dior. Rows of Japanese husbands sat glassy-eyed and sullen on the curb, smoking cigarettes and ignoring the bustling crowds bumping against their backs. Small booths on the sidewalk, backed against the wall of Printemps, hawked knockoff silk ties at 3 for 20 euros to those who merely wanted to say they had bought something here.

I can't imagine anyone from Paris comes here except out of utter necessity.

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