Monday, July 4, 2016

How Cool Was My Paris

Here's what no one tells you about going to Paris in July: bring leggings.

Sure, I'd looked at the two-week forecast, but nothing in it had prepared me for walking outside in the morning and feeling a cool breeze on my bare legs. The man in my life, on the other hand, was suitably attired, but knows me well enough to know how easily I get chilled. So after consulting with the front desk, he led me to a nearby supermarket's sock section to procure not leggings, but black tights to ward off the early July chill.

Properly attired, we made our way back down to the water to pick up the Batobus to lose most of a day to the Louvre. Standing in line to have our bags checked, street vendors wandered the line of easy targets calling out, "Umbrellaumbrellaumbrella" and "Umbrellaumbrellapark," the latter a reference to the plastic ponchos they were selling.

Not necessary. Here's what even I, a Paris virgin, already knew: bring an umbrella with you to France.

Like everyone else, I'd imagine, I was overwhelmed at the sheer size and ornamentation of the Louvre and its seemingly endless corridors chocked with the booty of years of earnest acquisitions, not to mention oblivious and often rude visitors.

We didn't even bother with the Mona Lisa, obscured behind hordes of selfie-stick-wielding tourists, but I'm not going to lie, as an art history nerd, the wall of other Leonardos in the grand hallway was humbling.

And nothing could have been better than discovering that Winged Victory of Samothrace was surrounded by stairs and multi-levels, the better to view it from various angles.

Humor arrived in the form of other tourists, like the British woman (bad teeth, hair growing out of chin, mint green sweater) who walked up, turned to her mate and inquired, "Eh, what's the name of that one?" as if she'd stumbled on a piece of street art.

Moments later, an Aussie dressed like he was going out for a run nonchalantly asked his friend, "Nice, huh?" Nice would be one way to put it, but certainly not mine. The energy of the headless figure was extraordinary, as if it might stride right off its pedestal and down some Greek hill.

That must have been some victory, all right.

Guide books warn you of "museum fatigue," but honestly, if I got tired of anything at the Louvre, it was Jesus. After a while, I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm for another Annunciation, Crucifixtion or bloody head on a platter.

It was time for a change of scenery.

The formerly bohemian St-Germain-de-Pres neighborhood called to me for its literary roots, so we meandered to Les Deux Magots where writers such as Hemingway, Sartre and Joyce wiled away hours drinking, eating and talking.

Ditto us, except we were in the outside café, essentially a covered patio, especially convenient since a gentle rain fell intermittently the entire time while the nerviest sparrows I've ever seen walked up to us looking for crumbs.

Les Belles Vignes Sancerre Rose accompanied Deux Magots salads - a minimal layer of lettuce weighed down by ham, cheese, chicken, hard-cooked eggs and an abundance of creamy dressing - while all around us, people puffed away on cigarettes - both Dunhills and Marlboros - and vaped, many while nursing a cup of coffee.

Like Hemingway, Sartre and Joyce hadn't done the same?

It was charming to see dogs under tables throughout the outdoor and indoor café, including one which its owner picked up like a suitcase by its harness and deposited in the chair next to him. Pet as pick-up accessory, I suppose.

Choosing a dry moment to wander out into the neighborhood, we headed to Shakespeare & Co. Books, where the ex-pat authors were also known to hang, passing a city sign on the street reading, "Dreamers: Guard your belongings!"

Since I had no worthwhile belongings with me, I felt free to dream.

High drama greeted us a block before the store when three soldiers in fatigues came down the street, arms drawn and fingers on the trigger. I have to say it's the closest I ever hope to be to that situation again and yet nothing seemed amiss.

Shakespeare was so crowded that it was one in for one out and once inside, the aisles of the winding rooms were clogged with people, but I at least got to browse (including a section labeled "beautiful old books," of 30s and 40s hardback copies of classics like "How Green Was My Valley") before making a purchase and allowing one more visitor their moment of book heaven.

Our day had been so leisurely that it was already happy hour, so we paused at a corner café for a glass and some of Paris' finest entertainment, people-watching.

The open doors afforded a fabulous view of passersby and traffic, including hearing and seeing  a taxi's tire blow out as he rounded the corner, watching a nerdy older couple suck face at a nearby table and witnessing a young American woman steal a small French flag off the cafe's awning, only to have her nervy friend come in and ask directions to another place.

There's a reason we're considered ugly Americans and we've seen not a little of it while here.

Make no mistake, this was a place with a decidedly tourist bent - a special of hot dogs frites and a pay toilet for non-customers - but good behavior should still be the order of the day, non?

When we left there, it was in search of somewhere for dinner, but specifically somewhere that wasn't all about the big soccer game between France and Iceland, not an easy thing to find given the excitement about it.

Between Saturday's massive Pride parade (the massive neo-Renaissance Hotel de Ville was sporting rainbow banners the size of which I will never see again) and scads of soccer tourists decked out in jerseys and flags, Paris is full of targeted demographics right now.

We got lucky with Les Garnements because they only had one small screen and the fans wanted many and large. Vintage magazine and newspaper pages were decoupaged on the walls, providing a mini-history lesson of the neighborhood's shows and activities.

For a change we weren't automatically given the English menu (score!) and given how slow it was, our server seemed happy to translate a few things for us after dropping off a fish-shaped bottle of Les Celliers de Ramatuelle Cote de Provence Rose.

So far, the French haven't been nearly as disdainful as legend holds.

"Ooh, good choice!" the server said when I asked for the daily fish, a delicious sea bass over a mountain of haricots verts, while my date couldn't resist the mammoth rib-eye special that wasn't so much cooked as walked by a stove to warm the outside.

As we were finishing up a molten chocolate cake ("Ours has Toblerone inside!" he bragged, so why not go there?), a few soccer fans showed up, probably because the big screen places were already full now that the game had begun.

We may not have been watching, but it wasn't hard to keep track of how the game was going as cheers erupted periodically from inside cafes during our walk back to the hotel. By the time we were home, France had won.

Mais oui, nobody had to tell me that Paris is a place where you walk out after breakfast and don't get back until it's time to go to bed. All the better when you've got a fellow walker beside you all day.

Bon soir...

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