Copyright © 2002 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved
Our sleeping hours vary with the weather, the walk, the wine, and the waking up urge. This morning I arose at about 4 AM, quietly got dressed, had breakfast and then worked at the computer until much later when Marcia arose.
The weather was expected to worsen by afternoon so we put off the laundry and set out for the Louvre again, this time by bus.
Traveling by bus is easier now than it used to be but years ago it was more exciting. You learned to swing on and off. Once aboard, if you were young, you moved for the open rear platform where you could make believe you were Harry Truman barnstorming from a presidential caboose. Standing there was fun even when the weather was inclement, but I remember the fresh air and especially the pretty girls sitting in automobiles. Then, there was a bus conductor who would punch your ticket sometime during the trip or sell you one with a smile. I understand that old buses still have a route, providing locals with a remembrance and tourists with lung full of exhaust fumes. Almost no fumes in 1950 because there were few vehicles.
Now the buses are all enclosed. The driver still has little interest in checking tickets; the driver's responsibility is to drive and the drivers in Paris are the best in the world. The conductor now is a box with a mechanical mouth and occasional indigestion; it turns red when fed a used ticket. Ordinarily, before returning it to you, it marks the ticket in some indecipherable fashion so that only officers of the controle can read it. You must keep it just in case a squad of inspectors boards. My ticket was inspected at least twice when last time we were in Paris.
And many of the new buses are equipped with a continuous LED panel which displays the name of the present stop, of the next stop, and of the final destination, as well as the number of minutes to a stop. And sometimes, as it did for us, it will warn you that, "There's a pickpocket on this line. Take care." You will understand the warning in French because the American word "pickpocket" has been adopted by the Paris Public Transportation Authority or Régie autonome des transports Parisians (RATP) if not by the Académie Française, the academy that maintains the integrity of the French language against the onslaught of the invading Americans.
Today we traveled on Bus # 95 which is a double bus, that is two buses connected with a section that looks and behaves like an accordion without music so that it can turn in and out of narrow streets. One boards in the front, middle, or end because the bus is quite long. At each entrance the machine accepts your ticket. We tended to use the rear entrance because with fewer people there are more seats, sometimes.
A short walk from the stop at the Louvre took us to the private entrance for us members of the Society of the Friends of the Louvre. Unfortunately, a sign in French informed us that "The opening of Louvre Museum is not possible for the moment due to a strike called by the museum staff." This was the first of many such disappointing surprises. Labor disruptions in France are a tradition and in Paris they are an every day occurrence.
Une grève, or a strike, can last for a long time; shortly after we arrived in France by boat in 1988 the mail carriers struck for almost a month during which time we neither could send nor receive any letters.
Une manifestation, or a demonstration, is usually a one day disruption; un défilé, or procession, can be hours; un rassemblement, or a gathering is usually the shortest in duration. Preparation by those involved and removal of debris following the event can take almost as much time as the event itself.
Parisians tolerate these interruptions partly because they, themselves, could be on the street someday but mostly, I think, they see themselves as members of a proletariat, somewhat disenchanted with government. Weren't their ancestors revolutionaries?
Nowadays, though, some of them are having second thoughts. Today's morning newspaper, for example, carried its usual map of the city with a list of traffic problems. In addition to seven roadwork projects, three other bottlenecks were identified: Union groups would march from boulevard Invalides to rue de Grennelle beginning at 10:30 AM; another union's members would gather at the Minister of Culture's office on rue Valois; and, finally, beginning at 2 PM at the L'Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) Parisians without papers (immigrants) will gather. On many mornings the number of labor disruptions exceeds the roadwork bottlenecks.
Gatherings of any kind are taken very seriously by the French. My introduction to force majeure (overpowering force) was at the Sorbonne when some students demonstrated in 1950. As I arrived for classes, I was met by tanks in Place de la Sorbonne. Nowadays force majeure consists of hundreds of armed members from a special force of the CRS, Compagnies républicains de sécurité. [Fiero, p. 247]
While walking one day near the intersection of boulevard de la Opéra and the Louvre, we noticed a police car parked on the street. Behind it were two busloads of armed CRS "just in case." How do I know they were armed? I guessed but we've witnessed CRS officers with shields, guns, and truncheons look on as about 50 women and with small children and infants sat near City Hall in the middle of rue St-Antoine blocking traffic. I have always been impressed by the French attitude toward violence. Indeed, a police patrol car usually carries three officers and you might see three such vehicles waiting at an intersection where passing autos are stopped for a credential check or for a traffic violation.
Not having access to the Louvre was pas de probleme though, because the gardens of Palais Royal were across the street. The first section is a garden of cement cylinders, about a foot in diameter, poking out above the ground. Arranged in rows and raised at different levels they provide a way station for office workers who want to read or have lunch, children who jump around, lovers who sit one on another, etc., etc.
As you walk further into this courtyard a real garden opens. The grass is green and yellow tulips were blooming as if this were The Netherlands. Areas were furnished with benches and the uniquely French metal easy chair that is found in parks. Even with the north wind chilling the air Parisians were out reading, writing or just sitting.
We continued our walk out of the garden and into the very narrow crowded streets that surround the area. Chez Stella, a restaurant, looked promising. We would return but first on to boulevard de l'Opéra and to the opera house itself for a tour which we had never taken. Unfortunately, the tour had already started. We stopped at Brentanos, the famous bookstore, and I bought a copy of The Voyage of the Narwhall by Andrea Barrett.
We needed to find a toilet facility. One of the floor walkers at Monoprix, a department store, rejected us but we were lucky to find one hidden away two floors below in the métro station. Since both of us had need and since this facility was not the small street variety, we decided to share it and save two francs. Worked out well.
Lunch at Chez Stella ( Stella's home) consisted of a first course of paté, followed by a stew, and then a most delicious chocolate cake on a bed of Crème Anglaise, a pale yellow sauce made with milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. We shared 50 cl of red wine and had coffee/tea. The restaurant, about the size of our living room back home, was crowded, noisy but very French and we enjoyed ourselves. The tab was 176 francs (about $25) and I added a tip of 24 F (about $3.50), No, service was not compris.
Back to Louvre, which had opened after the two hour strike, but we really couldn't get to the sections that we wanted and so home we went by bus. This time we got seats in the rear.
Once home we accessed our email and found some letters from family. I worked on these logs from Paris and Marcia practiced her violin music until we had supper - light but delicious - soup, salad, crackers, cheese, apple, coffee/tea, and cookies.
I got up about 4:30 a.m., Marcia much later, and then I napped for 30 minutes later in the a.m. The weather had become predictable: nice sunny brisk mornings followed by afternoon winds, clouds, and rain...followed by a clearing sky to allow the cafés time for business.
When I go out for the newspaper and bread in the morning, I meet the French as they always are.
The elevator stops on the way down and the person entering and I greet each other, "Bonjour monsieur (or madame." The greeting is often truncated and ends with a Madame without the Bonjour etc. "Bonne journée" ( Have a good day.) is said as we part downstairs. I get tongue tied sometimes when, having gotten accustomed to "madame" I meet a young woman who is obviously a mademoiselle, and I address her as madame. Embarrassing.
The gardien and/or his wife are already cleaning the lobby. Once again the greeting: "Bonjour." Here I don't use the "monsieur" or "madame" because I am acquainted with both.
At the presse stand where I buy Le Figaro, a newspaper, the same greeting is exchanged, "Bonjour monsieur (or madame)." And the greeting is repeated at the boulangerie were I buy Marcia's croissant. In the elevator at times the Bonjour is omitted.
In small towns outside of Paris and sometimes even in Paris, the same greeting is used as you pass another person particularly on a quiet street. When we had our boat tied up on a canal and walked on the tow path, not a person who passed failed to greet us. We like those courtesies.
First order of business today was a visit to the laundromat which was two blocks away.
Our re-introduction to clochards, a variety of street people, came when we found two of them doing their laundry. Clochards are not known to be particularly clean but after lying round the streets and alleys for weeks on end, even they wash their clothes and sleeping bags once in a while. Accompanied by a friend and his dog, they occupied all four of the 4 chairs. At the laundry we've found them courteous and sometimes helpful, but I am always uncomfortable having them around.
Technically the clochard is a person who lives in a public space and is not inclined to have a personal private place of his/her own. The name, coined sometime in 1895, comes from the French word clocher which is a verb and means to limp or hobble. [Fiero p. 781 f]
However, before calling a person a clochard, one must have the facts. If the person merely has no home, he is a homeless person, a sans-abri . If the person begs, he is a mendicant . As you can guess, the list is almost endless.
The laundry machines worked well. In Paris a person places money in a central control box and then identifies the machine by number. Marcia had everything under control with soap and enough 10 franc pieces (they're heavy) to sink a model ship.
Lunch followed - soup for me and cereal for Marcia and then in the early afternoon the gardien came up to repair a plastic guard in the shower. I had written the landlord complaining that the guard, a flat piece of plastic which was to prevent splashing water ending up the on the floor, was always falling to the floor. I had suggested that he allow us to buy a rod and from it hang a shower curtain. Alors, what could an American know! He had contacted the gardien to repair it. An impossible job and it didn't get done.
We napped, read, practiced the violin, worked on the computer...
We had received email from the Gary K. and his wife Peg, a couple who wintered in Paris and summered aboard their boat. I called them and because of their commitments agreed to meet for coffee later that evening at a café some distance away.
But first dinner and another experience with two people working in a small area on a two burner stove and very small microwave.
1. Marcia makes salad and stores it in the refrigerator.
2. Marcia puts big pot with water on back burner for "French" 3 minute spaghetti.
3. Martin dices onion and begins to sauté them in saucepan on front burner.
4. Martin dices garlic.
5. After onion is done, Martin opens miniscule can of tomato sauce and adds it to saucepan to cook gently.
6. At this point Marcia suggests respectfully that the saucepan can be heated in the microwave. Bonne idée! Marcia removes saucepan; Martin quickly add spices and diced garlic. Sauce pan is placed in microwave.
7. Martin opens refrigerator and takes out a package with two very thin scallops of turkey. Large frying pan is needed, secured, and a few drops of olive oil are sprinkled in.
8. Martin respectfully suggests to Marcia that her pot of water now almost ready for the spaghetti needs to be removed so that the frying pan has a place to go. She agrees and he pours hot water in smaller pot which he places on front small burner.
9. Martin places turkey in pan. Sprinkles oregano on turkey. Marcia respectfully reminds Martin that turkey should only take 3 minutes. Martin respectfully disagrees. Turkey cooks for about three minutes while front burner is heating water for spaghetti. Water boils, and Marcia puts in spaghetti while Martin turns turkey. Martin voices doubt that spaghetti can soften in three minutes.
10. Three minutes pass. Marcia tests spaghetti. It is done. She removes it to a colander. Martin removes turkey and places portions on plates. Marcia serves spaghetti.
11. Martin places plates on table and gets wine.
12. Marcia removes sauce from microwave. Microwave removed moisture; sauce is very thick. Marcia adds a little hot water, and then a bit more. She serves sauce.
13. We toast to Paris and eat what turns out to be a magnificent meal.
A half hour later finds us walking up boulevard Edgar Quinet and then on to boulevard Raspail which cuts into avenue Général Leclerec. We need to go a block further to meet the Gary and Peg at a corner café. They are one of the many couples who've written me about our web site which is devoted to the stories of our liveaboard and cruising days in The Netherlands, Belgium and France and our three week cruise in England. In all cases letter writers are interested in doing the same thing we did and have questions. This would be the first time I had met any of dozens and dozens of people who had written me about boating, although we've been invited to visit many of them in the States or in Europe.
For the most part the streets in this area are residential although we pass a school of architecture which is opposite a magnificent modern building in the modern French tradition, i.e. with all the innards outward...elevators with visible cables, water pipes intertwined with structural members and encased electric cables tying it all. What we see at night is something like a giant Christmas present...dozens of rooms with desks well lit and all the innards but silhouettes.
Parked autos line the roadway and the corridors of plane trees on either side of the sidewalk, so that you have in order, cars parked on the street, a strip of land with trees, cars parked, a sidewalk (often a roadway when autos are looking for spaces), another row of parked cars, a strip of land with trees, another sidewalk and then the buildings that line the street. Haussmann, the préfect of Paris in the mid 19th century and the man responsible for designing the beautiful streets of Paris, would have conniptions.
It is dark, about 8:30 at night but I feel safe. People occasionally pass by, sometimes couples. We walk past the Cemetery of Montparnasse. The intersections are lively and the moving automobiles always race by.
Peg K. is going off tomorrow to guide a group of Americans in Koblenz and then Geneva. She and Gary are employed as part timers. Gary knows Spanish well so he does trips in Spain. That was where he caught the bad cold he was suffering from when he ordered a Ricard and water. Peg had beer, Marcia tea, and I had a coke. We chatted - computers, ISPs, canals, banking, visas, apartments, boating experiences - and then because Peg had to get up early, parted at 10 PM.
Marcia and I took the long way home. First we retraced our steps to Edgar Quinet but then continued on Raspail. It's residential for quite a long time but then we could see the lights of the broad intersection where Raspail meets boulevard Montparnasse. The famous Café Rotonde appeared and all of the others. We turned left, passed the Coupole, a large restaurant, and then continued on our way. The cafés and restaurants were full of folks eating, drinking and having fun.
We thought about dinner and considered the logistics of its preparation before I went out to the market. I bought filets of St. Pierre, a delicious but ugly fish we had liked before. I also bought lettuce and bouquet of flowers.
I returned home to find Marcia spring cleaning. It was a big job because so much had been left undone. Nothing had really been cleaned thoroughly except the linens, dishes, and pots.
The predicted rain and clouds had not yet arrived so after a light lunch we went to the Luxembourg Gardens, one of our favorite places on the Left Bank. We walked normally - which means if Marcia finds something I stop and if I find something, she stops. Sometimes we both stop simultaneously. The weather was brisk.
We wore warm dark clothing like the French whose clothing varies with age, sex, and social status. Black is the overwhelming color I think because it doesn't show stains and dry cleaning is very expensive. Only les étrangers, the foreigners, who know no better dare wear color. Heavy black shoes designed for wet walking complete the outfit. No hats are permitted in Paris by order of the Mayor, the City Council and the Mayors of all the arrondissements, the political departments of Paris. Umbrellas are sometimes tolerated but by the time the rain sweeps over the English Channel it's so furious that it turns umbrellas inside out. One waits under shelter for a few minutes until it passes.
Fashionable ladies - usually in their 40s to middle age and older - sometimes appear as if out of a magazine...in blazing color and swirl of lines ending in high heels or fine leather boots. (Heels that click behind you when you're walking usually belong to a woman who want to make her presence known.) And occasionally young ladies will appear with color and a sash or two. Men with suits and ties still exist but, as in the States, informality reigns.
We entered the Luxembourg Gardens at the rue de Vavin entrance which is in the southwestern corner. Even though the weather was brisk the park was peopled - quiet young lovers, readers, writers, thinkers, small children, walkers, and talkers. The traditional French metal armchairs were scattered on every path waiting for a warmer clime. The tidy pétanque courts were empty but ready. The chess players were alive and well. Marcia found a toilet facility which charged two and a half francs. As she approached the door, a man rushed over from the chess players and opened it for her, showing her the area for women. She dropped the coins in a dish and disappeared. Later she would report the cleanest ladies room she's ever used.
While she was occupied, I chatted with the gardien. He assured me that he was working and not playing chess, or any one of the other games that are played. He was over by the players because he knew every one. While we talked an elderly gentlemen approached. "Patron," the gardien said, greeting him, respectfully. They shook hands as the French will on almost every occasion and the "Patron" shook my hand as well and then moved to watch the players.
I explained to the gardien that we were Americans and had lived here before. I told him that I loved France. He then complained that my President thought more of Mexico than of France. Marcia appeared but if she had not I would have explained that my President had lived closer to Mexico than he had to France. I didn't get the chance. Often when I lived in France in 1950-52, visited France in 1967 and again in 1987, and finally lived in France between 1988 and 1992, I've often explained positions that I, myself did not subscribe to. I don't believe in criticizing my country abroad.
Marcia and I continued our wandering north through familiar ways, passing familiar figures in stone and bronze until we reached the blaze of garden light at the Petit Luxembourg which is adjacent to the Palais du Luxembourg. The latter houses the Senate, France's upper legislative chamber. Tulips bloomed in long areas kept in place by miniature boxwoods no higher than three inches. People were kept in place by guards stationed nearby.
Today an exhibit of Rodin's sculpture was being held. To advertise it some pieces were shown in front of the Palais. Magnificent males, larger than life, figures mostly nudes. Although we've visited the Rodin gardens these figures were tremendously impressive --heads bowed, shoulders down, musculature shinning in the gray light.
The cool weather hadn't dissuaded the French from their Sunday stroll and many of them, dressed in dark (warmer) clothing were everywhere. Some were even sitting by the lagoon.
Hot chocolate time was passed in a café at place Edmond Rostand at the corner of boulevard St-Michel and rue de Medicis. The chocolate was rich and very hot. A large cup came first. In its bottom was a thick dab of rich hot chocolate. Then came a mug of hot milk. A cube of sugar, with a painting by Renoir, was served, although the mixture of the milk and chocolate was sweet enough. A perfect drink for that afternoon as we watched the people passing by.
We walked home on rue de Vaugirard, the longest street in Paris, after Marcia, having corrected my compass, suggested the corrected direction.
Had a fine dinner - the fish with garlic, potatoes, and what was left of the broccoli followed by salad, and desert. A new bottle of white wine - quite inexpensive, 12 F, about $1.50.
Today is the day we return "home." Charlette and Michel have invited us for lunch aboard "Le Bateau Bleu" (Blue Boat), a peniche type canal boat.
We arrived windblown because instead of getting off the bus on the Left Bank near the marina we had to get off on the Right Bank near Gare Austerlitz because of marathon that was to take place. Pas de probleme. We enjoyed crossing the bridge and then approaching the marina from the Seine side.
It looked good - the boats, the capitainerie, and in the distance at Place de la Bastille with Le Génie de la liberté (The spirit of liberty) perched on top of the monument to the fallen heroes of the 1830 uprising.
We walked down to the cobblestoned road which also serves as a walkway and then climbed down the ladder to the floating dock which runs the length of the marina and from which you can board your boat. The boat we had owned was not visible, but in the distance was Le Bateau Bleu with Charlette waving.
Charlette and Michel have lived aboard Le Bateau Bleu for at least 15 years, perhaps longer and then, before that, aboard another boat in the south of France. Michel had been a physician with French army, I believe, and stationed for many years in Far East, Indonesia, perhaps Viet Nam. He was forced to retire early because of a heart problem. Since then he's worked with wood, created fine crafted models of sailing vessels which are works of art. The wheelhouse of the boat is his workshop. His art above is matched by the art in the cabin below where every space on every wall and shelf, holds an object of beauty: an oil, a pencil drawing, a bronze head, a tile, oriental figures in silver - a veritable museum.
While Michel usually stays aboard, Charlette still works. I remember her leaving the boat dressed with a taste and verve that matched the best in Paris. Now, Michel smiles with his eyes and Charlette with her face.
Charlette and Michel are the best of what can be characterized as French intellectuals. They think and talk about what they believe. Both enjoy company and Charlette is a hostess par excellence. Her galley, an area with not very much more walk space than 4 feet by 4 produces full course meals for as many as 10 people.
She and Michel welcomed us aboard. She speaks English very well while Michel, although he understands English, is much more comfortable with French. We are similar: Marcia seems to understand French better than I. It might be that my hearing aid doesn't catch the consonants as well as it might, but I think it's because she listens to tapes more than I. On the other hand I can speak better than she, although my facility with the language is quite limited.
Our present for Michel was a can of maple syrup from Vermont. As soon as he opened it, Charlette and then Michel raised the can, as if it were a flask of cognac and tasted it...and enjoyed what they tasted. Charlette's gift was a gold plated sand dollar on a chain. We explained how it had been alive once, how it was treated, and then plated. She loved it.
In addition to ourselves four others had been invited: a Frenchman we knew who lived aboard a few "doors" down - he was now looking forward to sailing on the "Med"; another Frenchman who had worked on the west coast of Florida for awhile; an American woman who is a specialist in the languages of India and Nepal in addition to being a well known professional Head Chef for luxury cruising boats on the canals(What a combination of talent!); and another young woman, French, who is involved in art.
I'm going to describe our lunch in detail because it is typical of one prepared for guests and, compared to an American lunch for company, is quite different.
The table was set for eight. At each place was dinner plate, fork, sharp knife, spoon, napkin, a water glass, and wine glass. The table itself held: two dishes with butter, a shaker for salt and one for pepper, two bowls of olives, one green and the other black, a bowl of radishes, and two platters, each containing four different kinds of bread. When we started the meal seven bottles of Burgundy and Bordeaux wines and one of champagne were also on the table. Marcia and I opted for Champagne first and our water glasses were filled. And now the courses:
First: noodles and mushrooms in a wine sauce + a dish of grated cheese.
Together with two salads: one a Greek salad and the other
served twice because everyone wanted seconds.
After the plates were clean a second serving dish with noodles and mushrooms made the rounds again, with more salad for all.
One took whatever wine one wanted. I drank a Bordeaux but Marcia stuck to her champagne.
Second: The following platters were served:
A serving dish of roasted red peppers.
A serving dish of broiled tomatoes
Two platters of thinly sliced ham and one platter each of sliced melon and cut eggplant.
At this point the little debris that had been left on some plates was scraped gently into a small porcelain container, the size of a large cup. It was passed around so unobtrusively that I only knew what happened when the woman who was sitting next to me moved a few pits, etc. in the container. I remembered from the past the French at home generally don't change dishes with each course. The idea is to eat what's on your plate and use bread to wipe up what might be left.
Third: A platter of cheese, wide wedges of Roquefort, Camembert and Brie.
Fourth An Easter Chocolate Cake created in the form of a nest with a double sized bed of thin solid chocolate twigs bedding eggs of chocolate.
Fifth After we finished the cake, coffee (and tea for Marcia) was served.
Sixth A plate of apple wedges of was served.
We had started at 1 PM and ended at 5 PM.
What a feast! And this was not something out of the ordinary for Charlette or for the French.
The conversation, unfortunately, was not as good as the food. French was spoken mostly and both Marcia and I had some difficulty.
Charlette promised that she and Michel would come visit us later before we left. Michel doesn't get off the boat often though.
We left their boat and toured the marina ending at place de La Bastille where we found another of our favorite restaurants. The way home took us first on boulevard Henri IV, then over to the north leg of the river which we crossed on Pont Henry IV. A north leg exists because at this point the river has divided itself to allow the existence of an island, Ile St. Louis. We walked the length of the island which is not very long and then across a bridge now only used for pedestrians, to Ile de la Cité, where you can find not only Notre Dame but the Ste.-Chapelle. The Seine roughly divides the city in half; if you're on a log floating down the river, on your right is the northern half - the right bank, and on your left, the southern half, the left bank and you'd be floating toward the west.
Inspected the cleaned facade of Notre Dame then crossed the other leg. Stopped by at Shakespeare & Company, an old bookstore and then all the way home. A very long after dinner walk.
We got up late and fussed around... I with the computer and Marcia with straightening up and then with studying French. Later she played her violin.
I made an early trip to the bank at the corner where we cash our traveler's checks. French banks are small fortresses and I doubt if there is a modern day Jesse James who can be a successful bank robber in France. First of all getting into the bank is not easy. To the left of the door are three lights with three words: Amber Sonnez, Red Patience, and Green Passez (Isn't French easy?). When you approach, the light is Amber if another person has not recently entered. You press the button. The Amber light goes off and the Red light appears with the notice that you should wait...have patience. Since no one is ahead of you, the Green light goes on and you can push open the door and enter a compartment that lies between the door you just passed through and the next door with the same three colors.
While the door behind you is in the process of closing, the red (patience) sign is lit. As soon as the door behind you closes, the amber (push button) light goes on. You push the button and the Green lights up with the notice that you can pass though. Into the office you go to carry out your business. In order to leave the bank, you must pass through the same locked passage, wide enough for no more than two people.
While waiting I picked up some literature about the Euro, the new European currency and then I got to thinking.
Imagine for a moment that our president, in one of his ecumenical moods, invites Canada and Mexico to join with the United States and to form a more perfect American Union. And it came to pass. And after 1000 days, the "amero" was created to replace the Canadian and American dollars and the Mexican peso. And during the next 330 days all the bills and invoices you receive were given to you in dollars and ameros. And finally, the dollar disappeared and the "amero" was born.
Change the union to European and "amero" to the euro and you have the present (April 2001) reality in France. The receipt I received from the grocery store listed each item in francs but at the bottom was this:
FRF TOT 176,72 [French francs; the comma is used for decimal.]
EUR TOT 26,94 [Euros]
FRF Espèces 200,00 [What I paid in francs.]
À RENDRE FRF 23,28 [Change in francs.]
*** 1 EURO = 6,55957 FRF *** [The exchange rate.]
The change to euros is taking place rapidly. It is impossible to buy American Express travelers checks in francs any more. And by January 2002, cash in terms of bills and coins will be available in euros.
The French will miss the francs. A visitor to France will, alas, never feel the weight of the 10 franc piece; that fishing sinker is composed of two silver colored rounds inlaid in a circle bronze. And he will never is the Gustave Eiffel who adorns the 200 franc note. Not only is his picture there, but in the background is the canal bridge over the Loire river which we cruised. It's a brightly colored bill in hues of red and brown with a vertical gold metallic strip. The Curies, Marie and Pierre, are on the 500 francs note. It's mostly green but Marie's eyes are hypnotic.
How will the EU decorate its bills? Can you imagine Kohl and Mitterrand with their arms around each other? Or men and women playing pétanque? My guess is that a map will be used. A map of Europe with a hole in the middle to mark the non-member state of Switzerland?
By the time you read this most French money will have been replaced by Euro currency and coins.
Back to day-to-day events.
We used our shopping cart to haul water and wine. Next time I'll have the water and wine delivered but I wasn't sure about the wine and I didn't want to order a case too quickly.
After lunch we napped, and then went out to check the local hotels for my brother and his wife who'll be coming to Paris in June. Later, back home, to eat.
Here in Paris our timetable differs considerably from that back in home. We get up later and even if we don't, we lunch later. Dinner is never before seven and we go to sleep usually at about 11 (although at times Marcia or I will hit the sack earlier).
This evening at about 10 we began our walk to the Eiffel Tower. The first part, along boulevard Pasteur, was pleasant. People were still about and the street was moderately bright, but later, the situation changed. The approach to the tower is a long park. I decided not to proceed. We'll walk over during the day. Whenever and wherever we walk at night or during the day in the United States or in a foreign country, I make a point of noticing who is about and where they are. I avoid areas that may be dangerous and keep my eyes on people who could present problems.
Marcia went to sleep at 11 and I retired 30 minutes later.
I came out of the shower to the sound of Marcia playing the violin, the hauntingly beautiful strains of the Hebrew Melody by Joseph Achron. It has been revised and edited by Jascha Heifitz. When she finished she complained that Heifitz had added so many sliding shifts. I smiled. For me the sound of her playing was thrilling. I love listening to her in the midst of her practice when she decides to run a piece through. And I am very proud of her when she plays at home or with the orchestra or with her small recital group. Since she returned to her music in 1994-5, her perseverance opened the door to a talent, which she always had. The violin is perhaps the most difficult instrument to play and it pleases me no end seeing and hearing her play so well.
Perhaps because she was feeling good about her playing, she mentioned a second breakfast as I dressed to go out for the newspaper. Second breakfast is the code word for croissant, the utterly scrumptious French crescent horn with leaves of gold made tenderly with loads of butter and just the right amount of sugar. Not to be undone I bought two of them, 6 F (about 90 cents).
Took the bus to the Champs Élysée but rain interrupted our walk as each cloud passed. Finally, we gave up and went home.
That evening we revisited la Ville de Morlaix, that local restaurant where we dined our second night in town, and were not disappointed. First of all we were a known quantity and therefore were given a wall table. Our appetizer plates were - for me a paté of canard (paté of duck), and for Marcia, warm sliced artichoke hearts; main course for me a confit of duck and Marcia had choucroute with three kinds of meat: corned beef, a boudin blanc and a thick piece of bacon; desert was chocolate cake and chocolate mousse with tea/coffee. We also had a bottle of Bordeaux. All for 316 F (about $45). I added a 10 franc piece because we knew the Madame and the waiter.
An elderly man was seated next to me and as his meal progressed we struck up a conversation. He was helpful and liked talking.
After dinner about 9:45 the air was brisk with a gusty wind blowing in from the northwest as we headed up a new street, finding among other things a good store to buy cans of confit and one that had some nice berets that Marcia liked.
What we noticed once again was the number of young people under 35 --- thousands of them all over.
Also we were once again impressed with the quantity, quality and variety of small stores on every street. The institution of the small entrepreneur is strong in France and we hope it remains so.
I went to market today to buy some fish for dinner. We had agreed that we'd try a favorite which we learned to eat in France, namely Raie (pronounced ray) which is like a Skate, its kin in the Gulf off Florida and along the Atlantic on the East Coast. Prepared with butter and capers the flesh of the wings is delicious. Marcia serves it with finger potatoes and string beans.
In Florida where Rays and Skates are hooked on the beach and at the pier they are viewed with disdain. Some Americans still believe that the wily fisherman punches out rounds from the wings and sells them as scallops. That would be impractical because the wing consists of five layers: skin, flesh, cartilage, flesh, and skin. If the skin were to be removed first which is all but impossible without cooking, the punched out part would have a center of bone like tissue which would be messy to separate from the flesh.
But to the market:
I carry our own bag. Marcia made two yellow sacks when we took a trip on the canals in England a few years back and we brought one for this trip. I also carry small change and small bills because early in the morning many vendors just don't have much money in small denominations to change a 100 F bill. Also, because we're on a budget and want to know how much we've spent, I count my money before I leave, even though receipts are now available for most everything.
When I arrive at the market which usually open early, I make a short tour, noting what is available, where it is, and what the prices are. Prices are usually marked for the kilo (about 2.2 pounds) or for the item or piece. Expensive foods, like Coquilles Saint Jacques which have been removed from the shell, are priced per 100 grams. Because we use a metric kitchen scale at home, I'm familiar with how much meat to buy but when it comes to string beans, for example, it's still difficult. Ask for enough for two people and you learn how much the French love vegetables; ask for handful and you discover how large a hand the woman has.
The French courtesies of greeting, etc. obtain as strongly at the market as anywhere else. It's always "Bonjour monsieur" and at the end of the transaction, "Au revoir." And when I greet anyone I smile. Stand on line if there is one and watch the little old lady who will push herself up front if you allow her. I learned not to touch or pick-up anything. Tell the vendor what you want or, as I do sometimes, point. Years ago at Place de la Bastille where we shopped for fish the poisonnier became manic when anyone dared touch the flesh of a fish. He would roar and rage. He could afford this behavior because his fish were the choicest and by the time everyone else was settling in to start their day, his stand was all sold out.
Understanding and then remembering the numbering system used by the French is daunting. The numbers from zero to 69 are like ours, that is after 69 comes seventy, then eighty and finally ninety.
But in France seventy is not "septant" which is used by the French in Belgium and in Canada, nor is eighty "octant" or ninety "nonante." Seventy is "sixty [and] ten" or "soixante-dix" and seventy-one is "sixty-eleven" or "soixante-onze" etc.
Eighty is "quatre-vingts" or "four twenty[ies]" and "quatre-vingts-un" or "four twenties [and] one" is eighty-one. "
Ninety is four twenties and ten which is eighty and ten. In French it is "quatre-vingts-dix." Ninety-nine is four twenties and nineteen, or eighty and 19. In French it is "quatre-vingts-dix neuf."
The French way of naming those numbers is a vestige of the vigesimal numbering system based on twenty, probably counting the fingers of both hands and the toes of both feet. When Abraham Lincoln said, "Four score and seven years ago...," he was using the same system. After weeks of persistence, one becomes familiar with it but a sense of unease remains for a long time. [Ifrah, pp. 31-37] Using this system might disappear with the introduction of the Euro but I doubt it; habit and tradition die hard.
Public markets have a thousand year tradition in France. We,
in the States, have nothing like them. A section of a boulevard
or a square is reserved and stalls are erected for each vendor
who must be registered and pay a fee. In addition to foods other
commodities, such as clothing, flowers, leather goods, hardware
items, etc. are available. But it is the continuous display of
foods that is a sight one never forgets because of the quantity
and, above all, the variety. Can you imagine 14 different varieties
of potatoes? Or poultry that includes chicken, free range chicken,
duck, goose, rabbit, turkey and occasionally pheasant or partridge
- all fresh? And the display of seafood usually tops them all.
[ See a photo of outside of a street fish market. You see only
the crustaceans; the fish are inside.] Below is a list fresh
seafood available in the beginning of April, 2001. I used the
French names. A wonderful volume, North Atlantic Seafood by
Alan Davidson [see Bibliography] provided the equivalent names
that I did not know. Here's a list of fresh seafood available
in the beginning of April 2001.
|In French||In English|
|Dorade Rose||Red Bream|
|Grondin gris||Sea Robin|
|Grondin rouge||Red Gurnard|
|Lieu noir||Coal Fish (Saithe)|
|Limande Sole||Lemon Sole|
|Rascasse du Nord||Blue Mouth|
|Rascasse Rouge||Blue Mouth|
|Rouget de roche||Red Mullet|
|Salmon Trout||Sea Trout|
|Thon blanc||Albacore Tuna|
|Thon rouge||Bluefin Tuna|
|Truite à chair rose||Sea Trout|
|In French||In English|
|In French||In English|
|Amandes||Sort of a clam|
|Coquilles Saint-Jacques||Sea Scallops|
|Moules d'Irlande||Mussels from Ireland|
|Moules d'España||Mussels from Spain|
|In French||In English|
Smoked and otherwise preserved eel, herring, mullet, salted cod were usually available.
On other occasions I've seen the following: Oursin, which is Sea Urchin, Turbot, and Requin which is Shark
Because the variety of oysters is so great, they are sold in a separate stand by another vendor. I counted 37 baskets of oysters differing in type, size, origin and quality. Among them were: Clair #4 Papillon, Fine de clair # 2, # 3, Spéciales Normande #2, #3, and Creuses de Bretagne #3.
Market stands devoted to fish are wondrous particularly to those, like myself, who love seafood. The presentation and variety are awesome....awesome?...yes. And when you consider that all the seafood is fresh and there's not a fly anywhere you begin to wonder about the advanced food delivery systems in the United States.
There was no ray so I bought dark, freshly cut tuna which will turn out well tomorrow night. And for tonight I got two Dover Soles. They come whole. When you buy them, the poissonnier will ask if you want them peeled. I did and he removed the skin using a technique that probably is as old as France. First of all, he wears thin but strong gloves. He grabs a rag and while he holds the head, he slips his nail (through the glove) into the tail and then with one swift hand action peels off the skin on one side. He repeats the process on the other. And then, if you've asked (which I forgot to do this time), he removes the head by pinching it which seems to cut it; then he tears it off, entrails and all.
We enjoyed both meals.
The weather remained inclement...damp, very windy and cold. Yesterday it rained and we purchased a small umbrella on the run for more money than it was worth.
The workers at the Louvre were still on strike and we headed for another fine museum, Carnavalet, run by the City of Paris and devoted to art related to the city. Not all of what is exhibited is "fine art" but all of it is connected to Paris.
Our visit coincided with a temporary exhibit of American art which had been shown in Paris at the 1900 Exhibit. This was remarkable for a number of reasons, the most important of which was the impressive collection of artists we had never heard of or/and never considered seriously before. The original show a century before demonstrated that an American "school" was alive and quite well.
We were particularly interested in George Hitchcock's "The Vanquished." He lived between 1850 and 1913 and had organized a community for American artists in The Netherlands in 1883. The painting we saw portrayed the back of a person in a vest of armor sitting on a horse in the middle of large bed of flowers. The warrior (I guessed it might have been Joan) was dragging a flagpole with a flag on the ground. The contrast of the warrior and the flowers was dramatic.
"Bacchante" in the nude was also striking. Sculptured
in black marble, the piece had not originally been shown in Boston
probably because the Bostonians at that time confused the words
naked and nude. The rejection of nudity by Americans was mentioned
twice on the descriptive cards that accompanied the works. I
was reminded of the wonderful poem by Robert Graves entitled "The
Naked and the Nude" in which he differentiates the two by
associating the latter with love and truth and the former, with
lies and art. His last four lines hit the mark:
"Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometime nude!" [Graves]
I loved "Jeu de gamins" (Children's Play). It was
big painting of a young boy in the process of doing somersaults
before a gallery of immigrant youngsters in an alley in New York.
The onlookers reflected doubt, complacency, concern, humor, eagerness,
expectation, delight...wonderful faces of kids in New York.
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