Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Rolling through the streets of Paris...

It was a Dark and Stormy... um... morning.  Yes.  That was it.  We must, afterall, stay with the truth since there seems to be so little of it going around these days.  It was indeed dark.  It was indeed quite cold.  And it was very stormy.

la traversee de Paris ~ 2018

Another truth is that I've been going to the winter and summer traversee de Paris for going on five years now.  It was there that I learned about how Car Crazy the French can be.  Twice a year the Association Vincennes en Ancienne organizes a Grand Gathering of Car Crazy French and turns them loose on the streets of Paris.

As a spectator it's been a lot of fun watching as well north of six hundred old vehicles spread out around the city.  At key locations owners would park their cars so spectators like me can see them up close.  Vehicle owners generally enjoy a long conversation, too.

Tables are sometimes set up.  White table clothes are sometimes spread out.  Bread, cheese, and wine sometimes appear out of nowhere.  A Good Time is had by all.

This year, 2018, would be a little different.  A friend and I would participate by driving an oh so awfully French Car Of The People Citroen 2CV.  A state-side friend, Jim, calls these Tin Snails.  And if you'll recall, the Tin Snail is imbued with a reliable energy source that consists of two opposed cylinders of une Grande Capacite of around 600cc.  This compares rather well to a pre-war BMW motorcycle and goes one better by being fully enclosed to keep the rain off the attire.

la traversee de Paris ~ 2018

Up at 5:45am, showered, fed, out the door by 6:45am and into a waiting white Tin Snail.  Patrice, a friend of our's whom we met through a stateside friend with whom we swapped apartments during our last stay in the US, would be the Tin Snail's conductor.

A storm lay over us and it was making things miserable as we oozed our way to the Chateau de Vincennes.  Once there we found a well watered mud-hole to park the Tin Snail in.  She was flanked by many tasty voitures de collections.  Over here was a pretty Citroen SM (Sire Majeste).  Over there a pair of Ferrari TestaRossa.  And just behind the Ferraris sat several Ford Model A's of various styles.  Oh, and les bretons brought their tractors, too.

la traversee de Paris ~ 2018

As it was pissing rain, men lined up against the wall to the chateau moat and pissed themselves dry.  It would be a long day and a person needs to start off in the best possible condition.  By some magic unheard unseen signal the men dribbled one last dribble, zipped up, boarded our various conveyances and started toward the chateau exit.

It took nearly eight hours for the event to fully unroll.  Cars were lined up for miles around the city.  Because of the constant line of cars there was no need for une Voiture de Grande Vitesse.  600cc's of mighty reliable French power was sufficient.  Spectators stood, looked, ogled, and sometimes waved as all of us passed by.  The rain ended and the Tin Snail was able to slime its way around without spinning its tires nor operating it's wipers.

Patrice and I stopped for a quick bite to eat before he dropped me off at the front door.  The grin on my face must've told the entire story.  What a Great Day it had been.

la traversee de Paris ~ 2018

Friday, December 8, 2017

Through Rolling Feces and Flowing Urine...

*bing* went our cell phones.  A quick look confirmed that our Cartes de Sejour were ready to be picked up.

We made the metro ride to Cite to retrieve the newly minted Cartes.  We carry these as proof we can live here.  They are our residency permits.  They are also useful for getting our internet service, TV, and telephone systems updated and mail delivered.  The Cartes are important, required, and practical for living here in France.

At Cite we were through the metal detectors at la prefecture and up to the accueille to see where we needed to go.  A young lady pointed down the hall and said salle 5.  She also said something about a line outside the door, but we didn't quite believe her, but, oh, we should have.

Jude and I marched to the front of the long long line thinking the queue was for the a different salle.  The nice young man standing guard at la porte directing people directed us to kindly join the line at back at the other end.  Ugh.  We thought this would take just a few moments and we'd be out the door, but no, not this time.

It took probably 30 minutes before we could pass through to a second accueille and take a seat in the salle d'attente.

There's a great word that opens Zazie dans le metro: Doukipudonktan.  It's a question that asks who the [blank] stinks to high holy hell?

No.  It couldn't be the old couple sitting in front of us, could it?  Oh merde!  Literally.  As the old man stands up to shuffle over to a window to do his business with the French State, a little crotte of his very own business rolls down a pant leg and deposits itself *plop* on the floor.

One of the fonctionnaires asks very loudly "do they not have any respect?"

Good question.  Everyone is covering their noses.  The salle stinks to high holy hell.  All we want is our cartes so we can get the [blank] out of there.  No one is coming to clean up the mess.  Not just yet, at least.

Fortunately the numbers are being called quickly and after 10 minutes of stinky waiting Jude and I go to each our own windows to do our own business.  With much respect, of course.  No stink.  No mess.  No muss.  Checking this, signing that, scanning another thing we have our Cartes and tip-toe around the old couple's private business that still sullies the floor and out of the salle.


Back into the Metro we jump la ligne 4 bound for Montparnasse and, what the [blank] is this?  Arghhh... it's a drunk passed out on a row of seats and he's pissed a veritable lac in the aisle.  What the [blank] is with people today?  Can't some people keep their bodily functions to themselves until they find a proper toilet?  What?

We find seats a Good Long Car away, but this is one of the metro lines that has open cars and the drunk has just showered the floor with yet another gush of urine.  As the train leaves the station several thin rivers of the liquid are rolling our direction.  Fortunately it never reaches us, but still.  Come on, now!  This is ridiculous.

Without further stench and over a celebratory dejeuner we inspect our new Cartes.  Indeed, there they are.  We've successfully negotiated feces and urine and followed the French bureaucracy into areas where the law is not defined.  Requests were made to certain cabinets and our requests were reviewed, considered, stamped, folded, spindled, mutilated, and *shock* fulfilled.  Jude and I just received our Cartes de Séjour de longue durée.

With luck we won't have to skirt such volumes of openly shared feces and urine ever again.  Not for our Cartes de Sejour at least.  Perhaps our visit to la prefecture was just one last test of the strength of our desire to stay here?  Nah.  Likely not.  Couldn't be, could it?

Salons des Vins ~ 2017

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Horror of Parisian restaurants...

When we first moved to Paris one of the things we read was how French eating habits were rapidly changing.

With Portland Friends

We could see this for ourselves.  Nearly all of the restaurants I ate in when I first visited the city in 1985 and 1986 are long closed.  The number of restaurants to be found here has dropped dramatically, according to the statistics.

To make matters worse, kitchens in places still open for business no longer make their own plats.  All too often pre-fab meals are delivered from the banlieue-situated food distribution center in Rungis (which is the vast operation that sadly replaced the old stomach of Paris at les halles).

Jude and I talk a lot about the Horror in our struggle to find decent places to eat and where the kitchen is equipped with more than a micro-onde.  It feels as if far too many restaurants  (micro-onde equipped or not) are putting the making of money ahead of making the client happy.  Which causes us to stop to think "how utterly American of them."

With Portland Friends

Perhaps in a city of 2 million inhabitants and 35 millions annual tourists it's easier to take the tourists money and serve bad food than to do the right thing and prepare a proper meal.  Tourists might remember a restaurant name, but maybe they haven't developed a taste for the potential quality of food.  Even if they remember the lack of quality, the tourist is unlikely to ever return and the restaurateur will have his money, American-style.

Arriving at these doom and gloom conclusions was far too easy.  We simply left the city to visit the countryside and a few French villages.  Things change dramatically once we pass beyond the threshold of the Peripherique (the freeway that circles Paris).

The proof came in Tours where every meal we had was half of Paris prices and at least twice typical Paris quality.  Nice, the same thing (which is nice, right?).  Chartres, the same thing.  Dinan, the same thing.  Dinard, the same thing.  Saint Malo, well, I got stung once, but that was because we went to an Alsatian dive in a small town located almost as far as you can get in France from that German influenced region.  I should have known better.  Saint Malo is, however is the village Jude found several places where the food was absolutely correct (including a Michelin One Star!) and the costs were shockingly low (including the Michelin One Star!).

With Portland Friends

Yes, we have our little places to eat in Paris.  While Jude is a wonderful cook and we eat very very well chez nous, the girl needs a day off from time to time.  The places we go have their own kitchens, properly staffed and where they make their own dishes from scratch.  The quality can be somewhat variable and we've learned to accept the prices for what they are.

Making friends, it turns out, can have many side benefits.  When we went to the US to help my father, we swapped apartments with Elaine, who in turn, introduced us to Connie and Pat who are sisters.  They said they were going to spend time in Europe and, well, they looked us up when to arrived in Paris a year later.

A random dive was chosen and a time was set for lunch.  Our usual meeting points were inconveniently located and we were delighted to learn the Chosen Random Dive was convenient for Connie and Pat.

With Portland Friends

We'd never been to this Random Dive and we were immediately surprised.  There was a small group of "regulars" talking, drinking, and eating.  The place smelled good.  The menu offered things that looked rather promising.  The prices were correct.  The tourists weren't  lining up and flocking in, either.

Before the Proceedings could begin, I asked le patron if la bouffe came from RungisOh non monsieur he said as he pointed toward a fully equipped kitchen.  Bon.  C'est parit.

Of course our lunch with Pat and Connie went off well.  We enjoyed a lively conversation getting caught up on things that have happened over the past year.  We touched on the horrifying politics of certain places in the world.  We laughed and joked a bit.  We had a wonderfully good time.

As the plates were being cleared le patron asked ca y est? I felt the on proper reply was le cochon est mort.  There was practically nothing left on our plates.  Le patron doubled over in laughter over my bad French and even worse joke.  We laughed a bit more together and shook hands as we, les Americains, left.

Yes, Martha, it could very well be that there remains at least one decent down to earth truly French and utterly local place to eat in Paris.

With Portland Friends

Monday, October 30, 2017

Of a boulangerie...

Thirza Vallois wrote in her book Around and about Paris, the 13th-20th arrondissements, copyright 1997, "... Another survivor from the past is an antiquated boulangerie at no 105 rue Vercingetorix, on the corner of rue Gregovie, Le Moulin de la Vierge (the Virgin's mill), dating from 1907.  Candy-colored angels float in a candy-blue sky of an optimistic ceiling, while traditional French bread and other appetising savories are on display in the window..."

Judith and I enjoy Mme Vallois' books on Paris.  They are filled with vivid descriptions, histories, and maps that lead a reader-flaneur through very interesting sections of the city.  I remember reading her description of Le Moulin years ago when we still lived in the States.  The boulangerie was just another of the many charming places a person could visit.

The author was talking about a boulangerie that is over in the 14eme arrondissement.  It turns out that rue Vercingetorix is the road I walk on my way to my favorite suds shop, the Bootlegger.  For several years after moving to our present address I would pass the boulangerie and note that, yes indeed, the shop was incredibly charming.  Being intimidated by my lack of language skills I never stopped in to buy something no doubt tasty.

The surrounding buildings are mostly modern highrises, some which overlook the TGV tracks leading south out of Gare Montparnasse.  The area doesn't feel "alive" in the way other parts of town do.  People feel depressed and "out of sorts", if you know what I mean.  Certainly there are shops along the major road to the south, and along certain side streets just north of the area of le Moulin.  This stretch of rue Vercingetorix feels strangely situated, abandoned actually.

I was surprised to see the very French boulangerie that Mme Vallois describes in her book smack in the middle of an immigrant neighborhood.  The area is currently settled by black Africans and a few Algerians.  Perhaps the area was inhabited by the French back in 1907 when the store first opened, and only later did the populations transitioned.  There is practically no other storefront on this stretch of road and the whole thing seems like an anomaly of commerce, culture, and history.

One day as I headed up the street I noticed that the heavy iron shutters had been pulled down and a message had been written on a small piece of paper that was taped to the black cladding.  It read that due to an emergency the shop was temporarily closed.

If there's one thing I've learned in the five short years of living here it is that when a French shop owner writes "temporarily", what they really mean is "forever and ever, amen! and thanks for taking the time to read this message."  Or something to that effect.

Sure enough, for the past two years the black iron cladding has remained firmly pulled down protecting the windows from breakage and the contents of the interior from being vandalized.  Each time I pass on my way to the Bootlegger I think "I should take pictures of this place" before it's too late.  So, on my most recent Beer Run I finally took a camera and snapped a few images.

I now wish I'd made a stronger effort to overcome my French language limitations. I'm sure there was an interesting story to be told about the old boulangerie.

Le Moulin de la Vierge ~ Paris
Le Moulin de la Vierge ~ Paris
Le Moulin de la Vierge ~ Paris
Le Moulin de la Vierge ~ Paris
Le Moulin de la Vierge ~ Paris
Le Moulin de la Vierge ~ Paris

Friday, October 27, 2017

Des peniches font livraison...

France is, of course, the center of all things wine and the fine citizens of Paris consume a fair amount.

A couple hundred years ago just outside the Paris city limits was a vast warehousing district.  It was an area called Bercy.  Much of what was warehoused there was wine, and it arrived from every wine growing region around France by peniche (aka: barge).

France was, and still is, criss-crossed by a network of canals.  All manner of goods were, until the Age of Dinosaur Juice (aka: oil), transported by water.

When Jude and I lived in Hillsboro some twenty plus years ago we watched the series "Barging through France" by Richard Goodwin on PBS.  We distinctly remember an episode where Richard and his friend headed out in a Citroen Amie 6 (2CV derivative) in search the summer's wine.

First they sought out a small wine cask (called a tonneau around these parts).  Then they went wine tasting.  They did this at what was likely one of the last wine fournisseurs in Bercy where they found "a cheeky little bordeaux".  It must've been films sometime in the 1970's or 1980's as not a single warehouse remains active today.  Today nearly all wine delivered to the city comes by gas or diesel powered camion (aka: truck).

One of the nicest experiences this year came when we visited our German friend in the Jura.  She lives several hundred meters from a beautiful canal.  If memory serves, the canal she lives near runs from somewhere in central France to the Rhine River.  It was peaceful and we enjoyed watching the occasional (mostly pleasure) barge pass.  It reminded me of Richard Goodwin's TV show.

Two days ago we went to buy walnuts at our local Bio Coop.  We took the opportunity to forage for wine ahead of our annual Salon des Vignerons Independents.  Just a little something to tide us over until the end of next month.

At the back of the shop was a small table displaying a couple of bottles of wine.  The affiche (label) said something about the transportation of these particular wines being 40 times less polluting than the typical global warming modes of transport. [Note: pre-edit I wrote 40 percent, but no, re-reading the information from Bio Coop it says that transportation by peniche is indeed 40 times less polluting as by camion.]  On closer inspection, the wines were completely bio (organic), no sulfites were added for stabilization (a very good thing when trying avoid headaches that sometimes comes with drinking wine), and the red-stuff had been delivered by peniche.

I like the idea that merchandise is starting to move by water, again.  Two different reds were on offer, one was a merlot and other a grenache, so we picked up one of each.  The prices were very attractive.  We'll report back after we've had a chance to taste them.  We hope it's decent.

Anything we can do to help save the planet has to be a Good Thing(tm), right?

Livraison par peniche ~ Paris Livraison par peniche ~ Paris
Richard Goodwin says in the video that he was up on Montmartre looking for the wine village.  It may be where he found the small cask.  But when I saw the name of the caviste where he had the cask filled with that "cheeky little Bordeaux" I did a little research and found it had a Bercy address.  So I imagine that M. Goodwin found the cask up on Montmartre and then found the wine down next to the Seine.  Both the cask seller and the caviste appear to have closed their respective doors years ago.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Short Story ~ When Holy Hell breaks loose

"Fuck it!"

With that we started to change our minds about the other Americans who live in Paris.

Up to this point the only Americans we seemed to encounter were Rich Debutants or Rich Lawyers or just Plain 'Ol Steenk'n Idol Do-Nothing Reeech.  More properly said, we were meeting Americans rather far above our class.  We felt we needed to call it a Gap That Shall Not Be Breeched.

We recently met a 91 year old man who has lived here going on 38 years.  His invective, those are his words that opened this post, sprang from having to renew his American passport.  It's about to expire and the US Embassy is encouraging him to mail his documents to Gawd Knows Where.  He's a little angry at the system and says he's not able to travel, ever again, so why re-apply?  He is carefully considering his position on the matter.

Then there is the situation our new friend finds himself in as he tries to pay his US taxes.  His document list is rather long, what with having four pensions from three different countries.  Things are a little complicated.  So he liberally fires his short, succinct invective in the direction of the IRS, too.

The man spent 20 years in Germany working as an editor for Stars and Stripes newspaper.  He then moved and spent years and years in Paris working as an editor for the International Herald Tribune.  It feels like he is one of the last to hold the fort from the quickly vanishing class of hard working, deep thinking, living abroad Americans who I first learned about from reading Hemmingway.

He describes himself as un-American.  Not that he has anything against America.  No.  That's not the sense of the way he uses the word un-American.  What he means is that he doesn't feel German.  He doesn't feel French.  He holds no passport but a soon to expire American passport.  Yet he doesn't feel American, either.  It's been decades, many decades, since he's spent significant time there.  In short, feels like he is One Of Us.  Or maybe it's the other way around.  We are becoming like him.  Un-American.

His Down to Earth American nature is expressed in a story he shared with us.  My father asked if I could find out if the 91 year old was in Berlin during the airlift.  As you will see he wasn't, but he did share something rather interesting about his experiences during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  In his own words, here is his story.

I wasn't in Berlin for the  airlift although I did contribute bags of candy and stuff for military air crews to drop for children in starving East Berlin as U.S. planes descended to land at the U.S. airstrip at Tempelhof.

I was assistant managing editor at the time (when Stars and Stripes  had a bigger daily circulation than the International Herald Tribune) and I usually kept track of events in Berlin  from the Stars and Stripes office in Darmstadt.

For example we had a reporter stationed 24 hours a day at Checkpoint Charlie when U.S. and Russian tanks were muzzle to  muzzle  in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis.

Every day I called him a few minutes before  our various deadlines.

As we talked one Saturday just before noon, he said, "All quiet. NO'!!! WAIT!!! The Russians are climbing into their tanks!! They are  closing the hatches and starting their engines!!! They're beginning to move. (Short pause,then)  THEY'RE TURNING AROUND!!!!!

World War III was cancelled. 

I yelled at the news desk to hold the presses for a page 1 makeover  (just like in the movies).

So it went.

Around town with friends

Friday, August 11, 2017

Short story ~ On the importance of learning to drive an automobile

Coming from America where nearly everyone of legal age has their license, we're sometimes taken aback to learn how many people don't drive and don't own a car. We are sometimes surprised by the number of Parisiennes who do not have a driver's license.  Normally there is no need for a license as public transportation in Europe is fantastic and a person can easily get around without resorting to driving an automobile.

One day over lunch a friend shared an interesting story of why she has her driver's license.

After the second world war Sylvie's father absolutely insisted she learn how to drive.  By her account her father was a domineering man and never took no for an answer. Without question she submitted to her father's will and went through the process of learning how to drive.

The story actually begins at the outset of the war.  On May 10, 1940, the German Army started its invasion of France.  The heavily fortified Maginot Line was France's primary defense.  There was, however, a gap between the north end of the Maginot Line and the sea.  The allies felt prepared and plans to defend the gap were put into action.

In only one location were the French and English defenses somewhat weak.  That was in the Ardennes forest.  It is a rugged area and the allies felt the Germans would have a tough time getting through.  Yet, that's exactly where the Germans succeeded.  By June 14 Paris had fallen to the Nazis and the occupation of France had begun.

Sylvie's father was French, but he spoke German and Czech fluently.  He'd been captured by the Germans and spent the duration of the war in prison.  It was in prison where he picked up the additional language skills.

Years later her father had a story to tell that related to his insistence that she learn how to operate an automobile.

When the Germans swept around the north end of the Maginot Line they pinned the French Army against the inside their own line of defense.  Trapped against their own wall many French were killed.  Somehow Sylvie's father escaped that fate.  The company her father was attached to knew the Germans were coming and naturally tried make their way to freedom.

There were two jeeps in the company and they should have been pressed into immediate use.  There was one small problem.  Not one single person in the entire company knew how start the jeeps.  Neither did anyone in the company kn0w how to drive.  So there they sat, unable to move, waiting for the Germans to arrive and kill them.

For whatever reason the Germans, instead, captured the trapped unit and sent them to prison.

Sylvie's father vowed he would never be be unable to escape danger in this way ever again.  After the war he learned to drive.  And to give his family the best opportunity to escape if needed he insisted that Sylvie, too, learn now to drive.

en direction Nangis...