Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sharp End of French Diplomacy...


Passage Jouffroy

Where?  At le bouillion Chartier over in the 9th arrondissement just off les Grands Boulevards.

Why?  To celebrate a friend's birthday. He and his wife are Canadians.  They're visiting as part of his wife's World Tour in celebration of being able to retire.  It was our time to say goodbye to two nice people and to wish them well on their journeys.

Le bouillion Chartier is a grand place to eat.  The food is decent and the prices are light on the wallet.  If I were to dream of a timeless Parisian place to eat, with all the visual queues, proper food smells and filled with interesting people, this would be it.

Passage Jouffroy

Je prends le steak frites, s'il vous plait.  Et de la bière aussi.  Vous avez de la Kronenbourg?  Je n'aime pas la bière d'Allemagne.  Qu'est-ce qu'il faut faire?  Ah bon. La Kronenbourg, s'il vous plait.  Only to learn that Kronenbourg is actually brewed in Alsatian France.  It was tasty, too.

It was early enough in the afternoon that the Fall Sun had not yet set.  So the four of us decided to take a walk through the passage ways that riddle this part of town.  Starting with Passage Jouffroy we headed from the street back toward Hotel Chopin and... er... what's this then?  I'm instantly side-tracked.

Skulls.  Antlers. Des cannes de marche.  Oh, we have to go in, don't we?

Passage Jouffroy

The four of us stuff ourselves into a small shop.  A small well dressed man wearing glasses appeared from behind a tall counter at the back of the shop.  I couldn't help but notice his cataract-ed right eye.  Votre magasin est ouvert maintenent?  Oui, bien sur, he replied.  Alors...

We were surrounded by baskets and pull out drawers filled with walking canes.  The styles on offer were wide ranging and looked, in some cases, to be quite old.  A short conversation confirmed that, indeed, some were three or four hundred years of age.

Reaching into one of the display baskets, I asked if I could inspect a very interesting item.  It looked to be made of animal vertebrae stacked to form the cane and was topped by a beautiful skull.  The vertebrae were from sharks and the skull was vraiment carved ivory.  The price was in line with what I might be expected to pay for a 1939 Traction Avant in driving condition.

Passage Jouffroy

The shopkeeper reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a gorgeous cane and... YIKES!  Faster than a blink of an eye, I found myself on the business end of a period epee.

Even as certain disembowelment and inevitable death hovered lightly at one of my lower shirt buttons, I couldn't help but notice the artful etching down the slender steel blade.  Hope rouse in my heart that the shopkeeper's Good Eye could gauge depth and distance.  I was looking Death straight... well... down the blade.

I figured that if I was going to die, it was a Good Day in any event.  Lunch had been fine.  Besides, not everyone could say they Passed to the Great Beyond at the blade of a 1700's epee that had been hand crafted for the art of dueling.

Death passed me by and the epee was returned to it's canne de marche.

A few more passes by Death were made as we were shown other blades, long and short, that hid well within other fine examples of cannes de marche.  Each time, lethal blades were thrust my direction.  Each time, I hoped his Good Eye remained keen and clear.

So this is how French diplomacy was conducted back in the day, eh?   No wonder it was so effective.

Passage Jouffroy

At the time I failed to wonder why it was I and only I that the shopkeeper directed his demonstrations.  There were, after all, three other people in the room with me.  Such thoughts only came later as Death Passed and moved Along His Way.

I learned that dueling was a common practice in Paris through the time of Napoleon III.  I wondered if we were about to re-engage the art of dueling right here in M.G.W. Segas and soon decided that must not be the case.  Yet, when it was time to leave, I was happy to walk through the front door alive and in one happy and relieved piece.

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