mardi, novembre 29, 2005

Rude Health

There have been no new posts for almost two weeks, and I'm as sick as a dog. Dear Wife took me to The American Hospital in Paris this evening, and they promised I'll be up and writing again in no time.

This is my souvenir from London I guess, a nasty nasty flu of some sort where I'm coughing up phlegm that's as sturdy as a superball. It has come on so suddenly and with so much strength, I was afraid I'd been infected with Anthrax or Bird Flu.

The sickness has provided me with my first moment of real home-sickness. Yesterday, after walking and Metro-riding through this cold city trying to complete a half-dozen necessary tasks (like FedEx'ing a birthday present to Mom, postage due, $120 please), I felt like I wanted to die--and not in Paris. I am recovering, now, thank you.

And then there are the stairs. When first we took up residence in the Bonapartment, I made sure to conspicuously hustle up our five flights at every opportunity: nothing but vanity, that. Well, my springy step ain't nowhere to be found now, under the oppression of my malady. Tonight, coming home from the American Hospital, I began our slow ascent moving like an eighty-year-old stooped and shuffling with fibromyalgia. A couple floors up, me panting, Dear Wife trying to assist, we heard someone begin bounding up the stairs from below. The quick cadence was so like the music I used to make. I tried to speed up. The stepping kept getting closer, and soon I was winded and unable to protect my lead. Finally he was right on our tail, his vigorous stomp announcing him with an unconcerned heartiness. The stairs are too narrow for anyone to pass without consent. Dear Wife had already skittered on ahead, perserving her own position. We were near the top, the merry stomper and I, and I was working hard to keep pride intact. But I was too weak. Never had I heard anyone attack the stairs with the same sort of gusto I used to flaunt--and now, I was undone by it. I couldn't keep up, and his insistent foot-falls were demanding I move over. So I did.

And as I did, I thought, "Now I know what they mean by the phrase 'rude health.'"

Our week in London was great because of the friends we visited there. The city itself was surprisingly inhospitable, shockingly cold, and outrageously expensive. Our hotel was just as bad as you'd expect, with $10 calling cards that don't work sold at the front desk, and a $6 fee for two hours of Internet use. Two hours of continuous use, that is, (they somehow forgot to tell us that until after we'd spent a scant 15 minutes online and used the "LOG OUT" button to save our remaining hour-fortyfive, only to learn our time was up when we logged back on the next morning). Fortunately, we soon moved into the lovely home of one of Dear Wife's college roommates, Mary. There her family (husband Kevin and two daughters, Katie and Megan) made us feel very welcome, and it was a real pleasure for me to get to know them. That part of the trip was great.

dimanche, novembre 27, 2005

Two Little Girls in London

Dear Wife's Dear Friend and Former Roomie Mary is mother to a pair of little girls, and they both emphatically fit that over-used child adjective, "delightful." I tried to get a quick sketch of the little critters, but my timing was off. Here's a couple of the younger, Megan, while Katie watches TV in the background.

We traveled home tonight (home to Paris, that is—our non-home home). The terminal floor at Waterloo Station was a shaggy carpet of French people (of all people), stretched into rambling "queues" leading to the gauntlet of automated ticket validation, security screening and passport certification. Why so many French folks wanted to spend their weekend in London was anyone's guess. Perhaps they were seeing friends, too. Dotting the dark crowd of heavy-coated continentals were the backpackers, the tourists, the British businessmen preparing for a workweek abroad, all of whom I can understand being in London. But the French? After spending so much time here in France, and coming to enjoy—and expect—the predictable, intermittent bursts and whispers of U.K. English one hears in passing while walking through the streets of Paris, it was disconcerting to enter a sort-of Bizzaro World inversion of this formula in London, where English I had a hard time understanding formed a flat blanket for the occasional satin pillow of la langue français; and this inversion became startling only while waiting for our train. "French people abroad? In London?" Even the French didn't seem to know why they had come, as they all seemed cranky, red-nosed and hacking, with an empty look in their eyes that asked, "Why did we bother?"

They clearly missed The Mountain Goats show.

And they were pushy. Dear Wife was irritated when a couple of aggressive French women herding a half-dozen enfants barged in front of us, insisting that they needed to get through. I was happy to let them go. We were all going on the same train, with seats already reserved, but those around us were getting edgy. When our line merged with another prior to x-ray, an elderly lady made a desperate lunge to get in front of me. I invited her husband to join her. Sure enough, we all just boarded the train and waited in our seats for another half hour. The ride across the channel was full, but not uncomfortable. In anticipation of our travel time, Dear Wife and I had bought a couple of newspapers (in English!) and a couple of magazines (also English!) while walking through the neighborhood this morning. Lots on George Best dying.

The best part of the journey was detraining at the Gare du Nord, looking up and seeing signs indicating Metro line 4, Porte d'Orléans/Porte de Clignancourt, and feeling back in our element, back home (sorry, Mom).

samedi, novembre 26, 2005

Victoria and Albert

Here's the only drawings of any worth I managed at the Victoria and Albert Museum today. A great place, broad range of stuff on view, I was only able to scratch the surface. A very dim museum in the rooms I visited, my eyes were watery and beset with tremors (or tremours, in light of their location) after a few hours of searching for a light source...I spent most of my time in the Plaster Cast Rooms, wherein reside excellent recreations of diverse, famous works of sculpture (and architecture--I mean BIG rooms). These pieces were once believed to be essential to a proper artistic education. Now no one cares except weekend dabblers and credulous out-of-towners. And me.

I guess these guys cared, too. Somehow. CLICK on either pic for a better view....

mardi, novembre 22, 2005

Train Surfing

After dropping Piet at CdG today, I had a slow meal at the Airport McDo, waiting out the strike. I go to the train terminal in Cdg Terminal Two and learn that, yes, the trains are running, they are sending one into Paris every thirty minutes....

Thirty minutes becomes 45 or so before the train shows up. It is gawd-awful cold waiting in the very large, semi-impermeable wind tunnel of a station. I keep pacing back and forth, thankful I wore my lined raincoat.

We're at the actual end of the line, so when the arriving, grateful looking group that stumbles out of the train makes way, we get on, and the engineer moves from one end of the train to the other, the rear end becomes the front, and after another very cold fifteeen minutes or so sitting in a dead train, doors wide open, wind rushing through, we power up and head down the tracks in reverse, toward Paris. There aren't very many of us, and I figure rush hour should be over by now, and what rush there is should be leaving the city, not returning, so I take a comfortable seat and look forward to a quiet ride home.

That lasts about five minutes, until we arrive at CdG Terminal One. I donate my seat to someone in this second wave of riders and stand. We're pretty full, but not insane. I guess these people had been waiting for a while....

The next stop is the Parc des Expositions. A throng of people waiting to get on, a throng of people pressing in. We're at maximum capacity and then some. I have to stand in the aisle, and I'm not alone. From then on, every stop we pass has waves of people waiting to board, few able to squeeze in. Looking at ttheir resigned faces, it feels a little WWII, a little mass evacuation. There are no overhead handholds where I'm standing, no convenient place to grab hold of, so I take this as a challenge and spend the next hour (a long ride) train surfing into the city. Didn't fall once. Glad to get home.

But in bed that night, as soon as I closed my eyes the sensation of the train floor pounding under my feet and driving me forward vibrated to vivid life. Just like with real surfing, the physical memory is uncanny, making me feel like I am rattling headlong while I simply lay in bed.

Great fun!

Cafe de Flore: Famous, Expensive, Sucks

You can take the shotgun approach to cafés here, and you'll do alright half the time.

Today our buckshot caught dirt.

Café de Flore is famous, nearby, and had a table when we went out today for our noon o'clock breakfast. I wanted it to be special, because it was Piet's last day. But I broke my own rule when hosting visitors, whatever the town: don't experiment with their meals. I thought we were safe, I thought Dear Wife and I had eaten a pleasant lunch here on our first visit to Paris in '03.

What we got was a crappity-crap-crap meal that cost about 80 Euro--and we were only eating cheap stuff! And lest this give you the idea the place is too fancy for what we needed, and the error was ours (well, it was): the place is the closest thing I've seen yet to a Parisian approximation of a shabby American diner. Just crap. 80 Euro's of crap. Sartre ate here? No Exit, indeed. It's the kind of experience that leaves you so shell shocked you actually wonder if you should leave a few coins on the table anyways--like tipping the staff as you exit the casino that has just bankrupted you. Or something.

Second fiasco (again my fault): I wanted to share with Piet a manly oogling of that Aston Martin Zagato they've had on the showroom floor of the FDR Blvd. Aston dealer for months now. Here's a shot of what I'm talking about for all the poor, hardworking American businessman out there (a large constituency for EUROCHINO):

Note double-bubble roof. Nice. They were asking 349,00Euro (a Café de Flore kind of car). So I drag him on the two Metro lines necessary to get there, and damn if it ain't gone! And we're so behind on time, snapping a quick shot of the Arc d'Tri while crossing the Champs is all Piet can do before we're back on the Metro, back on the next Metro, back to the Bonapartment, back to the Metro, back to the RER "B" train, back to CdG.

Except we don't make it. This time the trains are stopping--stopping prematurely at the Gare d'Nord. No cops, no threats, no explanations, just no trains to CdG today. We have to take a cab.

The cab's fine, and isn't very expensive because we're departing from the far northern part of Paris Centre. Maybe we get a Transit Worker's Strike Discount. We learn it's a strike that has stopped the trains.

Once at CdG, I get to watch Piet in action with the British Air customer service folk, trying to track his bags. They have his green valise, "Oui," it arrived just today (3 days late). But as for Piet's bass...? Priceless to watch the uncontrite fatalism on the face of the B.A. flak as he explained to a very calm Piet that there was no record of his bass ever entering their system, "So, I'm sowwy, but I'm afwaid...pffft!"


Piet's got a concert to play tomorrow night (for his record label!), and instead of his instrument, he gets, "Pffft!"

Our buckshot was kickin' up a lot of dirt today.

lundi, novembre 21, 2005

POMP'ing UP for DaDa

The Pompidou. A building unloved by us, with its bright blue roofline a long horizontal interruption of our prime Parisian panorama, cropping up right between the dome of The Institute de France, and the Grand Mansard of the Conciergerie. But you've gotta love its Glendale Galleria aesthetic from up-close at night.

Dear Pal Pete and I visited the DaDa exhibit, up on the top floor. They didn't take our one day museum pass for this exhibit. We had to go buy special tickets. 10 bucks or so a pop, I think. So I'd managed to spend 18 Euros for a museum card that got me into one 5 Euro exhibit (The Delacroix Museum, one block from the Bonapartment, and a real highlight two years ago, but this time disappointing in the extreme with a dull exhibit showcasing the landscapes of two of Eugene's friends--where are those great studies? Where are those two palettes of his, with the bizzaro color system he used?). I hope the Republic of France and the Mairie of Paris appreciate my blundering generosity.

DaDa was sensational. Loaded so heavy with material that I never did make it through every room before we had to depart. They had lots of films being projected, too, all made in the very interesting period of the 20's. Picabia really stood out. D.P.Pete was elated. He'd loved this stuff since his days as a sixteen year old in Chino, when we first met. We'd spend Biology class doing Exquisite Corpse games. DaDa is an enthusiasm we've shared ever since. But where I ultimately gravitated toward the Surrealists, Pete has always judged superior the initial anarchic crackle of DaDa. It's the nihilism, too.

To see so many works we'd known since our high school days was very satisfying, and rekindled something of that first early wonder at the possibilities for art-making. The perfect exhibit for his one day in Paris!

dimanche, novembre 20, 2005

Cops on the Train to CdG

From notes taken after arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport, via the RER “B” train:

“…Took a late afternoon (4 PM) train to CdG. Got on at Les Halles, crowded train, had to stand in the forward loading area (a sort of eight foot by eight foot open space where overflow commuters can stand with those carrying large items, like bicycles—we were in the front car, right behind the “engineer’s” control room) 3 national policemen came on board, navy blue fatigues—one, a big guy, strong, with a small, caramel head—one a little clownish, younger, the kid brother type—the third ,the veteran, smaller, white, white hair, grizzled. Two girls from N. Ireland, the two friends dropping them off at the train shout as the doors are closing, “They say there may be trouble—you may have to take the buses from Stade de France!” With that, doors close. The cops stand nearby, looking rearward, back along the length of the car. They look vigilant. But I expect they are like the trios of roving cops I’ve encountered riding random Metros twice before. These guys look more purposeful. Were they tipped off to something? They wouldn’t let the trains run if we were in danger…still, paranoia time. A shrunken man, Indian or Pakistani, stands next to me, practically leaning against me, with a large grocery sack filled with a row of identical boxes of something—looks safe, looks newly bought. He smells powerfully of falafel. Lots of haggard faces around, unkempt, all of us pressed together, making room for the cops, but not too much. We lurch up the line to next stop, Gare du Nord.

“Trio of cops get out, and three more get on to replace them—two females and one giant, hitting his head on the doorframe while entering, even as he stoops. He looks young. The three new national police personnel seem noticeably edgier—lots of “immigrants” get on—everyone looks like a potential suicide bomber because everyone is carrying a backpack, a large tote, a heavy sack, or in bulky coats, with duffel bags, etc. An Indian family get on just before we pull out, the son 11 or 12 and a deva angelic version of his genially bestial father, a man with a hairline threatening to completely devour his forehead from several points. At each stop the police look more fierce. They are conspicuously watching the car behind us. I turn and look down the aisle for suspicious faces, but I see, standing not twenty feet further down the aisle, three more policemen straddling the middle of the car, also looking strictly no-bullshit. This surprises me. Thought comes that I must write about this in blog—next thought, from fear and an affinity for predestination—my blog may turn out to be my obituary. 'A promising writer’s last words, an online account of moving to Paris tragically interrupted by…!'

“N. Irish girls see it, too, and they try to keep chattering between themselves, moving into the furthest corner of the car, huddling together, trying to ignore the tension.

“I see what looks like a newly burned down building just off the tracks as we pass through the blighted inner ring of the outskirts of Paris. After a few stops, the police start monitoring the platforms while we are in the stations, either stepping outside or leaning out the door the entire time we are stopped. Looking for trouble.

“I track the stops as they roll by—make it past Stade de France, no sign of buses. Are the cops just here to get us all off the train at some premature end-of-the-line? Is there trouble ahead, or are they worried about trouble on this train in particular? They looked like they were looking for something specific. Soon we come to Aulanay-sous-Bois, one of the hot spots in the riots of the last few weeks. Read reports of kids, miscreants, whatever, throwing Molotov cocktails and improvised acid-bombs onto and into trains at stops like this. The police are almost off their rocker—a group of kids, a big group sorta like you’d see in the ‘States, but everyone seeming just a little too old and adult for the whole thing, which makes it scarier, more deliberate, leave the train slowly, (were they in our car?); a motley group, with no one of them very intimidating on their own, altogether a sort of sad-sack, second-rate, import versions of a New York/Philly/D.C. “gansta’ posse.” But they are hyped-up and emboldened and project so much fury that I am surprised how quickly their half-assed hip-hop stylings fall-away and how menacing they become. Like in a fight, you focus on their faces and their body position and their hands, and everything else falls away. The trio of mean cops from the center of our car is out on the platform; the Giant is leaning out of our doorway, visibly trying to restrain himself. The kids are unabashedly staring down the cops, making a point to challenge their gaze, but cops remain impassive. “Regardez!” one of the kids shouts at the Giant, who’s standing not two feet from my head. The two female police officers hang back. The kids gesture threateningly as they ascend the stairs at the open-air train platform. The doors buzz their warning, and at the last instant the Giant allows himself to retreat back inside the car. As the train begins to pull out, the kids are just reaching the overhead bridge—is that something whizzing down toward us? Something flies past, no sound.

“Cops get off at next station. No trouble. Train empties at CdG. My brush with the ‘Banlieue’.”

Dear Pal Pete finally arrived. He flew in from the 'States via London. I told him I'd take the train out to meet him, and escort him back to the city. I told him it was no problem. Really. Pete's visit would be short (regrettably); he would stay with us in the Bonapartment, on the foldout couch (hey! I didn't know we had that!).

Is there anything duller than a story about fetching a friend at the airport? Especially when it is inflated with pretensions of internationalism?

The ride out adds thrills and social relevance, if all a bit over-stated. But still, a train route passing through neighborhoods stricken with riots for the past three weeks—that’s interesting, isn’t it?

Another aspect of the story: Dear Pal Pete's buddy and fellow musician John Vanderslice was playing a concert tonight at the foot of Montmartre, at the appropriately named Elysee Montmartre. That sort of thing crops up in blogs all the time, though, doesn't it? The concert visit to see an American performer, with emphasis on the narrator’s privileged position due to some “in” with said performer: get ready for the inevitable tales of being on the guest list, going back stage, after party, blah blah blog. Let's just talk about the amazing musicianship required to condense a four-person ensemble down to a duo, and to keep the sound as strong as ever. Dear Pal Pete was particularly impressed. Dave Douglas on drums and foot-activated bass, as well as playing keyboards (or whatever they are called now) with his right hand as he drummed. Ray Manzarek may have played bass with his feet as he played keys with his hands, but playing drums, bass and keys at once? Impressive. JV and Dave opened for the very-big-in-Europe Nada Surf. This is how JV and Dave looked in two-man band mode: ka-zow! How great they sound...

You can’t hear them? Well, check him out at his site, He sure doesn’t need me hawking his talents or wares, but I like his work. After JV's set, he and Dave and Pete and I climbed halfway up the Butte de Montmartre to sit down at the Bateau Lavoir bistro for a damn fine dinner. JV had eaten there the night before and wanted to eat there again!

Can we even accuse anyone of being an artist anymore without the word coming out as code for either, "incredibly lucky and getting-over on people," or, "worthless in every way except excessive schooling and an outsized sense of self-importance"? Is that what "artist" means now? In this world where we're encouraged to reinvent ourselves as the simplest personification of “our personal dream," has the vocation of "artist" become essentially meaningless? I can't utter it as a self-description without a shiver of shame. Lucky I can describe myself as a sculptor, instead…and since we've moved to Paris, as a "writer." Well, JV is a musician, and he’s an artist.

With all this "JV this," and "JV that," I sound far more familiar with this musician than I am. He is one of my closest friend's other closest friends, so there's a sort of assumed intimacy there. But JV doesn't really know me from Adam.

We all had a good time at dinner. And Piet got to see JV, which was the whole point of the excursion, and all our desperation to be somewhere specific by a certain time. “Mission Accomplished.”

So you know our tale will have a happy ending: on with the local color and airline confusion.

"Airline confusion?" you ask, and groan. Yes, we have Pete’s flight plan problems, another stinker of a subject, and ubiquitous in personal travel narratives like mine. This is just a blog, after all—a blog on expat Yankees in Paris, no less—what sort of subject matter do you expect?

Pete's problems began as the prosaic, flight-cancelled kind, but quickly erupted into a hail of broken promises from British Air. He was scheduled to land in Paris about 2PM today, and at 1PM I was preparing to walk out the door to meet him, but just as I was shutting down my computer, the electronic ping announcing new mail stayed my hand.

Message from Pete, subject line: “dude i’m fucked.”

The flight was cancelled, all flights out of Heathrow were cancelled, and he was waiting to get on another, later flight. It was the fog. He wrote this while standing in a line with "fifty million other fucked people" (notice even in his anger he takes the time to spell out "fifty"--that's class). So I sat back down and waited for instructions. It was four hours later before we heard from Pete again; he’d been standing in that line the entire time, and finally gotten a seat on a flight that would be landing at Charles de Gaulle in an hour or so. Right-ee-O!

To get out there, I employed the same ticketing technique first taught to us by the highly competent RATP agent who’d assisted us on our trip to fetch Kindly Friend Kev, (the good advice appreciated all-the-more for being delivered at 6:30 AM): I bought one all-day RATP pass for me, the one that goes all the way out to Zone 5 (CdG Airport—and the dreaded Banlieue), and I bought one return ticket from CdG Airport for Pete. Saves a few bucks (maybe a buck), and gives more flexibility, which is the name of the game with travel, I’m learning.

Wait, this is getting boring again? I just thought I’d throw in some travel tips—it’s added value, old boy—you’ll thank me if you have to fetch friends or family at a French airport.

And, again, for the aspiring traveler’s information, I took our local Ligne Quatre up to Châtelet station, and there boarded the big RER Ligne “B” train (c’mon, this is incredibly vivid for some former resident of Paris who may—or may not—be reading this).

Everything became interesting upon boarding the big train. The ride out to CdG was so noteworthy, so fraught with vivid uncertainty and tension, that upon arriving at the airport, I had to buy a small notebook and pen so that I could sit and write out a dozen-page description of the trip. Donc, the notes that began this entry.

I then used the pen and pad to write out Pete's name in big letters (as big as the pocket-sized pages would allow), and preceded to hold this up, blank-faced and chauffer-like, awaiting the moment he would step through customs. But I spelled it “Piet,” because we were on the Continent, and he needed something spiffy, but “Pierre” just wasn’t viable.

Piet was preceded through customs by the (I'm not kidding) South African National Rugby Team; by all the coaches, all the players—dressed identically—and by their mountainous carts of equipment. The two female customs agents were anxiously gathering signatures from the cutest or most famous members of the team. They were all in very natty suits of silvery grey, with white dress shirts and sky blue silk ties. A rich look, not very sporty at all. Some were tall, but most were simply bewilderingly wide and dense looking, most of them blond and blue-eyed. The most striking trait by far, and one they all seemed to share, was the enormous size of their heads. Some of their melons seemed physically disfigured by the extent of their hyper-enlargement. Facial features no longer aligned properly, and the ratios between certain landmarks were off. They appeared to be leaving the realm of Homo sapiens. Each one was a weird collage of human, Neanderthal and man-of-tomorrow—and this didn't look at all like you’d expect, nothing like a straight prehistoric physignomy, like the sort you see on those articulate Cro-Magnons in those recent commercials, (I forget the product), where they have dressed up to dress down an ad-man for his insensitive depiction of their kind in some other, fictitious commercial (uncomfortable viewing because you're not sure for a while if they're supposed to be Cro-mags or Aborigines)—no, that sort of primitivism we’ve all seen before. These rugby guys—all of ‘em, whether blond or black-skinned—looked very different from the mythic “cave-man;” when viewed up close, they looked more like a new “race,” something meta-human, re-engineered for hyper performance and consequently no longer like us in some profound, alien way. A strange sight as they wandered out among the airport crowds, moving with curt, awkward steps, drifting in small packs. None of these observations were tinged with any celebrity tingle, I was simply fascinated as an artist, an anatomist, and Homo sapien.

Was it the steroids, or were they just truly different?

I was so caught up examining them, I missed my chance to shout, “Go the All Black’s!”

Piet came out, received his continental christening, and told me that they lost his bags. What?

When Piet boarded a US Air jet in Rochester, NY, (and was still “Pete”), he handed them a modest sized, bright green suitcase, and a black guitar case containing his newly purchased Fender bass.

Neither one of these have come to Paris.

From a ballast and stowage viewpoint, this made attending Vanderslice’s concert much easier. From the airport we took the B back to the Gare du Nord and sped for a Metro that would get us up to the nearby Boulevard de Rochechouart, which is just the Boulevard de Clichy as it continues eastward. Don’t believe me? We got off at the Anvers station, right in front of the venue—go ahead, check your own Metro map and see how we did it. We made it into the auditorium a couple of songs into JV’s set (sorry, Piet, but it was yr g-d flight that f-d us up in the f-st place!). Took us a while to talk our way backstage (it took JV coming to the rail to get us), but I was surprised to find myself for the first time among company (Piet) to whom my command of French seemed something like…a command of French. Pity poor, credulous Piet! Only a fellow son of Chino could be so happily deluded….

jeudi, novembre 17, 2005

Horsemen of the Tuileries

Dear Wife snapped this shot this morning using her NEW CAMERA. Clear skies herald the new chill--and quite a chill, too. Nothing like the warm days we used to expect. As we hustled through the Tuilerie Gardens on our way to meet Kindly Kev at his hotel (just off the rue de Rivoli), we came across this trio of mounted Gendarmes. A real sight. Funny to think of Manet's Jardin du Tuileries painting coming from this same garden, (which is much smaller than I expected--the painting, not the garden, though that's small, too, in a way--the painting feels big, but is only 30"X46"--I just checked). The two scenes, Manet's and this morning's horsemen, are so opposite, but now, in 2005, the sight of either brings up the same sort of nostalgia for a "lost" Paris of yester-year.

But not the Occupation years. Everyone agrees those were crappy, and nobody wants them back.

D'Orsay with Kindly Kev

The three of us (Dear Wife, Kindly Kev and myself) took a flyer through the D'Orsay today. This museum is often cited as a favorite by folks I know. I still haven't quite come to terms with it... here's some sketches to prove it.
CLICK on 'em, Dear Reader, and enjoy.

mercredi, novembre 16, 2005

Internet Makes it Up Stairs to The Bonapartment

...And boy, was he huffin' and puffin'. The pair of installation techs were hating life when they had to make multiple trips back down the stairs to their supply wagon, (and where this was parked, I have no idea, but I figured they parked illegally in the street, as empowered by Noos and the Republic of France).

Dear Wife and ONE of the Noos Technicians. It took a little bit to get everything working. I had to switch my computer to French. That's always a panicky operation, ("If I can't read the commands and instructions, what if I hit the wrong button and do something disasterous and irrevocable--like make the computer permanently run in French?"). Unnerving that the junior technician assigned to my machine seemed to have no idea how to configure a Mac. I watched him dither and fiddle from over his shoulder, and I kept saying, "Let's just wait...nous attends...for votre ami." He just kept fiddling and dithering. Finally his partner came over and straightened things out.

And so we have l'Internet again.

First let me thank those who have commented, and those who have written. The messages I have received via the blogger interface come from seemingly unlisted emails, and I have yet to figure out a way to track down the addresses for those I don't know. I will respond. I want to, but this may take a little bit. So thank you for your patience.

Also, we have been offline for the last few days. There's lots of material I've been working on for you, but I haven't gotten it up yet. Some of this stuff will be back-filled, meaning I am going to put up posts for days that have already passed. This may seem like cheating to some, but I'm going to bend the rules of blogging, (of which I have only a hack understanding anyway), and ignore the writing-in-continuity, "put it down the day it happened and never go back" blogger's code. My purpose here is to create an account of living over here--if it takes a few days or a week (or more) to properly commemorate certain events and thoughts, so be it. I hope you'll understand, and be willing to spin through the current page to make sure you haven't missed a new, possibly essential post. When everything gets caught up, I will let everyone know. There is just too much interesting stuff going on over here, and as it is I have been neglecting other work so I can commit some of it to "blog," if not to actual paper.

Actually, my working method has been to keep a diary of every days' events, written out in long-hand, and then condense these notes into an entry or two. This takes longer, but seems to work best for me.

And I will not neglect the requests for more drawings--I'd like to have much more, but I've been spending all my time writing!

Lastly, we have our first visitors in town, and and I won't be able to write as I like for the next week or so. In this time, we will be out of town (a trip to London to see The Mountain Goats!), and I have no idea if I'll be able to post--or if I'll even take my computer.

Look forward to some exciting reports about our first visitors, and what we saw in England, a place I've never been.

FUNNY ANECDOTE: Dear Wife and I were walking up Rue Monsiuer le Prince, coming home from a Le Luxemburg lunch, (the Mc Donald's is closed for remodel!), and on our way to the boulangerie Pain au Prince, where they are responsible for the best chocolate moelleaux in Paris. A very chic older lady appeared walking beside us. Her lower legs were wrapped tight in knee-high black leather boots, and she was sassy-stepping with a jaunty hip movement, a look of total self-possesion on her slightly stretched face. As we looked at her, she unexpectedly asked us if we knew where the Cremerie Polidor was located. Dear Wife and I stopped, debated this a second, unsure: it sounded familiar, but we'd never been. We continued debating, and Dear Wife became certain it was ahead of us, I figured she was right, and together we all walked a block up the street to the eatery Polidor, just where brilliant Dear Wife thought it was. I believe this place had been recommended in some New York Times article as a very authentic locals-only type bistro. The lady was restrained in her thanks--kind of dismissive, really, considering the way we walked her to her destination (they don't even do that at Home Depot anymore); but she must have been under the impression she was among locals, and decided to ask one last thing of us: was there anyplace in this neighborhood we'd recommend seeing?

We looked at each other: "Uh...." Dear Wife and I were suddenly bewildered, not a single good suggestion between us. "Uh, uh..." we stalled. We really didn't have anything. For us, just walking down the street in our little hipster shi-shi (chi-chi?) neighborhood was fascinating and life-affirming. What else could we really recommend?

"The Cluny?" we finally offered, half-heartedly suggesting this local Middle Age museum which we'd never even visited.

Uh hmm, she sniffed, already looking past us and moving away without a word of thanks or goodbye.

Clearly, we'd failed this test.

Humbled, we walked home racking our brains for some better response, in case anyone is ever silly enough to ask us again for advice on a local attraction worth visiting.

Still no dice.

mardi, novembre 15, 2005

The Night Movers

It started on the eleventh, Dear Wife's birthday, when each of us took out a small valise, tossed in some overnight supplies, and made the 12 minute walk to the Bonapartment. That little trek signaled the commencement of our latest relocation. What started as a one-night stop-gap became our new moving method. Every night since, you could see us trudging up the boulevard St. Germain, now hauling big suitcases, loads of shopping bags, and even once, Dear Wife's foam roller ("everything must go"). We've decided the relocation of a thousand small moves is preferrable to the all-at-once one-day big-daddy gawd-awmighty kneee-shaker type. So when everyone in the building is asleep, we load up and clamber down the stairs of the St. Sulpice place with as much as we can safely carry.

Crossing the neighborhood to reach our new place is almost meditative, like a silent procession, with the boulevard and sidestreets cooperatively still. Only taxis pass us, and so far we've resisted the urge to hail one. And haughty Frenchmen that they are, none has even deigned to slow down and ask if we need a ride. Two people in the middle of the night dragging large suitcases. "They know what they're doing," they must say to themselves:"Either they've already got a ride, or they're idiots." And they drive past.

The streets have been (mercifully) free of pedestrians every time we've ventured out so encumbered. There would be little more embarassing than bumping into proper Parisians looking not so much like wayward tourists as the budding homeless.

Maybe that's why the taxis don't stop?

We walk up the south side of the boulevard, where the pavement is wider and there are no cafés hosting late-night crowds or narrowing our path with their outdoor tables. We cross at the curch St. Germain-des-Prés, at the big intersection where rue De Rennes splits off from rue Bonaparte. Civilian vehicles are remarkably absent, and taxis provide the only traffic. There's a weird preference among a lot of Parisian taxi drivers to leave their main headlights off at night, and they drive only with their parking lights illuminated. It strikes me as incredibly cheap, as if they're worried about wearing out their halogens (and indeed, it's always a newish car that seems to be doing this--and there are lots of new looking taxis here--the entire taxi fleet of Paris is notably fancy, with lots of Benzes and luxury Peugeots earning their keep as hacks, polished and sleek but crowned by a discreet eminence that just mentions, in whispering, glowing letters, the word "TAXI").( Everytime Dear Wife and I would make this commute, I would study the taxis and see if there was any connection between headlight activation and whether they were or were not carrying a fare: couldn't see any.)

As we walk, we are steeling ourselves for this last part of the trip: the climb up to the new apartment. We are on the fifth floor, which here means five flights of stairs because they count the ground floor as Zero. And the staircase here is interestingly unrelenting, without any landings until you reach our floor, the top floor: all the other doors on the way up make due with a triple-wide step for their porch. The steps resume without time to catch your breath.

By spreading the loads out over a half-week, we've avoided any suicidally dangerous missions, the ones carrying my biggest suitcase packed as full as possible, and me harumphing it up, one step at a time, always ready to totter backwards into the void, or just plain collapse. No, this time was different. We moved sensibly. And even though it was hard getting the bags up, it was within the realm of the humanly possible. A big improvement over last time.

And today we brought our last load. The computer stuff, primarily. Now that we've vacated the St. Sulpice apartment, we are without Internet. But we do have all of our equipement.

We called a taxi for this stuff. There's no way I could carry that printer between apartments and not have been in a bad mood for some time--and we have company coming tommorrow, Kindly Kev, our first visitor. I want to be in top spirits.

It's all up here, now (in the new apartment, the "Bonapartment"), and thank Jesus.

It's 96 steps from bottom to top. Which brings to mind the old song, "96 Tears."

And now that I've had a good cry, it almost seems funny.

lundi, novembre 14, 2005

Paris, Cinema Cite

It's Monday, a little before 11 or so in the morning, and I walk past a movie theater, and there is a line beginning to form. Huh, I think, that's interesting. I'll take a picture. What movie they were seeing, I don't know--perhaps "Match Point," the latest Woody Allen. Their choices were that, "Cavaliers du Ciel," "A History of Violence," and "Combien Tu M'Aimes?"

I go about my business, do our laundry in preparation for the big move from St. Sulpice to The Bonapartment (no naked men espied). I head over to the Luxembourg McDo for lunch (a tragic case), and come across the same scene, different cinema: a line for a film. On Monday afternoon. 2PM or so. No idea what film.

Cinema Cité, indeed!

The French Call It "Le Karma"

A few days ago, I wrote a little something about "The Frog & Princess Pub," a nearby watering hole that caters to English-speakers and student types (and, yes, Dear Wife and I fit that profile as well as anybody). I was denigrating their attempts at self branding, mocking their line of beers with names designed to showcase their mascot, a drunken frog. My criticism was mainly the similarity between “The Frog” and all those grasping micro-breweries we left behind in the ‘States. But y'know, God bless 'em, they are meeting a need, filling a niche, serving a base, etc. I say that now, after being struck by the wrath of the Frog...

It was a day of strenuous moving, and afterwards I’d rushed myself and Dear Wife over to The Village Voice English Bookstore—I was hoping to pick up a late-arriving gift for D.W.’s birthday—the second boxed set of The Complete Peanuts from Fantagraphics Books, (a great collection). But Vincent hadn’t received the box yet, and in apologizing, he comically let the secret out, saying, “Right, it was the Complete Peanuts Boxed Collection—no it’s not here, but maybe tomorrow—and you needed it for a gift, right…wasn’t it for…?” his voice trailing off a little as he looked at Dear Wife standing beside me. Then he realized, and was mortified. But we didn’t mind a bit, and it made for such a funny reaction from Vincent. Dear Wife was so happy about the present, she told him that now she has a double pleasure, the delight learning of the gift, and then anticipating its arrival.

Dear Wife and I were hoping for a quick meal. When you step out of The Village Voice, you are practically facing The Frog, and knowing that Dear Wife had been hoping to resample their fried shrimp won-tons for a month without success, I suggested we take advantage of the light crowd inside and have a quick meal. But I was uncomfortable going into the place so soon after writing about it so dismissively.

An aside: here is a shot of my new boots. They look a little pedestrian, but that is just the point—they dress up, they dress down, thay are perfect for me. You can't see it, but they have a snazzy toe that tapers, which creates a nice tension with their hearty profile. And I love the little touch of the striped canvas heel-pull, colored to commemorate their Swiss origins. These boots are the Second Big Purchase for me (the first was a cashmere zip-front sweater, in fact purchased as a gift for me by Dear Wife). This Parisian milieu is having its effect....

We took a table in the back, and the staff seemed especially solicitous. Though it had been at least a month since we'd dined there in the evening (our one and only nighttime visit), our waitress from that visit recognized us, came over to our table, and began flattering Dear Wife mercilessly. Straight off she saw that Dear Wife had a new haircut, and she complimented it sincerely. I was amazed. Now, if the difference between the two cuts had been severe, this would still be impressive, but Dear Wife had only had the same cut trimmed--it did look better, mind you, but for this girl to seize upon the difference so cannily--and so quickly--left me even more unsettled. And poor Dear Wife, she dislikes that sort of attention, and she looked as uncomfortable as I felt.

But still. This was very nice of the girl. And it was nice to be remembered.

So we ordered a bunch of appetizers, including the fried shrimp won-tons with sweet-and-sour sauce, and waited for them to appear. As we did, we looked around at some of the previously mentioned beer tanks, shiny stainless steel back in the section where we sat, and un-branded. No frog faces declaring their flavor, or flavour, I mean. One said "Hot Back Liquor." As I examined these tanks from my seat, I saw a sudden dark movement out from beneath one of them. A mouse, small and charcoal colored, was racing from the cover of one tank to the safety of the wall-sink's underside. Dear Wife didn't see this (thank God), but she saw my eyebrows shoot up, and an astonished look come over my face. "What?" she asked.

I decided there was no way to tell her what I'd seen and still enjoy our meal, and I didn't see any way to leave now. So I just told her, "Uh, that thing's labeled 'Hot Back Liquor'! Can you believe it?"

Well, I should have taken it as a warning.

Our food came out, four plates, which were too many for our small table. The food runner, a jolly fellow of indeterminate language, but proficient in English, said he'd grab us another table. He found a free table against another wall (dangerously close to the mouse--I said nothing), and, setting our won-tons down on its uncluttered surface, lifted it and turned to carry the whole thing over. But the table tilted slightly, the plate of won-tons began a slow slide to the edge, and as he stopped the plate's progress, the cup of sauce popped off the platter, and landed face down on the floor with an audible splat, sending a long tongue of sauce flying from the impact.

And where did that sauce end up?

A two ounce dollop landed square on the back of my calf, on my newly tailored and pressed pants, with a trail of red stuff tracing a line down the back of my leg to the floor. Included in this line was my new boot, with an expertly landed glob staining my natty little Swiss canvas heel strap.


I see. This is how Karma works.

I think we got it all pretty well cleaned up. And while The Frog may deign to flatter you, they didn't deign to comp us even one drink, even as restitution for their faux pas.

Frogs and Moose, oh have I felt your wrath.

dimanche, novembre 13, 2005

My French Vocabulary

I have what some might uncharitably call a very limited French vocabulary: I know the merci, oui, and bonjour, that we all come equipped with from birth. To this I have worked to add the three "au's:" au revoir, ("until I see you again," or just, "later"), aujourd'hui (today), and aubergine (eggplant). I know that "I" am Je, I know that "you" are tu; but you can also be vous, and we can be nous. To these noun subjects I can append the verb "to be" (je suis, nous sommes—not sure of the others...) or the verb "to have" (particularly useful in the formal "you" form of address for the question, "Vous avez...?" {"[Do} You have...?"}: ie.,"Vous avez le moelleaux?" {"Do you have cake?"}).

This already seems like a lot of French, I know. But ever insatiable, I've been pushing beyond these boundaries. I learned very quickly how to mispronounce pardon, which looks like pardon in English, but is pronounced here with such effective insouciance that I am left flailing to properly mimic the method of the natives (something about stressing the vowels, not the consonants). For myself, as a person accustomed to addressing strangers with the smallest words of social kindness for the sake of politeness and our common humanity (“Excuse me,” “Oh, pardon me,” “After you,” that sort of thing), it was imperative to learn some word that would help me negotiate those moments of crowding onto sidewalks or into cafés, shops, museums and the Metro with strangers for whom French was their first language. “Excusez-moi” is a little too emphatic, and “pardon” is by far the preferred expression here. So I try. It helps grease the innumerable instances of close contact.

Also in this vein is the word problèm, again teasingly identical to its English spelling (do you detect a theme?). My pronunciation is a little better with this one; I can say “proh-blehm.” But nothing is ever a problem over here (except those things involving banks, Wi-Fi or the Internet), so I use this word in the more complicated construction, “Pas problèm,” or “No problem,” as I’ve come to understand its meaning. In an attempt to imitate the locals, I have adopted this as a way to say just this, “no problem;” a very useful thing in restaurants or anywhere you wish to lessen the pressure on a service person, or wish to show understanding of a sort: “The soup is coming,” they say, or, “The earliest we can have it for you is Wednesday.”

“Pas problèm,” I say. And I smile.

I think this “pas problèm,” is a sort of contraction of “It’s no problem,” or “Ce n’est pas de problèm,” which I have just had spelled out for me by Dear Wife, who also explained to me that the French people are in fact saying “Pas de problèm,” not “Pas problèm,” and that they are just muffling (or “eliding,” as she puts it) the “de” part. “Pas de problèm?” So I have been saying this incorrectly.

See, I am constantly learning!

Rounding out this arsenal of weighty French is the verb oublier, which means "to forget," as in "j'oublie" (I forget). I picked this up somewhere soon after we arrived, and have been working ever since to hone my usage; never mind that I am forced to look up in Dear Wife's dictionary the proper spelling for this verb in the infinitive (I just want to be sure), and then had to ask her how to correctly conjugate it for je. I have become confident enough to throw it around in public, in particular with sales people whom I wish to let down gently about some article I may have tried on and do not wish to buy today ("aujourd'hui"), but may buy in the future, after I have thought about it, ("Je pense," {"I think"}, I tell them incorrectly, looking thoughtful--I don't know how to tell them I will think about it). But to this mild assurance I've become fond of adding the more emphatic, "I won't forget." Then I smile again, and they smile, and I walk out of the shop, very contented in my obvious internationalism.

Could it possibly remain thus?

This morning Dear Wife and I finally managed a proper sit down meal at The Frog and Princess Pub, taking advantage of their Sunday Brunch (which disappointingly didn't offer Dear Wife's longed-for fried shrimp won-tons). I feel a little uncomfortable in this place, mainly because I see it as a twin of the despised Moose, a drink-'em-up watering hole catering to junior-year-abroad English-speaking students, and doubtless imposing the same nightly mayhem on the residents of its own quiet street. Also, I am not very charmed by their English-speaking waitresses, (who are nice enough), or their English menu (amazingly like a slightly down-scale Karl Strauss, or any other micro-brewery restaurant back in the States, with the dining room encircled by shiny beer tanks, each labeled with some self-consciously "branded" name for the brew it's stewing, like "King Frog Lager," or "Dark Froggy Night Ale," with attendant silly illustration) (I just made those names up without much thought, and I’m certainly as uninformed as any non-beer drinker [I only imbibe with the All Blacks], but I just looked up The Frog and Princess Pub on the web and found these “labels” from their actual stable of brews—uncanny).

The “F & P” was practically empty at noon-plus-ten-minutes on this non-raining Sunday morning (dry enough to go out in my new boots, and Dear Wife in her new jacket!), so we were shown to a table and began examining the brunch fare. I got the 18 Euro “American Breakfast” (it was too big, but was the most economical considering it came with a choice of orange juice or “jus de pamplemousse”—grapefruit juice—which Dear Wife ordered and I thought was even better than my orange juice; also a choice of coffee or tea—and free refills on the coffee! unheard of over here—and a big spread of two eggs, lots of bacon, two hefty sausages, a steamed tomato with herbs, a basket of toast and jam, and a pile of pan-fried mashed potato balls; as if this weren’t enough, also included as a second course—most unlike America, and the only give-away that we were in fact being served in Paris—were two large pancakes, competently prepared, accompanied by a petite pitcher of warm maple syrup); Dear Wife ordered the slightly smaller English Breakfast (much the same as mine, but with baked beans[?]).

As we enjoyed this meal (no smokers nearby for the majority of it), we talked about the fun of yesterday, our second big shopping day—which was really just a continuation of the our first big shopping day, because we'd returned to Bally principally to pick up Dear Wife’s previous purchases after their alterations, and only secondarily to make decisions about a couple of shoes we’d tried on a week ago. Dear Wife and I talked of all this at breakfast, both of us still feeling a little wobbly in the knees after spending what was for us an outrageous sum. Rising this morning after the sort of deep sleep that often follows transformative passages in one’s life, each of us had been quick to inspect our purchases of the previous evening, putting them on and walking around the new apartment in them, looking at ourselves in the mirrors and looking at each other, happy but also unsure if we had become completely superficial fashion sods who had been manipulated by a perfect storm of lovely, quality merchandise, an exceptionally warm sales staff, and a recent home sale that far exceeded our expectations—a sort of buyer’s non-remorse, both of us trembling and timid in our extravagance. Did we dare venture out in our new treasures? Were they in fact too ostentatious? Would we look out of place in them?

Were we worthy?

At the time of the first big shopping day, I had employed my genteel method of letting the sales staff down easily, of forestalling any hasty decision on our part: I told them we’d think about it, (“Nous pensons?”), but that we wouldn’t forget, (“N’obliais pas,” I imagined I was saying: “I won’t forget”). When we returned last night, to be greeted warmly by the staff, and we quickly began to resume shopping, revisiting items we’d tried last week and had been thinking about, I tried to signal that we hadn’t forgotten, that I’d been true to my promise: “N’oubliais pas!” I told the manager upon his greeting. “N’oubliais pas,” I told our wondeful sales girl (uh, "sales associate") Sandrine as we began rummaging through the shoes we’d been considering since last week. We didn’t forget!

As Dear Wife and I sat at the F & P, eating brunch and recalling all this, she paused here to correct me, “You were saying, ‘N'oubliez pas.’”

“Right, ‘N’obliais pas,’ ” I said. “ ‘I won’t forget.’ I say that so they know we’re still looking—I sort of let ‘em down easy, see, or in this case I let ‘em know I didn’t forget…”

“Yeah, but you’re saying, ‘Don’t forget,’ not, ‘I won’t forget’—you’re telling Sandrine, ‘Don’t forget!’ You’re saying ‘N’oubliez pas,’ as in ‘Vous n’oubliez pas,’ ‘Don’t you forget’—it would be ‘Je n’oublie pas’ for ‘I won’t forget.’ That’s why she was pointing to her head each time you said this—she kept answering you in French, ‘I will remember’—that’s why she began counting things off on her fingers, ‘I have to remember the boots, the deer skin shoes, the loafers, the pants’—you were telling her not to forget!”

As Dear Wife explained to me this unbelievable blunder, (well, quite believable, really), I felt my entire head begin to glow hot in a scarlet blush of shame.

“You—you mean, I was demanding she shouldn’t forget…?”

I was mortified. How could I be so blithely insulting? I could only stammer an apology, (heard by Dear Wife but directed to Sandrine and the rest of mankind), and promised to correct this as soon as possible, as soon as we returned to Bally.

For at least a month now, I have been ordering every salesperson from St. Sulpice to the Champs Elysées “Don’t forget!”

Je n’oublie pas.

samedi, novembre 12, 2005

Napoleon spoke Italian before he spoke French

Dear Wife's birthday was yesterday, and instead of boring you with a long list of my incredibly thoughtful gifts and little loving acknowledgments, I will tell you about our dinner. Well, just a little about it.

We dressed up, me in a suit and Dear Wife in a new dress, bought for her that very day by me (there, I spilled the beans on one gift). I had spied this dress over a month ago, and as we walked through the city on her birthday, I'd cleverly steered her past this shop, and then convinced her to try the dress on—and it was immediately apparent what a brilliant choice it was, because she looks stunning, and the sight left me very gratified. We had made reservations earlier in the week for dinner at a very nearby Italian restaurant named Casa Bini, or Casabini, I'm not sure which. We'd been there once before, and it was pronounced by Dear Wife her favorite meal in Paris, and the place she'd most like to revisit for a special occasion. So revisit we did.

But the wonderful and maddening thing about this place is that it is staffed and run by actual Italians. So when we walked in through the velvet-draped portal, the Maître D is actually the Major Domo, and he greets us with a proud, "Buona Sera," which we answer unthinkingly in kind, our Italian being the most comfortable foreign language for both of us (I say this, and it’s true for Dear Wife, but for me this just means my 7 words of French are dwarfed by the 12 I know in Italian). Then we are asked if we have reservations, I think in French by an assistant Major Domo (a minor domo?), which Dear Wife quietly answers in French. We are attached to a hostess, who’s heard our initial accomplished Italian, and invites us to follow here in the language of the land of Michelangelo. We follow her up some steep stairs, and are then handed off to the overseer of our dining room, who seats us and, not hearing our initial, impressive exchange in Italian, greets us in French, which we then try to answer in kind. In comes the waitress who hands us our menus, and when I continue the line of French by saying “Merci,” (perhaps the Italian was just an affectation on the part of the staff, I think, and I shouldn't push it—maybe I should revert to French now that the actual discourse of the meal is at hand) she answers my “Merci,” with “Prego.”

And I’m totally lost.

After we’ve given our drink order to her assistant in fumbling French, mixing our insecure Franco syntax with items pronounced as if in Italian, ( Ferrarelle, Montepulciano, etc.), I ask to amend my order and add the house aperitif, a “Casabini”, I start with, “Per piacere,” and end the request with, “aussi.”

(Have you noticed my sudden ability to write in italics? All courtesy of Dear Pal Pete, as true a friend as could be—and damn handy with the html, too )

It just spirals downward from there, with grazie’s mixing with merci’s, je voudrais replaced by vorrei, etc., etc. Even language maven Dear Wife becomes totally flummoxed, and reverts to English a couple of times. The staff takes it in stride, and indulges our confusion by answering in whatever language formed the bulk of our statement.

Now that’s class.

Dear Wife had the excellent bresaola with truffle oil for an appetizer, while I had the mozzarella wrapped in “speck,” a very bacon-like dried meat; my main course was the linguine with lobster bits, and Dear Wife had the casareccia with the zucchini, (another pasta dish). It was all damn tasty. We skipped dessert, as I had some sweets stashed back at the apartment (in both apartments, actually, for whatever eventuality manifested itself), and some candles for a happy birthday serenade and wish-making. It was great fun, and we decided to spend the night at the new place instead of dealing with another all-night assault from the raucous revelers at The Moose and The Mystery Club.

A wonderful decision.

CLICK on the pic for a better view--it's un- believable! And this is what we see at the foot of our bed! (Note wooden safety rail)

Dammit, are we ever lucky.

The new place is sweetly silent, and our 6th floor bedroom has an excellent nighttime view of our neighboring buildings, and in the distance, the big Montparnasse Tower. With all those rows of eccentric chimneys sprouting from staggered rooflines, it looks like frickin' Mary Poppins out there!

Vive le Bonaparte!

vendredi, novembre 11, 2005

Remembrance Day in France

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month...

Today is Remembrance Day here in France (also in all British Commonwealth nations and Belgium, among others). They do a couple of very cool things to recognize this day, which was the day in 1918 that the Armistice for World War I went into effect,( "On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month"). Firstly, red poppies are handed out and worn to honor the dead of both W.W.I and W.W.II. The poppy tradition (so I read on Wikipedia, my first use of this site) comes from the poem "In Flanders Field" by John McCrae, Canadian. And people really wear them, people of all ages and appearances. I wish I had some shots of examples....

There's one other memorial gesture that I've noticed in the city, and I found it very moving. As you walk through the streets of Paris on any old day, you will come across many buildings adorned with some kind of modest commemorative plaque. I don't always stop to look, but I imagined the people and events they record are diverse: so-and-so lived here, this-and-that happened upstairs on this date, etc., etc. The plaques inevitably look like an afterthought, attached in our modern age to these old buildings at about street level, upon some unremarkable stretch of stone or stucco, with no attempt to integrate them gracefully into the facade. But when I've bothered to read one, they always seem to commemorate some French Resistance fighter who was killed on that spot during W.W. II; and if they don't, they instead honor some person or family deported by the Nazis from the building. I can't read much French, so I don't always know exactly how any given plaque reads, but I've had a vague awareness of these memorials for a long time, and have regarded them with some reverence.

So it was very touching to see all of these plaques suddenly adorned with bouquets of flowers come Remembrance Day. The bouquets came wrapped in cellophane with the words "Mairie de Paris" on them, which I believe means the city/mayoralty of Paris (for a long time I've believed this "Mairie," in its sassy shopping center script, to be a department store chain here in France--I didn't recognize its exuberence appearances on billboards and on maps as announcing the authority of the ancient city of Paris--I thought it was a place to shop). I took these pictures a few days after Remebrance Day, when the camera was fully charged again. This bouquet was still up Monday morning when I snapped it.

mardi, novembre 08, 2005

That Fish Died for Nothing

Maybe I should just file this under, "What did you expect?" As in, "What did you expect, going for sushi at a place called 'JAPORAMA'?"

Well, we expected something edible.

There are a lot of Japanese restaurants in Paris, esp. in our area, (there are a lot of Chinese Traiteurs, places that are more like take-out joints, with fewer proper restaurants--and there are some Vietnamese eateries, which makes the most sense, I guess, given French colonial history). Nearby, that four block artery called rue Monsiuer le Prince is clotted with half-a-dozen Japanese eateries all on its own, (and the city has many other passages similarly clogged). We walked there tonight, looking for a new dining experience.

I have always been very skeptical of seafood in any foreign country--it's simply paranoia and narrow-mindedness on my part--so it took a little while to warm up to the idea of cold fish in Paris. But Dear Wife and I happened upon a dive-y sorta sushi bar while heading to La Luxembourg for lunch, and one of the staff lured us in off the sidewalk with a humble request to give 'em a try. This was a while ago, and on that day I stayed with the safety of meat skewers, but sampled Dear Wife's sushi, and it was OK. So we began eating there every once-in-awhile.

But there are a lot of other Japanese restaurants on the same street. All of 'em look nicer than our place. A couple of them are always packed for lunch. Why not try one of those?

We picked JAPORAMA.

I liked the way the sign looked like the titles for a Godard movie.

It was a sushi joint run by Koreans; tough looking, no-nonsense, kind of misshapen Koreans. A short and nasty looking pit-boss of a maitre d' oversaw the outfit, and he patroled the floor as though itching to get rough with somebody. The whole staff followed his lead. They were unsmiling, but not unsmiling in a typically diffident, urban way, or even a haughty French way (something I've rarely been subjected to, but still); no, these guys were stern beyond simple sterness--they seemed angry. And beyond that, they acted like running a restaurant and serving customers was something they did with minimal interest. Something they collectively didn't care about, as though they were all here for some other reason.

Some other reason? And we let them serve us raw fish?

As we spent more time observing their weird disconnect from the actual job of running a restaurant, I became increasingly suspicious. The misshapeness--it's a classic sign of malnutrition, common among North Koreans. Their hard-scrabble, but collective demeanor--as though they'd been through tough times together, and had formed a bond. Maybe they were refugees from Kim Jong Il's land, and after escape and the stress of readjustment, they just didn't have enough in the tank to care whether you wanted that coke with ice or not.

Or maybe they weren't fugitives from the regime. Could they be North Korean agents, using this restaurant (with that innocently anti-Japanese insult JAPORAMA for a name) as a cover for something nefarious?

Hard to imagine something more nefarious than the dish we were served.

After we placed our order (sushi maki) with the listless, disinterested waitress (we were the only ones in the place, it was still a little early by Paris standards for dinner, but the whole city seemed slow tonight), she went back toward the kitchen and suddenly all the waitresses were laughing. And looking at us. And repeating, "Sushi Maki (hahaha!)."

"Sushi Maki?"

"Sushi Maki!"


Well, wouldn't it unsettle you?

Just seeing such dour, lifeless ladies laugh was a little unsettling, but for them to laugh at our dinner?

The bode-ing was not well.

The soup starter tasted wrong, but bland enough to be overlooked. Then the sushi came out.

You remember, Sushi Maki Ha Ha Ha.

I'm sure you can imagine bad sushi. This was bad sushi. Even the wasabi looked unhealthy. I joked that the wait was so long because the cook was out digging through the trash at the Champion Market, looking for their sushi discards.

I ate one roll and picked some pieces from another (even the rice tasted...sour, edging toward putrid) (and we are talking about CALIFORNIA ROLLS, the light-weightiest of the light-weight). I could eat no more. Dear Wife didn't even manage that much. We just asked for the bill and left. We were a little nervous--more customers had arrived and I felt sort of compelled to tell 'em, "Bad Sushi!" But the pit boss was already eyeing us intimidatinggly, and we were terrified he'd come over and demand to know what the problem was, talking in his unitelligible (to us neophytes) North Korean French. We sweated it a few minutes, but then the bill was signed and we were out of there.

I wasn't about to tangle with any North Korean agents.

JAPORAMA: I wouldn't, if I were you.

The Rest of Yesterday

We are beginning to get worried emails. People want to know if we are OK with all these riots.

We're fine.

Like I said a few days ago, we don't really believe there are riots going on. We see absolutely zero evidence anywhere, except in the papers. I think it is a ploy by Sarkozy and de Villepin to mobilize the vote, and gain supporters. I see much more of them than either Chirac, or the rioters.

Perhaps I should take the metro out to Clichy-sous-Bois and see what all this alleged "unrest" is about...

Here's yesterday's Louvre page. CLICK it to see it larger. (I wanted to add, "Email criticisms to", but that's silly--just keep them to yourself!)

And that damn "Bound Hessian": I had it mapped out so well today, then I went in and tried to "tone it up." Bad choices in line direction ruined it--the arm is better than the rest, though it still has the lines running a curious direction in relation to the direction of the actual form in space. Sometimes I am making strokes that are convenient for my right-handed arm, but not good for the drawing. Oh, well, I'm learning....

By the way, these are all still straight ahead inks in Muji brush-pen. I'll tell you if I use something else.

lundi, novembre 07, 2005

The Lives and Faces of The Parisians

Today I stopped in at Paul. It had been a vigorous day of drawing at the Louvre (I continue pressing for success drawing with this brush-pen), and afterwards I wanted to sit down, have a "chocolat chaud" (hot chocolate), and relax for a few minutes before going home to Dear Wife. The café was not very busy, so I took a table facing the cash register, which gave me an excellent view of the people waiting in line, a line that never goes away at this excellent and popular boulangerie.

Have I told you about Paul? It's an indoor café "seulement" (which means no outdoor tables), lovely inside with dark wood paneling and a good staff serving a limited but tasty menu. Dear wife and I love to sit and get a slice of quiche (which is served with a nice side salad), or the special "aujourd'hui", and some coffee. Best of all, they have an effective "pas fumeur" (non-smoking) policy for the front room. It's on a busy corner just off the Blvd. St. Germy, and the front of the place functions as a traditional boulangerie, with a long glass counter displaying lots of cakes and cookies and pastries (I guess that makes it a sort of patisserie, too), and baskets filled with different kinds of fresh breads made right there, in the next room. The line of folks waiting to buy bread is frequently a dozen or more long. (It is actually a chain restaurant, or boulangerie, but that doesn't mean it isn't damn good.)

So I couldn't resist, and I pulled out my pad and started drawing people, just making quickie sketches (these brush pens can be dang useful for the quick-sketch stuff--you get a lot of information down in a stroke, instead of having to go over your line again and again to broaden it, or soften it, etc., with a regular pen--these drawings only HINT at what would be possible with a real inking master at the helm--err, at the brush). They surround a portrait bust study from the Louvre. (Click on picture for a closer view)

Do these people look worried about the riots?

Letter From The Barricades

Dear Pal Peter,

Ah, the riots. You are getting gleefully hysterical coverage in the U.S., I think. Here it is the opposite. Imagine the emotional state of the average U.S. citizen if car-torching rioters were on their 12th day of a rampage that had destroyed almost 6,000 cars, plus churches, schools, buses and buildings--imagine also that these riots had started in D.C. (well, New York would be a better analogy), but then spread to LA, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and, just for the hell of it, Provo. Well, take that imagined level of U.S. outrage, hysteria, and downright nastiness ("Shoot to kill!"), and then invert it. Flip it around 180 degrees.

That's France.

I have had a devil of a time finding news about these riots on French TV, (though the papers do devote major coverage to the story); when I do, the tone sounds calm, the faces look resigned. People in the suburbs are interviewed with an anthropologist's detachment. Much of the coverage centers on the contest between Sarkozy and de Villepin, the two leading candidates to succeed Chirac as president, and how each of them are faring politically in relation to "the crisis". Maybe the news will show a few fast clips of nighttime flames, firemen at work, and then the ubiquitous "morning after" shot of an ashen automobile carcass. It's not much. With the pronounced coverage in the States, it feels a little like a reverse of the disparity in Iraq war coverage between here and at home: over here the Iraq reports show much more violence, death and destruction; at home, much less so. Why the dif? Pleasure taken in the woes of others, I'm sure (get yr schadenfreude on). But, as far as this non-French speaking, non-citizen can tell, there is a dispassionate, cerebral tone prevailing, both in the discourse and the wrist-slapping response, and it baffles me. Where is the National Guard? Where are the air strikes?! There's a lot of angst over the fact that certain towns are being empowered to enact a curfew, this provision having come from the year 1955, enacted at the beginning of the Algerian "troubles." Seems to be much hand-wringing over the propriety of this step. Over a curfew. With 12 days of riots. With 6,000 plus cars burnt across the country.

There is no way such a muted "law and order" response would be tolerated in the US, from the personal level on up. I'm not saying the U.S. response would solve anything (I don't think the U.S. would be worried about solving anything at this point—they'd be worried about STOPPING this), nor am I saying the U.S. approach would be better, long term or short, than the French: I'm just amazed at the stark difference between our societies.

My impression is that the riots got out of hand early because there was a real reluctance and/or inability to squelch the initial uprising. Like the looting in Baghdad. The problem is almost the opposite of New Orleans: in New Orleans incompetence prevented effective action, and poverty exacerbated this; here apathy precluded the commitment of competency—though again, all exacerbated by poverty.

I don't think anybody here cares too much if the poor burn down their own methodically isolated ghettos. And this ambivalence kept the response weak. But now that cars are being burnt in the Marais (an old district in central Paris), and burnt in almost every major city in France, self-preservation kicks in. There is talk on the TV about the problems in immigrant communities, lots of high-minded rhetoric, I take it. There is real distaste for the ugly task of crackin' heads, and I suppose that's good. But you can't have the rule of law if you don't enforce it. And while I am very happy immigrants are having their problems put on the front burner (this is essential, but it was just as essential BEFORE these riots, and I was talking about this IN AMERICA before we even got over here--and I know NOTHING about France, so it's not like this is out of the blue), I don't think there's anything liberating about setting a 53 year old woman on fire in a bus, or beating a 61 year old man to death.

I feel there was a tacit acceptance of the riots, a shrugging response that acknowledged on the one hand that real problems exist for these immigrants, and that real grievances are behind the riots, and on the other hand, a sense of profound separation, a sense not only that these were not Frenchmen committing these acts of arson and assault, but that this wasn't happening in France. I think the regular French citizen not only views the perpetrators of these acts as aliens, but they feel these aliens live in alien territory, a sort of "Little Algiers" that may be within the Republique, but isn't really a part of it. I don't know how else to explain the weird indifference I've seen.

One thing's fer sure, in the U.S. there would be a lot more bodies droppin'.

Two policemen were shot in an ambush last night, but they were hit with buckshot, not 9mm bullets from a handgun or rifle. The low level of gun ownership here seems to have suppressed the level of personal violence—for instance, looting in the U.S. starts at the gun counter (look at New Orleans, with dudes shooting at rescue helicopters—very un-French), and once the guns and ammo get circulated, people have a way of "getting dead." Over here there have been no deaths until today, and that one from beating. On the other hand, if I lived out in the suburbs right now, and I saw the police unable to stop attacks, I would be looking to buy or borrow a Bazooka.

When there's a riot over racial problems in the U.S., it grieves me personally as a manifestation of inequality among citizens. I think most people who aren't outright bigots feel the same pain, when evidence is put before us that all are not equal in our State. That the aggrieved parties are citizens is never in doubt, and is, in fact, the source of the pain for the bystanders. I don't get the sense people here look at these so-called "immigrants" in the same way—as fellow citizens. They talk about this fact, but I think they only see them as citizens when they become recognizably French. Citizenship here is intertwined with an ethnic identity. Happily integrating immigrants into the Republique seems to suffer because of this.

All this analysis makes me sound slightly hysterical. Not at all. I have my Bazooka by my bedside.

I think I'll excerpt major portions of this letter for the blog, EUROCHINO. I will leave out the dirty bits, like ... and ....

We are fine. The center of the city remains safe, and daytime is quiet. Went to the Louvre today. Did some drawings. Hey, do you really mean it about bringing something over for me? I'd love a damn Apple wireless keyboard, the Bluetooth model. Can I have one sent to your casa? And then you can hand ferry it over for me?

Lots of Molotov Love,
Daivis Chino

dimanche, novembre 06, 2005

Oh, It's a Riot!

Cars have been burnt in the 16th Arrondissement. That's northeast of here, beyond the river, but not far from the BHV (which we visit) and that byzantine city hall structure, the Hôtel de Ville (which we avoid). At least, this is what I have read on the NY Times website. Here I have heard very little. Last night I scanned all the TV channels we have, and only CNN and BBC were devoting noticeable time to the story. Perhaps I just missed the extended coverage on the French channels, but all I could find were variety shows and one channel showing NC-17 level sex. Dear Wife was in the room, so I gave her an astonished and then disapproving look, and changed the channel.

No, I don't really believe there are riots. We hear no sirens, see no rushing fire brigades, observe no columns of smoke in the distance, nor helicopters hovering overhead. There are no "Eye in the Sky" searchlights blasting into our room at 3AM, no incessant drone of chopper blades endlessly circling.

It is nothing like living in downtown San Diego.

The cafés are full, Paul still has a line of scarf-wearing folk waiting to buy baguettes, and the streets remain crowded with pedestrians both shabby and chic. At the Musée Rodin today the grounds were swarming with people, many with their children, all taking advantage of a beautifully crisp, clear day, and the free admission on this, the first Sunday of the month. The Metros (lines 10 and 13, Odéon to Duroc to Varenne) were running, and although they were not as crowded as usual, many of the seats were still filled. The passengers didn't look particularly alarmed, and most people reading the paper were immersed in the sports section. One man next to me was reading a very plain looking novel (so many books seem to be published over here that in their haste they make due with plain white covers adorned only by title and author--a curiously antique look for a softcover): the title was the memorable "Naufrages de Batavia". What this means, I have no idea (but I thought of Dear Pal Pete, Muckdog Supporter)(and now Dear Wife tells me "naufrage" means shipwreck, God bless her). As he read, this middle-aged French fellow betrayed no sign of worry, nor any obvious doubts about the government's inability to quell the unrest ("Quel quell?"); the fact that 1,300 cars had been destroyed last night didn’t seem to upset him, nor did the fact that over 3,300 cars and buses had perished so far in more than a week of violence; indeed, even as I watched him methodically turn each page of his book, the ten day duration of this French Suburban version of Detroit’s “Hell Night” was a worry invisible to me. He didn’t even look concerned that the riots had now breached the line of decorum that separates city and suburb! Or that these riots were now occurring in almost every major French city, and that they would surely continue tonight. He only seemed interested in naufrages and Batavia.

So Paris continues being Paris. I fail to detect any concern in the carriage or communications of those around me, so I myself will forego worry.

What the hell do I know--I don't even speak French.

Sculptures In Ink

Went to the Musée Rodin today. Here's a page of highlights. This museum is often commended to me as a favorite when people find out I'm a sculptor. It is pretty wonderful, but the hi-drama and sex parts of the whole thing clash badly with crowds rushing to have their picture taken leaning against Pierre de Weissant.

Progress is being made on the ink front: I think the rear view of the standing male figure is getting somewhere, with the unrelenting mapping of the shadow pattern beginning to substitute for tonal explanation of the form.

samedi, novembre 05, 2005

Guillotine Revivalists

Guillotine Revivalists

News has been spreading across the globe about these riots, and we’ve even received an email or two asking if we are all right. Riots? What riots? Aggrieved immigrants are burning down the Paris suburbs bit by bit each night, and we have been oblivious to all this until just two nights ago—a full week after the onset of "unrest." This is how it is in the capital of France for two Americans so very unaware.

The State Department has issued a warning that all Americans in Paris must stay out of the suburbs, or the "banlieues" as they are called, which encircle the city proper. We are also told (so I read in the NY Times) that we are not to take the rail line to Charles DeGaulle Airport: this route bisects a particularly nasty area, and there have been “problems” for some trains and their passengers….

When we rode the RER train to Disneyland a month and a half ago, we rode through these “hotspots.” And we shared the train with the people living in these dreaded banlieues. Onboard, we saw lots of hard, haggard faces, many from somewhere in Africa, North or otherwise; there were many women, some wearing headscarves. Some of the young men seemed mildly menacing, others more-so, but most not at all. I was aware that we stood out (like a pro-Bush billboard over the Bois de Boulogne)(to most Frenchmen every American is pro-Bush; but to most Parisians, no American intelligent enough to talk to them could be), and I remained alert for any antipathy directed at us. Mainly, people just seemed tired. The landscape outside the train windows wasn’t obviously desolate, it just seemed distasteful because it so obviously wasn’t Paris. The houses and apartment buildings had that unfortunate look, shared by most contemporary (i.e., post-war) building I’ve seen in Europe, which is a sort of half-assed combination of unconvincing Mies-ian modernist planning, generic, box-like construction, and all overlaid with a few traditional touches, like an elaborate tile roofs, or shutters. Blech.

It may well be worth burning.

So, with our ears ringing to this new reverberation of violence, we settled down to bed.

That’s when the trouble started.

It was late, as it always is when we turn in (two AM often comes and goes before bedtime). Once the lights are out, and you are quiet in bed, that’s when any noise from the street becomes the center of your attention. We just wanted to sleep. But no… it was the damn rowdies at The Moose.

People laugh differently in different languages—it’s true, I can’t explain it other than to guess a mouth becomes comfortable making certain shapes, causing certain sounds, and these naturally carry-over to non-language sounds like laughter. Well, the same is true of aimless yells and indulgent screaming: you can tell, more or less, when it is bellowed by an American, when it is hollered by a Frenchman, and even when it is yowled in non-native French—German, or Arabic, for example.
Now, this shouting downstairs kept getting louder, and it had an edge. Also unsettling, it sounded like a thick-tongued French, a sort of non-native flatness in its bark that added to its menace. The shouting became so insistent, and sounded so aggressive, that it no longer resembled the nightly drunken squalls we have become accustomed to, and I began to worry the street beneath our window was breaking out in a mini-riot.

Could that be? I mean, could it happen here?

Damn that Moose and that Mystery Club! It’s bad enough they keep us awake ALL NIGHT—now they have brought real danger to the neighborhood with their all-night hours and endless liquor. Encouraging delinquency!

I went to the window to see what was the matter. I was ready to call the cops if it looked like a riot. A riot—what does that mean? Mainly I was worried a couple of goons were going to smoke some hapless Nissan Micra parked on the side of the road. As you recall, the street below our apartment windows allows for street parking.

I sound paranoid, but you wouldn't have believed the noise. And why wasn't every resident at their window, or calling the cops? Did they just know this was harmless fun? Or had they all found ways of sleeping through the night which left them deaf to the racket on the street?

After a particularly intense noise burst would bring me to the window, I would catch sight of a drapery rustling behind some dark window in one of the other apartments. OK. So they are monitoring this, too. They would call the cops. They've got more at stake here than two transient Americans.

Terrifying, the sort of hatred that can grow in your heart, laying on your bed, trying to sleep, assaulted by deliberate obnoxiousness for HOURS. It sounded way too out of hand to go down there and start trouble this time. And I know how useless this would be when I don't speak the language. We didn't seem to be in danger. But over ther hours we roused by waves of voices, one group coming together, shouting, giving way to different voices who would then congregate, erupt, subside, be joined by new voices, who would then run off down the street, bang on the walls, rev their scooter engines to the redline, burn-out in their micro cars, stop, open the doors, play loud music, slam the car doors, drive off, etc., etc., until 7 AM.

Forget the rioters. Let's revive the guillotine for disturbing my sleep.

vendredi, novembre 04, 2005

You Know You've Been Reading Too Many Financial Reports When...

When you think about going to the corner café, and then worry about the downward pressure they must be feeling to limit their churn. And whether their YOY sales are improving.

I don't speak French, which is criminal, I know, and I don't deserve to be here for that reason alone. I don't deny the drawbacks of my laziness and ignorance, which are massive and continual. But it does force me to live in a space of extreme alienation, and this can be a very good place for an artist. I don't have any truck with traveling to a foreign land, and then carrying on as if you're on a bender at home, just in a different language. This ain't junior year abroad for me.

The pageant of a culture and its people are fascinating enough in pantomime, and appeal to the silent movie buff in me. I try to limit the inconvenience of my non-native presence to all the French folk I encounter, but I am surely exasperating in the same way that an American gets exasperated with a Mexican who doesn't speak English. And I sympathize with the added exasperation that is seeing your capital infested with and bought up by these foreigners who don't the language--imagine if those non-English speaking Hispanics were also moving into many of the nicest Manhattan apartments.

We aren't planning to live here for very long, and in the meantime I wll just struggle along. It is a constant source of embarrassment, yes, but I resist sitting down with a French textbook and digging into the language when I've got so much else needing my attention. And these other priorities do not include enjoying much of this city, either--you readers are probably all too aware how staid and homebound our routine is here. No, it just seems like too much time for a new language when I am still so wobbly in my native tongue, and when I'm trying to nurse my ragged Italian along until we make it to Rome, which leaves scant capacity in my brain for a third language.

Especially not with my current immersion in financialese.

mardi, novembre 01, 2005

The Falling Timbers of Paris

Last night was Halloween. We went down rue Monsieur le Prince, looking for something exotic. Decided on the Moroccan place. It was good, damn good, if not quite as great as Le Loubane (?) the Lebanese place over by the end of rue Monge in the Fifth.

Not a lot of costumes to be seen tonight--but a few, most a little half-hearted. A night club just down the street was attracting patrons, and sometimes colorful characters would stroll past on their way to the party. One dude eating in the other dining room had an intense make-up job for the night, and when he walked out we all gasped at first, so convincing was his outfit of shredded clothing and convincing, bloody abrasions (an imitation scooter accident?). A group of five or so people came in and were shown to a table one over from us. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, trying to find their seats, taking off their coats, arranging themselves, and joking with the maitr d'. Then something odd happened.

In Paris, nearly every restaurant you go to that isn't a straight-up brasserie is in a room with exposed wooden beams; exposed beams, exposed wooden rafters, half-exposed, wooded posts built into the wall, and of course some rustic pillars distributed throughout the floorspace. There may be wall board between the wooden beams and boards, and it will be painted white; if stone is the other material, it is left bare. That's just the way they do it. It doesn't look English Tudor so much as Old Mill rustic.

They had the same decor here, a sort of unmolested Parisian intérieur rustique, plushed-out here and there with little Moroccan additions. The central pillars supported beams that were in turn riding wooden posts inset into the wall.

As the two girls at the next table lowered themselves into their seats, one caught a bit of her sweater on the wall-post behind her. As she descended, this post suddenly came loose and fell over on top of her.

As it fell, everyone was so stunned they both leapt up and froze. The pilar halted, halfway down, stopped by electrical wiring stapled to it. The girls, sitting next to each other, had both screamed a quick scream of utter shock, and covered themselves.

But even as it fell, something was wrong. Something was wrong in the speed and the trajectory and the way it came loose and then, in the way it stopped. Now it was sort of dangling there, its weight no trouble for a simple electrical wire to support.

And then we all saw it. The inside. On this night of costumes and tricks-or-treats, this supposed pilar was just a piece of plastic playing dress up. It was fake. The surface looked convincing, but it was just a phony prop, placed (inexpertly) to give the room more "ambience." And now it was flopping around like the 2 pound (if that!) plastic faker is was. It was, in fact, a plastic, hollow, mold-injected plastic, mass produced, not at all unlike the stuff used to make the old Halloween masks of yore, the stiff ones, not the latex, pull-on, rubber masks--the cheap ones, with a rubber-band to attach them to yr mug, and two eye holes (and a mouth hole, if you were lucky). The edges of the "pilar" gave way with that same stiff crackle and "thop!" that you'd hear when manhandling your Spiderman mask, circa 1975.

The waiter helped them get the impostor post back up on the wall, and we all had a good laugh at our fright, and its ridiculous cause.

Who says the French aren't into Halloween?