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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

All Work and No Play...


I broke out my spring and summer toys. I finally took my mountain bike to the shop to have the broken fork fixed and I did my first bit of sport climbing for the New Year. Nothing too ambitious; we went to a place known prosaically as exit 38 after its exit number on I-90. It is a pretty beautiful spot and the climbing crags are a few hundred feet above the Snoqualmie valley floor.

It was a great day to shake out the equipment and relearn/refresh my climbing skills. The drive out of town was spectacular. It was one of those days where you can see forever. On the drive across Lake Washington Mount Rainier dominated the sky to the right and Mount Baker loomed to the North some 200 miles away.

We had the place to ourselves and hiked up the well-worn trail. We started out at the easiest wall that lies directly at the entrance to the railroad bridge. My first attempt to tie a figure 8 knot looked like a half-eaten plate of spaghetti but it all came back quickly. Climbing is mostly about safety. All of the gear is to make climbing as safe as possible, to eliminate risk whenever and where ever possible.


Me: “Dying on a climb would suck but dying on a climb doing something stupid would be totally fucking embarrassing.”

Tobias: “You can’t make mistakes in this sport like how the Mets had five errors on Sunday.”

There weren’t any accidents on this day and the two climbs we did went well. In fact, I thought I did better than I've ever done before. Maybe there is hope for me in this sport. The only screw up I had was when Tobias was leading on the second climb. The first move is a little tricky and instead of me spotting him--in case he fell--I just stood there with the rope in my hand. He didn’t see me so it doesn’t count. Besides, lots of people break their backs and go on to live fairly normal lives.

On a related note, I have been playing a lot of piano lately and I seem to be playing better than ever. I sight read one of the Goldberg Variations (VII). I played it slowly but it sounded good and I even played it with all of the ornaments which I usually leave out when playing a new piece. Piano is a lot like rock climbing for me in that although I practice a lot I never seemed to get appreciably better. Maybe I have turned a corner on both of these hobbies.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Why Don't We Do It in the Road?

Why can’t Seattle be more like Amsterdam? I’m not suggesting that Seattle liberalize its laws on marijuana and prostitution (Although I would go along with these ideas). What I am suggesting is that Seattle become more of a bike-friendly town. What I am suggesting is that even though Seattle is considered one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country, by Amsterdam standards it is a pretty dangerous place to be on two wheels.

The advantages of encouraging bike travel are so numerous that I hardly know where to begin so let me begin at the end, so to speak. Something I notice in Amsterdam is that the women have great butts from spending so much time pedaling around town. What I am suggesting is that Amsterdam has more great asses per capita than any city I’ve ever visited. That should be reason enough for everybody. But wait, there’s more.

I am not some sort of neo-Luddite hippie trying to hang on to the past. I do think that anyone who blindly accepts technology over proven methods of transport is naïve. Bicycles are the single most efficient method of personal transport. They are inexpensive, safe, energy efficient, fast, and highly maneuverable. Bicycles shouldn’t be the only method of transport but they certainly should figure in the planning of any urban transit model. To exclude bikes is short-sighted and inefficient.

Seattle has very few bike paths in the city. I use the 2nd Avenue path that goes from Denny to Pioneer Square as well as the downtown to Freemont path via Dexter. These models could be duplicated on other streets with two things in mind: To encourage bike travel and to slow down car travel. We currently subsidize car travel to such a degree that most people can’t see any other options.

This is a policy that is not only dangerous to public health but makes for pretty ugly city planning. The worst streets for bike riding are also the worst streets for pedestrians and thus not healthy business centers. Denny Way comes to mind. Its four lanes crowd out cyclists and most bikers choose to avoid injury by riding on the sidewalk. There are practically no street level businesses on this thoroughfare and it is basically a big ugly mess that is fit only for expeditious car travel. It is not a destination but a place to escape from as quickly as possible.

First Avenue is not much better for cyclists although it is more pedestrian-friendly. If parking were not allowed one side of the street First Avenue would instantly become a better looking street and a better place for cyclists and busses. This would be at the expense of perhaps 100 parking spaces. This seems a small price to pay for making Seattle a more livable city. Business owners would complain at first, but as was the case in Amsterdam when they began to drastically reduce parking in the city center, they will see that increased pedestrian traffic is better for business than catering to a few people in cars.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Get Your War Off


In April, 1971, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the war in Viet Nam, John Kerry--a highly decorated veteran of that conflict--asked the question of his fellow citizens, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Now that the Right in this country are falling all over themselves as they pat themselves on the back about “winning” this war and telling all of us cowardly liberals “I told you so” I just wonder what lies ahead for our republic. Who now remembers September 11, 2001? Forgotten totally are the Enron and Worldcom disgraces as we watch images of chaos in Iraq and hear stories of American war planes bombing innocent Afghanis. The Bush people have given up even the pretense of suggesting that this is about fighting terrorism. I see this all as a tremendous mistake and not only a mistake but a lie.

I can’t see how this can be a good thing for a nation that claims to be more than a military junta. The Secretary of Defense is more popular than a rock star. I’m supposed to marvel at the opulent technology of our military forces while forgetting that at least 30 million American citizens are without health care and, subsequently, are one injury away from being destitute.

Are we supposed to feel comforted by an administration that has taken the stance that any opposition to its plans for war is unpatriotic? Will their next step be to declare that not reelecting Bush is unpatriotic?

I think many in the American media are afraid and choose to remain silent during this important challenge to our democracy.


I don't think the media is afraid. I think they realize it is bad for business to take on the uncomfortable task of criticizing Bush and the gang while he and his junta's ratings are high.

Some journalists have done their jobs well; the criticism of the "rolling start" military strategy and how inept it looked the first 10 days of the war was one example. One wonders how many fewer casualties we'd have had had we used a more conventional, Powell Doctrine type strategy. But that's all forgotten now that Saddam's statue was toppled and CNN was able to make a small crowd of 100 look like thousands were out cheering the "liberation."

However, the using of 9/11 as political capital will begin to lose steam as the economy continues to decline and deflate. Frankly, I am sick of the fucking twin towers being dragged out to justify the Wolfowitz Doctrine any more. I think most of America will catch up to this sentiment as more and more Americans lose their jobs.

The great fear in the next year won't be terrorism; it will be getting a pink slip. When Americans wake up from the war video game they've been watching because their tv was repossessed, maybe they will wake up to the fact we cannot afford to take over the world any more.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Most Amazing Day in the History of Paris

Our last day in Paris was without a doubt the finest spring day this city has ever experienced for as long as records have been kept. I had about as good a day as I could ever hope to have. I think that one of the secrets to this life is the ability to recognize those lapses in the ordinary that are perfection as they happen in your life.

It was cool when we left the hotel in the morning at around 10:30 but it was sunny. From the days previous I knew it would get warmer. We decided to walk to Sacre Coeur. I immediately got us a bit off course (Not lost!). When I finally determined our position on the map I decided we were near the Gare du Nord.

Not that getting a bit off course is a big deal because all it means is that you get to see some new things. We happened by a post office where I bought some post card stamps. In an adjacent café we scribbled a few cards and mailed them before heading up to Montmartre.

Paris is almost perfectly flat except this one lung-busting hill. On this hill beneath Sacre Coeur lies a huge shopping district where vendors spill out onto the sidewalks. It’s sort of like an enormous outdoor K-mart. By the time we got here the day was warm and sunny and the streets were teaming with pedestrians. From this point on in the day wherever we went it looked like a huge football stadium crowd had just been let out.

We scaled the steps to the basilica and took a couple of obligatory pictures. The view on this day was a bit hazy either from the fog that had yet to burn off or air pollution. I’ll choose to think it was the former. There were way too many people here on this day to look inside the church so we walked into the narrow streets of Montmartre.

I have mixed feelings on tourist areas. On the one hand I tend to avoid manufactured tourist things like Vegas, Disneyland, or resort type vacations. On the other hand I won’t shy away from everything that attracts tourist because they usually are there for a reason. The reason tourists flock to Montmartre is because it is absolutely adorable. Every single outdoor table in every single restaurant was occupied on this lovely Saturday and I was thinking that perhaps we’d have to go to some other area for lunch.

We walked into Place du Tertre and found a table in the sun at La Mere Catherine. This place has been here since 1793. It’s hard to go wrong with a place that has red and white checkered linen that’s been around for a couple of hundred years.

I got a prix fixe thing for 15E that included quiche Lorraine, chicken with fried potatoes, and dessert. I couldn’t imagine there being a more perfect day to sit outside and have a few beers with lunch. I would have stayed longer but I wanted to give up our great little table for another couple who might want to do the same.

Down the stairs from Place du Tertre is the Place des Abbesses. Besides the more heavily touristed Place du Tertre, this is probably one of the most beautiful squares in Paris. Place des Abbesses also has one of the funkiest wrought iron metro station entrances that we passed as we descended into a very long set of stairs to take the train to the Cité station.

The number four line was mobbed on this Saturday afternoon and when we ascended out of the station the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral was as packed as a rock concert. I don’t even think we bothered with a picture as we crossed the Pont au Double and entered the Latin Quarter (which should now be called the Greek Quarter what with all the gyro joints and tavernas).

Once again the crowds in these narrow streets were incredible. Every place we past was full and spilling out into the street. We were looking for some picnic lunch stuff for our train ride on the following day. The Latin Quarter is pretty much completely given over to tourist joints so we crossed the Boulevard Saint Michel into Saint-Germain-des-Prés which is also heavily touristed but has lots of shops.

We bought about 30 pounds of different kinds of cheeses and a couple different kinds of dried sausage. When it comes to buying French cheese and sausage I always prefer to error on the side of excess. By this time I had definitely done an excess amount of walking for the day and I needed a beer.

There must be literally thousands of cute, quaint bars, restaurants, cafes, and bistros in Paris. The French posses an embarrassment of riches in this department and I think they should be forced to sell off a couple hundred to needy cities like Seattle. They wouldn’t miss four or five cafes with great looking facades and charming interiors. Walking past all of these great-looking places I felt like I did in the Louvre when I was so over-dosed on beauty that I walked past café masterpieces without giving them the time of day. But then again, I guess Paris needs all of its establishments because on this sunny afternoon every single outdoor table in every single café was full.

I was beginning to get into a pissy mood about this time and I needed my medicine. My medicine is beer or wine or something. I couldn’t find a beer pharmacy. For the love of Christ could someone please get up and give me a seat at one of these adorable cafes so I can get a goddamn beer? Please? I knew that the law of averages would work in my favor and when it comes to getting a drink I’m no quitter.

The place where I did a place to sit was one of the only places so far in Paris that annoyed me. It was a café that was trying hard to be hip and cool with hip and cool servers who were being cool and hip but weren’t doing much serving. It took forever for the hip and cool kid to bring me my medicine. Perhaps my annoyance--and my violation of my own views on European service--was the result of my low blood alcohol levels which for me can be as dangerous as the lack of insulin is for diabetics.

After a little more shopping I asked someone if there was a Metro stop near by. But of course, there was one only a half-block away which even happened to be on the number 4 line that we needed. The Paris Metro system is wonderfully convenient and idiot-proof to use for the most part. You can get to within a couple blocks of anywhere in the city without stepping above ground and for the price of a single ticket of 1.3E.

My hours have been atrocious this entire trip. I get to bed at around 4 and wake up at 8 or even earlier. I’ve had a couple of naps but I have really been burning the candle at both ends, to put it mildly. What I am probably burning are bazillions of brain cells. I am just too pumped up to sleep for the most part so I’ll just deal with being brain dead stupid and tired.

We have been running around all day sightseeing or museum trotting or whatever. Perhaps after a short nap in the early evening we go out for a coffee or a drink or both. After pretty late dinners we’ve been walking all over looking at new neighborhoods or looking for another place to get a late-night drink. I have been getting addicted to cigars again as Cubans are fairly inexpensive here. A cigar is like having a dog: It’s a good excuse to go for a really long, epic walk.

It was after 1:00 a.m. and places were closing right and left. We walked into the Montorgrueil area and although we found the lack of automobile traffic peaceful and welcoming, it didn’t look good for us finding a place that was still open at this late hour.

We walked by a place that looked like a new sort of art deco café on the outside but the heavy bass of club music could be heard coming from the darkly-tinted windows. It definitely looked open and we were definitely looking for a place that was open but preferred not to go to one of the ubiquitous hip clubs with doors blocked by Russian mafia thugs posing as doormen.

No thug blocking the doors here, just a good-looking skinny kid who brought us to a table. We moved over to the swell-looking bar made of butcher block slabs with individual cubby holes cut out every couple of feet. This was a cocktail bar but we ordered wine just to be on the safe side. After watching the bartenders for a while we decided that they could actually make a decent cocktail. The 9E cosmopolitans were totally worth it this late at night.

It may seem that we had done a lot of dinking on this trip from what I have written up until now but not only had I not really had a huge buzz; I had never woken up with anything remotely resembling a hangover. The cosmopolitan was good but at 9E I probably wouldn't be waking up with a hangover on this particular morning.

The interesting thing about this place (either interesting or stupid or cool or avant-garde or pretentious or bad business or minimalist or whatever) was the fact that the place didn’t have a name. The business card simply stated the address (34 Rue Etienne Marcel) in the corner of a blank white card. We were wondering how people talk about this place. Do you call it “The place with no name” or do you say, “I’m going to…” and leave a pause? It was kind of like when Prince had his little attack of hipness and decided he didn’t need a name. I used to just burp when I meant to say Prince. The next time you are in Paris I suggest you stop by for a drink at …. and order a cosmopolitan.

Right now I am doing laundry down the street from the hotel at 8 a.m. after getting to bed at around 5:15 this morning. I probably look like shit but I feel fine. I’ll sleep when I get home. That is assuming that I ever get home as these washers are taking for-freaking-ever. As the other customers leave the Laundromat they bid me farewell which I think is a nice little touch of the "unfriendly" French.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

More Eating and Drinking

Even a pseudo-intellectual dipshit like me can only take so much art in one day. You tend to overdose on it and then find yourself in the Louvre breezing past masterpiece after masterpiece, giving them as much attention as you would a velvet Elvis. I needed some fresh air and I needed a beer.

A couple of blocks away we stopped in at Le Café Noir at 65 Rue Montmartre. We sat at the bar and ordered a Leffe draft and a darker Pelforth in a bottle. The bartender girl was a little flaky but the place was pleasant and cozy. On the wall, written on a chalkboard, were a couple of quotes: One from Verlaine about how music comes before everything and another from the French pop singer Serge Gainsbourg about how you should take a woman for what she isn’t and leave her for what she is (or was it the other way around?). There was also part of a newspaper review of the café posted by the door that read in part, “Voila un des bars les plus sympas du quartier.” I would agree with that.

We were sitting at the bar minding our own business when another older guy bartender asked me in French if we were Americans. I thought to myself, “Oh jeese, here it comes. The anti-American tirade about what a warmongering bunch of shits we all are.” I said yes and then a guy at the bar joined in and we talked a bit about the war. I said I was ashamed somewhat to be an American these days as I was in total disagreement with our president. They both disagreed with my anti-war sentiment which, oddly, made me feel welcome.

Never have I had an Anti-American experience in France. I hear other people say that they have and I can only wonder what they must be doing to elicit this response from the locals. I’ve never had an Anti-American experience anywhere. I think that when people say they had an Anti-American experience what they are probably saying is they had an Anti-me episode. Perhaps the locals don’t like you because you are a major asshole? Could that be it?

I think that Americans are too accustomed to the sort of phony, corporate-dictated, canned “friendliness” of the T.G.I. Friday’s variety. The corny “Hi, I’m Jamie, I’ll be your server” sort of shit which I find more irritating than comforting or welcoming. Café waiters here are sometimes slow for our standards in the U.S. but they are courteous and professional. I don’t need more than that. After living in Europe for quite a while I don’t expect someone to jump out at me the moment I sit down in a café so my expectations are a lot different here than when I am home in the U.S.

I also have lived in Europe long enough to understand how futile it is to expect super-prompt service wherever you go. That isn’t really a very highly prized virtue over here. I learned to be very, very patient after sitting down in a café. I learned from the best of the unhurried Europeans: The Greeks. If you were in a hurry when you sat down in a Greek café you were in for a lifetime of frustration.

The thing is, the point of going to cafes is to relax, to be with friends, to watch the world go by, and lastly, to get something to consume. Once you figure that out you can start to enjoy the pace of life in Europe which is often quite different than ours in the U.S. Something you never should do is to take the slow service personally. It’s not about you; everyone gets slow service.

People here in France have been very friendly and very helpful. I walked into a post office and was looking at a stamp vending machine. A woman seated at an adjacent desk asked me if I needed anything and after I told her I was looking for postcard stamps she explained that I needed to go to the counter for international posts. I couldn’t imagine a U.S. postal worker caring enough to direct a lost foreigner to the right place. Most of the restaurant people have been very gracious and accommodating.

I thought that I was fairly familiar with the area of the Opéra. I stayed in the first arrondissemont the last time I was here. I don’t remember getting so lost and so discombobulated the last time. On this trip I have been constantly finding that where I think I am and where I am are often two very different things.

When I went to the Montorgueil Quartier the other day I could have sworn from my last trip that it was east of the Pompidou center. Good thing that I checked a map before we set out or we would have been horribly lost and hungry and disappointed. The more I walk around this area the more I realize that Paris is a nightmare of triangular blocks and turnarounds. There are few thoroughfares so getting from one area to another on foot can be a bit tricky.

Finding a place for dinner was an ordeal to put it mildly. I had thought about several places. Le Pied de Cochon next to Saint Eustache and Les Halles seemed like a safe bet as this joint has been an institution in Paris for a while. I had a couple others picked out but then the hour started getting late and I couldn’t find a place for a good before-dinner cocktail. Dinner hour was closing down fast and I chose a place we had passed earlier called Côté Corse at 160 Rue Montmartre. A modest, sort of chic new place with walls colored to look like terra cotta and the ceiling a sky/ocean blue.

The waiter came by and took our order for an aperitif (Kir, of course, which I probably only drink in France). When he came back he started rattling off the special of the day and then halted and asked if I understood French.

As is the case with a lot of French people he seemed relieved not to be forced to speak English. Who could blame him? Don’t you hate it when you have to switch languages and speak something other than English? The Côté Corse wasn’t my first choice for a restaurant; it wasn’t even on my list, but we had a nice time there and the people were warm and accommodating.

I’m not much of the casual, sneaker-wearing, sweatpants-sporting variety of tourist. Especially when I’m in Paris I try to dress fairly well at all times. I wore my leather sport coat everywhere and in my vanity I also wore dress shoes which aren’t always the most comfortable things to have on your feet when you are walking all day and all night. When my legs got tired I’d simply make a pit stop and get a coffee or a drink. Any excuse to get a drink will do.

After dinner we walked around the area of La Bourse and the Palais Royal. We passed a beautiful restaurant called Macéo on the west side (on Rue Richelieu I believe) of the Palais Royal and we promised that we would go there (Maybe on the next visit).

I really needed to take a leak (another great excuse to go to a café) so we went into Le Thermidor at 2 Rue Croix des Petits Champs on the east side of the Palais Royal. This turned out to be a pretty cool spot for a really late night cocktail. The music was good and it was fairly lively at 1:30 in the morning.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Musée du Louvre

I woke up super early, got dressed, and headed out to look for an internet café in the neighborhood. After a good walk I decided to simply get on the metro and head for the Easyeverything Café on Rue Sebastopol which I frequented on a previous visit. I like how I already know my way around fairly well and I feel like any of the other commuters on the morning trains. The flip side is how much I hate not knowing my way around or not knowing how to do something.

This may seem like an ironic statement considering that I love to travel to places where I don’t know much of anything from customs to having as firm of grasp on the language as I’d like. I think it is all about the joy of accomplishment you feel when you do learn something new. This is what the piano if for me: Lots of frustration and work for moments of pure bliss when I play through something and it sounds tolerable.

My French is tolerable. I have yet to speak English to anyone French. I just arranged to switch rooms at my hotel explaining my reasons and being explained the logistics of such a move by the concierge. A rather complicated conversation all handled in my less than perfect French. Like the piano: Lots of frustration for moments of satisfaction. Like last night when I got to talk to our super-duper sexy (although not at all beautiful—a typically French female attitude that I love) waitress about what we should order for dinner, as I hate looking at menus in any language and always prefer to simply ask for the server’s suggestion. Thanks super-sexy French waitress, our meal was fabulous.

What I like about France is that generally people take me for a Frenchman. My Spanish is much, much better than my French yet I am never taken for a Mexican when I am in that country. There are plenty of Mexicans that look as European as I yet people will always assume that I am a foreigner. I guess that my desire to blend in is a totally natural human response: No one really wants to stick out from the crowd.

I have said this before and I’ll say it one more time: The Louvre is the most amazing collection of art ever assembled and the most amazing building that houses art that I have ever visited. That statement seems such an understatement that it embarrasses me to write it down on paper. It is like me stating confidently that the earth is the third planet from the sun or that two plus two equals four. It sounds obvious and stupid but I still have to say it because it’s true.

I love the huge foyer that houses all the French sculpture. It is an enormous covered atrium in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre and because it doesn’t have a Mona Lisa or a Venus de Milo it doesn’t attract the stupid crowds of the other areas of the museum. We began in reverse chronological order which is good because anything pre-Renaissance doesn’t really do much for me--enough with the religious themes all of you folks from the medieval world.

I think that all nationalities have their strengths and weaknesses if you are out to generalize—always a dangerous undertaking but we all do it. We Americans may say that the French are arrogant, they would say we are crass and vulgar, the Italians are loud and obnoxious, the Germans cold and humorless, British are uptight, and on and on. People of all nations are probably guilty of playing this game and to a certain degree stereotypes are valid. I am much too worldly and sophisticated myself to engage in this sort of nonsense that demeans the individual and is a concept born out of ignorance.

With that said can I just say that the Japanese are the dorkiest people on earth? I mean, enough with the fucking cameras and the fucking picture taking of you next to this painting or you next to this monument. There was a Japanese couple in the sculpture atrium taking pictures of each other next to every goddamned statue. Some art student kid was sketching one statue and the couple actually asked him to move so they could get their pictures taken. Granted, the kid doesn’t have any rights to the statue just because he is drawing but do these people really need another picture? With that said can I just say that this Sony computer made in Japan rocks ass and is one of the greatest machines I have ever held in my hand?

Maybe we were a little punch-drunk from lack of sleep but we laughed out loud a lot while running through the galleries. I found one large piece of sculpture to be hilarious. I don’t know the historical reference behind Pierre Lepautre’s (1648-1716) Enée et Anchise which depicts a Roman/Greek warrior carrying off another large man. The motif reminded me vaguely of Zeus carrying off his prize of Ganymede to be debauched at the location of Zeus’ choice. I re-titled Lepautre’s work The Great Homo Auction of 105a.d..

After almost two hours with the sculptures we needed a break and headed for the cafeteria. Even if you took all of the art out of the museum, and had a huge bonfire of the vanities with the paintings, the building itself would still be magnificent and worth a visit. The glass pyramids and entrance are fairly spectacular and you have just walked in the front door. It is fitting that the cafeteria should be worthy of such an awesome structure. The food is great—probably the best cafeteria food in the world. We had a decent split of Bordeaux, a raspberry tart, and a roll with blue cheese for 12E.

The entrance price to the Louvre is only 7.5E. You have to pay ten bucks to get into some half-assed exhibit at Seattle’s half-assed art museum. The Louvre seems to be a huge point of pride for the French. It is if they are saying to the rest of the world, “This is what we think an art museum should be. This is what we are as a people. Walk through these galleries and marvel at our greatness.” Like the pillar of the Muslim faith to make the Hajj to Mecca all people who treasure beauty and art should visit this great place at least once in their lifetime.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Art and Booze

(not necessarily in that order)

After getting to bed at four in the morning we got a fairly early start today with the main goal being the Pompidou Center. We had coffee at the trés chic Café Beaubourg. We sat inside as the sun wasn’t high enough yet to warm the terrace. The restrooms (downstairs as in all French cafes) are so modern and chic that I wasn’t quite sure I was peeing in the right spot or if I was defiling some sort of bas-relief sculpture. There weren’t any witnesses so I zipped up and got the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Ten Euros gets you into all of the exhibits at the Pompidou. It’s worth that much just for the wonderful view of Paris you get when you take the outside escalators all the way up. The café on the top floor terrace is one of the loveliest spots you could imagine for a meal or a drink.

As with most art museums I feel a sort of sadness for my favorite pieces. It’s like seeing animals at the zoo that you want to set free. One hilarious canvas by Eric Fischi depicted one fat naked guy mowing the lawn with an electric mower as another fat naked guy sat on a blanket in front of a car parked on the grass. The title of this piece, Strange place to Park, cracked me up and gave me an overriding urge to become an art thief so I could steal this work and hang it up in a bowling alley or a gun club where it belongs.


Wine is more of a way of life than a beverage. This is no longer true just for France and the rest of Europe but increasingly so for the United States. Washington State makes wonderful wines and it is hard for me to imagine having a meal without a glass or two. As I was opening a bottle the other day I thought to myself, “Is there a more pleasing sound that is as universally recognized as the popping of a cork?” The sounds of orgasms vary wildly (A poor word choice or a good word choice?) from person to person. I love the sound of a wine bottle opening. I want to record that sound and use it as my morning alarm. I want a 21 cork-pop salute at my funeral.

I have heard that pleasant sound plenty of times on this trip. I go from café to café like Tarzan swinging through the forest from one vine to another. Back in the old days when I lived in Greece we used to call bar-hopping “hit and run.” We would play this game where we would have only one drink in a bar and then head to another. I guess I have been playing that game my whole life. I love to go from place to place and just sit and talk or watch people. This is especially true when I travel and doubly true in Paris.

We found a hip little place this evening on the Rue Bonne Nouvelle called De La Ville Café. I probably wouldn’t want to try the food but for a 3.50E beer or glass of wine De La Ville Café is a great spot. Sort of hip and funky and a welcome change from the typical Parisian café—not that I would ever complain about the typical Parisian café.

I made every effort to research restaurants so that I could eat in some of the better places in Paris but for the most part laziness, lack of time, and necessity have conspired against these well-made plans. I haven’t been at all disappointed by the places we have picked out at random. A crèpe with Nutella and banana at a street stand was enough to tame a pretty wicked, severely under-rested beast this morning on the way to the Pompidou. She even shared a couple bites with me.

Food is always an issue when you are traveling. Eating takes on an even greater importance in my life while I’m traveling than in my usual day-to-day, eat-all-day existence. There are choices to make, things to eat, and other things you just have to leave in the pastry shop window. I’m constantly seeing things that I’d love to eat but I just got through eating.

After having a big plate of pasta for lunch yesterday at Little Italy--a truly French place despite the name--in the Montorgueil Quartier, I had to have one of these olive bread things that are sort of like pretzels. I bought this three doors down from the restaurant in which I had just stuffed my big fat pie hole.

The same goes for drinking. I can’t seem to stop often enough for coffee or alcohol. The thing is, no matter how many pit stops I make for booze I can’t even begin to get a buzz. The pace is too slow in French cafes to get loaded. You order one beer and you may as well get your waiter’s address and send him a postcard when you get home because you probably won’t see him for some time. Right now I am sitting in this café on Rue Sebastopol because I needed some change. I ordered a coffee and turned on my computer because I can’t get the guy to actually take my Euro note for the check to get the coins I need for the metro. I guess I’ll just have to sit back and enjoy it. Imagine that!