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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.

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