Removable Feast: Paris Isn’t Burning

Ah, to be in Paris in the spring time. The romance of the Seine. Lovers embrace. Families picnic at the water’s edge. Tourists snap photos from passing boats. I walk along the wide concrete right bank of this historic river and breath in the hearty mixture of sights, sounds, and smells-the odor of fresh and daily replenished urine, vomit, spilled wine, and spilled semen. And the ever present squish of doggie poop underfoot. I hope that was “doggie” poop.

I was on my way to Ile St. Louis, the small island where Paris began. Long ago, this section of Paris had become as fashionable as to pass into an almost Epcot Center unreality-a mixture of shops and restaurants and astronomically priced housing that no one real could actually inhabit. It was obviously constructed and maintained just to funnel of troops of tourists looking, as I was, for ice cream to stem the steam of a hot Parisian afternoon. But being Paris, there was only one ice cream that would do-Berthillon. It is sold by 6 shops within a 3 block area. The Italian gelato stand stands empty. I stopped and tried it. Sadly, it deserves to be empty. The Mexican chocolate shop with several different offerings of fine Mexican chocolate based ice reams is also a void. The restfully, cool interior beckoned but the muggy throng passed by.

Bertillon was the quintessential “in” thing in this city of “in.” It was the only ice ream to quench the Parisian hunger. Standing in a long, slow line for the privilege of paying $5 for an undersized scoop of ice cream wasn’t a productive use of my time or wallet. However, it was the proper Parisian thing to do. Finally, I got my scoops. After all that waiting, one deserves a little reward. With some reluctance, I must admit that it was tre bon, very tre bon. That still doesn’t let the Parisians off the hook for creating this craze.

When it comes to food, fashion, or just general style, anyone outside the current Republican administration must admit that the French, particularly the Parisians, have cracked the code. For the first time in 3 trips to Paris, I didn’t fight it. I let the Parisian smugness wash over me and sweep me along from cafÃ?© to cafÃ?©. I was no longer the rock resisting the flow. I was a part, a small part skirting the slack water, but still part of the wonderful current of Parisian perspective.

I walked through the trashy end to a district Saturday market. A small parking area had been emptied to cars and the sellers of fresh farm products set up their stalls for the few hours before noon when they had to surrender the ground back to Peugeot and Renault. I found a caf�© on the edge of the market and took a spot at a sidewalk table to eat my roasted chicken and watch the activity. Perhaps 3 years ago I would have seen the trash and sound out another caf�© around the corner. A combination of hunger and curiosity pulled me to a stop.

Yes, the French often strike without what Americans would consider a real reason. Yes, they cling feverishly to a 35-hour work week. And yes, it seems that every hotel and shop is run by an immigrant from the former colonies. But the moment the farmers had quickly dismantled their stalls, a wave of municipal workers in jumpsuits with neon green brooms swept through the area. Before I as half done with my half a chicken, the street was emptied, and washed clean. All trash was gone and I still had wine left. Cares had filled all the spaces by the time I stood and left a couple of euros for the friendly, English-speaking waiter who had smiled and not sneered at my atrocious French.

For all the playful French bashing I have done, they do some things remarkably well-in a uniquely French sort of way. They are the world’s best car parkers. They will circle the blocks for hours to find a spot the size of carry-on luggage and squeeze the car into the spot without major damage to the vehicles around it. The toy-like Euro cars are always parked bumper to bumper so that there is no space between them. NO SPACE. I thought cars in Paris were actually assembled in parking spaces. How could anyone park like that? How could anyone get the car out unless they just went in order starting with the first car? Then I realized in some nightmare of quantum physics that there was no prime car. I think perhaps somewhere in the outer edge of the 20th Arondisement is a car with nothing parked against its front bumper.

We can’t mention the skill of parking by the French driver without touching on the marvel of engineering that is the French automobile. There are parts that have no function-just form and style with nice lines and color. The cars have cool character but are not practical in the areas that matter-like running for more than a week without breaking down. Repair requires a special factory tool and 4 Renault or Peugeot or Channel engineers flown from a undisclosed location to the vehicle. However, due to the French work week of something like 6.5 hours, it’ll take the team a week to reach you and then they’ll have to return to France for a part-a part that will dazzle with its utter coolness but will work only marginally better and longer than the broken part.

Okay, so in the mechanical world, the French will never be confused with a German. The French get distracted with fashion and food. French women. Say the words and some men start making noises like Homer Simpson in front of a dozen donuts. It seems that no mater the weather, a French woman has a scarf. It could be with an overcoat and boots or a mini with-never mind. If a French woman is wearing a mini, I’ve never make it to the feet. The may be barefoot for all I know.

When it comes to food, the whole world admits that French fries and French toast merely scratch the surface of superior French cuisine. In fact, the French have made the preparation of bizarre animal parts a fine art. The manner of cooking and the accompanying famous sauces enable the French to joyfully put in their mouths things that would make a Tijuana whore gag. Since the spectrum of my food experimentation runs the gamut from crunchy peanut butter to American cheese slices, I’ve depended on the opinion of others when it comes to the more exciting elements of French eating. I’ve been assured by traveling companions that whatever beast, foul, amphibian, or other critter part that has been put in front of them has been delicious. I fall back on tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich when presented with dishes that require a veterinarian and biologist to identify.

Either I or Paris has changed. It may not be as taut and perky as some cities. But like an old lover with a few more wrinkles and pounds, it knows how to handle itself and handle me. Paris can still seduce, if you linger and give it the time to work its slow, steady, and sure magic. Some sweet young hottie of a town may sparkle and infatuate; but even Peter Pan has to grow up in the end. At least that’s what Tinker Belle once told me along with, “It gets lonely for old fairies, too.”

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