Paris, day 3

Originally uploaded by mikefranklin.

I was awake most of the night because of jetlag, so was up early for breakfast: un créme, un orange pressé et un pain chocolat.

Off I went to the Jardin des Plants – another favorite destination – under grey skies and intermittent rain. The giant buildings housing free collections of strange plants from foreign places were all closed for renovation, and the flowers neatly planted in rows I found to be … uninspiring. So it was off to Nôtre Dame, but the entry lines there were far too long, so I just headed back to rue Mouffetard, and had lunch in a nice little café on place Contrascarpe.

As I sat there drinking un verre de vin rouge munching on my appetizer of une salade de tomates et mozzarella, then un confit de canard avec pommes de terre, I pondered the river of humanity passing by my window and found it was fairly easy to identify people by nationality.

A pair of Canadians walked by bearing large backpacks. I could tell they wanted to be considered Canadians by the flags prominently displayed on their packs. Sure, they talk like Americans, look like Americans, and to a large degree are exactly the same as Americans … but when traveling abroad, sometimes it’s just safer not to be taken for an American. Then again, they might have just been Americans, pretending to be Canadians. Hard to tell, eh?

The French take public displays of affection more to displays of unbridled lust. No bacchanalia but when sitting in the park, why not see if you and your partner can completely swallow each other’s tongue? And if you just can’t wait… why not stop by the side of a unloading truck for a little action? His hand moves higher, higher … she giggles, they move along. They looked to be in the 50s. 😀

And there are more mundane ways the french distinguish themselves:

A pair of shapely legs under a short skirt, supported by a pair of stilettos, going clackity-clack with perfect balance on the cobblestones: une francaise of any age!
wrinkle-resistant khaki slacks with comfortable brownish walking shoes: tourist.

carrying a baguette or two: un francais off to lunch at home
eating a baguette in the middle of the street: tourist

wearing a thin light blue sweater, or any jacket, fully zipped in any weather: un francais
carrying a rain jacket strapped to the backpack, on a sunny day: tourist

walking into a pastry shop and placing an order: une francaise
walking into a pastry shop and staring; qu’est-ce c’est un droop? un flan havrais? ce chose ici? etc.: me.

advancing to the head of a line, apparently without effort: un francais
wondering why the line isn’t moving: tourist.

lingering for hours in a café over a single espresso: les francais
wondering why the waiter never brings the damn check: american

Speaking of lingering, I had dinner with pre-web Parisian friends Saturday evening. Despite the allure of the wine, the coffee and the food, visiting la famille Rocca is the reason I return to Paris every year. I’d met Max when he was the Stanford suite-mate of a former MIT roommate of mine, and we’d kept in touch. First couple of times I visited Paris, I stayed with him and his family. The parents are from Italy, so meals were amazingly awesome, and long.

But back to the present: Max and Benjamine had just bought a new apartment in a suburb of Paris and were a bit tired to go out, so Max came by to pick me up at 7:30 or so, and we headed back to Chilly-Mazarin, a «ville champignon» – a town which had sprouted like a mushroom – on the outskirts of Paris.

Their daughter, Helen, is nearly 5, and forever increasing in energy and enthusiasm. And cuteness. They’re speaking French and English with her, and Max’s mother speaks Italian, so she’s off to a good start. We lingered over aperitifs – I tried the truffle liquor, but settled on the 60-proof mandarin. Vaguely medicinal, but it got a bit more palatable with every sip.

Dinner started around 9pm, with a beautiful presentation of a colorful assortment of vegetables for a salad, and a slice of duck-liver mousse. Then the vegetables came out – green beens and potatoes – which we ate while waiting for oil in the fondue pot to heat. And then we had a lot of meat, with various sauces. That was followed by 5 or six cheeses and some walnut bread, and finally some sliced strawberries with vanilla ice cream and maraschino liquor. Ah, French dinners.

Lots of fun, but Max noticed I was yawning around 11:30. Indeed. But we finally left so he could drive me back… at 12:30. what fun. à la prochaine…

A good nightis sleep, a sunny day, so it’s time to start wandering again, but only after «un crème»

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