Archive for the 'paris' Category

Paris –> Freiburg

Friday, January 30th, 2009

I took the train today from Paris Est to Freiburg through Basel.

Rêve Générale

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Check out these photos of riot police storming burning streets. Did I fly to Iraq? Gaza? Nope, I stayed in Paris. The one thing missing from my Museum of Old Paris was a strike leading to a riot, and the French populace kindly provided one for my Thursday evening’s entertainment. Strikers filled the Place de l’Opéra wearing signs saying Rêve Générale (a play on the word for “strike”, grève) and shouting “Down with Sarkozy”.

A girl with a camera was making the riot police grin and blush while it was still daylight, but as soon as it got dark, the crowd started burning things, breaking things, and throwing things. I saw several people (standing right next to me!) throw Molotov Cocktails into green rubbish bins, which exploded and burned. I saw two guys take advantage of the disorder to have some fun trying to smash a glass telephone booth with flying kicks. They were easily dissuaded — a bystander tutted at them and they sloped off.

I saw the police in riot gear beat the crowd back the length of the boulevard, then some of them came back to shoo me away as the crowd flung broken pieces of furniture and bottles.

Iter Gallicum

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

I spent my first day in Paris at the Louvre, the second day walking to the Eiffel Tower and back, and the third day in the Musée d’Orsay looking at a special exhibition of masks. On Wednesday I ate wild boar (sanglier — just like Asterix and Obelisk!) at a place called Aux Lyonnais with JunYi, sitting next to two Japanese men over on business from Tokyo. They couldn’t read the menu, so I helped. They were afraid of the complicated à la carte items so stuck to the prix fixe menu, which required only binary decisions translated from French into Japanese (Cold cuts or soup? Blood sausage or crayfish?). Some of the offerings were a challenge to my Japanese vocabulary (What’s wild boar in Japanese? I don’t know), but we figured it out. When they originally asked for help, they asked in English, but surprisingly for them both the American and the Chinese gaijin speak Japanese.

It was a good meal for a cold night, but not as good as the classic steak and fries I had at La Bourse ou la Vie (“Your Money or Your Life” — the French name is a pun on the restaurant’s location near the Bourse). That was so good I went back again two days later. I also made time for flan, lemon tarts, and “chocolate nuns”, a kind of snowman-shaped eclair.

Don’t cross a gypsy, boy

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Several times in the past two days the same woman has pointed to the empty sidewalk in front of me, reached down and pretended to pick up a gold ring that she had been hiding in her hand. The first time she gave it to me although I tried to decline it. She showed me that it was too small to fit her (though that would mean it was certainly too small to fit me) and forced it on me. Then she came back ten seconds later and asked for money. I assume she probably has better luck with people who actually put the ring on (or ones who don’t notice that she is conjuring the ring out of thin air). Her “office” is around the Louvre, but she has so many customers, she didn’t recognize me until she tried the trick for the third time.

In Brazil I had a similar kind of trick played on me, also three times: a guy points at your shoe, you look down to see that it is covered with bird guano. The guy happens to have a shoeshine kit with him and cleans your dirty shoe for 5 reais, then asks for a tip to “even them up”. The first time this happened, I thought it was strange that I hadn’t notice any birds or the mess on my shoe. The second time it happened, I was sure that the shoeshine guy had fouled my shoe, but I didn’t see how he did it. The third time, I figured it out: the guy points at your shoe, you look down and don’t see anything. You look back up at him and say, “What?”. While he’s keeping his eyes locked on yours, he squirts the crud on your shoe and says, “Look!” You look again and see the mess and convince yourself you just didn’t notice it the first time. I made the last guy clean my shoes for free — he denied several times that it was a scam, then finally confessed.

The virtue of his trick over the gypsy ring trick is that your shoes actually end up dirty and you have to do something about it. The ring trick relies on a very feeble thread of obligation created when she offers the ring, and reinforced only slightly if you actually take it.

The best scam that I actually fell victim to was when someone entered my normally locked apartment complex and started ringing doorbells telling the upstairs people he was a downstairs neighbor and vice versa, asking for change to pay the pizza delivery guy. I was suspicious, but as I was on slightly bad terms with my upstairs neighbor, having complained about the noise when he and his band held a full-volume rehearsal for seven hours on a Friday night, I thought I should make an investment in bridge-building. After I closed the door I called the landlord and asked for a description of my upstairs neighbor. It didn’t match the guy at my door, but by that time he was gone. That delayed suspicion was better than Ollie’s, though — he came to my door about an hour later looking for his money and I had to tell him he had been conned. His response: “The dirty dog!”

After that incident, I went and introduced myself to all my neighbors. I also made a personal rule to look at all requests for money as simply requests for money — to ignore the story or trappings that surround the request and decide whether to give money for the sake of charity or in expectation of a return or repayment. I think this has helped me avoid giving money in circumstances that play on the very natural inclination to be obliging, as with the false monk in Thailand.

“Don’t cross a gypsy, boy” is what the old bats in grey pea coats around Picadilly Circus curse you with if you don’t let them put a flower in your buttonhole. If you do let them, they hit you up for cash.

Happy to help

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I was asked directions in Paris! And I knew the answer! I have an unbroken record in every country. I plan on going to Antarctica next and helping lost people there.

This time I actually saw them decide to ask me. As I was walking up the sidewalk, I could see them looking anxiously from their map to the faces of passersby. When they saw me, both their faces lit up at the same time and their shoulders visibly relaxed. I find their confidence in me very funny, but so far I have in fact always known the answer, even when I was a stranger myself.

I stayed at the Hyatt Paris Vendôme for the first two days, then on Greffulhe Street near the Madeleine Church. “Greffulhe” looks like it should be an adjective meaning “out of breath”.

Farewell, Angelina

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

I had lunch today in Café Angelina on the rue de Rivoli across from the Tuileries. There I found preserved all the French rough edges that elsewhere have been worn smooth by globalization. It was a museum of snobby waiters, pretentious patrons in black turtlenecks, and little yapping dogs inside restaurants.

The little black dog was like the familiar of the witch sitting opposite. The witch was a French academic specializing (I gathered) in the representation of justice and the law in French literature, with an emphasis on Balzac. Her interlocutor was a fellow academic with a mop of Warholesque gray hair, the black turtleneck, and an American accent in both English and French. She switched to French for the pretentious bits of her conversation (I’m not sure if that is good camouflage…). I tried to screen her out, but heard snatches over the barking of the dog, including this good example, “The salient features of violence are its suddenness and the damage that accompanies it.” I would classify this as a tautology, but perhaps it sounds better in French. So much for the dog and patrons. As for the waiters, I watched two of them ignore a poor Japanese couple who were pressed for time. The third finished sorting forks into a container then walked across the restaurant to replace the tray he had been using before coming over finally to take their order. Service in Japan is so outstanding, Japanese people must be traumatized the first time they go abroad and learn they are expected to pay extra (that is, to leave a tip, which is not the custom in Japan) for snootiness and indifference.

Total damage at Café Angelina was €28, the same as the price of a single drink at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz (I ordered a “Poire Victoire”). It is also half the cost of lunch at Café de la Paix (next to the Opéra) for the same number of courses, and exactly four times *more* than the beautiful, simple set lunch I had at a cafe called Chocolino near the Madeleine Church. The locals seem to think highly of Chocolino as well: in the 15-20 minutes it took me to order and eat my lunch, there was a constant line ten people deep. With throughput at around three people per minute, I saw around 50 people go through that place in a very short time.

London -> Paris

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

I took the Eurostar from St. Pancras to Gare du Nord on Saturday the 24th.