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I Saw London, I Saw France
by Mad Dog
Yes, the French have quite a sense of humor. What other city has a Latin Quarter where all
you can get is gyros?
Paris is a very clean city except for the dog droppings
everywhere. They scrub the street light poles, flush and sweep the streets nightly, and
even polish the brass edging on the stairs in my low budget hotel every day even though
the carpet it holds down is tattered and torn. But the dog crap? You have to clean it off
your shoes yourself.
In spite of
that, Paris is a very romantic city. The buildings, the people, the foodits
palpable. Unfortunately Im by myself, but if Im nothing Im an obedient
tourist so I fall in love with my right hand all over again. At least we both speak the
same languagethe language of love.
The French get a lot of grief about their
attitude. True, they deserve much of it, but what most people think is a haughty attitude
is actually a sense of humor. For example, Im in a tiny sandwich shop near Notre
Damewhich incidentally doesnt have a football teamand, despite my paltry
high school French, manage to communicate with the owner. He speaks rapidly. I speak
slowly. Somehow I get my sandwich and Orangina, the national drink of France. Well, next
to wine. Im ready to leave when he leans over me to get something. "Excuse
me," he says in perfect English. Im not surprised.
You see, all the French speak English,
its just that they try not to let on to it. Their idea of a good time is listening
to us say "silver plate" instead of sil vous plait. They listen to
us struggle knowing full well what were saying. I, on the other hand, have no idea
what theyre saying except Im impressed that they all do such an excellent
imitation of that fast talking guy who used to do the Fedex commercials.
This is all a part of their sense of je
ne sais quoi, which loosely translates as "I couldnt care less". You
see it in the waiters. You see it in the sales clerks. You see it in the female bathroom
attendant who cleans up while the men all around her are standing at the urinal.
Yes, the French have
quite a sense of humor. What other city has a Latin Quarter where all you can get is
gyros? Who else but the French would name a street Av. Marceau, yet everyones
talking and theres not a mime to be seen? And where else could you have the
catacombs, with human bones stacked up so neatly and in such wonderful patterns that you
marvel at a population that could generate so many anal retentive grave diggers?
Like anyplace that attracts tourists, Paris has its share. And every one shows the Eiffel
Tower. Well, all except mine.
|| The French
do a lot of things well. The food for example. Everywhere you look theres beautiful
and delicious food in the pâtisseries, boulangeries, and charcuteries.
So why is a typical Parisian lunch a panini avec jambon et fromage (a ham and
cheese on baguette) eaten while walking down the street? Its simplethats
how they tell the Parisians from the tourists. Parisians eat at McDonalds; tourists
buy a petite quiche Lorraine, a bit of paté campagne, and a petit pain and eat in
the Jardin du Luxembourg surrounded by other tourists like I did.
One of the fun things about traveling is buying
souvenirs. My first morning in Paris Im trying to buy a telephone card. As in much
of Europe, the pay phones in France dont take coins, they take cards. The previous
night I tried to buy one at the tabac, or tobacco shop. The man told me he
didnt sell them. I found out later from the desk clerk that he does indeed sell
them, he just didnt feel like bothering. It was reassuring to find out that he
wasnt just being xenophobiche doesnt like to sell anything to anyone if
hes not in the mood. Je ne sais quoi also means "leave me alone" in
(NOTE: Having je ne sais quoi is a
license to do things badly. The accordion player on the Metro played a version of
Hernandos Hideaway that was so bad it took me all the way until the end to figure
out what it was, yet when he finished people gave him money anyway. Maybe he played it
with a French accent that my American ears couldnt understand. Maybe they gave him
the money to shut him up and get him to move on to the next car. Hey, je ne sais quoi,
But back to my morning search for the
telephone card. Im heading towards the post office, where they have to sell you a
telephone card no matter what side of the baguette they woke up on. I come upon a machine
on the street that dispenses Paris Cartes. Life doesnt get any easier. I put 10
francs in the slot and out popped a little piece of paper. Yes, I bought my first souvenir
of Parisa one-hour street parking permit for the car I didnt have.
The French, after all, will go on strike at the drop of a beret. Or because someone
dropped a beret. They dont care.
|| There are
beautiful buildings everywhere in Paris, and more statues than you can shake a stream of
water at. One even has turtles spitting water into the faces of women who are holding the
earth on their shoulders. In London that would be the name of a pub. Here in the U.S. it
would be a velvet painting that included poker playing dogs. In France its a
And what trip to Paris
would be complete without a demonstration? While Im standing in line near the Square
de LAbbe, traffic is stopped while people shout and the police stand at the ready.
It could that theyre staging it for us tourists, but I dont think so.
Its common knowledge in Paris that any demonstration worth its placards starts
at the Bastille. This one started at the catacombs. What do you expect from a bunch of
And finally, Paris is a city of gardens, or
jardins as they call them just to get another laugh when we try to pronounce it.
Beautiful parks, gardens, and squares dot the city, overflowing with trees, neatly trimmed
bushes, and flowers. Some of the most unique daffodils Ive ever seen were in a park
in Paris. They were white with brown trumpets. Knowing how nicely they try to keep the
city I wouldnt be surprised if they paint the brown on them during the night. On the
other hand, the brown could have leached out of the dog droppings. Did I mention that
theres dog crap everywhere?
©1998 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All
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