Paris Journal 2005

Monday, August 1, 2005

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World Cup Beach Volleyball tournaments were held this past week near us on the Champ de Mars.


Happy old lady feeding the pigeons at the Place d’Anvers in the 9th arrondissement.


A mime entertains a small boy near a café on Montmartre.


City of Paris billboard promoting the use of condoms for safe sex.  You can see a reflection of Tom and me in the glass that covers the billboard.  Billboards in Paris are oriented to pedestrians; not so much to cars.  “SIDA” is the French abbreviation for AIDS.


The old Paris Opera house.

Well, I’ve been very good this year about working on my French, and last night I got my reward.  After a visit to Montmartre and a very long walk down the hill to the old Opera, we emerged from the métro at La Motte Picquet and walked a few steps to La Gauloise for dinner.  One of the newer, younger waiters seated us and asked if we’d want menus in English or French because he’d heard us on the sidewalk speaking English to each other, but we spoke French to him.  We said “Francais,” of course.  We were given the best table for two on the terrace.


A bit later, he came to take our order.  I ordered first, in one fluent flowing sentence that even impressed me.  He smiled and opened his eyes wide and said that I spoke very, very good French.  I said thanks, but I speak very, very slowly (Merci, mais je parle lentement.).  He went on to say just exactly what I did right, and he listed a number of things people who are learning French do wrong, or things that they say that seem awkward because the French don’t really talk that way.  Example:  It sounds awkward to them if you say “je voudrais” (I would like) when you order.  It took me a while to figure this out, but it is something I had already concluded.   (What you DO say, when the waiter comes to the table and says “je vous ecoute”  [I’m listening to you], is something like “S’il vous plait, le filet de boeuf cuit à point avec frites.  Et un cinquante de Bordeaux.”  [Please, the filet mignon cooked medium rare, with fries.  And a 50-centiliter carafe of Bordeaux wine.]


The waiter was so complimentary about my French that Tom was envious.


And let me tell you now before I forget, that filet mignon at La Gauloise is as good as the best filet mignon you can get at a fancy Chicago steakhouse.  This is extraordinary in France, where generally the steaks are something to avoid if you are used to tender, juicy American beef.  If you find a resto in France that claims to serve Scottish beef (I haven’t found one yet), that would probably be okay.  Tom is a real beef eater and he continues to order steak in France anyway.  That is how we discovered that La Gauloise has this truly wonderful hunk of beef.  The other steak that they serve, called a “côte de boeuf” is really a rib steak, and it isn’t anywhere near as good as the filet mignon.  It only costs a euro less, so if you go, order the filet, not the côte.  The rib steak does come with a nice béarnaise sauce, but the filet is served with a rich, dark reduction sauce made with beef stock, red wine, and pepper.  It is actually called a “filet de boeuf au poivre.”  (“Poivre” is pepper.)


Then I made another great discovery on the La Gauloise menu.  I normally do not eat dessert, but Tom wanted some.  So I was gazing at the dessert menu and noticed that La Gauloise serves tea from Mariage Frères!  This is the elegant tea shop I wrote about last year.  I ordered it, served with milk.  After the red wine, the tea gave me that nice, glowing, happy feeling that only red wine plus caffeine can give you.  And it was served with a little plate full of dark chocolate morsels, and two tiny chocolate cookies.  I shared these with Tom, of course, who also was indulging in a rich, dark chocolate terrine served in a crème anglaise. 


We felt pretty great when we left La Gauloise.


We are in that slow quiet time of August now.  The Parisians, many of them, have taken their cars and left the city.  The sidewalks on rue du Commerce aren’t so crowded anymore.  Many shops and restaurants are closed.  The métro  isn’t packed at rush hour.  Dinner reservations aren’t so necessary.  Eighty percent of the parking spaces on the streets of Paris are now free, until the end of the month.   The air quality is good.  Life is pleasant, except for the threat of terrorism.


We follow the news closely, reading two French newspapers and one English paper every day.  I also watch the French news, which I am now able to understand.  Yesterday, they announced on the news that the British are looking for a third terrorist cell in England.  Then I read it in today’s French paper, and I see that it is in the English one as well.  There have been some stories that I only read in the French paper, such as the one about all the metal perfume containers that the terrorist named Germaine Lindsay purchased for the deadly July 7 bombs.  Le Parisien seems to have some news sources that others don’t have.


In Paris, the high level alert program is called Vigipirate.  We see info from Vigipirate in the métro, on the TV monitors in the stations.  It is usually the standard warning about unattended parcels. 


There have been false bomb alerts.  The day before yesterday, a 26-year-old man was questioned following a call made Friday evening to the police of the 10th arrondissement.  The anonymous caller said there was going to be a big bang in front of the police station.  Somehow the police figured out who it was, and the man admitted making the call.  He did it for revenge; the police had questioned him about a minor matter during the preceding week.


A homeless young man made a false bomb threat on the Gare de L’Est (train station) near the beginning of last month.  He has been sent to prison for 8 months.


Last Wednesday, the Gare du Nord had to be evacuated because of an anonymous threat against the Eurostar train.  That threat was made by a 43-year-old Belgian woman.  She is now in a psychiatric hospital.


The Paris police say that since July 7, there have been more than 20 false bomb threats.  Also, there have been at least 600 suspect packages found, each one requiring the attention of bomb specialists.


Life must go on.  We don’t let any of this change what we do.  I do, however, pay great attention to what is happening around us when we are out.



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