Paris Journal 2005

Thursday, August 18, 2005

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Latin Quarter at night.


Colorful truck typically parked on the rue d’Estrées, by the Ministry of Health in the 7th arrondissement.


An Ile de France governmental building on rue Babylone with an Ingrid Betancourt poster. 


Cute things in a shop window at the corner of rue de l’Université and the avenue de la Bourdonnais in the 7th.



Saint-Louis des Invalides, the home of Napoleon’s tomb.

Yesterday, my friend Jill asked, in an e-mail, if the Parisians were treating us well. 


They are treating us so well.  In restaurants where we are known, we are treated like royalty.  In restaurants where we are unknown, the servers are a bit anxious and restrained at first, when they hear our American accents.  But as soon as we place our order, in French, they are relaxed and friendly.  When we return to the restaurant, they seem to be quite happy to see us.  We feel very welcome here.


But there is nothing like the royal treatment the police gave us yesterday.


It was one of those evenings when we knew exactly where we wanted to walk.  Up avenue de la Motte Picquet, across the Esplanade des Invalides in front of the row of cannons, right on the boulevard des Invalides, and left on the rue de Varenne which would eventually put us in the vicinity of the Place Saint Sulpice in the 6th arrondissement  The rue de Varenne is home to the Musée Rodin, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing, and the Hôtel Matignon, in that order, from west to east.  The Hôtel Matignon is where the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, lives and works (not a hotel in the American sense of the word). 


When we went down the boulevard des Invalides, we immediately noticed that a demonstration was going on right at the corner of the rue de Varenne.  At first we thought the throng of about 100 people were completely blocking our way.  We stood across the street and watched.


The demonstration was by the French communist party, a pathetic little group.  And they did seem pathetic because if you can only gather 100 people for a demonstration in the capital city of a major European country, you might as well give up.  Anyone who hasn’t figured out yet that communism doesn’t work isn’t living in this century.


Anyway, we saw that pedestrians were being allowed to make their way through from the rue de Varenne towards us on the boulevard des Invalides.  So we reasoned that we should be able to go the opposite way through the throng.


I went first.  Just as I rounded the corner and was about to leave the throng,  two policemen stopped me and said something I could not hear because of the noise that the demonstrators were making.  I did hear the words “ou” (where) and “madame.”  Thinking quickly, I simply made a very female hand gesture toward myself, opened my eyes wide, and said “Je suis une Americaine.”  Immediately, both policemen waved me on through, as if I were the Queen of England.  I think they may have even bowed slightly.


I went on, and about 10 feet later I turned and asked Tom what they asked him.  He didn’t know, but he mumbled “Musée Rodin,” and that was sufficient for the police to allow him to pass.


They were obviously trying to keep the demonstrators away from the Hôtel Matignon (where the Prime Minister, having returned from a brief vacation, was back at work, in suit and tie) and some related building across the street from it, where somebody important was just leaving.  My answer was very sufficient because the French police know that there are almost no communists left in America.  (I wish some of the right-wingers on Sanibel could figure that out.  A few of them seem to think the Cold War is still happening.)


Almost no cars were being allowed onto the rue de Varenne.  I guess the soldiers and gendarmes were only allowing cars that had some business or purpose on that street.  So we had the street practically to ourselves, except for the occasional pedestrian or the rare car, and all the guards and police (must have been about 20 of them scattered along the way).


It was fun.  We took the time to read all the French historical markers on the rue de Varenne.  I read them out loud to Tom, in American, so any nearby guards would realize we were harmless American tourists.  Not communists at all. 


I didn’t take the time or make the effort to understand what the chief communist demonstrator was speaking into his bullhorn.  I really wasn’t interested.  But today’s Le Parisien says that the members of the communist party have put together a sale of fruits at vegetables at cost at the Place de la Bastille for just one day, today.  They organized a bunch of farmers from Seine-et-Marne and Tarn-et-Garonne to load up their produce and haul it into the city where they could sell directly to customers.  They did this on the 31st of August last year, as well.  Their goal is to show how the capitalists who run the distributers and the grocery stores are gouging everyone.  (Here is the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing’s response to this issue - a PDF file.)


So, the communists might have been kicking off the fruit and vegetable day with a demonstration the evening before, near the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing on the rue de Varenne.  However, the police were not going to allow them onto the rue de Varenne because of the proximity to the Hôtel Matignon, and probably also because they didn’t want the demonstrators to block the entrance to the Musée Rodin.


I always feel safe walking through the 7th because of all the security there, but yesterday evening was exceptional.  Coming home, we walked down the rue de Babylone, which runs behind the Hôtel Matignon, and we encountered no demonstrations.


Yesterday evening’s experience reminds me of a true story my friend Joyce once told me.  She and her husband, Art, were living and working in Paris in the late 1960s.  (Art is a world renowned scientist, and he was in Paris to do research at the Pasteur or Curie Institute, I believe.)  Joyce was at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts, I think.  Anyway, she happened to be there one day in 1968, and somehow wandered into the middle of a crowd of students.  Unbeknownst to her, the crowd was there to riot.  If you know Joyce, you know she is a real sweetheart who would never riot.  The crowd was thick and becoming disorderly.  Joyce couldn’t get out of the mob.  The police were present in force, ready to deal with the rioters with force.  Fortunately, somebody on the police side of the line saw and recognized Joyce, and said with some urgency to the police, “THAT is an AMERICAN woman.  You HAVE to get her OUT of there.”  And so they did.  Joyce was found and escorted to safety.


Being American is not a bad thing here.  It can be a very good thing.  It all depends on you.


We walked to Place Saint Sulpice, sat down and looked at the magnificent lions on the fountain there, and decided to eat at Le Seraphin, around the corner at 5 rue Mabillon (Telephone 01-56-24-41-00).  The food was excellent, as always.  I noticed a brochure that indicated that Le Seraphin is one of four restaurants owned by the same people in that area.  After dinner, we decided to walk down the little rue Guisarde to check out two of the others, La Boussole and La Bastide d’Opio.


We were surprised to see many nice little restaurants on rue Guisarde and rue des Canettes.  They were all almost full of people eating, and these people did not look like tourists.  This is something to remember, in August, when so many restaurants are closed.  All of these restaurants looked good; and they looked much better than the junky tourist traps one finds in the Latin Quarter (northern part of the 5th arroundisement) where the restos generally don’t serve “correct” food.


So, remember rue des Canettes and rue Guisarde in the 6th arrondissement, between rue de Four and rue Mabillon.


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