I found this photo on Shakespeare and Company's website. What's remarkable about it to me is not that I was there last Monday night. I already knew that. I had planned to go before I left for Paris. What's remarkable about it is that I am in the picture and other people can look at it. Now, I am still anonymous because my name is no where on that website. I have added the red arrow for you so that you can find me in my cozy little corner of the bookshop. I staked out that spot a good 30 minutes before Luc Sante started reading from his book, The Other Paris. I admit that I do idolize Paris and France, but I also know that Paris is a big city and with the big city-ness comes the good, the bad and the ugly. And Paris is no longer affordable for most Parisians. I slipped euros into the bag one man was carrying on the métro one night simply because he looked as if he needed some extra money and he wasn't begging. As the Amazon reviewer says about the book:
A lively survey of labor conditions, prostitution, drinking, crime, and popular entertainment, and of the reporters, réaliste singers, pamphleteers, and poets who chronicled their evolution, The Other Paris is a book meant to upend the story of the French capital, to reclaim the city from the bons vivants and the speculators, and to hold a light to the works and lives of those expunged from its center by the forces of profit.
I confess to being a people watcher. If people-watching were an Olympic sport, I could win a medal. My students have accused me of being a stalker, but that only proves that they do not know what a stalker really is. It's a word that is thrown around a lot these days. Stalking would involve only one person that I am following around everywhere and all that. However, I cannot lie. I would stalk this guy if given the chance...
Want to digress again with me for a couple of minutes? If you aren't a Depp fan, feel free not to click on the link. However, this ad was playing while I was waiting in line at security at Charles de Gaulle airport and it made the whole experience one heck of a lot more enjoyable. I started to compliment the woman working security who frisked me so thoroughly and then tell her that I wished she were Johnny Depp, but I didn't think she would find me very funny. Go figure.
Okay, back to my original reason for writing this post.
I started to feel a bit lonely during the last two days of my trip to Paris and then I realized that it is okay to be alone and even lonely sometimes, not part of a group, and anonymous. If I have counted correctly, I only know 5 actual Parisians who would see me roaming around and recognize me (My Favorite Parisien, Yohann, Lou, Claire, and Isabelle). Anonymity affords me a luxury that I don't usually have after living and working in the same city for 36 years and teaching thousands of kids. It also allows me to snap random photos of people I do not know. And I can make up stories in my head about them, if I want to. I am really good at talking to myself and holding complete conversations either out loud or totally in my head. Is that weird? I really don't care. Unless I get caught talking to myself out loud outside of my own home. Then I am kind of embarrassed. At least I try to do it in French when I am France. So here we go. Follow along.
On my last night in Paris, I took myself to dinner at Le Select. I decided to do this based on the kir apéritif that I had there earlier in the trip. I was given a great table, great service, and then left alone to observe (as opposed to the service I had across the street at La Coupole, not to mention the snooty ambiance). Le Select was also mentioned in Hemingway In Love, a book I bought at Shakespeare and Company and practically devoured in just a few hours. Hemingway hung out in this café back in the day. I have a new favorite café.
At dinner, I heard no English at all. The handsome man who seated me and the handsome waiter who took my order did not automatically speak English to me. (I will never pass for French-- I've come to terms with that, I think.) I was given a great little table to watch the comings and goings of the staff and clientele. I am glad that I showed up around 8:15 pm because it didn't take long for the place to completely fill up. Instead of writing from memory, I will share what I wrote on my iPhone Notes. With a few photos sprinkled in, of course.
I wish it weren't weird to take photos of random people in public places. I would have a field day tonight at dinner. Le Select. One couple with their critter in a carrier under the table.
Some must be regulars- they don't wait to be seated- they just walk in and seat themselves.
One older long haired guy just came in in a fringed jacket, the likes of which I have not seen since the 70's, with a velvet jacket underneath and cowboy boots. An aging rock star, perhaps?
An older guy across from me was reading the news on an iPad, then he worked crossword puzzles and now he's reading a book. He's had an espresso and a glass of water. (He looks kind of like Don Rickles--wearing white tennis shoes- American dead give-away usually).
I might sneak some photos when my cheese course arrives... Last night in Paris. This time tomorrow EST Paris will already be over 3000 miles away and a memory.
The wait staff (there is actually a woman) is busting their derrières. Busy night and it's a Tuesday. Glad I got here about 8:15. It's now 9:30 and the place is packed. Haven't heard a single word of English.
Pavé de boeuf with frites. Laguiole cheese. Have wanted to try this since watching Entre les Bras movie. Beef from Aubrac, too. Merde-- just caught myself eating my French fries with my fingers. So not cool. Another man writing or editing away. I will think of him as an editor, editing the next great novel.
Where I am sitting is on the way to the toilettes so I have seen some interesting people pass by.
Some excitement at La Coupole across the street. An ambulance SAMU. Fire truck - those gorgeous first responding pompiers and a policeman just ran across the street.
For the most part an older crowd so I don't feel out of place. 😀
I asked for the check, l'addition, s'il vous plaît, some time around 10:00 pm, I think, and the handsome waiter brought it, along with a refill of Côtes du Rhône and a saucer of chocolate. Merci, monsieur! No idea why, but who am I to question la politesse and a little cadeau?
A very nice last evening in Paris, n'est-ce pas?
I observed something I have never seen before at CDG while waiting to go to my gate. Actually, the trip to the airport deserves a story. I usually take the métro-RER B to Charles de Gaulle when I am by myself or with friends. But I just happened to be reading a sign in the RER and saw that line B would be shut down between Aulnay sur Bois and CDG. So, I needed another plan for 5:30 am on a Wednesday morning. I talked to My Favorite Parisien over a charcuterie and cheese board from Corsica
and he suggested going to Gare Montparnasse train station and taking the Air France shuttle to the airport. That seemed to make sense. I went to Montparnasse the day before I left and found the place to get the shuttle. I decided to take a taxi to Montparnasse (not far, but didn't want to schlep heavy suitcase filled with new books) and be dropped off where I was to meet the shuttle. The taxi driver helped me put the suitcase in the back and drove me to the train station. When we got there, there was no bus waiting yet, it was still pitch dark and no one was around. It was about 5:45 am (the sun doesn't rise in Paris until around 8:30 am in January). The driver asked me why I didn't arrange for a taxi to the airport. He said that the clients at that hotel always take a taxi. I assured him (in my best French, of course) that I am not their typical client- I am a French teacher and the weekend was paid for by someone else. Merci, ACIS.) He asked if I am Canadian (standard question) and said that he would not leave me in the dark at a train station by myself at 5:45 am. He is too professional for that and he wanted me to have a high opinion of Parisian taxi drivers. He told me that he would take me to the airport and named a price. I negotiated a bit, got him down 10 euros, and the price was not much more than the taxi + shuttle was going to cost me, so off we went to the airport. He promised to get me there in plenty of time and we had a very nice conversation on the way there. About Uber, Paris, the traffic cameras that are installed along the interstate and how much the fines cost, the weather, etc. He delivered me and the 20 kg suitcase right in front of the door I needed for my check in. I tipped him and thanked him. I have a very high opinion of Parisian taxi drivers now. Merci, monsieur, for thinking of me and my safety. Train stations in the dark aren't my idea of fun either. Neither is dragging a suitcase up and down steps.
So, I checked that bag and decided to get a last croissant and cup of coffee at Paul, the café in the departure area. I was sitting at my little table, minding my own business, when a French trio sat down next to me. Older than me, two women and a man. I glanced over and one woman was pulling the cork out of a bottle and taking a long swig of something. I have never seen a French woman (or rarely a man, for that matter) do this. I tried not to stare. They chatted away, ate their croissants, she finished the bottle, and they were on their way. Here is what I wrote on my iPhone--
Once again, I am sneaking photos, this time at CDG. A trio of 3e âges, a man and two women, are next to me at Paul. Me- café au lait and a croissant. One of the women has a pain au chocolat and a bottle of Pineau des Charentes. She is slugging it down. Straight from the bottle, thank you very much. It is good stuff-- for an apéro. But at 7:15 am? All gone. Maybe she hates flying? I've moved on to Badoit myself.
Madame Pineau is wearing the light colored coat. And she didn't stagger a single time.
Those are my best stories. I have a few other random photos.
A man smoking and observing the group of tourists at Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre on Sunday morning--
A fellow delivering milk to homes (I didn't know anyone still did this! We had a milkman back in the day in my little hometown. Mr. Polecchio and Biltmore Dairy Farms milk and ice cream)
A little girl running home after getting the family's bread for the day--
A couple strolling along--
Musicians in the Quartier latin on Sunday afternoon--
What a wonderful trip. Enough for now. More to follow. I still have more food photos to share and carry on about!
One more? My hands snapping a photo of the display featuring my favorite perfume, La Vie est Belle de Lancôme. I rarely take selfies. Feels really silly and I always look horrible.
Bon appétit and thanks for following along with me. And thanks to Jonas, the storm that dumped 4 inches of snow and ice on Durham and gave me two snow days to recover from jet lag.