Paris Journal 2014 – Barbara Joy Cooley Home: barbarajoycooley.com
The rue du Commerce was hopping with pedestrians yesterday at mid-day. At the next intersection, I saw a young man who was soliciting contributions for a charity.
This is a common sight at busy times on this vibrant commercial, pedestrian-oriented street. Often, the solicitors are young people collecting for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). They wear matching T-shirts with the organization’s logo, and they have knapsacks in which they keep their brochures and forms, I guess. Each one carries a clipboard and pen.
I know from experience that they cannot accept donations from anyone without a European banking account. So when they stop you, you can smile and explain, “Je suis Americaine,” and they usually smile back and wish you a good day.
The young man ahead of me had a T-shirt that said “Partage” (Share). His colleagues here and there in the area had the same shirt. I was not sure what that charity was, but it sounded like a good one. (I now know that it is an organization that helps kids in third-world countries.)
This time, when he stopped me, I went beyond explaining that I was American. He seemed to want to use his English a little, so I said told him that I understood that he could only accept donations from those with European bank accounts. He said that was correct, and he asked how long I was staying. I told him, “for the whole summer.” I thanked him for being out there, doing what he was doing. Then I wished him a good day. He smiled broadly. I don’t think he is accustomed to people thanking him when he’s out there soliciting for charity.
At the avenue de la Motte-Picquet, I saw what was being done to keep the Grenelle outdoor market going full-strength during the reconstruction work on the elevated line 6 of the Metro along the boulevard de Grenelle. The market masters had moved most of the market to the avenue de la Motte-Picquet! What a great idea, I thought.
The skeletal frames of the market stalls were still on the broad sidewalks of the avenue, left over from Sunday, to be used again on Wednesday (today). Somehow, it makes the avenue seem more cozy.
When I reached the Champ de Mars, there was a break in the cloud cover. I stepped into the middle of the field, looking straight toward the Eiffel Tower. I did what so many thousands of people do every day: I took out my phone and snapped a few photos of the Tower. As I was finishing the last shot, two Gypsy girls approached me and attempted the “Do you speak English?” scam. (If you don’t know about this scam, ask me.)
I was alone, not speaking English to anyone around me, so I just ignored them as if I didn’t understand English. That worked. They immediately went toward another possible victim, without even breaking stride. They didn’t know they were captured in my last photo (at right).
While retracing my steps back down the avenue, I noticed that Pere Claude, the venerable restaurant that has been there almost forever, now has a nearby outpost that is a hamburger joint. Wonders shall never cease. They also have a gourmet deli around the corner. Such entrepreneurs, branching out, diversifying!
I entered Monoprix to do some perfunctory shopping for things like John Frieda shampoo and conditioner, and could not resist the sale rack with drastically reduced shirts. After I selected two, I went on to find the things on my list, and on my way back to the front of the store, I bought a fleecy lightweight, flowing cardigan to use as a short robe. The weather is a little chilly, after all.
I didn’t mind the somewhat long line at the cashier because rain had started falling outside. I wasn’t in a hurry to deal with that; I had no umbrella with me, and I wasn’t about to pay the exhorbitant price for one at Monoprix.
By the time I exited the store, the downpour had begun. I found a niche to stand in, near the door, and like others near me, I just waited for the rain to let up. When it finally lessened to a tolerable shower, I used the fleecy cardigan as a cover over my head and I went on down the street, toward home.
Then a strange thing happened. My shoes, my brand new Aerosoles, started foaming. The black shoes had gotten wet; they can take it, I thought, since they’re made of synthetic materials.
But there was some kind of lanolin or something in the sole material, and after I had to walk through a puddle, bright white foam started oozing out all around my toes (an open-toe shoe), and it was really obvious because the shoes and my slacks were black.
Since I had this bizarre thing happening on my feet, I decided to go directly home rather than stop in the wine shop first.
After I’d cleaned up the shoes and the rain stopped, I did venture out to Nicholas, the wine shop. When I’d selected a couple of bottles, I heard a funny American voice talking to the shop clerk. He was saying that the Pouilly Fumé the clerk had recommended to him was not good to drink.
What sounded like it might be a difficult conversation to hear then became amusing. The American said he used the undrinkable Pouilly Fumé (a 23 euro bottle of wine) in cooking up a batch of mussels. Those were the best mussels ever, he said. He was delighted.
Then he came over to the shelves where I was standing to show the clerk what he considered to be a really good, drinkable white wine. Chateau Haut Rian it was, a Grand Vin de Bordeaux, vintage 2013. I had suddenly become part of the conversation. I showed interest in his recommendation.
He pulled out what looked like the last bottle of the stuff to show me, and he said, “And look at the price!” It was only 5.95.
Then we saw that there were actually three bottles of it left in the Chateau Rian cubbyhole. I said to him, with a smile, “Are you going to let me buy one of those, or will you be buying them all?”
He pretended to look like a protective hoarder, then he grinned and handed over the bottle to me. He said that it was strange how some of these French wines were cheaper in the U.S. than here. I said, “yeah, go figure.” The clerk, who really didn’t know where this conversation was headed, then decided to laugh a little. We were all having fun.
I said thanks to the American and the clerk and went over to the cashier. As I left the shop, I said, “nice seeing you” to the American, who was a couple people behind me in the line. He said it was nice to see me, too. He did, somehow, look familiar. I wonder who he is?
In the evening, Tom and I returned to another longtime favorite restaurant for dinner: L’Alchimie. After a warm welcome, we were given a choice table which was all set up for us, blackboard menu and little reservée sign in place.
It didn’t take long for us to decide. A languoustine and guacamole starter, lamb medallions for Tom and turbot filets for me, then a moelleux au chocolat to share for dessert.
The guacamole was heavenly: perfectly smooth, creamy, and delicious. It was a great combination with the langoustines. Tom’s lamb medallions were scrumptious, “as good as can be,” he said. They came with a pastry filled with a tasty puréed eggplant mixture.
My little turbot filets (below) came with a delicate, buttery sauce and were perfectly cooked. The starch was plantains, I think, but they tasted much like potatoes, yet more flavorful.
The moelleux was rich, warm, and soft as it should be, and it came with an ice cream that we decided was black cherry in flavor.
After that fine dinner, we walked all the way down the avenue Félix Faure, past other favorite places like Axuria and Le Granite. In a spot where a funky old dilapidated garage had stood for many years, there is now a brand new, sparkling modern building: the headquarters of Patronage Laïque Jules Valles.
This Patronage is a municipal organization devoted to promoting laïcité (separation of church and state), equality, and tolerance. Its objective is to develop a better way of living together. Patronage Laïque Jules Valles is a welcome addition to the neighborhood!
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Gypsy girls working the “Do you speak English?” scam on the Champ de Mars.
Market stall frames and Pere Claude’s burger joint: two new items on the avenue de la Motte-Picquet.
I stare at the McDonalds across the street as I wait for the downpour to stop. The fallen banner is for announcing the fireman’s ball on Bastille Day weekend, coming up.
The interior of L’Alchimie.
Lamb medallions and eggplant-stuffed pastry at L’Alchimie.