Paris: local colour

Thursday 11 May 2006

One of the satisfying things about going to Paris is seeing all these people acting the way the French are supposed to, just like you’ve seen in the movies. You can be confident that within an hour of stepping off the train at Gare du Nord that you will have seen several people walking around carrying baguettes and at least one truck driver yelling at a policeman.
My first French conversation, of sorts, was with a crone in the gutter. I was going to say she was begging, but I’m not sure that screaming abuse and obscenities at passersby, or even people across the street, technically constitutes proper begging. She had nevertheless accumulated a small pile of coins, so perhaps there is a distinctly French attitude to commerce that extends all the way from their winos to their international trade negotiations.
Despite the strike the Metropolitain was still running, although on a reduced schedule, apparently. Over a year of living with the, uh, eccentricites of the London Underground, I have heard people on numerous occasions sniff that the Paris Métro is infinitely superior. Those people would not be pleased to hear that on my first Métro trip this visit the train broke down, stranding us about 10m out of the station for about half an hour, before they backed the thing up to the platform and kicked us out.
Also, for all their faults, London stations generally do not feature drunks passed out on the platform, let alone drunks passed out on the platform after employing the delivery chute on the vending machine as a urinal; nor do they put up enormous posters hawking le nouveau album de Tina Arena.

It’s worth paying for the climb up the towers of Notre Dame, if only because it lets you see the world’s most overrated bookshop without having to go in or near it. Unfortunately, I had to push my way past a mass of wine-quaffers loitering outside for a new sudoku book launch or something, to get to the Bang On A Can gig.
Once up the tower you can also enjoy the weathered old plaques prohibiting you from throwing stuff off the roof, writing on the walls and ringing the bells.

The trees around the Eiffel Tower are very dangerous and are fenced off for your protection in enclosures that replicate their natural habitat. Do not approach the trees!

The Parisian romance with cigarettes continues. The Left Bank couple at the cafe table next to me flaunted their French sense of style with a packet of Winstons and a disposable plastic Che Guevara lighter. The price of booze makes drinking in Paris less fun than it should be, although the bars are still better for people-watching than English pubs. This is my favourite place, somewhere in Montmartre that reminds me of my preferred haunts in Melbourne because (a) it’s frowsy and (b) I can never remember the name of it, so I call it the Brown Bar.