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.

  1. 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.

    So true. We even saw a wandering busker playing an accordian. And the police are hilarious, always zooming around with about fifty of them packed into those little vans, then they all climb out clown-style and hassle some youths before zooming off again.

  2. Oh yeah, the other thing we saw was a snooty Australian ex-pat*. We tried to talk to him, but he just kind of grunted at us before getting back to showing off for his English guests. But there was no hiding that accent! (Although all the French people we spoke to thought we were Irish.)

    *And not in a good, sensible way, like your kind self.

  3. Well, there were lots of police vans all over the city this time – no surprise, really. I noticed a lot more accordians in France and Italy this time around.

    I missed the crazy busker on the Metro who'd come on board with a pram full of stuffed toys and screech songs to them.

  4. hey ben, is that bar "les couleurs"? it looks kinda like it. they have drop toilets and they serve enchiladas…that's all i can remember…


  5. Hey Leonie! Glad to hear from you. I don't remember enchiladas and I truly, honestly can't say what toilet facilities the females might have to contend with there. "Les Couleurs" doesn't ring a bell but I doubt I'd remember the right name even if I read it now.

    Like I said, I probably cdn't name half the bars I regularly got drunk in in Melbourne: "The Red Bar", "That Bar down the alleyway", "That other, littler bar down the alleyway, you know, that one. THAT one!"

  6. [...] Taken on my last Paris visit. [...]

  7. […] Toilet, Brown Bar, Montmartre Image by Ben.Harper I like this bar, probably because its general frowsiness and my inability to remember its name reminds me of bars I used to frequent in Melbourne. Taken on my last Paris visit. […]