MAD DOG: I Saw London, I Saw France
Paris is a very clean city except for the dog droppings everywhere. They scrub the street light poles, flush and sweep the streets nightly, and even polish the brass edging on the stairs in my low budget hotel every day even though the carpet it holds down is tattered and torn. But the dog crap? You have to clean it off your shoes yourself.In spite of that, Paris is a very romantic city. The buildings, the people, the food -- it's palpable. Unfortunately I'm by myself, but if I'm nothing I'm an obedient tourist so I fall in love with my right hand all over again. At least we both speak the same language -- the language of love.The French get a lot of grief about their attitude. True, they deserve much of it, but what most people think is a haughty attitude is actually a sense of humor. For example, I'm in a tiny sandwich shop near Notre Dame -- which incidentally doesn't have a football team -- and, despite my paltry high school French, manage to communicate with the owner. He speaks rapidly. I speak slowly. Somehow I get my sandwich and Orangina, the national drink of France. Well, next to wine. I'm ready to leave when he leans over me to get something. "Excuse me," he says in perfect English. I'm not surprised.You see, all the French speak English, it's just that they try not to let on to it. Their idea of a good time is listening to us say "silver plate" instead of s'il vous plait. They listen to us struggle knowing full well what we're saying. I, on the other hand, have no idea what they're saying except I'm impressed that they all do such an excellent imitation of that fast talking guy who used to do the Fedex commercials.This is all a part of their sense of je ne sais quoi, which loosely translates as "I couldn't care less". You see it in the waiters. You see it in the sales clerks. You see it in the female bathroom attendant who cleans up while the men all around her are standing at the urinal.Yes, the French have quite a sense of humor. What other city has a Latin Quarter where all you can get is gyros? Who else but the French would name a street Av. Marceau, yet everyone's talking and there's not a mime to be seen? And where else could you have the catacombs, with human bones stacked up so neatly and in such wonderful patterns that you marvel at a population that could generate so many anal retentive grave diggers?The French do a lot of things well. The food for example. Everywhere you look there's beautiful and delicious food in the pâtisseries, boulangeries, and charcuteries. So why is a typical Parisian lunch a panini avec jambon et fromage (a ham and cheese on baguette) eaten while walking down the street? It's simple -- that's how they tell the Parisians from the tourists. Parisians eat at McDonald's; tourists buy a petite quiche Lorraine, a bit of patE campagne, and a petit pain and eat in the Jardin du Luxembourg surrounded by other tourists like I did.One of the fun things about traveling is buying souvenirs. Like anyplace that attracts tourists, Paris has its share. And every one shows the Eiffel Tower. Well, all except mine. My first morning in Paris I'm trying to buy a telephone card. As in much of Europe, the pay phones in France don't take coins, they take cards. The previous night I tried to buy one at the tabac, or tobacco shop. The man told me he didn't sell them. I found out later from the desk clerk that he does indeed sell them, he just didn't feel like bothering. It was reassuring to find out that he wasn't just being xenophobic -- he doesn't like to sell anything to anyone if he's not in the mood. Je ne sais quoi also means "leave me alone" in French.(NOTE: Having je ne sais quoi is a license to do things badly. The accordion player on the Metro played a version of Hernando's Hideaway that was so bad it took me all the way until the end to figure out what it was, yet when he finished people gave him money anyway. Maybe he played it with a French accent that my American ears couldn't understand. Maybe they gave him the money to shut him up and get him to move on to the next car. Hey, je ne sais quoi, you know?)But back to my morning search for the telephone card. I'm heading towards the post office, where they have to sell you a telephone card no matter what side of the baguette they woke up on. I come upon a machine on the street that dispenses Paris Cartes. Life doesn't get any easier. I put 10 francs in the slot and out popped a little piece of paper. Yes, I bought my first souvenir of Paris -- a one-hour street parking permit for the car I didn't have.There are beautiful buildings everywhere in Paris, and more statues than you can shake a stream of water at. One even has turtles spitting water into the faces of women who are holding the earth on their shoulders. In London that would be the name of a pub. Here in the U.S. it would be a velvet painting that included poker playing dogs. In France it's a monument.And what trip to Paris would be complete without a demonstration? While I'm standing in line near the Square de L'Abbe, traffic is stopped while people shout and the police stand at the ready. It could that they're staging it for us tourists, but I don't think so. The French, after all, will go on strike at the drop of a beret. Or because someone dropped a beret. They don't care. It turns out it's a protest by accounting teachers. It's common knowledge in Paris that any demonstration worth it's placards starts at the Bastille. This one started at the catacombs. What do you expect from a bunch of CPA's?And finally, Paris is a city of gardens, or jardins as they call them just to get another laugh when we try to pronounce it. Beautiful parks, gardens, and squares dot the city, overflowing with trees, neatly trimmed bushes, and flowers. Some of the most unique daffodils I've ever seen were in a park in Paris. They were white with brown trumpets. Knowing how nicely they try to keep the city I wouldn't be surprised if they paint the brown on them during the night. On the other hand, the brown could have leached out of the dog droppings. Did I mention that there's dog crap everywhere?