A few more quiet days — not a bad thing for someone who lives in Paris instead of being a tourist here. Wednesday and Thursday mornings I caught up with the blog and worked on my roommate transition in Cambridge.
Wednesday I had lunch at a stylish-looking quick-lunch place a block or two down rue Réaumur, Boulangerie Pâtisserie Bigot. My tuna salad was pre-made but quite ok, and I was struck by how efficient and friendly the place was. Not only was my server personable, but several other staff members wished me bon appetit as well.
That afternoon I read Middlemarch on my Kindle and people-watched for a while at a café on my beloved rue Montorgueil (opposite rue Tiquetonne).
There was a funny moment at the end of this lovely interlude. Wanting to be a cool kid I asked for “la note” instead of “l’addition.” My waiter heard “an autre” (another) instead, so brought me a second kir! He was gracious when I explained the mistake, but the incident underlined how far I still need to go just to function normally in France, much less converse fluently!
On Wednesday evening I had dinner with Alexis, a friend I made last year who has been away for much of my visit. We enjoyed a wide-ranging intellectual conversation, as expected. He made a particularly trenchant analogy concerning my discomfort with the more touristy parts of Paris. He compared me to a straight man in a gay bar. If the straight man is comfortable with his sexuality he will find the environment odd or funny but not threatening. Only if he is unsure of his own identity will he be deeply uncomfortable. The point being that my distress reflects anxiety that deep down, despite the pretentious label of flâneur, I am at heart really just a tourist! As if to test my self-confidence he walked me after dinner across the Champs de Mars, with its wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower.
We parted there and I lingered — flâneur or tourist or whatever — to take in the scene. (I only discovered the next day that all the young people were there because that day had been the fin du bac, the end of the examinations required as a prerequisite to getting into a university. And the mellow mood may be in part due to the fact that drinking alcohol had been declared illegal in the student hang-out areas for the night to keep things from getting out of hand!)
Alexis and I had eaten at a very good Provençal restaurant, Le Petit Niçois, that I would be happy to return to. I had pretty much written off the 7eme last year as being excruciatingly bourgeois, but I may have to give it a bit more attention next trip.
I recently ran across an interesting iPhone app that I run on my new iPad — Besafe. It gives you assessments of the level of danger by area and time of day in three cities: Paris, New York and London. My own neighborhood comes off fairly well, but — as Jacques had cautioned me — the neighboring Les Halles area is rather dangerous late in the evening. The most hazardous neighborhood in Paris is La Goutte d’Or (“a drop of gold”), north of the Gare du Nord. So naturally a prudent guy like me would … go there! After lunch with Jeff at Nanashi, Le Bento Parisien I took the métro up to Château Rouge and encountered this shocking scene:
Umm, it looks a lot like Paris. To be sure, most of the folks are black, African and/or Muslim. But it didn’t feel that much different from Central Square, Cambridge. My first impression was confirmed by a photo exhibition called The Goutte d’Or (sic) at the Institut des Cultures d’Islam, a City of Paris cultural center located in the district. A British photographer developed a trusting relationship with the residents and captured a wonderful series of intimate images of the life of the quartier. Drugs and crime are indeed a problem, and I promise not to go there after dark, but the emphasis was much more on the richness and variety of life there than on the district’s scary reputation.
Thursday night I got a huge deal on filets from the local fishmonger — four for five euros — and made my standard meal. The trip is coming to a gentle and wistful end, though I still do have a week left!