When the Most Beautiful Avenue in the World Makes No Impression at All
I want to be a Paris tourist again. I’m jealous of all of you who discover something really new every time you come here for a visit. It feels jaded to have lived here so long as to know even the tiniest nuances about the French culture, so much so that old cultural habits are hard to even remember.
Over dinner last night at “Le Bouledogue” on rue Rambuteau with a friend who has recently arrived for a two-month “séjour” in Paris from Southern California, this sinking feeling took hold as I was explaining to him that usually the woman sits on the “banquette” while the man sits on the outside, she is never the one to pour the wine, that you would never cut your lettuce with a knife (learn to fold!) or hold your bread with your hands while swiping the sauce on the plate (always with a fork even though the bread is eaten with your hands and placed directly on the table).
The order of the dinner is different and the terminology a bit confusing. The French start with an “entrée” (of course — it does mean “enter,” no?!) and the North Americans have an “entree” as a main course (what the French call a “plat”). Coffee is served after dessert, not with it, and you’ll never get your check unless you ask for it. Since they hate to handle money, getting your check is the most difficult thing to accomplish of all.
Le Bouledogue (20, rue Rambuteau, 3rd, 01.40.27.90.90) is one of those classic bistrots with old-world decor, service and traditional fare, that the tourists from the nearby Centre Georges Pompidou haven’t yet discovered. Clearly a spot for neighborhood regulars, many seem to know one another, the owner and wait staff. It’s “correct” in terms of price vs quality and just the sort of Paris bistrot that says, “you’re really in Paris” — not some slick contemporary spot pretending it’s in New York City. (Leave those to the young trendy French who are dreaming of New York City the way we dream of Paris.)
So, why am I jealous of all you occasional visitors to Paris? Because we residents can end up missing an awful lot just by being so close to it all. Ask any Parisian if they have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and I’ll bet they say, “no!” Can you imagine coming to Paris and not climbing to the top at least once? A friend visiting next week exclaimed that he has never been — so naturally, I’ve promised to take him all the way to the top. It’s been so long since I’ve done that myself, I can’t remember.
Tourists have the good fortune to visit the museums during “off” hours avoiding the long lines on weekends, like us working folks must. We’ve seen the inside of the Pyramid of LeLouvre so many times that we go to shop in the Carrousel du Louvre boutiques instead of marveling at the Mona Lisa or the Winged Victory. Having too many hot chocolates at Angelina is no longer a treat — it’s just plain fattening. Frozen foods at Picard have replaced the twice-weekly trips to the open-air market for french produce, meats and fish. It’s a sad state of affairs.
I was on the Champs-Elysées yesterday afternoon and later couldn’t recall if the Christmas lights were still up on the trees that line the broad avenue. Now, that’s the ultimate insult! That’s when I knew for sure it had become all too normal and every-day…when the most beautiful avenue in the world made no impression at all.
Next week will be tourist week for me, as I play tour guide and take my visiting friend to the top of the tower and top of Montmartre. I booked a table at the oldest house in Paris (Auberge Nicolas Flamel, 51, rue Montmorency, 3rd, 01.42.71.77.78) and will plan to take in the photography exhibition, “Paris en Couleurs” at the Hôtel de Ville, sometime midday when the line isn’t all the way down rue Lobau.
We may take taxis instead of riding the bus or Métro and take a leisurely stroll along the Seine. We may even visit Notre Dame or take in the stained glass windows at Sainte Chapelle. We could get an ice cream at Berthillon on the Ile Saint-Louis or visit the graves at the Père Lachaise.
Whoa!…you see my imagination is running away with me! Guess I best pack the trusty digital camera, the Paris “plan par arrondissement,” the umbrella and the sunglasses. You never know what might happen as a tourist in the City of Light for the first time in many years.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. Le Bouledogue and Auberge Nicolas Flamel are not yet listed in the Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants that I’ve been writing and updating since 1996…but more than 200 other proven inexpensive non-touristed restaurants in Paris are! Click here Visit http://www.insiderparisguides.com to learn more and order your copy!