Between the Lines: What he did on his summer vacation
Paris is a famous city in France. It is famous for its old churches, chic shops, cafes and museums, and world-class piles of pigeon droppings.
While there are now very few actual Parisians who live in the city — the entire metropolis having been overrun by tourists — those who remain are no longer as irredeemably arrogant as they once were.
Apparently the city’s habitués got the memo that unless they actually showed the occasional willingness to give street directions to someone who did not attend the Sorbonne, the rest of the world would accord Parisians the status of sheer irrelevance that they have long deserved.
France itself is famous not only for croissants but also for freedom fries and losing every war it has ever fought.
In a bid to erase both France’s irrelevance and its long military losing streak, President Nicolas Sarkozy recently talked the Western powers into attacking Libya.
This was perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to Col. Muammar Gaddafi. His continued hold on power is now assured, thanks to the combined ineptitude of Libyan rebels, the European military and half-hearted American air power — not to mention the French distaste for victory.
But I digress.
We were in Paris recently for a week, in a largely successful effort to empty our American bank accounts by changing dollars for euros.
The alleged purpose of the trip, as it is for so many such trips to Paris, was to savor the open-air markets and cafes, and to see famous sites such as the Left Bank of the Seine.
I refer to the “alleged purpose” of the trip, in regard to outdoor sites, because in actuality we spent large parts of each day beneath the city and safely removed from any sunshine or oxygen, riding the Paris Metro to and from the sites.
One day, however, we were able to emerge from the metro long enough to see the famous Left Bank.
The Left Bank, of course, was a favorite hangout of Jean Paul Sartre and his sometime Main Squeeze, Simone de Beauvoir — who together became famous for inventing an indefinable philosophy and providing the early raw material for Rush Limbaugh’s rants against feminism. There, too, they smoked and drank themselves to an existentially superb, albeit cancer-ridden, death.
While on the Left Bank I made a point of having a (pricey) glass of wine at the cafe where Simone and Jean Paul hung out. It’s called Les Deux Magots — a name that has led many an American tourist to ponder why anyone would name a cafe after a couple of maggots.
But again, I digress. Blame it on the French wine, which I have to say is decidedly inferior — at least at a price I can afford — to the Italian wine we drank later in the trip.
Among the other sites we saw in Paris was Montmartre. I’m told the famous French habit of smoking oneself to death originated in this neighborhood among starving, tubercular artists such as Modigliani.
These days Montmartre is overrun with tourists who have paid thousands of dollars to come to Paris for a whiff of the bohemian life. But they could have stayed home and gotten a whiff of the same thing, from their neighbor who struggles to sell her paintings while making ends meet as a massage therapist.
Another neighborhood we visited is called the Marais. While it is famous for its gay residents, you will see more same-sex couples holding hands on a five-minute walk across the Middlebury College campus than you will in the Marais in all of July.
We also visited Notre Dame, a very large church.
I was told — but wasn’t able to verify because I don’t speak French — that this church is used as a sort of home-away-from-home for students and alumni of the Fighting Irish.
Indeed, the church is large enough to provide practice space for the Notre Dame football team, should it need indoor facilities the next time it’s in town.
Gregory Dennis’ column appears here every other Thursday. Email him at [email protected]