Europe 2010: Our Last Day in Paris – September 24

It’s 9:30 am on Saturday, September 25 and we’re on the TGV speeding through the French countryside on our way to Montpellier and the start of the “vacance” portion of our journey. Our last day in Paris was fittingly frenetic—reminding us once again, as if we needed reminding, that we really need to stay in Paris for much, much longer than a week!

The day started off calmly enough. After working for several hours in the local café and at the apartment, I again made my way up to the 16th arrondisement for my third and final Dailey Method workout. I had bought three classes since the price was a bit lower (but still not exactly Vancouver prices at 85 euros for three classes!). The class was excellent although the best part is when Kelly counts down quinze, quartre, trois, deux, et un and then finally relâcher to signal that we can stop contracting our muscles and relax.

A camaraderie of shared pain that transcends language develops as we grunt and sweat through the routine. Afterwards, I get to practice my French by making small talk with some of the other ladies. Several are interested that I am from Canada and immediately ask about Quebec or tell me that their husband, son, father, friend of the family or whomever, lived or lives in Montreal. Then, inevitably, a conversation about the weather begins (this happened a lot when chatting with Parisians). Il fait fois, n’est pas? It’s cold?

And then I get to go into my whole routine about how it’s not cold in Vancouver but “il pleut tous les temps dans l’hiver” and is “gris” like Paris. It rains all the time in the winter and is grey like Paris. I’m starting to get pretty good at riffing on climate.

After class and a promise to Kelly Dailey that I hope to return and take many more classes in 2011, I strolled over to the Champs Elysees with the intention of finally having lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes. They are touristy and expensive, but since it was my last day in Paris – why not? I found a likely looking café and got seated. Here’s what I wrote in my notebook:

Unfortunately, I’ve been given the English only menu thanks to my request for le menu. I did remember to say carte instead, but too late. The damage was done and the waiter now won’t speak French to me.
Ah well. He’s nice enough about it. In fact, I have yet to run into any of the famously snooty Parisians. They have all, in my experience, been patient, tolerant, and if not completely friendly at least neutral. My theory is that the reserve we mistake for snootiness is actually the Parisians feeling afraid that you might lapse into English and they would not be able to understand you. I get the impression that many people are just as afraid and embarrassed to speak English as I am to speak French. If a waiter looks at me warily and I speak French (or at least try) and by so doing make it clear that I don’t expect him to speak English, he visibly relaxes and even helps me out with the English he does know when I get stuck.

I’m not sure the meal will be much to write home about. The fixed price menu is 11 euros and includes a glass of red wine. But you can’t beat the location along the sidewalk within site of the Arc de Triomphe.

Besides, this is my last lunch in Paris.

And then my meal arrived and I have to say that it really was pretty awful! A pile of sticky white pasta filled half the plate and snuggled up to a plastic (yes plastic) tub of some kind of tomato sauce. Another plastic tub of gravy balanced atop a slab of over -cooked steak. But it was more or less edible and I tucked in.

Then, all of a sudden, there was a flurry of movement and a flash of lightning. The heavens opened and a deluge of rain hit the thin red awnings that spanned the tables on the terrace. For a short time, I thought I would be OK since my table was a least three feet from the edge of the awning. But no, the rain came slanting in sideways and soon my terrible lunch was sprinkled with rain water. Well, at least it was no loss!

I abandoned my plate, took up my glass of wine and found a relatively dry spot next to one of the poles that held up the awning. The rain pounded down as everyone huddled together as far from the edges of the awnings as possible. Out on the sidewalk, people cowered under eaves as water bounced two feet off the pavement and vast sheets of it quickly gathered alongside the curbs, swirling down the Champs Elysees to the Place de la Concorde.

The sound of the traffic continuing to swoosh by competed with the incessant thrumming of the rain on the awning. It was almost too loud to hold a conversation. I snapped some pictures and asked a man next to me to “prenez un photo, s’il vous plait?” of me.

Eventually, the waiters started back to work even though the rain had not abated by much. Holding large trays over their heads, they began to run between the restaurant and the terrace to attend to the customers. Since they obviously couldn’t carry the food from the restaurant across the open sidewalk to the terrace, they began marshaling people to get them into the restaurant.

Obviously the shared experience of the monsoon had put me back in favor, because the waiter was all smiles and spoke only French as he asked me if I would like a new meal inside. Since the portion of the meal I’d managed to eat before the rain was more than enough, I told him I’d just like to pay. I sprinted after him to the restaurant. He couldn’t have been nicer and didn’t once lapse back into English!

Bonne journee Madame, au revoir. Merci, monsieur. Au revoir.

And so back out into the rain I went in search of the Metro and a dry ride back to the ‘hood.

By the time I emerged from Alesia Metro, the rain was all but finished. Since it was already 4 pm, I decided to go straight to the gallery so I could help Gregg pack up the show in time for the shippers to pick it up at 5.

We got all the paintings off the walls and into the three crates without incident. Gregg drilled the three crates closed and voila – the French exposition was finis. At the Portugal show, there will be many more people to help with the crates and the hanging/unhanging but at the Espace Kameleon in Paris we were pretty much on our own.

Monsieur and Madame arrived around 5. Their daughter is the director of the gallery but she couldn’t come since she was busy with the children and l’ecole. Our understanding of French really has improved in just a week. Madame speaks no English at all and Monsieur speaks just a little so for the next hour we alternated speaking French and standing around looking blankly at each other with nervous smiles.

Madame and Gregg (with drill)

Finally, I said my au revoirs to Madam and Monsieur along with much double-kissing of cheeks and took off for the post office with Gregg’s very heavy box containing his drill and staple gun along with sundry other items he’s decided to ship home. Laden with the box, I walked and walked (and walked) until finally I found the post office where I waited nervously in line and tried to figure out what “please send it as slowly and cheaply as possible” was in French. I got as far as lentement and pas trop cher when it was my turn to step forward.

The clerk gave me a price of 72 euros and I balked! After a stream of French which I didn’t understand along with much hand gesturing and the proffering of a large flat complicated looking piece of cardboard that I gathered folded into a box, I figured out that I could unpack the box that Gregg had encased in a whole roll of duct tape, repack all the innards in the new box, and then pay 41 euros.

OK, pas de problem. The clerk handed me the flat box, the forms to fill out, and a pair of scissors and pointed to a nearby table. With great, great difficulty, I called upon long dormant origami skills and wrestled the thick cardboard into some semblance of a rectangular receptacle. Then, the real fun began as I used the scissors to cut through Gregg’s duct taping job. The sound of duct tape ripping filled the small post office, causing the heads of not a few Parisians waiting patiently to send their packages to turn. I only hoped no one would be looking when I finally got the box open and had to unpack a large drill and a staple gun. They’d probably think I was a terrorist.

The transfer was finally made, the money paid, and I was free to wander back up the rue Avenue de Klerc which it turned out had some great shops. I picked up a lovely grey leather purse on the way for just 26 euros. I indicated my frumpy backpack to the sales clerk and shrugged “C’est ne pas chic.” The lady laughed. “Oui, il est sportif!”

I arrived back at the apartment hoping to have an hour or so to myself to update the blog and answer emails only to find Gregg in a panic. It was already 6 pm and the truck had not yet arrived! It was to have come at 5. If the three crates were not picked up that evening, we were in very big trouble. A new show was coming into the gallery literally within the hour and there was no place to hide three very large crates. We couldn’t even unpack them and move the contents to the downstairs room since Gregg’s drill was already safely on its way to Canada.

Quel horreur! We tried calling the shippers but since it was past 6 pm, there was no answer. Our train left for Montpellier the next morning at 7:00 am and we had tickets for an 8 pm entry into the huge Monet retrospective at the Grand Palais. Our margin for error was nil.

We walked back to the gallery, hoping that perhaps the truck would be there although Gregg was positive it was too late. But no – we should not doubt the efficiency of the Europeans! The truck was parked outside the gallery when we arrived back and two of the three crates were already loaded. Apparently the circulation (the traffic) had been incroyable. After all, it was Friday and there had been a massive rainstorm, not to mention a general strike the day before.

So all was well in the end and we got to do another round of au revoirs accompanied by more double cheek kissing. We promised to return “l’annee prochain.”

Phew! We caught a bus to the Grand Palais and ran into the only rude Parisian we’d encountered in a week—a rather disgruntled bus driver. He wouldn’t tell Gregg how much the bus cost and then when our stop arrived, he drove past at speed! Ah well!

We made it to the Grand Palais for our 8 pm entry time and spent the next hour reveling in the largest retrospective of Monets ever assembled. Over 250 pieces represented Monet’s very long and productive career. Works had been collected from all over the world. Whole rooms were devoted to various series—haystacks, the Parliament buildings, Rouen Cathedral, waterlilies and on and on. The only drawback was that the exhibition was packed with people holding audio guides with the result that it was sometimes difficult to get a good look at the paintings. We left wishing we had many more hours to wander through and time to return several times.

We caught a taxi back to our neighbourhood and had our final meal in Paris at Au Moulin Vert, an absolutely lovely restaurant that was at the end of our street (rue de Moulin Vert). We got the fixed price menu for 26 euros each. Quel bargain – an entrée, plat, and dessert – each of which was impeccably presented and wonderfully flavored. For the entrée (appetizer), Gregg had goat cheese encased in very light filo pastry and I had impossibly smooth pate. For the main course, I had a brochette of melt in the mouth morsels of various fish and large shrimp in a lovely light sauce, while Gregg had a beef casserole a la provencale. Dessert was pear sorbet for me and cappuccino gelato for Gregg. We shared and wow – what a taste combination!

The prices really are incredibly reasonable. This gourmet feast which of course included lots of wine would have cost well over $150 at home. Here the bill was 63 euros – about $90 with service included.

So home we went to the apartment to pack up and get some sleep before being up at 5:30 for our train journey to the south.

Au revoir to Paris and on now to four weeks of adventure in Spain and Portugal following a one night stop over in Montpellier.