A Paris Journal

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris.... then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, like a moveable feast. Ernest Hemingway

Location: Sonoma, California, United States

I am constantly a work in progress.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Gourmet Magazine Moment
BillandNancy.com, also known as Bill and Nancy Koenig have been living on the canals of France for eight years. That’s even longer than some Jakey’s have been on the DP rolls. They found this life long ago and have adopted the expat lifestyle as their own. The firehouse and the City must seem a lifetime ago.

Their barge is now tied up at the Arsenal port at the Bastille in Paris, which is like living next to Union Square. They have the mother of all boat locations. They had invited us to have Sunday lunch, there was a guest chef preparing the food.

Sunday was a perfect sunny day in Paris, the cafes were crowded, a mass bicycle event was in place, and crowds were everywhere enjoying the sun. We saw a topless bather across the boat basin and I thought this barge business isn’t so bad.

Bill and Nancy welcomed us to their floating home. Houseguest and celebrity chef were Peter and Jane. They were British by birth but South African by choice. Peter had owned restaurants in Cape Town for over 20 years. They were in the process of having a new barge built for them to live on. Why was this 70 year old international man making me feel like a slug?

We dined under a canvas awning on the back deck facing the water, the Bastille Monument and the Opera House. It was a great lunch of salmon on a bed of pureed watercress and white asparagus. A parade of boats came by as we relaxed at the table.

The constant base beat of a Techno music festival floated down from the Bastille; it was like a soundtrack you couldn’t turn off. Hours went by as did tour boats toting waving visitors, a sail boat, and even a long barge with two young ladies dancing provocatively to entertain the crowds on the banks. Tres Bon !

It was what the Baroness called a Gourmet Magazine Moment, a postcard snapshot for others to look and maybe envy. The food was superb, the friends were delightful, the weather was stunning, and the urban theater both relaxed and invigorating. The hours went by, the wine flowed, and the dead soldiers piled up like glass memorials to good times. Thank you Bill and Nancy. It is SO nice having friends who live in Paris.

The end of the day found me hunched over my laptop in our hotel room. It is 10pm and I am listening to the 49er – Rams game from a continent away. This is a pathetic sight of an unrequited lover and fan. Oh, and the 9ers won.

Last Dance
It was our last evening in Paris and we hurried across town to a favorite restaurant just off the Saint Germain de Pres. There was a light rainfall that slowed down our two Metro, Paris crossing.

The name of the restaurant is le Relais de l’Entrecote; it is very close to the Saint Germain church and the trendy cafes and boutiques of that Boulevard. There is only one thing on the menu, steak and the best pomme frites in Paris; they also do not take reservations, but it is all you can eat.

We joined the nightly line in front of this very popular restaurant and waited our turn. The waitresses scurry about in French maid dresses to feed whatever fantasies may beat in your bad boy breast.

The rooms are always full and noisy; there were lots of families having dinner in this traditional restaurant. The rise and fall of voices is accompanied with hand gestures, laughing, and good feelings. It is all very French. Cigarette smoke swirls around the room from enthusiastic smokers; the coming restaurant smoking ban is January first. Seventy percent of the country supports the ban but a loyal tobacco group is evident.

We talked over our trip and discussed our return home on the following day. An Asian couple next to us chimed in about their trip; of course they were from San Francisco and going to a wedding in Tuscany.

Our umbrellas are drying in the bath tub and we are waiting to pack in the morning. Put this trip in the journal, it is official and it is history.

Strangers And Friends

We arrived home after four weeks on the road; we were weary, jet-lagged, and surprised. Total strangers met us at our door and welcomed us home; we embraced, shook hands, laughed, and all started talking. They took us inside, served us drinks and sat us down for a sumptuous home cooked dinner; in our own home.

The strangers were Tom and Denise Neumann, a traveling tribe of retired transients. Tom is a semi-retired college professor and Denise is a recently retired Air Force Colonel and human force of nature that Tom attempts, unsuccessfully, to keep under wraps.

Last year Tom and Denise stayed in our home for two months while we were in Paris. They kept our plants alive and our cat bemused as they made a culinary tour of Sonoma and Napa; in addition they visited almost every winery that had a license on the wall.

When Mary and I have questions about Sonoma area restaurants we ask Tom or Denise. The Sonoma Chamber of Commerce was thrilled to hear they were coming back for another infusion into the local economy. Denise is the author of last year’s blog entry about their visit to the French Laundry in Yountville.

Mary met Denise on line in some long forgotten website for house sitters or female forces of nature or whatever and the two women bonded immediately. Last year Tom and Denise had to leave before our return, and this year they arrived after our departure. We had never met; the relationship was a virtual one on line and on phone. I know, I know, it’s not normal, nor is it our usual way but there you have it anyway.

They do not visit restaurants as much as dine and make friends wherever they go. While Denise is doing her human force of nature stichk; Tom is casually circling around dropping understated word cluster bombs. He is being very funny and endearing; like a bear that smiles and has a secret. Almost could be.

A Come To Jesus Meeting

The first morning I was in Paris this year I awoke to sunshine and the sounds of a big city. I felt at home; we walked to a Patisserie for some croissants and beignets and then to a kiosk for an International Herald Tribune.

I was in the third ring of Healy happiness. I could feel my mood brighten and my step heighten. I felt I was home; I even ignored my wallet lighten.

I have always liked Paris, and each of my many visits here has been enjoyable for different reasons. I was experiencing feelings of real joy for no other reason than I was back in Paris again. It is time to stop thinking of myself as a guy who likes Paris and admit I have become full fledged Paris junkie and mini Francophile.

It has probably surprised me more than my readers; I can be the last to figure things out sometimes. I just feel fortunate to have a place that makes me feel so good. Lord knows there are enough places that make us all feel bad. I was having a personal come to Jesus meeting with myself about my feelings.

Where this revelation takes me is anyone’s guess; my heart is not geographically neutral. The time now is fall in the Sonoma Valley, the rains have come early and all but some stubborn Cabernet grapes have been harvested. The vineyard colors are changing to reds and yellows. It is great to be home; football season is everywhere but memories of summer linger.

Frequently my mind returns to the canals, I suppose Jim and Mary are trying to finish their barge painting project and to get it winterized. In Paris Bill and Nancy are busy being Parisians; I can only be envious.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Road To Prague

The road to Prague was paved with challenges. Travel days can be long and sometimes arduous. This day started with French sunshine as a taxi picked us up at the boat basin in Montceau les Mines. The driver was dressed in an EMT uniform, don’t ask, it is one of the vagaries of small town French life.

We bade a sad farewell to Mary & Jim Neil; their warm hospitality had been infectious and deeply satisfying. If you get a chance to spend any time aboard their barge, run do not walk. The food, the friendship, ahhh… but just stay away from the Mexican Train.

The taxi connected us to the hi-speed train (TGV) and shortly we were having lunch at the Gare Lyon in Paris. Then it was time for a three train trek on the Metro to Orly Airport. This even included a change at the dreaded Chatelet Metro Station; Mary and I have had horrors of walking what seemed like 12 miles, between trains at the dreaded Chatelet. But today it treated us kindly.

We had a long wait at Orly Airport that was worsened by a delayed departure; it was 10:30pm before our arrival in Prague. The car at the airport was a no show, and the clerk at the hotel could not find our reservation.

The night clerk was so deliciously gay and bitchy as to be a Saturday Night Live cliché. We finally got our room and the bed had a mattress that is usually reserved for the out of Battalion, probie, detail guy.

We upgraded our hotel and could not be happier. Tres bon ! We love Prague, the buildings are to die for and the people are foriegn looking enough to make us feel we are far from home.

It is difficult to appreciate Prague through all the rain and overcast; the bare bones of a beautiful city present itself. The Czech Republic, formerly Czechoslovakia, formerly part of the Hapsburg Empire, once the Kingdom of Bohemia, and also part of the Holy Roman Empire has had a tumultuous history. Now it is an independent nation and in the European Union.

Unlike many eastern European countries the Czech Republic had a strong manufacturing base and good tourist industry to build upon. The buildings of Prague are unique, beautiful, and plentiful. A visit to Prague should be on your horizon.

Old World Vienna
Vienna, gateway to eastern Europe, home of the Hapsburg Empire, bustling capital city of 1.6 million citizens, and a city I visited with Steve O’Neill during a winter Cognac run of epic proportions over 20 years ago. Many phone calls, drunks showing.

We checked into the multi story, modern Marriott Hotel in Vienna. The drive from Prague was accomplished in a light rainfall with a stop at the castle town of Cesky Krumlov. This a UNESCO site worth seeing. As we crossed the Austrian border on a small backcountry road the improvement in housing and the towns was obvious and immediate.

The Marriott corporate culture, branding, and marketing outreach was everywhere in evidence as we checked in to our hotel; American corporate hegeonomy is omnipresent.

The lobby reminded me of a Las Vegas hotel more than a European; when we got to our room the corporate branding seemed excessive. Every horizontal surface in our scrumptious room was covered with placards, tent cards, brochures, branded shopping magazines, Marriott branded anti allergic bedding, and the ubitiqiuous lobby picture of John and JW Marriott Jr.

Every instrument (telephone, Internet access router, TV Instruction Card) was pasted with a bright red Marriott decal, just in case you forgot where you are I suppose. Even the toilet paper has a blue one inch Kleenex sign every five tissues. A strategic alliance at the toilet can be dicey…….. but remunerative!

All of this was a prelude to our visit to the sports bar on the ground floor. We decided to eat-in our first night. The sports bar was identical to any at home with 30 overhead monitors playing competing sporting events. The large screen was reserved for the LSU - Miami game and endless highlights of the Michigan and Oregon debacle. The volume level was one notch below the auditory pain point.

The overly friendly bartenders welcomed us effusively. Their denim pants and Izod shirts said USA. The big sign on the wall said 147 days to the Super Bowl. I was relieved. The German accented bartender chatted us up in perfectly colloquial English as he brought our drinks. Within minutes he was thrusting a large menu under our eyes telling us to stay for dinner.
Tres Amercain.

The menu had many choices that bore a familiar ring: Burgers, Philly Cheesesteak, Questedellas, and a Giant Schnitzel from the porks neck “Grandma Style”. So many choices. While I was deciding I watched two late middle aged businessmen to my right with their Rolexes and cell phones working on four flight attendants that looked like Junior Achievement trainees.

Meanwhile the overhead screens lurched from highlight to intrusive graphics, to athlete camera mugging, and to ESPN personalities extolling the wonderment of it all.

The following night we were in the Lobby Bar, it has two large, flat screen monitors playing worldwide Marriott promotionals over a Roy Orbison sound track. Every elevator waiting area assaults you with Marriott ad videos but without Roy Orbison.

I was sitting at the bar watching the mezzanine area above. There was a corporate reception of 30 somethings standing up, holding wine glasses and food and discussing Cryptographic Hardware & Embedded Systems. It looked like fun, like the firehouse at 6pm without the hurled epithets, war stories, and personal insults. They are all networking, schmoozing, and telling lies.

This is a target rich environment; descending the stairs is a group of young Asian engineer types with backpacks, Bluetooth enabled ear pieces and carrying corporate sample gift bags in a bold magenta color and give-away tee shirts. ……. Welcome back to Vienna Mr Healy, we have been busy changing while you were drying out.

Gay Old World Vienna.

Six Hundred And Thirty
For six hundred and thirty years the waiters of the Stadtbeisl have elegantly sailed the aisle ways of hungry diners, negotiating past hungry Hussars, angry Hungarians, hapless Hapsburgs, Germans Gypsies, irate Istrians and even drunken San Francisco jakies.

Years ago Steve O’Neill and I stumbled upon this shrine to Teutonic tastefulness while taking a Cognac fueled culture crusade thru central Europe. Even two local and friendly frauleins, who we met in an impromptu cultural exchange program in a Bavarian themed beer garden, brought us here when we asked them to take us to a typically Viennese restaurant. We laughed because we had been dining there for several days.

So prior to this trip I have been boring the Baroness with endless stories about this great Viennese temple to Teutonic cuisine. I prattled on about the Goulash soup, the apple strudel, and the Weiner Schnitzel that melts on your tongue, and she smiled wanly as she patted my head and asked if I would like to visit the old beer garden alone.

Last evening we traipsed to the Old town in the shadows of Saint Stephens to the scenic shores of the Stadtbeisl. But whoa ! Hold all tickets mein munchkins, the restaurant has disappeared. Six hundred and thirty years of dirty dishes and hungry Hussars and it is giving up the ghost on my watch ?

It was a sheepish husband who slipped his wife into a late night Hungarian café for a hurried dinner. Our Weiner Schnitzel was from veal that had passed away at some assisted living farm for geriatric veal. It did not melt on your tongue as much as dented your fork. Our race home thru the rain dampened my disappointment.

Paris - Again

We arrived late in the evening and we dashed to a sidewalk café down the street for a glass of wine and sparkling water. The café owner greeted us warmly and then went to spend time with a group of South African Rugby fans in town for the Rugby World Cup. There was much back slapping and taking of pictures and pouring of red wine; Mary and I watched the show and smiled at each other.

Our experiences last summer had been so positive that I had harbored some concern that Paris would not be able to live up. Stow those concerns sailor; All is well in Healy heaven. We spent the next day reintroducing ourselves to Paris and resting from a long travel day.

We went to Luxembourg Garden to stroll and watch the tennis players and spend quality time with the Petanque crowd as they kibitzed the games. We sat at a sidewalk café watching the rowdy rugby fans. Then we went to our old café for dinner. Le Chartreux had not changed a whit, and that includes the menu or the pictures of aging French movie stars on the wall. They still make the best cheeseburgers we know.

Returning to our hotel we stopped by the Swan Jazz Bar. Lionel, the expat American owner was standing in front. We stopped to say hello and talk old times, soon he veered into a political discussion. His passion has not banked and his smile has not dimmed. We waved good-by and headed across the river for our 8th Arrondesmont hotel home.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Toby's Arrival
The first time I met Toby he was a college student with an infectious smile and a Triumph sports car painted primer gray; it had a starter motor as temperamental as an opera singer and as stubborn as a Persian cat. On that occasion he was taking me for a row on the Potomac River. His Washington DC Rowing club was as charmingly down market as the Triumph. I felt at home.

Now he was taking me to lunch at the Harvard Club of Boston. Toby knows value. The club is on the top floor of a downtown hirise; we had been thoroughly vetted by the lobby security staff who had issued me a guest name card. Their instincts told them I was a Battalion # 1 no account but protocols demanded a card. Then a nonstop elevator had whisked us to the sky.

The clubs muted tones and sedate atmosphere fit in with my expectations: dark wainscoting, views of the harbor, and Currier and Ives era drawings on the wall gave balance to the wood floors and Oriental carpets. Elderly gentlemen in sports coats passed time drooling in the reading room, they were waiting for the Harvard Crimson to again field a football team as good as De La Salle High.

This was the first official day of our trip, two days in Boston, three in Vermont, and then off to France and points east. We were stopping in Boston to see Toby and his wife Sacchi. Since that row on the Potomac Toby had studied in Japan, lived and worked in Tokyo for 4 years, gone to the Kennedy School for a year, and started a family. Toby knows value.

Time is moving quickly and now Toby is analyzing markets and I am accepting free lunches at the Harvard Club. The Operator knows value.

Vermont Touchstones

The Baroness and I are going for the mixed bag of travel adventures this time around…. from the Sacramento airport to Boston for a cameo visit, and on to Vermont before crossing to France.

We visited our friend Paul who moved from the Bay Area back to the countryside surrounding Hanover, New Hampshire, which is home to Dartmouth College; it is now Paul’s fulltime focus and GPS setting. Thomas Wolf said you can’t go home again but Paul is trying to prove him wrong.

Paul loves the lifestyle of small town New England living where he is on a first name basis with the postmistress, the UPS driver, and the bartender at the Norwich Inn. The town general store is a rabbit warren of nooks, backrooms, and hidden passages that extend forever. You would not want to be a truckman at a fire in this place.

When Paul is not traveling as a tour guide he can be seen manning the information booth on the Dartmouth Green, this is the center of campus life.

Rural Vermont is an endlessly green and beautiful environment; frequent rain and humidity have their advantages. Country lanes meander through the hilly countryside revealing ageless villages of white churches, clapboard homes, and people with serious gardens. There is a unified look of architectural cohesion and reassuring uniformity.

But don’t be fooled by the tranquil setting. There are still the disagreements over whether Dartmouth is a university or a college, and the annual town meetings to decide if tax revenue will allow them to buy a new snow plow.

Touchstones can be the bedrock of our lives; they reconnect us to our real selves and to our histories. Dartmouth is this man’s touchstone.

The Captain And The Probie

The fog scuttled along the canal highlighting the morning sun and the country quiet. It was early morning at Artaix, it was day 3 aboard the barge Festina Tarde. A lone fisherman was hunched over his pole across the lagoon.

Like two punch drunk fighters, we alighted from the Boston/Paris redeye, found the rail connection and headed south to Roanne. Jim and Mary Neil met us at the RR station and whisked us to the Bateau Festina Tarde.

Lest one get an impression of rustic and bare bones boat accommodations; the Festina Tarde is a 75 foot Dutch barge with two en suite staterooms, king size beds, full kitchen, dining room, living room, and enough wine on board to toast every fireman that ever lived. Twice.

Sometimes in the afternoon our stateroom could get a little warm, so the Wally Quinn Nap Ventilation System was utilized. This is a complex HVAC platform of open portholes and multiple oscillating fans. Wally and Sue know nautical comfort.

On board we had a light lunch, heavy conversation, a three hour nap and then an evening that included dinner and a visit to another barge for a boating party and a domino game called Mexican Train. This game is as vicious and provocative as firehouse Pedro.

Day two found us at the Chateau de Champlong for a lunch that included seven courses with special wine selections and even a pre dessert course that is now a must for me. Life without a pre dessert course would be just too meager and minimalist. I am sure you agree, every Daywatchman should get on board the Predessert course.

Another Rude Frenchman
We were standing in line at the railroad station; Jim Neil was helping me buy my return rail tickets to Paris. The clerk did not speak English and we were attempting to bridge the communication gap with the usual hand signals, written notes, and talking louder. “Can I help you?” Asked an attractive, middle aged woman behind us.

Soon she had sorted out our problem and the tickets were in hand. She introduced us to her college aged daughter and explained she was married to a Scotsman and lived locally. Jim gave her a Festina Tarde business card as he explained we and our wives were tied up in the canal harbor for several days. We invited her and her family to stop by.

Sunday afternoon we heard a knock at the wheelhouse door; Natalie our rail station translator and her husband Grahem were there with a chilled bottle of sparkling Brut Rose. The Captain eagerly piped them aboard and we all introduced ourselves.

Jim and Mary gave them a tour of the barge and answered all their questions. Soon some local pate, bread, and full glasses were on the wheelhouse table. The conversation raced around; they told us of their trip to San Francisco and Yosemite with a camping expedition to Grand Canyon.

It was a lazy Sunday filled with fun conversation and a pate worth killing for. Graham sold railroad locomotives and entire rail systems and maintenance programs. They invited us to stop by their home later in the evening.

As the sun approached the yardarm we sat beside their pool with cool beverages and small finger food. We discussed things and laughed; meanwhile I thought: Another rude Frenchman.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Summing Up

The last croissant crumb has fallen from my lips, tastes of a memorable Duck Confit dimmed, and the final Paris memory is fading from my senior citizen mind. The trip is in the hard drive of history. It is time to sum up, to assess, and to try and reach some meaningful conclusions.

First, the trip was a ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure, and as such it was carrying a lot of emotional baggage; it had some heavy lifting to do. Fantasy almost never equals reality; that is why it is fantasy. This time I was fortunate and the trip rang the bell.

It was a long three months that allowed us to get lost in a foreign country and get found in a foreign culture. Our normal support structure was miles away and we built a new one. Full disclosure demands that I tell you I have been in love with Paris since 1983 when I first went there with a favorite cousin. I still consider it the most beautiful city in the world. Paris came through with room to spare.

At the heart of the Paris joyride were the people, they were always an inspiration. They were fun to watch and always surprising when we met. The Parisians have developed a way of living that is fun, gracious, and user friendly in a formal sort of way. They have a way with the moment.

The rude Parisian is a person I didn’t see. We Americans have helped create this myth of the French, probably born from insecurity and impatience. It was also helped along by a French government sometimes willing to bite the hand that fed it.

My return home surprised me with a culture shock that I did not see coming. Three months had seen me living in Paris and not visiting, my return only highlighted this. Part of me is still in Paris even when I am watching a 49er game.

I have been feeling dislocated. I had forgotten all the cable TV channel numbers, the TV commercials look so clever, but seem so fast and frantic. Our internal cruise control is working on a slower Paris speed.

Its is nice to get caught up on football but already I am tired of the player preening, the overly complex onscreen graphics including exploding things, quick cut camera looks, and sport as war nonsense. Its football for heavens sake not your life, it’s not your wife.

The good news: I missed most of the electioneering with the negative campaigns and pictures of the candidate’s smarmy families flashing toothy smiles at the camera. How about a snap of a candidate’s mistress and the incumbent’s favorite bartender for a change? That would get my attention and probably my vote as well.

I find myself a little dissatisfied with not having an adventure on my horizon; I am going to have to look into that. I have had a lot of fun with this blog and heartened by the responses from places I never expected. At the Station # 2 Christmas Party the girlfriend of the Big Oaf came over to introduce herself and tell me how much she enjoyed reading it. Who would have thought that Oaf would find a woman with such discriminating taste and cosmopolitan bearing?
But then, ……..he is a Murphy…………………..

From The Desk Of The Baroness

Almost 20 years ago I dreamed that I would live in Paris with a charming man, visit exquisite museums, eat at legendary restaurants, have an expresso in the sunshine at a famous cafe, read an international newspaper everyday and feel like a woman of the world. As I went along the way through life I did find a charming man who had a similar fantasy.

After retirement, a few surgeries, and the early death of a dear friend we adopted a new outlook. Under our new “if not now, when?” philosophy, 2006 was picked as the year for our adventure. We were finally going to live in Paris, not just visit Paris, but live in Paris. Little did I know what that really meant! One of the obstacles that existed was that neither Jim nor I spoke French. But timing is everything and a new class of beginning French was starting at our local Senior Center.

Jim reluctantly went into the “Vintage House” for the first time for our classes.; as it turned out we were the youngest students in the group! After 8 months of weekly classes we can report that we still do not speak French other than to say good morning, good evening, I don’t know, please, and thank you. I must confess these phrases actually go a long way in being polite to the French.

The first apartment we rented was in the 2nd arrondissement; it was sandwiched between a street lined with restaurants and food vendors and another street with gritty tattoo parlors and piercing salons. After 3 weeks, with relief and as planned, we moved to another apartment which was a half block from Luxembourg Gardens in the much more toney 6th arrondissement.

It didn’t take long after our arrival in Paris before our first serious problem popped up. We needed an electrician because the power in our apartment had gone out. To get help we had to contact the building manager by phone but that was no easy task because we didn’t understand their phone system. We ended up going down the block to an English pub where the English speaking Indian bartender called the property manager and explained in French what our problem was. It felt like a UN conference on how to solve the world’s problems.

Two months later, in our next apartment, Jim woke up to find water coming out of the light fixture in the kitchen. The apartment manager didn’t want to be bothered with a plumbing problem on a Saturday. Worse, we knew by then that it is impossible to get any help on a Sunday because almost everyone is at home with their family. Fortunately, our neighbor from down the hall speaks many languages and jumped in to help us. We don’t even know his name but he saved us more than once. Oh, the joys of actually living in a foreign city!

My French never improved during the three months so I would just fake it with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. There were other little gems of information that we picked up over time that helped. A friend explained that waiters who appear to speak English often know only “restaurant English” but beyond that they are helpless carrying on a conversation in English. That piece of news made me feel much better about my own language skills. Another little tidbit I learned was that if you want to indicate the number “one” you use your thumb (the first finger on your hand). If you use your index finger you are just as likely to get two items because you are using the second finger on your hand. Make sense?

Since I have been back I have been asked frequently what I miss the most. I miss the bread and croissants from the bakery just below our apartment. When I got up at 4 in the morning to go to the bathroom I could smell the bread baking. Fortunately for our waistlines, our daily intake of pomme frites, crème brulee, and almond croissants has come to a screeching halt now that we are home.

I miss reading the International Herald Tribune everyday. It was not infrequently that you could read the first 4 or 5 pages of the paper before you came to an article about the United States. Their articles helped to expand my view of the events in Europe and elsewhere around the world.

I really miss our afternoon “café sits” where I would get a glass of wine, Jim a Perrier and we would settle in for serious people watching. The passing sights were wonderful theater! And I miss the walks through Luxemburg Gardens where the seasons turned from summer to late fall within a blink of an eye. It was our routine to watch the retirees place their bets on their Petanque game, then we would sit on a park bench with a sandwich for lunch before moving on to the tennis courts to view a full range of tennis skills, and wrap it up by the fountain where the little children floated their small sailboats when a whiff of wind came up.

Anyone who travels outside the United States asks themselves from time to time what they would do if they got seriously ill in a foreign country. In my case I ended up spending two nights at the American Hospital in Paris and continued to have contact with the medical community for the rest of the journey. What that did was force me, with my terrible French language skills, to move past the superficial level of visiting this city.

We had no choice but to interact with everyday Parisians constantly. By the time we were to leave Paris the café owner from downstairs would wave at us from across the street, our neighbor down the hall always stopped to chat, the technicians at the lab where they tested my blood greeted me with a smile, and the American proprietor of the Swan Jazz Bar made some type of pre-election political wisecrack to us every time we came in. I cannot tell you how consistently generous and gracious the French were throughout our trip.

Jim and I have always thought an adventure upon retirement is an important thing to do as a transition. For us it was the dream of living in Paris. Obviously we had trials and tribulations that happened along the way and times of frustration over daily living problems. Of course our fantasy did not play out as we had imagined in our mind’s eye but then that was part of the adventure.

Would I do it again? You bet! In a flash!

The French Laundry or Babes In Buyland

The following restaurant review was done by Colonel Denise Schultz, USAF Retired. Denise and her husband Tom had house sat for two months while we were in Paris. Enjoy…….

Well -- we had our ultimate Napa experience this weekend. About 3 weeks ago, we decided to try for a lunch reservation at the French Laundry (so-named as the building used to be an actual laundry), as it had just gotten it's 3rd star from Michelin -- and is listed by Gourmet Magazine as the third best restaurant in the country. After all, we had been to Berkeley's Chez Panisse (listed as the second best restaurant) twice in the past, and we considered ourselves quite sophisticated.

The reviews said that we needed to call at least 2 months in advance, but when we called that Monday, they agreed that we could come that Friday at 11:30. (We secretly wondered how good of a restaurant they could be if they could take us on such short notice.)

So, Friday morning (3 weeks ago), off we went to Yountville. We parked and walked around the restaurant's organic garden, then stopped at a lovely family winery (Jessup) and sampled a few until it was time for our reservation (they ‘comped’ us because we had been in the Air Force -- and their son was now in).

We walked the few blocks back, and the person greeting us at the door actually dropped her jaw upon seeing us. Indeed, the maitre 'd had no reservation for us -- had never heard of us -- and if we had talked to them on the phone, they would certainly have told us about the dress code, etc. (While we had "dressed up" a bit -- no tennis shoes, for example -- this being a California vacation spot in the middle of the afternoon, I was wearing good jeans, and Tom was wearing a sweater instead of a coat.)

Anyway, they were very sorry -- and surmised that we had been the recipients of a cruel joke by a man whose phone number was one digit off from the restaurant's -- and who had become so irritated lately at the wrong number calls that he had been giving reservations out.

We were amused and not upset at all -- (as we had already been wined at Jessup) -- and they told us about another restaurant they owned down the road -- a bistro named Bouchon. We were SO not upset that they decided to find us a reservation for another day -- and gave us an engraved invitation for Sunday (yesterday) at 11:45. We thanked them and went to Bouchon --which was FABULOUS!

Well -- last Friday, the French Laundry called us to confirm that we were indeed still coming on Sunday. We said certainly (or something similar in French). We awakened leisurely that morning, took a hot tub, and dressed in our finest. At the last minute, Tom said that just in case there was the odd computer snafu with the credit cards, we should take cash. So we took $250 (we had already resigned ourselves to this extravagance -- even though it was just lunch, and Chez Panisse was hovering at $80) -- and off we drove to the Napa Valley and Yountville.

We arrived -- and they were effusive in their delight that we had made it! Our table was lovely -- by the window -- and did we want sparkling water from Wales? Or perhaps mineral water from Ireland? Or even filtered ice water was available (no one on the west coast seems to use ice) --nothing was too much for us! We settled on filtered water and watched with some amusement as the large round table for 8 next to us filled up with doctors and their wives -- ordering champagne before they even sat down. We looked at our 2-page menu (which had cutely been clamped with a colored clothespin) -- so many courses with a choice between 2 items for each --but I swear I never registered a single item -- as all I saw in very fineprint at the bottom: fixe prixe: $210, service included.

Always trying to find the positive spin, I suggested to Tom that perhaps,since they were obviously taking such personal interest in each reservation in advance, that this price was for the two of us -- sort of our table charge (even as exorbitant as it seemed). Possible -- but maybe I'd just go back to where the maitre'd had met us and ask him.

So off I went – and inquired -- and absolutely, that was $210 per person -- unless you wanted the really good food, which would tack on another $30 per person -- and then of course, the wine. I told him that I was sorry, but that we would need to cancel our reservation, and perhaps they could go in and tell my husband that I needed to see him at the front door. They were fine about it, sputtering in French, but relieved that there wouldn't be any messiness.

So -- as we headed back to our Bistro Bouchon -- where we indulged in a spectacular meal again -- Tom told me that he'd opened the French Laundry wine list to find that the first entry was $4000 -- and the second one was $2000 -- and that there was nothing by the glass -- where upon I celebrated with TWO glasses at Bouchon.

We are relieved to find that we are still blue-collar Americans at heart-- we left with our dignity and wallet intact, the MDs left wallowing happily in expense account excess. Tom regrets lacking the moral courage to make some sort of stupid and futile gesture before stomping out in high dudgeon but, alas, the 60s have long since passed him by. We're Bammy-bound in less than 2 weeks.

Best wishes to All, Tom & Denise

The French Through My Eye

We have had hundreds of encounters with French people on this trip and in EVERY instance they have been warm, friendly, and engaging. This is not just waiters looking for a tip. Whether it was firemen inviting us in to see their rigs, merchant’s not taking advantage of our unfamiliarity with the currency, or a hundred instances large and small.

It has been interesting to see another political system that is very different from ours. It is socialism lite. The system works very well and there are a lot of advantages that it offers. The most startling observation is that I find myself constantly bombarded at home with ‘free market’ and pro- globalization propaganda, anti union, anti minimum wage, and yada- yada. Well the truth is that all of these things are alive and well here and their country is marching along and the sky is not falling in as I have been told it would.

It is just another political system with strengths and weaknesses. Its like football, there are a lot of ways to play; some people like ball control and others a bombs away approach. Pick your poison.

Civil service seems to be a bit more dynamic and doable here than at home. The government medical system seems like a dream compared to our near bankrupt health care system. The streets are clean, homeless almost non-existent, public transit a real viable network, and I could go on.

Obviously the other side of the ledger has its problems: prices that are very high (Sam Walton where are you?), taxes through the roof (Grover Norquist where are you?), and a financial system far from dynamic and agile (Alan Greenspan where are you?).

The French lifestyle is one of strong family bonds, communal interaction, and an enjoyment of the daily rituals of life they find meaningful. These rituals usually treasure quality over quantity. Own one good suit not four cheap ones, one demitasse of espresso not 3 cups of drip coffee, and one quality mistress not 5 one night stands.

Travel always expands and personalizes, it brings into sharper focus people we think we know but realize we had only known what we had been told by others. In the final analysis travel tells us more about ourselves and how we think and believe than it tells us about others. The voyage of discovery is really a trip within ourselves. But still, those croissants were stunning.

France - A Guide For USA Tourists

France is a medium-sized foreign country situated in the continent of Europe. It is an important member of the world community, though not nearly as important as it thinks. It is bounded by Germany, Spain, Switzerland and some smaller nations of no particular importance and with not very good shopping. France is a very old country with many treasures, such as the Louvre and EuroDisney. Among its contributions to western civilization are champagne, Camembert cheese and the guillotine.

Although France likes to think of itself as a modern nation, air conditioning is little used and it is next to impossible for Americans to get decent Mexican food.One continuing exasperation for American visitors is that local people insist on speaking in French, though many will speak English if shouted at.

THE PEOPLE France has a population of 57 million people. 52 million of these drink and smoke (the other 5 million are small children). All French people drive like lunatics, are dangerously oversexed, and have no concept of standing patiently on line. The French people are in general gloomy, temperamental, proud, arrogant, aloof and disciplined; those are their good points.

Most French citizens are Roman Catholic, though you would hardly guess it from their behavior. Many people are communists. Men sometimes have girls' names like Marie or Michel, and they kiss each other when they meet. American travelers are advised to travel in groups and wear baseball caps and colorful trousers for easier recognition.

SAFETY In general, France is a safe destination, although travelers must be aware that from time to time it is invaded by Germany. Traditionally, the French surrender immediately and, apart from a temporary shortage of Scotch whisky and increased difficulty in getting baseball scores and stock market prices, life for the American visitor generally goes on much as before. A tunnel connecting France to Britain beneath the English Channel has been opened in recent years to make it easier for the French government to flee to London during future German invasions.

HISTORY France was discovered by Charlemagne in the Dark Ages. Other important historical figures are Louis XIV, the Huguenots, Joan of Arc, Jacques Cousteau and Charles de Gaulle, who was President for many years and is now an airport.

GOVERNMENT The French form of government is democratic but noisy. Elections are held more or less continuously and always result in a draw. The French love administration so for government purposes the country is divided into regions, departments, districts, municipalities, towns, communes, villages, cafes, and telephone kiosks. Each of these has its own government and elections. Parliament consists of two chambers, the Upper and Lower, and whose members are either Gaullists or Communists, neither of whom should be trusted by the traveler.

Parliament's principal occupation is setting off atomic bombs in the south Pacific and acting indignant and surprised when other countries complain. According to the most current American state department intelligence, the President is now someone named Jacques. Further information is not available at this time.

CULTURE The French pride themselves on their culture, though it is not easy to see why. All their music sounds the same and they have never made a movie that you would want to watch for anything but the nude scenes.

CUISINE Let's face it, no matter how much garlic you put on it, a snail is just a slug with a shell on its back. Croissants on the other hand, are excellent, although it is impossible for most Americans to pronounce this word. In general, travelers are advised to stick to cheeseburgers.

ECONOMY France has a large and diversified economy, second only to Germany's in Europe, which is surprising because the French hardly work at all. If they are not spending four hours dawdling over lunch, they are on strike and blocking the roads with their trucks and tractors. France's principal exports, in order of importance to the economy, are wine, nuclear weapons, perfume, guided missiles, champagne, guns, grenade launchers, land mines, tanks, attack aircraft, miscellaneous armaments and cheese.

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS France has more holidays than any other nation in the world. Among its 361 national holidays are: 197 Saints' days, 37 National Liberation Days, 16 Declaration of Republic Days, 54 Return of Charles de Gaulle in triumph as if he won the war single-handed Days, 18 Napoleon sent into Exile Days, 17 Napoleon Called Back from Exile Days, and 2 "France is Great and the Rest of the World Sucks" Days.

CONCLUSION At least it's not Germany

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Heart Runs Through It

The morning fog was lying on the canal like a soft, low ceiling, creating a tactile tunnel that we were steering through. Both banks were crowded with trees and carpeted with bright grass; we were steaming north aboard the 24 meter barge Festina Tarde. We were in the hands of Jim and Mary Neil, their gracious hospitality, friendly demeanor, and enthusiasm for the barge life was an infectious and graceful feeling.

Mary and I had taken the train 3 hours south of Paris to visit a fellow retired fireman and his wife (also a Jim & Mary) who are spending 7 months a year living aboard their barge. It is home ported in Roanne and spends about 5 months traveling through the canals of Europe. This is travel at a gentlemanly pace, as the barge averages 6 to 8 Kilometer per hour. It is 24 meters long and has all the luxuries and amenities you will find at home.

The Neil’s had piped us aboard the previous afternoon. After a stunning lunch that lurched into the late afternoon when we roused ourselves for some serious Petanque. Petanque is French boules or a bowls game, like its cousin Bocce Ball it involves throwing small, heavy balls. It is best played on long, sun dappled afternoons, where men on the dark side of 60 can compete, converse, and debate decisions involving fractions of an inch with victory and defeat hanging in the friendly balance.

This was the weekly tournament of the Port of Roanne barge owners. Jim Neil was the coach of the defending championship team. The trophy had sat prominently in the wheelhouse of the Festina Tarde the previous seven days. This was the Americans against the Europeans, but unlike the Ryder Cup the good guys would prevail. Your humble correspondent was pressed into service because of my vast Petanque experience; I had once seen a match in Luxembourg Garden.

Next to our titanic struggle the wives were locked in their own fierce battle. English is the default language setting in the barge world. It was nice to talk to someone else other than your mate. That sentiment was roundly seconded by the Baroness.

After carrying Jim off the victorious pitch we all went to the barge of Peter and Pauline for an introduction to Indian cuisine and an evening of excellent conversation with them, the Neil’s, and a San Diego couple, Al and Joan. A fabulous evening; with more dead soldiers than banquet night at Simpson’s.

The Barge People

While spending three days with Jim and Mary Neil we had ringside seats to the lives of the other barge couples. They are a group of finely etched individuals who share many similarities while still being very different from each other.

This cast of characters all tends to be outgoing, adaptable, adventuresome, and usually great story tellers. They hail from a variety of countries: America, Canada, New Zealand, England, Netherlands, Switzerland and all points on the compass, even Texas. Because of the variety of tongues spoken, English, sometimes with heavy accents, has become the official language of the barge life.

Given the ages of the group, from mid 50’s to the late 70’s, you can see that moving from mid-life to later mid-life called for a big adventure. Most people have sold their houses at home or at least downsized to a turnkey operation. Some are old salt water sailors who migrated to the barge life, but most were first time boat owners when they decided to live permanently on the water. Can you imagine taking delivery of your barge, which you do not know how to drive, let along dock, three days after retiring after 30 years of work?

Many of the barge people I met were wintering in the town of Roanne from October to April; life would be a flurry of rekindling old social contacts and friendships. For those that stay in Roanne their lives would be busy with social get-togethers and boat improvement projects that had been postponed through at least one sailing season.

Beginning in late April the boats would again be leaving Roanne for their individual barge sailings to a host of destinations. Sometimes they would see each other at far off ports of call, passing on a canal or a docking at some small village. They gather again in the fall when they all return to Roanne before heading to other parts of the world if they were not wintering in France.

Nancy of billandnancy.com laughingly says she is the most boring barge person she knows. The line up of eccentric stars includes Texas Bill who spent a working life on oil rigs in Dubai and speaks fluent French with a pure Texas twang.

Christian is French and spent WW2 in Morocco (and is a seven time Miss Casablanca) and can go toe-to-toe with Texas Bill in story-telling skills; do not arm wrestle this woman for the microphone. Tom and Trish are retired furniture store owner/small business slaves from St Louis. They are both larger than life personalities to match their 6 foot frames and ten foot hearts.

One favorite couple I met was Gwen & Gordon. They are in their late 70’s and just returned from the Midi after spending 2 years in the south of France. They said the heat bothered them and they were relocating again to Roanne.

I am having trouble deciding where to move my small coin collection and they, in their almost 80’s, are moving their lives and barge once again. I only hope I can have that much adventure. I think you can understand the breadth of eccentricity and one of a kindness that makes barge people the treasures that they are. And bring your own ice, because these people can party.

North To Artaix

The second day aboard the Festina Tarde saw us in a pre sailing mode. We went grocery shopping for provisions, and did all the pre launch preparations. After lunch we would be steaming? Sailing? Driving? Barging? North to Artaix. Our destination would be a picnic grounds near Artaix where the semi annual barge owners picnic and Autumn Fol de Rol would be held.

The first day we barged through several canal locks until we overnighted near the town of Iguarande. Vail, Colorado bargers Eric and Suki were already tied up, it was an excellent opportunity to meet them and their son and his wife who were visiting. Jim BBQ’ed (the other beef) duck breasts for dinner. Duck is a very dense and flavorful food; I came home with a new respect for this meat. In Paris I had several Duck Confit dinners. It is a new love affair that has added only 3 inches to my waistline.

In the morning we were greeted with a fresh baguette and croissants courtesy of Erick’s son who had mountain biked to the nearest Boulangerie. This errand of mercy was equal to finding a cold beer at a fifth alarm.

We hiked to town and saw a small, hand made olive oil factory. Every small French town has a WW1 memorial with the names of the villagers who fell in that war. The numbers make you realize what a devastating experience that war was.

The afternoon found us barging to Artaix where we joined Tom and Trish who had already tied up their barge. Going through the canal locks is a tricky and delicate operation, not the least tricky is arriving while the lock keepers are not on a 96. These guys have longer lunches than firemen. Mary Neil judiciously used the gift of a bottle of wine to grease the locks and their keepers. Good move Mary!

We arrived at Artaix near noon, Tom and Trish had set up a table and chairs on shore. Eric and Suki had put some cheese and baguette on the table, and in what my wife called a “Gourmet Magazine Moment” out of nowhere suddenly appeared a couple of kinds of cheese, proscuitto, figs, white asparagus, cold duck (no not the alcoholic kind from our youth) breast with cherry sauce, French rolls, olives, cucumbers, assorted pastries, condiments and of course wine and some mineral water.

The eight of us were now fortified for the pre picnic work party. It had been a busy couple of days and the evening ahead would end with a giant bonfire and Tom toasting Baileys Irish Cream to the gods of barge safety.

More than 40 barge people had trekked to the Artaix picnic. It was a fitting end to our introduction to barge life and barge people. I cannot convey how impressed we were with both.

Bon Voyage

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cross Cultural

Today I saw two examples of cross cultural exchange; each exchange was an example of American cultural hegemony. In the Pigalle, part of Montmartre, home of the Moulin Rouge and struggling artists , I saw some neighborhood youths participating in hip hop street dancing. I saw a lot of youthful enthusiasm and hard work but frankly the American originals have little to worry about.

It was not my first encounter with French hip hop culture. Hip hop fashion is a rage and sideways caps and pants large enough for Leo Romero and Jack Kermioian are not a uncommon sight here in Paris.

Later in the Madeleine, the huge church just off of the Concorde, Mary and I stopped at a café for a street sit for some afternoon R & R. We ordered one glass of white wine, one Perrier, and two cafés (espressos). My US trained antennae for super sizing and upgrade were atrophied and dormant. The waiter asked, more than once, if we wanted a medium size and of course the two babes in buy land say,’ yes’.

Thirty-five Dollars later the sheepish and exploited couple are looking at a beer schooner of Perrier and a glass of Vin Blanc the size of a turn out boot. Fortunately the two cafes were demitasse sized. Welcome to American super sizing or transitional transaction upgrade.

Souffle Shuffle

Mary prevailed in the restaurant selection, Again. We went to an all soufflé restaurant. Souffles must be a woman thing. I sacrificed Steak with béarnaise sauce and pomme frites for an all soufflé line-up? Hold the applause.

I got through the spinach soufflé with ease and shuffled into the ham and cheese soufflé for my main course. The decadent chocolate soufflé with melted chocolate was my well earned reward for dessert.

Mary had another line up of stars culminating in a classic Grand Mainer Soufflé. The waiter poured a hefty amount of Grand Mainer into the middle of hers. At her urging I tried some. I spooned some of her dessert into my mouth and felt that warm rush, the taste of the Grand Mainer and the heat of the alcohol. It was delicious.

Great! I’m going to leave the program over a damn soufflé! Wait till I tell the guys that one, it won’t be a tough sell will it? Don’t tell Jimmy Fex what ever you do, can you imagine his response? I like the visuals.

Mass At The Madeleine

Sunday morning found us taking in a mass at the Madeleine. Ever since we arrived we have planned to take in the 11:00 “Solemn Mass” with full choir and large organ. Now our time here is dwindling.

The Madeleine is a neoclassical pile of Greco-Roman architecture that almost reminds one of a Southern courthouse. Outside, the soup kitchen customers were drinking half quarts of ale and discussing the 9ers no doubt.

Inside, the church is a beautiful example of gilt and marble done in a Romanesque style. As we walked down the main aisle the organ was swelling behind us and the choir was singing in front of us with a lead soprano vocalist whose voice filled the entire church to its dome. It was an unforgettable moment.

We waited for the mass to begin by watching the sopranos’ graceful and fluid hand movements that encouraged the reluctant congregation to sing. Meanwhile the young alter boy was constantly fidgeting.

There were 7 priests on the alter and they were all eligible to tap their Deferred Compensation. I glanced around the massive church at the small and ageing turnout. Europe’s’ low birth rate was contributing to a diminishing demographic.

At the end of mass the priests filed out the main aisle, the organ was playing loud dissonant, crashing chords that reminded one of Judgment Day. “Hark sinner thy time is neigh”. Do you think they were talking to me?

Jazz At The Swan Bar

The Swan Bar is located 3 blocks from our apartment on Blvd. Montparnasse, it fancies itself an American Jazz Bar. We had passed it many times and were intrigued by its look but hadn’t bitten. Tonight we were walking home from dinner and decided to stop in. Lucky for us.

As we entered a man near the door smiled at us and said good evening in French. I thought he might be a customer. We found ourselves talking to him and enjoying the experience. His name was Lionel Bloom and he was from New York City, he had lived in Paris forever and was a retired University professor who had taught Comparative American/French Studies in Paris for 30 years. After retiring he had opened the jazz club. When Mary asked him how long had he been in business he said 2 years. When she asked him if it was going well, he answered “sometimes, like tonight when it is really busy.”

Utterly fascinating is not strong enough to describe Lionel. He was a small man with an elfin quality and an easy smile that lit up his face. He was too cool for school. A French jazz trio was holding down the bandstand, Piano, bass, and vocals. It was my first experience with French jazz, listening to someone scat in French is a whole different deal.

We went to the bar where two female bartenders held forth. The first was a stunning young woman from Oaxaca, Mexico; the second was a tall Scottish woman with a plunging neckline and a fabulous smile who had lived in Paris for many years. Can you say ecletic? Can I say ohhh? Can Mary say behave yourself?

The club was small and full this evening with about 75 people. It was a good crowd that was attentive and enthusiastic. Lionel came back and engaged us in a lengthy discussion. He keeps up on events at home with the internet and was up on all things political. He was an inspired conversationalist, high performance energy and at all times fun.

You could tell that he loved the intimate environment he had created. Pretty girls running his bar, really good jazz on stage, lots of friends who stop in. What a leap of faith to start this club with not enough time in his life to make it back if it fails. I just hope that he is still in business the next time we come back to Paris.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cafe Le Chartreux

It crept up on me and came as a bit of a surprise. It was the Café Le Chartreux situated downstairs in our building. It is a small and unprepossessing establishment, a little tatty and worn at the edges.

I didn’t pay much attention as I came and went. Finally I noticed that it was always busy and usually full. The owner/proprietor does not look like a café guy, seems like a CPA with a nice smile when he finds it. He has just the right touch: soft, friendly, and trusting.

The café is open from early morning until 11 pm, unless there is an impromptu party then closing seems negotiable. The breakfast crew starts it off with baguettes, croissants and espresso. Then the moms drop their kids off at the school across the street and come in for a café crème and chat with each other.

The lunch bunch is next and they enjoy a leisurely meal followed by the afternoon café habitués; they stretch and bend the day until the happy hour crowd arrives. The dinner regulars are followed by late night drop-ins. It’s a full day.

The café has a delightful combination of informality and intimacy that is disarming and embracing. Maybe it is because Paris apartments are small and cramped so café life is so important. The French seem to live a more communal life than we Americans. Talking with friends is very important, and the café is a perfect extension of French life. Mary thinks it is a Parisian version of Cheers, where everyone knows your name. I know they are very loyal.

We have begun to stop in for a late dinner when we don’t want to go far. It is the usual French café with the menu written on a blackboard; the owner brings it and leans it against a chair for our convenience. He speaks an odd mixture of French and English with us, tonight he threw in two Spanish words.

He plays music CD’s on a small system, when I inquire about the music he will bring the CD cover to the table. His taste is eclectic and interesting. He knows his stuff, likes blues and jazz a lot.

I like watching his light management touch, one night someone’s 9 year old daughters served our table and swept up later like they were playing grown-up. The café scene is a multi generational one; there are seniors, kids, and middle-agers occupying the same space. In America there would be more age separation.

I always wonder how 12 tatty tables, some 70’s décor best ignored, and old photos of long forgotten French actresses could make such a compelling café atmosphere. Maybe it is the cheeseburger on the menu, but I think it has a lot to do with the owner and a more to do with the people themselves. “Where everyone knows your name.”

Nuit Blanche

Saturday evening we were meeting friends Billandnancy.com at a sidewalk café near the Bastille. Over drinks we mapped out our strategy for Nuit Blanche or Sleepless Night; it is the fifth annual version of this event which has now spread to Rome, Riga, Madrid, and Bruxelles.

Paris lights up the entire city and opens museums and public spaces for entertainment and revelry. The Metro system runs for free and a youthful energy of freedom and anticipation pervades the night autumn air.

Nancy and her French skills were invaluable in checking the official published announcements, and Bill organized our attack and route of march. Mary and I occasionally said oui to their ideas and the all purpose d’accord. Once in a fit of unearned confidence I uttered a forceful exactement.

Bill lead us on a wending way through the Marais district, our destination the Pont Saint Louis, a small bridge on the Ile Saint Louis where a modern dance troupe threatened to appear. We watched the troupe contort to electronic music and then headed off thru the island.

We made a stop at the atelier of an artist friend of Billandnancy.com/ We had a wonderful visit and their warmth was infectious. Then we headed for Hotel de Ville or City Hall. There we went thru a security screening to go inside and see more electronic music groups and giant black balloons hanging as a mobile over a central courtyard.

The Louvre Museum was calling out to Bill and we continued our march thru the crowded streets of youthful and friendly revelers. Did I mention that the four of us were slightly older than anyone else in the crowd? The Louvre courtyard was crowded but no discernable entertainment could be found so we left for a late dinner at a nearby Brasserie.

The Marais was singing out to Bill and Nancy, but the bewitching hour of midnight was upon us. Mary and I headed to a crowded Metro for our return home. The youthful revelers were singing on the Metro subway cars, I would rate the singing more successful than the modern dance troupe. Nuit Blanche even more successful, Thank you Bill and Nancy.