France: Oui

paris

When I was roughly 11-years-old, a friend and I found a stack of nudie magazines near the dirt bike trails by the highway. I remember to this day that one of them was called “O-U-I” and that’s how we said it, as if you were saying “F-B-I” or “C-I-A.” It would be at least five more years before I learned it was likely the French word for “yes.” What are you gonna do? How smart was an 11-year-old supposed to be about the ways of Europe?

In college, on a trip to New Orleans with some dear friends, I was jogging near Jackson Square one morning when an open-air tour bus pulled up in front of me, nearly running me over. Some of them looked down and gasped. I was in good spirits so I yelled up at them, “je suis le soleil!” Something I’d picked up from a film class or roommate along the way. The tourists looked at me, then one another, then at me with concern. “Why is he jogging and on drugs?” their faces asked.

It was only after returning to the hotel and telling my friends what happened that I learned I’d been yelling “I am the Sun!” It was with these experiences I was armed and ready to tackle France…

Chuck de Gaulle Airport is a boisterous and disorderly world symphony. From the gate to the luggage carousel to the mysterious train kiosks, it’s utter mayhem. I never saw a Customs station, line or counter. I side-eyed my way through the terminal exit and toward the trains to Paris, following any logo or symbol that looked like a train.  I expected to be tackled and pulled into a small interrogation room at any time. Eventually, you’re funneled into the ticket kiosk area; 2,000 people, 10 kiosks, two are operational. Down below, the train to town arrived instantly and didn’t fill up much. Nine stops later, we were under Gare du Nord (Train Station of the North).

Hold onto your ass when you get to Gare du Nord. It has an underground mall, showers for some reason, and a storage facility – in case you want to drop your stuff off and explore the area. It’s also packed with heavily armed guards, lines that form out of the ether and end nowhere, a piano being played, probably by a virtuoso and probably the Amélie soundtrack, dangerous people on the very precipice of full breakdown, young people with badges that tell you they can give you information in English and… badges that lie. Every known nationality is represented and it’s overwhelming and wonderful all at once.

You may arrive at Gare du Nord as I had and immediately need to check email and charge your phone. You’ll want to skip the Starbucks in the station, get in your Uber, go to your hotel or AirBnB and knock out all your personal nonsense there. It took me way too long to figure this out. Get the hell out of the train station and the surrounding area as fast as you can. It’s not crazy dangerous, but it sure has that vibe. Remember this: while you’re in Paris, you will lock eyes with someone, somewhere who will eventually end the day in jail, covered with someone else’s blood. The street crazies here make NYC’s look like Winnie-the-Pooh characters.

Americans have, in my opinion, misjudged the French for decades. The actual French people I interacted with, for the most part, were courteous and patient, even nice. Where the “French can be assholes” thing comes in is when you’re an asshole. Let’s say you’re a barista in Grand Rapids and someone you don’t know comes directly up to you – and in butchered English – says, “Please to the coffee sandwich!” five times in increasing volume. Would you feel as if they were respecting you as a person? Would you think maybe they weren’t taking your thoughts and feelings into account? Would you applaud them for their English studies leading up to their trip to America?

You’re in France. Please don’t expect everyone to speak English. English is the official language in only a handful of countries and an official language in about 40. France is none of them. So when you interact with people on their native soil, you have no sense of taste or style and expect them to interact with you in your native tongue, yes, I can see how the French can be assholes. I have no sense of taste or style but I pride myself on a subtle sense of decorum when need be and an appreciation for other people’s soil. It is true, however, most Parisians will be kind and patient if you try – but contrary to popular belief – they don’t all speak English. 

I found the French to be fascinating, extraordinarily well-educated and, when I was able to keep up with the conversation, kind of funny. But just like anywhere, there are extraordinary human beings, carving the future out of thin air. Then there are the broken dregs who selfishly plot to take what the world owes them either physically or through emotionally beating down those around them. We all have our share of both.

It’s always a bit of a shock to see just how many different countries are represented in Paris, even more of a shock to see men with their hand down the front of their pants in public. This happened so much in the first week, it actually became normal. Some are rather aggressive about it which is disconcerting, sitting on a café patio having coffee, I can’t fathom how disturbing it must be to a proper mademoiselle on her way to work. I won’t blame or identify any certain culture or ethnicity where tracksuit pants self-satisfying in public is concerned but I will say this.

In the early 1960s, during the end of the Algerian War, things got messy between the two groups, Algerians and French that is. Real messy, in fact Parisian police actually beat a lot of Algerian protesters to death and threw others in the Seine where they drowned. The next year, France gave Algeria their independence and those Algerians of French and Spanish origin living in Algeria had an equally rough time with the Algerian police. They’ve built up a nice game of “he started it” even the Palestinians would appreciate. Suffice it to say, it opens the door for shenanigans. Some of those minor shenanigans involve a hand down the front of their pants.

At Gare du Nord, I finally figured out I wasn’t going to find a free outlet at the Starbucks, I went downstairs and put my bags in a big locker and set out to find suitable accommodation – but first, an outlet. A big part of whatever trip I was on was going to be impromptu. You know that feeling you used to get as a kid when the roller coaster apex’d for the first time? Being in a foreign country alone, not knowing anyone and having a new-born infant’s knowledge of the language gives me the same feeling.

Café la Chaufferie was just sonsabitchin’ delightful. Claire, a gorgeous student from “The Mountains,” was eager to trade French for English words while serving me a ridiculously tasty tapas plate and multiple, equally delicious cold beers. Plenty of time for wine later, besides, I’d just gotten off a train from a flight from a sleepless night in a cold, over-priced country (Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Iceland). Beer sounded like the right move. As Claire brought me a round, the skies opened out of nowhere, tennis ball and larger sized hail fell to the ground. Windshields were cracked, a scooter lost it’s screen, folks were in a mad dash to get home – it was 5pm on a Friday. I opened the umbrella I had with me and continued to sit on the patio, safe from the melee – cars honking to no avail. It was bonkers.

The storm left as soon as it came. I’d charged the phone and located a decent looking hotel about three blocks away using Booking.com. After paying the tab and telling Claire I’d be back later, or more than likely, that I have a hairy back and diesel boots, I set off on the next adventure.

At this point, it’s important to mention that I’d booked a lovely looking apartment on AirBnB the week prior while I was in Chicago. Once I got off the train at Gare du Nord, I’d received a message via WhatsApp letting me know that it was not reserved and that the person renting it would be keeping my money and not supplying the actual home. This left me in a bit of a bind but in retrospect, I learned quite a bit about using the app, having been a novice at the time.

With AirBnB, you never stay anywhere run by someone without FIVE stars and a “Superhost” rating, maybe excusing the odd 4.5 stars, which usually has a story to go along with it. You read everything you can about them, including all comments (within reason) and be sure they supply all the amenities you require, Wi-Fi being very important universally.

Funny thing about traveling to a new land, you have to learn how not to give yourself such a hard time for not knowing the best route to places. Paris isn’t a Manhattan-esque grid, it’s more of a few hundred little labyrinths that go by their District number and make up a large semi-structured Pollack painting. After an aerobic seven-block walk to the hotel, Paris is also a hilly bastard, I’d found my destination, tucked into romantic, bustling but somehow desolate Rochechouart in the 9th District – Le Hotel Des Arts. A promising name, sure to culture an American hick like me.

It’s important to tell you I’ve been to Mexico, where I once paid $150 for a month in a room that had a hammock as a bed and the Hotel Des Arts is by far the nastiest hotel I’ve ever stepped foot in. Aykroyd’s room in Blues Brothers was four-star by comparison. The dudes at the front desk and backroom were probably from Pakistan, judging from certain decorations – mostly the Pakistani flag and embroidered map of Pakistan. They obviously slept back there and were watching a loud movie in probably Pakistani and were none too pleased with the doorbell ringing at 7-o’clock at night – during prime time. Hearing English in a French accent can be enchanting, hearing it from a very tired Pakistani man who’s obviously been up for three days not cleaning is a bit less enchanting and a lot more confusing. 

I had to take the bags up one at a time, only a computer bag and a roller case but, just like anywhere else in Europe, I’m bigger than the staircase. For added fun, it was a carpeted, spiral staircase spitting me out on the fourth floor. Five flights up. Five. I’m not a physically fit man. I made it, turned the key and, of course, the door down the dark hallway to my right opened and quickly shut, Norman Bates style. That always lets you know you’re in a four-star joint. In case you’re unfamiliar, the ground floor in Europe is “0” – so the “fourth” floor is actually the fifth. And when I say “carpeted,” it was either that or it was just stuff that had gathered on the stairs for 300-years.

Hallelujah! With a flick of the switch there was light! Really, really dim light. It was a room the size of a KIA Soul, with just enough space for a small table, a petit twin bed and a sink. The room did have big windows, which would come in handy in July, as there was, of course, no AC. Also convenient because the neighborhood was incredibly loud, which is great for a light sleeper like me. With the second bag in the room, taking up nearly all of the floor space, it was time for a beer. No problem about the floor space issue, it had the kind of carpet you wouldn’t want to touch with bare feet anyway.

The first night out promised to be a good one, it was Friday, the Tour de France would be ending in Paris on Sunday and France had just won the World Cup.

All the action around the area seemed to funnel to Rue du Faubourg Montmartre (which is French for “Street of Faubourg Montmartre” my tip of the hat to Woody/Cheers. [This will get old if you already hate it.]), so I headed that way. This was a true neighborhood which looks just like the other 500 neighborhoods in Paris, which is a great thing. Nearly every neighborhood I meandered through had at least six cafés, a bar or two, several restaurants of various ethnic origins, French being the dominant ethnicity, which they just call “restaurants.” (Oh, my sides. Dad jokes.) Each neighborhood will also have specialty shops, the likes of which you may not have seen since the 1930s if at all.

[French speakers will know that “Rue du Faubourg Montmartre” actually means “Street of the Montmartre Suburb” but, in this day and age, I have to have my fun where I can by messing with the overly critical and simultaneously winking to nostalgianists.]

The morning of my first full day, I set out to find that café you’re always hearing about. The one with the perfect setting, a table for one on the sidewalk overlooking the most incredible things Paris has to offer while a man strolls along playing La Vie en Rose on the squeezebox. I settled for a shady café with questionable food overlooking a Metro exit and a Starbucks on a side street with little else to offer, save the occasional man yelling at the sky.

Having an okay coffee on a terrace overlooking Rue la Fayette, I watched a good looking kid, reminded me of Donald Glover, with a goatee and glasses, walk from the Metro past a Jehovah’s Witness who’d set up his book kiosk at the top of the stairs. The kid stopped to ask the Witness a few questions. Their conversation never really escalated but there were a couple of moments when the hands were more animated and the smiles got placating. I kid you not, after nearly ten minutes of this, the Jehovah’s Witness packed up his non-secular belongings and stormed away while Le Donald celebrated a little then seemed to have some regrets. I’d sure like to know what he said to “win.”

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?

French people will make out in public, it’s still true. He may indeed pork her, Russ. On top of the many gentlemen strolling the streets with one, sometimes two hands down the front of their cuffed sweatpants – thousands of couples of all varieties would come very close to full-on coitus just about anywhere – parks, restaurants, Metro stops and cars, Planned Parenthood, you name it. At first, it’s repulsive to virginal, Christian-valued, American eyes. Then you feel like a voyeur or pervert just for being there. Then you get used to it, like a decorative vase or plant. A small voice in the back of your head reminding you that you’ve crossed a certain barrier and aided in the sliding of society ever nearer Gomorrah.

[Cuffed sweatpants are an abomination outside the house. Sweatpants or pajama bottoms and the like, outside of one’s home are disrespectful to you and those around you. Proof that cuffed sweatpants in public are an atrocity to polite society is – they’re the pant of choice for the young, upwardly mobile maniac with his hand(s) down the front of his pants.]

Once you remember where you are, Paris – the most romantic city in the world according to The Price is Right – you shrug it off. Then you remember what country Paris is in and the French kissing doesn’t seem so distasteful. 

Cleanliness and Hygiene 

The first full day was when I noticed the vast amount of cigarette butts being disposed of improperly. It’s almost a sport, ‘how far can you flick your still-smoldering cigarette?’ Luckily, there are paid professionals in iridescent green vests for just such an occasion. Like Sisyphus, they constantly sweep up the walkways and change out the small, lined garbage cans. It’s a surprisingly clean and filthy city and why wouldn’t it be? The mass of humanity that descends upon her daily is remarkable.

That old urban legend about French body odor isn’t an urban legend but it’s also not everyone. Just a few but they more than make up for the washed. Dear God, if one gets on the Metro anywhere near you, the second it hits your nostrils you wonder if it’s a mustard gas attack. 

And the body odor’s counterpart is just as offensive. Greasy haired men with gold chains love, and I mean love, to use an entire can of Axe body spray before they leave the house and I’m convinced they carry a spare. It’s somehow more nauseating than the B.O. Some establishments even have signs asking people to don cologne sparingly. If one of these dudes, wearing an entire can of spray is present, I have to leave wherever it is immediately. Axe has an ingredient in it that makes me homicidal. It doesn’t have the same extreme effect on anyone I know, they look at me in disbelief much like I look at them for not having the same reaction. I have the same disbelief for people who are able to watch the show where the lady pops zits. When I read about the kid in England who sprayed so much Axe on that he died, I foolishly expected the same result for all users.

As luck would have it, I had arrived the week Paris was testing out their new public urinals. They looked like trash cans or DHL boxes with planters on top, where a larger Wal-mart trash can might put an ashtray. These “uritrottoir” were in very public, high-traffic places and were advertised with hilarious signs depicting a line-art rockabilly dude squirting into one at an unlikely angle. If you ever had the chance to see the public urinals in London’s SoHo some years back, think of those. 5-foot-tall, gray half cylinders men would step half into and very publicly whip it out and let you hear it, 20-feet from a restaurant entrance. These are like those with a few minor differences. The French versions are 3.5-feet tall and have NO sides, so you get to see everything that happens AND make eye contact.

Some powerful people somewhere in Paris had meetings about this. And this idea made it through all the meetings, into emails, into sketches and prototypes and into the streets of the most visited city on earth without anyone raising their hand and reminding someone how f-cking ridiculous it was. 

But that’s Paris. So cool, they’re uncool. They missed a branding opportunity to call them “oui”s, though. Not to be confused with the adult magazine.

Back to the Four Seasons

The bathroom was on the third floor. The bathroom for the entire hotel. And guess what? It was disgusting. The first morning there, I walked down to the third floor with my sandpaper towel that looked as if it hadn’t been washed since the Nixon administration and was purchased during Kennedy’s. (Whoever the French guy versions of those are). I opened the door, yanked on the light cord and there she was: a small tub, the dimensions of a standing shower in an RV but with no door or curtain, plastic hose duct taped to the tub-level spout and anchored to a hook that looked to have been replaced a few dozen times, jammed into the 1755 version of drywall. I figured I’d accidentally found the janitor closet or some old prison cell from the French Revolution but the boys from Islamabad assured me it was indeed the guest restroom, for the entire hotel. 

I won’t describe the toilet in case you’re eating. I will say, someone had missed, (with everything you’re imagining right now), and it hadn’t been cleaned up since Obama was sworn in. For those with big enough balls to actually sit on the throne, if you’re over 3-feet tall, you couldn’t shut the door as it opened inward and was less than six inches from the commode – leaving no room for things like knees. I’m not a fan of toilet humor and will spare you further detail but, suffice it to say, I packed up and checked out. 

After relocating to a great guesthouse – with an entire bathroom just for me – on the south end of Paris (high five, AirBnB), I ventured back out to see what kind of trouble I could get into. I would hit the Louvre and the Tower and all that nonsense but on this Saturday, I wanted to explore. I headed toward Notre Dame. “Toward” not “in.” Never “in” these places, just near. First of all, it’s a mass of humanity that surrounds a famous landmark and masses of humanity smell and often do stupid stuff. Please note: this visit took place before the recent fire, so send your scathing comments to @SenTedCruz.

Gathering a massive group at someplace like La Tower Eiffel increases everyone’s stress level and attracts pickpockets and tiny Eiffel Tower salesmen. Should you or your traveling partner(s) insist on actually meandering around the base of said tower or even go up, keep some things in mind. Wear a sign around your neck that says “Non merci” and beggars will leave you alone. You’ll see a kid you’re 100% sure just got off a raft from Northern Africa and just wants a sandwich and you’ll want to give him everything you’ve got on you, keep in mind his “bosses” are watching. You’d better be slick about it. 

If you’re near something famous, you’ve already been targeted, no loose jewelry, no accessible bags, no flashing cash. They work in teams and they’re far better at getting your valuables than you are at keeping them. Anyone with a clipboard is bullshit. Watch your six, your nine, your three, your twelve and all points in between. See the guy with untrustworthy eyes sitting on the wall? He’s working with the girl to your left trying to sell you a bracelet with her sad eyes and the group of girls to your right asking if you speak English. 

The best place to see the Eiffel Tower is from the top of the steps near the Palais de Chaillot, the French Ministry of Defense – which keeps the mast empty in case they need to raise a white flag at a moment’s notice. You can then grab a snack and head straight up Avenue Kléber to the Arc de Triomphe. The Eiffel is neat, I’ll give it that, and at night it’s breathtaking. Is it worth the nonsense that surrounds it at ground level? I’ll leave that up to you. But the city itself at night, wow. I could see how a woman would walk along the Seine with her best man friend at night and somehow wind up pregnant.

There’s a nice walking triangle involving the Arc, the Tower, and the museums (Louvre and d’Orsay). I’d say it’s best to hit the museum of your choice (d’Orsay) right before opening (buy your tickets online) then, in the afternoon, walk through the parks and gardens toward the Arc then hit the Tower around sunset. I’d grab a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread and some cheese – yes, it happens a lot more than you think, that’s why it’s a thing – and sit at the top of the stairs near the aforementioned Palais. If you choose to go around the Tower grounds and ride up in it, that’s your prerogative. Maybe you already have, congratulations.

I’m not afraid of heights, just crowds and lines.

Bon Anniversaire

Because I had a handful of loved ones celebrating birthdays that week, I went to the Tower and the Arc after the museum to hold up cards with “Happy Birthday!” written in Sharpie in front of cool landmarks. I sent these off in texts and in return I got the equivalent of a shrug. So, no, none of that “merde” was worth it to me. Especially the nonsensical Metro station under the Arc, perhaps the second most ridiculous labyrinth of a station in all of Paris. Châtelet is le cluster–ck. Châtelet makes Manhattan’s Penn Station look like an Austin light rail stop. That may sound harsh but I invite you to navigate Châtelet when time is of the essence.

[Austin, Texas has a light rail with eight, maybe nine stops. None of these stops are near the largest university in the state and it’s pretty much a straight line from a northern suburb where they love Toby Keith to the Convention Center downtown.]

I like the film Amelie and wanted to go check out her café. Don’t do that, they’ve turned it into a circus. However, the surrounding area is pretty incredible. The famous Moulin Rouge (glowing hooker windmill thing) is pretty close to the Amelie café as is the Amore Wall, the Wall of Love. This large art installation depicts the words “I Love You” (or the equivalent) in more than 250 languages. Couples love it. You can also climb Montmarte Hill, like the photo booth kid did in Amelie and, as is the case everywhere in Paris, the area is littered with great cafés, restaurants and shops of all shapes and sizes. And, of course, people making out.

Also ubiquitous in Paris are pedestrians, unique pedestrians. Know where you’re going and don’t let people intimidate you on the sidewalks. They like to play chicken for some reason. Walk deliberately, with purpose and confidence and own it or they’ll see right through you and you’ll end up in a street puddle or on the business end of a café chair. I’m not real sure what everyone’s problem is, or what mine is but, outside of the U.S. and Canada – people just don’t know how to share a sidewalk. It’s terribly annoying and will likely lead to war.

God help you if you don’t like chocolate croissants. Pain au Chocolat, everywhere, the streets are paved with them. They sell them in the 7-11, in every café, every hotel, you name it – they have pain au chocolat. While this is a marvelous treat in the morning with a cup of coffee, my stout American constitution can’t handle it every day. I need the odd egg or a slice of bacon, maybe even a bowl of cereal. But Paris kicked me in the package every morning and said, “Tais-toi! Vous obtenez du pain farci au chocolat!” (“Shut up! You’re getting bread stuffed with chocolate!”)

Speaking of coffee, I’m somewhat the aficionado – I love a good cup of coffee and can talk the talk and even walk it around a little bit, granted on a tight leash. The offerings in Paris aren’t impressive, in my not-so-humble opinion. And I took advice from locals, friends, read articles, asked bartenders and doormen. Didn’t have one remarkable cup of coffee in the city. Why in the hell do we have an entire industry built on the words “French Roast” if French Roast sucks? Most of the coffee I had in Paris wouldn’t compare well against airplane coffee. With half a million cafés, you’d think they’d pay attention to what they serve in them – nope. They just dole out bitter, over-roasted bean juice all willy-nilly. It’s like visiting a city famous for its many thousands of pizza shops, then finding out they all serve Tombstone with green peppers.

[Putting green peppers in pasta sauce or on pizza is a sin against Jesus Christ and Moses.] 

Granted, the cafés are in Paris and usually have nice looking people in them and lovely little sidewalk tables, but still. 

The Cuisine

I don’t like macarons, which – in Paris – is the equivalent of visiting Nashville and not liking really bad, pop-country music. They’re everywhere, like leis at a Hawaiian airport or Adam Sandler on Netflix. But like they say, if you don’t like the tune, change the station, you don’t like macarons, don’t buy them and eat them. Just felt the need to mention them as, after a few days, it felt like I was swatting them away from my head like gnats.

France, specifically Paris, is famous worldwide (at this point, please begin rolling your eyes and thinking or saying “no shit”) for their cuisine and rightfully so. The people who handle food take special care in every step of preparation and have centuries of knowledge and tradition at their fingertips. From Guillaume Tirel in the 1300s to Carême, the King of Chefs, in the early 19th Century to Escoffier’s introduction of haute cuisine to the world, they know what they’re doing in the kitchen.

[I looked most of that up.]

[Okay, all of it.]

Each and every ingredient is cared for and commanded into interacting peacefully, almost regally in a most French way. Flavor is more important than all else and anything short of the best flavor imaginable is unacceptable. From the soil to the fork, each morsel is part of an ecosystem which encourages confidence, presentation and good taste on every conceivable level. Dinner isn’t fuel, it isn’t sustenance and it isn’t something you cram into your mouth with your hands because you’re feeling peckish. Dinner is to be enjoyed with wine and lively conversation. And just as the French pride themselves on crafting each word into a magnificent sentence to form a groundbreaking idea, supported with imagination and education, the meal must be simpatico.

“What about the wine?” you ask? You have to believe me when I tell you, any description would only disappoint. I’m not the one to recommend a bottle or share an experience or pairing. I’ve enjoyed wines from the Pinot Noir at David Family Vineyards in Sonoma to a surprisingly delicious Cava at Xampanyeria in Barcelona; from the decadent Limnio at Spitokouto Bar in Athens to spirited Riesling at Der Schenker in Hannover. But I’m not the one who’s going to tell you “this one has lilacs in the dirt” or “you should try this with…” All of that’s for you to decide. If you like wine, cool. Find the wines you like and drink them.

That brings us to my favorite subject. The French don’t really know what dive bars are. All bars (ALL) in Paris revolve around the small tables and small chairs (built for their narrow French asses) and not so much the bar. The bar is there for service. Unless you’re in a funky, loud, French, techno, dancy, nonsense, bullshit, fashion club, no one stands (and never sits) at the bar. Or so I thought after a pretty extensive search.

Shame on me, I’d forgotten my own basic rules for dive bar locating. 1. You ask tattooed bartenders, waiters and waitresses where they hang out after work. 2. You don’t search “dive” in countries where it makes no sense – instead you enter “cheap.” And 3. You always look for an Irish pub. Every country in the world has an Irish pub, if not a chain of them. Christ, there’s even a chain in Mexico City and it’s awful but I’ll be damned if they don’t pour a fine Imperial pint of the Good Stuff.

There she was on my second day in the City of Lights, Stolly’s. Bob Seger pumping from her filthy innards, a few drunk Aussies on the patio, kid with tats wearing a tracksuit dangling from a stool at the bar. I pulled up next to the kid – soon realizing the stools, like most things in France, were built for their 85lb frames – and said, “Hola.” He said, “Je t’emmerde, connard,” and I knew I was in the right place. My atrocious French wasn’t getting me very far at Stolly’s but there were plenty of patrons and staffers who spoke English. Plus, they had whiskey and beer, all was well.

Cussing in French is a linguistic collection of masterpieces, their palette is just as creative as their brush. The rich tones and colors fill the air with melody and twisted sentiments all at once, accompanied by sardonic smiles – the tapestry is both uplifting and condescending. Oh, the beauty of language is truly something to behold, celebrate and reward – and the Michelin stars for linguistics all go to Paris.

Inside, Stolly’s to have been constructed in 4, maybe 5 A.D.  Though it was in the ground floor of your typical Parisian row house, it looked to have been a cave or mine with the decorations you want in a dive bar. The obligatory Misfits poster, something mildly sacrilegious – a bumper sticker or something, a beautiful girl with various tattoos representing her favorite things about life who looks like she did three tours in Afghanistan then served four hard years in maximum security with very little time out of the hole, but still somehow beautiful. 

They also had my favorite thing, a place to sit and smoke and drink and read and occasionally soak in the passersby at the end of the alleyway or those who chose to take the shortcut. If you’re an aficionado and you happen to be in the Notre-Dame area, check Stolly’s out. 

A Bit More on the Museums

Like New York or London, Paris isn’t something you can thoroughly enjoy in a week. If you’re going for the museums, go for the museums. Then plan another trip for sight-seeing, another for wine tours and another after you’ve become fluent. Then you’ll probably move there. They’re so extremely well cultured and worldly that they very much deserve the center-of-the-world moniker.

On top of the world-class food, hospitality and entertainment, their museums are – I believe everyone would agree – the best on the planet. (Again, kindly take this time to roll your eyes and whisper ‘no shit’ under your breath.) Centuries of well-curated collections, displayed in tried and true form, representing the finest each category of art has to offer.  While the Louvre gets the lion’s share of attention from popular culture, it’s the d’Orsay that struck me to the core. Then again, I’d always wanted to see Van Gogh’s self portrait (showing his good side) and didn’t have the week (at least) it would take to properly explore the Louvre. I got a morning in over there, didn’t get anywhere near the famous painting that’s “smaller than you thought it would be” and was just rubbed the wrong way by the gaudy mall inside.

The crowds (and fancy, tacky mall) turned me away from the Louvre and sent me across the river. If you’re pressed for time and don’t want to stand around 3,000 other people to look at a painting you’ve seen a million times already, head to the d’Orsay, check out the ballroom upstairs, poke your head into the beautiful cafe – or eat there if you’re feeling fancy enough, wander around, take your time, you won’t be disappointed.

Paris is the home of good taste, though people with too much money are moving in from every direction to make sure there’s a Starbucks on every corner and an M&M store near the H&M. Progress…  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again here: if you’re children aren’t learning Mandarin, you’re doing them a disservice.

Overall, this is a truly remarkable city filled with interesting things and people. You stand a good chance of locking eyes with someone briefly on the sidewalk who will murder someone that evening, just high five yourself if it wasn’t you. The sights, sounds, smells, and vibes are mostly outstanding, save the aforementioned BO vs. Axe situation. I’m nowhere near pedigreed enough to comment further on the remarkable food and wine in this town, not sure you could eat and drink your way through it in a lifetime but what a way to die.

Find a quiet table or bench somewhere, have a glass of wine (skip the coffee), eat some cheese, watch Paris pass you buy for a couple of hours. That’s the best advice I was given and I think it’s the best advice for us all.