Mr. Butler Goes to Paris – Part IV

by Geoffrey Butler, AIA

Saturday – On to Central Paris

After a busy day and a half in Enghien, it was time to go to Central Paris.  I have a niece who lives and works in Paris.  Lauren came over to study during college and loved it so much she got a job there and stayed.  Initially she worked for wealthy families teaching their kids English and sort of being a Nanny.  She now works for a company that provides English Business Classes to large international companies.  She travels to their offices and gives them classes on English business processes (including speaking English).  Very interesting.  Of course, she also met and fell in love with a French fellow named Floreant (Flo) who seems to be equally smitten.  Not likely she will be coming back to the States anytime soon.

Anyway, she promised to show me around and get me fed if I came to visit before I went back.  I was starting to get my body clock on Paris time and was less jet lagged by then.  I got up, had breakfast packed up and headed out to the Train.  It was a short walk through the small town to the Train station.  I found a local who took pity on me and got me on the right side of the station so the train would take me into Paris instead of away from Paris.  The fare was about $4 US and it was a short fifteen minute ride to the Gare de Nord station in Central Paris.  The public transportation systems in France are wonderful.  Reasonable cost, efficient, effective and pretty darned well maintained.

Lauren and Flo met me at the Station and we were off to the underground Metro to go to the little hotel she found for me near her apartment.  Whoever invented the wheels on suitcases was a genius.  We walked a few blocks, went down the stairs, flipped a coupon into the turnstile and got on a train.  Lauren is like a native.  Chatting with me in English and Flo in French she did not miss a beat.  Three stops and we get off and move to another train to get to her neighborhood.  Up and out on the street above, I have no idea where I am but Lauren just heads on down the road and a few blocks later we are at the little Three Star Hotel I will be staying at.

This was a small hotel.  Twenty four rooms on four floors.  The elevator was about two feet by four feet in size.  It said max occupancy five people but they better be darned small and very well acquainted.  They do not have ADA here and there appears to be little provision for the handicapped.  I am fairly ambulatory so it was not much of a problem for me.  The room was small but very neat and organized.  Serviceable but you won’t spend much time there.  A small 12” TV with four or five French channels on it.  Eighty-Five Euros a night.  No bad.

Lauren showed me her apartment which she said they were lucky to get.  Housing in Paris is scarce and expensive.  Apartments for rent are subject to a rigorous selection process since there is more demand than there are units.  Lauren and Flo were lucky that on the day they found out about this one, they were in the neighborhood and there was a Metro strike.  There were only five or six people applying.  Potential tenants have to have their portfolio put together which lists references from past landlords, jobs, banking relationships, letters of recommendation, etc.  The landlord then picks who he want to lease to.  That usually takes several days and Lauren said you really have to schmooze them.  She called several times after she submitted her portfolio and was fairly persistent.  The apartment they have is about 400 SF.  It is on the ground floor of a five story apartment building.  The kitchen is a sink, small undercounter refrigerator and a microwave.  The floor space in the kitchen is about 3’ x 5’.  They love it.

Lauren says that all the work is in Paris so all the young people have to move there to work.  They all want to get successful so they can move to the country and live more comfortably.  Paris is an active place and everyone is out and about.  I imagine unless you were a recluse, you have to get out since the living quarters are so compact.  They walk everywhere.

We went to lunch (three trains away) at a restaurant that was an American Burger Joint.  The specialty was a double cheeseburger with fries.  Place was packed.  $15 US for the burger.  Pretty good except the cheese was similar to Cheese Whiz so it was a three napkin affair.

Lauren let me take a break before dinner so I went to the hotel and got my Saturday nap in.  About 5 I went out for a walk being careful to locate landmarks.  Several years ago Buffy and I went to Paris and went for a walk.  I swear we only went three blocks but got lost and had to find the Metro and take two trains to get back to the hotel.  The Metro is pretty darned nice.  Anyway, I went for a walk and only two blocks away was a very nice commercial area with shops of all sorts for everything you needed to survive.  There was no Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart or Walgreen’s.  Just tons of shops, bistros, offices, etc.  There also seem to be a lot of park like areas. Not large grassy parks like we think of them but small areas where there are trees, some small patches of grass (for the pets), benches, etc.

All of the Bistros had outside seating and most all of it was oriented to the street.  Everyone was sitting there smoking, drinking coffee, beer, wine, reading, chatting or just people watching.  I could not score a table at a Bistro so I commandeered a bench and sat down to enjoy my cigar that I had brought.

People watching is something that can be infinitely entertaining.  Trying to figure out where people were going, what they did, etc. is fun.  I saw lots of people walking their pets and kids.  My bench was near an ATM so the traffic was heavy as it was Saturday night a people were getting off work and getting cash for the evening (I assume).  These people all lived and or worked in the area.  This was their neighborhood.  A veritable cornucopia of nationalities and ages.  Young, old, skinny, a few fat, tall, short.  More skinny women in tight jeans and spike heels.  Amazing. A typical cigar is a forty five minute affair and the time flew by.

We went to dinner at a cool place in the Latin Quarter.  This was not a tourist place.  This was very contemporary in style.  It was probably twenty-five feet wide and fifty feet deep.  The bar had five seats by the front door with four or five tables upstairs and six or seven tables downstairs.  The menu had some pretty neat stuff on it.  It lacked things like Kansas City Strip steak.  I am not sure you could get a 24 oz. rib on Rib Steak in France.  They do a lot of chicken, fish, pork, wild boar, and some beef.  The meal was very good – I had the wild Boar.  The wine Flo selected was excellent.

We went to his brother’s new bar.  They are opening “cocktail lounges” there and Flo’s brother has three of them.  This one was a block away and at 10 pm was just starting to liven up.  They don’t serve food, just cocktails and they specialize in the fancy ones.  Martinis, Cosmopolitans, top shelf liquor.  The DJ was playing 60’s and 70’s tunes.  The old standard “Blue Velvet” was played and Flo couldn’t believe I know the name the date and who sang it – Tony Bennett in 1951 and Bobby Vinton in 1963.  A really neat bar with comfortable couches and seating.  The drinks are about $15 US each and the place was jamb packed by the time I made them take me home about 12:30 am.  The bar stays open until 4 am.

Lauren got me back to the hotel and agreed to come get me in the morning at 8:30 to take me to the bus that would take me to the Airport.  It is nice to have that kind of help in a foreign country.  Sunday was another all day travel day.  Totally wiped me out but I got home about 7 pm on Sunday night.  Good to be home.  Next time I vow to stay longer if only to not be so hard on my body.  A five day trip with over three days traveling is hard on anyone.