Day 34

neitherherenorthereBill Bryson — journalist, travel writer, and all around funny guy — has this to say  in his hilarious book, Neither Here Nor There, about walking through Paris.

“…I soon learned that everyone in Paris was like that. You would go into a bakery and be greeted by some vast  sluglike creature with a look that told you you would never be friends. In halting French you would ask for a small loaf of bread. The woman would give you a long, cold stare and then put a dead beaver on the counter.  
      ‘No, no,’ you would say, hands aflutter, ‘not a dead beaver. A loaf of bread.’
      The sluglike creature would stare at you in patent disbelief, then turn to the other customers and address them in French at much too high a speed for you to follow, but the drift of which clearly was that this person here, this American tourist, had come in and asked for a dead beaver and she had given him a dead beaver and now he was saying that he didn’t want a dead beaver at all, he wanted a loaf of bread. The other customers would look at you as if you had just tried to fart in their handbags, and you would have no choice but to slink away and console yourself with the thought that in another few days you would be in Brussels and probably able to eat again.”

Now, Frank and I did not encounter any dead beavers in Paris.  Not that we know of, anyway. In fact we enjoyed the food tremendously. And we enjoyed it more when we were able to decipher the menu with some  help from our (mostly friendly) servers.  And so ‘food’ leads off the second half of my top 10 reasons why Paris is an amazing walking city.

SAM_02355. The Food.  Particularly the oysters — or des huitres, which my (mostly friendly) servers were happy to coach me in pronouncing. Strangely enough, this word has a deep gutteral phlegmatic growl at the beginning, and a soft ‘t’ sound at the end.  I loved those oysters from Brittany. And I loved them most of all when we walked to a cafe orSAM_0058 brasserie, ordered half a dozen with a carafe of wine, then walked to the next place….for some more wine and oysters. 

6. Old Buildings. Gorgeous ones. The Palais Garnier opera house, the National Assembly, the Palace of Justice  on Île de la Cité  is just the beginning of a list that could go on for dozens of pages.

7. The Louvre. This grand museum housed in a former fortress palace gets its own numbered rating because you can spend days walking here, inside and out. And we did.

SAM_0025 (2)8. Fountains.  Besides the famous fountains in places like the Luxembourg Gardens or Place de la Concorde, Paris is filled with charming fountains that surprise and delight. Like the one at San Michele, and this one, beside the San Sulpice church.

9. The Neighborhoods. From Montmartre to the Marais, each Parisian neighborhood has its own character, architecture, and charm. Rushing back to a shuttle bus on our last, unfortunate, evening in Paris, Frank and I found ourselves twisting and turning through Les Halles, where we were mesmerized by a glass-topped view of a subterranean swimming pool, filled with Parisians getting their exercise. In all-black bathing suits. But of course!

10. The people. Yes, the people. Not because they strive to charm and delight….because they don’t. And not because they always greet you with a warm smile like the Americans or Italians…because they definitively don’t. But because they have a certain haughty je ne c’est quoi that makes the women, especially, an education in how to present one’s self to the world. And they speak that beautiful language, the one that makes them look like they are always puckering up for a kiss.  Don’t believe me? Go ahead, say bonjour. Now say it again, with the heartiest French accent you can muster.

Now check out your reflection — quick.  kiss

Bet you look like you’re puckering up for a big fat smooch en français!