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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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Fifteen hours later, we awoke. Jet lag is a bitch, apparently. I suppose it also has something to do with the days being quite short (sunlight seemed to last from about 8 till 5 at most) and overcast. Well, and it also didn’t help that the bed was super-comfy, and it’s cold outside.

Also, in an adventure to repeated several more nights, the hotel gets mysteriously warmer around midnight, to the point of needing to lay naked on top of the sheets to avoid hot sweats, only to cool down later in the morning. This was aggravated by the fact that our thermostat had no particular control of our HVAC system. It had four settings: I, II, III, and 0 (in that order) and a temperature dial. All I could figure out was that 0 did not mean off, III meant full-blast heat no matter what, and the other positions and temperature dial had no impact on what the system did, whatsoever.

Whatever the case, it was no mid-morning, and we were ready to start the day, with our plan being to hit a quick breakfast spot and head into the Louvre.

Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We set off, quickly got turned around in the opera district, and ended up (we later figured out) heading due northwest, in the exact opposite direction of the Louvre. The upside is that we happened upon all manner of curiosities, such as animatronic puppets in the windows of a shopping mall, interlaced every other window with a crack whore fashion display. The puppets were far more popular with the children (and Sarah):

We stumbled upon one of many of the chain locations of Paul, an artisan bread maker with the business model of a Starbucks (it’s on every street corner, in the train stations, etc). We made our breakfast here. It was decent, so I suppose there isn’t too much to complain about. I had a baguette, which was nice. A little more of a sourdough flavor than most, a nice chewy texture, a little light on exterior crunch. Altogether, a very nice loaf. Also had (and I forget the name) a fat pancake-looking thing with sugar on it that was extremely boring and uninspiring.

From Paul we wandered into Hediard, a gourmet’s heaven. Really fantastic stuff, really high prices. If you don’t have the time to hit the small markets and high quality shops around Paris, and need something fast, this is the place to go, though you’ll pay for it. Without question, they had the largest, plumpest vanilla beans I’ve ever seen. A fantastic selection of spices, sweets, and savory refrigerated foodstuffs await the well-funded adventurer. I did sample a Pear jelly treat that was well spiced, intense, and not too sweet, though not anything to write home about (yet I did, it seems). They were not particularly well set up for purchasing single items like thus, however, requiring us to first request the item at the jelly counter, then go to the cash register with a receipt to buy it, then return to the jelly counter with our paid invoice to pick up our single jelly, the size of a thick postage stamp. Silly silly…

Near Hediard we passed numerous shops with in-window displays of mountains of exotic caviar, and baskets stuffed with fresh black truffles (2400 euro a kilo; each basket must have held about $10,000 worth).

Our next stop was at the chocolatier Michel Cluizel, where I sampled a chocolate-caramel Macaron-styled object, a cognac-filled (and it was really filled with cognac, not some sweet syrupy cognac-tasting American piss chocolate), and a miniature nut, fruit, and chocolate tart (about the size of a silver dollar) that was my favorite of the trio.

Chez Loulou then provided us a fresh-made chestnut crepe. Oh, right, last night on the way home I also had a reheated crepe with gnutella. It was freaking fantastic. The perfect cold-weather treat. I could eat them all day. Anyhow, had a fresh chestnut crepe at Loulou, which was fantastic stuff. The American that came in after us didn’t even bother trying to greet the attendant in French and was treated to a horribly burned monstrosity instead of a delightful treat. In any event, watching the crepe maker work was fantastic, as he painted the batter onto the large hot platter, and then tended it like a work of art before finally removing, dressing, folding, and serving. If I could only have one meal for the rest of my life it might well be proper fresh crepes.

Eventually we acknowledged our state of being off-track, and headed to the obelisk and looked around a bit there.

… and then we got sidetracked again, because it was now time for lunch, so we revisited Julien, where I had a baguette with suacisson sec, butter, vinegar, and gherkins. Freaking fantastic. I really cannot explain how good simple food like this is in Paris.

And now, on to the Louvre, four hours later.

Oh.

My.

God.

The lines outside the pyramid were epic. Without the pass I mentioned yesterday we would have waited a solid two hours to get in, and another in line once inside in order to purchase tickets. I find it hard to explain how huge the Louvre is, except that in many situations while traveling when Sarah asked how far it was, I described the distance in terms of the number of louvres (often only one or two) it would take to get somewhere. No joke. I also find it hard to explain how many people are in the Louvre. This is not a quite museum for the contemplation of art, it is a gigantic amusement park with just as many people inside. Everything is on such a massive scale that it quickly becomes overwhelming and distracting.

Yes, I saw the Mona Lisa. You have to queue to see her like you were boarding the titanic, and it’s a mob in front of it. That sucks. She is more interesting in person than in pictures, but is still just a painting. Winged victory was neat, she’s huge. Napoleon’s apartments satisfied my gilded viewing needs. I most enjoyed seeing Vermeer, the large format french painters, the Rubens room, and the works of Ingres, in particular his fantastic (and distorted) nude. Spending hours at the museum, we would be very generous to say we maybe saw 15% of the place. It really is overwhelming, and if you really want to see it you need to dedicate a week … with three days in between for breaks from the culture overload.

Incidentally, everything in Paris is smaller. The coffee, the soda, the food, the vehicles (and there are bikes and scooters everywhere, even in the dead of winter), the rooms, the streets … I find the whole arrangement rather delightful.

After the Louvre, we explored a street fair of vendors from the Languedoc region. Sarah started a conversation with an Oyster vendor, and procured a single oyster for free with some difficulty (apparently they aren’t very accustomed to vending single oysters, as we found out on repeated occasions through our trip). The kindness and generosity of this vendor and the sheer pleasure of the experience makes it one of my favorite moments in Paris.

This was of course followed five minutes later by a man masturbating in the street. You can’t have everything, I suppose.

A savory mushroom and cheese crepe was my next snack, which was decent, if a tad overpriced. We then made our way to the scandalously overpriced (but peerless) Mariage Freres, a luxury tea house, with a marvelous selection of merchandise and loose tea. We had tea; Sarah had an herbal infusion with ginger, and I their Pu-Erh D’or, which was very nice, and prepared expertly. The pastries they served were disappointing, and in keeping with everything, rather overpriced. We also picked up my souvenirs of the trip, with a teapot, some tea (Marco Polo blend, with the teapot), and a wonderful silver teaspoon.

Had another oyster from a street vendor on the way home. He also insisted it was free, but Sarah insisted she pay him, and eventually won out. This one was from Normandy and also quite pleasant, though the vendor was not nearly as friendly and memorable.

So then we start accumulating our dinner. We walk into a random charcuterie, where Sarah starts talking in French, because they don’t speak any English. She tells the lady behind the counter that we’d like a variety of things for me to try, and she first offers up a piece of paper with some fresh cut ham and duck pate on it. Next, the lady inquires whether we’d like some hard sausage, and when we say yes, pulls a random dirty knife off of the wall. I suspect it has not been cleaned in the two centuries the shop has been open. In fact, the whole place is looking rather shady and dangerous now and I’m starting to fear for my life. Does this sausage need to be cooked? How will I ever know… In any event, she points the knife about a foot up the sausage, and Sarah manages to convince her to give us just six inches or so, as there is only so much sausage I can eat in an evening. A little more prodding, and she slices it into small pieces (I had no knife back in our room), and then moves on to cheese, where she provides a lovely brie, in a chunk the size of my hand. All of it was good in the end, with the brie being especially flavorful, and tasting nothing like its stateside pasteurized crap brethren. Raw milk for the win…

By the way, elevators in Paris make sense. The “lobby” floor is 0. The basement below it is -1. The floor above it is 1. Why can’t we figure this out, instead of having P3, P2, P1, L, G, 1, 2, etc.? -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, … is so much more straightforward.

I think we picked up baguettes from Julien and some other stuff along the way; I didn’t make note of it. By this point, eating crusty French breads for a couple of days is doing a great job of tearing up my mouth and gums, but it’s been worth it. Also, since we’ve both walked quite a few miles in the cold, our back/feet are starting to hurt quite a bit. This only gets worse as the week goes on. The upside is that, after one day with 15 hours of sleep, on the second day in Paris we are experiencing no further jet lag, and are able to complete a whole day, and stay up to a reasonable hour. Other than the physical exhaustion of walking around, we’re doing pretty well.

Oh, yeah. You know what newspaper they bring to your room in Paris? It’s not USA Today, but the International Herald Tribune. Thank god, they don’t treat Americans like idiots, like they do back home.