Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Potpourri For 6 October

I have come to Paris a number of times since my first time in April of 1998. That first time was pretty much a blur, but a blur that left me forever changed. And that change has caused me to come back again and again ever since.

The power of that change can be illustrated in a variety of ways but for the sake of whatever else it is that I think I am going to say with this post the only one of those ways worth mentioning is the speed with which I returned to Paris after that initial 1998 encounter. If there were anyone reading this blog and if any of them had read Screen Saver they might remember my detailed account of the way the change immediately began to manifest itself as early as 1998.

The brief version is that Mysti told me about an article in the Sunday Seattle Times about a rental agency in Paris that some Seattle residents had found to be a good agency. Out of curiosity I visited their web site and began to have what can only be described as withdrawal symptoms. As I read about the locations of the apartments and the nearby attractions I began to experience again everything that had been a part of that initial blur, to savor it again, or perhaps for the first time since the blur didn't really leave me any room for savoring, and before I had left the site I knew that I needed to go back. So Mysti and I went back for a month at the end of 1998.

And that month laid down a deeply remembered set of "what and how things are in Paris". And that "what and how" was precious and cherished. And changes from that set, because as we know, change is unavoidable, are deeply resented.

During that 1998 sojourn we developed a deep loyalty to a woman and her wine and cheese store on rue de Seine. She was always glad to see us and always ready with a smile, a laugh and a recommendation or two. And we always enjoyed those things that she recommended.

And sometimes the recommendations resulted in a degree of merriment. One afternoon either we had been considering a bottle of sauternes or the lady had recommended it to us. In any event we asked what sort of cheese would be good with sauternes. "Roquefort" she replied. Mysti said "for the wine". The lady said "Roquefort". Mysti said "for the wine". Mysti, I could tell, thought the lady was saying "what for?" Mysti speaks French so I couldn't figure out why I who could barely say a few phrases in French knew what the lady was saying and Mysti didn't. And I knew also what it was that Mysti thought she was saying and the whole thing was really funny in an Abbot and Costello sort of way. The only problem was I couldn't immediately figure out how to break the impasse because they were both speaking French. Then I remembered that Mysti also spoke English so I said, in as American way as I could muster "Roquefort". She looked at me and started laughing. She explained it to the lady and she started laughing. And then we all were laughing. So we bought some Roquefort.

A year later when we returned for another 30 day visit we were amazed at how quickly our clear memory of where everything we liked was located had faded. So it wasn't any surprise that on that first afternoon when we headed for the lady and the wine shop we couldn't immediately find it. We wandered around rue de Seine discussing how we thought everything had been situated but we just didn't have it clearly enough remembered to be sure of anything. We had wandered across the street from near where the lady should be and caught the attention of a young woman who ran a shop of some kind. Mysti described the lady and her shop and pointed across the street where we thought the store was located and asked something such as why couldn't we find it. "c'est fermé" was her reply.

We were deeply saddened.

And things like that kept happening.

In 1998, just down rue de Seine from the lady's wine and cheese shop, toward the river, was a Super Marché – Champion. It is a major character in Screen Saver. Like everything else I know of in France that has a direct American analog, a super marché completely avoids the banal character of its American cousins. Champion had an in-house fromagerie, a produce department that was much more like the across the street farmers vegetable market than like the grim array on offer at Safeway, and on Fridays, sometimes somebody in chef's attire spent the afternoon making a giant seafood stew (it has a name and I can say it but I have no idea how to spell it and my attempts have not been close enough for spell checker to supply the word for me – if, indeed, Microsoft even knows about such things, but it starts with "p") for take home for the Friday after work crowd.

Just down the street from Champion there was another grocery. It wasn't part of a chain, and it wasn't a super marché, but it was big and it had the character of an old fashioned "Les Halles" kind of formula. The combination of the lady and the wine and cheese shop, Champion and its locally based competitor (they really were more like complementaires) and the huge vegetable stand across the street, made the area a really pleasant place to shop.

Again, in 1999, change struck.

The market down the street from Champion was closed and undergoing some massive sort of renovation. In 2000 it was open again as a store in the Bordeaux based bread company, Paul. Paul is sort of the Starbucks of France.

In the intervening years Champion has become such a basic part of my Paris infrastructure that a few years ago I procured one of their frequent shopper loyalty cards. A really good price on corbierre was the specific reason – see Screen Saver for details – but even without the featured wine of the week being a really good deal if only one had a Champion card, I would have gotten one sooner or later. It makes me feel accepted. And god knows, being accepted by Parisians is a life's goal of mine.

So I was appalled when, a few days ago, as part of my don't go to bed before 8 or 9 tonight first day in Paris regimen, I went to Champion to buy those first things that get an apartment finished out for habitation, and I found it had been re-modeled, re-constituted and re-named.

It is now a Carrefour. The checker just looked at me when I said "Ce Carrefour est vraiment un Carrefour pour Champion".

This thought thread will continue.

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