Monday, November 29, 2010

The Metaphysics Of Luck?

“ I have just been lucky” I heard a voice saying as I lay staring at the crown molding of my nine foot ceilings in my apartment in Paris this morning.

“Damn, damn, damn lucky” I heard the voice say, as if in coda.

There was, after all, a kind of musical rhythm to those two phrases, and that rhythm - it seemed to me - justified the musical allusion.

If I really cared – which I really don’t any more – I probably could have made those phrases into a song.

But those days are gone,

The meaning of those words, however, at a cosmic level, became the fodder of multiple musings.

They caused me to lapse into a state of penderance.

The outer edges of that state dealt with the question “I wonder how much time I have left?”

It is odd that, at this end of my life, being so far beyond an age – when I was young – that I had allowed myself, or even had ever had had any self-serving reason to want or to believe I would ever reach – that I even give a shit.

But the voice was asking the question, and one always answers questions from voices on high.

But as I tried to formulate an answer, a deeper, related, thought occurred to me. And I was easily able to abandon any further contemplation of my longevity.

The question, I realized, was on the outer edges of the real issue. There was a nucleus and it was the entré to the real issue.

And that entré was the really important thing.

It was the nucleus of the question that really mattered.

Because the nucleus deals with the complex series of metaphysical and physical accidents that caused “me” to end up being where – (to end up being at all really) – in a given place and a time and with whatever given resources I have at my disposal, such that I can do what I, do and think what I think.

That nucleus, and what it drags with it is what it is that I am; and what it is that I can do screams the question - to me, at least - of why am I what I am – those things just alluded to – rather than being a beggar on the streets of Seattle, or Paris, or alternatively of being a piece of human detritus where such detritus is the norm and where that norm has always been the norm?

That norm is the norm in much of the rest of our world. How did my protoplasm elude that plight?

I didn’t hear any answers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This And That Continued

So I walked down Avenue Lowendal pleased that at last that street which I knew something about, and which once found would allow me to cease being semi-lost, had, in fact, finally appeared. It was kind of an ugly street though. Before breaking out into the glory of the basilica and the attendant huge square that surrounds the it and Invalides, I had to navigate the canyon-like segment of Avenue Lowendal that runs between L’école Militaire on one side and UNICEF on the other. But I survived it and soon was skirting the Rodin Museum side of the Invalides complex heading to Rue de Grenell, not to be confused with Boulevard de Grenell, or for that matter, with Rue Grenell, and the last leg, albeit a fairly long one, home.

I was getting really hungry.

Just after Rue de Grenell peters out and is replaced by Rue Vieux Columbier, Rue Vieux Columbier crosses Rue de Rennes to Café du Metro. One of Café du Metro’s many charms for me at least, is that with a glass or demi pichet of wine, after lunch hours, they give you a little dish of peanuts – cacahuètes – AND a little dish of olives. That sounded enough like food to me, that, in my advancing state of hunger it made the case for stopping for a glass of wine unarguably sound.

But after all these years – I have been going to Café du Metro since 2002 – the place had recently managed to piss me off to a quite serious degree.

On my way back from Chartres it was mid late afternoon, an ideal time for a small pichet of wine and an hour of quiet contemplation at Café du Metro, so I got off at St Sulpice which is basically the front door to Café du Metro, went in and ordered a “quart de Lyonnais”. The waiter is newer as a Café employee than I am as a Café customer, so I feel as if I have been there longer than he has. I have been served by him infrequently but when I have been served by him, I have never been able to shake the feeling that, unlike everybody else in the place, all of whom are in constant motion, shouting “bonjour” to new arrivals, and “au revoir” to all departees, waiting tables, hooting at one another and having, it always appears to me, to be having one hell of a good time, he has a chip on his shoulder.

But even at that, I couldn’t believe it when after saying no to his question was I going to eat, he said that he couldn’t serve a quart (that’s 25 cl, by the way – big glass of wine, no more) without food.

I just didn’t have the energy to try to summon the French necessary to let me tell him that I had been coming in there for eight years and frequently had – although I love the food, especially the onion soup – a quart without food. Instead, I just said “merci” and got up and left, making the mental note that if Carrie Nation was going to be allowed to call the shots at Café du Metro, one of my favorite afternoon places to have some wine and read the Economist might be struck from my list of preferred places.

But – as I approached the Rue Vieux Columbier and Rue de Rennes intersection, hunger overcame – what was ii? Was it pride? Was it really just being pissed off? Was it, most probably, a feeling of having been let down by a close and valued friend?


But the cacahuètes and olives were sounding better every moment.

I got a different waiter this time, one who has served me a couple of times on this trip, and who is new to me this trip.

He must have been hired after 2008.

He has absolutely no chip, being instead on of the shouting, hooting, having a hell of a good time crowd.

I chose not to see if Carrie Nation had infected his server’s instincts as well, and I ordered only un verre de Lyonnais.

As I sat there inhaling the cacahuètes and olives a rather large French couple took the table almost contiguous with mine. I had to get up to let the man get into the chair that, at his table, was the reciprocal of mine.

They were marginally pleasant folk.

The woman put vast quantities of kit in the chair opposite her companion and disappeared. I assumed she was going to les toilettes. When she came back she dominated the conversation with her mate in a foghorn level form of French and in an accent that even I was sure must be from the provinces. And long ago a female Parisian X-ray (credits to Tom Wolfe) had told me that all the women in the provinces were fat.

Having finished my wine and petites hors d’oeurves, I walked the rest of the way home. (That is a great example of the nominative absolute, by the way.)

How interesting.

But wait. There is more.

Remember I said that I had given up trying to get pictures of the pigeon droppers?

There is a reason for that.

Actually there are two reasons. One is just that it’s just too damn hard catching their image. I have a number of blurred barely identifiable encounters, none of which amount to a documentary hill of beans. The one exception is the first one I got when the guy came up to me by Thomas Jefferson.

But the other reason is probably more interesting.

Several days ago I went out specifically to harvest images of pigeon droppers. To that end I chose my route carefully, having by that time in this residency noticed what appeared to be patterns of their lurks and haunts.

The plan was to troll down the right bank to Pont d’Alma and cross at Pont d’Alma and troll back to L’institute de France and home. Two hours, maybe six or seven droppers, and maybe one or two decent pictures. It was pretty much a day’s work, I thought.

So I crossed at Pont St Michel to give myself a little bit of a leader on the first likely encounter (the droppers seem to like to start more toward Le Louvre).

As I walked along, it being a really nice day for a few days before full winter, I lost track of what I had been supposed to have been doing. There were some just-right-yellow poplar leaves, and the river was absolutely sparklingly spectacular, and every boat seemed to be a candidate for a Saturday Evening Post cover.

So I was many mind-space miles from thinking about the old pigeon drop gambit.

I was composing and taking pictures and savoring a beautiful day on the right bank of the Seine, in the shadow (the sun was from the other direction, so there was no shadow, but the allusion has great literary appeal) of Le Louvre when suddenly my concentration was broken by a rather large humanoid at my side thrusting his hand with a gold-like ring in it into my field of view.

I immediately snapped back into pigeon dropper image harvesting mode, put the camera next to his hand and pulled the trigger.

That did not please Gargantua.

He started asserting in a raised-level voice – something. “No fucking way” came to mind, but I really couldn’t get anything he was saying. I don’t think it was French.

But I didn’t need a dictionary to know the gist of the message.

The problem for me immediately had become – I didn’t really care whether he liked the fact that I had taken a picture of his hand – that the picture I had taken gave him – he obviously believed – the right and the access to pursue the real point of the gambit, which was to extort funds from the mark for – something – the ring maybe – in the case of an unapproved photo, who knew? In any case, I had, inadvertently, stepped into the snare.

And I didn’t like that at all.

So I yelled at the top of as well modulated a pair of baritone male lungs as I could summon “God damn you, you son of a bitch”.

He spit at me. I think he missed. I threw a punch, hitting him mid mid chest. He was alarmingly lean. I was so angry that I just was ready for a fight. So I was surprised that all that he did was indulge in some eastern European-sounding guttural utterances. I said some things in riposte that I can’t remember now and he reciprocated.

And then not long after that he moved off down the quai.

I took some more pictures of the poplars, waiting for my heart rate to drop below three hundred.

I could see the dropper not too far up the quai. There was no way I was going to backtrack or try to elude him. I struck out in his direction.

As expected, I fairly quickly came abreast of where he was standing. And he knew that I was there. As our eyes met, and he started spewing whatever language it is that he speaks at me, I threw him a snappy, Air Force officer salute.

That seemed to throw him a curve, because he came over and put his arm around me and started saying things that seemed to have “monaie” as a major and recurring word. “Bon chance a vous” I said; and the torrent from him grew even greater. He kept asking me in English where I was from. “Are you English?” I just laughed.

By the time that encounter had been closed out, I had discovered – I think – that he was from Romania, and that there was no luck without money.

If I encounter him again, which I assume I will, maybe I will find out if my feeling that we parted as sort of mutually respecting human beings was, in fact accurate.

In any event I am out of the game of trolling for droppers.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This And That

Today I took quite a long walk.  It had started out to be just – I had hoped – a long walk.  I was going to make a trip to Pont d’Alma and back.  That is usually about a two hour circuit, allowing some time for taking pictures of the inevitably interesting things that always appear. 

Some days that route is a pretty good source of Pigeon Drop contacts.  Today that didn’t matter.   I have decided to quit trying to catch them in pictures. 

Today either there wasn’t as much interesting going on as there usually is, or the spirit of image harvesting had taken a day off and wasn’t there to move me in any significant manner to taking pictures.

I was all the way to Pont d’Alma before I took a couple of pictures of the American Cathedral (it’s either that or the American church, can never remember which is which).  They turned out pretty much as I had planned them to turn out and that felt good. To the left of the cathedral there is a view of the tower of a really ugly old church that I always enjoy taking pictures of.  I can never remember its name.


I was contemplating taking some pictures of the Eiffel Tower which was looming at my back while I was taking the pictures of the American Whatever-It-Is, but I just have been feeling Eiffled out on this trip.

Nonetheless, I am probably going to back-fill the looming chasm created by this lack of taking pictures of La Tour Eiffel by making some nighttime expeditions over to the Tour. There is a great North African restaurant that I discovered in ‘08 that is quite close to Champs de Mars.  Those two factors – the lit up Tour Eifel and the food at a North African restaurant – should make a perfect tour guide package.  So I guess I am going to take that tour sometime soon.

I have decided that the nighttime Tower is going to be the acid test to which I am going to subject the Sony computer.

So I was just standing there, not taking pictures and looking stupid, when it occurred to me that I always stop and turn around at Pont d’Alma.  There is no reason for that.  It is just something that I always do.  Since today, as I stood there about to turn around and go back once again, I had a lot of daylight left, I decided to change that for-no-reason much-revered protocol.

I know quite a bit about what is down below Pont d’Alma for several bridges, because I have explored there coming at them from the opposite direction. Today I decided that I would go down and check out those fairly familiar haunts coming at them from a new and opposite direction.

When I got to the Tower itself I honored this whole act of throwing the hum drum to the wind by taking pictures of the Tower.



That felt really good.

The young woman and associates that I inadvertently caught in the first one – she and they will be gone with the Photoshop if I ever use this picture again, was one of a matched set.  That matched set asked me to, and I complied, take a picture of them.  In fact I took two. 

As I got down to Pont de Bir-Hakeim - it was on the lower deck of that bridge that the opening scene of Last Tango in Paris was shot - I noticed that it was getting darker and getting colder. 

Today was the first time this trip that I have abandoned my cotton tee shirt with cotton sweater inner wear for my Smartwool jersey and 80 pound wool St James sweater.  Overnight winter arrived with a significant drop in temperature and some snow.  I even bought a pair of gloves when I went to the market this morning.

I let the lengthening shadows and the chilling of the air decide me to not pursue the bridge circuit any farther, but to strike back toward home.  Given the distance that I was away from le 6iem arrondissement, that decision really wasn’t a cop out.  I had a substantial walk yet to complete.  It would probably, in fact, go beyond my target time of 1600.  A cop out would have been if I had gotten on the Metro there at the bridge and ridden home in comfort and style.

I at least consider it comfort and style.

Deciding to strike for home was all pretty much theory, though.

I had been where I was when I made the decision to abandon the river and strike back for home on a number of occasions, but not for a couple of years.  And a couple of years erases a great deal of specificity from my knowledge of places and things. The bridge is host to a Metro line.  That line runs through town on one of the few elevated above-ground platforms along Boulevard de Grenell.  Boulevard de Grenell is not to be confused with Rue de Grenell, or for that matter, Rue Grenell.  I had once had a vague idea of where on the map Boulevard de Grenell wended its course, and I thought I knew, equally vaguely, that that course ultimately intersected one or more streets that I knew pretty well. 

So I set off down Boulevard de Grenell.

Even to my cloudy memory it was obvious at every step that I had been on Boulevard de Grenell more than several times – I have lived in an apartment in an alley off of Avenue Rapp and on Rue de Grenell itself several times, and I knew that I had used the route that I was backtracking, more than once.  I had used it as the outbound leg of very long and interesting walk to Le Bois de Boulogne – but with each intersection that I passed, any familiar, and therefore useful, street continued to elude me.

I have become so crass about walking in Paris that it is only when I am semi-lost – it has been a long time since I have actually been fully lost – that I feel as if I am living up to my personal expectations and making good use of the money I keep spending to come and stay here.

So the fact that I was not finding anything but a feeling of vague familiarity as I walked down Boulevard de Grenell along its elevated Metro line was just a tonic.  I could have looked at my map – I have one that is more scotch tape at the seams than paper it is so old and used, and, therefore, a valued friend – but I was totally disinterested in using my old friend to bail me out yet one more time. I was sure that I was right about Boulevard de Grenell intersecting one or more streets with which I had an intimate relationship, and that would, once broached, get me back to more familiar ground.

It was probably due to the fact that, in spite of my deeply held conviction that I knew more or less where I was, and that where I was was more or less on a trajectory to home, and that all that I needed was a familiar street name to appear so that I could complete my walk with precision, the gathering gloom with its attendant increase of chill was beginning to test that conviction.

That was probably the reason that I jumped at the chance to turn off on the first street that was even vaguely familiar.  Its familiarity, I should mention, was enhanced by the fact that the street appeared at a small Place with which I am quite familiar, having taken multiple pictures over multiple visits of the sculpture of a lion that is the Place’s main feature.

The street was Avenue Lowendal.  It just sounded – familiar.

As soon as I had started down it the reason was obvious.  Staring down at me from not very far away was the dome of the basilica that contains Napoleon’s tomb.  I had walked briefly on Avenue Lowendal only a few days before, when I had circumnavigated Invalides.


To be continued.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Trolling For Pigeon Droppers

Today I went to Neuilly sur Seine. It is on the Paris Side of the Seine just across from La Défense. Part of it is on a little island. I made a photo tour of that little island a few years ago. Today I decided would be a good day to do it again. As it turned out I got on the bridge across the Seine on the side opposite from the Neuilly sur Seine part of the island. I went down the steps to the island on which was nice square, but there was a gigantic iron fence denying access to the other side of the island, which is the part I wanted to be on. As I was retracing my steps to go to the other side of the bridge so I could get on the side of the island that I wanted to be on, I saw that just up river from the island that I was trying to get to the Nuilley sur Seine side of, there was another, much smaller island.

I decided to go there instead.

Here are a couple of pictures of that island.


All of that took some time and as I contemplated what to do with the rest of the rapidly waning day I decided to take the Metro back to Pont d’Alma and walk back to the apartment on the left side of the Seine.

Besides this being one of my favorite walks, it is usually alive with pigeon droppers, and I had decided a couple of pigeon drop encounters previous that I want to start collecting their pictures. I am getting so good at recognizing one substantially before he or she goes into his or her shtick, that I felt that I could get a shot of each one of them as they bent down as if picking something up (in the case of the Paris pigeon drop that something being a gold-looking man’s wedding ring).

But today was a lean day. There just weren’t any pigeon droppers. I even crossed Pont de la Concorde over and back to see if I could roust one up. Frequently one will make a hit on that bridge or Pont Royal or Pont du Carousel. Today Pont de la Concorde was a dry hole.

Just across and down a little bit along my main route one guy did make an attempt but it was so clumsy that if I had not been an expert in the game I would not have recognized what had happened. In any event it had happened clumsily, and that clumsiness had taken me off my mark and I hadn’t gotten a picture of it so there was nothing to do but ignore his plaintive cries of “monsieur, monsieur, bon chance, bon chance” and move on down the line.

A little farther on I saw a for sure pigeon drop woman and I made sure the power to the camera was on. But she turned out to be a woman who has tried the game so many times on me – she may even be the original one that Betsy and I encountered - that we now know each other. She said a pleasant “bon jour” and kept on her way.

So it was looking like the days troll was going to prove fruitless.

As I approached the statue of Thomas Jefferson, failure to date notwithstanding, I became alert. I seemed to remember that there often was activity at that point.

Sure enough there was hit in progress. It looked as if the mark had taken the ring and was in the process of putting it in his pocket it and was telling the pigeon dropper to fuck off. I kind of stopped, and even half heartedly pointed my camera in the general direction of the encounter, but I wasn’t fast enough to get the ring, and in any event, it seemed kind of socially unacceptable intruding on someone else’s pigeon drop.

But I did recognize the dropper. He was the big tall brown man that I mentioned in a previous post as the one who had ensnared an English speaking couple, the woman of which was saying to the man “why don’t you just give the ring back to him?”

So what I did do was stop just down from this encounter and stare over the sea wall into the river with my camera at attention as if I were going to take some serious shots. I was hoping that that demeanor would mark me as his next victim, since it looked as if the man of his, by then previous, mark had terminated the transaction.

I was watching out of the corner of my eye, hoping to see the guy come up do the bend down and pick something up act, at which point I was ready to get a shot.

Instead he was suddenly next to me, sort of engulfing me, and showing me the ring in his open paw. Without thinking, I poked the camera almost into his palm and pulled the trigger.

Here it is. I hope to have a lot of the bend and scoops for your edification and entertainment before this trip is over. They are really more fun that just a hand holding a ring.

And there should be hope. I noticed on that recent day that I had my record seven hits, that they seem to come out in droves in rainy weather.

On va voir.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Mixed Bag Of Events

I went to Chartres yesterday. Since the Englishman who has made a career and livelihood – and, I believe, has received the Legion of Honor in recognition of – knowing so much about each window in the cathedral, and the story that it tells, was not there yesterday, I had to go through the place with only my camera and my best artistic instincts.

Here is one of the images harvested during that venture.


One of the things that happens every time I go to see Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, and walk around it, and go inside it, is that I marvel at how huge it is. I also marvel at the fact that people who we would probably regard as primitives – according to Wikipedia it was built mostly between 1193 and 1250, almost more than a millennium ago – could have built such a thing. Then I can’t help but wonder if we could, with all our subsequent discoveries and technology, duplicate the thing, let alone produce a superior product. Then my final reaction always is that I guess that’s what Tour Montparnasse is all about. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres wins hands down every time I ponder that imagined competition.

I made the trip to Chartres on the train. I always enjoy taking the train in France, and yesterday was no exception.



When I got to Chartres I reacquainted myself with the lay of the town. I wandered around and took pictures of the places that interested me. That activity was partially a time killer because I had arrived at about 1100 and had planned, as I had contemplated my activities there, wanted to hit a restaurant for lunch at an acceptably French time of day for dejeuner – maybe around 1400 – and I had figured that, my attention span being what it is, I would probably not spend more than two hours within the cathedral; so I had some time to fill.

But I also had really wanted to collect some town-story images.

There were two problems with that plan.

First, it was cold as hell and I hadn’t worn my cold warding off magic cashmere stocking cap – a gift from my daughter that has become a basic part of my French expeditionary equipment – so I had begun to think about a warm place for a cup of coffee.

Second, I was getting REALLY HUNGRY. As luck would have it - and luck often does have it this way with me – I was reaching that critical point of coldness, followed not far behind by that rapidly rampaging critical point of starvation, when a possible solution to both of my problems presented itself. I was in a very large circular Place (pronounced “plass”) and had just taken a picture of the local Apple store when, slightly to the right of that American icon, I saw another: the golden arches.

I have been in McDonald’s exactly twice in France. Once Mysti and found ourselves to be extremely hungry post mid day on self directed bicycle tour in Languedoc, with mid day being a time of day when all the restaurants in that part of France closed down for the afternoon siesta. Like all the other days since we had been on tour, we had assumed there was going to be no lunch for us. We had gotten used to the lack of lunch and had usually tided ourselves over by occasional poaching ( with visions of rifle shots from the adjacent hills bringing us down filling our heads) forays upon the beautiful, gigantic, sweet and juicy grapes that were all coming ripe, all of which were still on the vine, having not yet been harvested and sent off to become corbièrers wine.

On this day, however, we had become pretty much lost in the scruffy, lightly industrial exurb of some little town that we were going to ride through on our way to our lodging and food providing destination for the day.

And there, much like the holy grail, were the golden arches. And they didn’t participate in the siesta tradition. And we found in our mutually examined hearts no elitist objections to eating there. So we did. And it was good. And we saw some young French families acting out their domestic affairs in their native habitat. All in all it was a moderately satisfying experience.

And I have always liked the Big Mac.

I just don’t go to McDonald’s in France.

The second time I ever went to McDonald’s in France was when my friend Betsy and I were on the way to the Paris Aquarium and were suddenly overtaken by the urge for a no-ceremony, no-ancillary –additional-items, quickly acquired, and quickly consumed, order of frites.

Again that day the arches appeared at just at the right moment to become a near occasion of sin.

And that is, I swear, is identical to, or at least virtually similar to, what happened yesterday in Chartres.

The idea of getting warm in a somewhat familiar common user interface was the first lurch down the slippery slope. I had also begun to have a need for a toilet, and as I had learned on my first trip to Paris, which was on a guided tour (Mary Ann, our tour leader had us all meet for our first big activity at the Champs Elysees McDonald’s because they had free restrooms – Mysti and I just kept on going down the Champs Elysees, eschewing the freeness of the restrooms for what we felt would be, and turned out to be, a more Parisian experience) McDonald’s has free toilets.

And if I felt any compunction about just going in and going to the restroom, and, upon exiting said restroom, just standing around until I got warm, and then leaving, I could order a cup of coffee.

If one were to think at all, one would see that getting in line was the next stumble down that increasingly steep and vastly more slippery slope.

“An order of fries would be just the ticket”, I thought I heard a distant voice saying.

The line was quite slow. I was a part of a little community of mixed-race teenagers all apparently trying to win top honors in that totally international game known as grabass (French spelling provided here for the edification of all concerned). Due to the line’s slowness I had way too much time for contemplation. And that was the third and final step to slippery slope to perdition. Contemplation said “if frites are good, cannot a Big Mac be better- with fries, of course”?

I wolfed – I mean WOLFED – that stuff. I was so hungry. And then I figured out where the toilet was and then I left, as a fortified, albeit crestfallen sinner; but that Big Mac was exactly what I had needed at that moment.

Here are a couple of pictures from inside the cathedral.


So that takes us to today.

For some reason I was tired from yesterday’s trip. So I didn’t get up very early today. And after going down to 47 Boulevard St Germain for a refill of fromage blanc and, more importantly, olives – with wine in the afternoon while I try to compose these posts, the olives I get down there are so good that it is scary; and the olive man has been in the land of the missing for a couple of market days, so I was getting desperate – I fooled around with email and yesterday’s images way longer than I should have and, therefore had breakfast way later than I should have; so 1430 was looming and I had just taken my shower.

I was working on convincing myself that I should stay in and finish part seven of A Halloween Story, the words of which I think I know, but the writing of which, I, for some reason, I am reticent to bring into being.

On the other end of the argument was the voice that constantly reminds me that the only downside to living in Paris for four months is that my crazed physical fitness program that keeps me from descending into abject adiposity is not possible here: I don’t have a chip and pin card so I can’t rent the Vellibs, and I don’t have an exercise bench or any weights; so walking is my only potential salvation.

So I hit the street at about 1430 today.

And I was really glad that I had done so.

I started aimlessly, taking the least line of resistance down Rue de Seine to the Quai. By the time I had gotten to the Quai I had decided that I would poke into the Louvre compound and see if there were so many Chinese tourists milling around that it would be impossible to get into the place through the entry under – ironically – a Chinese American’s contribution to the landscape of the Louvre, the pyramid. If it were possible to get in I had decided to see if the chip and pin curse also affected the automatic ticket machines at Le Louvre.

The lines were not particularly long, but at the last minute I decided to exit the compound and just meander down the spine of Paris toward some to be determined exit point for a one eighty.

The moment that about face had been completed the day became brighter.

One of my favorite features of that “spine” has been, for the years that it has existed, the Ferris Wheel.

This time, I was saddened the first time I had gone to that spine – that was the first day I had gotten here – to see that the wheel was gone. “All Things Must Pass” from George Harrison wafted my mind’s music processor and I went on.

But I was, nonetheless, saddened.

Today they were setting the Ferris Wheel back up.


I was pretty excited.

Then, as I went a little farther down, what had by then, turned into the Champs Elysees, I saw that something I had never before seen on the Champs Elysees was being set up: Christmas vending booths.

I had seen them on Boulevard St Germain along the church St Germain; I had seen them spread out like a small city below the mountainous steps of la Grande Arche de La Défense; but I had never seen them on Les Champs Elysees. So all of a sudden I had a new point of interest.

The stalls were all in the early stages of being set up. I don’t know enough about retail de France to have any idea why the 18th of November would be the day for the emergence of this oh so French form of vending, but it is eerily close to America’s Black Friday. Who knows?

And one of the first ones that I encountered bears mentioning.

In 2006 my friend Betsy and I had gone to La Défense and had taken the ticketed trip to the top of La Grande Arche where – in France, the inevitable museum lurked – and we had a grand time in the museum, and out on the the top of, what is, after all, a very tall building, looking out over the city and taking pictures. One of the shops had something that, to me at the time, and for a long time previous had seemed an obvious commercial application of technology, but which at that time I had never seen before. Betsy and I were totally excited by it.

Since Dassault Systems is a French company I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see what I was seeing - for the first time - in France; but I was so surprised nonetheless. The surprise being that something that I had imagined actually existed.

What the guy in this shop could do was to turn a digital image, using, either CATIA or something that functions the same way, into a three dimensional digital model. And then, he had a laser machine that could burn that three dimensional model INSIDE a cube of transparent Lucite. The result was that from within the block, whatever the original two dimensional digital image had been, looked out upon the outside world, and could be scrutinized from a three hundred and sixty degree vantage point from outside the cube.

That was a desk fob to be lusted after.

The young proprietor of that shop spoke English, so I was able to ask him if one could bring in a digital picture of ones choosing and have this magical process employed on that image. The answer was no, and there the English got murky. My best interpretation was that he had no way to get such an image into his machine. To him that had seemed like a show stopper. To me it had seemed to be a requirement for a USB port. But who knew? And I was really happy to know that something that was parallel to what I thought could be done with three dimensional printers – some future blog post may tell you all about the wonders of StrataSys – was actually being done, even if being done in a hands-tied-behind-the back manner.

Subsequent to that, I heard somewhere, that the wonders of USB had been revealed to vendors of that Dassault, or Dassault derivative, or Dassault counterfeit process and that people were being able to bring their flash drives in of pictures of their dogs, or their children, or themselves (does three dimensional pornography within the confines of a cube of Lucite appeal to you?) and leave not long afterwards with whatever had been in those two dimensional images forever – or until the world ends in fire – staring out at them from within the Lucite.

This leads back to today.

One of the first booths that I encountered was one that had an array of – to me - immediately recognizable Lucite cubes. I had to take pictures of them. Then I had to try to ask the young proprietor if he could make originals from digital photos.

I started with the – for me at least – mandatory “on peut” when I just became overcome with the enormity of the task that I had just undertaken, and I bailed out. “Can I talk to you in English?” A shrug and a “non monsieur, je ne parle pas Anglais” was my answer. So, since I really wanted to know if he could invoke at random the magic of Dassault, I forged ahead. He answered that he could make cubes from customer supplied images. I felt that that was comforting but not comprehensive. Where was he going to do that , or who was going to do that and where, and with what machine? I leaped across the gulf of understanding that we had reached with the question “ou est l’ordinateur que fait la chose?’

He said “last week” and pointed to a shelf behind him. I said “Pardon, qua”? He said “last week". I took the bull by the horns and said “prochaine semaine ”? He said “oui monsieur”.

Apparently I had finally found someone who shared the same ability to reverse the meaning of things between our two languages.


And, by the way, I only got hit by one pigeon dropper on the way back after I had crossed Pont Alexandre III.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Haircut Time

I held off getting a haircut before I left for Paris until the last possible moment.  And I had Lloyd use the one eighth inch comb on his electric shears.  That is half again what I normally have cut off. 

Several years previous I had faced the fact that what hair I had left just didn’t look very good when cut as if I actually had hair left.  I wasn’t doing anything grotesque such as a comb-over, I was merely doing what seemed to be the rational thing: having my barber cut my hair sort of just beyond medium-short because that is what I had evolved into having my hair cut like over some fairly long number of intervening previous years.  (To actually understand what I might be talking about here, one would have had to have read Screen Saver – specifically the clip about the time that I had been routing around in my bed stand drawer and had laid out my my driver licenses on the bed, next to my knee,  end to end and had discovered a movie which documented my transition from youth to old age and  to oblivion. What had happened, as documented by those pictures, in relation to my hair length, was that, although my spirit hadn’t changed, – I still looked as if I was ready to show up at roll call every morning -  my head had changed, and that change included the mammalian covering that had come with it when I had been born.  And that covering was just  not what it had once been.)

The reason for the double short cut just before I had left the US was to allow a double long time to pass before I might need a haircut.  I had never needed to get a haircut in France, and, therefore had never experienced that particular cultural activity; somehow, the idea of doing that cowed me.  I just wasn’t sure, even with my French dictionary, how I was going to navigate that experience. Ordering a glass of wine was easy.  Asking someone to “faisez la coupe tres cours” just seemed beyond what I was capable of.

But I knew that I was going to need to navigate that experience.  Four months would be too long a time to go without a decent haircut.  It would be too long, unless I grew a beard and started walking around the city with a paper cup with some coins in it that I could shake around and thrust at passers by saying “:j’ai faim; j’ai faim”. I gave that fairly serious consideration, but just trying to negotiate the vagaries of getting a haircut seemed to be the lesser of two weevils.

On a Paris trip or two back – I always go to Passage Brady and Restaurant Shalimar -  circumstances had suddenly brought into my conscious potpourri of relevant realizations the fact that there were several barber shops in the Passage.  And they only charged six euros, as opposed to Twenty five or thirty euros for – something like a haircut I guess, but god knows what it might involve to be worth thirty euros, especially for someone such as I who had, really, no hair – that I had seen posted on the windows of shops on Boulevard St Germain and similar venues.

So as my about-to-commence four month visit to Paris loomed ever more imminently in my not very distant future, I had my hair cut twice as short as I usually had it cut, just prior to departure.  That would give me time to negotiate the possibilities.

And I really don’t know why I was so obsessed with hair – so obsessed that I timed my last cut before departure, and its very length to fit with the timing of the imminent trip - except that there was something overwhelmingly daunting to me about trying to tell a French-Pakistani barber what it is that I wanted done to that meager dusting of hair-like substance that occupied my head.  The fact that it has the really annoying characteristic of growing too long to look good would. I knew, inevitably make the need for one or more cuts unavoidable.

And today became the day to see if I had the chutzpah and the French to pull it off.  That which was to be pulled off would, if successful result in a haircut that let me go a few more weeks.  And if successful. would inevitably tie me to whatever barber provided that cut, and tie me to him or her for the duration.

So I left the apartment at about 1130 today for the walk up Boulevard Sevastopol with a loop back at the last moment to Rue St Denis and up, under the arch to Passage Brady and lunch, and, I hoped, after lunch, une coupe.

Lunch was great.

Then loomed large the acid test.

When I had entered the Passage from Rue St Denis de Faubourg and had walked down to the other end where Restaurant Shalimar is, I had made note of the number of customers in the various barber shops pour les hommes – there are some for les femmes, aussi – and had decided, as I had on a couple of previous scouting/lunch-at-the Shalimar expeditions, that the one that I broached first was the right one to go to.  It had less barbers and less customers.  I felt more able to deal with that type of circumstance.

So I had lunch.

And then I was going back down Passage Brady toward the barber shop that  I had chosen.

And then I was there.

And then I went in.

As luck would have it, there was one barber, and he had just finished with a customer.

The barber motioned me to his chair.

I  took that chair.

And with a few gestures from both of us, and a couple protestations from me about my inability to speak French, we negotiated what it was that I needed, in French, and in no time I left with my new tres courte cheveux – good for, at least, 30 more days. 

And I really am looking forward to going back to that shop.  It is really nice when one finds someone upon whom one can depend.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Duck Pond

I am a member of several vineyard's “clubs”. I just got notification from Duck Pond that I was up for another distribution. In that notification was a graphic that I really liked. It reminds me of the cover of the last Lovin’ Spoonful album: “Everything Playing”.

Here is the graphic, without permission from the artist, so, if he wants me to take it down, I will do so immediately. Oscar: contact me at to tell me to remove it from this blog post.

duck pond

Friday, November 12, 2010

Après Minuit 13 Novembre 2010

Eleven or so minutes ago I became irrevocably sixty eight years old.

Just as I had thought would be the case, I can’t tell any difference from the way I felt this afternoon when I made my multi-pronged walk – multi-pronged because as sometimes happens to me in Paris, I had been going exactly the wrong way for a mile or so (but with enthusiasm; the Tour Eiffel  was my constant companion out there ahead of me, and La Tour was, in final fact, the clue that  I had  needed to tell me of the one-eightydness of my direction of travel) – from Gare Montparnasse to home on Rue Guénégaud.

But there is no point in obfuscating the reality of the heading of this post.

I am now within ten years of the time it took my mother to figure out how to depart this life; within twelve years of my father’s identical discovery.  They both made their exit in the same year.

And I was there both times.

Which gave me some perspective that I would not otherwise have had.  And that perspective has never left me, never allowed me to cease pondering, pondering, pondering.

Pondering those facts  have given me pause. And I have had thoughts.

I have had thoughts about myself.  I have had thoughts about, I don’t have a word for it, but – something.

They go like this.

The track is long – the one my parents have recently departed, and the one upon which I still tread.

It is long, but only because it is circular.

The fact that it is circular, and therefore apparently long – apparently long, to the hopelessly optimistic, infinite even to some of that tribe, disguises the limitedness of that track. Seventy eight and eighty are numbers of laps on the track that I am fast approaching.

So introspection reigns supreme on this early morning of the day my mother and I first got to know each other.

And it is so hard to realize that the Fourth birthday party that I recounted in Screen Saver can possibly be sixty four years previous to today.

It is so hard to believe that time can implode, that time can explode, that time can do the things that time can do with the seasons, and the chestnuts, and the recycling and – just all of the sounds and sights and smells and feelings that comprise a life. 

But then that is what Screen Saver is all about.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From Screen Saver: Introduction To Chapter Twenty Four

One wintry December day I was in Paris and I had taken a walk along the Seine. I had walked from rue de Grenell to Pont d’Alma and along the river in the direction of Pont Alexandre. It had been raining. It was cold and grey and slightly blustery. I had considered going back to the apartment as early in the walk as the point at which I had first gotten to the river. But I had decided to keep going.

As I came to Pont Alexandre I had stopped to evaluate the effects of the gray day on the gilt work of the bridge’s sculptures and then I had taken a few pictures in an attempt to document what I had seen. As I had expected, the giant golden men shone with the same sort of glow that they had on sunny days. The intensity was just slightly attenuated in the greyness. They seemed to glow in a manner that might have been independent of light conditions.

As I was standing there looking at the bridge, looking at the water and looking at the golden giants my gaze wandered around to the right in the direction of les Invalides, and as I had looked in that direction I had happened to glance down at the ground. The walkway bordering the seawall and its concrete guard rail at that place was made up of the flint gravel that makes up so many of the walkways in Paris. Because of the rain the gravel had turned to a kind of tan colored muddy mixture of small pieces of flint, flint gravel and water. There were highpoints where the mixture became damp, almost wet sandy flint hummocks and low points that could be best described as flint gravel mud puddles. In one of the puddles was something that for some reason had caught my attention. It was black, about the size of a golf ball, but irregularly shaped, and appeared to have a husk or rind that had been partially split with the split showing a crease of creamy white material extruding from the split. It was one of the last of the season’s chestnuts. It was one that had somehow avoided the street sweepers or the traffic or – early in its life on the ground – the questing hands of children collecting the briefly shiny brown prizes of autumn. It was just lying there looking rather forlorn. At least it had looked forlorn to someone to whom the chestnut in all its cyclical forms had constituted a symbol of something transitional, transitory, acceleratingly fleeting and everlastingly significant. With a certain pang of sadness I had walked on, and the day had fled as all days fled – more swiftly than its predecessor.

That night I had periods of sleep interrupted by periods of wakefulness. I had learned in the early years of the mixture of sleep and wake that had taken over my night times, to read during the waking periods.

Those wakeful periods had constituted a huge amount of time available for someone who was a slow reader, who loved to read and who had possessed a reading list probably longer that his expected lifespan.

That night I had been reading Thomas Hardy.

My sleeping periods by that point in my life had begun to be filled with a jumble of dreams, semi-awake thoughts and impressions and semi-asleep memories lapsing into dreams. The jumble always was an absolutely bizarre mix of real and unreal, of plausible and patently beyond possibility and – as had become the case in times of less deep sleep than even the broken sleep that had become normal for me – an additional and enhanced blend of thoughts, things and pictures from the day just past.

That night had become one of those enhanced jumbles.

In one of the waking interludes I had decided to enhance my reading experience by having a glass of calvados. After an hour or so of reading and sipping, that routine had been so pleasant that I poured a second glass of calvados. As was always the case when I read at night in bed I had begun to become pleasantly drowsy – oddly, the calvados had extended the non-drowsy period substantially beyond the norm - and I had put the book away and had lapsed back into the sleep and its associated jumble.Somewhere on toward dawn, but when it was still dark I had awakened again, or had thought that I had awakened. I had just emerged from a strain of the enhanced dream jumble that had been so compelling – about something – that I couldn’t make tangible – that I had felt an overwhelming urge to add to the critical mass of the tale that I had been assembling since it had started under similar circumstances a year earlier. I was so ready to write that I didn’t take the time to boot the computer. I didn’t have time to wait for that process. I grabbed a ballpoint and my ever-present yellow lined tablet and had started writing. When I had finished writing I had gone back to bed and slept more deeply and for a longer period than I had for a long time. When I finally awoke in the middle of a Paris morning it was with a memory of having written quite a lot – about something - not long before. I had some idea of what it was that I had written. But I hadn’t been sure whether what I had written had been about something that had actually happened or whether it had been a response to and an attempt at documenting something that had sprung from what had been for the entire sleeping portion of the previous night an intensely experienced mixture of the real, the read, the imagined, the dreamed and the never could have been. After reading what I had written I was sure that it had never happened, but I was never able to convince myself that it couldn’t, or even shouldn’t have happened.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Record Day For The Pigeon Drop

In 2006 I was walking down Quai Voltaire one afternoon with my friend Betsy.  We were, as was usually the case, hooting an laughing, and we were, for some reason in kind of a hurry.  So we weren’t paying much attention the what was going on around us.

What was going on around us was that we suddenly had a small but rotund, brown, vaguely Eastern European looking and clothed woman right there between us.  She all of a sudden there and was equally, but fluidly, suddenly bending down to the pavement at our feet and picking something up.  She immediately showed us what it was, which was an apparently gold ring.  It looked like a man’s yellow gold wedding band.

She said something to us, in French, but I don’t remember now what it was.  It must have been pretty basic because whatever it was I understood it.  The gist of it was she wanted us to take the the ring.  For whatever reason I didn’t want to take the ring, and, probably, because I was the one that sort of understood what the woman was saying, Betsy was taking her cues from me.

I had never seen anything like this in my, by then, many visits to Paris, and I am not usually one to leap to conclusions particularly quickly, and the woman, I realized later, in the face of subsequent experiences, had done a masterful job of setting up the premise.  Her physical presentation from the very beginning of being somehow in our midst and “finding” the ring had been totally believable.

I was so taken in that when she said something and looked more closely at the ring, said something else and then presented me with a view of the ring’s inside layer where “14k” was etched, I said “vous avez bon chance, Madame”.  But she didn’t want any of the bon chance; she wanted us to take the ring. 

At that point I began to have a vague but non specific suspicion.

I said and did something that got her on her way away from us.  As she left, we stayed where we were.  When she was maybe fifty or sixty feet away we started walking again – walking behind her, but in the same direction.

Then it came to me, although I really thought that I was being more funny than realistic, but what I said was based on similarities to a scam that I had once seen documented on 60 Minutes.

As we started off, substantially behind the woman, I said to Betsy, “we’ve just had the ol’ pigeon drop scam tried on us”.  Not surprisingly she said “what is the ol’ pigeon drop scam”.

Before I could answer, the woman had turned and was coming back toward us at a fairly rapid, if deliberate, pace.  “Just watch” I said.

For a really good description of the pigeon drop go to:

So she was back.  And she said that the good luck was ours.  She said that she had no use for such a ring but she could use some money for food.  She said that since she had found the ring at our feet it was really ours anyway, and we should take it, only could she have some euros just as a sort of finders fee?

It took real persistence to get rid of her and that god damned ring.

Contemplating the event later, I assumed that the woman must make her living as a professional pigeon dropper.  I also assumed that the experience, for me, would be a once in a lifetime one.

So I was utterly amazed when a month later, when Mysti and I were in Paris and were walking down Quai Voltaire, the same woman suddenly appeared between us – and you know the rest of the story.

But wait; there is more.

Since 2006 I have had the same gambit attempted on me at least once, and occasionally several times per trip.  It has even been tried a few times by the same woman.  But she has now been joined by quite a fleet of wannabes.  I call them wannabes because they range in skill – compared to the woman of my first encounter – from not very good to ludicrous. As a manner of dealing with them, I adopted, long ago, a pigeon drop demeanor.  When one of them begins the shtick I just keep doing what I am doing and ignore them completely.  It amuses me to hear their yelps of dismay at being treated as invisible apparitions. 

The disadvantage to one as curious as I am about things that occur around me of not going along with the game is that I don’t know how they play out the end game.  But I am comfortable with the belief that I am probably not smart enough to outwit them if I let them get me in even the softest grasp of their clutches, so I remain ignorant of whatever the final outcome is.

This trip has been a bonanza for the pigeon drop.  When I started today I didn’t have an official count, but I had been approached about ten or twelve times in 40 days.

By day’s end the count was off the charts.  I had seven contacts in three and a half hours.  One of them was so bad that I broke my rules of engagement and said to him in loud American English “if I was as bad at this as you are I’d look for a job”. He said “sorry; sorry”.  The last one, I just looked at and laughed uproariously as I walked down the Quai toward the gold guys on Pont Alexandre.

In addition to the multiple encounters that I have had, I have, occasionally, passed by a victim who has been ensnared at least to the point of talking to the pigeon dropper.  Today I was walking up on three people who were standing at the left bank terminus of Pont Alexandre III.  One was a tall middle aged woman standing so her profile was presented to me.  I noticed that presentation because the expression of that profile was a look of major disquieted dismay.  I couldn’t help noticing and wondering what might be the reason for her ill ease.  The second person of the three was a rather tall brown man whom I might have taken for a flasher due to the overcoat in which he was encased.  He had one arm on the shoulder of the third person, a man, and the tall brown man was telling that third man something that I wasn’t able to hear or to grasp.  And that third man who had that second man’s arm around his shoulder was about the same height as the brown man and he was saying something that I couldn’t make out either.

But the woman spoke, in English, and it all came clear.  “Why don’t you just give him back the ring?” she said.

Apparently part of the end game is to get the ring into the hands of the mark.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thoughts On The Rain

For the first time since I got here on the first of October, yesterday it rained with spirit.

The apartment that I am in is on the first floor – the other floor beneath it on the ground being floor zero – which in the way this building is constructed gives me a fairly unusual feature.  I have a small, exposed to the sky and the elements deck or balcony outside my apartment.  It is like being at the bottom of a very closed in rectangular canyon, with the sky showing itself up there about six stories away from me when I am on that outside-of-the-apartment platform.

It is rather Spartan, but it is rather nice.

There is a planter with a variegated-leaved, I suspect non-deciduous, shrub of some kind, a little pot with a waning geranium, and maybe a fifteen foot by six or seven foot area that I can call my own outside the curtilage. 

It would probably be a nice thing to have in August.  In November it is just a feature.

This deck or balcony is really the roof of the zero floor.  The building for whatever reasons stopped having the total square footage that was constructed on that zero floor, after that zero floor, leaving all the floors above that zero floor with a hollow rectangular core exposed to the sky.  My deck, or balcony, is actually the roof of that zero floor.  But it works.

One of the advantages of that deck with an opening  to the sky is that I can just open either the casement windows that open onto it and disengage and open the shutters, or open the French doors that open onto it and disengage and open the shutters – or both – and get an idea of what is going on in the world.  That “what is going on” can include either the ability to eavesdrop on the multiple other human agglomerations that share the outer edges of our open to the sky inner core with me – a fascinating, and somehow New York- like phenomenon ( it is easy to picture someone sticking his or her head out of a window somewhere in the rising column of residences and yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take any more” or “woaaah, it looks like rain” – or to see what the weather is doing.

Yesterday when I opened the windows, doors and shutters what I discovered  about what the weather was doing was that it was raining.  It wasn’t a Florida or Georgia deluge, it wasn’t some kind of mist or light rain, it was a Portland/Seattle medium heavy rain that just shouted to the skies “I am going to keep this up for a long time”.

I recognized it immediately.

One of the reasons I recognized it immediately is probably because, as near as I have ever been able to tell, Paris weather and Portland and Seattle weather are basically the same.  They are kindred. That may be one of the less interesting reasons why I feel so at home here.

So I looked out and saw extremely non-walker friendly weather.  For sure I wasn’t going to take a camera out in it.

That was not good news.  It was not good news for two immediately to me obvious reasons.

First, I don’t want to become a blivet, and exercise, somewhat extreme, albeit old man extreme, exercise, such as multi-hour walks, are the only remedies to blivetization.  I document in Screen Saver why running four times around Jardin de Luxembourg has ceased to be an option – and in any event, even when I still did that, rain made the flint gravel track such a milky soup that even when I used to be able to run, running in the rain in Paris was not an option.

Second, much though I like my apartment, and much though I enjoy those hours I choose to spend at the keyboard of my ThinkPad, I want that liking and enjoyment to be experienced only in doses that I choose to mete out, not in doses that are levied upon my by forces external, and forces beyond my control.

So, with the weather bad, and the walking and freedom of movement outside the apartment made seriously less attractive by the weather, I conjured.

What else could I do?  I could go to the Louvre, or l’Orangerie, or musée d’Orsay.  Those are inside, and even the smallest involves a lot of walking (Le Louvre s so big it almost defies comprehension) so maybe that would be a good rainy day exercise.  But the size of the crowds that I had recently seen at those venues dissuaded me  from that possibility immediately.

As it happened, that was the same morning that I had made my reservations to Chartres.

“Why not just go to that Internet café that you discovered on Rue Jouy and print out your e-ticket e-mail confirmation?  It has your e-ticket reference code and you probably ought to have physical, ink on paper proof of your right to boarding a train.”

“OK” I heard someone say.

As I was crossing Pont Marie, my umbrella deployed, and with absolutely no ill effects from the fairly medium-heavy rain that had dogged me for the mile or two that I had traversed since I had left the front door of the apartment, it came to me.

“You’ve got to just get out into whatever it is that Paris has to offer in the form of weather.  There is just no excuse for staying indoors.  This place is so wonderful that to do so would approximate what you were taught in grade school and high school to be sin. The situation on the streets is absolutely different, and wonderfully so, once you get out from that inner core view of what is going on – that inner-core view from your apartment.”

Today, the weather again being rainy-grim, as I was coming back from a visit to the same Internet Café, driven by a need to print yet another document for my Chartres trip, I was crossing Pont Louis Philippe when a pale yellow attempt at a proto-sundown had broken out through the clouds to the west.  As I looked at it, all I could say was, “what an exquisite place”.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Some Minor Victories: Or How I Figured Out How To Live Without A Chip And Pin Financial Card–Also Thoughts On The Rain

I mentioned in my post about my encounter with and then my visit to an actual physical FNAC store, my concerns about the fact that what I have, and all Americans have, masquerading as current-century technology is something which was implemented in the 1970s. Europe abandoned the old, better called ancient, mag stripe type of plastic financial card about four years ago. In its lieu they use cards that look the same, but have a monstrously powerful tiny electronic chip in them. There are numerous advantages to this technology, but, since this is not a marketing piece for the European financial industry, or some consortium of chip makers that support that industry, suffice it to say that there are a number of major advantages and to that technology and due to those advantages it has replaced what we are still clinging to in the United States.

None of that would matter to me a hoot if it were not for the fact that a whole new generation of unattended vending devices use that chip and pin technology exclusively. Most retail establishments, including hotels and restaurants can take both the new and the ancient. But a significant component in many American’s activities in Europe could be severely hindered by not being able to use those new, unattended, machines. That is because, if you want to buy a Metro ticket in Paris, or a train ticket anywhere, you need to find an attended, human-occupied booth that sells tickets. There is an amazingly shrinking number of these. France being a full employment state, there are no less people in booths in the stations, there are just a whole lot less people who sell tickets. The rest have been re-deployed to distribute information. So there are ample numbers of booths if you want to get information, such as “why doesn’t my credit card work in the ticket kiosk?” “That’s because you are an American, Monsieur” but not many booths where you can buy tickets from a human who knows how to accept last century’s technology.

Since I definitely need to buy metro tickets, and, if I start using using the metro more and walking less, to refresh my NaviGo pass (the replacement for Carte Orange) and since I plan to make a few train trips, that “very few human ticket sellers” is a very grim scenario. I am in a country which is automation heavy in an area that I need to be able to use, but I can’t use it because the financial industry of my country doesn’t want to invest in anything new – other than, perhaps, new and better ways to slice the tranches of tranches of tranches of tranches of fictitious financial instruments so that they can sell them to idiots, and so that the lead/lag time involved with the idiots figuring out that they have been fucked will allow the sellers of those tranche matrices to, yet again, collect huge bonuses prior to checking in with the taxpayers for bonus protection insurance next time the tranches all start imploding. (Everybody I trust assures me that the recent financial reform law is a farce.)

But I digress.

Confronted with this – for me – problem, I have been thrashing about mentally, since the moment I discovered the problem two or three weeks ago. The only viable option that I could think of was to go into a BNP Paribas, beg somebody to speak to me in English, and explain my plight, with the hope that there would be some easy and painless way for me to get a chip and pin card.

But I kept coming up with really good reasons why I didn’t want to do that. Surprisingly, my ego was not one of them.

So the problem has persisted as an ever present irritant in my life, an ever murmuring voice of discontent, a constant challenge or a proto-quest.

A couple of days ago an idea occurred to me.

In the United States, when I have been on my way to England or France, and when going to those places had involved my wanting to go from London to Paris or Paris to London, I have used Rail Europe to buy the tickets. Those tickets have always been delivered to me in Seattle on time and they have always worked when I boarded the trains for which the tickets were supposed to give me access. I have been a very satisfied Rail Europe customer. I have, though, never really known what Rail Europe was, where it was or how or even why it really worked. It just hadn’t mattered. It had always worked. And beyond that I hadn’t really cared.

The idea that occurred to me was, why not buy the tickets on the Rail Europe web site and have them sent to me at my address in Paris – not metro tickets, of course, I would still have to find humans to buy those tickets from, but train tickets for real travel. I knew that there must be some reason why that idea wouldn’t work, and why what I wanted to do couldn’t be done, but, I really wanted to know what that reason might be.

So I found the – surprisingly easy to find – “contact us” link on the Rail Europe site, contacted them, and asked if I could do what I wanted.

In a surprisingly short time, a surprisingly clear, and surprisingly indicative-of-the-fact-that-the-person responding had-actually-read-my-message-and-had-actually-understood-it (that just doesn’t happen any more in this era when customer service agents are trained to know what people are going to ask before they ask, and to categorize all those questions into neat pre-packaged, automated answers that can be exhumed from the boilerplate cauldron and expeditiously sent to those people naïve enough to ask questions of customer service) answer came back.

More words were used than this, but the answer was no. And the reasons given made sense, even though I would have preferred them not to exist and not to make sense. I had pretty much assumed that that would be the case, so the reasons given were not any surprise.

But then the reply turned a corner and said, what seemed to me, mais oui – but yes.

The guy pointed out that most tickets available on the Rail Europe site had an e-ticket delivery option that was part of the checkout process.

I am now the possessor of a round trip (day trip) exploratory venture into the world of buying my tickets on my computer in my apartment from Rail Europe, choosing the “print e-ticket at the station” delivery method to Chartres in the week after next. The confirming email said that I should print out that confirming email – so that I had the e-ticket numbers to feed to the kiosk at Gare Montparnasse, and so that I had proof of purchase to cover any unforeseen problems.

So I walked down to the Internet Café that I had discovered when I was living on the island, it is on Rue de Jouy, printed two copies of that email, paid the really nice guy in attendance one euro fifty centimes, and stopped when I got back to the left bank on the mainland at Le St Séverin for a contemplative glass of wine; and then I came home to write this.

I’ll let you know how well the Chartres trip works out. If it is as good as I hope, I think Bordeaux for a couple of days is next and then, perhaps, Barcelona.

I’ll let you know how that all comes out.

The thoughts on the rain have been deferred to later.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

La Terreur Du Déjà Vu

In Screen Saver I recount a thing that once happened to me in the Champion that used to be on Rue de Seine.  Although it was a simple to describe event from a doggy and horsey viewpoint (“doggy and horsey” is a term that Mysti and I co-opted long ago from a Peanuts strip: Charlie Brown and Lucy are lying on the ground looking up at the sky and Lucy is describing the things she is seeing in the clouds; she sees epic battles from classic mythology, heroes of American history and a panoply of people and things that only could be evoked by high intelligence stoked with a deep and classical education; she stops; there is a frame in which they just lie there, neither saying anything; and then Charlie Brown says “gee, I was going to say that I saw a doggy and a horsey”) since it didn’t take very long and it entailed nothing more spectacular than a woman’s mobile canvas-clad grocery go-to-market cart tipping over; it nonetheless had a profound and lasting effect on my life.

Stemming from that experience, in that super market, in Paris, I have a different interpretation of certain configurations of “things” that I may encounter in my daily life.

That cart, that day was the property of the woman immediately ahead of me in the checkout line.  There is a complete carefully woven web of circumstances, activities and attitudes that I recount in my account of the event in the book.  But I leave that detail to readers of the book.

The short version is that the cart was a commonly seen device on the streets and in the markets of Paris.  It was a metal frame with a canvas shell wrapping it, the frame being on wheels.  The canvas shell presented a surprisingly cavernous opportunity for the owners of such devices to stow all variety of groceries, and on the day in question the woman in question in the line in question directly ahead of me had outdone herself with the stuffing of her cart. 

Another characteristic of such devices, and one which was essential to the events of that day in Champion, my subsequent “different interpretation of certain configurations of ‘things’ that I may encounter in my daily life”, and the terror legitimately connected to the events of today which I may sometime soon get around to telling about, is that those devices, when chock-a-block full, can stand with their long axis perpendicular to the horizontal surface of the floor or the ground or whatever horizontal surface it is that they find themselves to be occupying at any point in their use as carriers of potentially vast quantities of groceries.

And that is convenient for their owners.  It allows those owners to cart their cart to some location or other – such as just ahead of me in a grocery checkout line in the Champion on Rue de Seine in Paris – and, having set it into that vertical, perpendicular-to-the-floor attitude of which it is capable, said owners can leave the device unattended while they reach for their wallets, or remove items from it to be put on the check out conveyor, or whatever other two handed activities would be precluded if it were not for that independently vertical standing capability.

But that capability can be disastrous for unwary others in the vicinity.

On that day I was one such unwary other.  I caused that vertical standing pillar of what turned out to be mostly large glass jars of gravy to change attitude by 90 degrees, thus bringing a massive quantity of fragilely packaged brown goo into catastrophic contact with the floor.

Since that day I never stand in line behind or ahead of one of those things when I am in Paris.

Moreover, any time I see, what turns out to be a kindred configuration of “things”  (it is surprising how large a clan of configurations of things that particular configuration belongs to) I get really wary.

What kind of things? you may probably be asking no one in particular.

Oh, how about a five foot high hand truck loaded up to the curvature of its handle with cases – say maybe six or seven – of eggs?

A completely separate and satisfying – at least to me – post could be written about the paucity of anything resembling a sidewalk on any but the largest boulevards of Paris.  That is one of the myriad things that contribute to the charm of the place.  But it does keep one constantly analyzing the activities, configurations and sizes of the people in front of one, or behind one, on those places on either side of the narrow streets that are generally, although not always, free from autos or motorcycles, so that major crashes of human kind with one another are avoided. 

Suffice that just-said to be a prologue to the climax of this tale.

I was coming back from the market with my Paris market basket – remember the one which when we last encountered it was left, unusably coated with olive oil, in the story of the great olive oil disaster? – fully laden with cheese, bread and croissant, and I was on the last leg of the journey, having started down Rue Guénégaud.  I was walking, dodging, going into the street – all those things one does on all those charming small Paris streets – when I came to a medium sized delivery van parked partially on what little sidewalk there was.  Between the truck’s sides and the wall of the building on it right side there was ample room for one person to go if than one person put his market bag in front of himself in order that the bag might not nearly double the width of that person.

There having been a cluster of more than one person coming in the opposite direction, I stopped substantially back of the delivery truck – I was unable to see what if anything might be associated with its delivery function; it was just forward of the Fran Prix super marché so I assumed that it must be delivering something to Fran Prix – and let that cluster make their way as best they could through the space between the truck and the wall.

Once they were past I moved a little closer to the truck and tried to see ahead to see if more people were coming opposite me.  There were not.  As I moved forward, about to enter the gap between the truck and the wall, I saw that there was indeed a delivery person just behind the truck, in the street directly behind the part of the truck that was not on the sidewalk.  I saw that he had a good sized hand truck loaded vertically with multiple cases of something.  Except for a distant twinge – such twinges always accompany any such configuration that I encounter, but, mercifully, they almost never develop into anything more sinister – I didn’t think much about it.

As a person who once aspired to make his living as a consultant to the distribution industry, any manifestation of activities associated with distribution continues to fascinate me.  Paris it turns out, is a laboratory for someone who has interests such as mine.  To make all the little markets, stores and the like, to say nothing of the myriad restaurants work, being as they are, all lurking in back allies, and in dead end passages and inside buildings, many of which date to the sixteen hundreds, the French have adopted carte blanche what food distributors in America call DSD – Direct Store Delivery.   The “Direct” in DSD is the tricky part.  It means directly from the manufacturer to the store; there is no middle stage of being held in a huge wholesale warehouse. In America DSD is confined to small specialized niches such as – sometimes – beverage, and pretty much always, snacks.  In France DSD is the way stuff gets to the retailers.

And an interesting result of this fact is that if you get out early enough, when it’s still dark, and go to a street upon which a number of markets and restaurants front – the intersection of Rue de Bucci and Rue de Seine is a great example – you will see a street turned into, for an hour or so, the floor of a food distribution warehouse, complete with all the tools, pallet jacks, etc. that would be present in a warehouse.

Anyone who has ever seen this sight, and who knows anything about anything, would be hard pressed to continue to harbor that cherished American belief that the French are lazy and not entrepreurial (George Bush, remember, said that they don’t even have a word for it – Sarah Palin at least, has never heard of the word in the first place, or probably, France, so she can hardly be found fault with).

Anyway, as I began to enter the gap between the truck and the wall, and saw the man and his hand truck loaded with cases up to the top of the truck’s backbone I made note of yet another evidence of DSD.

Then I noticed that the top case was open on the top, not as in someone had opened it, but as in it was a one layer carton that had no top to it by design.  Since it was open, I could see that the contents of that layer of the cases was cartons of les oeufs des fermiers – farm fresh eggs. 

Bear in mind, it takes much longer to tell or to read all of this than it did to live through it.

Things were moving along briskly.  I had almost entered the gap and by then everything that I have just described had been discerned by me.  I was digesting the fact that the top layer of the cartons was an open topped carton with multiple smaller cartons of eggs.  I could see them; they were in individual cartons, themselves with cutouts in their lids so that the eggs could be seen; they were a pretty brown.  I still had not actually gotten into the gap between the truck and the store, but my entry was imminent.  All of this had probably occupied a second or two – let’s say two.

As second three began its lifespan I took note of the rest of the cases – the six or seven other cases upon which the top, open lidded case was stationed.  They were rather large, closed cardboard cases, each consisting of a depth that would probably have accommodated three layers of the depth of the single layer open topped one on the very top.  And all those multi layer cases were also eggs.  It said so on their sides.  As second three entered its death throes I had entered the gap.  I was still two or three paces from the guy. 

As second four began its life, and as I got yet that much physically and temporally closer to the vertical configuration in front of me the twinge that always accompanies my encountering those type of configurations became an almost tangible feeling of dread.  Contributing to the developing tangibility of my dread – for dread it can only be accurately called – was the fact that the guy had left the configuration without his hand on the handle; he had left it in its conveniently stationary upright position and moved slightly away to do some other task.

At this point there was a confluence of cosmic proportions.  Second four screamed its anguished death call, second five was born and I, in my head at least, became suspended in some never-never land from which I could see impending catastrophe but from which I was shielding myself with every power at my disposal.  I may have physically stopped moving, or I may have slowed to progress measured in microns; in any event I was as close to the stack of eggs as I was going to allow myself to be, and that was far enough away that what happened next could not be ascribed to me in any way.  If those desirous of ascribing guilt, if there were any such, had known of my almost eerie connection with such events they might have been able to make a case.  But only I knew of the connection and I wasn’t telling anybody.

You may have noticed by now if you have read many of my posts that guilt is a big thing with me.

I don’t know whether the guy heard second five in its death wail, or whether some sixth sense tried to give him warning.  I think he had an inkling of what I already knew in that weird way in which déjà vu always lets one “know” things.  As second six came into being I had stopped in my tracks; I think the guy had reached for the handle of the hand truck; I had hope that the vu might turn out not so déjà.

But that hope was dashed.

Things for me had gone into that movie slow motion mode that always accompanies my participation in disasters.  His hand, I think, had reached out, but just behind the now horizontally accelerating vertical configuration of eggs;  second six started screaming and second seven began to make warm birthing sounds; and I, in horror watched a really large omelet come into existence.

I don’t think – and I mean this seriously – that I have ever felt more empathetically worse for a fellow human being.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Coda To The Great Olive Oil Disaster

All during the time I spent recently narrowing my life’s view to that of Sisyphus, a distant predecessor, who employed a rock as his challenge generating device rather than, as I did, two hundred feet of spilled olive oil, I kept thinking that I remembered from the other time that I had stayed in the apartment, whose hall appeared to be the place I would spend eternity, on my hands and knees (remember? it had been the site of that now laughable previous achievement, my first uneventful first time entry into a new apartment) that a cleaning service periodically came in and, among other things mopped the hall and shampooed the carpets.  I found no immediate solace in that possibly accurate memory.  I mean it wasn’t as if I expected them to show up like the cavalry over the hill just at my time of need; it was just something that I thought that I remembered.  It did have the additional ameliorative aspect that, if it were true, in the unlikely event that I ever succeeded in escaping being Sisyphus, and succeeded in completing some sort of triage cleaning miracle, the professionals might appear in due time and complete the job leaving nary a trace of that which had occurred on that fateful Saturday.

Well today due time did indeed pass and the cleaning people did indeed appear.  I didn’t know it was the cleaning people when I first became aware of them.  All I heard was a lot of shouting between what appeared to be two men.  Obviously I had no idea what they were shouting.  If I had, I suspected retrospectively, I was saying something such as “what kind of twisted pervert would coat the halls with olive oil”?

It wasn’t until I had opened the door to make my exit for my daily walk and image gathering exercise that I realized it was they whom I thought I remembered.  It was the cleaning people.

What caused me to know immediately that this was the case was that the hexagonal terra cotta brick flooring that had still had telltale vestigial smudges of oil here and there – telltale at least to someone such as I who had had an intimate relationship with those smudges for their entire life span; I might even have claimed to have had a degree of fatherhood for their existence – was still glimmering wetly with the sheen of recent moppedness.

My door is the first door in the hall on my floor.  There is another door across from me but it is slightly down the hall from me.  Then the hall goes off down itself for how far I know not – I have been unwilling to ever go down it beyond my doorway for fear of finding myself trapped in pitch blackness due to capricious, or perhaps sinister, activities of the spirit-keepers of the little glowing things – but it is quite a long hall; I can see that in the brief durations when the little glowing things have been convinced to illuminate the area.  So the still glimmering sheen (I really like that description; I think I’ll keep it) should have extended on down the hall beyond my door and be visible up to its vanishing point or until the lights went out, whichever occurred first.

But it didn’t. 

Remember at the very outset of the disaster when I briefly flirted with the idea of just leaving the mess and disclaiming any knowledge in the unlikely event that anyone ever asked?  And remember that one of the two reasons that I kept trying to clean it up – the other being fear of my mess causing someone to slip and kill themselves – was that the mess itself stopped right at my door in the form of one of the two significant lakes of olive oil that I had been inadvertently able to create?  And with the mess at my doorstep, so to speak, it seemed that I would be quickly identified as the culprit.

Now the glimmering sheen stopped at that very self-same doorstep.  When I came back from my three hour walk I was completely ready to find a note pinned to my door: “nous accusons, Monsieur le Culprit!”

But it wasn’t there.  Maybe the sheen dried before anyone had a chance to see it, with its accusatory termination at my doorstep.  Maybe only the cleaning people know for sure. 

And the stream of olive oil down the center of all of the carpet between the outer entry and my doorway had been shampooed away.

Could the whole episode just have been a very bad dream based on my imperfect knowledge of Greek mythology?  I think I will take that view henceforth.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Snippets For The Day

When yesterday's appointed writing time of day arrived, I just sat staring at the computer screen.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. I have either of two things to write, neither of which do I know the length. One is another episode in Halloween Story? and the other is a coda to the great olive oil disaster: what ever became of my old friend the Paris market bag, now that it has an oil saturated bottom and leaves an oily, smudgy spot wherever it is set down?

But no words would come in support of either of those projects. My heart was really not in it.

I had returned slightly ahead of the appointed hour – about 1530 – from a highly successful expedition to FNAC to buy an ultraviolet filter for my new Sony Alpha 5. FNAC is a giant seller of electronics, cameras, books and recorded digital media (actually two guys in front of me in line were buying vinyl) to the great nation of France. For meFNAC is a magical place because it is that place to which I can go, and be absolutely sure, that something vital, electronically speaking, that I have forgotten and left on the other side of the Atlantic and am in current dire need of, can and will be found. And a corollary is that it has so much absolutely neat stuff that I always find many things for which I didn’t even know I had a need.

This day’s FNAC visit was going to be mildly interesting. It was going to answer the question “how does a huge retailer deal with the fact that, when contacted via the internet, it shows itself to have such and such an item, but the consumer who has established that item’s existence and its availability, has chosen for some reason to buy from the physical store rather than make the purchase on line?”

That was my question, and this being a gray day with a proclivity to rain, I had decided to confine my walking activities, not to image gathering, but to fact-finding and/or acquiring that item which had caused me to be aware of those facts to which I was setting out on an expedition of finding.

It had started on a day several days prior when I was occupied in my legitimate daily activity of image gathering. I had happened to glance at the upturned - to me - open face of the lens of my camera, and I had seen spots. There were spots on the outer surface of the lens. That is not something I like to see on a vital and expensive piece of optics. I made a note that I would need to use the special lens cloth with which I clean my plastic glasses lenses when I returned to the apartment. And I did. And with a huff, and with a puff, depositing a little vapor on the lens, the spots came away in toto.

But this event had called my attention to a higher level threat. It was a threat that I hadn’t thought of since Saigon, but which flooded back with an intensity as if the years were not 43 but were instead minutes – perhaps 43.

The threat was: having the very expensive curvature of one’s camera lens openly exposed to the world is a really bad idea. “Isn’t it interesting” – I thought I heard someone say – “that 43 three years ago, in a war zone, the only threat he could perceive, or perhaps the only one that he was willing to admit to giving a shit about, was the surface area of his camera’s lens”?

The solution to that problem in 1967 had been to buy an inexpensive and therefore completely expendable ultra violet filter which screwed in to the threaded extension of the outer shell of the lens’s housing. I looked at my lens, and sure enough, there were threads.

I had already bookmarked a place on the FNAC web site (I had been curious about how much I would have to pay for a printer for my apartment) and I went to “photo” and entered “filtre” and up popped some options, one of which was “UV” which I chose, and there in front of me was a cornucopia of “filtres”.

I had idly wondered prior to entering the search argument that had presented me with such plethoric options if cameras had some kind of uniform and standard size for their filters.

They don’t.

But by toggling to another tab which, when opened, gave me access to “Sony Style” I finally figured out that the filter I needed to buy was probably 49 mm.

I found a 49mm UV filtre and put it in my cart. I then performed the prerequisite ritual of setting up my user ID and password for FNAC. I had decided that, not only was the 13 euros that the thing cost, an amount that made the item’s nature as a part of my equipment totally expendable – just as its predecessor in 1967 on my Pentax Spotmatic had been – but also that that amount of money made adding yet another new dimension to my life a thing totally, feasibly, and financially within my reach. That dimension would be, if I could pull it off, the buying of something on the internet, from a French company, in French, and shipping the item to myself in my apartment in France. If it never showed up I was not out much. If it showed up I was a genius or something.

It doesn’t really take much to entertain me deeply.


But, sadly, it was not to be. There was some kind of Carte de FNAC requirement that I was unable to supersede, overwhelm, get around, or even, really, to understand, but I suspected that it had something to do with the fact that Europe – with France in the forefront – has gone to chip and pin cards on more and more of their non human attended interfaces to the buying public. There are some starkly frightening implications of this for Americans who have credit cards that support the stone age technology of magnetic stripes. If an American, with his Visa or MasterCard finds him or her self in a metro station that doesn’t have a human-attended ticket-selling function he or she is pretty well stranded if he or she doesn’t already have a ticket.

I have always gone to Gare du Nord on the morning that I wanted to go to London, gone to one of the many automated ticket kiosks and bought my first class ticket and boarded when indicated.

No more.

The financial institutions of America just don’t see any justification for spending whatever money is involved with joining the rest of the world in making credit cards more secure, fungible and universal. It is hard not to suspect tangible revenge for even the laughable reforms passed by a US Congress owned by the financial industry of America. On the other hand, it may be just another form of the subtle, but very real, act of the US Government closing its net of control over the freedom of Americans to conduct themselves in manners of their own choosing tantamount among them, such things as the right to travel unfettered and freely.

In any event, I couldn’t complete the internet transaction, but I had learned that FNAC had a product that I wanted to buy, and what it was called in FNAC parlance.

So I decided that, when a day became obviously fallow enough – just devoid of other options - to use that day to go to FNAC and see if I could translate my knowledge of what they had for sale on their web site, but which had been denied to me by my lack of current technology purchasing equipment, by asking someone with a FNAC uniform, “vous avez cette filtre”?

Which is what I did.

The person to whom I addressed that question said something which I had no idea the meaning of, but he also gestured vaguely to a fellow FNAC-uniformed employee who was sitting in a bar stool height chair; he was hunched over a keyboard. I decided that the guy to whom I had asked the question must be referring me to the hunched one.

So I went over to the hunched one and waited for him to complete whatever it was that he was doing with his computer. After a few moments he looked at me and we exchanged pleasant “bon jours” and I said to him, as I had said to his compatriot “vous avez cette filtre”? I should have mentioned when I issued that question to the other guy that, in conjunction with the question, I showed him the little quarter-folded piece of lined 8.5 by 11 yellow lined paper upon which I run most of my life, and upon which I had written the words “Cokin 49mm UV filtre”.

He asked me something, but I had no idea what it was that he was asking; I gave my best Gallic shrug and said “oui”. He went to work on the keyboard, and I could see my item, a Cokin 49 mm fitre UV come up on the screen. I could also see that the price was 14 euros, one euro more than the on line price had been. He said something to me that I didn’t understand, and asked me a question that I also didn’t understand. I said, “oui” with both enthusiasm and conviction. He hit a couple of keys and in a moment he handed me a piece of paper which described the details of my impending purchase. As he handed it to me he gestured toward the caisses – the electronic (IBM by the way) cash registers – said something as he made that gesture, and then swept the gesture back across space and to a location somewhat on the other side of the retail space form where he and I were standing, and said something that I also didn’t understand, as he did so. I had no idea what he had said about the caisses or the area behind him.

But I knew in my heart.

At least I knew what I wanted it to have been that he had said. I wanted it to be something like “go pay for this and then take the receipt over there and pick up your lens”. So I tried to confirm that longed for understanding of the situation by saying something like “je prend mon achat la?” gesturing to the vague second area that he had indicated. I had decided that I would just assume that first I had to pay and that the logical place to do so would be at one of the caisses; trying to formulate a question to confirm that was just beyond me at that moment.

But I wasn’t ready to let the whole situation be that simple. I wanted there to be some separate check out line for purchases such as mine. And I wanted to figure out which one it was before I had gotten into just any old check out line, and had found that, once I had traversed the seemingly endless queue, having reached its head, that I was in the wrong line. Try as I might I couldn’t see any sign that said anything like that, so in the event I just got in a line, immediately behind the two guys buying vinyl.

Having all the time in the world to continue to analyze the situation, and look for additional data points to assist in that analysis I scanned the whole area back toward the area from which I had gotten the piece of paper that I was holding so I could pay for my Cokin filtre, especially the area where I thought the computer guy had terminated the second part of his gesture that had accompanied what I had assumed to be the description of how I was to complete the transaction. As my eyes focused with particular intensity on that area, I saw a counter with a sign hanging above it “Retrait Achats”. I knew that “retrait” meant “retired” when used with the additional words “a la”; it means “withdraw” when on a sign next to an ATM. “Achats” means “purchases”.

That seemed hopeful

What wasn’t hopeful was that when I got to be the fourth person from the checker, she – the checker - put up the sign “Caisse Fermeture”. My fellow line dwellers shrugged and said something to one another, all nodding and making conciliatory gestures toward the checker. They sort of made moves to go to another line, in fact the woman just behind me did just that. So I picked a new line also. That line was a fairly short one which I thought to be odd as I stepped up to become a part of it. The woman who was last in that line gave me a pleasant enough look as she gestured with a negative sort of connotation and said something that I didn’t understand; but I knew it to be the news that the line was closed to new blood.

So I went to still a third line, and receiving no feedback of any kind from its other tenants; so I settled in as it crept forward.

I have always taken the view, when in France, that since most of the time I have no idea what I or anybody else is doing, and no idea what anybody else is saying, there just isn’t any point in getting upset about very much of anything. (As in a similar observation I have made previously in the Sisyphus post, I hear a chorus of friends and family nay saying that assertion; I can only counter by saying that they don’t live with me all hours of all days, especially when those hours and days are in France.) The best approach has always seemed to me to be to just hunker down and act as if I think that both I, and the situation, are totally normal und under complete control.

That is really unlike the real me, but it is a façade that I have adopted when in France that seems to get me through most French situations.

So that was what I was doing there in FNAC.

And the line continued to creep forward.

I should have mentioned that both the line that I had been in initially, and in which I had been presented with the apparent fait accompli of the line being closed with me still in it, and the one that I had been told – I thought – was not accepting new members at that time, were both still checking people through and both were accepting new members.

It is always interesting.

The one exposure that worried me as my time came nigh was the possibility that FNAC would only accept chip and pin cards, leaving me at the head of the line with no way to pay for what was indicated on the piece of paper that I had been clutching. So I was especially relieved when the answer to my question “carte credite ok?” was “oui” The checker took the card from me and swiped it in slot put there for people who come from countries (there is only one as it turns out) that still use last century’s technology, rather than waiting for me to insert it in the little card slot that chip and pin cards go into, which would have been a futile, if bravado-driven gesture on my part.

And only moments later I had completed my visit to the “retrait achats” desk, had picked up my filtre, and was on my way.

Since Café du Metro is on the way back from FNAC to the apartment – that being part of the plan – I stopped, had a glass of wine, examined my purchase and gloated over another successful incursion into the unknown.

And when I got back to the apartment, having left the camera there when I had departed for FNAC, the filtre screwed in perfectly.

My low cost protective shield for my expensive and vulnerable 18 to 55 mm lens was in place.