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.)
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.