Monday, November 19, 2012

Paris, day one

My hotel in Paris was not a chain, and full of character.  By which I mean the bed was three or four inches shorter than I am, in a room that barely had room for this abbreviated bed and a tiny desk in the wall -- not next to the wall; there wasn't room for that.  The bathroom was similarly tiny, with no room for a bathtub; just a shower.  Its best virtue was that it was cheap, for Paris, and it was nearby the venue I'd be speaking at Monday.

For lunch I ate at a Japanese restaurant down the street.  Not exactly classic French cooking, but it was highly rated (deservedly so, it turned out), and close.  It was packed -- is it normal for restaurants to still be doing brisk lunch business at almost 3 in Paris? -- but I got my food quickly despite this.  Oddly, it took almost an hour to get my check afterwards.  I think my waiter was having a bad day; one of the cooks caught my eye and shook his head sympathetically.  Of course, in France as in most of Europe tipping isn't part of the culture -- service staff is supposed to take pride in doing good work without ham-handed post-facto bribery.  Mostly this works.

After lunch I browsed the used book-and-dvd store nearby.  (Across the street from it was its counterpart for Japanese material only.  I saw several other stores with Japanese signage in the area, and a handful in Korean.  Guess I picked an Asian corner of Paris purely by chance.)  I picked up some DVDs for Dad, and a manga book for Christine. 

There were too many shelves of manga books to do anything like an exhaustive evaluation, and I ended up picking one out almost entirely based on its cover.

I had the opposite problem with DVDs.  I know absolutely nothing about French movies from the last twenty years.  I asked a French lady my parents' age for advice, and took the four she recommended.  With no guarantee that Dad would find any of these watchable, I added a dubbed James Bond movie and an American TV show.

That didn't really leave me with time for sightseeing before things started closing down for the day, so I retired to my room to plan the next day's activities. 

For dinner I set out determined to have a French meal worthy of the name.  I pored over dozens of reviews and finally set out.  On the way, I found a shoe store and replaced my broken shoelaces with a new set.  "Where are you from?" the shopkeeper asked.  "The United States," I replied.  "Is it obvious from my accent that I'm not Parisian?"  "Yes," he said, "but I wouldn't have guessed American.  Maybe German."  I guess I'll take that as a compliment.

Unfortunately, my carefully chosen restaurant turned out to be only open for lunch.  So I backtracked to a brasserie I'd seen on the way and ate there instead.  Alas, my veal with rice was entirely forgettable.  The waiter, however, had character.  He kept replying to my French in English.  Finally I called him on it: "You're embarrassing me here!"  He shrugged, as if to say, it's nothing personal.  "It's because you have an accent," he explained.  Guess I need to work on that.

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