Friday, May 19, 2006

Voie Touristique

I have a bad habit, whenever guests come to stay with us, of forgetting that they actually really would like to see the major Parisian tourist sights such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame, and not just the things I find to be superbly splendid in this city.

In preparation for my father's recent visit to Paris, I spent a month coming up with all sorts of activities and things I wanted to show him. High on the list was the LA art exhibit at the Pompidou, which I had not yet seen. Plus a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry at the quirky Parc de la Villette, which seemed the sort of thing one's father might be interested in. And a Sunday trip to the Bois de Boulogne to watch the dog slip and lose her footing and fall into the lake and then crawl out and shake herself in an I-meant-to-do-that kind of fashion, because an outing like that is a big part of the fabric of our everyday lives here. Lovely meals were carefully planned as well, some to be prepared at home: homemade quiche, salad with goat cheese and lentilles de Puy, morning croissant and coffee in a bol, and then some to be consumed in restaurants: lunch at the local sushi joint, takeout falafels from the Lebanese up the street, Vietnamese spring rolls in Chinatown, and the most delicious pizza this side of the Italian border, which just so happens to be right downstairs.

He loved everything. But I noticed a pattern in his narration on the videos he took of our outings (my father filmed everything, complete with narration, so he could relive the trip over and over and so everyone back home could feel like they had taken a trip to Paris too):

In line at the Pompidou: "Here I am in Paris, about to see an exhibit about art in Los Angeles. You can hear Mongolian monks chanting in the background on the esplanade behind me"

At the Parc de la Villette: "Here I am in Paris, about to go see an exhibit about Star Wars"

On line seven: "Here I am in Paris, we are on the métro on our way to Chinatown.
We soon began to make jokes about it, culminating on on the day before he left, while standing in line at the cheese shop, in which he proclaimed "I can't wait to tell Philippe (our French downstairs neighbor in California) about all the wonderful French food I ate in France. The sushi was divine, the vietnamese unsurpassed, and you were right, that pizza was something else", which led us into a final fit of uncontrollable giggles. But on his final evening in our apartment, hearing his girlfriend shout into the phone "I can't BELIEVE you've been to Paris this many times and STILL haven't been to the Louvre!" as he held the receiver away from his ear, I had to grab the phone from him, realizing the error of my ways, and explain to her that I took full responsibility for the untraditional tone of my father's stay.

When you live in Paris, everyone and their grandmother comes to visit. People start coming out of the woodwork. Our spare futon mattress is booked solid in the summer months and reservations start coming in around early spring. The truth is that people come so often that, dare I say it, gulp, I get a little....tired of going to the Louvre after the umpteenth time this year. Nowadays I show our guests where it is and arrange to meet them at closing time in front of the glass pyramid. That isn't to say that I don't absolutely adore the wondrous major monuments that the city is so well known for. When I first came to Paris, I spent the first six months visiting these major monuments constantly. I thought I would never tire of gazing at the rose window in Notre Dame, and that the day would never come that I would have seen enough of the Louvre.

Guess what. It kind of did. Sort of.

It's just that since those early days, I have discovered so many, many other lesser known, less grandiose but equally wonderful things that I'd rather show people. My favorite little winding streets in the 20th, for example, or the Parc des Batignolles with its charming little stone waterfalls and bridges, or the Japanese garden at the annex of the Musee Guimet. Visiting the Latin Quarter cafes that can boast Hemingway's Butt Sat Here is definitely something we should all see once, but afterwards I'd rather go to my local brightly painted red and yellow cafe with coffee for one eighth the price of Les Deux Magots. As for food, it's true that when Eddie and I go out to eat, we rarely have traditional French cuisine. Part of the reason for this is that traditional French cuisine is normally not very vegetarian friendly, but it's also just that because Paris is such a cosmopolitan city, the ethnic cuisine and restaurants are truly outstanding, and so Indian and Lebanese places are staples of our dining out ventures.

My San Francisco uber hipster friend, Seth, made a side trip from London to stay with us last July. When we were roommates in Northern California many many moons ago, in between our digs through vintage clothing shops to see what archaelogical wonders we could find, we took it upon ourselves to start a quest to locate the quaintest coffeehouses the Bay Area had to offer. Most of them were housed in creaky Victorians and had well worn couches upon which the resident cat would be snoozing. Honoring that tradition, I looked forward to showing him around some of my favorite cafes in the eleventh arrondissement, on and around rue Oberkampf.

He loved them.

On the third day, he said "I probably should get a look at the Eiffel Tower or something, before I get back on the Eurostar".

Oh right. Of course you should. I nearly forgot about that.


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