TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Paris June 2008 #4

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 25, 2008

a walk through lost Paris; an unexpected dining pleasure; the wonderful world of Disney


a walk through lost Paris

Leonard Pitt’s Walks Through Lost Paris utilizes 19th century records, photographs and post cards to document many of buildings demolished by Baron Haussmann at the direction of Emperor Napoleon III in the mid 1800s. Some of these are but a few blocks from our apartment in the sub-section of the Marais known as Saint Paul Village.

We begin at 47 Rue Saint-Paul, with a “tall narrow building dating from 1545.”

That’s 1545! 23 generations, more or less, have come and mostly gone since then, and the building is still functioning, a store at ground level and apartments above.

In many ways, this sense of connection with our long gone predecessors is what brings us to Europe. Over 450 years ago, people lived, slept, ate, argued and made love in this very building. Were they happy? What did they think of their lives? That’s one of the reasons I love to write historical novels, to consider, research, and write about such questions.

We pass through an ancient arch, down a narrow passage and into the side entrance of the impressive Jesuit church of St-Paul-St-Louis, completed in 1641.

A block away on Rue Eginhard are several homes constructed by the prioress of the order Dames Hospitalieres de Saninte-Anastasie in 1648. On the now cleared site of one of these homes is a plaque honoring Elias Zadjner, who died with his three sons in Auschwitz, in the unit of medical experiments. French police took the family away from Catholic priests who were trying to save them and delivered them to the Nazis. Zadjner’s wife, who survived, pleaded with the city for 50 years for a memorial; in 1995, then mayor Jacques Chirac heard her plea.

On Rue des Jardins Saint-Paul, the name of the street since 1277, stands the remnants of the Paris city wall constructed between 1190 and 1210. Boys play soccer next to the wall, occasionally pounding a ball against it.

The Village Saint-Paul consists of 50 or so buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, restored by the city in the 1970s; they now house ground level artist and antique shops above which are apartments rented to the elderly at below-market rates.

On the Rue du Figuier is the Hotel de Sens, built by Archbishop Tristan de Salazar between 1498 and 1519, one of two remaining medieval buildings in Paris. Pitt relates a famous tragedy of love which occurred just in front of the building. In 1606, Marguerite de Valois (Queen Margot) lived in the Hotel de Sens. Then aged 52, she summarily dropped her 18 year old lover, Count de Vermond, for the perhaps more experienced 20 year old Julian Date. The count, understandably piqued, retaliated by shooting his rival in the head, subsequently losing his own head to a dropping blade after refusing Margot’s plea to make “honorable amend.” What do we imagine she meant by “honorable amend?”


an unexpected dining pleasure

We received an email from our Key West friends Carol and Karl; they are on their way from their home in the Loire Valley to NYC for the wedding of Carol’s son, and will be in Paris for a little more than 24 hours. I call Carol to invite her to have dinner; they have already planned dinner Sunday night with a friend; we are invited to join them.

The restaurant is Coupe Chou, a favorite of Carol’s. We ate there last summer on her recommendation; it was superb then and again now. Karl recommends his favorite, an aubergine (eggplant) appetizer; it is fantastic.

Their long-time friend Tom, who used to live in Key West and now lives in Paris and LA, is a delightful new acquaintance for us. He is extremely well read on French history and several of his suggestions are already in my cart.

Some real insights from Tom on the attitude of the French towards work; they are set in their work habits and don’t like any changes, especially if they involve more work, and they resent success.  He cites the example of a friend who worked hard to make his café on Isle St. Louis a financial as well as culinary success; when he bought a nice car with his profits, his friends told him he was putting on airs. Another friend, upon retiring, was berated by his co-workers who were worried they would have to add his duties to their own.

We see this all the time as customers. For the French, the job exists for the employee, not the customer, who is often seen as an unwanted intruder on the employee’s domain. For example, it is apparently too much work for a clerk in a store or behind a ticket window to make change. Every time I pay with a 20 euro bill, I’m asked if I have something smaller; whenever I say no, the clerk is obviously irritated.

We took the metro and RER to get to Coupe Chou, but walk back, most of the way with Tom who lives on Isle St. Louis; he knows all the short cuts. We see a spectacular view of Notre Dame at night. Tom’s apartment, which he purchased in 1984, is in a building on the point of Isle St. Louis with spectacular views of the Seine and Isle de Cite. If there is a better location in Paris, we have no idea what that might be.


the wonderful world of Disney

Pat introduced me to Disneyworld in Orlando years ago, and we have loved it together ever since. Disney in Paris (actually about 35 minutes outside of Paris) is every bit as ‘perfect’ as Disney in Orlando. Main Street has all the familiar stores; It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean are just as great (maybe even better, if it’s not heresy to say so); the parade just as much fun. We wander all day from Disneyland to the Disney Studio, to the Disneyland Hotel, to Disney Village. Each building and park setting is absolutely Disney-perfect. The weather is perfect. We eat real hot dogs. The popcorn, however, is sugar coated, not to our liking; Orville Redenbacher didn’t make it across the Atlantic.

One aspect of our remembered Disney experience is missing: there are no smiling employees at every corner and turn to welcome and direct you; perhaps these have also been eliminated in Orlando since our last visit, but we miss them here. The cleaning personnel, however, are omnipresent. A single discarded wrapper has a very short life in the street. Smoking is prohibited except in selected areas, and this restriction is mostly (and surprisingly) observed.

We’re told the parade begins at 4:00 pm; we find seats on the curb; the appointed time comes and goes. Oops, today it’s 5:00 pm. At 5:00 pm, right on schedule, the music begins, with an announcement, in French and English, that the parade will begin in 10 minutes. It does, and it’s great. After the parade, we go to Disney village and eat (a real hamburger and potato skins) at Planet Hollywood, the only restaurant in our experience that includes both Philly Cheese Steaks and Croque Monsieur on the same menu.

Disney Paris was a great experience … with two (minor?) irritations.

One was buying a ticket. We arrived at 10:45 am after a 35 minute ride on the RER from Gare de Lyon in Paris. The park has been open since 10:00. There are huge crowds waiting to get in, divided into three sections; in each section, there are eight ticket booths. The problem, at least in our section, is that only one of the ticket booths is open. The line, as you can imagine, moves slowly or not at all. Finally, two more ticket booths are opened (Pat says they were open all along, but here our observations differ), and then three more. The line now moves quickly, but it has taken as long to buy a ticket as it did to get here from Paris. The French are very patient; Americans (and the Finns behind us in line) are not.

Once we see Main Street, however, the irritation dissipates. Until we leave.

Now we are in the RER terminal. It is 7:30 pm, the end of a Disney day, so there are huge crowds of people trying to buy RER tickets back to Paris. Inexplicably, more than half of the ticket machines are programmed so they don’t dispense one way tickets, which you don’t learn until you wait in the long line and try to use one. I go to the back of another long line; this machine does dispense one way tickets to others ahead of me, but now my bank debit card does not work, and I don’t have 12.60 euros in change. Fortunately, Pat has been waiting all this time in the line for the one open ticket booth. There are eight booths, seven of which are closed. It takes over 30 minutes to buy a ticket.

The French, obviously used to waiting, are very patient. Repeat the mantra: jobs are to provide income for employees, not to serve customers. On a different perspective, which may or may not be valid, it seems to me that France cannot continue to compete in the fast-paced European Union environment if these attitudes toward work and customer service continue to dominate French culture.




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