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Tuesday, 22 January
French Kisses

I checked with her, and she doesn't mind: this is the year the wife turns forty. And it only seems fair that before I leave her for a younger woman I show her a good time.

(Ha ha! I kid. No younger woman would have me. So I'm leaving her for an older woman: Here I come, Helen Mirren!)

It has long been the wife's wish that on her fortieth, she would like to be in Paris. And so we are planning on making this happen. (Though today's economic autocornholing has certainly put some zest into the plans. Is there a Wikipedia page on "Things You Can Melt Down For Money"?)

It sounds like a good time, and of course I am willing to do anything to make the wife happy--which now that I reread that, sounds hilarious: "Oh, I suppose I can take one for the team and go to Paris." I've been to Paris; it's nice! So is London, so is Rome, so is Brussels; I think all the major European cities that I've visited are positively swell. They're corking!

So how come I always have more fun in the smaller cities?

Part of it is simple: I'm a tremendous pain in the fucking ass. Somewhere there is a Platonic Ass Ideal, and there is an identifiable Pain Solid in it, and it is almost certainly Skot-shaped. It's always some little fucking thing, really.

In Paris, it wasn't the food--which was wonderful, particularly (I'm not kidding) this fucking rad little taco joint--it wasn't the snottiness (everyone who acknowledged us was lovely). It was the goddamn phones. (This was pre-cellphone for me.) I just wanted to make a call to check my bank balance (prior, of course, to being able to do this online), and so I got one of those little phone cards and proceeded to dial. And dial. And dial. All to no avail; in 2001, at least, France's public phone system was about as user-friendly as ENIAC schematics. For my efforts, all I was able to obtain was a stream of recorded Gallicisms that I became certain was trying to tell me, "You are a vexing little sausage of a man." I finally gave up, and found myself staring down at a bit of graffito reading, "American shit." I then proceeded to beat myself about the head with the plastic receiver in a truly Krustyesque display of self-mortification.

I know that this is an unfair and unrepresentative way to remember Paris. And yet I do, except for the dim parts that have been occluded by self-inflicted head trauma.

When I think of my time in France, I much prefer to remember our Thanksgiving night in Arles, a sleepy little town in the south of France, remembered mostly for being so relentlessly charming and so implacably beset by chilling winds that it caused a certain Mr. Van Gogh to completely lose his shit, paint radioactive sunflowers and eat his own ear.

We loved Arles almost immediately. There's something about a town that has kept its semi-medieval protective walls, because fuck Huns, or whatever. I demand a completely Hun-free night when on vacation. Also, you have to love a place with a functioning arena that continues to stage bullfights. It certainly explained where my Thanksgiving meal came from that night, listed on the menu in helpful English as "STEAK OF BULL."

(There's something oddly warming and special-making about spending Thanksgiving in another country where obviously nobody gives a shit about your US holiday. It's like sharing a secret, albeit a secret that isn't secret at all and that nobody else cares about anyway, and let's not even think about the fact that it's one of the lamer holidays for being manufactured and fraught with all kinds of lies and misdirection and so forth, but anyway: it's still kind of your secret thing on that day in that place, even if Bastille Day makes it look like some clumsy, raddled milkmaid by comparison, because Bastille Day is fucking awesome in ways that Thanksgiving will never be. They stormed something for their holiday! What did we do? We had dinner. And then half the people at dinner died of communicable diseases a little later. AMERICA!)

Anyway. STEAK OF BULL! Who could resist that? Well, the wife could, for one, and she instead had a little mistake of a salad that was decorated with strips of uncooked salmon, which she pawed through gamely if unenthusiastically; the oiliness of the fish had permeated the entire dish. She resorted to pushing the stuff around the plate in a manner recognized by parents of young children everywhere until the waitress appeared with her next dish, a much more well-received preparation of rabbit. Meanwhile, I sawed mercilessly at my STEAK OF BULL, savoring it's loser-y goodness. "You were a warrior," I thought at my plate of meat. "And you lost to a mincing peacock with swords. Suck on that, cow."

At the end of the meal, we ordered and received two creme brulees, and . . . oh my. They were heavenly. Bar none the best brulees we had ever eaten, seasoned lightly with the staunch unsmilingness that is the hallmark of French waiters and waitresses the country over. (Not rude! Just all business. I love French waiters: they bring you your shit and get the fuck out of the way, because that's your table for as long as you need it, and if you need something else, well, you should have thought of that before, stupid. It's like they trust you enough to take care of yourself for the night, and if that's not the case, well, that's sort of sad. French waiters are basically Turing machines.)

After the meal, the wife and I decided, well, we're not done Thanksgiving it up! It was like nine, but of course Arles had rolled up like blown-out socks; we wandered for a while in front of nothing but dark storefronts. Finally, we found a little bar that was open and walked in. A group of men were playing Parchisi in the corner; they favored us with a curious glance before returning to their game. The floor was covered with sawdust and peanut shells and the here-and-there chairs were all well-worn wood--spare and spartan was the rule.

Awesome.

We took in what the bar had to offer, and were mildly disheartened to see that the sole scotch available was Clan Campbell, an incredible horror that we have never seen in the US, unless that's what you're getting when you buy things like xylene or butyric acid. Clan Campbell is a fiendish hellbroth that is essentially what frat boys squeeze out of their carpets to drink when their trust funds are tapped for the month. Naturally, we ordered two.

"Rokes?" asked the nice barlady. We made the international monkey-faces of Not Understanding.

"Rokes! Rokes!" she hollered, and reached down and picked up a few cubes of ice to show us.

Ah! Rocks. Got it. "No thank you," said the wife. The barlady cocked her head quizzically and then shrugged and put ice in our drinks. Oh well. It couldn't possibly make the horrible stuff worse.

It somehow made it worse. Which, perversely, made it better, because now we were laughing at this suddenly comical horror-fluid, which caused the Parchisi guys to laugh with us, unaccountably, which made the lady next to us laugh as well, sitting comfortably on her chair and petting her dog happily--and let me just say that France is a country that would never, ever think to prevent people from bringing their dogs into restaurants (at least I hope this is still true), and let me further say That's fucking rad, and to sigh to think that we like to think of the French as being tight-assed and all--and then the chair the dog lady was sitting on broke right beneath her, pitching her down onto the filthy sawdust and peanut shells and cigarette butts, causing her to give a little yell of surprise, and that was it; the whole bar lost it, dying laughing, holding our sides, tears running down our faces and throwing back this awful scotch while the dog gamboled in delight, and a chill wind blew outside to the concern of nobody within the safety of those battered walls.

To paraphrase John Irving, I want a whole life like that night. I look forward to going back to Paris. And I don't think the wife will mind too much if I also say: I really look forward to getting out of Paris, out amongst the locals, the happy dogs, the sawdust and the broken chairs.

Roam | Skot | 22 Jan, 2008 |

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Comments

We met an Irishman at a bar in Arles (as you do) and ended up wandering around with him drunkenly in the streets desperately looking for another open bar at, like, midnight. The residents there don't seem to have sussed that foreign tourists like to stay drunk TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY, please. You should have seen the look we got when we tried to get the hotel bar to re-open by pretending it was my husband's birthday (hey, topical!). Nobody can shoot a look of chilling, withering disdain like the French.

Comment number: 016723   Posted by: Robin on January 23, 2008 02:25 AM from IP: 86.141.187.121

We met an Irishman at a bar in Arles (as you do) and ended up wandering around with him drunkenly in the streets desperately looking for another open bar at, like, midnight. The residents there don't seem to have sussed that foreign tourists like to stay drunk TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY, please. You should have seen the look we got when we tried to get the hotel bar to re-open by pretending it was my husband's birthday (hey, topical!). Nobody can shoot a look of chilling, withering disdain like the French.

Comment number: 016724   Posted by: on January 23, 2008 02:47 AM from IP: 86.141.187.121


From the reader that brought you The Long Hall!
The Social-Disease-Free Paris Recommendations!

Restaurant: ‘Chartier’ – Rue Faubourg de Montmartre. Authentically gruff waiters, no reservations, and not too pricey for your puny dollarettes.

Café de la Gare – 41 Rue du Temple. Used to be a café in a courtyard with a theatre en suite and surrounded by a dance school one floor up. That was years ago. Might still be the same.

Street – Rue Mouffetard. More crepe and calvados bars than you could shake a baguette at.

Isle de Saint Louis – Like a wee village in the middle of the City. Much prettier and more discrete than its larger Notre Dame bearing counterpart.

Museums – The Orangerie and the Rodin Museum for bite sized visits. And the Musee D’Orsay for a full morning. Leave the overrated Louvre to Amelie and Forest Gump.

Right, get googling.

Comment number: 016727   Posted by: Lung the Younger on January 23, 2008 06:20 AM from IP: 213.97.42.225

God, that sounds like fun. You always find the best bars. Happy 40th, wife!

Comment number: 016729   Posted by: superblondgirl on January 23, 2008 07:36 AM from IP: 12.148.18.152

French waiters = Turing machines. Horrible whisky in a hun-less village. Dog-friendly restaurants with suspect furniture. You make France sound like a dream. I personally loathe Paris, but, like yourself, seriously dig the countryside. The same goes for all countries, really, including our own backwards little experiment south of Canada and north of Mehico.

Comment number: 016730   Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' on January 23, 2008 08:33 AM from IP: 152.17.55.125

There was an excellent restaurant in the Latin Quarter that you and the missus would totally dig. I'll have to look up the name of it, but I would expect it's still there.

For your forays out of Paris, I recommend Dinan, which is west of Paris in Normandie. Completely charming, with its 16th century streets and buildings and seriously yummy restaurants. The streets are lined with lots of little shops and I seem to recall a bar that was open late.

Comment number: 016731   Posted by: Suzanne on January 23, 2008 08:46 AM from IP: 66.235.35.226

There was a sensational little restaurant on the short street between the Pantheon and Le Jardin de Luxembourg called "La Gueuze"

Best mussels i have *ever*eaten, and fruit flavored belgian/alsatian beers you will LOVE. I also ordered a cheese plate that I could not conquer... the ex-wife and I love stinky cheese, and there were two there that were beyond anything that should be consumed by normal humans.

Bon Appetit!

Comment number: 016736   Posted by: Jim on January 23, 2008 01:30 PM from IP: 24.250.156.149

I recommend eating something that gave you food poisoning the last time you ate it and throwing up in your hotel all night! Try tuna! Do this especially if you're only going to be in Paris for one night.

Then when you're throwing up, send your honey down for some peppermint tea and hope that they tell you not just that they don't have it, but that peppermint tea doesn't exist.

It's so merveilleux.

P.S. Skot Motherfuckin' Kurruk, what the fuck with your great writing, motherfucker? It is so great. Motherflipper! Flip you, motherfather. It's so excellent it's retarded.

Comment number: 016747   Posted by: Tina on January 24, 2008 07:21 PM from IP: 76.104.183.164

Brilliant, as usual.

"You are a vexing little sausage of a man" is the funniest thing I've read in 3 weeks and four days.

Comment number: 016754   Posted by: diesel on January 25, 2008 04:40 PM from IP: 69.45.183.231

Jesus fucking christ, nice post! I can practically smell the dog shit on the sidewalk. But not the cigarettes in the cafés though, because you can't do that anymore. Yet another reason for the French to be all pouty and pissy.

Comment number: 016792   Posted by: Topher on January 28, 2008 09:50 PM from IP: 76.170.3.62

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