"Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure": II
One Saturday about 8, I got on the Metro and headed for Montmartre. I had been there in 2007 and remembered it for its music. When I looked around after getting off the Metro and climbing what seemed like a thousand steps, people swarmed the streets that looked like a hip Disney World. Unlike my neighborhood in the Fifteenth, where people always seemed to be going somewhere — to work, home, to visit a friend, out to eat, to the grocery store, the boulangerie or somewhere –– in Montmartre, whether walking briskly or strolling, they just looked around, like they were trying to find something or somebody.
The first two cafés I spotted had no empty outdoor tables. Within a few yards I heard a dozen languages spoken. I found a café with an empty table, ordered a small pichet of white wine and began people watching. The first thing I noticed was that there seemed to be few American tourists. Most were European. I wondered if it was the effect of the American recession. A young couple sat on the ground a few feet away, resting, speaking Spanish. Two bottles of wine sat between them. Couples walked by, wives or girlfriends pointing at things. I don’t know what. There seemed to be nothing around except cafes and across the way a park with huge trees that covered the entire park, the type of park you see in European cities and on the east coast of the United States, but not in southern California. I remembered walking on this street, Rue des Abbesses in 2007. It felt different not being a tourist — more relaxing — no need to be in a hurry to see anything. I have two years to see whatever I want, I thought. It was a relief to not be studying French in my apartment, though I had my notebook out and glanced at my French vocabulary from time to time.
A man walked by in light brown leather pants, a darker brown leather vest, a beige hat with a brim not quite as wide as a cowboy hat, a dress shirt and a red bow tie. He walked by several times, the last time carrying a baguette. He must live here, I thought. I wondered what it’s like in winter when there aren’t as many tourists. I would find out. The tables were pushed together as close as possible, touching. Had I understood more than English, I could have heard everything the couples around me were saying. Most of the people were couples. I saw few people alone. I guess Paris is a couples sort of place — the city of love, or is it light? It’s a good thing cigarette smoke doesn’t bother me. A dozen people within 20 feet were smoking. A lot of Africans walked by, some in native costume. I didn’t know if they lived in Paris or were tourists. It’s sad that the French don’t treat their African residents any better than we do, maybe worse.
I saw a lot of people pointing to some steps nearby that descended to another street. When I finished and paid for my wine, I walked down the steps and followed a street to the right. There was Pigalle.
I walked back to Montmartre and heard music coming from a bar. I went in and sat down. It looked like a hip American bar from the ‘90s. Looking around at the male couples, I concluded it was a gay bar, but nobody was paying any attention to me, except the female bartender, who asked me in English what I wanted to drink. I ordered a margarita. Soon after, a young man sitting at a table with an older woman announced in French that it was his mother’s birthday and in her honor he was going to buy everybody — about 8 people –– a drink. The bartender told me in English, but I had understood what he said. I didn’t want another drink, but didn’t feel like I could refuse. I sat at the bar, nursing my drinks and listening to the band playing a little French music, but mostly American music from the ‘70s.
At 10 I was hungry and asked the bartender to recommend a good seafood restaurant. The place she recommended was crowded, but they accommodated one person. It was noisy and smoke filled — I had an outside table. I ordered a salad, escargot and mussels, and they were delicious, but expensive. I couldn’t afford it often, but I felt like I had been out to the part of Paris where the artists used to hang out, even if it was now mostly a tourist destination. I appreciated the history.
My book, "Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany," is available on Amazon: amazon.com/Eat-Walk-Write. From time to time I will post additional excerpts here.