Tuesday, November 06, 2012


(Thought I’d revisit some old notes of some early trips we took to Europe. This one before the Euro and ATM machines for easy money. These are some bits from my future e-book "TRAVAILS WITH LAMONT"))

Neophytes in Paris Mar 29, 1988

Arrived at Paris Orly Sud from SFO late in day so walked over to Orly Hilton and got a room for the nite. Drank up all the stuff in the minibar plus a bottle of good French champagne for you know who. In the morning caught the Air France bus to Invalides, where we started dragging our bags around for blocks (big blocks) as we were looking for Tourist Office at 127 Champs Elysees. I figured with that address it would be in the first block. Wrong!
   We ended up struggling up the entire Champs (Joy bitching all the while) as the numbers are the number of buildings, not shops. Once there, it was just a matter of time before they found us a two star hotel in Montemarrte district. Armed with directions we found the outstanding Paris Metro (Underground) and zipped off in the wrong direction. After a couple of transfers we got back on track and to our hotel, a small eighteenth century three story place called L'Ermitage, run by a nice couple who nearly spoke English. This near Sacre Cour cathedral on Rue Lamarck.
   The Paris Metro is a very clean, efficient system, venders and musicians set up in the interconnecting tunnels and amplify all over the place, classical to rock to reggae. Lots of rain in Paris. We got soaked the next day running around to American Express and Galleries Lafayette so Joy can buy a sweater as she is freezing ass. The store has a marvelous stained glass dome, maybe 100 feet in diameter and the space is five stories high. Also found a travel agent and bought Cooks Train Schedules which was indispensable throughout the trip. (Brentanos Bookstore showed us books on cooking). After many false tries we found Bank of Lyons to cash Joy’s Visa card, this being before ATMs. This place also has a great three story central space with curlicue cast iron pinned connections trussed framing and another glass dome .
   Stopped at Little Italy Restaurant near hotel for some good lasagne and wine. As the infamous Moulin Rouge was nearby we tried to find it but failed. French are very much into good jazz which you hear everywhere. We are nearly starving here as we can't read the menus and everything seems to be meat. Did find a good Vietnamese Vege restaurant (Buddha) and pigged out there on Blvd Montpanarse. Joy finally had to buy a big bag with rollers (Like Shers that I said would be ridiculous on cobblestones) but seems to work for her as she is dragging around twice the weight that I am. The French are totally into throwing all their trash on the ground as every morning the clean-up crews start out with their little green trucks, little green mechanical sweepers with the workers of course dressed in green jumpsuits carrying of course nice green brooms to clean up all the crap everyone tossed the previous day. The Trash cans are like our ugly black ones except they are a nice chocolate brown with bright orange lids (or bright blue or green) each with a neat address label on the side.
   Walked thru the Tuilleries Gardens to the Louvre and watched the workers putting the finishing touches on the glass pyramid in the center of the old courtyard. It's a masterful addition to the whole place. I. M. Pei has done it again. Naturally some of the world's great pieces are here including the Mona Lisa , which didn't get me excited at all as I have seen her so many times in print. Of course, she is surrounded by a 1" thick bulletproof glass partition. There are always several painters in the galleries copying the old masters, most of them very good.
   Next day to Notre Dame cathedral. Pretty impressive rose window as the thing is huge. They purportedly have a small fragment of the cross that Christ was hung on as well as the nails. Riiiight! Found a great crepery, had one with apple brandy and apples,(Crepe Normand). great! Walked thru a small alley street that was all Greek restaurants, breaking dishes on the floor and the whole thing. Went to Le Gare to reserve our seats on the TGV train.
   Our hotel, L’Ermitage, cost about 300 Francs ($60) per day including a fine breakfast tray each morning at our door on the third floor. The hotel is owned by a french woman, Maggie, and her German husband who speaks no English. The building is a couple of hundred years old and purportedly built by one of Napoleon’s doctors. Bonny must have had a dozen doctors as we heard this several times. First off we found the nearest Italian restaurant as we ate mostly pizza and pasta in Europe. This is due to the complexities and cost of French cuisine. Montmarte is crowned by a strange bulbous domed church, Sacre Cour, a late 19th century effort. Constructed of white stone, it is visible from all over Paris. Since we were near the infamous Moulon Rouge of Lautrec fame we walked all around looking for it but got lost. But we did discover the new public toilets being installed all over France. They are of prefab concrete and stainless steel and cost half a Franc. Clean, no grafitti, cool jazz music, one person at a time. When finished, the whole interior flushes automatically.
   Across the street from the church is a gathering place for youths from all over the world, playing musical instruments, singing and carrying on. We got totally soaked in the rain running around to find the American Express office but with my cape and beret, Joy her umbrella managed OK.
   Up next morning early, to metro and caught the train to Marseille. All the fast trains are eighteen cars long with a bullet engine on each end. 165 mph and a very smooth ride. interiors all glass partitions. Had an expensive lunch from the bar car (Beer, salad, cheese sandwich). Arrived in Marseille but tourist office closed for two hours so we had a beer and hung out till the opened and sent us to a hotel overlooking the Old Port. Hotel Residence put us on the fourth floor with a balcony overlooking the whole scene. This was a 15th century port with great old forts at the entrance but now strictly for yachts and fishing boats. On the way a young black man asked if he could help and showed us the way, asked to carry Joys bag but she wouldn’t let go of it as she was suspicious, but he seemed genuinely helpful, invited us for dinner at his place but we didn’t go, liked what we were doing. Finally nice and warm here. We spend hours on our balcony watching the crazy French drivers on the streets below. They'll block all lanes and then drive on other side forcing oncoming traffic almost on the sidewalk. All the trucks and buses here are absolutely beautiful. Everyone has small cars here and the French all have yellow headlights, nobody seemed to know why.
   Walked around the 12th cent. forts at the entrance to the Old Port, then up about a thousand stairs to the highest hill with a church called Notre Dame du Gard, a real climb with Joy of course bitching all the way. The church seemed to be dedicated to lots of shipwrecks and plane crashes of WW 2. With all these parishioner dying at sea, makes me wonder if their God has been on the job.
   The walk down was a breeze, passing an old American tank as a small reminder that war was hell. Walked through streets with marvelous vege and fruit market.
   The fish market begins early each morning on the quay below our hotel. How about a floppy live sculpin or octopus? We found a great pizza place across the port from us. Each day we buy a couple of bottles of wine for $3 and bread and cheese, then we spend hours watching these people drive, park and carry on from our balcony overlooking the entire scene.
   Went down to the quay and caught a small boat to Chateau d’If, the miserable fort/dungeon that the count of Monte Christo spent so many years incarcerated in Duma’s story. However, due to the heavy seas, we couldn’t land at the dock so just continued on to the nearby larger island that has been developed with some very well designed condominiums over shops and restaurant (Mixed use!). Right adjacent to the new buildings was a well preserved very small Greek temple, dating from the original Greek colonists around 500 BC. The seas were so bad I was challenged to even stand up and move around. Joy sat paralyze all the time clinging to a stanchion so hard she left a permanent impression on the steel .She was too scared to throw up.
   Next day we took a Metro, streetcar, then bus to see Corbusier’s Cite’, built about 1953. Sitting on high ‘pilotis’, about 15 floors of residential apartments, with a commercial level sandwiched in about half way up. We had a pleasant lunch on a narrow out door deck overlooking the town. All exposed concrete structure showing off the form boards. Naturally, a few bright colors here and there a la Corbu.
   Off to the beach via bus. Took a swim at the ‘Plage’ , always fun as you really float due to the high salt content in the Mediterranean. Even better, there were lots of young things lying about topless. I guess Nice isn’t the only Mecca for voyeurs. I tried to get Joy to take her top off and show these kids some real tit but she was too bashful. I changed out of my wet Speedo bikini on the beach a la French style. Caught the bus back to La Residence and more Pizza and wine. Ah! Marseille! Viva la France!

To be continued....