A Modest New Years' Proposal

Le Procope entry
It looks pretty good for being 311 years old.

But Buy Now - Party Later

Paris:- Friday, 19. December 1997:- While I am wandering around Paris, looking at skaters and calmly strolling through the Quartier Latin, Parisians are jumping the gun today and storming the downtown shops.

This is before tomorrow's real and total assault on the Grands Magazins, all the shops in Paris, and all the Malls in the boondocks surrounding the city. To pre-paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, "Haussmann is full, man! They've closed the New York State Throughway!"

Er, no. Not the New York State Throughway - the Périphérique maybe - because of the 'Grand Depart,' for alpine resorts and their wintersports fans.

Meanwhile, in the shops, two French products are hits of the season.

The book publisher Nathan's 'Hiboo' for 199 francs is out of stock in some places. It is a game that permits kids to make designs from a system of 'chinese shadows.' I can't imagine this, but French parents will go for anything innovative, if it is 'educational' as well.

The second item is a 'turbo' shoe polisher, for 150 francs. The price is right, it is easy to use and easy to store. It comes equipped with two brushes and the 'turbo' operates at two speeds. What more could you ask for, especially if you have mucky shoes?

In the entertainment department, the latest video version of the 'Star Wars' trilogy is going like hotcakes; for a fairly hefty 350 francs. A video set of 'James Bond' movies is coming in a close second.

A lot of French parents are looking at high-end video game consoles - for around 1000 francs, plus games - and are opting instead to put out real money - seven to 11,000 francs - on buying multimedia-capable computers instead. Their reasoning: the word 'educative' associated with computers suggests brainwork more than the video consoles' 'gamework' emphasis.

I don't know what category mobile phones fit into, but all the manufacturers and operators have put together special holiday packages with attractive prices.

Just as I don't understand the offers of the cable/satellite TV operators, I do not understand the prices of the mobile phones. The phone itself and the dial-up service are sold as a bundle - but what the line charges may eventually be, is unclear.

For 165 francs you can have a phone which includes the initial subscription charge, plus one hour of 'national' service and another weekend hour of access. After that, then what? Phone collect?

Never mind. Parisians are being extremely inventive in finding places from which to make phone calls, and one sees them all the time looking for new possibilities. Some restaurants tell their customers to turn off their phones, before seating them.

New Years Night Out in Paris - Metropole's One Place

One of my sources proposes about 150 places to pass New Years Eve in Paris in public. There are probably another 750 unlisted ones. Metropole is not a guide or magazine of lists - except for the seasonal program in this issue - so I have picked one place to name, as a sample.

What could be more appropriate than Paris' only 311 year-old café? I'm thinking of Le Procope, which is also Paris' oldest café - and is claimed to be oldest café in the world.

This café's location was once the epicentre between the various faculties of the university, the royal and administrative life of the Luxembourg and the subversive theatre, just opposite.

Opened in 1686 by Proccopio del Coltelli, Le Procope was like no other establishment at the time. Unlike the usual tavern Le Procope and sidewalk with an earthen floor, the Procope had tile floors, and was arranged more like an apartment - with paintings on the walls - and was the opposite of the usual low and smoky barracks. Three years after the opening of the Procope, the 'Théâtre des Comédiens du Roy' opened too, and the café became its canteen.

Of course at night there is a lot of glittering lights and less grey sky.

Proccopio was a bit ahead of his time and he had the idea to publicly post the only newspaper - Renaudot's 'La Gazette' - for the café's cliental, and he offered paper, plumed-pens and ink as well. This attracted intellectuals such as Rousseau, Biron, Diderot, Voltaire, Verlaine - and when the time came, the 'esprits révolutionnaires' were there too; including major foreign figures such as Benjamin Franklin.

The 'Declaration of Human Rights' was debated in the Procope's salons and a lot of it was written in them. When Franklin died, the café went into mourning for three days.

Just before the revolution, the café was considered a 'red' hangout. Danton lived across the street. A printer was in the alley behind and when Marat had finished writing 'L'Ami du Peuple' - a revolutionary newspaper - a bell was sounded to summon the printer. Thus, Marat did not have to go far to read the proofs.

Napoléon Bonaparte drank at Le Procope on credit, and as emperor, rather than pay his old tab, he charged the secret police to spy on it - as the 'winds of liberty' still played about its doors - which caused its first failure.

The 'reds' are gone, but Le Procope retains its original decor, plus some ministers, senators and deputies, in transit. These will probably not be present for New Years Eve, when a DJ will provide musical ambiance.

For 990 francs you can pass from 1997 to 1998 in the Procope, with all the Champagne Canard-Duchène you can drink. Here is what else is on the menu:

Welcome Cocktail
Délice de Foie Gras aux Cèpes or assortment d'Huitres 'Grands Crus'
Navain de Hommard et Saint-Jacques 'Mille Bulles'
Quenelles de Brie en salade de fruits secs
Parfait à la Mandarine 'Impériale' and
Nougatine craquante
Expresso Segafredo Zanetti and Mignardises

Café Le Procope
13. rue de l'Ancienne-Comédie, Paris 6.
Res. Tel.: 01 40 46 79 00. Métro: Odéon.

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