Me and Monte McGee

photo: maitre chien
'Building site - beware of guard dog.'

And Monte McGee's Dog

Paris:- Friday, 5. June 1998:- From the west Virginia coalmines to the Norfolk shores, since Monte McGee moved to southern France, I don't see him much no more.

This piece of doggerel I write on a sticky, stainless bar surface in a nondescript tired café, at the end of a métro line beyond east Paris. It is hot and muggy and the view has no redeeming features, and I have to find a nearby address within five minutes. The barman says my hand-drawn map is good. He doesn't say the way is uphill.

Monte - 'McGee' is not a real name - is responsible for this. Not just today, but for all of it. He listened to me for 18 months and one day he stopped my endless monologue by saying, "Who don't you just do it?"

A bombshell! 'Why not?' indeed. A stunning idea: 'do it.'

Although the idea was so self-evident, I still had to fritter away some time to actually launch; as if the car was tanked up and ready to go and all I needed was the ignition key.

When I got it, Monte was still around. About once a month he would accompany me on my rounds of neighborhood snooping or visiting exhibitions in Paris and he was welcome company because I could talk out loud instead of carrying on the usual interior monologue.

I thought it was longer ago, but it has only been about 18 months since he moved 'down south.' Monte is not the only Parisian to have a 'nose-full' of the city. I read somewhere that aboutphoto: tuileries gardens 60,000 are leaving each year to spread themselves around France. It's called 'internal immigration.'

We install ourselves in the Tuileries because we do not fit into a crowded wine bar.

Some people wait for retirement age to do this and it doesn't always work out. They get this 'dream' place, where the weather is even softer than in Paris, and the air is a lot cleaner and has less noise in it, and away they go.

It usually doesn't take too long to figure out that their whole social universe hasn't shifted with them; and since they are retired, they don't easily fit in to the stream of life wherever they've ended up.

Monte is young enough to be in the pre-pre-retirement category, but he says it has taken more than year to get into a local social whirl - and this is in a place where he's had a house for years. Admittedly his house is really 'in the country' and many of his most frequent visitors are cows.

There are not many human drop-in visitors, partly because his access is by a lane which is posted 'military property - keep out.' At night he can hear the army guys, further on down the lane some distance, sitting around their campfires, singing army songs and by day the sounds of small-arms and light machinegun fire is not uncommon. If one wanted to be a hermit, it is a good situation.

Over time, Monte has let the electricity expire. He abandoned the telephone's monthly bills so it doesn't work anymore either. He does have his own running water, a little bubbling creek, so it is not a problem; and 'out in the country' cooking fuel is the gas bombas, but I don't know if he hasn't given up on these too.

For getting around he has an old clunk of a Renault and some low-grade fourth-hand Vélo-Solex-type of scooter, and some bikes as well. The nearest big town is Carcassonne, but he doesn't go therephoto: palais royal checkers often. For essential stuff, there are closer villages and small towns with markets full of really good food are not far off. But right where he is, he has a lot of empty countryside.

Popping up all over town - new, mysterious street decor. This is at Palais- Royal.

He doesn't get all the wind that blows from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, over Toulouse and down the autoroute des Deux-Mers. At night the sky is full of a lot of stars. Taken altogether, if you are tired of Paris, it is not too shabby.

My solo excursions in Paris are broken only by rare meetings with Metropole's readers, so I get to concentrate pretty much on the Parisians themselves. The intellectual advantage of this is we often don't know in advance that we are going to be meeting; and I can start out each trip being mildly curious.

Today though, I am meeting Monte, at one of the cafés in the rue de Rome, across from Saint-Lazare. He fixed this up from a coin phone-booth down south somewhere, before its time ran out.

For me today, I start with the usual car-pool routine. This is followed with the update to the 'FlashNews' about the Air France pilot's strike. There is a train controllers strike too, so I head for the train a bit earlier than usual; also because it is a lot hotter than usual going uphill.

At the station it is later than I thought. A lady is getting a train ticket and there are the questions of round-trip and smoking-non-smoking, and then the paying with the plastic.

On my turn, the train is arriving as the ticket machine is printing the tickets. The train doors are open as I tap in the PIN-number - wrong! - hit correction, and re-tap it. With receipt, tickets, plastic in hand, I have to sort the tickets to get the right one and the ticket-canceler machine is up to its tricks and the train's buzzer sounds.

The first-class wagon's doors are locked and the platform is slightly curved so I can't see the front of the train, but the TV-cameras can see me. The doors unlock as I race to the next second-class car but are locked when I get to its closest door. The train leaves me on the platform.

There are no train controllers today. I didn't have to cancel the ticket; or even buy one. The one I used, is one of the rip-off Saint-Lazare tickets too. I have a great choice of benches to sit on while I kill 30 minutes.

Monte is patiently standing on the rue de Rome outside a café when I finally show up. He has a medium-sized backpack and he's brought his nervous dog. If the forecast is right, it is about 28 degrees - about 80 F - the sky is clear and there is a bit of breeze.

This isn't just a 'hang out with Monte' day; I'm looking for signs of the World Cup, good street posters, and some kids doing kids' activities. Around Saint-Lazare and Haussemann there is nothing except a lot of people and traffic. Printemps has no World Cup anything and all the posters are for perfume - a summer regular - or for a chain photo store.

Taking, probably the rue de Caumartin, towards Madeleine- Capucines, we pass a knife and razor shop and I go in to top up on picnic-knife lore, which will be added to this week's email page.

Coming out of the shop I see Monte has inadvertently placed himself in a photo opportunity position and I shoot him and the dog. I hope you can see the dog, because without it, the photo is meaningless.

On the boulevard I see my working-shoe suppliers and I trade in my walked-out shoes and walk out with spanking new ones, made by sub-teenage slaves in China. The salesman tells me all the other countries' sub-teenage slaves are on strike. I whine enough to get a ten-percent discount. Outside it is too hot to feel that I have pulled off any big coup.

From there we get lost enough to end up on the rue de la Paix where Monte says he likes good quality jewelry, and various people passing by probably think we are lost. I accidently find the hideous glassphoto: painter palais royal monstrosity of the marché Saint-Honoré and Monte agrees that it easily outclasses most other monstrosities around.

This sidewalk painter uses spray bombs. The sidewalk critics have divided opinions about this.

The Rubis winebar and restaurant is standing room only and so crowded that we are taken for tourists from the '70's, so we just keep going until Rivoli and cross over to the Tuileries where we have a choice of two buvettes, hundreds of trees for shade, and dozens of empty chairs and tables to choose from.

Monte tells me about 'down south' and says he picked up a good recipe for 'How To Cook a Wolf.' He says it is not a joke - there are many such recipes - but one like this one is hard to do because there is no 'how to catch a wolf' part to it.

Sitting there, hardly anything going on, we do not run out of time, but money gets short. We go back to the humid chaos of the rue Saint-Honoré and stock up on some cash and sit in an empty and comfortable café there, shouting at each other because of all the tour buses going by and many drivers making constant use of their hooters.

A bit further on I have a sandwich in a hole-in-the-wall with authentic walls. The place André Malraux and the Comédie Française do not have much, but there is the usual lively crowd around the métro at Palais-Royal.

A three-man crew is painting huge yellow squares or they are painting huge black squares to fix up the yellow ones on the place. A 'street' painter is doing his thing too, with spray bombs and he has a small audience. Some roller people look like they are getting ready to go into action. Visitors wash across the street from the Louvre and others wash back.

I've forgotten to mention that the dog is keeping up with this pretty well; as nervous as it is. We follow my wiggly route to the Pont Neuf; past a big, new yuppie café called Le Fumoir just after the métro at Louvre-Rivoli. It has ceiling fans, fronds and a library-reading-room.

There is a sacrilege of tour buses parked on the Pont Neuf itself and we see that Vedettes du Pont-Neuf has a new boat; one with green, plants, trellises' and a minimum-glass design which is a change from the other reflecto-bug monsters.

The little park known as the square du Vert Galant is a green oasis on the Ile de la Cité's downstream end. There are a choice of benches for Monte and me and the dog, for which, entry is forbidden even if leashed and muzzled.

Here we watch the maritime activities of the Vedettes du Pont-Neuf, see transport barges pass, see the Batobuses on theirphoto: vedettes pont neuf rounds, see the water cops skimming off downstream, see the streams of traffic on the right bank on two levels and hear it going the other way behind us. It sounds like a pretty big waterfall, not far off; but it is not unpeaceful in this green place.

The 'Vedettes du Pont Neuf' have a new and attractive, almost all-green boat.

As at the Tuileries, there are schoolkid groups occasionally, but nothing I can call 'activities for kids' and I feel I am falling down on this report. We are in a place where it is possible to picnic, so that is covered, even if it is an 'old' echo of a story.

Looking back, I guess we were there at least a couple of hours; mostly discussing the view. I don't really know how long it was. When I did look to see what time it was, it was 18:10 and I had to head out east.

Getting into the métro is such a hassle at Châtelet that we go back to Louvre-Rivoli. Monte wants to go to Saint-Lazare on foot and I point at the northwest sky to show him the way. Without controllers or barriers, is will be easy for him to take the dog on the train from there.

The thing I forget about métro Louvre-Rivoli, is that it is not an intersection like Châtelet where a lot of people change métros. It is an easy station to get into, but the train when it comes, is not easy to get on. It is very hot too.

I stand up, swinging from an overhead handle, until everybody gets out to take the suburban trains from the gare de Lyon. For the rest of the ride east, I can sit until I change, to walk through two kilometres of tunnel at Nation, to get the final train and ride it to the end of the line.

To the hot and sticky café opposite the métro exit where I write the opening lines of this piece.

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