Excusez-moi, Monsieur Brasseur

photo: cafe near notre dame
The closest café to Notre Dame has a good
selection of beers, as well as tea.

Plus A Touch of French Fashion

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 9. November 1998:- Usually I only go to the Louvre to see how many people are waiting in line to get into the pyramid entry, and maybe to count the heads milling around the métro exit at Palais-Royal.

Last Friday, knowing that some 'facts' about the Louvre were to be added to this week's 'Scene' page, I went there to get some general photos. It was both early and lunchtime, as well as grey and threatening rain, so there weren't many people about - and I got my shots quickly.

Leaving the museum, I crossed the rue de Rivoli to look for a couple of likely posters. I had a warm-up café in the little place on the rue Saint-Honoré. After it, while on the way to the Comédie Française on the opposite side, I stopped and returned to the Tabac à la Civette, on the same side as the café.

There were two customers at the counter and I stood to the right of them - instead of standing behind one, to make a line of two. It is a big shop which sells a lot of knickknacks besides tobacco goods, so there were other things to look at while waiting.

I recognized the voice of the man to my left, so I looked at Claude Brasseur, who I have seen several thousand times in re-runs of his movies on TV. And driving in the old version of the Paris-Dakar race. He was buying one of the knickknacks.

Meanwhile, the lady on the cash, further to the left, finishing with the other customer, asked me what I wanted. I needed to go left, while Mr. Brasseur wanted to go to the right, to get a closer look at what he'd requested.

We both stepped back. "Pardon." We both stepped forward. "Excusez-moi!" An everyday Paris scene; happens all the time, this politeness.

Except that I wanted to ask Mr. Brasseur how he was doing. Getting an answer might have lead to a better story than this one.

My turn to do business was at hand though. To help make the change easier - and faster, I added a 50-centime piece to the payment. The cash lady then inadvertently short-changed mephoto: columns, palais royal a franc. I mentioned this, but she was not exactly listening, so she gave me 50-centime piece, which I returned. On the third go, I got the franc.

The interior of the Palais-Royal; now indifferent to its ribald history.

This took about 90 seconds. Out the door, on the rue Saint-Honoré, Claude Brasseur was gone. Too bad. Now I had plenty of time to think of what to ask him.

The glass above the door of the tabac had '1719' lettered on it so I went back in to ask if it was a date, or the address - the rue Saint-Honoré does have high numbers, although this one seemed off the scale.

This tabac is on the location of the arch of the Hospice des Qunize-Vingts, founded between 1254 and 1261; with a history that ends in the cemetery at Clamart, possibly in the 1780's.

The tobacco shop was started in 1754 on the other side of the street, next to the Palais-Royal. When this was enlarged by the Duc d'Orléans in 1829, the tabac moved into the nearby rue de Richelieu. Later, in 1854, the place du Palais-Royal was redeveloped and the tabac arrived in its present location.

It was opened, in its original location, by Louise de Bourbon-Conti, who married the Duc de Chartres in 1743; and hisphoto: le cafe marly friends were the original clientele. If Madame le Duc was 24 when she married the duke, then she was born in 1719. Otherwise, I don't know where this date comes from.

Just before I plunged into the métro, a fellow from Scotland asked me in passable French if I knew where to find the place des Pyramides. I didn't tell him I didn't know. I told him it is two blocks west; this is what a Parisian would have done.

This Louvre's Café Marly and its terrace face the Pyramid.

No 'pardon,' no 'excusez-moi' from me - it was the right direction at least! It is actually three blocks west, at the rue de Rivoli.

It was okay. The Scot was between my age and Claude Brasseur's, and none of us had shaved on Friday; all of us were grizzlies.

The Scot came to get away from the rain there and said he intended to walk around town for a week. He won't get short-changed, just so long as he doesn't try to speed things along by helping to make the change round out.

News from The Tocqueville Connection:

The Tocqueville Connection' has its usual news and opinion about France this week, but you may be most interested in Patricia Ochs' appreciation of Roger Planchon's new film about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Before making the film and before seeing John Huston's 'Moulin Rouge' version, Planchon read 500 of Lautrec's letters - and formed an entirely different view of the painter. This short man lived a fast life in high times and died young. I'm too old to do this now, so I'll see the movie instead.

Stylish Links t Mode in Paris
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