American Dreams In Paris

photo: drugstore, champs elysees

As in America, 'drugs' are hard to find in the 'Drugstore.'

Odd Man Out - 'Hollywood' Chewing Gum

Paris:- Friday, 29. October 1999:- "The address was Passage Jouffrey, right next to the 'Hard Rock Cafe.' How hard could this be to find?" The reader who wrote this, added, "I assumed everyone would know where the 'Hard Rock Cafe' is - well they don't!"

This reader then took a hard look at a map and found the Passage Jouffrey on it; but not the 'Hard Rock Cafe.'

This true example from a real email from a reader launched a train of thought along the lines of, 'Every timephoto: grease and mcdo, rue rivoli I'm up around there taking pictures, I have to keep the 'Hard Rock Cafe' out of them.'

For the past 177 issues of Metropole Paris I have been deliberately avoiding all the 'Hard Rock Cafes' in Paris. When this magazine started in 1996, it was conceived to be a magazine of impressions about Paris and the Parisians.

'Grease' before McDo's, on the Rue de Rivoli - is fact rather than fiction.

There are a couple of cool lines in the film 'Pulp Fiction' - where Vincent and Jules are driving along in LA in a non-descript Nova, on the way to kill some dope dealers before breakfast; and Vincent is telling Jules about Amsterdam and Europe.

Vincent asks, "You know what they call a Big Mac in Paris?" Jules has no idea, so Vincent tells him, "Royale with Cheese."

Jules thinks this is really hip and Vincent is pretty proud of the culture he has picked up in Europe.

He adds, "It's called 'Royale with Cheese' because of the metric system." Later when Jules puts the same question to one of the dope dealers, the terrified kid guesses it is 'because of the metric system.'

Jules then shoots him 17 times like in the old cowboy movies when all six-shooters contained unlimited ammo.

This response is what makes 'Pulp Fiction' a first-class movie because the answer is elliptical - real life! - while also giving the clue that American icons in Paris just might be a little different, because of the 'metric system.'

Since there is a McDo's about two blocks from here I should go there and research its menu to find out if the 'Royale with Cheese' is still on it. I think it used to be, but has been dropped because a plain 'Big Mac' has cheese in it.

On Wednesday - a day of stunning light and inky shadows - I made up a list of 'American' places in Paris and set off to capture them. The idea was to photograph only these places, only US film posters, and everything else obviously American in origin that I came across.

This turned out to be much harder to do than I thought it would be. The light was particularly favorable for 'Paris' Paris - in rare late October light - and the big wave of new US films starting in Paris was the week before.

On the Champs-Elysées I saw no American cars. Up near the top, I thought the McDo's there was still closed - but it turned out to be open, in a new decor so subdued that from a distance it looks like it is a place that has gone out of business.

The avenue was very full of people taking in the sun and the warmer than average temperatures, and with the slight fall haze, might have made good light-mood non-USA 'Paris' shots. I let them go.

When it comes right down to it, there is not much 'America' on the Champs-Elysées. So I turned into the passage leading to the Latina Café. This advertises itself asphoto: tickets here, disneyland also being 'Cuban' - which is legal in Paris - but when I asked for the name of a typical Cuban dish on the menu, there was only 'Hamburguesa Cuban.' I think it should have been 'Cubaña' but the French don't like names ending in 'a.'

Further on down there was another McDo's in a passage and a bit further along, the 'Planet Hollywood' café and trinket shop. Bruce Willis - who was 'Butch' in 'Pulp Fiction' - was in Paris last week to say positive things about the café, because he owns a piece of it.

On the Champs-Elysées, an almost hand-made sign for Disneyland Paris.

One of Metropole's occasional readers has a three-month student visa and works at the 'Chicago Meatpackers' joint in the Rue Coquillière in Les Halles. Once there, it was hard not to take photos of the Parisian bistros flanking the US unit - and our reader was not on duty.

So I wandered over to 'Joe Allen's' in the Rue Pierre Lescot, after finding out where it was at the 'Front Page' in the Rue Saint-Denis.

I have actually eaten at 'Joe Allen's' once or twice. It is based on a New York restaurant and has been in Paris since 1972. Joe Allen is a real person who lives in Florida where he has another restaurant in Miami.

Almost in another life, I have also eaten in 'Joe Allen'-type places in New York, and the Paris version never seemed quite the same. New York had better seats, bigger portions, and lower prices, but, as I say, that was almost in another life.

Just down from the Opéra, I look for 'Harry's New York Bar' in the Rue Daunou. The phonetic spelling of the street is a registered trade mark, so you'll have to guess what it is. This is the original Harry's, which opened in 1911 - and is more Irish-New York than anything else in Paris.

On the same street, but up towards Boulevard des Capucines, is a huge place called 'American Dream' which looks more like a nightmare. Outside it is too unreal to be true, so I pass on inspecting its interior.

Going back to the Avenue de l'Opéra I check out Brentano's book store. Since I only come here once every ten years, I buy two books - about Paris.

On Tuesday, on another errand, I was in the San Francisco Books in the Quartier Latin. It has used books, which are more in my price range. This place is run by a couple of book dealers from the Bay area, and they are more recent arrivals in Paris.

After Brentano's, I accidently stumble into some French cultural stuff and I follow this up through two more buildings, right up to the national headquarters.

I am also trying to spot signs of 'America' on the streets; such as brand-names. 'Kodak' is everywhere and so is 'Coca-Cola.' I look in my kitchen and see that last week's visitor has left a box of 'Kellogg's Corn Flakes.'

Otherwise I have an 'American' computer that was assembled in Ireland, some US-made software and a lot of books. New books, especially technical ones, cost a fortune and except for thephoto: bar cafe cubana two 'memoirs' I got the other day, I haven't bought any new ones for years - I did get one from Mark Kritz at last week's Café Metropole Club though.

Only ten metres from the Boulevard Montparnasse, the Cubana cantina.

While at Brentano's, I picked up the local free papers; the 'Paris Voice,' the Paris version of the London 'Time Out' and 'The Irish Eyes.' To round it all out, I also got the classified-ad magazine, 'Fusac.' On Saturday I will get the 'International Herald Tribune,' but expect it will not have much about Paris in it.

This morning, I get a late start because my enthusiasm for looking for 'America' in Paris is waning. There is no concentration of it in Paris, so I can't just go to one area and wrap this thing up.

In Les Halles I shoot a 'Kentucky Fried Chicken,' something I've only eaten homemade, and a jazz club and some odds and ends.

The weather has confounded the prediction again and it is warm and clear. After getting past Beaubourg to Temple in the Marais, I flag and fall into the Petit Fer à Cheval bar instead of waiting until I get to 'La Perla' at Rue François-Miron.

Before 'La Perla' was a high-ceilinged fake Mexican-style cantina it was a real Parisian bar-café, but that was a long time ago.

Going past it leads to the Ile Saint-Louis and the brasserie there and I cross the Ile de la Cité behind Notre-Dame and go around to the left and up to the front. The scaffolding is supposed to come down soon, to reveal some eight years' of restoration work.

On the Latin side I run into an expo the city has been keeping secret - see this week's 'Scene' column - and in the Rue Saint-Jacques I go into Polly Maggoo's to ask if it is an 'American' bar.

The answer is, "There are no bars 'Americain' in Paris; only French!" Hmm, well, yes - this Polly Maggoo's looks like a real dive anyhow, with the whole building above it appearing to be condemned. Its one plus-point: right outside there is whatphoto: avenue washington must be one of Paris' last remaining wooden light poles - which is strong reminder of American alleys.

But, okay. After threading through the lanes around Saint-Severin, I find my now trusty 38 bus and ride it up to Port Royal, while thinking I should have taken the métro because this is going to involve a long walk down the Boulevard Montparnasse to the 'Mustang Café.'

Getting off the bus, I wonder if the 'Closerie des Lilas' is an 'American' place. I know there is a Hemingway plaque at his place at the bar in there - but how can this compare to the 'Mustang Café?'

The light is right for Montparnasse. It is sort of orange-purple and all the big cafés have their neons coming on. I sidetrack up Delambre to the 'Rosebud' but its neon is off, so I shortcut through a cinema-complex to the boulevard.

The 'Mustang Café' has achieved its goal to look like a sleazy roadhouse if this is what its goal was. Inside it is full of people too young to drink in most American states - it may be 'happy hour' - and it is horribly spotlighted, neoned, video-gamed, audiofied; pure, fake, pre-fab junk.

Across the Rue Montparnasse, the 'Falstaff' which is a less-well-known place from the '20's, looks almost like it is trying to keep up with the 'Mustang Café.'

At the 'Bar Americain' which has been Le Select's sub-name since 1926 - despite what they say at Polly Maggoo's - I find the free place at the end of the bar I had last week and have a double café. Philippe comes on station while I'm here and when I go, he says 'à bientôt.'

According to US State department figures, there are about 75,000 American civilians living in the Paris area. They don't count South or Central Americans, Mexicans or Canadians or Eskimos.

With a two-zone Orange card, you could have a pretty good 'American' life in Paris, if you don't mind a lot of ersatz. There arephoto: tabac & kodak signs 'American' churches, women's groups, Afro-American groups, an American University, lots of resident and passing through American musicians, actors, dancers, artists - and well as ordinary Americans working on the three-month student visas.

As for 'Anglo,' I've left off mention of the 30-odd 'Irish' pubs, 'English' pubs, 'Scottish' pubs and the growing number of Australian beer palaces. All of these have their supporting bookstores, cultural centres and maybe even churches too.

I could also mention the 'Moosehead-Canadian Bar' but it hasn't opened yet. Whoever these people are, they haven't heard that Scandinavia has some sort of beer named the 'Moose Is Loose.'

Also left off are all the truly 'American' places that time and space does not permit me to add. If, like Jules, it is news to you that McDo hamburgers have 'metric' names, don't worry. We have them here in Paris, whatever they're called.

Plus Halloween, brownies, cheesecake, popcorn, hotdogs, Chrysler vans, pizza delivery, Marlboro cigarettes, Bud, Levis, bagels, peanut butter, Mars bars - and even California wine. Paris has never had it so good.

'Hollywood Chewing Gum' is not American, but you can't tell the difference.

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