La Rue de la Vie

photo: cafe st severin, saint michel

Early evening, late November, in the Quartier Latin.

Is Not Full of Potholes

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 4. December 2000:- Normally it takes me some time to figure out what the weather is doing on Monday mornings, because even if I leave my apartment and go out and stand in the middle of the street and look straight up, little more than a thin pencil of sky shows.

This morning was different because I was in a room in a clinic with a great view of some tiny part of the 18th arrondissement. Since it was totally overcast, it made no difference that I didn't which direction the window faced.

photo: lit bar, maraisWhen I got out of the place just before noon, the weather report hadn't changed. Grey all over and light rain - rather, correction - a sort of fizzle. 'Fizzling' is just enough to make the sidewalks damp.

One of the Marais' literary drink shops with teas and cakes.

Normally I'd also look at Sunday night's TV-news' weather forecast, but this morning my most recent update was last Wednesday and I don't remember it too well. This means, for this week's weather in Paris, you are on your own.

The only thing I can say for sure about it - and this only applies to this Monday morning - the weather is pretty much the same in the 18th arrondissement as it is in the 14th.

Real Life Turns 'Real'

Last week I used this space to vaguely moan about standing in lines on my 'week off' to see exhibitions of various sorts in Paris.

If I can retract this 'moan' I will do so now. Standing in lines to see things in exhibitions and then going off to have a café and cake afterwards, is vastly better than hanging around hospital emergency wards and making cross-Paris transits in lumpy ambulances.

However, in the interests of this magazine I used all my powers of observation during these episodes - on the off-chance that some morsels of 'Café Life' would manifest themselves.

Café Life

Earth, As Seen from a Chair

This particular bit of 'Earth' was the emergency ward of the Hôpital Cochin, which I walked into. My first impression was that I had made a mistake and had accidently wandered into a firemen's clubroom.

There were a lot of these dashing fellows around, moving about without much urgency, taking care of their truckloads of deliveries. The 'deliveries' themselves were concealed behind a door that said 'No relatives.'

In the civilian area, where I was, there seemed to be no people with urgencies and only a few in danger ofphoto: impasse, marais falling asleep. After a brief wait in line behind two firemen, an efficient lady took my particulars, none of which I can remember. I was told to take a seat, and I did, for a couple of hours.

The Passage de l'Hôtel d'Argenson in the Marais.

When I was called, it was to have my blood pressure tested for pressure, and then I was invited to go back outside and resume sitting.

After a couple more visits the X-rays were done and I got a neat wheelchair, because one of the photos showed one of my kneecaps to be fractured every which way - although my impression of their photo was that is was underexposed and probably out of focus.

After being returned to limbo, I got permission to wheel outside and get some air because I didn't want to fall asleep and miss anything exciting - like the man who had fallen off a ladder after getting a pot of while paint dropped on his head.

Earth, As Seen from an Ambulance With Black Windows

Once you've crossed Paris on a rainy Friday night in an ambulance with tinted-black windows, you have a pretty good idea of how not to see much. This sounds like moaning to me, this doesn't sound a bit like your...

Dashing Paris reporter, swiftly emerging from the métro at Saint-Paul, giving the animated place a whirl-neck check for the missing art-déco 'S' on the métro sign, quickly eliminating the usual cafés and bars as photo subjects.

Powering up the Rue Pavée, to pull a surprise attack on the city's cultural HQ, in order to weasel out of their grasp the city's apparently secret Christmas events program. Oh, eventually, jolly laughs all round - with a pirated photocopy, oh-so carefully taped together - what a treasure!

And the reward - a stroll through the animated Marais, past the emergency fire services rescuing some sort of sub-sidewalk plumbing. And all this at the best time of day, in the afternoon when it looks still light, but looks like early night to the camera.

A quick blitz through the Hôtel de Ville's reception hall where the photo show 'Des Européens à Paris' is now playing, and a general bottom-trawl for any other bits of information being kept secret - and - flash! - out the door onto Rivoli and whip around the corner.

All blank sky was playing instead of the advertised 'Sapin de Noël Sur la Place de la Hôtel de Ville.' No use peering under things, like the skating rink being constructed, because your average Paris-sized 'Sapin de Noël' has to be bigger than a toothpick.

But you never know. A policeman on duty, guarding the city hall's other secrets, is pretty sure there is no 'Sapin de Noël' within sight, so it must be in front of Notre Dame.

Practically everything you can't find in Paris is 'in front' of Notre Dame. The advantage of this is, you can find it - which is supposed to make up for whatever it is you can't find.

Over by Saint-Michel the light in the western sky is really headed into the Atlantic, which makes the lights around the place all the brighter - making sitting on one of the big café terraces almost irresistible.

Earth, As Seen from the Clinique 18

This is almost sense-fiction. Paris' 18th arrondissement has its high points like Montmartre and it has its semi-low points like Pigalle, but the Clinique 18 manages to be on an island surrounded by railyards, full of points.

It is definitely an area on your map to be overlooked, as I have managed to do for more than two decades. Atphoto: cafe la pita, marais one point the tracks of the Gare du Nord and the Gare de l'Est are only a block apart, but up in the 18th this division has widened into several blocks, and here in this area - is a Paris set of streets which are not even in one of Paris' 80 Quartiers.

One of many well-lit fast-food joints in the Marais.

Not for me to end up in some boring place everyone in the world knows all about. Oh no, a droop on the snoot and one leg conked out in a black-window ambulance, and I manage to stay on the job and find a 'new' piece of Paris for you.

Take it. A gift from me to you. Do what you want with it. Just don't try in sleep in the place unless the hotel has some way of showing you that it does have triple-lazed windows and earmuffs on demand.

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