"Smoke In Dreams"

photo: eva lee, christine mclaughlin

Eva Lee and Christine McLaughlin study a new, improved
version of a Paris streetmap.

'Strike of the Week'

Paris:- Thursday, 1. February 2001:- It is another winter day in Paris but it is not typical for two reasons - the sun is half-way spreading its weak rays over the landscape, and the métro is trying out a 'total strike' on residents and visitors.

I should have put up a 'strike alert' last night. But before they are actually happening, it is hard to tell whether they are really going to be 'total' or not. If not - and these are normal - you can halfway get around.

So then, with today's dawn, a surprise 'total' strike has struck. Everybody copes - those that don't stay home, try to cram onto the 50 percent of buses that are supposed to be running. Optimists try to cram on the zero percent of métros that are running.

On my bus line, on my way to the club, they are cruising down towards the Porte d'Orléans. Ten minutes' wait makes me think they are cruising beyond the Porte d'Orléans, maybe all the way to Orléans itself.

It is not entirely an accident that I live where I do. I can almost close my eyes and walk straight north, past the Observatoire, Port Royal, through the Luxembourg gardens, down to cross the Boulevard Saint-Germain, turn onto Dauphine at Buci and cross the Pont Neuf - and here I am, at the Café Metropole Club, almost.

Patrick, today's 'waiter of the week,' got to the club - long before me - by walking from Saint-Lazare. Today's attending members have taken other routes - including the métro - which is not quite so 'totally' on strike as advertised.

photo: club windowThese initial members include Marilyn Burke and Charles Eitel, who have survived métro adventures. Eva Lee, from Tranquility, New Jersey, is right on their heels - although I believe, via overland like me.

I don't know why, but cemeteries in Paris are a favorite conversational subject. Marilyn takes this a step further today by asking for details about the part between death and being installed underground.

Before members arrive, the source of my sunrays in the café's interior.

Frankly, I do not know these details and I am happy when the number-one subject comes up - eating food, even though I know about as much about this as the average sidewalk superintendent.

"Admit it Eva - don't you come here primarily to eat?" Marilyn suggests cheerfully.

Eva admits it, also cheerfully enough. As the names of restaurants are fired off at Gatling-gun speed, Eva calmly consults her own personal hand-written Paris restaurant guide notebook - adding notes and updating others.

For me this is kind of dreary until new member Christine McLaughlin arrives with very cold hands, which are a sign of coping with today's near 'total' transport strike.

Christine comes from Los Angeles - this week's 'City of the Week,' because there are no other candidates - several times a year, and is here at the club by accidently finding Metropole online after losing it a year or two ago.

"Paris is France's only real city," she says, because she visits Bordeauxphoto: marilyn burke often. After a bit of general discussion, Marseille gets added to the 'real city' list too.

Besides cemeteries, 'frequent flyer miles' is another dreary subject that pops up too often to be occasional. Apparently, the goal of these is to get free flights to Paris and you can get them by flying to Paris even if you want to go to Portland, Oregon. I guess this explains why more people come to Paris.

Marilyn gives off sunrays and food tips inside the club's café even on cloudy days.

Charles, who has ordered lots of refreshments at the beginning of the meeting, says, "The only thing I look forward to is Thursday."

Eva claims being in Paris makes smokers out of visiting non-smokers. Charles say people who are already smokers, smoke more. "I used to have dreams about sneaking a smoke," Christine says, who is resisting falling off the smoke wagon successfully.

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