Dave Barry Did Not Eat Here

photo: le mistral, opera comique

The café Le Mistral opposite the Opéra Comique is
also a 'tabac' and 'Loto' station.

'Is It True What They Say About Paris?'

Paris:- Sunday, 8. July 2001:- Last weekend while I was banging my nails into weary keys for this magazine, a couple of readers responded to my request for 'Is It True?' items by sending me a copy of Dave Barry's latest column for the 'Miami Herald,' titled, 'When in France, Be Careful.'

The first to do this was Alan Pavlik, who spends a lot of time in Hollywood tooling around its 'France-homestead' neighborhoods, because he can't afford to come to Paris - and besides, Hollywood has more palms and lots more empty parking spaces beside its outdoor cafés.

The other reader's name can't be mentioned here on account of a serious depression caused by the Mets losing their socks to the Yankees last weekend at Yankee Stadium. The Mets have won a game since then, but that has nothing to do with this matter - except that Mr. Barry's column about Paris and France had a different title in 'Newsday.'

For readers unfamiliar with Miami, Hollywood, the Mets or Dave Barry, I should explain that Mr. Barry writes aphoto: sign, bistrot de jeanette newspaper column of about 700 words every week for the 'Miami Herald,' and this newspaper syndicates his column to just about every newspaper in the United States, Alaska, Hawaii and some other offshore territories such as Canada.

Dave Barry could have got his complaint notepaper in the restaurant with this sign.

In the column in question, Mr. Barry explained that he was on a tax-deductible fact-finding trip to Europe, to try and find out if the European Union has a future, or if it is, in fact, really real. To do this investigative reporting he chose a 'broad cross-section' of Europe which was mostly in Paris and in France.

It is actually true that both Paris and France are in the European Union, and since everybody in Europe is going on holidays right now and criss-crossing France to do it, France can certainly be considered to be a 'cross-section,' as it is most of the time anyway because it has TGV trains.

Mr. Barry pointed out that Europe's biggest problem is the fact that everything said here is hard to pronounce. To show that this is true, a Spanish couple were trying to get three ham and cheese sandwiches today in my local boulangerie, and nobody in the shop seemed to know that the word for 'queso' is 'fromage.'

Since this boulangerie is normally closed on Sundays and was only open because all the others are closed because it is July, a huge line, or 'bouchon,' formed outside the bakery and it was getting longer as I left. It sounded like 'queso' or 'fromage' was going to click, leaving only the problem of the interpretation of 'three.'

Mr. Barry's big problem came up when he and his family went to a restaurant and attempted to order some food incorrectly. He wrote that Europe can get 'snippy' when this isn't done right, and specifically mentioned this happening in a café named 'Le Mistral.'

The actual 'blunder' seemed to be involved with requesting food before ordering drinks, according to Mr. Barry. Hephoto: cafe vieux chatelet described this as a 'horrifique faux pas' and incredibly 'gauche' - which he explained was a French word for 'American.'

Dave Barry could have got his complaint notepaper in café 'Au Vieux Châtelet' on the Place du Châtelet.

According to his story, the waiter had a proper Gallic 'snit' and tore up the order slip in a fury, and the Barry family went to another café with a nice waiter, who graciously lent Mr. Barry a blank order slip so he could write an official complaint about Le Mistral.

This could have happened but it seems unlikely. It is normal in restaurants in Paris to order food first, and drinks second. But if it is only a café and you are not hungry, you can skip ordering food first and concentrate on drinks. In general, hungry people go to restaurants to order whole meals, usually with drinks.

Some restaurants will offer a 'cocktail maison' to tide the famished over the thirsty business of ordering a meal. This 'cocktail' - regardless of its size - and no 'seconds!' - is supposed to last until you get to the wine card, and then everything is usually arranged so that the drinks ordered to accompany the meal arrive slightly before it.

In fact, if you want a few serious drinks before eating in a restaurant, you usually can get these in any café or a bar. But remember - restaurants don't like to see customers arriving half-swacked, because this can seriously reduce their high-profit wine business.

After the protest note was written, the Barrys returned to Le Mistral where the note was presented to the manager and discussed in the presence of the waiter. This produced a truly funny dialogue, because nobody - not even Mr. Barry - could understand the complaint message, possibly because it was written on French paper.

After this linguistic 'cassoulet' the Barry family left Paris to visit Provence which turned out to be both mellower and picturesque - full of cheese markets and little French cars parked on top of each other because the roads are twisty and narrowphoto: cafe sarah bernhardt, chatelet and the picturesque towns - some built by Romans - were not planned with parking lots. The hordes of cheese-buyers in Provence do not have an easy time of it.

The Sarah Bernhardt is another café on the Place du Châtelet where Dave Barry could have got his complaint notepaper.

While this is true, the parking problem could not have been very acute because it was only yesterday that northern Europeans, trying to get to Provence, caused a five-hour traffic jam because Paris was in their way. Once past Paris, the even longer traffic-jam from Lyon to Orange awaited them.

I will skip the part of Mr. Barry's story that contains the deduction that the French throw away all the cheese they buy in order to stay slim so that they can fit into their tiny cars and race from one cheese market to another over the picturesque but twisty roads of Provence.

Instead, on Friday I clamped on my antique 'investigative reporter's' hat - left over from my days as a stolen-bike investigator - and set out to track down the café Le Mistral in Paris, by looking in the phone book.

This produced two cafés with the name - one beside the Opéra Comique and the other at such a high number in the Rue des Pyrénées, that it is probably close to Disneyland, which is not really next door to Paris. The 'Pages Jaunes' on the other hand, turned up no cafés or restaurants named Le Mistral.

I thought this was odd, so I did a Web search too. France Télécom's online 'Pages Jaunes' revealed only one Le Mistral, which did not match the two in the printed version. Its accompanying photo did not make it look like a place where Dave Barry did not eat.

But the online 'white pages' turned up winners, with seven Le Mistrals listed. Several of these were eliminated for being on unlikely streets - near Pigalle or in the depths of the 15th - which left me to snoop the one beside the Opéra Comique and another one on the Place du Châtelet.

Either of these seemed likely because both of them have nearby cafés or restaurants where the Barry family could have gone to get the notepaper for writing complaints about Le Mistral.

On-site inspection on Friday led me to deduce that Dave Barry did not eat in either of these Le Mistrals. Since we already know this from his story, we can assume he did not eat in any of the other five either.

From Châtelet's Le Mistral, the closest café is the Sarah Bernhardt, and across the place there are the cafés Vieux Châtelet and Le Zimmer. Dave Barry could have gotten notepaper in any of these, but I doubt it because I don't think this place's Le Mistral is where he failed to have a meal because it is a fairly ordinary café, and probably not suitable for tax-deductible purposes.

But the Opéra Comique area has possibilities, with two suitable-looking bistros on the opposite side of the Opéra Comique from Le Mistral. But these would have involved a two-block walk back to deliver the complaint note, so they make not eating at this Le Mistral doubtful.

My best guess is that the Barry family toughed it out until they got to Provence and found all the cheese markets - when they were open! - and bought all the cheese they couldphoto: le mistral, chatelet carry - 'metric tons of it' - at every one they found open, until they got too big from eating it to fit in their tiny French rental car - to drive to the next picturesque cheese market.

Châtelet's café Le Mistral - did Dave Barry not eat here and complain about the service?

From this admittedly incomplete investigation I cannot say with certitude that Dave Barry definitely did not have a meal in any café or restaurant in Paris named Le Mistral, but it is possibly true.

None of this would have happened if the Barry family has joined the Café Metropole Club at the café La Corona and met any of the club's polylingual 'Waiters of the Week.'

But if they had done this, Mr. Barry would have had to devote his entire column to cheese or Provence, both of which have been overdone nearly to death by visiting journalists on tax-deductible visits to France to find out 'true' facts about the European Union.

All Europeans, wherever they are, should by thankful to the IRS for inventing 'tax-deductible visits' and making this possible - while applauding Provence for bearing the brunt - in French, 'le choc' - of 'fact-finding' onslaughts.

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