Anyone for Tenting?

photo: dimitri in dimitris new tent

Dimitri signals 'All Okay' from his new tent, after
its trial setup in our courtyard.

It's Never Too Late For It

Paris:- Wednesday, 22. August 2001:- Despite the provisional return of some vacationers last weekend, August's doldrums are still with us - along with holiday weather that seems to be paying Paris an extended visit this season.

Some people, like Dimitri for example, have been minding the store. Some things, like roadworks, wait for summer to get done - which dashes the hopes of automobilistas for clear sailing around the city.

Other works get done too - like regilding the ceiling moldings in ministries. Dimitri has been doing some overseeing on a job like this since the beginning of the month, but they've called it off for a week.

He anticipated this by buying new tires for his car - for the first time in ten years - and giving itphoto: inserting support poles an oil change, which he does more often. At first I didn't understand the significance of this, but today he says all the places around here that sell tents are closed.

'This thingee goes through here' - Dimitri knows all of this from memory.

About 12 years ago a borrowed a tent from a friend and kept it for use for ten years before being asked to return it. He forgot to anticipate asking to borrow it again and now it appears that a major excursion is going to have to be made to get one right away - today.

Golly! Even if we can find a place with tents open, will there be any left? And what will they cost? Figuring the years of inflation, a tent that cost 400 francs a dozen years ago is probably going to be 1200 francs today.

Our discussion eliminates certain shops we are pretty sure are open because they are expensive. A big sporting-goods place near here is closed, and an even closer shop with gear for mountaineering is closed too.

This leaves one at Madeleine. The BHV - is uncertain, and another one is at the Forum des Halles. The Forum des Halles would be my last choice, but it has the advantage of being close to the BHV if a fallback is necessary.

On the métro ride down to Châtelet we have to quit talking because the accordion guys have their amplifiers turned up far too loud. When we can hear again, we agree that music in the métro is fine so long as it stays acoustic. An 'impression' of music is enough.

At Châtelet we inspect the replica Guimard métro entry at Sainte- Opportune. Dimitri is half intrigued with the bright red and yellow McDonalds sign on the reverse of the métro map, because he thinks it is old-fashioned enamel. But it is merely plastic covered by plexiglass.

It isn't as if there hasn't always been advertising signs, but it seems that it might be more appropriate to put up one for 'period' product - one that goesphoto: bending poles into position with the art nouveau replica. Some of these brand-names still exist.

We pass the Fountaine des Innocents with its eternal skateboarders and fetch up at the entry to the underground shopping centre. Beside the top of the escalators someone has set up boxes full of old postcards and Dimitri sees one he likes.

This is not a mistake - all he has to do is bend the thingee and stick it in the concrete.

This is about the last decent thing to see, because the escalators going down into the 'hole' of the Forum seem dirty and industrial and very used, and they make a lot of noise, sort of like a rackety waterfall. Their descent is not smooth either - halfway down they seem to drop a whole step - clunk.

The Forum has a new feature in the form of color-coded direction signs. These point to the métro or the RER or to other entries, such as Rambuteau. But we don't look at these long enough to figure out if the colors mean anything, because we find a plan of the shopping centre to study.

This shows where we are but is a little vague about the place we want to find, because it's on another 'minus' level. But it seems to be directly beneath where we came in, so we go down deeper. We see the shop's sign at the end of a hallway, but when we get to it, it says we've passed the entry, so we go back.

We stop just inside the entry to ask about tents. We are assured there are some - in the 'mountaineering' department, which is on a lower level. We reach this by a wide metal stairway and immediately get lost in a maze of underwater gear that smells like a toxic plastics factory.

At the opposite end of this Ali Baba cavern of sporty goods we find a dozen erected tents, like a campsite inside a cave. They all look the same to me, so I look for some sort of oversight poster - and find it.

From this Dimitri quickly spots the tent he borrowed a dozen years ago - and, wow! it's only 300 francs. New!

To get from this panel to the standing display model to the packaged one we enlist a human being, who deftly plucks the article off a wall clogged with all of the tentphoto: finishing touches models in their sacks. The tent's rolled-up size is tiny - not much bigger than a sizeable sausage.

Sensibly enough, Dimitri wants to open it up. "How can I see what's inside?" he asks the shop guy when he comes up against the anti-shoplifting thingee.

There now, almost finished. Nothing much to it!

This marks Dimitri as a 'true camper' because these do not wait until they are 350 kilometres from Paris, in some cow pasture, with night about to fall, to ask questions like this.

We are directed to the reception area near the entry. The lady there takes off the anti-booster button, and Dimitri takes everything out and counts all the pieces. Then he rolls it all up, and it amazingly all fits back into its sack.

After this stupendous success he pays for it, declines their plastic bag, and we get out of the shop and out of the shopping centre by the shortest possible route we are lucky enough to find immediately. It is a bit like leaving an excessively noisy coal mine.

Next we clear out of Les Halles area and get to a simple café I know on the other side of Rivoli - on my 'go-to-club' route - where Dimitri gets a decent sandwich and a beer. The café is called something like the 'Tour d'Argent' and it has the smallest toilet in Paris. Otherwise, it is fine and quiet and light, with big half-round 16th century windows.

The next idea is to get back to our own courtyard and try the tent out. This is another 'true camper' routine, and the courtyard is perfect for it because it is shady and roomy.

Dimitri used the borrowed tent just like this new one, a lot, so he remembers most of the moves involved with getting it up. Unrolled, he also finds that it is the color he wanted - which he didn't see at the shop.

He leaves off its second roof, because it seems redundant to bang the pin-down spikes into the courtyard's concrete surface. He sits in it, to show me that two people will fit inside, and shows me all the trick features with the door flap, thephoto: tent rolled up again mosquito screen and the ventilation screen on the other side.

After he's taken it down again I tell him the whole operation has taken about 30 minutes, and he says it can be done faster, with practice.

The trickiest part of putting up the tent is putting it back in its traveling sack.

The next day in the café, Dimitri comes in with a sack of laundry. "It doesn't get really clean," he says. I tell him all my coin-laundry tips and he says the lady who does his, folds everything up really neatly.

He drinks a small café quickly, picks up the sack and puts it down again. "I want to get to Rennes today," he says.

When I ask, he says it is about 350 kilometres. It is a long way to go in a 2-CV, but I think he can get there by dark, if he will just get out of this café, and I tell him this.

Even though he's told me all about the technical aspects of putting up a tent so that it will withstand fairly major weather, and about how one can pitch a little tent just about anywhere - you might have to ask a farmer first - and how the little car will still have room for three passengers, he still needs a little boost out of the café.

"Now," he says, "All I have to do is just get on the road." And then he's gone.

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