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Triumphant Return

photo: cafe raspail vert

This issue's only sunshine photo.

Of the Countdowns

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Tuesday, 13. January 2004:– Like last week in Paris, we will be treated to clouds, clouds and more clouds. Rain may fall from some of them, but last night's TV–weather news didn't think this would happen today. They were wrong, wrong, wrong. It's been pouring.

There have been winds and there will be more winds. These winds are pushing rain–laden clouds from the Atlantic this way. The temperature, at about 10 degrees, is probably 'average' for January, but by the end of the week it will start to dip below double–digits.

On last night's TV-weather news there was a soothsayer, and he said, "Forsooth, etc.," followed by the theory that years with extraordinary heatwaves would be followed by years with extraordinary amounts of rain.

If weather like this happens in Paris, especially if it's on the same day, then I'll be able to say that Paris has tropical weather. I hope not. It was okay like it was.

Café Life

Up In Belleville

There was a brief lull in the winds and the sun peeped out of the clouds last Friday, so I decided to visit Belleville – as sort of my contribution to the 'Année de la Chine.' I want to be ready to cover it.

The 'Chinese' part, the part of it you can see, is around the Rue de Belleville and the Boulevard de Belleville – wherephoto: boulangerie, oberkampf arrondissements 10, 11, 19 and 20 join. If you keep on going downhill on the Rue du Faubourg du Temple the scene changes – into being parts of everywhere, jumbled together side by side.

A place to get fresh bread six days a week.

It is interesting. It is like being in a neighborhood of immigrants – far, very far, from the Paris of bridges, monuments, boulevards, big department store windows and imposing buildings. It is not like being 'in' 2004.

Not far down, it is possible to turn left into the Rue Saint–Maur, and cross over to the Rue Jean–Pierre Timbaud and the Rue Oberkampf. These are streets in an area that got a heavy promotion some years ago, survived it, and returned to being somewhat sleepy.

Left behind are all sorts of real and fake 'workers–bar' theme cafés. Somehow these evolved just so far and then stopped, to stay as they were – a sort of east–Paris haven for people who wear lace–up high–top boots.

Why, I wondered, were there so many people in the cafés, fairly early on a Friday afternoon? Are cafés all over Paris full on Friday afternoons? Not, as far as I know. But I don't know everything, except today – cafés around Oberkampf are fuller than the cafés I was in earlier up in Belleville.

Starbucks To Open In Paris

Next Friday, the Seattle company that put coffee shops back into the US landscape, expects to open its first branch in Paris. The creation of a new shop, near the Opéra, was announced last September.

At the time, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, was quoted as having said that 'it is with the utmost respect and admiration for the café society in France that we announce our entry.'

According to The Tocqueville Connection's report from AFP, Parisians will be able to 'act out' the 'American Dream' by rushing to work wearing Reeboks while clutching over–sized cardboard pots of coffee concoctions.

Since few Parisians wear 'Reeboks' whilephoto: tati rushing to work, it is an open question just how many will put up with a no–smoking café that has too many choices. Most other cafés have several variants of espresso on tap already, and some even have little paper take–away cups.

Tati has problems but keeping open isn't one of them, yet.

It is expected that the new Starbucks will be mobbed at first for its curiosity–value, but how it can beat Paris' other 3000–odd cafés for speed, comfort and convenience is unknown.

Part of Paris' 'café life' depends on habit. If you already have a favorite café that is on the way to work, why change? Most people have a favorite, and a couple of back–ups. Even in the heart of the city, any café where you have been four times, begins to treat you like a regular.

It is true that you could be treated like a 'regular' at a McDo, a GAP outlet or a Pizza Hut, but you'd have to be persistant and be ready to put a bit of yourself out – often to stressed–out employees who are too harassed by modern management to respond.

All the other 'American' attributes of Starbucks that Parisians are supposedly in awe of, already exist in their Parisian versions. But true, they might not be on the way to work. They might be in the 11th arrondissement, in the Rue Oberkampf, at the Café Charbon.

In the Rue Scribe

Suddenly the implantation of a branch of the Paris Tourist Office inside the American Express centre in the Rue Scribe begins to make sense. Airport buses stop right at the door, and the new Starbucks can't be far away.

The other positive aspect to note is that while the Paris Tourist Office section is not over–manned, justphoto: paris sur glace, montparnasse around the corner there's the larger American Express office which is full of Paris experts with lots of up–to–date information.

Free outdoor ice skating in Montparnasse.

The other day a friend popped in to ask a question, and was treated to an avalanche of 'hot tips.' One was that the best time to see the Botticelli exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg is early on a weekend evening – when everybody else is seeing a movie or dining.

Tips like this can mean the difference between seeing the art or seeing the backs of art lover's heads, and wondering why you paid the entry fee.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

My bluff has been called for the mangled 'quote' in last Thursday's club report. The animal was supposed to be a panda instead of a koala – why did I think it was an Oz story? – and I didn't get the part about commas.

Well then, to set matters straight. The story comes from a book with the title, 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,' by Lynne Truss, and is about careless punctuation.

Apparently the apostrophe is an obscure typographical sign that baffles most writers in our modern times of self–publishing run amok. Ms Truss suggests that it needs a protection society, enforced by brutal language goons.

In Metropole you will seldom find semi or full colons. Disregard the fact that both are vital bits of the markup code behind these pages. Rather, it is that fact that both of them may look like dirt specksphoto: little orphan dimitri on your computer monitor, so the '–' has been almost universally substituted. Written in clear, the code looks like this: '–.'

Now that we are so much wiser, I still wonder about the panda. The panda eats a sandwich in a café, shoots a gun in the air and goes to leave the café. To a confused waiter the panda explains – waving a badly–punctuated book about panda ways – "Panda. Medium black–and–white bear–like mammal, native to China. Eats sandwich, shoots and leaves."

Dimitri, shown wearing home–made 'ittle Orphan Annie' eyes.
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