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A 'Yankee Swap'

photo: cafe au sauvignon

A sunny Sunday terrace in the Quartier Latin.

Weather Precedes Fluff

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Monday, 29. March 2004:– A correspondent in Amsterdam wants to know if spring has arrived here. It certainly has – it was here in glory yesterday, perfectly on time to accompany some tens of millions of French voters to the polls for the second Sunday in a row.

After the heavy duties of giving two black eyes to right–wing parties in the regional elections, everybody who could was strolling around by the Seine or in the Tuileries, looking in vain for an empty chair to idly lounge in.

The election is over and the results are in, but the sun will keep on shining, for a few days more. In case tonight'sphoto: batobus TV–news decided to spend the whole evening analyzing the right's ordeal, I tuned in early and was lucky to catch a pre–news weather forecast.

The Batobus resumed service this weekend.

Tomorrow, for example, should be sunny in the morning and sunny in the afternoon – which has gotten longer because Europe set its clocks back an hour on Sunday morning, to give us an extra hour of daylight in the evening. Or maybe it's a longer afternoon.

Tuesday will also be good for hanging out in parks, because the Seine–side speedways will be monopolized by the automobilistas until being barred again next Sunday. Ah, the other reason for being in a park, will be a predicted high temperature of 17 degrees, which is not shabby at all for late March.

Wednesday might even be a degree warmer, but will also be the day when cloudy weather begins to push its way across France from the southwest. It should be partly sunny at least, if not more. For Thursday we will have most of the Atlantic's attack of clouds, and the high will drop to 16. This may have cleared by Friday, but the temperature probably won't rise above 15 degrees.

Café Life

'Yankee Swap'

At the Café Metropole Club I quite often get to meet visitors on the same day as they get off the plane, so I am used to seeing people in the grip of their first impressions here.

But I was invited to the official 'going–away' party of club members Lauren and Steve Camera–Murray on Saturday evening, so I decided to go along and see how things looked going the other way.

But mainly I went because Steve told me they were going to organize a 'Yankee Swap' for the guests. One of these can be explained in a few words, but once they are mulled over a bit, you need a re–explanation or you might as well forget it.

But first I had to get there. I know where the Cirque d'Hiver is, but I checked the Métro map just to make sure there was nothing tricky about getting there. On my first and last glance, it looked like one change of line would be necessary at the Place d'Italie, where one is enough anybody for a week.

Sure enough, I had to check another Métro map in a tunnel there or end up at Oberkampf, and by then I was beyondphoto: capri of the week the signs pointing to where I should have turned. A while later I found the train to Bobigny, and accepted the fact that I'd have to change again at Bastille, unless I wanted to do some on–foot cross–town dash from Oberkampf.

The 'Capri of the Week,' a clean exmple from the 1970s.

Crossing my fingers about making the change at Bastille did no good. A good question to pose is, might it not be better to make some on–foot cross–town dash from Oberkampf rather than some stiff ascending and descending underground at Bastille?

If you are doing this, you should make up your mind long before you get to Bastille. When I eventually emerged from the depths, I was rewarded with the sight of the Cirque d'Hiver all lit up at night. Then all I had to do was find a dark street and a darker doorway, fumble in a door–code and once inside do it again with the same numbers but in a different order.

After that, walking up five flights of highly polished wooden stairs was a snap. Well, there was a tricky part when the lights went out and I had to run my fingers along a curved wall, past a window, and turn on my radar until finding the floor of the next landing.

In the dark, the light switches usually glow a bit, but it's impossible to tell if they aren't doorbuzzers. The next four flights passed without incidents, and Lauren and Steve's door – on the 6th floor – was marked with a colored paper sign saying something I now remember I've forgotten.

Its buzzer turned out to be a buzzer and not a light switch. Buzzing it brought Lauren to the other side of the door, which she opened. In I went and joined the other people there ahead of me, who must have come on time by some other way than Bastille.

Lauren has been teaching English so some of her students were there. Club member Jason was there too, and Tomoko came along a bit later. A lot of other people seemed to be from a part of Ireland where trans–standard 'west–Brit' English is not a common tongue.

It was a roomy apartment with two living rooms, and In one of them some guests found a big TV set in time to see France beat Britainphoto: stairs, pont alexandre 3 with a rugby ball. It was the sixth place the Camera– Murrays have lived in, in 18 months. Steve told me there was one really nice place they found where they could have stayed for six months, but the owner came back after a week.

The stairs lead from the quay up to the Pont Alexandre III.

More guests arrived. Two tall, blond young ladies were not from California, but from Cork. The Monsieur of another couple said he is security joe for SNCF. He looks after freight wagons, which are not often seen around Paris. He told me that the SNCF has 32,500 kilometres of rails, and these are getting a lot of inspections these days.

The rugby game ended and since some guests seemed to be on the edge of leaving, Steve moved the 'Yankee swap' forward on the events timetable. In the room with the TV there was a table with a bunch of gift–wrapped packages on it. Lauren wrote numbers of little rectangles of red paper and handed one to everybody.

Number one chooses a package and unwraps it. When number two unwraps theirs, they can demand an exchange with number one. The same with number three, four and so on, up to about 18. The idea is to offload a crummy 'gift' on someone else who had to give their good 'gift' to you.

The idea is to make the recipient as unhappy as possible – stuck with the most worthless trash on earth. There was a fair amount of trading over a bottle of very dry Champagne. More usual were somewhat used telephone cards, but there was one used Ville de Paris parking card, with some parking time left on it.

My 'gift' turned out to be a year–old Michelin map of France. I traded it for a two–year old copy of 'Paris Pas Cher 2003.' Nobody understood Steve too well. Nobody looked as miserable as they were supposed to look. For example, myself, I wanted to keep 'Paris Pas Cher' because my own copy is a 1996 model.

As each opened their useless 'gift,' I waved 'Paris Pas Cher' at them, but got no takers. If somebody would have taken it in exchange for, for example, a broken kazoo, and they hated it, then I would have been the champion – according to Steve's rules.' But it did not work. Most people were too polite to exchange their rotten 'gifts' for less rotten ones.

Lauren came to her first club meeting last year on 1. May. Now that I've been at their near–last party in Paris, I have my treasured nearly new 'Paris Pas Cher' still, and it was time to leave – until the nxt time, somewhere.

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