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Easter In Paris

photo: worshipers climbing stairs, st serge

Part of the Easter ceremony at Saint–Serge.

''I'm Wearing this Coat to Brussels''

Paris:– Saturday, 10. April:– Moyer has a plan. On the phone he says, "We rendez–vous at the Rendez–Vous at seven." Clear, concise, unforgettable. To follow the rendez–vous, the rest of the plan is a dinner in a Russian place in Montmartre and then off to the Russian Orthodox Easter celebration at the Saint–Serge church near the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

This phone call reminds me a bit later that I need to look at some of Moyer's books. By the time I reach his fifth–floor apartment he has all of them out. As I am copying the information I want he shows me the three pages of comics Crumb has done for the New Yorker.

I haven't time to read it so he lends in to me. I return to Metropole's editorial nerve centre and do whatever it is that I do. Honestly, I really do something, and with a lot of concentration, and pretty soon it is time to go to the Rendez–Vous.

At seven, I do not want to stand at the bar and not have a café. I stand outside with a view of the two most likely approaches.photo: resto svetlana It is overcast and breezy, and there are little spits of rain. It is not long until Moyer arrives and we go inside and stand at the bar, with a short café and a small Côtes– du–Rhône, while waiting for Shipounoff.

Shipounoff and Moyer entering the Russian restaurant Svetlana.

Moyer asks me if I've brought the Crumb comic–strip with me. I haven't, because I haven't read it yet, and have forgotten all about it. Moyer says he told me he wanted it back so he could take it to Brussels in the morning.

We make an elaborate plan for me to return it after we've returned from tonight's outing. But I can tell Moyer has no faith in my memory. I don't have much in his either. It doesn't take a lot of haggling to convince me the evening will go a lot smoother if I go back and get the comic–strip.

It's a fair walk, slightly uphill. On the way I decide that adding time to scan the three pages won't be noticed, and this is what I do. It's a fair walk back downhill to the Rendez–Vous with the wind in my face.

In the café Moyer hasn't budged a centimetre, but is on his second glass. He is still alone – there's no Shipounoff. Moyer says there are two possibilities – Shipounoff is asleep or he's in the Bouquet. Neither of us have his phone number.

We take two different routes to the Bouquet to be sure not to miss him. He isn't on either one because he is sitting in the café Le Bouquet, having a drink with Matt Rose. Another glass is added for Moyer, but we get out of there, leaving Matt with half a pot of rouge he doesn't want.

At the Métro entrance there is a halt for a debate about taking a taxi or the Métro. The latter wins andphoto: view from svetlana we ride up to Barbés and switch to the Porte Dauphine line to get to Anvers. The wagons are crowded with excited people out for a Saturday night in exciting Pigalle.

View from the restaurant is no less exotic than its interior.

We pass the Elysée Montmartre and turn up the steep Rue des Trois Frères. Shipounoff points out the antique shop where he had his first atelier here. We turn left in the Place Charles–Dullin into the Rue d'Orsel to find the Svetlana.

It is like a dark red Christmas tree inside. Despite all the colored lights it is so dim that Shipounoff doesn't see the no smoking signs. He looks glum when the waiter won't bring an ashtray. I can't read the menu in the dark, until Moyer lends me his generic close–up glasses. Then I can read, but what does it mean? I don't remember if I ever read the menus on the Alexandr Pushkin, or if it was unnecessary because the ship had run out of everything.

Moyer and Shipounoff decide on the starter – some zakoushi – expecting it to be a huge variety of foods we can share. They order a half–kilo of vodka too. I see that a supplement of blinis costs 5€. They order Vareniki Ukrainienne and I opt for the Pelmeni Siberienne.

Moyer inspects the toilet and comes back to say we should check it out because it is full of Russian cartoons. He has Crumb in his pocket and he wants us to go see the comics in the toilet! If Crumb were with us, he'd do it.

The portraits of the last royal family are on the wall above Shipounoff's head. It looks like there is a museum on the walls, plus beads and drapes on the ceiling.

The zakoushi are served on three plates, one for each of us. The vodka must be okay because there are no quibbles. The house's band of two play sentimental music that Shipounoff thinks might be Armenian. After 20 minutes they pass a collection bowl.

The main dishes arrive with no over–long wait. They look like two different types of ravolis, with some green stuff on the side and a puddle of cream in the centre. I think my ravolis are filled with chicken. We don't taste each others' dishes because we never do.

Mine are good. They only lack some hot sauce to match the restaurant's red decor. Shipounoff says Russians have vodka instead of hot sauce. I remember now – there was pepper–vodka on the Pushkin, as well as a poem a day on the menu.

Then it's my turn I check out the cartoons in the toilet. I have to wait and I see the place is decorated from floor to ceiling, including the ceiling and the floor. There is also a very powerful–looking hifi setup – enough for some serious loudness.

All of the cartoons in the toilet are third–rate and all of them are either anti–smoking or anti–vodka. On the other hand, the toilet is in a roomy cubby–hole, after the washroom smaller than a telephone booth.

Moyer pays the bill with plastic and we bicker over who will pay the tip. All of our small change went to the house band. Shipounoff insists on '15 percent included.' My small change is too embarrassing to be a tip. In the end, we don't care, and it may add up to 95 cents.

Out on the street, half the places around are either full of good–time Saturday nighters or nearly empty. There are quitephoto: main entry, st serge a few people wandering about looking for free places in the former. Back in the Métro, Moyer notes that no French is heard. It's a babble of Italian, German, Arabic and Spanish.

Paris must be the only place in the world that still has a Stalingrad. This Métro station is marked as closed, but the train stops in it anyway. We get off at the next one, Jaurès, and change to the line to Bobigny for one stop, to Laumière.

The main entry to the Saint–Serge church.

Opposite the Métro exit there is what looks like a one–time fire station, making a loud noise like a hip–hop rap warehouse. We saunter up the Avenue Jean–Jaurès to the Rue de Crimée.

The Avenue Jean–Jaurès is famous as the flight path of Louis XVI, and infamous for his return seven days later. In 1807 Napoléon's army used it to return in victory from Prussia, and in 1814 Czar Alexandr's Russian troops, together with Prussian and Austrian troops, used it to enter Paris – victorious – so this is where the word 'bistro' entered.

Leaving the avenue at the Rue de Crimée, we turn right and go up the hill past a few open cafés with dim lights. After about 200 metres, just after one particularly dim bar we find an entry to what seems like a courtyard, but is a path to the Saint–Serge orthodox church and its compound.

This started out in the 1860s as a Lutheran church, founded by Frederic de Bodelschwingh, for immigrants from Bavaria. After 1918 it was ceded to the Institut Théologique Orthodoxe Saint–Serge – which is engraved on the brass name–plate at the entry.

The path leads up past a library and steps begin. The chestnut trees in the yard have plenty of new leaves, partially hiding a two–story pitched–roof all–wood church, mostly painted in red and green.

There are many people standing in front of it and more are arriving. Many are holding long, thin candles, with drip–shields on them, making them look like small daggers.

Moyer says he tried to come here for the Christmas service. According to Shipounoff, at some point everyone is supposed to leave the church and march around it with lit candles, and this will be the time we can get in. He says it is small inside and will be very crowded – once in there nobody will be leaving and the service continues until 05:00.

Part of this does happen. Worshipers come down from the second floor landing and disappear around the side of the church. They are following by Orthodox priests who take the same route. The ground floor doors remain closed.

When the circuit is completed the priests climb the stairs to the upper landing, and chanting begins. Many in the crowd, most with lit candles, join in the responses. I can't see anything because I'm off–centre, under the new chestnut leaves. The vocal part lasts about 20 minutes or a half hour.

Since it is not getting any warmer, we leave along with a fair number of others. At the street a police car is parkedphoto: dimitri shipounoff, dennis moyer beside the entry. The bar next door is closed. All but one of the cafés in the Rue de Crimée are closed.

Overtired Shipounoff and Moyer, with the Brussels coat.

We pass a few shops still open going back to the Métro on the Avenue Jean–Jaurès. One closed one has its entire show window full of 'designer' toilet seats. One is zebra–striped, another has a golfball on it, and one has fish painted on it. There are a dozen different ones, but white isn't one of them. This window alone has made the pilgrimage worthwhile.

On the way back, via Place d'Italie, we do not stop in the café Rendez–Vous and we leave Moyer at Gassendi because he has a train to catch in the morning. Tonight's outing has convinced him his wool coat will be appropriate in Brussels.

Shipounoff and I cannot pass the Bar 48 without having a last drink. There are two Germans in it, who re–order their round, and the two staff. Shipounoff idly flips though Saturday's Le Parisien. It has become Easter Sunday in Paris. It is not snowing, like it usually does.

Speak French? Speak it Better!
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