First Meal in
Deciding on the café for our first Parisian meal involved a couple of trips across the Rue Monge and back. The first place we saw looked promising but was kind of empty. We tried the more colorful place across the street: it had a maroon awning and signs with yellow lettering. The inside was almost lush. It didn’t seem like a classic French café. It could have been English or Irish or Eastern European. Local people were sitting inside smoking and watching a horse race on TV. So, we headed back across the Rue Monge looking at other possibilities as we did so. There was one place called the Café Mirbel (the Rue de Mirbel was the cross street). But, the one we chose was the first one we had been drawn to, the Café Royal Mirbel.
The waiter was a young man with close cropped hair who spoke English with a thick and, I suspect, Parisian accent. He led us to a table that looked out on a side street – the street with the Irish pub, Connolly’s Corner, at the end of the block.
I tried to speak some French but, ironically, I was a little out of practice after about 48 hours without my French book. Plus, Daisy did not speak any French. So, the waiter struggled away in English.
For the first of many times, we were faced with a problem I hadn’t really expected: having difficulty understanding the French menu. It was a prix fixe menu but I was unfamiliar with many of the words.
a pichet de vin rouge (carafe
of red wine) and the waiter asked me if I would prefer one of two
kinds. I had trouble understanding him because of the way he rolled his
"R"s but the second time he said it I
recognized the word, “
sudden illumination of phrases and sentences in a foreign language is an
interesting and relatively common experience. You can listen along to a
conversation or monologue in French or Chinese and for a long time catch only
a word here and a word there. It is like groping through a dark room
and touching a familiar object now and then, while still remaining
lost. Then, without warning, you recognize a string of words and you
understand immediately – without translating into English. You just
know what it means, In
I had a
similar experience at Notre Dame the next morning. Throughout the first half of the mass, I
struggled to understand what people were saying, though, of course, I was
familiar with the prayers and responses in English. However I had to
strain to make out more than a word or two at a time. I made out only a general idea of what the
gospel reading was about. During the homily I worked and worked to
comprehend what the bishop (I think) was saying. Then, suddenly,
without realizing it right away, the haphazard understood word started to
become haphazard understood phrases. Then the phrases became a sentence
or two and I had a general topic to hold onto when I got lost again. I
knew without translating or consciously thinking “Hey, I understood that
part!” that he was talking about a history of conflict among Christians and
conflict in the history of Paris and that what was needed was greater
unity. Then he mentioned something about the Gospel or the Book of
I had a duck tartine of some sort that tasted somewhat like a spicy sausage. For our main courses, or plats (not entrées – those are appetizers), we both had different cuts of beef. Mine was called a bavette, I believe.
One odd moment occurred when the waiter wanted to know how Daisy wanted her steak cooked. He asked in English that was evidently translated literally from the French (sanglais), “Do you want it with blood or without blood?”
her steak rare and so ordered it with blood.
It wasn’t until later in the week that we learned the word for the
rarest-cooked steak, “Bleu.” That was at Le Coupole
I had another linguistic epiphany when I heard the waiter ask about, “Haricots vert,” a phrase I had learned from the guidebook. Again, I was thrown by his French-rolled “R.” Anyway, it dawned on me that he meant green beans! Daisy had beans and I had fries.
dessert, I think I had the chocolate mousse and Daisy had crème caramel,
which she didn’t really like and traded with me. The explanation of crème caramel required
the assistance of a middle-aged woman who spoke some English and seemed to be
a regular customer. I remember her
being casually dressed, possibly wearing shorts – a rare sight in
Daisy went to the bathroom, somehow she made friends with a man in his 30s
who is an actor and math teacher. I
met him on the way out and he said he wanted to come to
all the Café Royal Mirbel was a surprisingly friendly experience. Everyone was helpful and they seemed
genuinely nappy to have us there. Now that I think of it, it seems to have
been more of a local hangout than other places we visited during our stay. I wanted to go back there, especially to see
what it was like at night, but we never did.
There were far too many other places to visit in the beautiful city of
Finally, everything – the weather, our plans, the places and events we came upon by accident – went just about perfectly while we were there.
I left work and headed over to Penn Station to meet Daisy. We took the
NJ transit train and the monorail out to
through all that with very little trouble, all in all, we moved through the
relatively quiet airport to the Sam Adams bar near our gate. We ordered
d a couple of large glasses of Sam Adams. We took some pictures, and
called Bud to let him know we were having a beer and about to get on the
chatted with a nice man from
He gave the bartender back some money that had been incorrectly given to him.
A guy in a fire department t-shirt said:
“An honest man, an honest Irishman!”
“There are only three of us.”
When talking about his visit to
“And the food in
The flight itself was relatively painless. An older Indian stewardess ran around offering water to everyone while we waited to take off. I read Henry James’s The American, had three beers, slept an hour or two, and before long found that we were descending toward Charles de Gaulle airport.
Saturday, 5/22: Explore Rue Mouffetard, Pantheon,
struggled through the crowded airport filled with people pushing their
luggage on carts and saying “pardon” as they passed by. Daisy
had asked me to ask the woman at a counter how to find the baggage carousel
for our flight and I froze up, tired and a little intimidated about using the
French I had studied -- especially as I was not quite sure how to ask.
Daisy asked in English. We found the bags and then changed some
money. Since we were in Terminal 2, which was where the train station
is and we didn’t have any kind of shuttle bus or hope of finding one, I
suggested we follow what the guidebook said and take the train south and into
We walked from 2A to 2C not finding a sign for the Gare until we had almost gotten to it. (The maps of the airport were confusing – especially so in the crowd right around where we had gotten off.) But, we persevered and eventually found where we were going. We followed a sign pointing us downstairs and saw that there was a big line waiting for tickets. However, there was a machine. So, using my limited French and trying different cards, which seemed acceptable and unacceptable on almost a random basis, we got two RER (commuter train) tickets to Saint Michel. The Boulevard Saint Michel was close to our hotel but with all the bags, we would probably get a cab from there.
with the walkie talkie (controlleur)
told us were going the right way and so we got on board the train and sat in
the corner with all of our bags. A thin, pretty, young Asian woman got
on and sat across from us. She started talking on her cell phone in
Mandarin. This was pretty funny – all the way to
rolled through some suburban areas. There were some tall corporate
buildings and some empty fields. The fields seemed pretty and well kept
and it was a nice day, though somewhat cloudy and chilly: especially compared
to what were going to experience later in the week. As we got to more
populated areas, we saw some graffiti in the walls that was exactly like the
graffiti in American cities. I remember seeing what looked like a
beaten up little town with a red building with round beer signs
: our first
There seemed to be a number of black people, Africans, I suppose, on the train and in the neighborhoods through which we were passing. There were what appeared to be housing projects -- tall buildings with balconies with laundry hanging from them. There were twin project towers with rectangular open spaces in the center of them. Strange and yet cool at the same time.
ride was a little bit confusing because the train kept skipping stations and
there were no announcements of any kind. At one station where we did
stop, a young guy got on with an according and stood by the center door of
our car and played. We rolled past the increasingly urban neighborhoods
and listened to his music. It seemed that suddenly we were in a French
movie. He played song after song and most of them sounded traditionally
French. I remember recognizing one Latin-sounding song, “Besame Mucho,” which I had first heard, d’accord, on a
bootleg tape of the Beatles playing in
we got into
stopped at Chatelet - Les Halles,
which seemed like major urban train station – with all
kinds of people, white, black, and Asian. There were people in
various ethnic garb as well. The next stop was
ours, Saint Michel, the
to walk down the street a little bit to try to find a cab. I had read
that it is better to find a taxi stand than to flag a cab on the street and
searched the area around me for one. I found nothing. Daisy saw
someone hail a cab from the street and so we thought we would do the
same. From where we stood we saw a University of
We got to the hotel, which was steps from the Rue Mouffetard, a medieval marketplace that once was a Roman road, a couple of minutes' walk from the Place de la Contrescarpe and two of Hemingway's old rooms: one for living with his first wife, Hadley, and one for writing.
room was comically tiny. There was room for the double bed and a little
desk and that was about it. However, while Daisy took a shower I opened
the curtain and the window and looked out into the little courtyard area
surrounded on four sides by buildings of the same height. We were on
the 4th floor (which would be 5th in
Soon we were on our way out again for our first Parisian meal, lunch, as it turned out at the Café Mirbel Royal on the Rue Monge.