My arrivals in France always seem to coincide with some sort of strike or protest. I once sat uncomfortably atop my luggage on the Calais docks when the customs inspectors walked out and the ferries stopped.
The last ferry into Calais from anywhere in England had to run a gauntlet of fishing boats in support of the strikers. When the ferry crossed the blockade, the fishers threw dead halibut at the passengers lining the rails. The ferry crew responded with day-old gateau from the ship’s bakery. Was I glad when the Chunnel burrowed under all of this.
Most memorably, I had the distinction of riding a subway in Paris when the drivers walked off in mid-journey. Here we were, stopped at an obscure platform well away from anywhere when the announcement came over the loudspeaker in French. Translated: the little engine that could, wouldn’t.
Tourists who knew no French looked puzzled. They should have known that any announcement in the subway must be viewed with alarm. Some kindly Parisian told them they could climb to the surface on silent escalators and catch a cab, which were undoubtedly unavailable with demand exceeding supply.
And then there was the summer night I arrived moody and tired on a train from Vienna. The taxi driver told me he would be obliged to make a detour to my destination that would set me back approximately 50 francs more than usual.
My reply was something to the effect that “I didn’t just get off the turnip wagon. I know how to get from here to there. Just follow the directions I give you.”
In an apologetic manner unusual for French taxi drivers and waiters, he informed me that the farmers had deposited plats of wheat—a protest for more subsidies—the entire length of the Champs-Elysees.
Traffic snarled monumentally, not to mention the tangle of tourists with reservations for the floor show at the Lido. Yes, Fifi, this IS Kansas.
Hello Paris. Good to see you again.
Always a first stop when I reach Paris is the Village Cafe, out on the Avenue Charles de Gaulle between the Grand Arch and the Arch de Triumph.
Soon after I perched on a stool at the bar (coffee is cheaper at the bar), the waiter asked if he could borrow my seat to change a light bulb. Well, the good news is that means they accepted me as a regular. In French cafes, that’s status.
I ordered a glass of Brouilly wine (roughly “bru-ee” in French). As ever, they misunderstood my French and brought me a cheese sandwich instead (brie). When I questioned the cheese offering, the barkeep explained that they cannot be responsible for those who do not pronounce French correctly.
Hello, Paris. How continental is it to have a hedgehog in residence? When I reached my lodging, a small ball of fur was trapped in the street gutter, scratching furiously in an attempt to climb the curb. I gently lifted him onto the grass strip next to the sidewalk.
I haven’t seen his cousins, who hang out in the garden. But I’ll hear them tonight. They give away their presence with a series of sharp crunching sounds. Hedgehogs eat snails, shells and all.