Paris, Saturday, October 4, 2008
Arrive CDG a few minutes late. Wait in non-EU passport line. When Dan steps forward to present his passport, African male in suit quickly occupies his place; when Dan leave podium, African male tries to take his place, but forgets that I am aware of this. I walk towards podium intentionally blissfully unaware of his n00b move, which causes him to stumble, get caught up in the tapes that mark the queue, and fall down. Hilarity ensues, I get my passport stamped, our bags show up right as we approach baggage claim, and we leave immediately.
By 11:30 AM - one half hour after landing - Dan and I are unpacking our bags in the Sheraton CDG hotel. Our room faces south with good views of arriving and departing traffic; we can just barely see the Air France A340 that delivered us to Paris. We can also see the taxi dropoff for the train station underneath the hotel, which means I should probably avoid undressing in front of the window.
By 2 pm we've both brushed our teeth for the first time in two weeks (it's nearly impossible to do that with bottled water, I find), which feels wonderful. Then, I declare that we need to leave the room immediately as many shops are closed on Sunday.
We take the train to Haussmann-St Lazare and start things off by finding the Maison du Miel, which is staffed by a very friendly and helpful woman who puts up with my bad French. I pick up some sunflower, lavender, and thyme honey and ask if they have things strong like chestnut honey; she serves up some tasting spoons and we buy a couple more pots of honey (I forget what). I'm falling down tired - that was a long, overnight flight from Tana - so I think we should find a coffee, but it doesn't work (there's a bakery with no coffee, and Fauchon wants $10 for an espresso, which is absurd). Oh, yeah, and we look at Fauchon for the hell of it: very pink, very beautiful, and on some level ridiculous in a very Parisian way. Or LA. Not sure.
Oh! It turns out that L'Artisan Parfumeur has a shop just a few doors down from the honey place, so we pop in there and smell some stuff. Again, the staff speaks only French, but they are super helpful and friendly, all smiles and warmth. This Paris I'm liking: it's warm and sunny outside and life is good. I spring for a 50cl bottle of Timbuktu (which smells fantastic, another vetiver based scent), they throw in some free samples, and finally ask if we'd like to "be perfumed" before we leave (answer: yes please!; I leave with a few squirts of Dzing! on my right arm).
After wandering around Madeleine looking at whatever the Madeleine is (I still have no idea), we then walk over to Frederic Malle, which I fail to find at first and then stumble into: it looks like a private office so I quietly ask this very beautiful woman if she is open. Uh, I probably should have asked if the shop was open, but hey. She doesn't speak English either, but is friendly as well; I ask to smell Vetiver Extraordinaire (which I love), and sadly the gigantic scent chambers are not working - but it still smells great on this huge, over the stop smelling card they've got. I ask her if she has anything else similar that I might like, so she whips out something called French Lover (honest!) which turns out to smell incredibly good too, so I bit the bullet and buy a bottle of each. She then overhears me explaining some of their other stuff to Dan ("oh, look, that's Jean-Claude Ellena, he did Declaration by Cartier, you know that stuff") and notices our fancy little bag from L'Artisan, brightens up, and asks if we are lovers of perfume (SRSLY), but then someone else comes in and I gracefully exit so that commerce may continue. I then surreptitiously take some pictures of their offices through the windows (I am embarrased to ask). I have now abused my American credit card twice, which becomes amusing in just a bit here.
I now declare that we are to find Comme des Garcons, which is nearby. On the way, I see a Guerlain boutique, obviously not their flagship store, and pop in to see it. I speak with a fantastically charming saleswoman about their new men's perfume they're flogging - she does the stock routine about mojitos - and I ask how the garden was, she says fab, and then she notices the fancy bags and says "well, you really can't appreciate this on a smelling strip, you need to smell it on your hand." I decline, Dan accepts, and hours later, it becomes apparent that their new scent is totally lame: a modern, fresh nothing with the bad smell of a Bacardi Breezer someone spilled on your dress at a sorority mixer. Ugh. WTF?
Anyhow, we show up at CdG, I mistake a customer for the shopkeeper, she is charmed and polite enough to then relay my request to the actual employee, everyone is gracious, and then the staff member turns out to speak beautiful English. I begin by asking if I can buy the spray nozzle that now comes with their colognes - my bottle of Vettiveru didn't come with one - and she finds me one at no charge. We smell Anbar, Garage, and Palissandre - she is kind enough to find a bottle of that last one in the back (it's not on display) and I'm in a great mood and decide to take a bottle of Sequoia, which I've always loved, even though it's probably cheaper in Los Angeles. My credit card is promptly declined (must be a fraud alert - who would use their card three times in one day in Paris?), I pay cash, I spy some of their old 500 mL bottles of cologne, she allows that yes, they still have three bottles left for sale, but time is marching on and we must away.
Down the block at Collette, the shop is ridiculously crowded but I don't feel stressed at all. I'm wearing God-awful clothing - I must look like a homeless man (my beard is out of control after two weeks in Madagascar) dressed in whatever he found in the Goodwill dumpster), and I'm wearing my shitty yellow backpack, but I notice that yellow backpacks re somehow In This Season judging by other clients, and the homeless look is somehow very Vice magazine and therefore people are giving my knowing looks. Heh. There's awesome music playing, a DJ booth in the corner, I get a chance to try Vetiver by Le Labo (verdict: interesting enough, not worth $200 a bottle, plus too saline), there's an art exhibit too with a hilariously cool piece involving bears, Zork-speak, and fake 8-bit graphics), I ask the handsome assistant in the Barack Obama T-shirt jokingly if I can take a picture, he says no in the most arrestingly friendly, humorous, direct way, I feel really comfortable, I say "your T-shirt rocks," he gives me a huge smile, thanks me, and of course then it's another crush of customers and I start heading back downstairs. They're reselling down jackets from a shop in Seattle for around a thousand bucks (they're custom, bet you could DIY for a fraction of the price), there are Karl Lagerfeld bears by Steiff (awesome), customers that look like NYC club kids back in the Basquiat days, it's all crowded and happy and largely unaffordable, I have a look at Butt and that Fashionable Male magazine (or whatever it's called), and then Dan buys something unspeakable for Dave White and we exit slowly, trying to not step on anyone' stilettoed feet. I snap a pic of Dan for the record, and then it's over to the Tuilieries for a bit to have a squiz.
There's a shitty, uncomfortable Metro train to take us over to the Marais, where I buy jars of quince and strawberry-rhubarb jam at my favorite bakery, which involves my trying to say "rhubarb" in French and utterly failing. I declare their language to be impossible, the assistant cracks up, I pay, we leave, the sun is still smiling. Outside, dog shit is piling up on the sidewalks (weird, it wasn't there last month), Dan suggests we go to the Red Baron, which is brilliant, and along the way we stop at Fnac, which is at Bastille. Max Tundra once sang that "listening posts in Fnac will carry my name" in a bout of wishful thinking; the bearish info desk guy works with me to search their inventory (with more language fun: I correct his spelling when he types Thundra by saying "sans h" - and he pronounces it correctly as "hache" or what have you), but they have no copies of Will Get Fooled Again in any FNAC store in the country, much less the Bastille flagship, so there is no Max Thundra for me today, but that's fine, because the Red Baron is near and we think we can find it without a map, which we do: it's crowded, there's a British hen party taking all the seats in the back, two Japanese tourist girls drinking white burgundy out of impossibly tiny cups, only one guy behind the bar, but (this is new!) someone's just shown up with oysters driven in that afternoon from the coast... we drink Sancerre, white Burgundy, and Bourdeaux as we devour eighteen incredible oysters, the best I've ever had by far, along with a huge plate of country liver sausage, saucisson a l'ail, rillettes of pork, Normandy butter, and fresh, crusty white bread. It's ridiculously good, we're totally giddy, I look up at the couple across from us at the table and declare it to be too much. In English, they say "Life is difficult," flash us a huge smile, and we chat a bit: they're from Cognac, up for the weekend to buy wines and check out La Nuit Blache, and they of course point out that if anyone is making cognac in California then it is in fact brandy (fun!). They leave, others arrive, we finish our meal (total cost: about $60, a steal considering what it is), I ask them if they can please point out Gare Montparnasse on my map, and they do so, again wonderfully friendly, and then explain that bus 91 is in fact faster. We leave, see a Metro station, forget about the bus, and then get to Montparnasse-Bienvenue, carefully following the exit signs for Tour Montparnasse, which leads us into the worst of 1960s architcture, which is fabulously shitty.
For the next hour, we stand in the chill evening air and experience spectra [paris], which is covered elsewhere.
Then it's back to Gare du Nord. This involves an insanely long underground walk to the metro station at Montparnasse. All of the moving sidewalks are broken, even the 9 km/h one with huge signage declaring it to be super high tech and awesome. Eventually, we make it here, after an absurdly long, crowded ride; we meet a couple from Cairns (it's their first day, they're jet lagged, and very funny) and help them find their way.
At Gare du Nord, the Nuit Blanche thingy outside is lame and uninspired. Inside, the phone booth (see userpic) is gone, replaced by a Eurostar check-in area that is so Euro-bland as to be invisible. Of course, the old phone booth anchors haven't been entirely removed from the floor, so we pay our respects and move on. Dan buys Evian and an Economist, I take some more ibuprofen to keep the pain down (I bruised, cracked, or broke at least one rib in the Mozambique Channel two weeks ago), we walk past a choir singing live Handel or Bach or something - I recognize it from a Fantomas record - and then we luck out and get the express train to CDG. Of course, Dan's Paris-Visite ticket stopped working earlier in the evening - their ticket system seems to be perpetually on the brink of completely failing - so we have to cheat our way through the turnstiles, but the security officers standing nearby can't be bothered to do anything, so we head straight home to our hotel room, shower (Madagascan microflora have a way of keeping the intestinal party going even after you've left their homeland, after all), and then sleep. Ten hours later, Dan's still sleeping, so I think I'll go wake him up now. There are fresh croissants and yogurt to be had cheaply nearby - we just need to take the CDGVAL to the Ibis - and I'm starting to feel like we need to start our final day in Paris soon.