We were transported back 100 years when we visited Paris last year, a-la Woody Allen. 2020 back to 1920. Café Dupleix was located on Boulevard de Grennelle and not far from our hotel. Kneeling in our room we prayed one decade of the rosary before venturing out our first evening. As it was only one metro stop from us, we decided to walk in the cold Paris rain. Umbrella in hand, the maître-de sat us next to a couple of chaps as is often the case in French cafes. “Non, Je préfère m’asseoir de l’autre côté du restaurant,” in my tourist French while clutching my rosary in my front pocket. What a fortunate decision to request sitting on the other side of the restaurant. Smack in the middle of its ambience, near the bar and with the outdoor tables through the window behind us, we sat relieved and comfortable. The waiter was probably in his early twenties and spoke English. Next to us were about a dozen or so middle aged men sitting in a round make-shift table and having a grand ol’ time. On the table were a few pitchers of beer and each gentleman holding a personal stein drinking and talking in high spirit. “Sorry for all the noise,” our waiter said. ‘Pas du tout’, not at all. But I wasn’t sure actually. We ordered and shortly thereafter they broke out in song. Incredible ! Singing French folk songs together, acapella and just about everyone at Café Dupleix was being entertained for sure. Our humble American selves were sitting right next to them. Oblivious to us, they continued their jolly songs and something cued them to change the format. Each one broke out in song individually, one after the other, and each one as good as the next. Clear and projecting voices, flawless in remembering lyrics as it appeared, none of the patrons blinked an eye to all of this, taking it all in stride. And each song was different, no repeats. “Who are these people?” I asked the waiter. “They are farmers here from SW France near the Pyrenees, attending a national agricultural convention at their hotel”, he said to us. It was a treat !
Switch to ‘Le Bouillon Chartier’ the following night. Rosary in hand, we prayed for another evening in God’s hands. We were tranquil and we trusted. “Is this cabernet?” “Yes, this is cabernet”. The waiter abruptly replied. Hmm, not so sure. We ordered another carafe; this time merlot. “Is this merlot?” “Yes, this is merlot.” The waiter abruptly replied again. Hmm; so weak, so tasteless. Was this the famous French wine so touted in American advertising and with an inviting rustic painting of its bottles hung on our living room wall in Florida? Well, this was the wine served to us at ‘Le Bouillon Chartier’, one of Paris’ most popular and antiquated restaurants, lines out the door if after 8 pm. Going strong since 1896, and packed with over 300 patrons, the décor, the ambience drew you in to another era. Then the bread was dry and we complained. He took it back and gave it to another table. LoL. Another standard in the 1920s I guess. After reading ‘A Moveable Feast’, Ernest Hemmingway enlightened me to yet another Parisian practice of the 1920s, diluting carafes of wine with water. No wonder Hemmingway, his wife and friends could drink so much wine together. No wonder so tasteless. So happy to be there and in our post prayerful state of mind, we could not get upset and just laughed it off.
More 1920s to experience, but I’m not so sure pickpockets are only a remnant of the 1920s. It is a lasting practice of the citizenry, especially in the crowded quarters of Le Metro. Upon returning to the hotel, a group of 20 somethings trapped my darling wife in the corner as we entered Le Metro. It was obvious what they were doing to her. I thought it was just the crowded situation, but her screams proved it a clear situation of a pickpocketing attempt. “I know what you are doing; get away from me!” she yelled. I turned around and they dispersed. No, pickpocketing is common in Europe and any large city really. It didn’t seem this attempt was so professional though and thus easily thwarted. But I did think we might have a fight on our hands. No, they escaped out and then into another car of Le Metro. Protected again.
We love Paris !