The first crabcake of my life, years ago, was very good. What followed it was a towering crabcake stack of disappointment. Each too heavy, bready, fishy, sloppy, grainy, or gritty. I ate them at the best restaraunts. I ordered them from the coast. All were found lacking.
Happily, tonight I ate the crabcake to end all crabcakes.
We were in Clayton and Urbanspoon suggested that if we wanted southern or soul food we should try Almond's. In fact, I think one review specifically suggested if we wanted to eat in Clayton but didn't want the Clayton vibe, we should try this place.
I had one of Gary's crabcakes.
You know how sometimes you look at a crabcake that's a perfectly round crab-puck? It's 1.5 inches thick and the breading is even and your heart sinks. You just know it's going to be heavy crabby bread covered in inedible grit. That's just how this crabcake looked.
Then I bit into it: it was as light and crispy as a cruller. A cruller filled with crab. It was as if they took the breadcrumb coating, formed it around a mold of frozen butter and seasoning, flash fried it, and then while it was still hot drained most of the melted butter and injected the hollow crunchy fried shape with creamy crab. Not too full, because otherwise you couldn't feel the crunch give just a bit before you hit the filling.
I said to Gary, "it's a fish donut." and he agreed. Best crabcake ever.
Here are two tales from the streets of Saint Louis, and how they got their names.
The Klan Story
Recent readers will note I'm just jumping right back into the Klan talk. I think I'm a little obsessed. It must be because it's a secret society, and you know how I am about secrets.*
In 2001 the Klan tried to adopt - a - highway outside of Saint Louis. They picked a highway in South County and in return for keeping it litter-free they'd get a sign.
Blah blah blah, up to the US Supreme Court, long story short, they got their Adopt - a - Highway sign.
Early on, people just tore it down. That was the last I heard of it for a while. Marcia told me the rest of the story today.
The legislature renamed that part of the highway Rosa Parks Freeway. That way, the the Klan "adopted" Rosa Parks and had to take care of her.
"Brilliant!" Marcia said, and threw her arms up in the air.
Wikipedia concludes the story:
"The Klan were eventually dropped from the scheme on April 4, 2001, on the grounds that for the duration of their sponsorship, they had not once cleaned the freeway."
So, since we were sharing street name stories, Anne shared ...
The Kirkwood Story
Anne is a resident of Kirkwood, a suburb of Saint Louis that has a professorial yet unpretentious vibe. If Kirkwood was a person it would be Donald Sutherland's character in Animal House.
Saint Louisans know that Lindbergh Boulevard, named for Charles Lindbergh, cuts directly through Kirkwood. Out-of-towners are confused, because they drive into the City of Kirkwood and "Lindbergh Boulevard" is now called "Kirkwood Road." You come out of Kirwood and suddenly the street signs say "Lindbergh" again.
I always thought Kirkwood was just a little too in love with the sound of their own name, but Anne says Kirkwood didn't want a street named for that Nazi-sympathizing Charles Lindbergh.
* Saint Louis also has the Veiled Prophet secret society. (If you click the link you'll notice they totally stole the Klan's look.)
(Plus, one piece of hearsay.)
When I was in high school, I remember a day I came into the school hall and saw my friends gathered around my boyfriend Virgil.
"What's up?" I asked someone.
"Someone put a Klan flyer in Virgil's parent's mailbox!"
"No way," I said, and I joined the line of teenagers waiting to view the flyer. Virgil was holding on to it like a sixth-grade boy with porn and we filed past just as curiously. We all knew the Klan was a shameful organization, possibly illegal even, and in particular we wanted to know what Virgil's parents had done to make the Klan think they wanted or needed this flyer.
"I think everyone in the subdivision got one," he said. (In an odd aside, Gary's parents are still in that same subdivision. I'll have to see if Virgil's defense of his parents holds water.)
I read it as long as it took me to find the typical Klan rhetoric, and then I stopped. It was especially sinister because it was poorly produced, cheap paper and only red and black ink. In fact, it was almost identical to a Klan flyer recently distributed to the townspeople of Martinsville, Indiana.
(I'm sure there were a gaggle of schoolkids in the hall of their integrated school staring in horror at the Klan publication, just as we did over thirty years ago.)
A few years later, Mom was driving me for the first time to my dorm in Bloomington Indiana, and somewhere between Highway 70 and IU there was a lovely state park, and a rustic brown wood city-council approved sign that said - and my memory of the words may be fuzzy here:
Welcome to Monroe County!
Birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan
"Mom! Did you see that? Mom!"
She laughed. "I don't want you coming back from college all involved with the Klan."
"I'm just kidding. Lord."
So, of course, when I drove what I imagine was the same road thirty years later I kept my eyes peeled for the Klan sign. It was dark, though, when we drove in, so the next day I said to the waitress at the The Village Deli, "So, I remember there was this Klan sign years ago? I saw it thirty years ago, it was by a park and it said, 'Welcome to' - "
"Martinsville," said confidently.
"Really? I thought it was Monroe County. I remember being shocked they had that sign there in 1980. Tell me they took it down."
"Yes, I think it's gone now." She sounded so sure it was Martinsville that when I got home I looked at a map and indeed Martinsville is by a big state park, but it would have been a little out of the way for Mom to drive.
Of course, I thought the sign might be worth a blog post and that perhaps someone in the 80s has taken a photo for me. Google Image Search found no photos, but my search on "Klan Indiana Monroe County" brought me to several spots that suggested it might have been Martinsville, several blogs that defended Martinsville, one comment, and WIkipedia, which helped explain why Martinsville has that unjust reputation. Evidently it wasn't a "Welcome" sign, but a murder from the 60's that wasn't committed by a Martinsville resident but some drifter. Probably from Saint Louis.
So THEN of course that led to a Google Search on "Indiana Klan Murder" and OH MY GOD.
If you aren't a mentally ill person on the verge of tears, go here and read the story of Madge Oberholtzer. It is the most horrifying thing I have ever read and I ask, how is this not a major motion picture with an Academy Award performance? A murder so awful the rest of the Klan said, "I'm ashamed to be in the Klan even though no one can see my face because of this creepy hood."
Moral: The Klan is Bad. And Stupid, because any other organization would have changed its name after that Madge Oberholtzer story.
The day after the concert, Gary and I wandered around Bloomington to find photos of spots I remembered.
This proved to me I followed a rabbit trail at IU that never deviated from these streets:
When Gary asked if I'd ever been to the Bluebird Nightclub before (where the Ingrid Michaelson concert was), I said, "No, it was a BAR and I was only eighteen. I knew where the Baptist Student Union was, though."
That red line on the left ends at North Walnut. At the top right is Wright Quad, where I lived.
I remembered the Village Deli on 5th, which has tripled in size since I was there thirty years ago. I would go right before my Finite Math tests and do the homework I had skipped the other weeks of the semester. And I would eat this:
Just the best sandwich ever.
I try to make it every Thanksgiving at home and it's never the same.
I got a C in Finite Math and never attended a lecture or did my homework. I credit the Bird for the Wise sandwich.
That's about the only "off-campus" place I visited. Venturing further right on the map, I had an epiphany in Dunn Woods:
"My Mom has NO idea where I am right now."
Then, evidently, I went back to my rabbit track of Village Deli, through the woods, to Ballantine Hall, to the library and to Wright Quad.
There was one deviation; I went to Showalter Fountain for the riot after the Indiana U Basketball team won the NCAA tournament.
This was my house at the quad. I was behind the upper-right window.
I was relieved to hear from the Starbucks barista at the Biddle that dressing in Saran Wrap to serenade a men's dorm would still earn you the title "Wright-Reuter Third Floor Whore Corps" to this day. Ahead of their time, those girls.
Here is the post office at Wright Quad where I overhead someone say "No, he's not dead, but his press secretary is."
It barely penetrated my consciousness. I only realized Regan had been shot when I saw someone charge down the dorm hall yelling, "Bush in '81!" Our basketball center Isiah Thomas caused a controversey when he remarked, "people get shot every day."
Gary kept leading me down streets and alleys I'd never seen before. He got a lot of good photos of beautiful spots I'd never seen before.
I had never seen any of these buildings and vistas. That's why when I saw a girl jogging to class I yelled across the parking lot "WANDER, GIRL! WANDER!" Get off the rabbit trail already.
I went to one semester of university in Bloomington Indiana, so when Ingrid Michaelson had a concert there I felt comfortable with the drive and the neighborhood.
You may think from that photo she has orange hair and a blue / red tattoo on her arm. Actually, Gary's camera grabbed all the stage lights and translated them as paint colors. She actually has brown hair:
In some other shots the red gel makes her look like Carrie at the Prom:
Of course, she did a great job chatting with the audience, the songs are singable, and she plays a rocking ukelele with a sneer:
The sneer is uncharacteristic; she's very personable. She tried out a new song, a very girl power song about how if you hurt a woman she will annihilate you. (Or write dark songs about you. Seriously, were I a man I would be afraid to date Ingrid or Taylor or Britney for fear they'd write a scathing song about me.)
I know some musicians like to shut up and play, but I like a little chit-chat. The only troubling thing about Ingrid's patter was she claimed Leann Rimes twittered that she liked Ingrid's music, but Ingrid was never able to get up the nerve to twitter back. I thought, life is short.You can't waste time feeling like a dweeb. So I sent this:
The Ramones and Death Cab for Cutie - Gary bought these at B&N over the weekend. "So, you're a punk rocker?" asked the cashier, ignoring Death Cab because clearly that was a gift for our children.
Whatever Liz Phair's New Album is Called- For years I have poked around in the P's to see if Liz Phair has done anything new. I almost went to the P's at B&N but I didn't, and here she releases an album on me. I had to hear about it from Her Five-Dollar Radio and order it on Amazon. Wonder if she's settled somewhere between super-sweet mom and drunk minion-fucker.
Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens- Julie Dill tweeted so damn much about Sufjan Stevens that I finally gave in and bought something by him. (Is it a him? I don't even know.) I haven't heard any of it.I was won over by the enthusiasm and by the song titles. This is the leap of faith CD. It is entirely possible she's being ironic and I just can't tell.
I will cast the spells I learned in sixth grade when I too "dabbled into" witchcraft.
I will follow her about and correct her usage. Usually when the doublespeak flows that freely the words are strung together wth some grace. Christine need to learn some verbs. Right now she over-uses "do."
[Doublespeak][bullshit][catch phrase] " ... when our country tries to do ... " [religion][health care][immigration]."
I will write my senator and ask he not invite her to sit at his table in the congressional cafeteria.
I will boycott Delaware ... wait, I can't boycott Delaware, they don't make anything I like. Judge Reinhold is from there. So, no '80's movies, I guess.
Here's what set me off, and yes, I saw it on MSNBC. Scary, scary lady.
The drive-thru barista at Starbucks asked, "Hey, do you guys know Barenaked Ladies is coming to the Pageant?" (Mind you, at the time we were listening to the Traveling Wilburys. Gary's tales of the cruise must have made an impression.)
The barista is evidently going to be there too, and he was concerned because he had just heard the lead singer was gone. "Which one is the lead singer, like on 'One Week?'"
"Chickety China, that's Ed, he's still there. 'It's been one week -' that's Steve, he's gone."
"Who sings the theme song to Big Bang Theory?"
"Okay, because that's who I think of when I hear Barenaked Ladies. Will it still be a good show with the other guy gone?"
We assured him it would. And it will. It just won't be magic.
Gary and I had just been talking earlier at dinner about BNL and Steven and the breakup almost two years ago, much as I imagine you all discuss world trade policy at dinner with your spouses. I'd mentioned there had been a dustup this past week, because Steven was interviewed in anticipation of his new CD and evidently said heartbreaking things that suggested that Ed was not his BFF (they hadn't much "in common,") and that he couldn't see how BNL could go on, since it was his baby.
BNL fired off a testy twitter about how if you don't cherish and encourage babies they grow up and REJECT YOU, and then I think everybody set themselves on the high road again.
It was the "in common" remark that Gary and I were discussing. "That's what made them special!" he said. "Steve and Ed were so different, yet they seemed to like each other."
"It was like an ensemble comedy. It was like Friends." (I wish I could have referenced some German theatrical ensemble-tragedy there, but it was Friends that came to mind.) "Phoebe didn't have anything in common with the rest of them, but they loved her anyway." That's what's so lovely about ensembles. We can all believe we would fit in too, we would be accepted. even if we have nothing in common.
I think "in-common" is over-rated. A relative just encouraged my half-Pakistani niece to join the Muslim students association, so she'd find friends she'd have more in-common with. "Shush," I thought, "I've been telling this girl she'll blossom in college because college is where being different changes from a liability to an asset." In high school you must be all the same, then suddenly in college common people are boring.
And, who on Friends did not have a college education? Yes, Joey. Did Joey go off on his own and get his own sitcom with a new ensemble and it tanked? Yes. Perhaps his new friends had too much in common with him.
This is not to say I won't hear a great show when I go to Albuquerque for BNL or Chicago for Steven Page. It just won't be a fantasy ensemble. But, there is much to be said for reality, and the Behind the Music episode to come, and watching performers be honest instead of taking the high road.
I fantasize about being able to keep my mouth shut. To keep a secret. Literally, when I have fantasies there's always an scene in the epic plot when I get to say:
"Friends! Relatives! You may think you are at a backyard barbecue, but in reality, it's a surprise wedding! Because Lo I have fallen in love with my next door neighbor who happens to be a famous underwear model and I have NEVER MENTIONED A WORD ABOUT IT TO ANYONE. Surprise!"
I am also fabulously trim and fit in these fantasies, because they take place in the same Frozen Hell where I am able to keep a secret.
This is all to say, Steve from work is now my hero. At the end of a recent staff meeting, he announced.
"In February, I'm going to be a father."
A long confused pause. Then Tim remembered Steve has a dachshund.
"So... Peanut is having a baby?"
Steve said, "No."
(Steve is a dry person. This was not a leading "Nooooooo" or a snide "No." This was a deadpan, "No.")
More confused silence.
"Wait. A human baby?"
Someone asked, "Are you in some type of database?" because who knows, he might have needed a baby to grow him a new liver or something.
Then we had to consider there might be some type of relationship preceding this. (Steve is very close-mouthed about his relationships. Plus, he'll openly mess with you if you ask.
"Steve, how was your weekend?"
"I had a date to watch True Blood."
"With Marlo, from work. We texted each other.")
"So, how did this happen, then?" someone asked, in a voice of true confusion. Marcia picked up with, "When a man and a woman really love each other..." At this point people began to realize Steve had made a human woman pregnant, and we said congratulations, then we left the meeting. Half veered to the left to gather and stage whisper "what the FUCK?" and the other half dogged Steve and demanded to know:
"What's her name?"
"Reagan" (Not her name. I changed that. Steve didn't ask me to but I know he'll have to blind me if I ever see her.)
"So, do you know her? Is she a friend who asked you to impregnate her?"
"Of course I know her. And, no."
"Where did you meet her?"
When we started talking about love, he walked away.
(Later I told him he was my hero for being able to pull off my fantasy bomb drop surprise, and he said,"I really considered just showing up in February with a newborn.")
Granted, I heard this piece of news on Weekend Update on SNL, but evidently a town has passed a law prohibiting Pedophiles from decorating for halloween or giving out candy. (Punchline: "And you know those guys have the best candy.")
So, number one way to tell if your neighbors are pedophiles: they don't give out candy. Now I HAVE to decorate for Halloween, I HAVE TO, or else be tagged as a pedophile, since we'll be visiting my brother that evening and can't give out candy.
Add one more thing: a neighbor Is on the pedophile list.
I have to decorate my house for a holiday I really dislike while I'm not even there just so I don't get tagged as a pedophile. I am a grumpy pumpkin. (Wait, I just checked Urban Dictionary. I'm not a grumpy pumpkin. When did Halloween become all about sex?)
9:36 - Eeeee! There it is! The capsule is in the mine shaft. Nice to have a video camera down there.
9:37 - Dumbass, stop honking your horn.
9:39 - Okay, I can see that puking might be fatal if a miner were positioned the wrong way, but they really want a camera trained on the miner's face in case he starts to panic? What will they do? Speak gently to him? To the claustrophobic miner? Didn't they see The Great Escape? Does Charles Bronson ever get out?
9:43 - Oh hi, shirtless miners.
9:51 - Well, I saw how NASA put "Chile" on the side of the capsule poiting to the camera, as they did with "USA" on Apollo 11. Now there's a Chilean flag against the cave wall. Chile product placement.
9:56 - Anderson just chuckled at the decision to cut to the pulley, then to the cave, then the pulley. Cause and Effect! Yes! I get it.
10:01 - The big question: will CNN play the Big Breaking News logo when the first miner emerges? And the same for all 33?
10:06 - Miner on the surface - oh, fuck, false alarm? Who did that?
10:10 - Okay, real 2 minute warning.
10:12 --- Woooo! Miner on the surface!
10:16 - Thumbs up from miner #1!
Well, the question now is when do I go to bed? Two miners? Three miners? Maybe just two more miners.
Another episode of The Miner Show. Or, in this case, the Miner Miniseries.
6:59- Sanjay Gupta is talking about "miner concerns." It was only when he countered that with "major concerns" that I understood how he was spelling it.
6:59 - TiVo wants to change to Glee. I'm still watching Glee? I don't think so. The promos seemed to say it would be a Very Special Glee About Death. Wasn't this show a comedy last year?
7:00 - Yes! Anderson Cooper will be hosting the Miner Show. This is what I want to know: Have these miners been buried deeper than any other miners? Is that what took so long? Is that why Chile is being so careful about giving them oxygen and medical care? Because in America this would have taken a week to drill and then the miners would have ridden up in a wire cage, not a NASA-built capsule.
7:08 - I'd like to see a graph comparing the depth of this mine to Sago and Queecreek. Come on. You have to fill in two hours.
7:10 - I can't wait for you, Anderson. Going to research relative mine depths on Wikipedia.
7:15 - Oh. It really doesn't compare. Queecreek: 240 feet. Sago: 280 feet. Chile: 2,300 feet. That wouldn't make a good graph at all.
7:18 - A phone call from Brother Dave. I answer with "MINERS." He is calling to alert me that miner rescue will be in two hours. I argue that the CNN screen text formerly said "two hours" but they revised it to "shortly."
7:30 - You know, listening to CNN report on all the care and concern these miners are getting, you'd never guess they could have escaped if the mine company had installed the required ladder up to the ventilation system. Thus quoth Wikipedia.
7:52 - Oh, no. Is Larry King going to take over for Anderson? I hope not. What if Rick Sanchez hadn't been fired? He'd be translating everything.
7:55 - Sometimes, when I'm bored during the Breaking News, I picture Worst Case Scenarios. So let's say all five rescuers get down there, and then as they bring the first miner up, the capsule gets stuck. I don't want to think these thoughts; they just come to me.
7:59 - Wait, what? Weeds is coming to TV Guide network? Will they show MJP's naked ass like they did last night?
8:00 - Mph. Larry King. It's October. Isn't he supposed to be retired by now?
8:01 - They have a NASA capsule attached to a "winch-and pulley system."
8:03 - Larry King is annoyed! This was supposed to begin an hour ago! Reporter explains we've got 38 hours of miner show ahead. Oh, well, that isn't really "Breaking" is it? It's more like Seeping News.
Hm. Well, then. Time to play my guitar and watch Mad Men (with occasional check-ups on the miners).
We finish the Paris travelogue with a compendium of classy moments.
Classy Moment at the Hotel Lancaster
(A real photo of our room key showing depth of field that Gary took.)
We were delighted with our Hotel, the Hotel Lancaster. Lovely people at the desk, lovely housekeeping staff. We were particularly impressed with the elevator attendant. Every time we hit the button for the elevator, it arrived with an elevator attendant in it. However, evidently in France the attendant leaves the elevator when you get in. Kind of like they need the attendant to guide the elevator to the right floor? We thought that was the case for at least the first three days. On the fourth day we found the real elevator instead of the service elevator.
Classy Moment at the Musee d'Orsay
The Musee D'Orsay is packed with pastorals and vague pastel impressionist landscapes, and then you turn the corner and in your face is L'Origine du Monde. Sure, I could post a link, but you might be tempted to click it at work. Or in front of children. It's fun to stand and watch people get an eyeful and reel back.
Classy Moment at Versailles
I eschewed the line for le toilette at Versailles, and then a few hours later I coughed.
Bonus Classy Moment at Versailles
I saw a man in the crowd in King Louis' bedroom pick his nose, inspect the booger, and eat it.
Becs (NOT HER REAL NAME!) had a party at a park, and I went. A lovely day, a lovely event, and I enjoyed traveling without a companion. I love airports and my GPS.
... and he missed an abundant spread he could appreciate:
And now: the big reveal! Becs is in purple, and Silk is the absurdly short one. (She was appalled I was tall; in her mind I was petite.)
Guster! I feel almost as if I haven't been to a real concert for ages.
A friendly couple from either Iowa or Ohio had us watch their ping pong balls while they danced, and bought Gary a Bailey's in appreciation. Very cool people.
While they danced, an unfriendly threesome took their place, including a very thin blond. At one point she shook her bony ass manaically. Sadly, I was looking at the band when she snorted the coke. Snorted. The. Coke. Gary demonstrated the process for me later: one reaches into a pill case in one's purse, one puts something alleged on ones thumb, then one snorts it up ones nose, then one calms right down, somehow.
I don't know, perhaps there is some relaxant that is snorted up the nose.
Oh, and then they left. Concert wasn't even over. Weird.
We were in line for Saint Chapelle, which is right next to the line to get into the Palais de Justice, or the courthouse.
The two lines share that archway, and it is confusing. I had reached the point that I could understand simple conversations in french, as long as they were accompanied by basic body language, and I heard a girl ask her boyfriend "Why are those people in line too?" and he answered "leurs crimes," in a Voice of Doom. I laughed, because "Their crimes" was a good answer.
We didn't have our pockets picked, even though a gang of pretty girls crowded Gary in an otherwise empty subway train (a popular distraction technique for pickpockets). He growled at them and they backed away.
We were vigilant about being marked for scams. Right after we landed, Gary went off to buy an Orangina and a swarthy man whistled at me like a bird, and then hissed. (I saw the bird-hiss later among some moving men, I think it's just to get your attention). When I turned, he gestured at me, in fact it was the 'shoo' gesture Gary said we should use to summon waiters, I just ignored him and he glared at me steadily for five minutes.
I say "swarthy" because I don't really know what nationality he was. He could have been Roma (Gypsies). That's the big controversy in France now. The government wants to deport the Roma, not for any crimes they've committed, but for being Roma, or homeless illegal aliens with a high crime rate.
(Drive out the Roma = Fascism. Say no.)
A large number of the Roma are evidently scam artists. We were hit by the gold ring scam. Here's a description from Bargain Travel Europe:
A girl passes you and suddenly bends down in front of you, squealing excitedly. You now watch her as she picks up a gold wedding band from the sidewalk. She turns and exclaims it’s her “lucky day”. From her worn clothes of the street, you get that she could use a few lucky days. She shows you the ring and asks if it’s gold. She hands it to you. You look it over. It appears to be a heavy gold wedding band with karat marks on the inside. Yeah, it must be. You hand it back, maybe feeling a little sorry for the fellow who lost his wedding band, but it’s the poor girl’s lucky day, not yours. Until she pushes the ring into your hand again, holding her hands together like a prayer and saying “for God” she should pass the good luck to you. It is your lucky day. Then she asks you for money. After all the ring should be worth a lot more than the ten Euros she can buy herself a few meals with.
That is a very romanticized version of the Gold Ring Scam. Instead, a fat old woman "drops" a cheap gold ring on the cobblestones in front of you, picks it up, and you laugh at her because it was so obvious. Then she holds it up and says, "You take!" Then you say "No."
Gary actually saw two attempts at the scam in two minutes. Gold rings were bouncing all over the cobblestones in front of the Musee D'Orsay.
Gary, as you know, usually does not travel well. Let me begin by saying Gary was an almost-ideal travel companion this time. This was the first vacation ever in which I did not break down in tears. Part of this must be Gary's own self-awareness. A few weeks before the trip he interrupted a traffic-related rant with, "Oh, ignore me. You know, this is because we're travelling in a few weeks. It's a family thing."
Of course, for part of the trip Gary had my cold, so he wasn't his usual self. He had plenty of opportunities to be feisty, though.
First, he was shushed, as we knew he would be. Shushed by two docents in a chapel devoted to the original resting place of Louis and Marie. And, a sharp glance from someone in the hotel who was trying to enjoy her pickled pig ear in grapefruit chutney in peace. After that he so cranked down his volume I had trouble hearing him on the airplane going home.
(Americans are loud. Just last night he complained about the loud people at the Houlihan's. Oh, and Americans are fat. Twelve fat Americans filed into the St. Louis Bread Company / Panera our first night back. My people.)
He kept us safe, only he feels unsafe if the streets are "too crowded" or "too empty." The streets had to have just the right number of people before we could venture out.
Most evenings there was a crowd on the Champs Elysee, and he wisely kept moving until we weren't surrounded by people.
The morning we went out to find the Bread Cat the streets were empty and we had Paris to ourselves. Well, except for the two other people we encountered. One spoke to us in French and Gary decided he had us marked for a con. We just scuttled away. One man walked behind us, then Gary stopped, let him pass, then the man followed some schoolgirls who had their faces painted like cats. (They were not questionable characters.)
I've decided Gary is a hoarder, only his hoarding is triggered by packing. When he packs he fondles every item, he relates its history, and evaluating an item's value instantly triples it potential. (I could wear these quart-size plastic bags under my socks if it rains in Paris. I neeeeed this zippered sweater I've never worn before. It gets coooold in Paris.)
Bathrooms of Paris
in Which Rick Steves Saves Gary's Life
Famous statue in Louvre of men waiting to use the facilities
Given my colon, I took extra care to find out how the French say "Where is the bathroom?" I remember the phrase from College French as "Où est la Salle de Bains," but the iPhone app I bought from Cool Gorilla said something about "Toillettes" when I pressed the "Where is the bathroom?" button.
In addition to the translation software, I downloaded an app called "Sit or Squat." It looks at your GPS signal and finds the nearest public toilet. Then, after I had jambon et fromage omelette et Bethollion ice cream for breakfast I found I had to use a toilet.
(And because you wonder why I was reduced to eating the ice cream at breakfast, it's because Bethollion was closed for the Obligatory French General Strike the previous afternoon.)
I was a few blocks down the Champs Elysee when I suddenly felt the urge to FIND THE BATHROOM NOW and Sit or Squat told me the only one in the next few blocks was right across the street! And it was! And it was locked! However, there was another at La Petite Palais, a few blocks away. And much like my bad breakfast experience in Louisville, I felt the need for an extra intermission flush. The French have resolved the hands-free intermission flush issue.
You just poke a big panel with your elbow. Genius.
Of course, I came out to find a man in the ladies room, but that was not the first time. I saw four violations of gender-specific bathroom etiquette while there.
Most public bathrooms were clean. Gary and I only encountered one of the fabled self-cleaning toilets in the Saint Lazare station. We put in our Euro, the cylyndrical door swiveled open, and we wordlessly backed away, pace for pace. It looked like an art installation titled "Institutional Filth Covered n Poop." It looked bad.
(As opposed to the O'Hare airport customs bathroom, which sounded bad. Gary and I both came out of our respective bathrooms in O'Hare, gave each other our reports (as you do), and we both said, "But there was some other person in there making really awful noises." Turns out the customs bathroom is right next to a very flatulent moving sidewalk.)
But, you don't care. You want to know how Rick Steves (aka Bob Evans and Gary Sinese) saved Gary's life.
(Not related to Rick Steves.)
The Sit or Squat application is not terrifically specific; for example, It only told me there was a public bathroom at The Eiffel Tower, but not which leg of the tower it was by. I saw a park-bathroom-sized building and I pointed Gary there. Gary saw a few tourists go into the building: a man in camoflague and a woman in a suit, and they went in different doors. (Of course in France that doesn't matter, but Gary didn't know that at the time.) So he went toward the door the man had gone in, when suddenly the man burst back out of the door and said many French words to Gary in a "J'Accuse!" tone.
Gary realized he was not at the bathroom, and he choked out the letters Rick Steves gave him that would save his life.
Rick said that would get him pointed toward the nearest bathroom, and the camo-clad gendarme grumpily pointed him toward the opposite tower leg, where the toilet was, as opposed to the building housing SECURITY, which was where he was.
(Not Gary's gendarme. Gary did not stop to take a photo.)
Surprisingly, Gary made it to the other bathroom.
The Paris trip has made me feel old beyond my years.
We met an elderly Italian lady who did not speak English OR French but who wanted to find the Metro. She outpaced me. At one point she turned around to see why I had fallen behind her and I said, "fatigué." Gary and I have been saying "fat - ee- gay" and "tray amu-ZANT" since College French. She must have taken College French too, because she nodded, mimed floppy-armed exhaustion, and said what sounded like "Tank." Possibly "Stanco," italian for tired.
Not only am I old, I am fat, and I had a cold. The day that pushed me to my limit was the day we went to the Catacombs.
See these steps?
These steps take you 60 yards down, and they make you dizzy. Then you walk through narrow halls. And even when I'm not dizzy, I have trouble walking down halls. I can walk in a straight line in a field, but put me in a hall and I start bouncing between walls like a pinball. So, I do the thing a lot of people do, "Walking the wall." You just keep a hand or finger on the wall at all times so you don't start careening.
So that worked well enough until one point when the walls turned into this:
I kept my hands off the bones for the most part.
But at one point I almost toppled over and I had to put my hand out to steady myself AND CHRIST THE BONES MOVED. They look cemented in, don't they? No. Just piled up. They jiggle up and down and in and out. If I'd wanted, I could have pushed my face in to them and left an impression.
Gary and I both assumed we'd emerge from the catacombs at the side of a gentle slope. It never occurred to us we'd have to climb 60 yards back up. I hate steps, especially spiral steps, especially narrow spiral steps, especially when they go up. When I'm climbing steps at work I always step aside and let others go first, because I don't want to take anyone out when I topple backward. And this stairway didn't allow for anyone to pass. The only good thing was it had a banister.
At about 30 yards I began gasping for breath. I made it the next 30 yards with two stops to try to catch my breath, attempting at one point to use my arms to pull myself up with the banister.
I did eventually make it to the the top (where there is a defibrillator) and into the air outside.
(An aside: We got the side effect list for the clinical trial drug, now called "GILENYA."
"Some people who take GILENYA have shortness of breath. Call your doctor right away if you have trouble breathing.")
I've been telling the Financial Adviser that we want to travel when we retire. But really, how will I do this when I'm old? We took a taxi out to the airport because I couldn't put my bruised feet on another cobblestone. I know Big Dot works out on the steps by her house. I need to adhere to a vigorous workout schedule just so I can relax on trips.
There were times on this trip when we just had to laugh. You are surrounded on every side by romantic cliches. Not only over-the-top but spilling over, running under the heating element and requiring you to clean your oven.
The Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower + Full Moon = Seriously Romantic. How Romantic? GARY has a bladder infection now.
Here's what you may not know, it SPARKLES for 10 minutes at night.
(If Gary would take vertical photos he wouldn't have gotten this artsy shot.)
And the tower is often closed because of bomb scares, especially right after the government outlaws the full-face veil. I didn't realize what a deal this was until I noticed at least 15% of the women on the Champs Elysees were be-scarfed, one was still in the full-face veil, and one was in a full body eye-shielding big black burka.
Arc De Triomphe
I saw it out of the corner of my eye on the way to the hotel. It was once of the three views that made me gasp: the Arc, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Catacombs.
And yes, the soldiers in camo toting the big guns were there too. Gary has no photos of them at all.
The Seine Boat Tour at Night
Mom, is that you?
"Yes, it is I, from beyond the grave. See those trees by the wall. THAT is why I always told you to plant the trees where they should be when fully grown, Not just what looks good now."
- are cuddled up, it's a chilly night and there's a full moon. In fact, only schedule Paris trips during a full moon. Full moon required.
The Rodin Museum
Aww, there was a rainstorm in the sculpture garden at the Rodin Museum and we got caught in it. We ran for the building housing Rodin's first drafts, which sadly did not house Rodin's bathroom.
The Kiss Rough Draft:
Finished Kiss (outside the Orangerie):
I had to really think about it.
The Versailles Grounds
The grounds are lovely. My photos didn't do it justice (even the ones that weren't upside down). Gary's photos are much better. For example, he positioned himself so the dark raincloud went behind the white sculpture:
Gary's best trick was to wait for the big rainstorm, when everyone came inside.
Then he took photos of the gardens out of the upper-story windows. So it looked like they were our own gardens.
And of course, since it's Paris, they had to go over the top with a RAINBOW.
Jesus was breastfed. I don't know why I was surprised by this. I suppose I never thought about it until I went to the Louvre. However, numerous painters thought about it and posed Him in the act.
Well, come to think of it, there's no way to tell if that baby is Jesus (no halo). Perhaps there was a genre of breastfeeding art, and I just assumed they were all Jesus.
I don't know why he's gripping a baby chicken in his other hand.
Van Gogh will never be the same. We were at the Musee D'Orsay, where the Van Goghs are, and instead of being awed by these works of art:
... all I could think of was that damn Dr.Who episode. "Checking ... no, no monster in that church window." Actually, Gary was awed by the self-portrait, or more specifically, that he was standing in front of the self-portrait. I felt much the same way in the Louvre in front of - not the Mona Lisa (Smirky bitch!) or the Venus de Milo*, but the Code of Hammurabi. The Code, the Big Boy, the one that looks like a giant finger of hard-ass hand-hewing LAW.
*I did miss the chance to look at Venus de Milo's rarely-photographed butt. They have seemingly solved the controversy of what one of her lost arms was doing: in a nearby case they have a similar sculpture found nearby of a hand holding an apple.
Pompidon't.The Pompidou Museum was a huge disappointment. It was almost empty, and usually that would be a good thing, but the only exhibition we could find was of feminist art. Most of it was fine, like Yoko Ono's video "No. 4," but the unifying effect of that video (we all have butts) was torn down by the video in the next room of a woman using a hula-hoop made of barbed wire. And yes, she was being torn up. It did not make me think about the human condition, it made me think about the specific artist and what must have happened to her in her youth.
Our favorite art might have been the antiquities on display at the Grand Palais.
There should be a sign at the Grand Palais that individuals with MS should expect the be cooked like a bug by the intensified rays of the light inside. Gary also had great concern for the first editions of famous books displayed, open, their bellies directly in the sun (but, no flash, please).
I found that even though I was stumbling through the Grand Palais, my pelvis was very alert and would stop at all ancient jewelry displays. I was a little ashamed of my pelvis. Especially since these were actually works on sale, not works on display: this exhibition had a catalog of prices. I could have bought a second printing of the plays of "Shakespear" [sic]. But my pelvis kept cooing "pretty" and pulling me toward the big jewelry.
Finally, we found out a little more about the the portrait hanging in our room.
We initially named her "Marlene" (Marlene Deitrich had lived in our hotel). We said goodnight to her when we left the room, we blamed her for mysterious creaks in the night, she had her own overhead light with her own light switch and she hated to have her light turned out.
(Also, it's much easier to have sex when Marlene is watching than when the dog is watching. Marlene doesn't look as if she's about to bite you, and she doesn't bark incessantly when she's put out of the room.)
We asked about her when we checked out, and come to find out 40 of the paintings in the hotel were from a painter who stayed there in the fifties, who used his art to pay his bill. Evidently he was also the last portrait artist for the Czar of Russia as well.
Except for the last few, all photos came from Wikimedia (blessed be their name).
You know someone is out there thinking "Why go to Paris? I can read a guide book and it's just the same." (It is the same.Rick Steve's said Mona Lisa was small and unassuming. True.) What you don't get from guides are all the things that were unexpected.
I dragged Gary through Paris streets to find the bakery that makes zee bread shaped like zee cats. This was essential just like when we were in London years ago and I dragged him on a hunt for #10 Margaret Street. (Older adults will remember when that was the address on the front of all Victoria's Secret catalogs.)
#10 Margaret Street was a dusty office building, but at least it was easy to find because the English believe in numbering buildings consecutively. Consecutively. Look it up, Frenchies.
When we finally found the cat bakery, they did indeed have cats made of French bread. A few blocks after we left I bit off the cats leg. Stale, through and through. Awful. I was astonished. Of course, that just made it so I kept ordering bread to find the mythical French bread.
I became more and more inclusive, and at one store I ordered Nan and Cheese. Nan = Indian bread. I assumed they really meant "French bread" on the menu and couldn't translate it, because really that would just be 'bread,' so they picked 'Nan.' instead. This was an Italian restaurant. It made sense at the time. I HAD BEEN OUT IN THE SUN.
Go I got the plate and it was indeed Indian Nan. I got my "sirop l'eau," or water and syrup, or more accurately SYRUP tinged with water. But my Cheese never came. I waited patiently for my cheese.
Eventually I pulled off a bit of the Nan and there it was inside! Surprise cheese!
We were hungry enough (and lost enough) on Thursday to eat at one of Paris' 'fast food' shops, where a volcano-shaped cake caught my eye. And then I ate it. And now I've researched it.
(Not Gary's photo! Gary never even SAW that canelle I ate it so fast.)
Screw the babka. A pastry that can only be prepared in a special copper mold that has been sprayed with beeswax? That's a challenge.