National Catastrophe Averted!

I was not awakened last night by the sound of enraged French rubgy fans trashing Paris after their team suffered a humiliating defeat. No, instead the French team soundly beat the Irish 25-3, redeeming their honor, staying in the World Cup tournament, and averting the predicted national catastrophe. Magnifique! The U.S. has not fared so well – we lost 28-10 to England and 25-15 to Tonga and are out of it.
 
Have you ever watched rubgy? I stopped at a bar this afternoon and watched a match for a while. For one thing, the players run into and tackle each other with the same force as NFL players, yet wear no protective gear. Play does not stop just because the ball hits the ground; in fact, it can be given a low, bouncing kick into the "end zone" and if the kicker’s team gets their hands on it there, they score. Fascinating to watch, not quite as brutal as reputed, and actually played with rules. Having a 20" neck and weighing 280 lbs. helps, apparently.
 
I had a fine meal last night at Soufflot Cafe, near the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter, not far from my hotel. During my visit to Paris in 2001 with daughters Lindsay and Sarah (hello, ladies!) we ate dinner there and a wonderful older waiter named Guy (pronounced "Gee") took a shine to the girls. He advised them on how to order meals in French, teased them about their aversion to escargot (snails in butter and garlic – yum), and had them add up our bill with a pencil on the table cloth. We took a photo of the him and the girls and after we came home we sent him a copy of the print and a thank-you note, care of the cafe, and we got a nice reply back from him. Guy retired a few years ago, but my loyalty to Sufflot Cafe was firmly set. I ate while sitting outside, facing the sidewalk, enjoying both the food and the people-watching.
 
I got a good night’s sleep and in the morning hopped the #27 bus to visit some of my local friends: the Orsay Museum and the Louvre. I spent some time with my favorite works by Degas (pastels of dancers), Delacroix ("Liberty Leading the People"), and Gericault ("The Raft of the Medusa"), some of which are included in my photo gallery. It seems weird to take photos in a museum but, as long as you don’t use a flash, it is allowed. This of course leads to large numbers of idiots who don’t know how to use their cameras taking flash pictures. Digital cameras allowed the camel’s nose, as they say, under the tent and it’s open season now. All those flashes are bad for the artworks, of course, and annoying to the visitors. In fact, sadly, museums are losing their status as special places: there’s so much cell-phoning, texting, MP3-listening, and photography going on now that they’re more like Main Street. Nonetheless, I always feel it is a privilege to be in the presence of the result of such genius. Even now, after so many visits, I still look closely at Degas’ pastel strokes and marvel, even revel, in the mastery of technique and creativity displayed.
 
I also snapped a (non-flash) photo of Winged Victory (the statue) and La Grande Odalisque by Ingres. The Louvre was not crowded for once and I had a leisurely cappucino at noon in the snack bar there. There’s a large underground mall (Carousel du Louvre) next to the museum with a food court. Speaking of malls, I meant to mention yesterday that the Marco Polo airport is really a shopping mall with an airport attached. After clearing security, I was amazed at how luxurious the retail area was, nicer than Tysons II. The stores had some very high-end decor and fixtures and even the hallway floor was parquet!
 
I hopped the bus again back to the Latin Quarter but set off on foot in a new direction down the Boulevard St-Germain. Whew – what a "Miracle Mile" of wall-to-wall boutiques! Scattered here and there are some cafes (Les Deux Magots, Le Procope, etc.) made famous by writers from Voltaire to Hemingway, arty rebels who would no doubt be shocked at the designer fashions now on sale in the neighborhood.
 
After an unsuccessful search for a patisserie offering the "best macaroons in Paris", according to a newspaper article I clipped, I headed south on foot, past the St-Sulpice church, to my one of my favorite places in Paris: the Luxembourg Gardens. I posted some of photos of the 60-acre park, including the Medicis Fountain and a couple having a picnic with my favorite champagne (Veuve Cliquot) in the photo gallery. An orchestra was giving a free concert in the band stand and the day, sunny and 70-degrees, was just beautiful, perfect for sitting and enjoying the music, the breeze, and the dappled sun.
 
After a late lunch of kabobs (more like a gyro than the kebabs we’re used to) and a short rest, I went into a bar for a cocktail and met a fellow Harley-Davidson owner. It turns out he, too, had been to Key West (small world) and so we talked Harley talk for a while. It was nice to enjoy the universal language of motorcycles.
 
Tomorrow is Sunday and the pace of Paris will slow down. We’ll have to see what tomorrow brings for me and it’s very nice not to have a plan.
 
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