Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Idiot, A Broad: Paris, Part Quatre

David, the owner of the store into which the shower of our rented apartment was leaking, arrived on Sunday afternoon to escort us to our new place. It was on the border of the Beaubourg and the Marais, and David did a sterling job of selling both the space and the experience. “It’s very Parisian, yes? And you will get to enjoy an entirely new neighborhood as well!”

The apartment was cute, but not perfect. Internet access was nonexistent, and I didn’t fit in the otherwise comfortable bed. The instant I opened the window, a huge mosquito breezed in. How big? It was a driving a Peugeot. (Merci. Je serai ici toute le semaine.) Over the coming days it would give me a Barton Fink-style bite on the face and a stigmata-like one on the back of my hand.

Of greater concern was the fact that the street outside was desolate. But that was because I didn’t yet understand the French concept of Sundays. Dimanche is different there; you’d think I’d have tumbled to that when Rosemarie and I had gone out earlier during prime brunching hours and were the only patrons in the café. Many restaurants and supermarkets don’t open at all on Sunday, which starts out slow but finishes strong.

The move forced us to scrap our initial plans. Instead we jumped on the Metro and headed out to Montmartre. We started at Sacré-Cœur. Maybe it was because the funicular railway was out of commission and we had to climb stairs to reach the cathedral, but it struck me as Donald Trump’s version of Notre Dame, a glossy edifice without a trace of the divine. The picturesque neighboring square was the only place we visited that felt like a tourist trap, thronged with bus groups and hustling street artists, and we made a hasty departure. Rewards lay further afield, like the Lapin Agile, the cabaret where Picasso was a regular, and the home Vincent Van Gogh shared with his brother Theo. As is so often the case in France, the day was redeemed by food. That evening we went to Camille, a restaurant in the Marais recommended by our friend Barry, where I had grilled beef skewers served with a ratatouille that provoked the rapture Sacré-Cœur failed to provide, as well as the finest peanuts I’ve ever sampled. Seriously. It’s like they were peanut butter already.

Our new neighborhood proved plenty lively on Monday morning, which got us back into the swing at once. We headed to the Jardin des Tuileries adjacent to the Louvre to begin our saunter along the Champs-Élysées. There were some detours before we reached the Arc de Triomphe. The first came at David’s suggestion. He strongly encouraged us to stop by the Grand Palais, a monumental Beaux-Arts structure built for the 1900 World’s Fair that was currently housing Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan. This specifically-commissioned sculpture was a mind-altering way of viewing the space – you saw it from the inside first – and easily a high point of the trip. Odds are we would have missed it if our shower hadn’t been faulty. (We’re silver lining kinda people.)

Also on our list: seeing an English-language film with subtitles in a French theater. London Boulevard has been out in Europe for some time but seems to have fallen off the U.S. release calendar. The Departed screenwriter William Monahan’s loose adaptation of a Ken Bruen novel tells a familiar story – recently-released hard man Colin Farrell is determined to go straight – in sprawling fashion, with characters disappearing for great swaths of the movie. I still found it entertaining, thanks to Bruen’s inspired Sunset Boulevard riff and David Thewlis’ performance as the drug-addled Erich von Stroheim manqué.

And of course, we were still searching for Amer Picon. Things had gotten desperate enough that Rosemarie decided to investigate a wine store, where the salesman suggested that we check ... the supermarket. It couldn’t be that simple, could it?

As it happens, it couldn’t. The supermarkets we visited stocked plenty of Suze, the aperitif that was a distant second on our Zig Zag shopping list, but no Amer Picon. In my darker moments I began to suspect that French storekeepers saw us coming and spirited our spirit of choice away for a laugh. We had two days left. Were we going to pull this off?