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Friday, June 4, 2010



From Amsterdam we took the train to Paris, where our hotel room was very, very small and made me wish I was a Barbie. Plus there was a sign on the elevator that said, “All Children MUST Be Accompanied,” so I always carried two harmonicas in different keys.

There was a language barrier- In Amsterdam, I could make out some of the words. Since everything they say in Dutch sounds like a Beatles record played backwards, I thought I could make out the words, “Paul is dead,” so I considered that a minor victory. But in Paris, the trick is that they pronounce a word, and then add several syllables at the end in parentheses. Take “Montmartre,” for example. As an American, I pronounced it as is should be: “Mount Marty.” The Parisian says “Mo-mah (cheeseburgerandfriesmakingyourasslargerthanlifeitself).” One thing I did pick up right away is that “la” means “the.” So around Christmastime when you hear, “Fa la la la la, la la la la,” it is French for, “Fa the the the the, the the the the.” You really have to pay attention, but we got through, since my wife speaks a little French and I speak a little English. We went to a Chinese restaurant, which NEITHER of us speaks. Luckily, I am fluent in the international language of love. So I took the waitress in back and made passionate love to her, since we were hungry, but it took forever since she had a stutter.

It is impossible to find really good coffee in Paris, or Europe in general. It comes in a teensie-weensie little cup, a little bit bigger than an adult dose of cough syrup. So even if you COULD find good coffee in Paris, you never WOULD find it since it is so small. In America, we enjoy an enduring friendship with our coffee. We want it to sit beside us the entire duration of the newspaper, steaming faithfully. By the time you finish the coffee at the cafĂ© here, you have read this much of the story: “BP Successfully Caps Oil Well….” In America, your coffee would have lasted long enough to read more: “BP Successfully Caps Oil Well Liability at One Million using 1886 Law.” Reading further, you learn that BP will be making another attempt to plug the leak in the Earth by using a giant cork. This method has proven successful in the past, but it has only been tried on very large champagne bottles, and never at this depth.

The museums in Paris are legendary. We skipped the Louvre, since it is so huge you could spend a week there (which I should have thought of before I booked the hotel). Plus I hear the Mona Lisa is really tiny and she looks kind of stoned in it. The Louvre is a beautiful building, a former imperial palace, but for some reason they had I.M. Pei design a goofy little pyramid in the middle of it, which everyone is impressed with. If I.M. Pei had designed the one in Egypt I would be impressed, or even that big thing that looks like a cat wearing a football helmet.

The George M. Pompidou Center is their museum of modern art. It is for really creative people, not for the rest of us. In college I roomed with an art major, and he was always picking up pieces of garbage to use for a project. While I was looking around at sunsets, cute girls and hot cars, he was scouring the landscape for garbage- to him it was like gold. Modern artists can see things the rest of us don’t. Here is a quiz:

1. When a band plays “Sweet Caroline,” do you go, “SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!” during the chorus?
2. Do you clip poodles for a living?
3. Do you have a tattoo of a butterfly anywhere on your body (if you ARE a butterfly answering yes to this, exempt yourself from this quiz question)?
4. Do you say things like, “It’s ALL good!” (although once an existentialist asked me what I thought of his work, and I said, “It is what it is,” so I am exempting myself from this quiz question)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your work cannot be shown at the Pompidou Center.

One of the problems I encountered in France was what I call “pulchrivertigo.” This alarming condition occurs when the whole country is so beautiful that you don’t know where to look, and there is nothing to contrast each other with. There is little joy in proclaiming, “I am marginally better looking than you, so HA!” In New York every good-looking, well-dressed woman is balanced out by a fat woman dressed in a 300 dollar Nike jogging suit pushing a double stroller of overweight children old enough to walk by themselves. Or an over-tattooed Jersey boy shouting into his walkie-talkie phone, not realizing that he is actually gossiping. I have gross images in my mind of every race and religion of Americans, so don't think I'm bigoted. I think there is a whole different "No-fly List" for flights to Paris. Between all the art, the architecture, and the beautiful people, we vowed to pay more attention to the unattractive things back home that we took for granted all these years.

Incidentally, Gustave Eiffel designed the tower that bears his name for a 1889 world exposition marking the centennial of the French Revolution. It was ordered by Hitler to be destroyed along with the rest of Paris near the end of the German occupation, but his own military governor of Paris refused to execute the order. Eiffel also designed the armature (or infrastructure) for the Statue of Liberty. It is visible by visitors from below the statue, but you have to look up her dress, which is kind of embarrassing. If you do, don’t forget to say, “I see England, I see France, I see the Statue of Liberty’s underpants.”

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