Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Left Bank fondue
Wednesday, January 23 2002

setting: Paris, France

Our biological schedules were so far askew from the local hour scheme that we slept poorly throughout the night. Once it was morning, however, our bodies really desperately wanted to sleep. The only problem was our environment, Hôtel Practic. It started at around 9am with a quiet knocking sound upstairs, resembling the sound of someone lightly but relentlessly tapping nails into the floor. Once it began, the knocking was like a brand new Newtonian force, it just wouldn't go away. Soon, though, it was joined by other noises. People outside our door, seemingly directly outside our door, were jabbering away about this and that in completely incomprehensible French (for me, the only kind of French there is). Then someone started up a vacuum cleaner. When that was done, we could hear someone off in the distance warming up his vocal chords by singing up and down a major scale. Meanwhile, every time anyone flushed the toilet in his room (and this was the toilet-flushing hour), the sound was like Niagara Falls inside the walls. Gretchen, who has trouble enough sleeping under the best of conditions, soon had had her fill of the Hôtel Practic and declared we'd be staying somewhere else tonight.
We caught the Metro to the Louvre stop (lavishly decorated with copies of famous Louvre art) and then walked across the Seine into the 6th Arrondissement. While waiting for a room to become available in the Hôtel Nesle, we dined at a brasserie on the corner of Rue Nesle and Rue Dauphine. Evidently brasseries vary in the quality of their croissants, because the croissants at this brasserie were noticeably inferior to those we'd had yesterday on the Right Bank. By this point in the vacation I was ordering café crème instead of French café (volume too small) or watered-down American "coffee" (taste unsatisfying).
At first blush, Hôtel Nesle seemed even more primitive than Hôtel Practic. Our room, pleasant as it was, contained no toilet at all; both the toilet and douche (shower) were at the end of the hall. But the shower was elegant, with a large overhead showerhead and even a decorative column in the corner. And in a practical sense, since we never ran across anyone else staying on our floor, the shower and toilet were all ours anyway.
Then there was our mattress. It was so much nicer than the one we'd slept on in Hôtel Practic that we immediately used the term "La Brea tar bed" to describe it. We were mired in it for hours.

In the late afternoon, we woke up and walked over to the nearby Musée du Cluny to look at medieval relics and Roman ruins. Part of the very structure of the Cluny museum is the rounded, unrestored wall of an ancient Roman structure. I'd never seen anything so discernibly ancient in my entire life.
Later we walked uphill past the Sorbonne (the University of Paris) to a grand domed building called the Panthéon. Unlike other Panthéons in other countries, this one was devoted to the secular gods of France. The Panthéon had begun life as the tomb constructed by Clovis for his wife Clotilde, the first Christian ruler of France. But it turned out to be such a noble structure that it has become the most exalted place to be buried in the French-speaking universe.
Of course, like all important French structures, the Panthéon is an unabashedly Catholic building, festooned with crosses and Christian art. But nearly all the people buried there are famous for secular reasons: Victor Hugo, Marie and Peter Curie, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile Zola, and Louis Braille. At the entrance, the place where one pays for admission, there's a huge bloody fresco depicting various saintly people who have been freshly decapitated by a number of axes. One of the decapitated saints is reaching out to recover his haloed head in a miraculous act of saint-powered Energizer Bunnydom. "Only in France," I thought, recalling other juxtapositions of the creepy and saintly I'd seen in this city.
Since we'd come near closing time, we made a beeline for the basement crypt, a place featuring enormously thick walls and chubby little arches, the sort of pre-modern basement architecture necessary to support the weight of the overlying stone building. In nooks here and there, hidden behind iron bars, were the tombs of various extremely famous French people. The girl staffing the basement didn't care about flash photography, but she freaked out in when she saw us sneaking into one of the unlit (and unbarred) crypt rooms. Louis Braille, perhaps?

Me inside Notre Dame.

We made it down to Notre Dame Cathedral in time for the singing of Vespers. Unlike museums, Paris Cathedrals are open to the public and there's no price for admission. They raise a little money here and there from post card vending machines and the sale of votive candles. Gretchen lit one of these without paying the requested two euros and asked the Lord to remain unpregnant.
We sat for a time in the pews listening to the singing and looking up at the yellowish ribbed and vaulted sky above. I could see these cathedrals being useful for all kinds of quiet solitary pursuits.

Since we were in France, Gretchen thought it appropriate to eat somewhere tonight where we could get fondue. She'd seen a restaurant advertising fondue directly beside Eglise de St. Severin on Rue de St. Severin, so that's where we went. It was around 8pm and, as usual, we were the first customers in the restaurant. Gretchen started ordering in French, as usual, but our waitress, who looked like the bitchy blond who emphasizes the need for a morning-after cleanup committee for a sorority party, responded in completely American English. When I wanted to drink red wine with my escargot, she knitted her blond eyebrows in pain, then told me that since the escargot was prepared in white wine, I should probably drink white wine with it. In her bothered impatience with perceived culinary naïvité, she appeared to be demonstrating the zeal of the convert, in this case a conversion to French.
The snails were like tiny oysters prepared in oily green sauce. I fished them from their spiral homes with a special fork, trying to do so in the deliberative manner of a Frenchman, even though my impulse was to gobble them up immediately (in this respect, I am tres American). The taste was distinctive but well within the range of other mollusk flavors I've enjoyed. Still, it was impossible to keep from thinking about garden snails slithering through the green foliage of spring, leaving shiny trails and craning eyes on the ends of long stalks.
Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of food in a standard order of escargot. Luckily, though, Gretchen's crock of fondue contained far more molten cheese than any one person could safely eat by herself. In the heat of her ordering, though, Gretchen had neglected to consider one of the axioms of French cuisine: if there's any conceivable way to put jambon in a dish, it must be done. So, in addition to bread and potatoes, Gretchen's palette of things to dip in the fondue included a substantial pile of ham. She was horrified, of course (it offended her on just about every level), and immediately sent it back for a redo.
One thing we'd noticed since coming to Paris was that virtually the only music one ever heard playing in restaurants and brasseries was American rock and roll, jazz, and soul, often stale pop-rock from three or four years ago. Before we'd left for Paris, I'd gone out of my way to introduce Gretchen to a little contemporary French alterna-pop (Air, Stereolab), but already it was clear that no one in France actually listens to French music, or European Music for that matter. Since our restaurant tonight was also playing the usual stale American lite-rock, Gretchen asked our waitress about this peculiarity. "It's because French music sucks," the waitress said matter-of-factly. Then she added that if one went out to clubs, one would hear techno, but she qualified this by saying that clubs of this sort were to be found in neighborhoods that were largely gay, as if this was reason to dismiss it outright. You can take the Indiana State sorority girl to France and even give her a job as a French waitress, but she's always be an Indiana State sorority girl in her heart.
Soon after our conversation about music, someone changed the CD and we could hear some sort of jazz-pop being sung in French.
Gretchen did eventually extract some useful information from our waitress, asking her recommendation for the best method of traveling to London. "Take the Eurostar, of course! It's only 400 Francs!" she said.

View a gallery of pictures from this adventure.

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