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Friday, April 20, 2012

My Snapshot Views of Paris (Part One)

   Paris is full of photographers.  Professional, amateur, and iPhone-snappers.  I have trouble seriously calling that last group photographers.  Would you really value pictures of Paris so little as to just take them with a phone?  I even watched a man in the catacombs hold up his iPad, at arm's length, and 'snap' a shot.  How droll I must look with an actual camera hanging around my neck.  I must look especially silly when I switch to the zoom lens.  C'est la vie.
   Below, I will list just a few of the scenes that have captured my attention in the last few days.  I do not always have a picture of them, since some of them are more audible than visual.  But it will give you an idea of the Paris that we are experiencing.

   As we were walking around Louvois Square, not far from the Palais-Royal, we saw two young boys playing with a ball in the street.  It was a beautiful setting, with the sun lighting half of the street, cut at an angle by the shadow of the buildings above; the top of the Louvois Fountain sparkling in the same sunlight, while its lower half was shadowed by the surrounding trees, now full with the greenery of spring.  Jennifer wanted me to get a picture of the boys.  Before I could, a man came out of the a building entrance where they were playing and scolded them, shooing them away.  They did not shoo easily, and the man had to argue with them, pointing at his door, at the street, at the boys, and casting sidelong glances at us as we paused to watch.  I hoped he was not doing it for our sake.  I am pretty sure he wasn't.  We turned the corner at Rue Remau, not knowing if the boys or the man won the argument.  I know who I was pulling for.

   At our local Franprix (a chain of grocery stores), there is a man who stands outside the entrance every night.  He is something of a mix between a beggar and a Wal-Mart greeter.  He greets everyone entering and leaving with the same phrase.  "Bon Soir, Monsieur/Madame," he says with a nod of his round, kind face.  His hair is closely cropped and white.  He does not hold out his hand.  He is, in fact, holding a small bundle of magazines of some kind.  At first, I thought he was selling them.  But as I watched the people pass him, I saw them occasionally give him a few coins.  "Merci, merci beaucoup."  He did not hand them a magazine.  A few of the older ladies stop and ask him how he is.  He is quick to reply, always with a big smile.  I am surprised by the more professional looking Parisians, dressed smartly as they are coming home from work.  Many of them, young and looking like the type who would disdain being bothered by the door-greeter, upon hearing his words of greeting, turn and look at him, smile, and return the greeting, as if speaking with an old friend.  Some of them even slip him some coins.  Under all of his friendliness, however, I can see just a hint of wariness.  He keeps his head tilted just so.  His eyes often look up through his brows, to scan the street around.  When another man who, by his appearance, must be homeless, stops at the entrance, my greeter speaks quickly to him, as if to shoo him away.  I imagine he is saying to move on, this spot is taken, or perhaps he is telling him his appearance is bad for business.  The interloper gets the same message and moves along.

   The night I stood observing the door-greeter, I was able to witness a fun action sequence.  I heard running on the street, loud enough to overcome the general din of the busy intersection of Rue Cassette and Avenue Rennes.  I looked up in time to see two girls, perhaps nearly twenty years old, giggling and running my way.  They were quite excited about something.  After they passed, I looked back in the direction from which they had come and I saw our waiter from the Cafe Casstte (from just the day before) charging down the street after the girls.  I noticed right away he was not amused.  He was in put it mildly.  His head was tucked in, his elbows also tucked in, as he ran in the perfect sprinters form.  He was still wearing his apron, tied low around his waist, but it did not hinder him.  He blew past me, making up ground on the girls, who had no chance to match his speed.  Before losing them at the corner of Rue du Vieux Colombier, just at the entrance to the St. Sulpice Metro station, he grabbed the taller of the girls by her arm.  She yelled at him, but did not put up much of a fight.  He spun her around and began to drag her back to the cafe.  She smacked at him with her purse, but this was only for show.  She still seemed amused by it all.  As they passed, she had her phone out, and was calling someone, perhaps to someone who could get her out of the tangled mess she was in.  I could see that the waiter was not too concerned with her civil rights.  I knew it was best not to attempt to skip out on this waiter.

   Standing at the bus stop outside our apartment, we kept an eye down the street for the number 84.  There were five different buses that came through on that route: 39, 70, 87, 63, and 84.  As we waited, each of the four lines we did not want arrived and offered us rides.  We waved them on, and kept looking down the street.  As we stood there, a woman and her small son came alongside and waited with us.  Finally, I could see another bus coming.  The glare of the morning sun would not allow me to read the number on its banner.  I had to wait for it to cross Rennes Avenues before I could read it.  The little boy, also aware of it, bent forward, stretching his neck in order to see the bus.  When he finally got a good look at it, he said in a tone that children the world over use whenever they are disappointed, "Dommage, dommage-- un minibus."  Apparently he liked the big ones, with the accordion rubber that allows it to bend in the middle.  I was just glad it was the number 84.

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