Books / cultural studies / Culture / expats / France-USA / French

Kick the Can-Can: 10 Things To Do When in France

1. Arrive by the early flight, make your way under a grey sky from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle to dowtown Paris. Your room won’t be ready, you will drop your suitcase, head for the best-smelling bakery around, spot the cafe nearby. Inside, it will be empty and damp, it will reek of bleech, you will reek of the plane, your ass sore from all that sitting in economy. You will order an express and two croissants. You will munch on behind the window, watching the street awake.

2. The day belongs to the embankments of the Seine river, to gardens and books. By the river, you will touch as many paperbacks, magazines, engravings, posters as your fingers can take before they become all tingly from the dust and enerving smoothness of grainy, acid papers. You will walk up the Boulevard St. Michel to Sorbonne and St. Germain then, Luxembourg, St. Sulpice, Odeon, make your way back through Pantheon to Place de la Contrescarpe.

3. Later that night, walk all the way from Arc the Triomphe to Place Vendome. Climb the white stairs in front of La Madeleine then yell: “A nous deux, Paris!” Then head back to Gare du Nord.


4. You will take a slow train to the northern coast of Brittany, walk on the beach, find small paths along the cliffs. You will chose a house for yourself among the dignified ladies in grey dresses and glistening slate-blue hats that await among the rocks. You will draw an exact map of her location, in the sand. Fold it carefully, place it in your pocket and let it sip through a hole in the lining of your pants until you have learned the landscape by heart. There will be wind. There might be rain.

5.  Take a fast train to the South of France. Stop often. Eat all the raw, boiled, broiled, grilled, simmered animal parts: the dry sausages, the blood sausages, the pig’s feet, ears, tail, innards in all their shapes and forms, with their creams, mustards, juices, oils. Find three kinds of andouilles, pates, rillettes and boudins. Nearing the South, taste rabbit flesh, grilled with herbs, suck on snails and frog legs, gorge on sauces, thick, dark and strong as blood. Spread it all on bread. Eat all the bread.

6. Way down South, everything will be white, ochre and blue, with a touch of pale green and splashes of purple and blinding yellow, if you invited flowers to your trip. The air will be warm and dry. A gentle wind will parse the world around you and yourself, you will feel a bit separated maybe, sliced in thin layers of you smelling, seeing, breathing atoms of the sea and the promise of North Africa. You will pause to consider the potential of the white Arab cities, the absurdity of a desert hardly touched by Bowles. You will pause at the thought that never you will go there. It will only be your guess, the story of Others, the approximate retelling of lives that don’t own you, your most complete documentation was provided by the Adventures of Tintin, that desert is all paper and colored inks, a distant memory of something that won’t happen to you. You will be instructed to wonder if the things you didn’t reach ever really existed. But you can’t possibly know that.


7. You will be instructed to quit dispersing to regroup. You will seek everything old and narrow: the steep stone stairs of the Roman amphitheaters, citadels and fortresses, the cobbled streets of the medieval cities with the pale neon lights of a Bar-PMU and Laverie Moderne, the spiral staircases, the humongous piles of rectangular polished rocks dragged from the fields and quarries into the churches and houses of men.

8. Focusing your gaze, you will look for the narrow people who study ancient literatures and three-hundred years old parochial records, who know about the peasants revolt that broke for two weeks that summer 500 years ago, who researched the instruments, timbres and lyrics that were played in this house a thousand years ago, and can again demonstrate the proper interpretation. You will breeze past the politics, the media, the young, the dynamic forces in love with America, money and the smell of today, desparately trying to bend the thick walls, widen the staircases, waterproof the rain.

9. With the right kind of eyes, you will see the mark left by the high tide of time on the wall of your fresh memories. You have now collected enough shells, pebbles and fossils to start touring your museum. You are heavy from all the sediment, yet so light at the thought you accomplished nothing, bought nothing, taken no picture, left no trace.


10. Take the fast train to Paris. There will be hills and pastures doing 200 km an hour, groves quickly hugging orchards at the sight of your passing train, church steeples dancing stiff around a curve of the track. Your train will plunge into the suburbs, a grey mass of cement walls and dark bricks, ridiculously tiny windows, small patches of bright green backyards, then no yard at all, no more clothes drying on clothelines, minuscule doors and door steps, plastic toy cars parked on miniature sidewalks and back alleys, minute glimpse at slivers of interiors between half open window panes, the futility of a wallpaper carefully chosen by hard-working, responsible citizens, and glued to a primered plaster wall, its pattern flickering for a nanosecond before you. Your flight won’t be late.


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