Monday, September 7, 2009

The Barnums in France!!

Lafayette, here we be!

We are starting our fourth day in Paris and the city is really quite beautiful!

We have also found the French to be very friendly. I contrast this to the first time I traveled through France in the early 70"s. Of course, then I spoke no French, had long hair and a beard, and was carrying a backpack, but I found the people to be very rude.

Today, I'm a middle-aged man stumbling around town with my two French phrases: "Où est les toilettes?" and "Vous take Visa?" Everyone has been very nice to me.

Well, on Saturday, we went to the Palace of Versailles, which I have been told is pronounced "Versailles", not "Versailles." Except for the walking bits, you can pretty much get there by Metro. The train you want is Versailles Rive Gauche, which is called "VICK", I have no idea why.

After walking a fair distance we came around the corner and saw "Versailles". For Louis's country cottage, it really is quite huge, and distant. Just because we could see it, didn't mean we were particularly close.

By way of background, "Versailles" was originally built by Louis, the pretty big number. He wanted a place to escape from Paris, probably because like me in the 70's, he had long hair and a beard and found the Parisians not particularly friendly. Too bad he didn't have a Visa, things might have worked out better for his family.

First of all, "Versailles" actually is a town. In fact, the town of "Versailles" was there before the house of "Versailles". I'm sure the normal French that live there get a real kick out of telling people that "I live at Versailles, good servants are so difficult to keep, nowadays." Interesting fact that I discovered on the French translation website, "Versailles" is French for "Versailles".

Anyway, Louis, the pretty big number, built "Versailles" and started to meet with his people there back in the 17th century. His son, "Yet Another Louis", decided the place wasn't big enough and did a major remodel. Of course, he was five years old when he started, so the first fifteen years or so were pretty much dedicated to building more rooms to store his toys.

Yet Another Louis lived and remodeled at "Versailles" for more than 70 years. Both his son and grandson (named "I wanna be another Louis" and "Louis Louis, Oh Baby", stood by and died waiting for Yet Another Louis to pass on.

After Yet Another Louis came, his great-grandson, "Guess What My Name Is?" (My theory on their names is that they didn't want to replace the monogrammed towels.) Guess What My Name Is continued to add on to the house, a few more bedrooms, entertainment room, a carport and family room, but still no bathrooms.

Finally, came the "Louis, Who Didn't Quite Make It," the one who coined the phrase that my Dad always told me, "You'd Lose Your Head if it Wasn't Hooked On." Apparently, Dad was right. I don't think Louis, Who Didn't Quite Make It, added on much to the place and the ceilings could have definitely been shorter for him.

In the end, the place is pretty good size. I checked it on line and it has a few more than 700 rooms, didn't see any toilets though.

We came into the first half dozen or so rooms, each one huge, with painted ceilings about 40 or 50 feet above, gorgeous marble floors, beautiful paintings, statutes and windows overlooking the manicured gardens. Each room we would stop in wonder, gaze about, take pictures and sigh "ooh" and "ahh". After awhile though, you start picking up speed, take fewer pictures, start looking for the next "sortie" and moving on a bit quicker. As this journey continued, we were asking one another, "Did we take a wrong turn?" or "haven't we seen this room before?" In the end, you're pretty much running in a panic trying to get out of that place.

We did make it out finally, tired, breathing heavily, hungry and in need of a bathroom. These are not things which bode well when you are looking for a place to eat.

Shortly after leaving "Versailles", which is to say, quite a healthy walk to get anywhere off the grounds, we came upon a little restaurant named, "Brasserie de Musee".

When we were getting ready for this trip, I remember reading an article where the writer said, "You cannot get a bad meal in Paris." I might be wrong, but I think the proprietor of the "Brasserie de Musee" took that as a dare. In our defense, we were tired and hungry, so the outside of this little establishment looked pretty good. We sat down outside and started perusing the menu.

A repeating theme at restaurants is that you find yourself sitting for a long time, waiting for someone to come ask if you need anything or were just sitting there for a breather. I think France is where the name "waiter" was first used, because clearly these guys are not "show-ups" or "can I help yous", they just stand by and wait. At a couple of restaurants, after waiting for awhile, we have actually got up and moved on. I think there are some establishments in Paris that don't actually have food, just waiters, doing their job, waiting. At the "Brasserie de Musee", after an appropriate wait time, our waiter stopped waiting and showed up at our table. In this case, we would have been better served if he would have continued at his job and not shown up at our table. During our wait, Karen had noticed the "spécial du jour" on the blackboard outside, some sort of steak with a "Béarnaise" sauce. Actually, the word is pronounced, "Béarnaise" not "Béarnaise". Another interesting fact, is that Béarnaise is French for Béarnaise, I checked it out. Karen ordered the steak "Béarnaise" and I opened the menu (pronounced "menu'") and started to give my order. The waiter took my "menu'" and said, "no pizza, just this" and pointed to the blackboard. I know there were things on the "menu'" other than pizza, but I was tired and hungry and in no mood to argue, so I let it go. The blackboard had the steak "Béarnaise" and a lard salad (I'm serious). I said I would take the same as Karen.

We waited some more, and he brought us bottled water, which smelled a little off. How can water smell off? We should have taken that as our cue to leave. He also brought us a bottle of wine he recommended. A few years ago, the French had a huge glut of wine, most of it bad. They now have all these extra bottles of bad wine which they recommend to foreigners as a way of cleaning out their cellars. It tasted vaguely of a light dry vinegar, piquant, with overtones of mold and a hint of those little urinal cakes. It did have alcohol, so that was a plus. We were tired and hungry and in no mood to argue, so we let it go.

The meal came, Karen got her steak "Béarnaise" with little sliced fried "pommes de terre", pronounced "pommes de terre" or what we call potatoes. Those turned out to be the highlight of the meal. For me, I got the "lard salad". I was tired and hungry and in no mood to argue, so I let it go. In the middle of the salad, which was generally green and greasy, though you weren't quite sure where the green from the salad started and the green from the bacon lard began, stood a poached egg, or "oeuf" as the say in French (pronounced "oof" as in the sound you make when you look at that beigy-greenish thing staring back at you).

The meal let off that vague odor that your refrigerator makes when things have been there too long and you're not quite sure if it's the week-old chicken casserole or the past-its prime Chinese take-out that is causing the smell. Of course, we were both tired and hungry and in no mood to argue, so we let it go. Karen's steak in the meantime, this restaurant billed as their medium-rare, was the consistency of boot leather, but without the good flavor. Karen and I are always good at sharing our food with one another. This meal in particular, showed that. We were both saying, "here, try mine, no, take more, please." Followed by, "no save that for yourself, but here, take mine". We finished the potatoes and the wine.

By the end of the meal, which came quite quickly, we were laughing and had a new repertoire of "Brasserie de Musee" jokes, as in, "If you ask for the dessert menu, I'll have to kill you." "First prize is a free meal at Brasserie de Musee, second prize is two free meals." and "How do you say 'fuck you' at the "Brasserie de Musee? 'Bon appétit'."

All things do come to an end, and fortunately, that was true of this meal.

Anyway, if you find yourself tired and hungry in Versailles, I'd recommend that you starve and keep walking. Or, as the French say, prepare to be "bon appétited"!

Remember the Taco Bell commercial? "Taste as good as it looks!" It didn't.

The Blackboard!

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