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August 11, 2007

European Camp Daddy - Day 12: Flugtag in Paris

Jennifer on the Champs de Mars

Today, we tried unsuccessfylly to rent bicycles from a kiosk. Apparently, my American credit cards don’t have a chip in them, so we couldn’t release the bikes from the automated rental kiosk.

We surrendered our bicycle renting campaign, and headed for the Louvre. That is to say that, to the Louvre grounds, where we discovered a band of wandering gypsies had temporarily erected one of those notorious little itinerant carnivals. Basically a rolling OSHA nightmare.

And, since it’s owned and operated by gypsies, I’ve got my wallet in my front pocket and my camera bag under my jacket.

Beggars are coming up to us every 50 meters and begging for change. But I told Jennifer not to feed them. It’s like feeding pigeons. The idea of helping someone out is noble enough, in theory, but soon you’re overwhelmed by your supposed benefactors and then it turns ugly.

Best to just give them nothing. They don’t speak English at the carnival, so bleating “Anglais? keeps most of them at bay. If, by chance, they start speaking perfect English, we’d start bleating “Russo?, meaning we spoke only Russian, and it was a complete mistake to try to speak to us in English.

I was very surprised to find a shooting gallery where they were shooting .22 rifles at clay targets. They had loads of shooting galleries, but most of them involved shooting at balloons blown around by a fan with a pellet gun. This one gallery had .22 rifles and there was a guy loading the rifles with .22 shorts (or possibly CB caps). But it was an honest-to-goodness .22 rifle they were shooting and he’d just hand you the rifle and let you start shooting away.

A large sign hanging on the booth advertised “REMINGTON, BROWING, and WINCHESTER?. That’s right BROWING. Without the “N?. I was thinking, even if you don’t speak English, can’t you put a gun on the ground and just paint the letters from it onto the front of the booth? How hard would that be?

These types of shooting galleries were very common in the U.S. at the turn of the last century. But, they’ve pretty much died off. I think when I was a kid that they had them in Mississippi, but I couldn’t swear to it.

I could never quite understand the object myself, so I asked everyone around if anyone spoke English and no one did. No one that worked at the carnival spoke English, and no one at the carnival spoke English. At least, not that they would admit to.

And, I began to realize that most of the people that I had come into contact before we stumbled into the carnival with were grossly involved with the tourist trade on a daily basis. That was why they spoke English. But, if you get outside of the hotels in the tourist districts, I’m sure that their fluency in English drops off considerably.

Certainly, these gypsies betrayed no inclination of speaking English. The man at the .22 rifle exhibit wouldn’t even look at me. And his wife was no better. They both seemed downright haughty. And I began to think that, maybe the people were right. Maybe the French do really hate us. Maybe the frogs really do despise Americans. Maybe they really believe they’re better than us and, when they’re speaking that incomprehensible gibberish, they’re mocking us.

Certainly, the hotel clerk wasn’t overly sympathetic when I expressed a xenophobic disdain for their obtuse AZERTY keyboard layout. Maybe there is a French conspiracy after all.

So, Jennifer and I were fighting our way through this gypsy carnival on the grounds of the Louvre, the largest museum in the world. Inside, the tourists stood in awe of the most impressive paintings ever created in the history of mankind. Outside, we stumbled our way through a harrowing fun house and struggled to buy Barbe a Papa (Candy Floss in Ireland) for €2.00.

After we left the carnival, Jennifer wanted to fly the plastic bird we bought for beneath the Eiffel Tower. We road the 87 bus to the Champs de Mars, a broad open stretch before the Eiffel Tower.

I began to suspect that I’d brought her to Paris too soon. Maybe Hawaii and Florida is more her speed at this point.

As we prepared for our Flugtag in the shadow of the Eiffel, we spied an older couple playing Boule. Spying us surreptiously spying on them, they invited us to join them. It turned out that they were playing Petanque, a variation on the game of Jeux Boule. I already knew how to play, as I’d read up on the rules. Pierre and his wife had spent their whole lives in Paris, and they were as nice as they could be.

For a while, we were actually winning. Jennifer and I were up seven to six, but we lost handily in the end. It is a brilliant game for passing the time and I was ecstatic they asked us to join them.

It reconstituted my faith in the French. The human mind has a natural propensity to over-simplify the world around us. To order and categorize. To paint in bold strokes with broad brushes. But it’s poison to try to characterize the French as aloof or distant. Witness Exhibit A, on the Champs de Mars, Pierre and his wife.

Part of me was reasonably sure that I’d brought Jennifer to Paris too young. Flying birds in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and riding the log ride on the grounds of the Louvre. But maybe she is showing me something in Paris I wouldn’t have found on my own. Maybe there’s more to Paris than museums and steel trusses.

Posted by Rob Kiser on August 11, 2007 at 3:28 AM


I also watched some Frenchmen playing Petanque while in Paris. (I did not partake when invited to join.) I was fascinated and menioned it in my journal. Have a safe trip home.

Posted by: sl on August 12, 2007 at 3:52 PM

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