July 99

Pietrina and Dick in Paris

Last updated on 4 July 1999 -- to be notified of updates, please tell Dick by clicking here:

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Meeting our Fans

Life is beginning to settle down somewhat here in Paris as the summer pumps up into full force (Our first summer without air conditioning since we moved to Houston in 1982!) Our response was to take the subway to our favorite plug-in store (called Darty's -- a lot like Circuit City in the states but without the CDs so we don't get distracted) and buy some fans. (Actually the first thing we did was plug in the fan we brought from Houston into the 220 volt line to see if it works on European current -- which it did for about 90 seconds and then treated us to our own little fourth-of-july fireworks show). It seems like every Saturday we have to go buy another large object to plug into our walls. Last week it was a new vacuum as our old one sucked (but not enough).

This is not Dick's favorite Paris store as he has found (believe it or not) the world's greatest hardware store just a 10 minute subway ride away. Unfortunately, this store also has drapes and furniture and a lot of other useless stuff that attracts women and so it is always too crowded when he wants to go there.


Down under

By now we've experienced most of the major tourist stops and are now into the second layer of sites like the Paris sewer system. (Yes, there is a museum for even this in Paris, it's called Musée des Egouts de Paris.) The picture at the left shows the rough shape and position of the sewer lines. There are now over 1300 miles of sewers and yes, we have the same story as every city that a crocodile has been found in them. (Maybe it was a "croq" which is a nickname for a ham and cheese sandwhich. If so, there are far worse stuff down there).

Paris, as you would guess, works on many levels metaphorically, but also physically. Besides the many subways, we have the RERs (these are really express subways that act a little more like real trains), and the sewers. The sewers carry two kinds of water pipes, the first we drink, the second they use to clean the streets (as they do every morning with great noise and flourish to awaken us apartment dwellers). Obviously they have a good supply of thoroughly used (and disgusting) water flowing into huge sewage plants (the biggest in Europe -- we've found that Paris braggadocio can rival Texan). Not so obviously, they have a network of pneumatic tubes used to carry legal documents between lawyers' offices and the courts as the French (in their typical bureaucratic fashion) do not accept fax for legal purposes.

Career development discussion

One of the truly useful facts we learned was that the sewer men can retrieve anything you happen to drop in your toilet as there is an opening below each apartment building labeled with the correct address. For free, they will retrieve jewelry, false teeth, or whatever. (These sewermen work 30 hours a week and can retire at age 50. These jobs are hard to get as they are mostly passed down within families. Our tour guide --an active sewerman, of course-- was a third generation sewer worker. Upon hearing this, Dick decided to stay in the systems line, at least for a while longer).

If you truly want to pursue this line of discussion, I'd recommend the gritty details at this link.


'round town

Besides walking through sewers, we've made other adjustments to get the exercise we need. Pietrina has found a local exercise club to join as has Dick (at the Esso building). However, a totally new activity is cycling around Paris. The city has tried to become more bike-friendly since they've figured out that they have traffic and pollution. (About 10 years ago, they built huge parking garages underground -- another one of those Paris layers -- and everyone went out and bought another car.)

Sacre Coeur -- at the end of the bike path

Dick coming down from Mountmarte

Now we have several miles of bike-protected lanes (often filled with dumb tourists descending from tour busses), bike-only paths through the parks, and cars on the RERs (those are our express subways) that you can bring your bike on. Before we left Houston, we bought a couple bikes and threw them into one of the containers. Now we have what is probably the best summer transportation in Paris. One of Dick's favorite activities is to pedal up to the Northern end of town (called Montmartre -- the Parisians ), a white Romano-Byzantine basillica called Sacre Coeur with a spectacular view of the city -- and then coast all the way back down, passing taxi cabs and other wheeled riff-raff.

We had a subway strike a few weeks ago (strikes are a way-of-life for the public sector as the workers inevitably get paid for the time off during the strike!) Dick was going to try to take his bike to work but never quite figured out the route. Some weekend morning soon, he will.

Pietrina has become quite the Parisian food shopper with her metro ticket and her roller dolley. Her favorite open air market is Place Monge down in the Left Bank area of Paris. (If you we're floating on the current of the Seine -- which we don't particularly recommend -- this area would be on your left. Part of it is also called the Latin Quarter because the medieval universities -- where Latin was spoken -- were located there.) This particular market is near a 2nd century Roman amphitheatre that got lost until 1869, (hey, it's a big town). Today the kids play soccer inside of it. Paris is generally awash in fresh and spectacular looking produce, often from South Africa and other areas in this hemisphere.

Baked goods usually come from one of the favorite bakeries in our neighborhood, often the one at the base of our apartment building where Pietrina stops to chat with the shopowner.

The food we cook is usually simple because of the spectacular restaurant scene in our neighborhood.
  And all that...
On the weekends when we are in town (which so far has been most of them) we try to walk around a new spot in the day and participate in the night life in the evening. Last week we went to La Villette (a former stockyard that has been converted into a science park and music school) to listen to Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra as they played Duke Ellington songs. (The Duke would be a 100 years old if he were still around). The Parisians love Jazz much more than the Americans who invented it and pay it much reverence. The Paris Jazz festival lasts most of the summer, runs both indoors and out, and has many free concerts.
We expect a rash of visitors in the next few weeks and then Pietrina will visit her mother in Detroit while Dick gets stuck hiking on a glacier near Mont Blanc.

Please stay tuned!

Pietrina and Dick


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