Paris is divided into 20 districts, or arrondissements, that are laid out clockwise starting in the center of Paris and spiraling outward. Consequently, arrondissements 1-7 are in the center of the city, while numbers 8-20 lie further afield. The central districts contain many, but not all, of the main tourist attractions. For example, the first arrondissement alone, in Paris’ bull’s-eye, includes the Louvre and the Palais Royal. Many visitors to Paris probably spend most of their time in the first seven areas, which is a shame, because each arrondissement has its own attractions and character.
One thing I always found indispensable is the Plan de Paris par Arrondissement books, with detailed maps of each arrondissement and an index of street and boulevard names. Usually my sense of direction is pretty good, but whenever I feel too cocky, trying to navigate Paris’ medieval layout shoots me down to size. My current Plan de Paris is a red, hard-bound little number dating from 1924, and is as helpful as the newer copies I used to have. Every street I have consulted has been there, but, while a book can record a city’s infrastructure, it cannot capture the more ephemeral changes in a neighborhood’s character.
A while ago, Andrew Wheeler of the blog Very Good Taste came up with a list of 100 foods and drinks that every ominovore should try once. He asks bloggers to copy his list and instructions into their blogs. I have finally gotten around to seeing which items I have consumed, and my score is 55. The competitive side of me is upset at only scoring 55, but in my defense, I'm not much of a drinker, and eating raw meat or fish grosses me out, to be honest. There are only a few things on the list that I would never consider eating. Many of the other items that I haven't tried yet are things that I would be willing to taste, but probably not eat much of. I answered these questions by imagining if I had gone to a friend's house, and if he or she had made steak tartare, for instance, would I absolutely refuse to eat it, or would I eat some to avoid hurt feelings? This was a fun, if subjective, exercise and got me thinking about the choices we make every day.
Maybe it’s the Catholic girl in me, but I have a hard time eating ice cream cones in public. I mean, it’s just so sensual and messy and orgasmic. Whenever I do, I have to fight the urge to make eye contact with passersby. There’s nothing more embarrassing than looking up, mid-lick, with cream dribbling down your chin, and finding some guy's eyes locked onto yours.
Which is all well and good, since I’m not normally an ice cream person. I’m more of a cake, pastry and pie kind of girl. Give me anything composed of flour, butter and sugar and I’ll roll around in it, as evidenced by my Rubenesque figure. But it turns out there is an ice cream shop in Paris that I will go out of my way for, and that is Berthillon.
In the middle of October, Sweetie invited me to a big security exhibition at the Invalides esplanade. Although I had no idea of what he was talking about, I had been working a lot and was dying to get out of the house. So much so, that if he had invited me to a guillotine exhibition, I would have run out the door. Or not.
It turned out to be much bigger than I expected. I found out later it was billed as a chance for the public to meet “your security professionals,” including the police, fire department and gendarmerie. When we saw an armored tank used during the oh-so-common student protests here, Sweetie told me it brought back bad memories of when he was a student in the 80s. He would be protesting in the streets and see the tanks spraying dye, which would get on the students’ clothes so the police would be able to identify and arrest anyone trying to run away. I had no idea my mild-mannered, business suit-wearing guy had such a colorful past.
One of the best demonstrations was the police dog show, where a German shepherd would attack a man in protective clothing. The guy was so padded out it looked like the dog was tearing into the Pillsbury Dough Boy. But my very favorite part was watching a helicopter fly from behind the Eiffel Tour to the Seine to help rescue someone in a boat. Now that was cool.