Monday, August 17, 2009

Pt.4 We Awoke in Paris

We hit the hotel at 1 pm after being up almost 24 hours (Part 3) hit the bed about 1:01 pm.
(the continuing story began here)

Part Four - Day 2 - Thursday, August 20, 1998

I woke at 4:30 p.m in Paris
. Time still felt suspended in eternal daylight. Joyce was still sleeping. I took a shower, never have I needed one more than that day. Every muscle in my body had stiffened from the past 24-hour ordeal. I drank another half-gallon of water. In spite of the central air conditioning, my suitcoat was still damp with sweat. In “freshening up” I discovered that I had neglected to pack a disposable razor. It’s almost a day and a half, now, and, yes, I really need a shave. I put on something casual, grabbed my key, and my new French money, and prepared to get buggered by the hotel gift shop.

The hotel gift shop was very small, in a small 8x8 room, with a few expensive looking things around the room on shelves, and an Oriental girl at the desk. She communicated in some minimal English. It’s strange to hear an Oriental who has learned English with a British accent. She didn’t have shavers. I communicated by indicating my shadowed face, and making shaving motions. She brought out a map, a hotel publication of the immediate 6-block neighborhood, and circled a location about two blocks away. She wrote the name on the map — “Monoprix”. They would have it.

Ou e La Grocery Store?
So, back out in the heat, but alone this time, and unencumbered by baggage, it actually seemed pleasant out. The first street I nearly missed — contrary to the majority of streets in Paris, this one had a street sign — Rue Linois. It looked like the entrance to a parking structure, but shafts of light coming down from holes in the roof of the structure showed this to be an underground street, or at least a street over which there was other non-street activity. I was never curious as to what was above the underground street, but here, in the shadowy concrete tunnels that never saw the full light of day, streets without a “sunny side” there were other businesses — a print shop, a Shell gas station (“Alimentation” means “gasoline”), numerous offices, and a Bowling alley, called “Bowling”. After going two blocks under cover, I emerged into daylight, and was already at my destination — Monoprix!

Monoprix is a chain — I saw two other outlets in France later in the week, but only this one was open when I went by. Monoprix is a thriving supermarket. One’s first impression is an overwhelming distinctive smell that just about knocks you over. Once you realize that nothing’s putrefying here, the smell is not so bad. 80% of the smell was from the huge live seafood counter — American counterparts, even in the super-mega-mart versions of supermarkets, do not compare. There are fresh fish of all types, set in baskets set in ice. There are all types of shellfish, crab legs, huge slabs of all sorts of fish, huge shrimp and many varieties of smaller fish.

I walked straight in. Checkout registers were on my left, and a long fresh bakery counter was on my right — have to check that out later. For now, I had to get to the shavers. A black security guard stopped me, and pointed me to the entry gate, next to an escalator that led up to some sort of clothing store. Now, I was in the Monoprix proper. The seafood counter on the left, and to the right a huge fresh produce counter. You select your produce in plastic bags, and give your bag to the scale attendant, who weighs it and puts a price sticker on each bag. The produce looked much as it does here, there were a few strange-looking plums, but primarily there were nectarines, peaches, apples, plums, vegetables, lettuce, potatoes, etc. There was a very long freezer of frozen fish. Many varieties are filleted, pressed flat, and frozen. An aisle devoted entirely to wine, with table wine selling typically for 20-50 francs, four to ten dollars a bottle. All of the wine is French — when you’re in France, you don’t have to look for Boone Farm or Carlo Rossi or Mogen David. Some wine is selling for as little as 9 francs a bottle, that’s less than two bucks!

The American Goes Grocery Shopping in Paris
There was a huge open self-service deli with different pasta and shredded vegetable salads. It all sells for the same price, per kilo — just load up what you want and have it weighed. There was a very long deli counter having different cold meats all coming under the classification of “sausage” — some looked interesting, and if we’d have had a place to cook, we might have tried some, especially some gnarled-looking things with bright white casings.

Then there was the frommage counter — French people are big on cheese. More bulk cheese than I’ve seen even in Wisconsin, and not just brick or Swiss — this is the heavy-duty stinky stuff, including bleu cheese, and those little 7 inch wheels of mooshy stuff with the mold all over — there would be more frommagerie later in the week. The dairy case had a number of packaged cheeses, and many different kinds of butter — it was all in French. The rest of the store was devoted to food items. Many brands are licensed by American companies’ international divisions. There was the usual Proctor and Gamble-type selection, but the familiar packages had strange names. Also, many locally produced (Paris and Lyon have large manufacturing centers) products.

An entire section is devoted to chocolate — mostly French “fabrique”, and a lot by Nestle — didn’t see any Hershey there. In French candy, hazelnuts, or “noirsettes” (Little black things) are more common than peanuts. Price is relatively low for candy. I bought about a 1-pound package of chocolate bars, bulk pack, for about $1.50. There were lots of crackers and cookies by “LU” a company common in US import sections. Must be the Nabisco of Europe. An entire section devoted to bottled water and soda. Coca Cola is more common than Pepsi, 10 to 1. Diet soda is almost unheard of. And I didn’t see any 2-liter bottles. Bottled water is quite common — “Imported” bottled water, Evian, from the US — is more expensive.

Missing from the entire store is the “Health and Beauty Aids” section. There was no aspirin, no cotton balls, no band-aids, toothpaste — or shavers. What’s going on, here? I went up and down every aisle again, just to be sure. Well — what’s to lose?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s on the second floor. I went out of the grocery section and went up the escalator. There were clothes all right, but the store was also a full department store, with hardware, housewares, and — Health & Beauty. I selected a package of Gillette disposable razors — they didn’t have Bics. The Gillettes were also on sale. I approached the counter, a lady was running the cash register — there was no line, so I didn’t have any examples to follow. I placed it on the counter, only returned “Bon Jour”, and she rang it up — thirty four francs. I hesitated as I was bringing out my franc notes — gave myself away.

Now, I was a tourist, and she was pretending that I was not, but I looked too long at my change — I had given her a 100 note, and didn’t seem to have gotten back enough. It was going to take some getting used to the “tenner” as I called them, a 10-franc coin about the size of a nickel, that was worth 10 francs. It’s about the same size as a 20-cent piece, which is worth about 3 cents. The 10-franc coins are silver, with a 1/4" gold ring around them, actually quite a handsome coin. Whenever they can, they count out your change in these things, rather than messing around with 20-franc notes. So, I pretended to count my change, jammed it in my pocket, and headed back to the hotel. Joyce had to see this place!

So, one of the first things I did in Paris was to take my wife on a journey to the Monoprix Supermarket. I'm so romantic.

to be continued.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

1 comment:

Lydia said...

I'm so disappointed that you didn't wander around Paris all scruffy!