An American in Paris: Thanksgiving

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Photo (c)2004 Russell Johnson

Note: We first published this story in 2004, just after Thanksgiving and a few weeks after the re-election of George W. Bush. The US dollar wasn’t worth too much then and the French found our politics puzzling, to say the least.

Thanksgiving, of course, is completely off the map of the French. My wife Pat and I spent Turkey Day with expat friends shamelessly gulping red wine, slurping oysters and savoring all manner of fats, cheeses, chocolates and filet of boeuf. All of this is good for you…if you are in France.

A video I shot walking the streets of Paris during the Thanksgiving holidays.

Turkey is a delicacy here, an expensive one. But French turkeys are not the Dolly Parton 44D designs we gorge on in America. These are trim, petite, Leslie Caron birds that could inspire you to dance through the Bois de Boulogne rather than fall asleep in your Laz-E-Boy.

 

I don’t feel guilty eating red meat in France. The French are very fussy about what they put in their mouths. Not so many hormones and other nasties that pass down the food chain to plump you up as surely as they do Tom Turkey.

We spotted a number of fellow free-range Americans wandering about. One young couple wore Kerry-Edwards campaign buttons with tags shouting “I didn’t vote for HIM, “HIM being George W. Bush, who had just been re-elected. Some US “patriots” regarded the French with disdain for not going along America’s Iraq fiasco. Some travelers went out of their way to to make the statement that they were not a part of that bunch.

After the Iraq invasion, some visitors from the US were downright afraid. Our friends told us that a couple visiting them from Kansas feared they might be kidnapped.

If so, I would love to be imprisoned in some starred restaurant and force fed foie gras washed down with flagons of Burgundy, until, of course, I confessed that I loved Paris.

I could see the headlines: “Food hostage succumbs to gout!”

The French are curious about our cauldron of politics. I was surprised at how many struck up conversations with Pat and me in restaurants once they heard us struggling with French. They viewed some Americans as rustics, like survivalists holed up in a backwoods cabin defying the rest of the world. They regarded George W. Bush as a buffoon but they’re not wild about own their leader, Jacques Chirac, either.

Tour Eiffel from the East Bank

But Paris is swimming in American culture: posters for Disney’s “The Indestructables?” (“Incredibles” doesn’t translate correctly), huge billboards at almost every Metro station featuring actress Sarah Jessica Parker. She gets more face time than Chirac and that, at least aesthetically, is a good thing. The French may proffer the Gallic sniff at American politics but they consume American culture by the litre.

Pat and I share lunch with a Parisian friend at the Pied de Cochon. Founded in 1947, it is one of the classic traditional restaurants of Paris.

At the next table, legendary nightclub hostess Regine, the woman widely credited as the inventor the discothèque, is holding court. The queen bee is surrounded by fawning men, like a scene of “Gay Paree” from an Impressionist painting. She may be recalling her story about when Frederico Fellini gave her a twelve-foot boa constrictor. Some of Regine’s old dresses are displayed in the Louvre. In her 80s, she  is still commanding and handsome. We exchange glances even though a peasant like me would have never gotten past the velvet rope at one of her clubs to party with Nureyev, drink with Jack Nicholson and John Gotti or sip Dom Perignon from Bardot’s shoe.

I could live in Paris if it weren’t so damned expensive. Our several friends here, living on US dollar-based pensions, book royalties and salaries have seen their buying power plummet.

But, except for dining, spending is not what Paris is all about. We take our time to savor it: strolling hand-in-hand along the Seine, browsing the old Librairie Ulysse travel book store on Isle St. Louis, roaming romantically in the fall drizzle as Christmas lights sparkle and the dollars in our pocketbooks whimper.

And that s good. The best of Paris is free.

 

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