Oh, Just Horsing Around


Bakery in the Marais. Photo by Christopher DeWolf

It’s practically a law of the Earth: the corner bakery will have croissants. The tides will roll in and out, the seasons will change, and the corner bakery will have croissants.

And so it was that on a particular Sunday, my corner bakery did not, actually, have croissants. Or pain au chocolat or much of anything else, except for apple turnovers. And I was not in the mood for apple turnovers. Being out of cereal and bread, if I was going to eat anything that morning, I was going to have to find it first. I would be meeting a friend at the Centre Pompidou, way downtown, at two. Mission: breakfast.

Generally speaking, not being able to buy croissants at this bakery is not a huge loss. I don’t like the lady who runs the corner bakery, and she doesn’t seem to like me; maybe she hates English speakers, or maybe she’s experiencing job burnout, or hey, maybe her marriage is lacking. If another bakery were present, I’d almost certainly patronize them instead.

But this was Sunday morning, and finding places to buy baked goods on Sunday morning in Paris – the capital of a country which has a mandatory 35-hour work week and which nearly entirely vacates to the beaches for an entire month every year – is no simple feat. In my head, I listed the four or five bakeries near my apartment. One, the self-proclaimed “Golden Baguette Winner, 2004,” would be too expensive to buy a simple breakfast from. Two more would certainly be closed. That left two: one which I didn’t remember the location of well, and one whose hours I couldn’t remember.

So I set off for Place Victor Hugo, home of the bakery whose hours I couldn’t remember. I walked to the curb and then, seeing that the bus wasn’t coming, started the five or ten minutes on foot. The air was humid and cold. Paris may not be as frigid as Montreal, but in terms of raw units of early Winter drabness, it still gives its younger cousin a run for its money.

I negotiated the roundabout to look for the bakery. True to the day’s luck, it was closed. And here, I reasoned that I might as well just wait for lunch. I turned around and walked to the bus stop. I perched myself on the bench under the overhang and waited.

And waited.

It seems that I had picked the wrong day to try Place Victor Hugo for croissants. As I was bundling up to leave my apartment for breakfast, the Parade of Horses was working its way through Paris from somewhere south-east of me: probably the Trocadero or the Eiffel Tower. And therefore we arrive at the famous physics problem: if a man leaves his apartment for a croissant and walks southeast at a speed of 5 kilometres per hour while a parade of horses walks toward him at a speed of not-fast-enough, will the man have enough patience to wait for the bus which is stalled behind the entire parade of horses?

A complicated question indeed. And it turns out that in this case, that particular man was surprised enough to see a mob of men on horses dressed as French Revolution soldiers that yes, he waited through it. In fact, the experience was more than a little surreal. It was a pastiche of the last six centuries of history: the procession of revolutionaries was followed by mobs of jousters and Davy Crocketts. Every so often, two horses would be followed by a carriage, invariably full of bored children and waving men in tuxedos. A few people awkwardly strode past on donkeys.

The last squadron of American frontiersmen glided past the now-packed bus stop after about twenty-five minutes. It was followed by a number of police on mopeds – and then, appropriately, a rather ineffective street sweeper. Then, a long queue of cars. Then, my bus.

Enough. I threw up my hands and started walking home. And about here, I think it’s about right to paraphrase a Mitch Hedberg joke: if you want to rewind a parade, just walk forward faster than it’s moving. And as I walked toward home, it at first didn’t strike me that the parade no longer seemed to be moving forward – that the parade was rewinding before my eyes.

Then, as I crossed the street, I saw it. The parade was trying to turn a corner. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the St. Patrick’s Day parades in Montreal or New York, but there’s a reason they don’t turn off of St-Catherine Street or Fifth Avenue. They get stuck.

The police on the mopeds at the back of the parade fanned out across the intersection to try to keep the oncoming cars under control. Traffic started to stall all the way back to the Arc de Triomphe. The sound of car horns pierced the ear from every direction. The horses were visibly perturbed. And I handily beat the bus home.

To a certain degree, what happened to me on one silly Sunday morning barely even matters, even to people who interest themselves in this site. I have to say, however, that one thing I’ve come to love about Paris is these silly, random little events that seem to punctuate my life here. Everyone knows the beatboxers in plazas, but how about klezmer performances in the metro? Everyone knows about people who troll the sidewalks for pocket change, but how about people who troll the sidewalks for pocket change who just happen to be covered in silver paint, and to be banging on silver-painted plastic tubs with metal drumsticks? Sometimes my life here feels like some kind of surrealist fairyland.

Enough about me. Anyone else have any ultra-random city stories they’d like to share?

This entry was written by Sam Imberman , posted on Friday December 15 2006at 01:12 pm , filed under Europe and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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