Saturday, June 8, 2013

Weather, tourists, Hermès, and cheese

The weather has veered from unseasonably chilly to unseasonably warm. Given my druthers, I’d prefer unseasonably chilly, for reasons I’ve already given maintes fois on this blog. It was 28° C (82° F) on Friday, which is 13° C too warm for me. In the tiny and unventilated office that I occupy much of the time as part of my work, it was about 29.9° C with 26% relative humidity (yes, I keep track of such things). The room has five computers in it, in addition to myself—I’m not a computer, but I generate about the same amount of heat—and no A/C, so it gets very hot.

It’s supposed to cool off a bit in days to come, but I am not optimistic.

Were the weather not so hot, however, it would be perfect (and indeed it was perfect a few days ago). Unfortunately I don’t have much time to go for walks these days, except on weekends, and on weekends I tend to sleep a great deal, but when the occasion arises to walk on official business in good weather, it can be pleasant.

The number of tourists in Paris continues to grow, and the majority of the growth seems to be coming from China. It seems like at least half the tourists I see these days are Chinese. I suppose that with a population of more than a billion, China can easily produce large numbers of nouveaux riches to come and visit Paris, even if most Chinese aren’t likely to ever be able to afford such a vacation. And apparently Paris is tremendously hyped in the Far East, making it an even more popular destination. I wonder if the Chinese tourists are happy or disappointed with what they actually see when they come to the city. Certainly people here are not walking around dressed in Dior originals, as they’ve apparently been led to believe. But by the time they discover that, they’ve already spent lots of money, so no problem, I suppose … at least from the viewpoint of Parisian merchants.

An increasing number of tourists from the Middle East are visiting Paris these days, too. They are easy to recognize, because the men always have facial hair, and many of the women trail behind their partners like family pets when walking, and dress entirely in black, with their faces illegally concealed. They favor the gaudiest hotels. They spend a lot of money, too.

The city has always been a magnet for tourists, of course, even though only a small part of the economic activity of Paris depends on tourism. They never stop visiting, but their demographics change from one decade to the next. American tourists have a reputation for cluelessness, but the Chinese may have them beat on that point, although I’m sure that Chinese tourists will gain in sophistication as time passes.

The city also continues to sign away chunks of its soul to the Satan of commerce, by converting institutions into tourist traps. The rumor is that the venerable Printemps department store is going to be converted into a sort of mall of overpriced, tawdry luxury goods, which will be a very great loss to the city indeed should it come to pass. Similar fates apparently await the Virgin Megastores (admittedly not Parisian institutions, but still preferable to tourist traps), and the BHV department store. One of the Quick fast-food restaurants on the Champs is being converted into a Tiffany store—I wonder if the staff will be as rude as those of other Tiffany outlets are rumored to be (there’s nothing that Tiffany sells that would interest me, so I’ve never visited any of their stores).

I did go into a Hermès store (their main one) some weeks ago. My favorite perfume for men comes from Hermès … a legacy of the days when I actually had money. I’ve not been able to overcome my preference for this fragrance, so every few years I go to their store and buy a new bottle of it. (I manage to make each bottle last for a really long time.) They are generally nice, although they look at me with a slight hint of anxiety as I walk in, as my unconventional dress apparently frightens people. (People don’t realize that unconventional dress does not equate to psychosis.) Once they realize that I’m sober and there to buy something, they relax. Their standing in my eyes improved considerably after they turned Oprah Winfrey away after hours, although their simpering public apology to the whale eroded that a bit later on.

Incidentally, if you’re on a street corner in Paris and you need to ask directions to Hermès, it’s pronounced “air mess.” Their flagship store is slightly off the main drag, not being on the avenue Montaigne or the Champs, but it’s still in an area with lots of glitzy luxury shops.

Which reminds me: I’m so tired of American tourists calling the Orsay Museum the “D’Orsay.” It’s not D’Orsay, it’s just Orsay. D’Orsay rhymes a bit with dork, which is exactly what you’ll sound like to Parisians if you insist on calling it the D’Orsay. I suppose D’Orsay sounds cool and sophisticated to Americans who do most of their shopping at Walmart, but few things scream stupid more loudly than using this misnomer in the City of Light. And also remember to put Museum after Orsay, because Orsay by itself can refer to lots of things (such as a city in the suburbs, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). This doesn’t apply to the Louvre, by the way, because the Louvre is the actual building, which happens to house a museum, whereas Orsay is a place name, after which the museum happens to be named.

Anyway, moving right along … yesterday I ate a proper lunch, which is unusual for me, as I often skip lunch and even when I eat it, it’s usually something simple and cheap. This proper lunch consisted of a freshly-made baguette (still warm from the oven, although the oven was at a supermarket, not a bakery) and some Caprice des Dieux cheese. Caprice des Dieux is a very popular and tasty brand of cheese that goes extremely well with a hot baguette. Its name is a bit of deliberate hyperbole: it translates to “whim of the gods.” I rather doubt that deities on Mount Olympus are having industrial cheese delivered to them from a French supermarket, but it was good enough for me.

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