About Jacques Legume

Jacques Legume

French-born Jacques Legume spent several decades living between the Northeastern US and various places in France. He enjoys (or is tormented by) a unique understanding of The French from an American point of view, and of Americans from a French point of view, the result of which has been a serpentine work history littered with creative exploits, including wallpaper embosser (ever wonder where they get this little ridges?) and forklift driver for touring rock bands.

Recently released from the Bercy Institute for the Sexually Insane, Legume currently lives in an illegally sublet slum welfare apartment in the Paris suburb of Antony.

Like all Frenchmen and most Tea Party members, considers himself to be an expert. About what is uncertain, but, well, he IS French, after all....

He is a member of Mons Pubis, a society dedicated to correcting the wrong committed by l'Academie Francaise for mis-genderization of the word for female genitalia, and founding member of DENSA, the largest, oldest and most unknown society in the world dedicated to intellectual mediocrity (members must fail by 98% or more the written entrance exam). He is single and has no known offspring.


Latest Posts by Jacques Legume

Johnny Hallyday Explained (Not)

December 31, 2010 by  

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The official ‘raison d’etre’ for the Stade de France is that it was built, in the northwestern rundown suburbs of Paris (as opposed to the Southwest rundown suburbs, or the Northern rundown suburbs) for the purposes of holding the World Cup the year that France was hosting the event.

The reality is, it was actually built with visions of hosting multiple nights of Johnny Hallyday and Celine Dion concerts. Now, most people worldwide know of Celine Dion, renowned chanteuse, hailing from Quebec, who learned English only after she became a star in the US, and, after marrying her producer, old enough to be her great-grandfather, with whom she has produced 2 babies, while maintaining her 47kg figure. But Johnny who?

Le Rocker

France's Rock n Roll Soul


Johnny Hallyday, who was born during the German occupation, was the son of a Belgian father and french mother, so, technically, he’s not FRENCH French, but don’t tell that to the millions of rabid fans who hang on his every note.

To be fair, Hallyday is credited with giving Jimi Hendrix and the experience their first gig by hiring them as opening act at one of his concerts back in 1966, and has had Mick Jones and other prominent British rock musicians produce and appear on many of his dozens of platinum albums. His fan club has over 100 million members worldwide (well..they’re mostly French-speaking members…) and appeared once on the Ed Sullivan show when the show was taped at the Moulin Rouge, a famous Paris tourist club (Connie Francis was in the same show).

He just isn’t well known in the states, even though he’s known in the francophone world as the French Elvis Presley.

He announced his retirement in 1997, and has been on a farewell tour since, with the exception of a hiatus during a bout with colon cancer in 2009, where he ultimately underwent surgery in L.A. after an allegedly botched surgery in a Paris hospital. L.A., by the way, is his second home, his principal one being in Switzerland since 1997, to escape the obscene French tax system.

Knowing all that about Johnny Hallyday, I can now confide my own personal Johnny Hallyday experience. It was at a concert at the Stade de France a year or so after it was built. JH had sold out 6 nights worth of concerts, as only he could do, and only in Paris, and a friend invited me to one, of which he had pretty good seats.

We arrived at the Stade a couple of hours early, which was a good thing, because between the throngs of fans, throngs of riot police, and throngs of Uzi-wielding CRS (national) police, we were presented with the ultimate obstacle course between the metro stop and the stadium entrance.

An hour and twenty five minutes later, we’d found our seats, near the center aisle, which was widened so that Johnny could roar through on his Harley and zoom up the ramp to the stage while the fans would go rabid at his bravery and fitness.

In early September, sunset in Paris occurs around 8:30pm, so the skies were still somewhat light when, at 9pm sharp, the fireworks began, and the music started to dramatically roll, and from the back of the stadium, came roaring JH himself, at breakneck speed, towards the ramp that would carry him and his machine to the stage, where he could bathe in the adulation of tens of thousands of screaming fans, many of whom were middle-aged French women, some of whom had dragged their husbands along to see ‘Le Rocker’.

The show was spectacular, in a way that only the French can do, and the music was uninspiring, as only French rock can be. Still, it was an experience, albeit a smoke-filled one, as the stade allowed smoking (not that it would have made any difference).

It took a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes to leave the stadium after JH’s second, and final encore, and another 2 hours to get space on a metro car to bring us back to the city proper.

Although Johnny has been on his retirement tour for something like 13 years, his latest health problem in the fall may have actually brought the career of France’s only rocker to an end, a half century after its noisy beginning.

Greetings from Saint Tropez

September 24, 2010 by  

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September is really the time to visit the French Riviera. The beaches are uncrossed, as are the streets and restaurants. Prices, however, remain obscenly high, but this IS France, afterall, and the Riviera to boot.

My lady friend, Heidi, is Swiss, and like all Swiss, is fabulously rich, which is why we’re here to begin with.



Saint Tropez has a fabled history of being a refuge of sorts for the super-rich and superstars (not all of whom are in the former group) to avoid being seem, except by other super-rich or superstars. Brigitte Bardot is perhaps it’s most famous resident, though it’s widely believed that she hasn’t actually lived here for years.

One mega-star, at least to the French, is omnipresent here, Johnny Halliday, the French version of Elvis, usually spends much of his summer here, though this summer it is said that he is recuperating at his Los Angeles home (he has at least 3, including his principal one in Switzerland, for tax purposes). No matter. If you’re really longing to catch a glimpse of ‘le rocker’, just dine at almost any restaurant in town. There, the wall will be adorned with a photograph of an inebriated looking JH, his arm slung around the bug-eyed grinning owner of the establishment. I’m certain that M. Hallyday has never paid for a meal in St. Tropez. Between eating on the cuff and avoiding France’s merciless tax system by taking up Swiss residence, one rest assured that M. Hallyday falls into both the super-rich and superstar classes.

There are, actually, somewhat normal people here as well. Someone has to wait on the supers, clean their quarters, sweep the streets, etc. Many can be seen in the evening. Enjoying a stroll along the quai (outside of tourist season), playing dominoes or petanque in one of the parks. Locals tend to keep very much to themselves, although they are very polite and even somewhat friendly to non-locals. Just don’t expect a drawn put conversation on life in the area, nor invitations home for dinner. These folks are private, even for the French.

The St. Tropez beach experience can be rather pricey if one chooses to experience the beaches as the stars, or even regular tourists do. There are a variety of public beach clubs from which to choose, with amenities dictating how much one will pay for the cover charge, which almost universally includes a lounge chair, umbrella, table, towels, and a plagist (tip not included) to set it up for you. Heidi and I parted with 25 Euros for the cover, 5 for the tip, 25 for 2 cocktails, 50 for a couple of Cobb salads and a 1/2 bottle of Badpit (water), another 40 for 2 diet sodas, and another 10 for yet another tip. Did I mention that Heidi is fabulously rich? Not anymore, though she still looks great, topless or clothed.

BTW-I’m told to skip St. Tropez from Oct thru May, except during the Christmas holidays, which are full of festivals.

San Tropez Moments and Then Some

September 20, 2010 by  

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September is really the time to visit the French Riviera. The beaches are uncrossed, as are the streets and restaurants. Prices, however, remain obscenly high, but this IS France, afterall, and the Riviera to boot.

My lady friend, Heidi, is Swiss, and like all Swiss, is fabulously rich, which is why we’re here to begin with.

Aerial view of San Tropez

Where the rich play....

San Tropez has a fabled history of being a refuge of sorts for the super-rich and superstars (not all of whom are in the former group) to avoid being seem, except by other super-rich or superstars. Brigitte Bardot is perhaps it’s most famous resident, though it’s widely believed that she hasn’t actually lived here for years.

One mega-star, at least to the French, is omnipresent here, Johnny Halliday, the French version of Elvis, usually spends much of his summer here, though this summer it is said that he is recuperating at his Los Angeles home (he has at least 3, including his principal one in Switzerland, for tax purposes). No matter. If you’re really longing to catch a glimpse of ‘le rocker’, just dine at almost any restaurant in town. There, the wall will be adorned with a photograph of an inebriated looking JH, his arm slung around the bug-eyed grinning owner of the establishment. I’m certain that M. Hallyday has never paid for a meal in San Tropez. Between eating on the cuff and avoiding France’s merciless tax system by taking up Swiss residence, one rest assured that M. Hallyday falls into both the super-rich and superstar classes.

There are, actually, somewhat normal people here as well. Someone has to wait on the supers, clean their quarters, sweep the streets, etc. Many can be seen in the evening. Enjoying a stroll along the quai (outside of tourist season), playing dominoes or petanque in one of the parks. Locals tend to keep very much to themselves, although they are very polite and even somewhat friendly to non-locals. Just don’t expect a drawn put conversation on life in the area, nor invitations home for dinner. These folks are private, even for the French.

The St. Tropez beach experience can be rather pricey if one chooses to experience the beaches as the stars, or even regular tourists do. There are a variety of public beach clubs from which to choose, with amenities dictating how much one will pay for the cover charge, which almost universally includes a lounge chair, umbrella, table, towels, and a plagist (tip not included) to set it up for you. Heidi and I parted with 25 Euros for the cover, 5 for the tip, 25 for 2 cocktails, 50 for a couple of Cobb salads and a 1/2 bottle of Badpit (water), another 40 for 2 diet sodas, and another 10 for yet another tip. Did I mention that Heidi is fabulously rich? Not anymore, though she still looks great, topless or clothed.

BTW-I’m told to skip St. Tropez from Oct thru May, except during the Christmas holidays, which are full of festivals.

Sent from my iPhone

The Plumber

September 7, 2010 by  

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I have no issues doing handyman work on a place where I’m living. Witness the number of times that my cousins and mother con me into doing faucet repair and electrical work for them. But I do draw the line when it comes to gas. I’d prefer to enter paradise in my sleep. At old age. In bed. I’ll leave my flying experiences to Air Inter or the like, thank you.

That’s precisely why that when there obviously was a clogged line going to my water heater, I called for Pierrot, our local plombier, who routinely worked on gas problems, not to mention that he had a few of his own (gas problems) from what seemed to be the result of a obviously rich diet. Nevertheless, he was reputed to do a great job at a reasonable rate, and the various denizens of the building all spoke highly of him. From the constant smell of cooking lamb, I had to assume that THEIR gas lines where functioning…

At precisely 3pm (I had made the appointment for 11), there was Pierrot at the door, tool belt on, tool bag slung around his shoulder, face looking like it’d never seen a razor it liked, complete with the dangling Gaulois in his mouth, ready to perform his miracles on my poor water heater’s gas line.

Never ask a French workman for a quote. You’ll never get an honest answer. How do I know this? It’s common knowledge, for one, and body language, for two. The French speak with their hands, a well-known fact, and when they’re quoting a price, you can tell how badly you’re being taken based on just where the hand is located. Below the belt: bring in someone else; at waist-height: break out the checkbook, but be prepared to pay about 20% more than the job should really cost; around chest level: you’re getting screwed, but you’ll enjoy it, honest. Pierrot’s quote was around chest level, so I had him get straight to work. “Two hours, and you’ll have the hottest water in the building” Pierrot promised. Right.

At six PM, Pierrot announced that he was done for the day. “Good” I proclaimed “How much do I owe you”. “Oh, we’ll settle up when I finish in the morning” Pierrot announced. “MORNING?” I asked, my chest getting tight. “There were complications and it’s taking me longer. Don’t worry though..we have agreed on a price” said the erstewhile plumber.

With that, Pierrot went off into the evening, to cocktail hour, followed by a late dinner, and a good night’s sleep in his flat, where steaming hot water was gushing everywhere, I imagined. Me, I went out for dinner, and came back to my cold water flat late and fell into bed.

The next morning, around 10am, the phone rang. “It’s me, Pierrot” said the cheery voice on the other end “I have some important affairs to take care of, but will be there by 1″ he announced. What could be more important than my hot water situation, thought I.

4pm: the front door buzzer rings and I answer it. Looking even more haggard, if possible, than yesterday, there stands Pierrot, with toolbelt, toolkit, and this time, an assistant, who couldn’t be a day over 100, I think. They get to work. I have this gnawing fear that 6pm will roll around and I still won’t have hot water, and they’ll again desert me for an evening of decadance and libation. At six, however, Pierrot announces they they’re just going to take a little break, and might I have some wine in the house. Reluctantly, I furnish them with two glasses and a bottle of table wine that I keep around.

After consuming the whole bottle of wine, they return to work, finishing up at 8pm. My apartment now smells like the omnipresent lamb stewing, stale Gauloise smoke, wine, body odor, and gas. Lots of gas. But I now have hot water, and despite the six hours all told that it took them to repair the issue, I actually came out 20 euro ahead on the deal..just enough to buy two bottles of wine….

Pierrot’s Pig in the South of France

August 31, 2010 by  

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One of my closest friends lives in Orange, in the south of France. Each August, I spend a week or so with him and his family while I’m enroute to the Riviera for a vacation. In France, even we chomeurs (unemployed) take vacations, but that’s another story.

My friend, Herve, took over his dad’s Peugeot dealership a few years ago, but his dad and mom still maintain an apartment over the dealership.

Herve’s dad has a war buddy, Pierrot, who lives in the centre of town with his wife, daughter, grandson and pig. That’s right, a rather large, ugly pig (have you ever seen an attractive one?).

Pierrot & his truffle-sniffing friend

Pierrot & his truffle-sniffing friend

The pig’s main purpose in life is to sniff out black truffles, a rather pungent cousin to the mushroom that is an expensive and much sought-after prize that is native to this region. This pig had no shortage of awards for his talents, most of which are proudly displayed by Pierrot on the walls of the family parlor.

One of Pierrot’s other talents, and a remarkable one at that, was in the making of Marc, a potent liquer that is quite common in this region. Pierrot was reputed to make some of the finest Marc in the area, as evidenced by the frequent customers who appeared at his door, jug in hand, ready to purchase the nectar. Between selling truffles at the market and his moonshine business, Pierrot made a fairly decent living, most of it outside the purview of le fisc, France’s tax authority. This had been a proud tradition for at least the past 25 years.

I say had been, as, one recent afternoon, attracted by the pungent smell of rotting grain, Pierrot’s pig managed to get loose from his pen, and get into the mash in a big way. In the process, he became rather innebriated, and not a tad feisty. As he pranced around enjoying his buzz, the pig knocked over several metal containers, which in turn alerted Pierrot that SOMETHING was going on out back.

When Pierrot went to check, he left the gate to the yard open, and, as you might have guessed, the pig escaped to freedom. You might also begin to suspect the subsequent chain of events. Let’s suffice to say that it involved: three overturned vendor carts, several minor car accidents, a couple of bent bicycle frames, an elderly woman sent to hospital after slipping on pig droppings, and no shortage of Orangais, from police, merchants, and ordinary people chasing after the pickled pig.

Pierrot will be paying off that little foray for a bit, but what is one to do but produce more Marc and take lots of walks in the truffle fields, pig in tow…..

The Guest

August 31, 2010 by  

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Antony, 28 Aug, 2010


It’s finally happened. An acquaintance from the states came to Paris, and actually wrote an asked to stay with me. I tried to explain that I lived in a rather scary area, with no particular tourist value, but my acquaintance, probably out of a need for frugality, had no problem with that. At least until he arrived.

Typical American Tourist relaxing in Paris


Day One – the arrival.
I pick him up at the RER commuter rail station in Antony. He’s easy to spot because of the deer in the headlite look. Plus, he’s the only non-Algerian in the station, besides me. Only he’s not used to that. He’s obviously waiting for someone to blow up next to him. But my landlord hasn’t returned from jihadi camp in Pakistan yet, so he’s safe, I assure him. I note that he’s attempting to nonchallently keep his thumb hanging on his wallet pocket.

We get back to the house, where the smell of stewing lamb parts permeates the air, which is filled with the whining sound of Algerian love songs from the apartment below us. Funny: he STILL has that deer-in-the-headlights look. I show him his room, which is actually rather nice by local standards. I give him the tour. He’s intrigued by the fact that the toilet is in its own ‘closet’ and doesn’t understand the concept of the bidet. Americans shower a great deal more than the French. They also use deoderant, a concept that’s pretty foreign here.

We go out for dinner in Massy, the next town over, to a small hotel that serves more or less tradiional French food. He seems more relaxed.

By the time we get out of the restaurant, it’s almost midnight, so I suggest a taxi back to the apartment, more out of consideration of his obvious paranoia about the area than the need to ride back to the house. He eagerly agrees and I have the hotel call for a cab. Back to the apartment, where he promptly falls asleep.

Day Two – the tour
When you live here, it seems that anyone who visits Paris and looks you up expects a tour. I’m not quite sure just why that is, but I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower more times than I ever planned, walked the Champs Elysees to the point I know it by heart, and have even had the appalling experience of riding one of those obnoxious boats down the Seine for the city tour “and ‘ere, on zee left, eez zee famouz La Tour d’Argent, where eet ees sed dat zee fuck (fork) was invented”. More of the same today. I try to prevent him from getting too shafted buying an overpriced scarf for his mom back home. We do lunch in an overpriced cafe on the Champs. He insists, and pays.

Day Three – Reality
I have to work SOMETIME, so today’s the day, I explain to him. I’ve developed a nice itinerary, actually itineraries, so that he has a choice of places to explore. Alas, the tastes of a Frenchman don’t match those of an American, no matter how long I’ve spent Stateside. Still, he graciously thanks me, takes the list, a spare key I have, and I’m off to as couple of meetings that should only take a couple of hours, but I know will take the whole day because, well, this is France.

6pm – I get home. He’s there. In the livingroom. Deer-in-the-headlights look back again. I ask him how his day went. “Fine” is all I get from him. Okay, time for 50 questions..not a favourite pasttime of mine…

“So, what did you do today?” I ask innocently, bracing myself. “Oh, not much” he responds. I went down to the train station, but I couldn’t figure out how to get off the train platform (there are turnstiles where you have to insert your ticket a second time, but I guess I forgot to tell him that), so I came back and watched TV” said he. “What did you watch?” I inquired. “I don’t know” he responded “It was all in French”. Did I mention that, despite 3 years of high school French, and two years of college French, that, for some reason, he doesn’t speak a word? We ordered in that night…

Day Four – Au Revoir
There are two things that really kill productivity in my book: French meetings for one. Seeing a friend/acquaintance off at the airport for two. Today was send-off day. The flight was scheduled for 1pm, which meant that we needed to get to the airport at 10:30 to be safe, which meant we needed to leave the house at 9:30, to be safe.

“You mean we can take the train directly to the airport?” my acquaintance asked in an amazed voice. Like the French have suddenly become so efficient that it’s not necessary to take that 40Euro airport bus from the center of the city after all.

We board the train at the Antony station, my acquaintance dutifully with his thumb slung over his wallet pocket once again. 40 minutes later, the train pulled into Roissy, the home of Charles de Gaulle airport, and his flight home. We check in and, no surprise, learn that the flight hasn’t arrived yet, as it was delayed for some reason enroute from New York. Did I mention the effect that these send offs have on productivity?

We go to the local airport cafe and have a stale Croque Monsieur sandwich and flat soda. I have a weak coffee made from beans that were obviously roasted a half century ago. We then visit the gift shop, this overpriced area where you can find all the stereotypical presents to bring back to loved ones that you might have forgotten while shopping along the Rue Rivoli. Only twice the price of the rip-off shops on r. Rivoli….

2pm – they FINALLY announce boarding for the flight back to New York. This is always the point where everyone acts so sincere and proclaims their unbounding gratitude for one’s proferred hospitality. Today is no exception. Then he’s gone. F-R-E-E-D-O-M!

If you’re reading this and have a friend in Paris, do him or her a favour. Have them make a restaurant reservation at a place of their choosing. Then treat them to an evening on you. Oh, and book your own hotel room and tours. They’ll truly appreciate it…

Is 62 REALLY too old to work?

August 31, 2010 by  

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Greetings from strike-ridden France, currently in partial paralysis due to a slew of strikes, to protest the goverment’s proposed hike in the retirement age from 60 to 62. Never mind that 1/3 of the country

French strikers protest raising of retirement age to 62

French strikers protest raising of retirement age to 62

is already ‘en retrait’ due to a wonderfully generous social system. Many French feel that this is the skinny side of the wedge that will totally break apart the social system and leave the French ‘like les americains’, with social services only at the mercy of their employers. And we all read about the unemployment rates in both France and the US these days…

So, while I’m relatively unaffected, utilising primarily public transportation, which uses nuclear-generated electricity, my poor mother, who lives in what we all politely refer to as ‘la France profond’, deeply depends on her car to get around, as her village only has 5 houses, and since the gas crisis caused by the stikes, is not currently visited by the bread man nor the grocery truck, forcing her to drive about 12km to the nearest town to her shopping.

Say what you will about the government of Nicholas Sarkozy, but they’re probably right in raising the retirement age. At the rate that retirement and social benefits are being paid out here, the system is already so broke that it’s become a large part of the EU’s contribution to France.

So, if you’re a Welsh coal miner, you can thank your goverment from keeping the UK out of the EU, but if you’re cleaning toilets in, say, some Dresden tourist hotel, I apoligise for the dent my cousin Benoit’s recent spa visit (I believe he had a hangnail) put in your taxes.

Back to the current crisis: The supply chain is beginning to break down. My favourite cafe was low on butter the other day because of problems getting the delivery in to the distributor from Normandie, where most French butter is produced (or so the pundits claim).

And at my local Casino (the French supermarket chain, not the gambling hall), there were various shortages, although all the staples, such as wine, cheese, and Orangina (for which I have a hopeless addition) where thankfully in abundance.

My friend Olivier, who is part owner of a family Fiat dealership, says that sales have definitely dropped since ‘le crise’ began, but holds out hope that thongs of buyers will jam the dealership once this has all worn off.

So who IS striking and protesting these days? Interestingly, I was watching the news the other night, and they had an interview with one striker, a 14 ye ar old student who planned to major in medecine at university. His concern was that if they forced more people to remain on the job by raising the retirement age, people like him wouldn’t be able to find work until they were ‘too old’ to build a career. Imagine: a country with an abundance of unemployed physicians. Instead of Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders), there could be a new society: Medecins sans Emploi (Doctors without Jobs).

Gotta run. There’s a demonstration at a nearby park and I hear they’re handing out free samples of something. What it is isn’t important…it’s FREE!

Manifestation!

August 26, 2010 by  

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Ah Paris, referred to by some as the civilised world. Don’t be fooled.

One of the blessings and curses facing France are its unions. Those famous 5-9 week vacations you hear about? Union contracts. The impossibility of firing even the most errant employee? Union Contracts. The typical 35 paid holidays per year, on top of the 5-9 week vacation? You guessed it — union contracts. French industry has to be the least productive in the world, and explains, partially, why everything costs so damned much here — union contracts. Yet, the lifestype is priceless. Kinda like a Mastercard ad….

The clout of the unions here is remarkable. Back in the 70′s, the prostitutes of Marseilles wen ton strike (they don’t have a union, but probably don’t really need one), which was joined by just about every prostitute in the country. The major unions announced that they’d join in on a sympathy strike. The country just about shut down. In the end, the prostitutes got whatever it wsa they were looking for.

Typical Paris strike

French unions are actually pretty courteous when it comes to striking. They’ve always, I’ve observed, announced their strikes, which are published in newspapers well in advance, so one knows when not to plan trips, subway rides, and a whole list of daily transactions that might be affected. After all, it’s a strike in a civilised country by civilised people. No barbarians here.

Sadly, I found myself caught one day, having forgotten that the metro engineers were striking at 2pm one afternoon, in sympathy with a police strike that was taking place at the same time. All of Paris would be defenseless, and immobile, given the ensuing traffic jams exacerbated by lack of police direction and lack of public transportation.

Most wise people would simply stay home. Not me..totally forgetting about the much-announced strike, I boarded the RER train bound for the city, promptly transferring over the the Metro and proceeding to a meeting near pl. Bastille. The meetng ended on time, which should have served as a reminder as to what was coming, as meetings rarely end on time, or even get started by the scheduled end time, I’ve discovered. Still, I boarded the Metro, and made it two whole stops before the train came to a halt a station, and, after a terse untintelligible announcement through speakers somewhere, powered down and emptied.

Here I was, two miles from the RER station where, if it weren’t also powered down, the train home would be waiting to take me the four miles to my decrepit apartment. They say that Paris is a nice walking town. Don’t believe it.

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