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We had called ahead to let Francois know we would arrive around 7:00pm and as luck would have it, he was taking out the trash as we pulled up. He greeted us warmly and we found a place to park, unloaded our suitcases and carried our bikes up to store on his balcony.
Montigny is a suburb about 20 miles outside of central Paris, a pleasant community, complete with everything one might need, all within easy walking distance. Just down the block from Francois’ apartment is a circle of shops that include a Boulangerie (a bakery, primarily for bread), a Laundromat, an Indian and a Crepe restaurant and various other places.
Another block brings you to a small supermarket, the Dia and then a bit further on you come upon the fairly extensive Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines outdoor/indoor mall complex. Here multiple shops reside as well as a gigantic Carrefour, along the lines of a Super Target or Wal-Mart. After just a short time, one can begin to understand how folks live here, a car not being always necessary when almost all you need for day to day is close by. And once you start walking, it becomes a way of life.
After a cold beer apiece, Francois announced he was taking us out for a French dining experience, and that turned out to be the Crepe Restaurant close by, Le Phare St. Louis. Thus would begin a routine that we would need to adjust to, that is not eating until well after 8:00pm each night. We ordered a dinner crepe apiece and split a large Caesar salad and as we were finishing up, Francois’ son Axel joined us and promptly ordered and finished off two crepe entrees. He is indeed, a growing young man. We finished up with desert crepes (Joanna and I split one) and returned back to the apartment for a final round of Remy Fine Champagne Cognac. Not a bad way to arrive in Montigny.
Almost all of Friday was spent dealing with computer related issues. Francois had recently purchased a new 21.5-inch iMac but had not gotten around to installing it given that he is somewhat unsophisticated when it comes to technology. So our arrival was fortuitous. The other problem was the spotty Wi-Fi in Brussels had corrupted a OS and iTunes update of substantial size when I was downloading it to our MacBook Pro and thus was hung up, not being able to completely install. So I needed to get to an Apple Store for some help, as the online advice I’d sought had proved to be ineffective.
By mid afternoon we had finished with the basic set-up work on the iMac (much is involved for a new Apple user, establishing accounts with Apple, etc.) and so set out for the Apple Store in Versailles, one of a number in the greater metropolitan Paris area and by far the most convenient for us. It is located in the Parly2 shopping mall, a large two-story cornucopia of consumptive opportunities. We made a beeline for the Apple Store, entered and were advised that the Genius bar was upstairs and they would see if they could work us in, as we hadn’t made an appointment.
Fortunately, the help upstairs, although not quite as good as it would have been if my friend Dave Tabone had been at the counter, proved sufficient to resolve my update issue and during the time we spent resolving it Francois took the Apple plunge even further and bought a new iPad Air. Yet another device for me to help him configure upon our return to his apartment.
After some more set up work on Saturday, we drove into Paris central to check out the hotel we will be staying at in July when my sister Beverly joins us. It is the Cosmos Hotel and it is a deal almost too good to be true, that is a triple near the Bastille for only 85 Euros. It took quite some time to get into town; traffic a bit more heavy than usual as the French Open was on and many folks were traveling there for the tournament.
We navigated our way close to the Cosmos and Francois illegally parked while we ran up the two blocks to check out the hotel, which is actually quite nice and will be a pleasant stay for us in July. We stopped nearby on a street full of Turkish shops to grab a quick sandwich, then made our way back to Montigny. A trip in the early evening to us to the Carrefour at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines where we picked up as many ingredients as we could to make tacos for dinner, plus shrimp and pasta for Axel to cook for us the next day.
Tacos are a special link between Francois and I, as they lead us back to his first visit to the States in 1980, when he arrived on a Sunday afternoon. For many Americans, Sunday dinner with the family was, or is, comprised of a roast chicken or beef or some kind of BBQ, and all gather around the table to share this traditional meal. For the Mann Family, it was my Mother and Sister Bev, and anyone else who wanted to join in, browning hamburger, chopping up onions, tomatoes, lettuce and cheese, heating refried beans and then, frying up tacos.
My Dad would have gone to a small restaurant/deli at the corner of Centinela and Culver Boulevards to get the corn and flour tortillas we’d use, fresh off the press, making a stop on the way home at Marv and Mary’s the beer bar on Washington that he frequented, a place I would join he and my Uncle Dick at once I came of age. I lost a number of Saturday afternoon’s there, drinking Coors on tap and listening to the tales of old men, not envisioning the day when I would take their place.
I had heard from Francois that he would be visiting, but had no firm date or time of arrival. Taco preparation had begun but it was still a bit early in the evening so his timing could not have been better as a knock came on the front door and there he was, having navigated to the house on Wade Street from the airport (LAX) by himself. We greeted him with a cold beer, he ate his first taco and the rest is history. Thus our dinner that Saturday night at his apartment, a fitting tribute to our time and history together.
Joanna and I were determined to get a bike ride in and the weather the next day, Sunday, while iffy was worth risking. We had a small hitch in that when we got my bike outside, we noticed the rear tire was flat. Not a good way to start a ride, but easy to over come. We quickly put a new tube in and were on our way.
We took off from the apartment and retraced a route that Joanna had discovered while taking a long walk earlier in our stay. It wound us through some local neighborhoods and then onto a dirt track that eventually led us to the outskirts of Forest Versailles, a very large green belt surrounding two small lakes that once comprised the water supply for the palace. Much like the Santa Monica mountains parks that curl up against Los Angeles, this semi wild area makes one forget they are in the middle of a densely populated area.
We’d been out for not quite an hour, having covered about ten miles when we figured we’d better start to head back, not so easy as we’d lost our bearings and would need a bit of time to navigate our way out. We stopped to take a short break and my rear tire went flat. We replaced the tube with the last new one we had on us and that too went flat. We put a patched tube in, but were wary of riding on so we figured the best option would be to call Francois and have him come fetch one of us to bring the Highlander back and rescue both bikes. Fortunately a young schoolgirl was present and could explain to him where we were and all went as planned, as we returned to the apartment bedeviled as to the cause of the flats.
Axel came home around 7:00pm and fixed us our shrimp and pasta dinner, a skill he had picked up while doing a stint as a cook in Italy. He then took off to see some friends (Sunday and Monday are his days off from Dolce and Gabanna). Later, Francois pulled out his guitar and he and I replayed the melodies of our youth, singing those songs from the artists that brought us together at Pelekas, The Eagles, Tom Petty, and Little Feat. I’m thinking we’ll reprise our act when we re-unite in Tossa del Mar in July. Spain may never recover.
Le Phare St. Louis: http://lepharestlouis.com/
Apple Store Versailles: http://www.apple.com/fr/retail/parly2/
French Open: http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/
Cosmos Hotel: http://www.cosmos-hotel-paris.com/fr,1,6436.html
Dolce and Gabbana: http://www.dolcegabbana.com/