Sunday, September 28, 2014

five strolls through the 12th

Guess who's back, back again
50 First States back, tell a friend
Guess who's back, Guess who's back ...

And like Eminem said in "Without Me", Operation 50 First States is back again.  And why not, with spring ending and summer starting?  It was time to stroll again though Paris in July, when I jump-started the operation (even though, as I write, the fall has arrived and winter is not too far away).

So starting in July, I took on the 12th arrondissement.  The game plan remained the same from the 11th arrondissement: stroll through the arrondissement, stopping by 10 landmarks and asking 50 people passed on the way if they came from one of the capitals of the 50 U.S. States.  The stroll was divided into 5 parts, each part comprising of 2 landmarks to visit, 10 people to meet, and, quite naturally, 10 inquiries to make.  I reused the same list of reasons (one for each of the 5 strolls) to give if the people that I approached asked why I was doing what I was doing:
  • I am just bored
  • I am just trying to be creative
  • I am trying to change the world
  • I am trying to overcome my shyness
  • I am trying to stop caring about what people think about me

The one "improvement" that I added to the operation was dedicated to the ladies.  When the next person that I had to approach had to be a girl, I would only choose a girl whom I found pretty.  And before the end of the interaction, I would ask her if she would like to have a drink with me.  No frills, just a direct invitation to have a drink together.

It is worth pointing out that I was not able to ask every girl that I met for a drink, since some did not bother to stay five seconds for a chat.  Besides, among those that I did ask, not one of them said yes.  Nonetheless, I was prepared for the potential rejection.

And without further ado, I present to you a recap of my visit of 10 landmarks in the 12th arrondissement, accompanied with some notes about interesting interactions that I had along the way.

1. Gare de Lyon
Gare de Lyon is one of the six mainline railway stations in Paris.  The third busiest station of France, it is named after the city of Lyon, a stop for many long-distance trains departing from the station, most en route to the south of France.  Built for the Exposition Universelle (World Fair) of 1900, it is considered a classic example of the architecture of its time, whose most notable feature is the 67-meter high clock tower atop one corner of the station, similar in style to the one in London that houses to Big Ben.

Right on the parvis of Gare de Lyon was a girl standing idle with her phone.  After a slight hesitation, I went over to meet her.  Well, she was not from Sacramento, California.  When I asked her if she was game for a drink, she replied casually that she was actually waiting for her boyfriend, who was late.  "Ah", I said.  If I had any serious game, I would probably have followed up by asking, "So, if you were not waiting for your boyfriend, would you have liked a drink anyway?"  But no, I simply left.

2. Promenade plantée
Promenade plantée is an elevated linear park built atop the old Vincennes railway line.  Beginning just east of Opéra Bastille, it follows a 4.7 km (2.9 mi) path eastward that ends at Boulevard Périphérique, a ring road that separates the city of Paris from its suburbs.  As if it was not green enough, the promenade provides access to other parks and gardens such as Jardin Hector Malot, Jardin de Reuilly, Jardin de la gare de Reuilly et Square Charles Péguy.

It was in a scene of the film "Before Sunset", directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, that I discovered the promenade for the first time.  Since then, I have always enjoyed visiting the promenade, and the film quickly became one of my favorites.

One interesting encounter in this improved version of the operation occurred while I was at Promenade plantée.  As I passed through a leafy arch, I came face to face with a girl coming from the opposite direction.  I promptly asked her if she was from Tallahassee, Florida.  She was attentive but did not seem to understand, so I kept repeating the question, each time more clearly.  That was when a young man, whom I had actually just passed before seeing the girl, appeared and inquired what was going on, as if he wanted to protect her.  I then figured that they were in the same company, which also included an elderly woman with whom I had seen the man earlier.  Suddenly embarrassed, I quickly found my exit without daring to ask the girl if she wanted to have drinks, leaving her to explain to the guy what had just happened.

Also on Promenade plantée, I approached a guy to find out if he was from Atlanta, Georgia.  He replied no, and but he was curious.  "What do you want?", he asked.  When I told him that I was just bored, he smiled.

3. Viaduc des Arts
Viaduc des Arts is a collection of art shops and galleries grouped in a unique construction along Avenue Daumesnil.  Its location was previously occupied by the former viaduct of Paris that was built in 1859 to support the old Vincennes railway line.  It was in 1990 that the mairie de Paris (Paris city hall) decided to rehabilitate the viaduct by renovating each of its vaults in order to transform them into a new conservatory of arts and crafts.

Culinary arts, anyone?

I ran into one guy accompanied by a girl near an intersection along Viaduc des Arts.  When I asked him if he was from Indianapolis, Indiana, he shot back : "Do I look like I'm from Indianapolis?"  I replied that I was just trying to be creative.  "Nice try", he said in return, smiling.

4. Rue d'Aligre
Rue d'Aligre is a street in a neighborhood called Quartier d'Aligre that begins at Rue de Charenton and ends at Rue du faubourg Saint-Antoine.  Every day except Monday, it is home to Marché d'Aligre, an open-air market, and in the middle of the street, on Place d'Aligre, is the Marché Beauvau, a covered market.

Marché Beauvau on Place d'Aligre

Rene Miller encore!

At Marché d'Aligre, I ran into Rene Miller, the musician that I had seen performing in Marché Bastille when I was running Operation 50 First States in the 11th arrondissement last year.  It seemed like he was taking a break, and I went over to have a chat.  He told me that he was American, and I told him that I was from New Jersey.  Then the lady who was standing next to me and who must have listened to Rene's performance, mentioned that she would be in New Jersey soon.  Next thing you know, I was talking with her.  She said that she knew Rene from before and had just arrived in Paris from Memphis, Tennessee for a stay lasting several weeks.  I discovered that she was an illustrator and also an urban sketcher, which only increased my curiosity.  Naturally, I told her about the urban sketching community in Paris that I was a part of and invited her to come sketch with us during our session at Jardin du Luxembourg that was taking place the following day and that I was organizing.  She said that she planned to make it.  What an interesting encounter!

There was another nice moment at Marché d'Aligre once I had resumed the operation there following morning.  On one hand, it was remarkable because the girl that I had passed while wading through the crowds was wearing the most lovely, summery white dress.  On the other hand, it was unremakable because I had done nothing, except to watch her get farther away.

There was a couple of youngsters that I stumbled upon on Rue du faubourg Saint-Antoine, after leaving the market.  They both looked drugged and my interaction with them was weird.  The girl acted as if she wanted to help me when I asked the guy if he was from Jackson, Mississippi, whereas the guy wanted to keep walking.  They could not make up their mind between themselves, while at the same time they continued their interaction with me (sort of).  The whole encounter was a mess.  Even my "I'm trying to change the world" remark fell on deaf ears.

5. Opéra Bastille
Opéra de la Bastille, or more commonly Opéra Bastille, is a modern opera house located on Place de la Bastille.  Inaugurated on 13 July 1989 on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, it became the main facility of the Paris National Opera, alongside the older Palais Garnier.  Many opera performances are shown here along with some ballet performances and symphony concerts.

I was waiting to cross the street to get from Opéra Bastille to the other end of Place de la Bastille when a girl joined me.  I jumped on the opportunity and asked her if she was from Lincoln, Nebraska.  She replied no, crossed the street smiling (the light was already green), and disappeared.  Either she was walking too fast for me to ask her out for a drink, or I was too slow to pop the question.  You figure.  While lamenting a missed opportunity that had nevertheless started out great, I ran into the girl again on the quay at Port de l'Arsenal sometime later.  Talk about luck!  I had been granted a second chance, and I did not waste it.  In response, she giggled and passed me by without saying a single word.  She probably thought that I was not serious.  Her loss.

6. Bassin de l'Arsenal
Bassin de l'Arsenal, also known as Port de l'Arsenal, is a boat basin that links Canal Saint-Martin, which begins at Place de la Bastille, to the Seine, at Quai de la Rapée.  Excavated after the destruction of the Bastille fortress in during the French Revolution, it was designed to replace the ditch that had been in place to draw water from the Seine to fill the moat at the fortress.  During the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth, the basin was a commercial port where goods were loaded and unloaded.  It was converted into a leisure port in 1983 and serves as a dock to approximately 180 pleasure boats.

The port beyond the platform of the Bastille metro station

Towards the north : Place de la Bastille

Towards the south : Quai de la Rapée

Strolling along the quay at Port de l'Arsenal, I noticed a boat.  Actually, it was the blond girl standing alone on a raised floor on the boat that I noticed.  Compared to other opportunities, this one was sufficiently unusual to not pass up.  Besides, I had one more girl to approach before ending the operation for the day.  So I shouted "Hi" to her I had never realized I could shout and she said "Hi" back.  I asked her if she was from Concord, New Hampshire and she said no.  When I asked her if she would like to have a drink, she said "No, thank you" and immediately went inside the boat through a door behind her.  I could do nothing else but resume my stroll.  Moments later, I turned around and saw the girl getting off the boat with a guy.  I looked back again a few seconds later and they were both walking hand in hand on the quay towards Place de la Bastille, away from me.

My last encounter at Port de l'Arsenal was with an older guy seated comfortably on the grass of the garden bordering the quay .  In a perfect American accent, he told me that he was from somewhere in Ohio.  He added, "Why do you ask [if I am from Trenton, New Jersey]?"  I replied that I was trying to change the world, to which he responded, "Good luck".

7. Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy
Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, often abbreviated as POPB or Bercy, is an indoor sports arena and concert hall.  Easily recognized by its pyramidal shape and its walls covered with sloping lawn, it provides a limitless range of technical applications for unlimited sound, lighting and special effects.  POPB is the venue of the Paris Masters tennis tournament, as well as competitions in other sports like including handball, basketball, boxing, gymnastics, athletics, track cycling, and show jumping.  It has a seating capacity ranging from 3,500 to 17,000, depending on the event.

The POPB becoming Bercy Arena

As I turned right from Boulevard de Bercy into Rue de Bercy, around the corner where the Palais-Omnisports de Paris-Bercy was, I saw two girls standing with luggage and chatting.  Speaking English with an unmistakably British accent, they revealed that they were not from Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned down my invitation for a drink, saying that they had to go somewhere.  One of them then asked for the reasons for my actions, and I told her that I was trying to overcome my shyness.  Instantly, both girls stated that I was not shy, which I found flattering.  They kept asserting that I was not shy, and when I could not take it anymore, I said "well you don't see me all the time".  A brief and more conventional conversation ensued.  One of the girls saw the sheet of paper fixed to a plastic board that I was holding and asked to see it.  I started to present it, saying that it was a list of the capitals of the 50 United States, only to be interrupted by their departure after a third girl had appeared.  All alone again, I started to wonder.  Word on the street is that I may not be shy after all.  What an idea.

8. Parc de Bercy
Parc de Bercy is a public park located along the right bank of the Seine. Inaugurated in 1994 on the site of former Bercy wine warehouses, the park has an area of 13.9 hectares and is composed of three different gardens, each having a distinct theme: the "Meadows", an area of open lawns shaded by tall trees, the "Flowerbeds", dedicated to plant life, and the "Romantic Garden", which includes fishponds and reconstitutions of dunes.

The Meadows

The Flowerbeds

Crossing over to the Romantic Garden

The Romantic Garden

La Grande Terrasse

Shortly after arriving in Parc de Bercy, I approached a man who was perhaps in his 60s while he was taking a break from a power walk.  When I asked him if he was from Bismarck, North Dakota, he pointed to the ground with a finger and said, with a slight smile: "I am from here".

I had an interesting encounter with a smartly dressed young man with a girl by his side at the end of the park, near Cour Saint-Emilion.  When I asked him if he was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he said yes and kept saying yes even though I had started to stress "Pennsylvania".  Surprised after the nth yes, I had no choice but to go further in the conversation, so I went, "Well, I'm from Philad ..." before he interrupted me.  "Pennsylvania?  No I'm from Paris!"  The good young fellow that he was, he wished me good luck.

On Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, I had an somewhat strange encounter with a woman.  I wanted to find out if she was from Rhode Island, Providence, but it seemed difficult because she responded with words that were barely audible.  Even though I tried to make my question clearer, each time I heard practically nothing in response.  When I was about to take my leave, the woman let out a familiar expression in a voice significantly less inaudible than before: "Au revoir".

9. Cour Saint-Emilion
Cour Saint-Emilion is a pedestrian street that is the main attraction of Bercy Village, an area on the southwest end of Parc de Bercy.  It takes its name from the wines of Saint-Emilion, a French AOC-designated red wine produced in the region surrounding the town of Saint-Emilion, near Bordeaux.  With the 42 white-stoned wine storehouses that border it, the street is a vestige of the Bercy warehouses where there was a large wine-producing industry for more than a century.  Today, Cour Saint-Emilion is a shopping mall, offering boutiques, restaurants, a multiplex, and much more.

Hello Cour Saint-Emilion

Goodbye Cour Saint-Emilion

One of my most interesting encounters of all time ever took place on Cour Saint-Emilion.  I saw two girls, both pretty, and I stopped one to find out if she was from Montpelier, Vermont.  What ensued was something that I had not expected.  In response to the question that I asked about her origins, she inquired about what I was doing and why I was doing it.  I no longer remember if I gave her the already prepared reason ("I am trying to stop caring about what people think about me").  In any case, I presented the list of U.S. state capitals to her and explained how I was using it, only for her to claim that I was holding myself captive by roaming the streets to ask random strangers my questions.  I defended my actions, arguing that I was just creating potentially interesting interactions.  When she asked why it was her that I had stopped, I admitted that it was because she was pretty.  I felt that she was displeased by this revelation, especially when I repeated in passing that she was pretty, so I stopped using the word.  At some point during our conversation, she told me that God loved me (and would tell me that again several times).  It was surprising and rather amusing.  She told me about the church that she was going to and asked me I knew it.  "Hillsong?", I repeated after her.  "Yes, I know it, I have been there before actually."  Apparently happy with this discovery, she insisted that I attend the service the following day (a Sunday), no matter how many times that I told her that I had other plans and that I almost never went to church.  The pressure that she was putting was rather heavy; it seemed like that she was not listening to what I said.  Only so that she would stop, I told her that I would try to make it if I could.  At one point, she referred to her friend, who, at a certain distance, was nothing but a spectator throughout this event.  Having just learned her friend's name, I asked her what her own name was. She replied "Fille de Dieu", meaning "Daughter of God".  We had spoken for a few minutes, and after a while she started to take things less seriously.  Perhaps she had understood that what had just happened was an interaction that aimed to be friendly even if a bit peculiar.  She insisted once again that I come to Hillsong the following day, and left smiling with her friend.  I felt relieved, even though it was a fun experience.  Needless to say, I did not get a yes in response to my invitation for a drink.

Before leaving Cour Saint-Emilion, I approached a girl to ask her if she was from Olympia, Washington.  At the same moment that she asked the reason for the question, after indicating that she was not from there, I asked her if she wanted to have a drink.  Really smooth.  I wonder if this abrupt behavior on my part was influenced by the presence of the security guard a few steps away.

10. Place Félix Eboué
Place Félix Eboué is a square located at the former location of the Barrière de Reuilly, one of the barriers along the wall built around Paris in the late 18th century.  Formerly called Place Daumesnil, the square was given its current name in 1947 in the memory of Félix Eboué (1884-1944), a French colonial administrator and politician who was among the first people to join the Free France government led by General Charles de Gaulle during World War II.  Installed at the center of the square is the Fontaine du Château d'Eau, a large circular basin supporting three smaller ones and decorated with eight statues of lions spitting jets of water.

I met a girl while crossing the street on Place Félix Eboué.  No, we were not on the crosswalk, but on the platform on the middle.  When I asked her if she was from Madison, Wisconsin, she stated that there were few chances that I would run into someone from Madison in the vicinity.  Noting that, I asked her if she wanted to have a drink.  She said no and went on to cross the rest of the road, walking rather briskly.

Here are some other interesting scenes captured during the strolls:

Jardin Hector Malot, accessible from Promenade plantée

Rue du faubourg Saint-Antoine in the direction of Place de la Bastille

Barrio Latino, a salsa spot on Sundays

Where rollerbladers and skateboarders meet on Place de la Bastille

Look, it's the Maison de la RATP!

The Cinémathèque Française in hiding

Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir towards the 13th arrondissement

Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir towards the 12th arrondissement

When metro line 6 crosses the Seine

Jardinière Avenue Daumesnil

Sunday, September 14, 2014

small talk

Inspired by the discovery of a book titled "Le grand art de la petite conversation" (English edition: "The Fine Art of Small Talk") at a FNAC store in Paris last week, I thought that it would be neat to address the topic of small talk.  The book was written by Debra Fine, a communication expert, and I am still reading it.

In order for the loner in me to have the social skills necessary for a fulfilling life, it would make sense that I strove to get better in small talk.  Fittingly, I devoted an entire operation to the subject.

Operation Small Talk would resemble what follows Operation Bonjour when it comes to having an interaction with a stranger.  Whereas the latter requires merely saying "Bonjour" to an unfamiliar person who just happens to be at the right place and the right time, the former is all about having a light conversation that starts off with something other than "Bonjour".  In essence, Operation Small Talk gets directly to the heart of the matter, bypassing the rule of beginning with a standard greeting.

The operation consists of creating 10 small talk moments in the course of a week.  For someone who was naturally sociable, which currently does not apply to me, this would be a trivial task that could even be completed in one day.  What constitutes a small talk moment is a verbal exchange that I initiate with a stranger and that does not begin by "Bonjour", "Excusez-moi" or something similar.  People at work in places like shops and restaurants do not count as strangers, since they are generally expected to cater to people.  As far the exchange itself, I started off simple saying something to the unfamiliar person and hearing him respond once.  If he does not respond, then there is no small talk moment.  In general, I do not retry with some other sentence; instead, I accept the rejection and move on.  Once I complete the operation 10 times over 10 separate weeks (meaning 100 small talk moments), I take things to the next level for example, saying something to the person and hearing them respond on two separate occasions.  After that, I keep setting up more difficult levels to reach, until each exchange ends up being a substantial conversation.  At that point, one could claim to be naturally sociable and the operation would be no longer necessary.

Any moment of small talk created in the hopes of connecting with someone does not require deep topics of conversation.  In addition, there is more than the weather.  There are your surroundings, which are usually rich with all sorts of information, be it people, animals, objects, behaviors, events, etc..  There is also your mind, which is busy processing this information in multiple ways, which in turn produces even more information.  Imagine that this new information that you just produced was shared instantaneously with someone within your physical reach.  That would potentially be a small talk moment.

In order to increase my chances of creating these moments, I do my best to remain aware when I am surrounded by people.  Even though I like exploring the contents of my mind, I figure that sharing with someone a thought that I just had would also allow me to discover things.  It could be some practical information that I was not expecting to receive on a subject that I was familiar with or an opinion on a topic that I knew little about.  In addition, the discovery could lie somewhere beyond the person's actual reply.  I could find out that the person actually had a friendly demeanor whereas I had initially assumed otherwise or I could recognize that despite our obvious differences, we were both essentially seeking similar things.

As if Debra Fine's book does not say enough about the value of it, I would argue that small talk helps people (including the person initiates it) to open up and thereby encourages trust.  Interestingly enough, it seems that if we had more trust in ourselves and in others, we would be able to open up even more.  I may be a loner, but I want to be open too.

I conclude with two examples of small talk moments that come to mind and that both happened recently.

One evening two weeks ago, in an Eric Kayser bakery that I go to several times a week, I picked up on an unusual yet rather pleasant smell.  Yet all I was surrounded by was bread and pastries.  In all truth, there was also a variety of bottled drinks and boxes of prepared dishes in self-service, but the smell could not come from there.  Noticing that there was a lady ahead of me in line, I said, '"Ca sent le poisson ici !" ("Why it smells like fish in here!")  She turned around, looking amused, and said, "Effectivement, je sens le poisson aussi !" ("Indeed, I smell fish too !").  I was relieved.

At lunchtime last Wednesday, I was in the cafeteria of my work building.  I took a break from approaching the pretty girls around by joining the queue for the grilled dish of the day.  Along the queue was a dessert stand, from which I picked up one of the ready-made fruit salad bowls.  The guy behind me also picked up a bowl, but I noticed that his was about only 60% full.  Hello!  Small talk moment!  So I intervened by saying to him, "Il y a encore de bols qui sont plus remplis de salade" ("There are still bowls that have more salad"), indicating with a hand gesture the difference between the contents of his bowl and those of the others on the stand.  Once he understood, he replaced his bowl almost instantly.  "Merci !" ("Thanks!"), he said, before making a comment that I did not hear clearly on the benefits of eating fruits.

Friday, September 5, 2014

why i love paris (6)

On Thursday, May 29, 2014, just four days after the drawing session in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, I joined the Paris Sketchers crew at the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute), an organization that is dedicated to presenting the cultures of the Arab world among other things and whose building is located by the Seine in the 5th arrondissement.  It was Jeudi de l'Ascension (Feast of the Ascension), a public holiday, and I was thrilled about the idea of spending the afternoon in good company in a place that I had always been curious about but that I had never visited.

For this special event, I owe a lot to Marina, who organized the outing.  She wrote a brief and enticing presentation about everything that the Institute had to offer an urban sketcher, noting in particular the "Il était une fois l'Orient Express" exhibition that was ongoing.  I got excited upon reading this, even though what fascinated me the most was the panoramic view of Paris from the rooftop of the building.  A view that was accessible for free.

I arrived at the Institute around 2pm, by way of Vélib.  A locomotive was on display close to the building, welcoming visitors and passers-by.  Nearby on the parvis was a line of train cars, a queue along it, and a longer one in front of a ticket counter that was decorated as if it belonged in a train station.  The Orient Express.  The celebrated train service that connected several cities in Europe to others in the Middle East as early as 1883.  This was definitely a special event.

I found a few familiar sketchers outside, including Marina, and went to say hello.  Most of them, including Tula and Jean-Marc, were already at work.  Feeling the urge to join them, I began to figure out what I should sketch.  Marina had mentioned the view of the Notre-Dame cathedral from the rooftop of the building, but I was still undecided.  It was sort of a dilemma: would I remain outside to contemplate the locomotive, the train cars, and/or the building that had intrigued me for years, or would I go inside this same building to see what was interesting from the rooftop?

I decided on the latter.  And five minutes later, I was on the rooftop, having taken the elevator nine floors up.  Admiring the view where I could, as tourists were all over the place, I eventually laid my eyes on Notre-Dame, in the west.  In its direction, I spotted a corner that was somewhat isolated and from where I could get the closest and clearest view of Notre-Dame.  I went towards it, certain that it would become my drawing location.

I set up my equipment and started sketching what I saw.  Within the two hours that it took me to finish, Marina stopped by and did some sketches of her own in watercolor.  I had only met her once before, on a previous outing, but being up there with her gave me the opportunity to know her better.  She eventually left to go sketch elsewhere, but not before we confirmed the meeting time at the cafe across from the building.

I was feeling a high after having taken on Notre-Dame from such a viewpoint and was largely satisfied with the result, especially since it was the first great Parisian monument that I had ever drawn.  Having time to kill before reuniting the group, I decided to enjoy more of the setting by doing two quick 30-minute pen sketches of the cathedral and its surroundings.

Once the sketches were completed, I said goodbye to the rooftop and took the elevator downstairs.  I was going to show up late at the café.


On the evening of Thursday, August 28, 2014, I returned to the Institut du Monde Arabe without the sketchers.  This time, I did not go to the rooftop.  I was not even interested in entering the building, which was already closed.  Quite simply, I showed up for the attraction of the moment, which I had chosen not to sketch the last time around: the Orient Express.

Why return three months later?  Because the exhibition was ending on August 31st.  And I wanted to mark the moment in a sketch, or several.  Better late than never.

I came back two days later, on Saturday, August 30, 2014, for a more serious drawing.  I wanted everything in the composition: the locomotive, the train cars, the building.  I was able to pull it off, even though it took me five hours over two days.  Two days, because I came back the following day, the last day of the exhibition, to put the finishing touches.

Thanks to Marina, who had given me a free ticket, I was able to visit the train cars open to the public on the second day.  The following are some souvenirs from my tour.

I had a few amusing moments with security officials working at the exit of the train car tour.  They had seen me sketching earlier from their post and had come over from time to time to take a look at my work.   As I came out with everyone else in my tour group, one of them volunteered to take pictures of me inside the train cars with my camera.  So I went with him and had my pictures taken without anyone else in sight.  Precious.  Later on, another security guard called out to me while I was sketching to offer some encouraging words: "You have a talent, you should exploit it ... you have get yourself known ..."  Flattered and embarrassed, I replied "OK, but later", to which he said "Time is running out ..."  And as I was leaving for good, he added "Do not forget."  "What?", I asked.  "What I told you earlier."

The icing on the cake was the moment on Pont de Sully when I crossed paths with Jack Lang, the president of Institut du Monde Arabe and a former Minister of Culture, as I walked towards Place de la Bastille to catch the metro.