New Years In Boullay

photo: cake, new year fete

With cheer like this, who needed to be in Paris?

Beyond the Café Zone

Boullay-les-Troux:- Tuesday, 31. December 2002:- The first thing I did in the early afternoon on Saturday after arriving here the evening before, was drive back to Paris to pick up a few items I'd forgotten. I would have done it in the morning but when you are having fun you may as well sleep through it.

The quickie round-trip was uneventful except for being parked on a divided highway on the way to Paris for 25 minutes. The cause of this pause was unapparent. Back in the 14th I parked illegally around the corner from my place, ran inside, got the forgotten and used the free toilet without paying myself 20 cents.

Then, using a secret route known only to a half-million other Paris drivers, I got quickly out of town and even managed to do a little sight-seeing in Meudon on the way back. Seeing where Marie Antoinette's château used to be always gives me a thrill. It's about where Edith Piaf's clinic was, in the Bellevue part of Meudon.

Then, I successfully found the extra-big super-gigantic hypermarché, where one can buy supplies for a somewhat short stay in outer Essonne, which is the location of the Web-server lady's world-famous Cadillac Ranch.

On account of the reconnaissance visit to this very same place last summer, getting supplies took less than a whole day. The trick was to use a 150-items-or-more checkout line rather than the ten items-or-less ones, each of which had lines of 15 customers, every one with exactly 9.5 items.

Finding my way from this commercial centre to Boullay-les-Troux - famous for its nonexistent 'holes' - was a snap because the way is by no means direct. The route is so complicated that it is impossible to forget.

Thus I was set to enjoy my year-end holiday at the 'ranch' with absolutely nothing to do except look afterphoto: ranch sky the Web-server lady's incoming 250 emails about four times a day, try to redesign a Web site, eliminate my own 75 spam emails per day, figure out how to get the DVD player to change its sound from Arabic to English, and feed the cat, Tiger.

The last of the blue skies at the ranch.

This last item was number one on the list given to me by Linda Thalman. The five pages of written instructions said the cat liked to siesta in the computer room and in the laundry room, and I wasn't supposed to accidently shut it up in these places because little Tiger gets hungry often, and will eat a hard disk or a washing machine, if not served its favorite gunk 'on time,' which is off-and-on all day and night.

Let me note here, for cat fans, that Tiger is in tip-top winter-trim - looking about twice her sleek summer size.

As it turned out, all the DVDs I tried spoke English. Except for one, their entertainment value was nearly zero - so I stopped on three and skipped the other 25 - assuming that some of them had not improved since last summer.

The Web-server lady had also insisted I take the tour I didn't try last summer, the one that starts in Chevreuse. She said I might see wild pigs. Instead of doing this, I spent 42 minutes each day driving around to all the surrounding villages, looking for a good thimble of strong café.

I don't suggest that you try this. There are four places within 200 metres in the 14th in Paris that have better, stronger, café. So, on a whim, I decided to visit Chartres.

Some people think this location would be perfect for Paris' third airport. Except for its cathedral its surrounding countryside is pretty flat, which makes runways easier to build. Never mindphoto: cathedral chartres that from some angles the cathedral seems to be floating on a ocean of wheat - but this is not a sight you will see in winter anyway, so - why not turn it into an airport?

The town has placed a 350-car parking lot within a short distance of the cathedral, which dates from the 12th century. There are 300 steps if you go up one of its towers, which means there are some surplus parking spaces for visitors who do not like heights or countless stone steps.

The nifty cathedral at Chartres has more windows than steps in its tower.

If you skip the steps entirely you can walk around inside the cathedral and admire its colorful windows, for hours - because there are more than a hundred of them. And each window contains illustrations like the frames of a comic book, so there are something like glass 1800 images in all.

Seeing these on a bright day is easier than on a gloomy one, so while I was there the sun shone. However, the brochure I picked up at the visitor's bureau mentions that Chartres has four other churches with colored windows too - so I walked around the outside of the cathedral to make sure it has not changed much since the last winter day I saw it, about 20 years ago.

Chartres itself has been around since before Roman times, perhaps as a Druid 'metropole,' according tp the Michelin guide. If I had read this before going there again, I may have gone sooner. It depends how many other 'metropoles' may be mentioned in the guide, which I am unlikely to read anyway.

Within a short time - slightly less than the 60 minutes-worth purchased from the parking metre - I had toured the essential sights as superficially as always, had my regulation café - Chartres is not well-known for this drink, for good reason - and with only exceeding by five minutes the parking ticket's limit, was on my way out of town.

After the brief sunshine in Chartres, the sky over northern France decided to finish the year with uniform low and dark clouds, and some of these sprinkled a little rain around.

Every time Tiger came in from outside, using its own private doors, the animal was wet. My pantsphoto: chartres, cathedral square were always handy for drying off. It never occurred to me before that certain cats think humans wear cat towels, but I'm sure they do.

As everybody knows, cats are curious. I was reminded of this when Tiger gave my left foot a large bite, possibly to see if the lower part of the towel was live or not. Later the cat tried to make it up to me later by eating my sweater with considerable joy, while I was wearing it.

More Chartres, more drama in the sky.

On a third occasion, while hacking away at the usual 268 emails, Tiger leaped onto my lap. This startled me so much that I trashed and burnt all the emails I was going to trash and burn anyway, and escaped from the animal by standing up. This was not a wise move because it hung on.

The only other mistake I made was that this was in the computer room - one of Tiger's no-go areas. Once the cat is in there, it doesn't go out and get wet, and therefore needs no people-towels to rub up against, and will stay in there forever - perhaps eating emails. In the end, it did not take too many days to coax it out.

I was looking forward to seeing all of New Years Eve from the comfort of a wide sofa with the aid of a jumbo TV, so when the time came for the show to begin I had the set well-warmed up and ready to go.

For the previous two evenings, France-2 TV had been showing some sort of low-hauler dragging party people up and down the Champs-Elysées. I thought this was a rehearsal for the big night, so I didn't watch any of it. I didn't want the true New Years Eve effect spoiled by pre-exposure.

France-2 TV called their New Years Eve show 'Les Vainquereurs de 2002.' The private channel TF1 called their New Years Eve show '120 Minutes de Bonheur.' Both were very colorful, withphoto: chevreuse, tanning sheds a great number of long-forgotten invited guest-stars, many forgettable TV 'personalities,' and absolutely no live New Years Eve coverage whatsoever. Both shows were longer versions of their usual early evening programming from Sunday to Saturday.

No 'wild pigs' and not many other people looking for them.

Meanwhile, 450,000 live people whooped it up on the Champs- Elysées - and some of this could be seen by flipping channels over to the satellite link to bring in remote stations in the Middle-East and Japan, which did cover the parties in Berlin, London, New York and - in Paris.

The show was brief on TV because even the satellite seemed to go to sleep early. I always thought these worked 24 hours a day, but maybe the French version is short of electricity.

There was, of course, no dancing in the streets of Boullay-les-Troux. No bangs. No rockets. Frankly, the weather was too rotten to even look out the windows at the dark countryside.

But I am not a total nit. The disappointment of not being able to remotely see Paris' party was offset by having thoughtfully acquired a suitable and festive New Years cake, and it turned out to be quite tasty if you like cakes with cracker bottoms.

New Years Day, with woolly clouds hanging like a shroud in the treetops, seemed to be a likely day to finally take the tour along the Chevreuse in the hope of spotting wild pigs. The Web-server lady insisted I do this.

The path beside the creek is narrow. It goes past old sheds that were used to keep low clouds off of the tanners who worked along here. I guess they don't do it anymorephoto: chevreuse, castle on hill because I didn't see any beavers. There were some mallards though. They seemed somewhat bad-mannered when it became clear I hadn't brought them any cake.

The rest of the day was filled with the usual email trash, and testing the café in Saint- Rémy's only open café. The high point of this experience was that it was the only open café - perhaps in the entire department.

Chevreuse - rich in local color - if you like it old and damp.

Another pastime during the stay was visiting all the surrounding villages, to buy bread. In many places, boulangeries were the only shops open. So remember, unless you are allergic to it, you can run out of everything else in France but there's always fresh bread available.

To make my New Years absolutely complete, I forgot all about making any good-intentioned resolutions. TV reminded me of this a day later - with its day-late New Years programming - when Parisians were asked if they had resolved to 'do better' in 2003. Nobody said they intended to become an astronaut.

'Time to go' was carefully planned and co-ordinated by portable phone - first with a call from the Web-server lady at Roissy, watching nothing coming out of the baggage chute, and then by a call from the RER train on its way to Saint-Rémy.

The warm car and its papers were handed over at the station in Saint- Rémy about five minutes afterphoto: turkish delight arriving there. The train came in and the Web-server lady showed me how she'd danced in the New Year until 03:00 across the Karadeniz Bogazi - the Bosporus! - in Turkey's Asian section, in Usküdar.

From this, for feeding Tiger, she rewarded me with a tidy surprise box of 'Turkish Delight' - about 102 percent sugar and other obscure ingredients - slogan, 'Made exclusively by Opera for the travellers of Istanbul's Atatürk Airport.'

With this in hand I caught the return RER train to Denfert and found the café Rendez-Vous to be open, with its so-so café, but quite a bit better than in Saint-Rémy, Chevreuse, Cernay-la-Ville, Chartres and other 'metropoles' located far and wide in Essonne. Ahhh, café!

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