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photo: sunday driver dimitri
Sunday driver racing through the Place Denfert-Rochereau.

The Revolt of the 'Tabacs'

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 24. November 2003:- After getting a bit pinwheel-eyed staring at my computer monitor, I suggested to Jerry that we go to Chinatown for a bit of air and to case the supermarkets there. There was Chinatown weather for it too - it was gray and cool. We went down to Alésia and took the bus 62 to cross to the 13th arrondissement.

Right here I'd like to mention that this line has a nice bus. It's route would be a handy one for cutting around south Paris where the Métro lines reach out from the centre like splayed fingers, but it mostly runs along two-lane streets and gets hung up by even a slight amount of traffic.

No matter how many travellers get off at each stop, more get on. If you think there may be a lot of people in China, just try Paris' line 62 bus. But once at the top of Chinatown, then the streets have wide sidewalks without too many people on them if it isn't Chinese New Year.

Except for the shops and their signs, Chinatown doesn't look much like Chinatown. It looks like a lot of very tall public housing buildings with a lot of Chinese shops on the sidewalk level, with a few boulangeries scattered between them.

As kind of a warm-up, we cruised the 'Paris Shop.' This might have been number one, because we didn't tryphoto: tang gourmet shop the other one. It contained all sorts of rare stuff that one seldom sees in a Monoprix. It was hard not to buy some of it. Upstairs, we checked out the chopsticks - seven varieties! - then got down to the Avenue d'Ivry again by way of a maze of a mall.

Tang Frères gourment take-away kiosk - for lazy cooks.

Tang Frères looks at first like it's in an alley. It is beyond an alley- like entry to a courtyard which contains 'Tang Gourmet,' the entry to a garage, a warehouse, and the Tang Frères supermarket. I forget the numbers, but the supermarket might have been 'number five.' There was another Tang Frères beside the 'Paris Shop' too.

Within 20 minutes we had inadvertently picked up some sesame oil, chili oil, soy sauce, super hot sauce - made in California, black bean sauce, red pepper paste, fish sauce, shrimp crackers, basmati rice, sesame seeds, rice paper for spring rolls, Chinese noodles and red peppers. For something fresh we latched onto some kumquats and a package full of spiky rambutams.

Jerry's plastic card took care of it all as smoothly as if we were shopping in Bangkok. I wondered if we can get a refund on the rambutams if they don't work out. I wonder if they will age well if not.

Then, lugging all this stuff, we toured the architectural delight that forms the centre of the Olympiades complex, and eventually emptied ourselves onto the Rue de Tolbiac which looks somewhat like the rest of Paris.

An empty restaurant on a corner, tidier than an average Joe's Shanghai, served us soups in a jiffy. I had wontons bigger than my mouth and Jerry had something like some kind of meatballs, which really didn't need a lot of extra hot sauce, unless you have a spare handkerchief for eye-wipes.

We decided to skip the bus 62, as nice as it is, and take the Métro back to the 14th. All other riders, if they weren't too frazzled, admired our yellow Tang Frères plastic bags. At Denfert, the big escalator wasn't in operation. Climbing a mountain of stairs is a perfect way of working off a couple of litres of wontons.

Now we have all this exotic stuff, all we need is something solid to go with it. I have already tried a fraction of a milligram of hot sauce on some leftover chicken, and now there's no more leftover chicken left.

The Revolt of the 'Tabacs'

Shops that sell tobacco products in France are called 'Tabacs.' Some are stand-alone, but many are in cafés. They have a monopoly and if anybody else sells cigarettes they are usually other cafés that get their cigarettes from tabacs to sell to absent-minded drinkers, or they are in the black- market kind of business.

The people who work in tabacs call themselves 'buralistes.' Yesterday the government confirmedphoto: tabacs demonstration that it will impose another 20 percent price hike on cigarettes at the beginning of the year. his follows a 20 percent hike late in October, which was applied to cigars and rolling tobacco a couple of weeks afterwards.

The guys who sell smokes making smoke in Paris today.
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