Periodically, I like to see what’s cooking and in some cases what isn’t on the other side of the Atlantic. With my assignment in one hand and a bottle of disinfectant in the other I dove headlong into the icy Atlantic and began to backstroke towards Europe. Landlocked as it is, I felt it best to commence my transatlantic adventure by braving the pre-and-post Haussmannian streets of “Old Paree.” Paris to the layman. I’ll tell you what’s not cooking in Paris: steak tartare. My first meal of 2011 arrived at 6:00 am looking like a well seasoned and caper-drenched raw hamburger patty. In my booze-soaked state I didn’t realize it, but looking back I can think of no finer way to ring in a healthy and prosperous year.
It’s widely accepted by the transients who frequent the Hollywood Public Library and myself that Parisians invented haute couture. What they didn’t invent are Timberland boots. At the moment there are more Timberland boots pounding the cobblestoned streets of the 1st and 3rd arrondissement than you can shake a buttery snail at. The tan boots, which were worn by rappers in the late nineties and Eye-talians with chinstraps for much longer, have infiltrated a society that has more loafer options on Rue Rivoli than we have registered voters in California. But I wasn’t sweating it.
Several weeks of blustery weather left me low on white blood cells and high on paracetamol. The only logical thing to do was get the hell out of Sarkozy’s pocket and into Gaudi country. I was craving shrimp with whiskers and beady black eyes over a bed of saffron rice. Scarves, gloves, water-resistant coats and steel toed boats—these things were for fools. I wanted to be in the land of toreros, cheap hash and fine quality cured Iberian meats. Barcelona beckoned.
My first stop was the hospital on Comte de Guell. I stripped and slipped into a smock, which exposed my ass to more Catalonians than your average ecstasy bender on Ibiza circa 1989. I find there’s no better way to view a city than from a hospital bed. I passed my days watching the telenovelas set in Miami and listening to the news read in Catalan. My suitemate was a Barcelona native and an octogenarian. We didn’t get into to details of his visit, but I got the impression that where I was passing through on vacation—he was there for an extended stay. He looked so at home in his smock I wouldn’t be surprised if he owned a timeshare of that fourth floor cot.
One afternoon while watching the news I saw there was some action going down in Tunisia. High on Spanish pseudoephedrine, I decided the reports demanded my journalistic presence. With prescribed speed running through my veins I jumped out of bed and dashed to the employee elevator. Now, obviously I wasn’t going to Tunisia. Africa, as I learned from watching Lord of War, is not really that great of a place. The human race may have started there, but it was a bad idea to stick around and it would be an even worse idea to go back. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had plenty of bad ideas in my day. Most of them were pleasurable, some were criminal, but the majority involved traversing from Lake Havasu to the Hollywood Reservoir on a pontoon boat that was knee-deep in tequila. But Africa? Even Northern Africa is no place for a man who can recite the history of the aperitif Kir as fluently as another might recite his phone number.
Tunisia is small. If there was a Little Tunis in L.A. I would’ve just gone home, but there isn’t. To be honest, if there was a Libyatown or even a Little Marrakesh, I probably would’ve still gone back and tried to hunt down a Tunisian, but alas there is not so I could not.
Rather, I chartered a boat to the port city of Marseille. It’s well known that ports from Malaga to Dubrovnik are rampant with North Africans. Though the voyage should have been tranquil and enchanting, the morning we departed I mistook a nicotine patch for my anti-seasickness patch. This left me with my head hanging off the deck spewing yesterday’s sangria and langostas from Thursday to Sunday. When I arrived in Marseille my enthusiasm had waned. If Nice is on the Cote D’Azur, Marseille is on the Cote D’Debris. At my hotel I got a recommendation for a Tunisian restaurant, which I figured was as good a place as any to begin my journalistic hunt. The restaurant looked bleak, but I ordered the Kefta cous cous and an Orangina anyway. When my dinner arrived nine minutes later I had lost total interest in my mission and Tunisia. Also, I figured the story would be old news by the time I tried to peddle a profile on a Tunisian born French restaurateur’s perspective on the future of the country he left twenty-five years ago. As they say, today’s news wraps tomorrow’s fish. Thinking of this made me regret not seeking out bouillabaisse.
I left the restaurant without taking a Tunisian coffee and boarded the midnight train to Monaco. Why Monaco? I wanted to get as far from Tunisian cous cous and politics as I could. Grace Kelly came to mind. What did she ever have to do with Tunisia? Nothing? Exactly.
Monaco is fine if you enjoy looking at the breath-taking coastline and stunning young mothers, but the French defended Principality has a sort of Orwellian feel. Everything is sterilized. Sterility often leads to paranoia. For a second I felt like Gene Hackman at the end of The Conversation where he rips up his apartment looking for the wiretap he’ll never find. I didn’t have an apartment to rip up so I skipped straight to the part where I resigned myself to my fate and started playing the saxophone. The only problem was I didn’t bring my Bill Clinton to Monaco so I had to play the air sax, which was still pretty gratifying. I thought again of Orwell and wondered if they were doling out somas anywhere. Then I realized somas might be from A Brave New World.
Overwhelmed with literary insecurities I decided to hunt down a pistachio macaron. After munching on that crunchy green, hockey puck of sugar I asked a few people at the patisserie if they knew where I could run into Princess Grace. I got some weird looks. It didn’t take long for me to realize the Monegasque are an uncongenial bunch. I stumbled across Grace Kelly Boulevard. I thought it might take me to her chateau. It didn’t. I left Monaco without seeing Grace Kelly. On a more positive note, I completely forgot about Tunisia, which was the chief interest of my trip. In the words of George W. Bush, “Mission Accomplished!”
That’s all I have to report from the continent that birthed the Black Death, Brigitte Bardot and Nutella. Au revior, mes enfants!
–The Neapolitan Mastiff