Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Being Needy

Everybody was needy today. As I'm walking down the rue du Four it begins. A beggar with a cup, sitting on the edge of the sidewalk, more plaintive than usual. "S'iiiiil vous plaaaaiit, madaaaame!" Only he is speaking to the nun in front of me. She quickens her pace and scurries ahead.

Sacre bleu, I think. If a NUN doesn't have to stop or at least have a speedbump of guilt about not stopping, I guess I don't. But I do. Feel guilty, that is -- not stop. Besides, I honestly don't have any cash on me. The phrase "I gave at the office" does cross my mind (thinking about the nun, not me). Then I feel like a heartless jerk. I hate feeling like this.

Right turn onto boulevard St. Germain, into the zone where I still get all the Saint-Something churches and eponymous streets confused. St. Germain, St. Sulpice, St. Severin, St. Michel.

No Saint Moi on this itinerary. Within short order I am accosted by an unshaven fortysomething artiste-type who grabs my elbow and requests, with an erudite accent, "Excusez moi, mademoiselle, vous n'auriez pas un euro soixante-quinze, s'il vous plait?" I have to give the guy credit for precision. I retrieve my elbow and use my tried and true ploy of replying in English. The jury is out as to whether he gets brownie points for calling me mademoiselle instead of madame.

At Odeon a nice young girl who looks like a university student approaches demurely, "Excusez moi, madame, vous n'auriez pas un ticket de metro, s'il vous plait?" This time, I answer politely, "Non je suis desolee, j'ai seulement mon passe Navigo."

Down boulevard St. Michel, two gitaines have the busy sidewalk mostly blocked. "Excusez moi, madame, pourriez vous nous aider s'il vous plait?" And I toss a non at her before she's even finished asking. "Ne dites pas 'non' madame, cela porte malheur, " she warns. Oooh, I'm getting a gypsy curse. But at this point I'm getting a little grumpy about all this begging. On the one hand, I am concerned for the plight of the needy. On the other hand, I don't expect Paris to be Calcutta-sur-Seine. I am grumpy because I feel guilty when I wish they just weren't there.

Then I escape the street and am blissfully ensconced in Gibert Jeune Bookstore. After having trekked through the layers of upper floors I linger on the main floor perusing all the guides on Paris. Jolted from my reverie, I hear a voice. A loud American voice. A glamorous, glossy, well-dressed twentysomething woman has planted herself in the center of the main floor and looks around, demanding in a clueless nasal voice, "Magazines? Magazines? MAGAZINES?!" I guess she needs her Cosmo or Vogue fix.

The sales clerk breezes by her and without even pausing he rebuffs her disdainfully, almost threateningly, "Not here".

I mean, she didn't even say 'please.'

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