Local Lifestyle

Thursday, Nov 15 2012 05:43 PM

HERB BENHAM: With air miles, it's not hard to be an American in Paris

By The Bakersfield Californian

Parisian women are gorgeous. It's not just that they are thin, weight kept in check by cigarettes, coffee and 10-mile strolls. Parisian women have confidence in their appearance no matter what their appearance is.

"I dare you," they seem to say, "to think I am anything but beautiful."

We just returned from an eight-day trip to Paris and before you start hating me, Paris is possible if you sharpen your pencil.

Earn airline miles on your credit card (our tickets were paid for with miles), rent an apartment for $900 a week, travel off season, eat yogurt in glass jars, drink cafe creme and wolf down pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) for breakfast, hit the street market for a rotisserie chicken with new potatoes roasted underneath the drippings and buy a bottle of cheap Cotes du Rhone for the occasional dinner at home. Then bring extra vacation money to eat in the cheery cafes and brasseries.

Paris is not for wimps. I thought I was in shape, but there is shape and there is walking shape. Most of us can walk from our desks to our car, the front door to the edge of the lawn to pick up the paper -- but we've forgotten how to walk long distances.

At least I had, and after the third day, when we walked from our apartment across from St. Eustache Church to the Musee d'Orsay (housed in a beautiful old train station), to the Grand Palais (I'm name dropping here), the Petit Palais, crossed Pont Alexandre back to the Left Bank and wandered through the 7th, including the Rue Cler Sunday market and found a good cafe near Les Invalides, I thought I might have to be referred to a French version of orthopedist Chris Hamilton.

The back of my knees hurt. So did Sue's, and she's in much better walking shape than I am.

First piece of advice. Good shoes, with a Vibram sole. They should be dark so they can double as dinner shoes, because packing three pairs of shoes, as I did, will prove a luggage zipper snapper.

Now that you are wearing good walking shoes, go into every patisserie or chocolaterie because if you're walking as much as a confident Parisian woman, it's hard to gain weight in Paris.

If the pain in the back of your knee persists, there is always lunch, which starts with a glass of champagne. Why shouldn't you celebrate every precious moment you're alive? This can be followed by an inexpensive bottle of Bordeaux. I found that my knees hurt less after lunch.

November is a great time to go because it's cool, perhaps rainy, and walking is more pleasureable when you're not sweating and you are wearing your fashionable winter wardrobe, which looks good in Bakersfield and equally stunning in Paris.

This includes a scarf, which qualifies as a unisex item in Paris, though I know some of you he-men friends of mine may struggle with the scarf concept; still, it's a must unless you want to have a cold neck.

I was sporting the long scarf look, except my black scarf almost touched the ground and if I had stepped on it, I would have done a somersault. Sue gave me my first piece of fashion advice -- double up the scarf, bring the two ends through the loop and then give it a gentle snug.

"Don't pull so hard," she said. "You look like you are trying to hang yourself."

I listened quietly because women have their way in Paris and no city shows them off better, where every other shop girl, metro ticket taker, bartender and street market proprietor looks like a model. For men traveling with their wives, Parisian women can present a problem because men might find themselves with a case of Parisian whiplash. I suggest a solution

"Sue, you'd fit right in here," I said. "You're beautful, just like the Parisian women."

Problem solved and I hadn't fudged a bit.

These are Herb Benham's opinions and not necessarily those of The Californian.

Email him at hbenham@bakersfield.com

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