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Paris exceeds all expectations 

My father loved visiting France, and now I see why, having just returned from nine days there myself. He was nearly the same age as I am when he first set foot in Paris. I wonder, more than 30 years later, if he would see much difference today.

They say Parisians are much nicer now toward Americans (believe it or not) than they were in the early 1970s. Most of the ones we encountered in Paris, as well as the French people we saw in the Beaujolais region, where we started our trip, and the Cote d’Azur were wonderful.

A few days away from the soap opera that is the Arkansas Razorbacks this season was nice, but getting news about the South Carolina game was difficult, and our group definitely needed news. We finally found an Internet connection in Villefranche-Sur-Mer late Sunday for an e-mail that told us all about it. (We recommend La Hotel la Fiancée du Pirate if you’re looking for a good inexpensive place to stay overnight there. It puts you within 15 minutes of either Nice to the west or Monaco to the east).

The London Daily Telegraph, which we picked up the next day in Nice, had nothing on the Hogs’ quarterback saga, but it had plenty on the managerial touchline dustup in the English Premier soccer league’s Arsenal-West Ham game. The rest of the paper seemed devoted to every angle imaginable about Saddam Hussein’s death penalty ruling.

We encountered our first English-speaking television news in Marseille on Tuesday night. BBC News was eaten up by the American elections. No word on the Arkansas governor’s race, but the Brits surmised that the American people were letting George Bush know what they felt about Iraq. It was much the same in Paris on CNN’s British news broadcast the rest of the week; all about Rumsfeld, and all about the Democrats taking over in America. The coverage seemed fair and balanced.

A word or three about Marseille, which was our stop coming and going in the middle of the trip for a car rental: There’s a reason it gets little mention in Rick Steves’ great travel book about France. Avoid it if you can, but if you go, do try the bouillabaisse in any of several restaurants down by the port. But, whatever you do, do not believe a word of Lonely Planet’s review of the Hotel St. Louis. As we drove the tiny streets in search of it, we felt like zebras easing down a path with hungry tigers staring us down. One thug started to approach the driver’s window, and one look at the Hotel St. Louis and we were out of there. We lucked into a nicer spot at the port, complete with a raspy, friendly French woman at the desk who was mighty helpful, and an elevator that comfortably held one person and a bag per ride.

Anyway, the high-speed TGV train line to Paris was next. Having experienced French trains, I want to ask, why can’t the U.S. get its act together with train travel, but I must note that a blurb in the Daily Telegraph said the French national train line (SNCF) wasn’t faring well financially. It fared well on our legs and back as we skirted the French countryside to Paris, though, at 200 mph.

And, even skipping La Tour d’Argent, the famed Paris restaurant where my father would have insisted we eat, we soon understood the city’s great charm, even taking it all in at whirlwind speed — about 28 hours to cover the Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame, Louvre, the catacombs and the bones of 6 million Parisians pre-1860, Montparnasse area, the Arc de Triomphe and its nightly tribute to the unknown soldier (there is nothing like hearing a French army band play “La Marseillaise”). The Paris subway system is fantastic in taking you right to many famed stopping points. They’ve had a lot of years to get it all right. The smallest of brasseries provide great meals, croissants are heavenly and $7 bottles of wine are like ambrosia. This non-coffee drinker even became addicted to cafe crème.

For what you get, the airlines really don’t charge near enough to fly there and back.

Jon Love of Hitchhiker Entertainment tells us he’s run into a roadblock getting a beer permit for his new concert venue, the Village, situated at the corner of Asher and University avenues in the former Cinema 150 building.

Love says Little Rock Chief of Police Stuart Thomas has refused several requests for meetings, and Love says Thomas is opposing the permit. “We’ve passed all the regulations, we have perfect record,” says Love, who opened his concert hall last month. “The [Alcohol Beveral Control] has said, ‘Well, we try to listen to the chief of police as much as possible.’ ”

The Village is being termed a “nightclub” by those fighting the club getting its permit, Love says. It should be apparent, however, that it’s a concert venue. It’s open eight to 10 times a month for concerts by regional and national touring acts. Nightclubs generally offer full bar service around here and are open nightly, whether there is a show or not. The Village wants to offer concertgoers an opportunity to buy beer at a show. Pretty simple, really. But pretty simple, and fair, isn’t always the way Little Rock operates.

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