July 15 & 16, 2000 and July 21-25, 2001
July 15 & 16, 2000
Dedicating myself to a full week of work in London kept me from long haul travel, but there was still a week left on my international bus. What to
A weekend in Paris – I always thought that would be a good title for a trashy romance novel; however, my two days were not of romance, but one day of shameless tourism and the second, a Sunday saunter.
My first day would not be with out companionship though. I left the friendly Moroccan and Japanese couple that I chatted with through the overnight bus trip, as they needed to organize their accommodation and transport out of Paris (and were taking their time). After shrugging off the lazy traveller whose questions were too brief and idiotic to withstand, “Where’s the bathroom? Which way to a hostel? Is this the only bus station?” (I don't know!), I encountered an older Indian gentleman moving at a decent pace. He was also in the disorientation phase of being in a new place, that I am quite familiar with. It never gets any better… it’s always a bit of anxiety, but instead of feeling lost for a day, it’s only for a few hours and that was all he could afford - he was taking the next night bus to Amsterdam.
“Let’s get a better map,” I said and picked up the transport system map, which didn’t help orientate us. The landscape, a compass and what the guidebook described about Parisian zip codes would get us there.
“I saw you in the station in London and said to myself, ‘that is a person who would be good to know during travel.’ And now, by act of god or fate, we travel together!”
His excitement wore off for just a few moments as we walked miles from the outer limits of Paris towards the center. There’s not much of interest on the outskirts, except for plots like Cimetiery de Pere Lachaise, the giant cemetery that keeps Jim Morrison, Chopin, Oscar Wilde and other known (and many lesser known) behind the walls. South, West and down the slope, it would be inevitable that we would come to the river that runs through Paris at some point. It wasn’t even 9am yet and taking that into consideration, it wasn’t so bad that we had been walking for nearly two hours and did not find the icons of Paris we knew of, nor could we find our streets on the maps. But eventually, I found a place worth staying at for the night. (forgot his name, hope I can find his card)_ bathed in the sink and shared his curry with me, then we headed toward the Louvre. The line was long, so we went for the (expensive) hop-on-hop off narrated bus tour. The hollow tubed acoustic headphones provided incomprehensible commentary on the historic blur that we whizzed by. Got off at Notre Dame for a look.
It’s a large church, like the ones in Spain, but there’s a bit of a different feel… yes, I’d say, a different spirit. Rather than the feeling of near absolute and abusive power, this church, and the others in Paris, do give off a better vibe than many of the other ones I’ve encountered for some reason.
Back on the bus, and to the Eiffel Tower with the swarms of tourists at it’s base and crawling up the sides. A walk underneath the structure was good enough.
Now off again at the Louvre just before closing. This easily ranks as one of the best museums of the world. The building itself is a gigantic well-preserved palace with modern I. M. Pei glass entrances and fountains that sit together surprisingly splendidly.
Roman statues, Greek architecture, Egyptian artefacts, Italian paintings and there she stood before me: the Mona Lisa. She’s not a large painting, but its fame brings in the crowds. Look closely into the eyes that seem to follow you around and wonder if you see something peculiar to the magic. The eyes aren’t straight. Mona Lisa has a crooked eye! I hear someone whisper that the rumor is Mona Lisa never existed. It is the artist, Michelangelo, in a controversial self-portrait: himself as a woman.
The museum closes, we board the last bus and we get off at the point closest to where our morning walk began. I set off my Paris pal du jour in the right direction and get a warm invite to visit India. ‘After Europe, perhaps, yes, let’s say in five years.’ “I’ll look forward to it,” he replied.
One thing is certain, English has won the language war. Everywhere in Europe I hear native German, Italian, Hindi and tongues unknown (and of course English) speakers say, “This should also be in English.” I’ve never heard that said with a French accent though. Apparently, English speakers and French speakers both don’t have much patience if you don’t know their language; however, the French also don’t have much patience if you don’t have the proper accent either.
The French attitude here is not a bother to me here. Perhaps it’s because Paris is used to tourists, making them tolerant of monoglots, but seeing how flustered my Indian companion would get by them almost made me giggle.
It’s now Sunday and I wander through the Latin Quarter and end up under Notre Dame to see the on-the-spot excavated Roman (and pre-Roman) 2000-year-old Paris. They had heated floors back then!
I learned some history of the hospital across the street, acted like I knew where I was going and at the first see the amazing Hotel Dieu courtyard. (Amazing considering this is a hospital.) I dodge into a hallway and didn’t see much that you wouldn’t expect – beds and figures in the typical half tied aqua gowns, except here, they duck to the vestibules for a quick smoke before the nurses come around again.
A walk through the Luxemburg Gardens was the perfect conclusion where Parisians relax, jog and shuffle toy boats in the water – an image Monet would surely paint. I expect to return to Paris, if only for a passing glance, as I someday travel to Versailles.
July 22-25, 2001
I return one year+one week to Paris to with a mission: spring board out to Versailles. This time I didn't take the 8-hour bus from London to Paris, but the sleek Eurostar train in 3 hours that injected us immediately into what I hate and love about France. Only a Parisian could go two days without a shave or shower and still look at outsider with utter disgust (especially so if you are thought to be English). Then again, isn't it part of that image that makes Hermes hand bag cost over $3000 and a Louis Vuitton trunk be priced more than a new car?
But there's the subtler and more gentle side of life and style here that I undeniably adore. The cafes, bakeries and fromagerie that wind up the streets give it the atmosphere to help you chill into the semi-lazy style, it's pros and cons... my bank card was debited 1000 francs without the machine giving the cash. The next morning I arrived at the bank to find it's summer hours are 12:30-2:00 for all of July and August sine most of the staff go away on holiday! I'll be OK and the accordion buskers in the metro stations are damn good making my problem not feel worthy of ruining my day.
Two days later, after visiting 3 bank branches before 12:30 I came back later. Sure enough, it was fully staffed for the two-hour workday. Aware of the problem, the machine never debited my card. Apparently the machine only explained this for some transactions to the user and even then, only in French.
These few days also revealed a part of Paris that enhances the best of the area and eliminated the snobbery, in the area of our hotel in the 18th arrondissement (the snail shell shaped postal coding scheme that spirals out from the river), just outside the scope of the central maps. Night and day it was full of ambiance, history, great views, fantastic food and small flats tucked between the maisons de Sacre Coeur that, I could actually afford someday (especially considering the property costs of central London and New York City). Mental note made.
Different than last year, I know can see how different the French are from the English. Just the idea that someone (or culture) can be distinctly different has always interested me and it's this I am soaking up today.
Paris at night: