The Things… Paris (All Three Times)

Paris the city of lights, romance and love. That is all I went into Paris knowing. Oh and that of "Inception" where the the Haussman buildings fold together in dreams. I had awareness of the Seine and The Eiffel Tower. I knew of macarons and croissants. Chanel and Hermes. That is all. And I am not alone in my sheer ignorance of Paris or France in general. I guess one is fueled by the image of the Paris skyline with the Eiffel Tower in the distance and then the artsy fartsy drawing of the cafes and can-can dancers. Then there is the storybook illustration of lone castles with secret gardens and the French provinces with cobblestoned streets and fields of lavender. Why is France so far from these pictures in my mind? I cannot explain how and why. All I can do is encourage a trip to see nothing is as it seems. For even I have three different experiences in Paris.

The Lights…

I arrived in Paris around 1pm in June. I got off the train and just started walking as advised. She had sent me some very explicit instructions about once I got off the train. I was told to go straight to the taxi stand. She failed to tell me I might need actual money to ride in one. So instead of doing what I should have like exchanging some bills or using the ATM I simply did as told. So I entered Paris in a hanger of sorts where I did not get to see the outside of the station or the trains going and to and from. I just sort of meandered outside and underneath this massive awning to watch cabs. Once a cab was selected I was able to look up. There was no tower or big buildings. There were no billboards, red balloons or blimps. All I saw was light dijon colored Haussman style apartments ready to be inverted by my mind. Thankfully, my lack of money allowed me to get out of one cab and into another where I was carefully taken into this light. Again, just like in London I was in a rush to get from point A to point B. 

The African cabbie turned up his music, rolled down all the windows and took me on a scenic route through the 1st Arrondissement. This was not where I needed to go but it wasn't a detour either. So in this I saw the smaller fashion houses, The Louvre and The Seine. I saw all the people on bicycles, at the cafes. I saw girls in cardinal red summer dresses with men in grey day suits. It was pleasant dry heat with a slight breeze. He pulled up the weather via Siri to show it was all a fluke. This was their first day of Spring, mind you in the first week of June. He then took me to Gare Montparnasse where I probably stood in the spot of the derailment of 1895. Once inside all I experienced was the lack of air conditioning and abundance of French kindness. I was expecting bullet trains in all white space age stations and smelly, rude people. In actuality, everyone was way too pleasant to be in a gigantic metal box with no chairs. I was taken aback at all the Black people who delicately spoke both English and French with such ease. A Black ticketing agent helped me with my billets. A Black representative changed my ATM withdrawal informing me that she was only doing it because of us being Black showing me the back of her hand to align. A Black attendant watched my bags in the toilette. A lanky, gorgeous Black man sold me my first French coke, baguette and yaourt. A barrage of gorgeous, multicolor French business men assisted me with my bags over and over and over again. And soon I was alongside of them on one of those fancy bullet trains past the city and into the countryside.

The Romance…

Once back in Paris for the second time and now with her there was a different approach. Now we had time but not a lot of it. Again, she had already seen things but was apparently saving most for my arrival. I had paid for this beautiful hotel more or less a place for couples. We stayed in a room where the bath was just behind the glass wall which was behind the king sized bed. Once out on the actual streets with its grand pillars and palaces with a river running though I could see it. There was a reason lovers came to Paris for the jardins and galleries.  However, now it was not Spring or Summer but cold. It was a light mist of rain and chill all the time. If you stood someplace long enough the sun could graze your neck and fool you into taking off your jacket or putting down your umbrella. Somehow embedded in each and everyone of us this correlates to love and romance. The idea that a pretty place surrounded by pretty people and things could be overcast and still lovely. I disagreed. Then came the utter refinement of macarons and little gateaus after a month of common butter laden Viennoiseries. Suddenly the likes of Jil Sander and St Laurent storefronts had nothing on Vivienne Westwood stores within a store and Cartier boutiques. I'd forgotten about Louis Vuitton for it was too contrived. Now I was sitting in rattan chairs watching the people go by while cutting the cheese with a buttered knife. I was already quite French and romanced well before Paris.

The Love...

Again I was dashing through Paris. I had only an hour to make it from Gare Lyon to Charles De Gaulle airport. This would be my last glimpse at Paris and of France. If I had more time and money I could have made it back to Nantes for my things without her. It may have been awkward coming to get them and dissecting her stuff to get mines. I would have also come unannounced and in a rush. Then I would head right back to Paris with a lot more in tow so this was best. It was 11pm at night and the last train to CDG would leave in twenty minutes. For the first time even I was standing on the TGV with my phone in one hand and a bag in another. I jetted down the platform and over to the information desk to make sure my calculations were right. I remember practicing what to say and how to say it in French and she spoke perfect English to me and even gave me a map. To my left was an open air exit to the concourses and I turned to it. I stood in the small space and inhaled my last French air. I remember saying out aloud "I love this air". I then turned back to a wall of escalators which I refused to take and even with the small window I had I always took elevators. Once down to the RER I couldn't get a ticket with cash, coin or card. I struggled going from machine to machine. Finally, one took my last 10 Euros, my last paper bill. I then went to the turnstile and my ticket would not work. I wondered had I gotten the wrong one. I wondered did I demagnetize it that fast. Then suddenly two African girls appeared with their tiny suitcases and found a way through. They saw me on the other side and told me everything was broken. They each pushed the plexi sliders to get my luggage through and grabbed me up as well. We had a great laugh and they went one way and I went another. They were probably going home and I was leaving. Again, I struggle with trains so I paced both sides of the platform even getting on the wrong train. So I stood and waited for the right one knowing my window was closing in to get to CDG before midnight. Just the ordeal of getting my ticket and getting through took 10 minutes. While standing fingering my map and trying to remember my plans an old lady approached me. In French, she told me not to get on that train but another and get off at a specific station. She explained the trains were not running to CDG but a bus would be offered until midnight. Once I got off I should run to make that bus. For some odd reason I understood everything that woman said to me and she was right. If it hadn't been for her I'd still be in Paris.

I missed…

- Norte Dame 

I never intended to see any churches while in Europe or anywhere for that matter. Well the majority of our trip churches were the only sights she focused on. Thankfully, she'd already made her pilgrimage here before I arrived. I somewhat regret not seeing this particular church because it may be older than life itself.

- Pons de Arts/The Love Locks

Didn't go there. Didn't see them. Didn't place a lock there over some unrequited love. Still not interested and I'm in total agreement with the old farts of Paris that it is vandalism. I knew of it too and she reminded me of it but I still don't care.

- Disneyland Paris

Apparently, allegedly is very far away and expensive. There have been several complaints from the French about the food as well. There was a lot of guerrilla marketing about the park throughout Nantes. It seemed like the end all destination for the family that didn't care about food or money.

- Colette, Repetto and La Galleries Lafayette

A more fashionable friend sent me a list of places we must see in Paris before we left. Colette was on it along with other various high end places. In that search we found Repetto which was also recommended by another friend but we never made it. I'd been in La Galleries in Nantes so I didn't think I was missing anything until I saw pictures four months after I'd left. Now Colette is on Paris' wikipedia page as a destination and has also been robbed. So.

- A Party Cruise on The Seine

We could never agree on this party boat phenomenon while in Europe. France's boats looked the most inviting and when walking the Seine all you could see were people in light jersey swaying to Daft Punk. I was hurt to have missed this experience.

- Champs-Elysee

Always close, but always far we never saw the big fashion houses or grand windows. 

- Crepes, Escargot, Cassoulet

As many creperies and crepe carts we passed in both Nantes and Paris we never had one. I cannot recall if she ever did. I feel traumatized about that because it isn't like we didn't have the opportunity - we had like a hundred and one. I also never saw escargot anywhere and I wanted to try everything. I saw more sardines than I ever did snails. I figured out what a cassuolet was way too late. I figure they taste like Dinty Moore stew anyways. Dinty Moore stew with beans.


Yeah, Versailles is far and you've seen it in movies. Bastille is not there. You cannot go to Bastille and lock ones self in a cell because it doesn't exist and hasn't since the 18th century. Meh.

- Mont Saint Michel 

Outside of Paris as well but not too far away for a day trip. I knew nothing of the place until I rented "To The Wonder" almost six months before it was actually in theaters. Having been a fan of Terrance Malick and quite impressed with his other films that most people walked out of I had high hopes. Yet I found myself completely bored with it and just wanting to see that "castle thingy in the water". I asked could we go early in planning. Then it became a day trip with her friends who never really mentioned it. I recall asking her even when I was quite tired of her to please go and share the images of the trip. She eventually went and I saw pictures months after we disconnected. It wasn't as it appeared in the movie. At least she didn't photograph it like that but she's not Terrance Malick is she. 

I did do the following…

We did see Le Bon Marche as recommended by our fashionable friend. I called myself photographing it but I only captured things the fashionable friend didn't like. She didn't like it with hearts and also commented she didn't like the items I captured. I loved the damn place and of course my friend chose to buy lingerie during soldes. At the time I was quite familiar with the designer and very happy she was able to get something for barely nothing. Then I became slowly annoyed with her unpacking and unwrapping the underlings and holding them up like paper dolls. She did this every time we checked out of a hotel.

I saw the Eiffel Towel and despite my fear of heights I went all the way. We also exited exactly at 11pm so we were able to catch the lighting at 11:05pm which only last five minutes.

I did also climb to the basilica at Secre Coure. My first unexpected trip to a church. As I had to see the castle in the water she wanted to go to the church on the hill. We walked a zillion miles up to it when we could have take cable lifts. Then we walked over 300 marches up and back down. This is what killed my ankle. Glad I did it though. 

We visited the Musee De Orsay and the Louvre. In both places we didn't have enough time to see everything but we saw the important things like "The Dancer" and "Mona Lisa".  I would probably never go back to the Louvre but would take membership at Orsay. I didn't really tell her but I wanted to roll up and die in that place.

I did manage to have some traditional French food while in Paris. I had my first Croque Monsieur for breakfast. We finally sat for lunch at a real bistro and I had Poulet avec Pommes De Terre. That to me was a defining moment. We also had the gratis champagne at the hotel and I don't know if it was real or fake or whatever. It wasn't very sweet and it had bubbles.

We conquered both Laduree and Angelina's macarons. Both places introduced me to some very new flavor profiles. I honestly hadn't had macarons until a few months before I left the states. In fact, the local macaron shop helped me practice my boullangerie greeting and prepare for France. So I ate a lot of pistachio ones where I was from and was then thrown into a world of things named Mont Blanc and Yuzu Ginger. Those were the two flavors that stood out. They're probably not in season now so don't sue me if you go and don't see them. They may only have pistachio! At least you know they will be tastier and larger than what we have stateside. Trust I know Laduree and Paul's are in the states but you're not in France. Everything is better in France. You're also not going to be able to eat them with real champagne, hot chocolate or in the company of a one legged pigeon by the Seine.

What I Learned…

Paris is vast and is comprised of several districts, suburbs and neighborhoods. You will see "ghettos", mansions and projects. In fact, those are everywhere.

There really are no public restrooms in Paris. Those things you see on the travel network know for their cleanliness are gross and cost money to use. All toilettes even ones at attractions cost. So always have change on you to pay for the toilette. They typically are 50 cents to 1.50 Euros. It was very strange at first but I got used to it on round two and three. Also, that green apple thingee is not a port-o-potty. It's a recycling receptacle thats why there is no door but a hole just big enough to put a can or bottle in.

Soda costs more than water and water costs more than juice and wine is about the same as soda so get the wine. Don't bring your own water to a brasserie or bistro that sells water because it is insulting to the owner who wants you to buy water, or juice, or soda or wine. Again, get the wine.

Don't buy the kitschy metal souvenirs or 1 Euro water they are selling throughout Paris. Both are probably laden in poisonous lead. Your salesperson may be very charming but they are typically Nigerian badmen or gypsies. I don't know if that crap has lead but everyone and everything says ignore them and their stuff. 

Everyone speaks English in Paris - it isn't even worth butchering French.

People hang their wet laundry and water their plants over the door frame for Chanel. There is no distinction when it comes to what is inherently French like laundry. Laundry swinging off balconies that is. Balconies everywhere. Even above Chanel.

You have to open the door by swinging the latch up on the Metro. The doors don't automatically open - not to get on and not at stops. At popular places there are newer trains that have the automatic plexi openings like at the gare turnstiles but there is weird delay. The Metro also didn't feature elevators, there were stairs though. I still really don't know how lil old ladies got around.

The Marais district is better known for its LBGT population. The gay clubs and friendly businesses are throughout the 3rd and 4th arrondissements.  Since this is a touristy destination things are open on Sundays like pharmacies. There are plenty of shops and restaurants as well including Starbucks. Don't stop at Starbucks in Paris if you just want to use the wi-fi - it never works. Well it worked once and then politely shoved us off.

In Conclusion

France is a fabulous place. Paris uh not so much. Had I gone to Paris and stayed thirty days I'd be over France. For most people who live in work in places far removed from the sites Paris is a wonderful place to be. Outside of normal living Paris a magical place for artists, writers and celebrities. Paris is for people who can afford to commission art, buy designer things and eat fruits de mar. It is not for the broke, feint of heart or old/disabled. Trust I'd love to have had an absinthe flight, a House of Balmain tour and a picnic on the Seine but these things were not doable in three days on a strict budget. I was glad to go and conquer my fear of heights climbing to the top of things and cities and such. However, I would never tell anyone to do that if they were overweight, out of shape and had ever had any sprains or broken bones. You are basically paying for pain. Paris by day is very bland - its all grey and blue-y and smells of sewage. Paris by night lights up, smells like salted bergamot avec herbs de provence and turns into a circus of privilege. I wonder what the life of a teenager is like whose home is a flat with parquet floors and the backyard Tulleries. Where a kid can smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, grab a beer and then have sex in the park under the stars without any consequence for all infractions. Could you imagine the sample sales? 

What will I do when I go back...

I just want to eat in Paris. That is all I want to do. I don't want to see or do anything else. I want a fish in one of those copper poaching thingees covered in butter and lemon. I want langoustines and all the other strange things I didn't get while in Paris. I want a whole chicken to myself with lots of fingerling potatoes. I want beef bourguignon. I want to eat off tasting menus and in peoples houses. Then I just want to fall asleep in the street full and drunk and eat the night air while Daft Punk is blaring.

UPDATE: Paris is my playground now. I bring friends - real and dear friends. We eat all the things. We see everything. We waste no moments. 

No comments: