Wednesday, October 24, 2007

J'aime Paris - Days 1 and 2

Day 1:

I arrive in Paris really early in the morning and realized while making my way through the airport that 1.) I over packed because my heavy bags are not conducive to trekking quickly through CDG - gates A to G. and 2.) putting on my French thinking cap is taking effort.

I am looking for the train. I ran into an airport attendant who tries to get me to take the expensive shuttle to the city. We have those hustlers in DC too....chuckle. But I know the train is the way to go. I will have to find another attendant without a "friend" to help me.

Thankfully my talkative nature was a boon on the plane because a fellow American was kind enough to alert me that tomorrow there might be a transportation strike in Paris. Hmmmm....gotta find out what that means exactly. Well at least I will be prepared for tomorrow.

8:40am: I finally get to the train.

Amazing aspect of riding on the train is that you get to see the beauty that is the outskirts of Paris. Everything is so green and the vegetation lush as the train woshes by. Already I can tell in a way that I stand out because I spot a few eyes on me most of them from various African people in my train car.

Amazingly, my bag is big but people go around it and look at me and wave with the "don't worry" hand motion and nod. Some smile. Do they think I am Parisien or do they realize I am a tourist? Who are these people and why aren't they rude!

9:40am: Rue de Villiers - on my way to the hotel.

9:50am: Ok. So I admit that I am lost. I roads are winding and curvy. I can't tell which way is north or south and my map confusing. I go to a small hair salon and ask the owner for directions. He is not only really helpful but smells really good and is so Parisien - nose and all.

Get to hotel. Check in. Ask for directions to the tour buses. Quick shower. On my way!

Find the Eiffel Tower where the tour bus stop is - but have to wait to visit the ET because R (my travel buddy) wants to go tomorrow. Admittedly I know with my fear of height issues having someone else there with me would be a good idea.

The tour bus was great. I get a full view of the city and can get on or off whenever. We go through Invalides, Champs Elysee, the Arche du Triomphe and the Louvre where I get off.

Louvre: The Louvre was an overall great experience. I got to see many of the art works and sculptures that I studied in undergrad - the etruscan statues, Code of Hammurabi, Medieval art and Venus de Milo - awe inspiring. I am not sure if the French painter section was what I expected especially my visit of the Mona Lisa - but overall the Louvre is a must see on a visit to Paris. I still feel like I did not see everything.

End the day sitting outside of a cafe with glass of wine. The french guy next to me is explaining the wine and the area of France where it is made. He seems really nice. Cafes are so good for people watching.

"Carrie Bradshaw" thoughts: The tour bus gives me an up close and personal look at the many buildings in Paris. Already I can tell there is a lot that is special about Paris - most importantly the amazing architecture. The buildings have that extra swirl and curl, romantic reliefs of latin or Parisienne woman in flowing gowns and muscular men doing what muscular men do - showing off their muscles holding heavy baskets of fruit. Is it being surrounded by all these extra touches that puts the Parisiens and visitors in an indefinite romantic mood? Or is it that these extra touches backfire and can sometimes make Parisiens just plain bitter?

Day 2:

I wake up late! Yikes! Gotta get out of the hotel and to the apt and figure out how much the transportation strike has affected the Paris metro. Ummm ...on second thought I will take a cab ... if I can find one since I have to go from one end of town to the next. I find a cab. The driver says that the trip will cost 15 Euros. Heavy bags and the unknown regarding the strike tell me that 15 euros is a great deal...:) As we drive through the city and quaint neighborhoods I have a "Two Days In Paris" moment. As we zip through the streets on our mission....I could just tell we are were zooming by the different Arrondisements. I squinted instead and focused on the different store windows. I ponder once again my rationale why Paris is considered so romantic. So much goes into the architecture. Even the metro signs have curves. The buildings have so much extra curves and swirly details. You will find no Washingtonian plain gray facade.

When I finally get to the apt. I am amazed not only that it exists ...;) but also that it is quite comfortable. Only major issue was having to lug my bags up four flights of stairs! Way better than the hotel room ... which was too tiny and for the price not that extravagant. It served a purpose.

R and I spend some time catching up and taking pictures but had to leave after sometime because the day was flying by and we had to make it to the Eiffel Tower. We wait in line for about an hour but the waiting was worth it just to experience getting to the top of the tower. It was exhilirating eventhough the physical going up was nerve wrenching.

Afterwards, we walk to the Champs Elysee and hang out with the beautiful people. Sipping coffee and eating pastries .... delightful!

On the way home, I met guy from Martinique in the subway. He was shy but fun and accommodating. He was looking for a job so I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask him about job hunting in Paris as a minority. He says that the climate now was to hire two or three blacks so as to give the impression that the company/firm is not prejudice. He was optimistic because fellow minority engineers who had graduated from engineering school the year before he did were all gainfully employed. I thought that was a positive light for him but mentioned getting in the door was a simple challenge but the biggest hurdle might be climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.

This was definitely a day for meeting interesting french guys. I guess I can blame new 10 minute buddies on the chaotic Parisienne transportation system.

At the next subway transfer point, I meet Chris the astronomer who lived and studied in Hawaii for 5 years. His dad was American - they don't talk. He goes on and on.

R thinks its odd that people share their personal stories and secrets with me. I just shrug and and say they can't resist the smile. In fact I am really interested in learning more french culture and society below the surface. I have heard and read so much and now I have the opportunity to get the word from the horses mouth so to speak.

When Chris gets tired of waiting, he leaves and we meet Frederick who is French-Canadian actor and I strike up a conversation. We speak of politics and his life...of course. He tells me he grew up in Canada but met his wife in Paris and has lived here ever since. He is well read about American politics and is rooting for Hillary ... in fact all French people I meet are rooting for Hillary. Go figure... she is a force. He hates Sarkozy and thinks Bill Clinton would make a good president for France ( myself; Hillary in the US and Bill in Paris...interesting). While we are in France, Sarkozy's divorce is final. His wife has a new man and he a new gal. Frederick is amused by this turn of events.

The train finally comes and we head home, go to restaurant, eat and call it a night. I am tired.

"Carrie Bradshaw thoughts": On delightful days when all is going well people rarely have any time to give each other. But in the most disasterous times we always look beyond the adrenaline rush and reach out. Why is it that we are finally at a place where we put the importance of looks aside and see through facades at what is important?

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