The Trip To France

Looking at this picture, I enjoy that there are children behind me who seem just in that mix of confusion, wonder and odd displacement that I seem to be exhibiting here.

After all, this is Paris, the top of Le Tour D’Eiffel and here we both are, seeing and being in said experience.

On the plane ride over, I got my first taste of France (Air France) when trying to talk to the people around me in my improved but still woefully-lacking French led to mostly semi-annoyed looks and people replying to me in similarly broken but still comparatively superior English. It’s not their fault or mine I suppose, as we both think to work out languages. It’s just what the author says in the book I am reading, From Paris to the Moon: The French harbor residual anger that English has so overtaken their language in universality, proven corporeally by that they themselves know it better than les autres know French.

“Pardonnez-moi, Madame.” I said to the ticket-lady at Le Tour, “Ext-ce que je peux acheter un ticker pour le tour?”

“Yah, how old are you?” She replied.

“24.” I said dejected and then, as I would several times that evening: “Sorry for my French.”

The French would have different responses to this in Paris.

Sometimes if they were trying to be nice or I was buying something from them, they would reply.

“Mais non! Vous etes fort! Vous parlez tres bien!”

Other times they would just say knowingly (sometimes without my even opening my mouth!):

“Vous parlais anglais?”

This woman just replied:

“Just think of it as a chance to practice your French.”

I had arrived in Paris on a near whim, planned several months earlier, just because I thought I needed something. What I didn’t know but something it seemed.

Sitting in the courtyard of the hostel, people would give me their reasons, some good, some just as random as mine.

Many Koreans and Chinese people, on vacations, or taking a trip with their significant other or friends. A special-ed teacher from L.A. on holiday. A boyfriend and girlfriend from Australia traveling here and then to Brussels.

When I asked another Australian girl at the provided continental breakfast whether she knew my previously met Australians, she said:

“No, we travel in droves.”

My room consisted of four bunk beds, standard hostel I guessed, since I hadn’t really stayed in one. My roommates were two large, affable college students from Tennessee, a study-abroader and her friend who had come to visit who were headed for the rest of Europe as adventure buddies and a Londoner named Brad who was keen on debating the Republican candidate field with me (“Ron Paul has devoted followers who know when and where to be.”) and who, upon graduating from acting school, knew only “that I didn’t want to act”.

The flight was relatively stress-free despite a crying baby and a woman next to me who thought she could use her seat-back compartment as a foot rest (a good preview for the French) as I got to watch “Cedar Rapids” (a middling-good airplane-ish comedy) and “The Help” (a middling-good airplane drama). I also discovered that Air France boozes you up which is a great idea flying (dinner was accompanied by both red wine and a glass of champagne and coffee came, inexplicably to me, with cognac at the bottom) but a really poor idea when you have a rest-of-the-day to attend to.

This was especially true when I realized that my international roaming charges were 20 dollars per megabyte and that the GEVEY sim I had purchased for France didn’t seem to work with any of the prepaid SIM cards I got and that unlike New York, there was no one in Paris who understood this. I only understood this 3 prepaid SIM cards later.

I headed back to my hostel in time for check-in exhausted and exasperated, walking up-hill thinking what I would do without internet how annoying it all was how I literally had already spent hours at these shops and STILL nothing worked, how I’d gotten coffees at Starbucks, even more overpriced than America, just to pee and check my email how I’d been walking and wandering and felt lost and everyone’s directions were wrong.

And then I took a nap.

And woke up.

And looked up some things online to do.

And instead of taking the metro, I just started walking.

I walked the stairs at nearby Montmartre and managed to evade the hucksters who spotted me as American as soon as I got there, trying to put my finger into some colorful string.

I found stands selling Churros and Hot Wine (Vin Chaud) and these glow in the dark rainbow whirligigs that everyone seemed to have.

Instead of taking one metro station, I took the next one.

And I went to a wonderful restaurant I found on Chowhound, L’Alcove, where I was the only one present, chatting with the owner who was very proud of his rave reviews in Le Figaro et Le Fooding. I got some Couscous Poulet which was reasonable and delicious. and much more than I could eat as I sat reading From Paris To The Moon. I  read about Adam Gopnik trying divine Haricots Verts and asked the proprietor if I could have some as a side.

“Des Haricots?” He replied. “No you don’t need them! There are legumes in the couscous.”

I didn’t really understand but said fine and as I said it was delicious.

***

And then I just walked and kept on walking.

My phone didn’t have internet service, but somehow it still had GPS and along with an incomplete cached map of Paris I had left over from when I had looked up the restaurant on my phone, it was enough to tell me vaguely where I was and what was around me.

I walked from the restaurant just up and down streets and side streets, main drags. I went to the mall and train station at Montparnasse. I passed the “Indiana Club” which looked hopping but strangely named and Johnny’s English Bar, which actually wasn’t too expensive, but no one seemed to speak English.

I just kept on walking seeing what there was to see, passing closed boutiques and (sadly) people who kept seeming more attractive than me. Just like Israel, the last time I went on vacation, it was a shame to know the natives were all so good-looking.

I decided to walk to the Seine, several miles from the restaurant and when I made it there, I said “I made it to the Seine”. Then I decided to walk by the Musee D’Orsay just to see that and I made it and I said “I walked to the Musee D’Orsay.” and then I decided to walk to Le Tour D’Eiffel and there I was as well.

And as I walked my mind worked in the back, mulling and streaming, observing the night.

What if instead of lamenting the lack of internet, I took it as a a gift? What if instead of trying to write my life, like I thought going into to trying to find a SIM card, and feeling so frustrated if didn’t go according to a script in my head, I just explored and stayed in the moment and tried to follow what inspired me?

This concept of “being there”, “being in the moment” is drawn from improv, acting. But it’s true, here you are, here I am. And there are so many wonderful things to see. I noticed the streaming of the Seine, the posh apartment buildings, the cigar smoke streaming in the night from the person walking in front of me.

When walking through les Arrondisements, I just turned when I saw a light that looked interesting, somewhere that looked like it had something happening, something that felt like it was there for me.

I went down a street of cloth merchants at one point. I passed and entered a popular chain of supermarches called “Monoprix” which seemed somewhere between a Whole Foods and a Macy’s, only smaller. I felt the breeze and the strangely warming night.

I was there. I was here. I am.

I went 7 hours without the internet, a crazy amount of time for me, but there I was again.

And, though I wished I had someone to kiss atop Le Tour D’Eiffel, I settled for knowing I had made it here, this far.

That I was present in the moment.

Moi.

The only thing to comment on, really, were the McDonalds which seemed invariably like the coolest places around, filled with hip 16-24 year-olds (moi inclusif) and advertising the shown “Bagel Burgers” as their star item, with one listed as “A Victim Of Its Own Success”. The place was full and bustling, your order was taken by electronic screen and the prices were roughly even with New York, converted from Euros.

In From Paris to The Moon, Gopnik describes these McDonalds (10 years ago, when the book was written) as threatening the classic French Bistro and why not.

I think you might be able to get a beer with your meal.

I guess that’ll be on the list to see.

***

L’ALCOVE

Couscous poulet- 11.90 Euros (about 16 dollars)

46 Rue Didot (near Rue D’Alesia)

Metro 13 au gare Plaisance.

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4 Responses to The Trip To France

  1. Julie Brown says:

    You are a lucky young man…..travel, take it all in, enjoy yourself, write a lot of what you see and smell and hear and taste….remember it forever. It will forever be good in your mind….

  2. Margaret I. says:

    J’aime Paris to the Moon. Peut-être vous lisez à Julia Child et son temps à Paris depuis que vous avez comme cuisine? Continuer à marcher et par écrit. (Veuillez m’excuser pour mon horrible français de l’école secondaire.)

  3. Dear Nick
    It was a sheer delight reading this blog entry. Mostly because i know you, and I know Paris and now I get to see you two together, like seeing two friends meet. Or more to the point, seeing a friend in the city where most of my happy childhood memories are from. Your spelling is amazing, so you must be proofreading. I read From Paris to the Moon too! One of the few non-fiction books I’ve read. I read it as a summer reading book in high school to be discussed- we had a choice of five or six books. One for each subject.
    What you said about walking too. So true. Paris is THE best walking city. After all the words, promener, means to walk around with no particular purpose.
    I really want to share my favorite parts of Paris but it seems you want to discover it for yourself. I will say this though, the oldest part of Paris, the Marais is the only neighbourhood where stores are open on Sunday so wait till Sunday to go:)
    And I grew up in the 16th Arrondissements off on Rue Spontini of Avenue Victor Hugo. And I worked at Vogue France and Chloé on Rue Faubourg Saint Honoré. Though I dont think you’d go there since it’s all high fashion. Though no matter what they say Paris IS the fashion capital of the world and there’s no Hermes store in existence like the one in Paris. It’s just so decadent.
    Also Ladurée off La Place de la Madeleine has THE best macarons and is gorgeous.

  4. cecil barn says:

    i’ll take my souvenir from that Hermes store, merci.

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