Day two in Paris. Much better than day one, which was a nightmare, one of those days where if it could go wrong it did. Over two hour getting out of Charles de Gaulle airport–only 4 minutes of that was getting through Customs (I have my first visa stamp in my passport!). The rest was being sent from one ticket office to another, finding out my Eurail pass won’t work until tomorrow, and then deciding that the platform that says “All trains to Paris” had to be the one I wanted. Serenaded by two rappers with portable audio systems strapped to wheelies–at decibels that put the 747 I flew in on to shame. Then they had the nerve to ask the lady with her fingers in her ears (moi) for a tip. Hours more finding how to get to my B&B outside of Paris to the west. And more such adventures. The Eiffel Tower’s revolving beam is lovely at night as I watch from my 30th floor window.
So on to Day two. Navigating the Metro system was much better, and I got to St. Germain de Pres with ease. Stood wondering where Les Deux Magots (the Two Treasures, not worms) was. Walked around the ice cream stand and voila! Lingered over a lunch of Croque Monsier–ham and cheese sandwich to the uninitiated– a cup of tea and finally a pastry with chocolate inside. The restaurant hasn’t changed from the art nouveau style it wore when Hemingway and other literary not-yet-stars got drunk and fed there in the 1920s. Vases of calla lilies lent an air of spring. Rich mahogany paneling and furniture warmed the room. A winding staircase led down to Les toilettes: new fixtures but all else could have been lifted from a ’20s movie set. Made me want to stay longer!
Directions to Shakespeare and Company book store, founded around 1913 and still in the family, led me up boulevards and down rues, from the Seine to the Sorbonne, into stationery stores and around beggars and kiosks inviting me to buy postcards for a euro each, or sometimes 10 for three euros. I resisted. Found the bookstore way back where the directions led me astray. If I’d walked half a block farther at first I would have found it. OMG! I was in heaven. Tiny rooms and narrow passages, shelves and tables overflowing with books in English, stairways leading to reading rooms. And over the door to the children’s room, a quote: “Why do you think I’m mad?” Asked Alice. “Because otherwise, ” answered the Cat, “you wouldn’t be here.”
Which describes Paris to a T. One must be mad to visit without speaking much French, to come during the coldest spring the locals can remember, to walk until her feet quietly scream, yet carry her to places she would never have seen. As she walked along the Seine under gray skies that defied any sense of direction from the sun, she blurted, “I’m in F***ing Paris! On the Left Bank! Looking at Notre Dame!” And she forgave herself for venturing off on a trip that so far had left her frazzled and weary and (if she may say it) extremely pissed off.
Paris is more multicultural than anyone from a small town, or even a fairly large city in certain states, can even imagine. Black faces outnumber paler ones, hijabs cover a goodly portion of women, and beggars sit and huddle with battered styro coffee cups holding a few coins, or come up to you and whisper for alms. English, Arabic, and a host of other tongues mingle with French. Everyone hurries except tourists and the infirm. Which is a good way to avoid having pockets picked–so far a, so good. Churches everywhere, construction even more prevalent. A whirlwind of energy, until the Metro or the bus or the train. Then no one speaks, makes eye contact, even seems to be on this planet. After hours on my feet, bombarded by sight and sound and scent, I’m happy to become a zombie.
An interesting sidelight: the Parisians pronounce Charles de Gaulle’s last name the same way we pronounce a creature who rises from the grave and feed on flesh. Hint: It isn’t zombie.
And so to bed, to move on to Nice tomorrow–if the rail strike is over. Hmmm. My thumbing days might not be over!