Like every person who’s ever gone to Paris, without family with nothing hanging over their head or obligations to anyone other than maybe a job or for much needed time off, for whatever reason, they feel compelled to write about it. To fill pages and pages of their exploits and life lessons learned. I’m sure it’s annoying to say the least, like some exclusive club with all the bragging rights…and now here I am, the newly initiated. What compels these people…us?
Keeping a strangle-hold on an experience like travel, that many of us are fortunate enough to have had, think it’s for the last time. That if we don’t document every nook and cranny, every croissant and crepe experience that somehow, like theater, it’ll be lost to memory. Still, I’m not going to crack open an”American In Paris…” book even if I’d never gone. Who are these books for? People who want to go? Friends of the authors? Or maybe it’s a tax write-off for the most expensive trip they’ll take in their lifetime.
As I’ve gotten older I realize how I don’t travel as well as I did. Maybe after 40 you’re supposed to be less uptight, more understanding or something to that effect. Me, I just feel more broken and out of my element, hoping somehow to find a foreign equivalent to my American routines…with an added bonus of sightseeing and new experiences everyday. I mean, think about how pared-down or not so pared down we pack our daily routines into travel sizes from our favorite shampoo to picking between two sets out of several sets of shoes. We really can’t let go.
Leaving the Red Squirrel left me a little weakened, and before the Uber door slammed shut, I began to uncharacteristically miss her. And here I thought I was a robot. I’ve never traveled alone out of the country before, and two months of French lessons with a tutor in Romania over Skype, I guess I was finally going to have to put it all to the test. The Uber driver, Hisham, whose first thing was to offer me a breath mint, took my mind in a different direction. I did remember to brush my teeth before a 10 hour flight, right? His Arabic was better than his English but he was a very nice guy, and I really dug the Arab music he had playing. Just before being dropped off at Sea-Tac Airport he gets a call on speakerphone from his insurance company. It went something like this.
Insurer: Hello, Hisham?
Ins: This is XXX Auto Insurance and we wanted to make sure that you’re aware that your next payment on the 23rd is going to be higher.
Hish: Why is this? Why higher?
Ins: Hisham, it looks like you have a ticket and so your premiums are going to be higher now.
Hish: I have no ticket.
Ins: I pulled your DMV records and it shows you received a reckless driving ticket back in October 2017.
Hish: I don’t know what this mean? I have no ticket?
Ins: Yes you do.
Hish: Why do you say this? I have no ticket. Never had ticket.
Ins: Well, you do and that’s…
At this point Hisham looks back at me bewildered.
Hish: Hold on…My English is not so good.
Me: Well, I think if you’re saying you have no ticket…does anyone else drive this car?
Hish: No. Just me.
Me: Okay…well, two things. DMV records are public, and you can request to see your records to verify if what she’s saying is true. Or this lady is trying to scare you into paying for something that isn’t right. Did you ever speak to a policeman?
Me: Did you have go to court?
Me: You need to find your records and figure this out.
Hish: Okay. I have to go, I’ll call you back.
So, of course Hisham was bewildered. It didn’t help that he had started his shift at 3am that morning and here it was 10:00am with an hour more for him to go.
WHEELS UP FLAPS DOWN
Plane comfort at “Premium Economy” is PREMIUM BULLSHIT!
Whee…I get 1 and a half meals and the wine service is free. Well, at the price you pay for overseas travel, they’d have a mutiny on their hands if they didn’t at least stuff your face. And doubling every offer of booze was only one way to stop any such transgressions.
Not having the time or inclination to drag my ass out to a communal viewing of over-priced films I did get to see some I’d had my eye on: Coco 4/5, The Disaster Artist 4/5, The Shape of Water 4/5 and all but the last 10 minutes of Phantom Thread 4/5 (because the plane was landing). Even though they were edited for the plane they were all good for different reasons. It also kept my mind off the fact I couldn’t sleep at all…and even with the leg room and nobody in front of me, I wasn’t terribly comfortable in the “economy-style” seating.
THE LONGEST DAY
In the airport I only checked one bag. But still, while I travel light, even for a month stay, the shape and size of my bags do come into question when it comes to how they stack for portability.
- 1 back pack for all the electronic gear will serve as my art daypack.
- 1 larger pack with shoulder strap for all my clothes and my painting tripod.
- 1 smaller rollerboard for all my art supplies, lotions, unguents, salves and my leatherman tool for painting, cutting, etc.
Carrying all these items after sitting for 10 hours made me sweat in the already very warm and humid airport. Then there was the waiting in line for a few things like, Customs, money and the much coveted Navigo Pass. Somebody must have been cold as fuck, because Customs was sweltering. Yet there were people still wearing jackets and I, in a t-shirt was dabbing at my forehead with a robust ‘premium economy plane napkin, nonstop to keep from drowning. Once through the Thunderdome, I picked up my check-on bag which was the easiest thing about the airport as it just seemed to be spinning out in time to greet me. And then the search began for the elusive ATMs.
Because it was May 1st, it was a national holiday here as well. Banks were closed, and everyone had bled the the ATMs dry. I found one on the departure concourse that was working, and so did everyone else. It was fairly straight forward and I’d hope that it’d hold me over until I could figure out where the other ones were, that might be closer to my AirBnB.
The Navigo Pass was essential in that it would get me to all five zones of Paris. From the airport all the way across town and due west to Versailles…and that was still only four zones all in. A cab ride from the airport would have been about $60 American. So the 1.5 hours of waiting in addition to the other 2 hours in Customs line, walking, pausing to cool down, was worth it? Yes? No? Maybe?
If you want the weekly pass…I found out two lines too late, TAKE YOUR PHOTO FIRST at the PHOTO BOOTH. It’s not just a cute little photo booth either. It’s a legitimate machine for passport photos and every other necessary document. So that’s why people were standing in line. Hmmm. I wasted about 30 minutes in another line before an attendant was nice enough to point out that I needed the Navigo Decourverte and not the pass. Wonderful.
Once on Train B toward Paris through to my destination at Denefort-Rochereau station, I finally was able to chill a little and start chomping on some chocolate-covered coffee beans. Generally, I’m very sensitive to caffeine. The nine hour difference from Seattle meant I was waking up when my body was ready for bed. I had to do something and that seemed like the best bet to keep me from needing a restroom every five minutes.
Upon arrival, I was to find the #6 metro line that heads to Passy, as I did, I noticed other people running through the corridors. Now, remember I’ve got these backbreaking bags that I’m lugging up and down steps at least a few times. My heart sank, it was crazy-packed with people already and I was the last one on deck. I made a dash for the end car and got sandwiched between the door causing the alarm to go off as everyone looked at the sweating American looking desperate and burdened. One nice guy pulled the rattrap doors off of me and I scurried inside. I was just glad to have a corner to lean against, and not have to climb over people to further fuel their disdain. Actually nobody was disdaining me in the least. They all went back to what they were doing. Which was talking quietly.
Exiting at Passy I took an escalator up to cobble-stoned streets and meandered my way to 21 rue Raynouard. It looked like it did on Google Maps. I more or less had the look of the street memorized, so, I didn’t feel too lost. I found the brown door with the deco-decorative gold and punched in the code but nothing happened. I tried three more times but no luck. The AirBnB owner was away in Crete and so I tried calling hoping he’d pick up. No dice. I WhatsApp‘d him, which is a great messenger service that uses no data from your plan, overseas or otherwise. Fifteen minutes later he checks back and tells me to head to the dirty smudged service door just a little ways down. Voila!
A MAN A ROOM A PLAN
My guess is, all these Bernard Haussmann buildings are a front. Like literally the doors generally look pretty and well-kept but beyond the door the age of the building shows, and fellas, she ain’t what she used to be. I was a little worried as I was directed downstairs, several in fact, darkened with only Exit signs to light the way, very poorly I might add. I almost fell down the bottom of one set of steps just because it was absolutely black and that’s when I had a flash of thought: I’m being lured into a darkened basement by the promise of a room. WTF am I doing?
Using my iPhone as a flashlight I found the key box, punched in the code and got the key. I didn’t realize it until I opened the door with it’s blinding light from a nearby window (the back half of the building was actually downhill from the front half…and I was still two stories up!) that I’d passed by several disturbing hallway smells on the way down. One was a mix of Coldstone creamery and gladiolas. Another was hot electrical wires and Indian spices. And a third might have been fetid water with a dash of toilet. The upkeep of the inner-workings of the building while orderly could have certainly used a scrubbing, paint job, better electrical and a simple tear-down to the studs.
The room itself was an oasis by comparison. Bright white and tiny. The “murphy bed” wasn’t like the old style where it comes out of a closet door in the wall. This one actually pulled down from the ceiling with the help of counterweights and legs that you fold down. It was pretty cool how it worked and saved a great deal of space. The day bed underneath was a great help to be able to relax on any other time. But first things first, I needed to clean. I don’t like the idea of trusting someone else’s cleaning skills, especially a rental. So, I jumped on it quickly and washed everything down. It also gave me a sense of what all there was and what I’d need to run out and get. But now…I was really starting to bonk. I laid down on the day bed, put my phone alarm on for 25 minutes, closed my eyes and the damn thing went off…25 minutes later! IMPOSSIBLE! But true. I had to get out, I had to go for a walk, or something just to get the lay of the land.
West of Paris in the 16th arrondissement is Passy, which is like any other neighborhood. It has all of it’s essentials for those who live there but still it was quite developed in that because there’s not a mall or shopping center nearby (though they do have Passy Plaza which I’ll get to later) they have many specialty stores and boutiques. Yeah, yeah, cafes on every corner, and green “+” signs that denote a pharmacy intermixed with bakeries and such. It’s blinding how many of these small businesses stay in business. But suffice it to say, Parisians prefer to mingle and eat out a lot. Many are noshing on baguettes after a day of work…well I saw a handful which is interesting because I’m so carb-conscious. But not so carb-conscious that I didn’t grab a panini from a deli along with a pasta in a truffle cream-sauce.
I took my meal down to the Bir-Hakeim bridge not far from the #6 Metro stop (actually under it if you want specifics) and watched as no less than three wedding parties were outgunning each other for who had the biggest dresses and the most camera gear. I guess…well it’s May Day, perfect day for a wedding. It was two Turkish clans and an Asian group trying to get that perfect shot with the majestic Eiffel Tower in the background. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be symbol of romance, vitality or what their marriage has to live up to, but it seemed pretty important that all these groups got the same shot. I ate my chicken panini at the base of a statue while looking at two massive stone figures on the Bir-Hakeim bridge that harkened back to a classical bygone era of greek and roman times. Powerful iconic figures crouched in stone as made up dolls and there beaus crossed the very busy street. The panini was terrific, like what american’s would call the best HOT POCKET one could eat. But now I needed to move or else the carb-coma would PUT ME DOWN FOR THE COUNT.
I went back to my new pad, unpacked all my gear, put them in drawers and closets and transferred my art gear into the day pack. I was just going to walk in a direction and see what I could see. I remember worrying about not being inconspicuous enough. About my clothes being generally conservative with less color than I normally wear. I don’t usually wear logos or anything else like that so, in general I knew it’d be fine. Surprisingly though, there was a mix bag of people. I tend to think Parisians run a little cooler than I do, or maybe I’m just a sweltering mess of a human being, but most people had mid to lightweight scarves. They looked stylish but there’s no way I could pull that shit off.
The sun was warm and it was after three but the breeze was a little chilly. I wore my long sleeve shirt while everyone else was in jackets. I trekked to the Jardin du Ranelagh. It’s a small park just outside of the Bois du Bologne, a much larger park where apparently prostitutes ply their wares when darkness falls. But now, parents and kids were out an about playing football or le foot (soccer) but I guess running and jogging is called le foot, too and people were doing that as well. Surprisingly there were a lot of joggers, and in great defiance there was a lot of Parisians around me smoking like their life depended on it. I picked the first statue I saw that had park benches around it and sat down to paint.
Boy did that feel good. Just getting out there and focusing on something other than the fact I felt like I was being turned inside out. The chocolate-covered coffee beans were wearing off. Somehow I managed to get through a painting before the cold really got to me but now, I had to pee. Oh Paris, why don’t you have more public restrooms, especially in convenient places like parks? [AUTHOR NOTE: 3 months later and the much maligned open-air urinals were installed all over Paris. Urinus, god of peeing must have heard my cries!]
HELLO, SUSTENANCE IS CALLING
I had little hope of getting any grocery shopping done as everything was closed, even Passy Plaza which my landlord had recommended. But on the way back a little Fanprix grocery place was a open and lucky me, I had two reusable bags with me. They say to get to a know a place you can do it through their food. I’d say moreso when you go grocery shopping. You see what’s important to people, to cultures and what sells and what moves. Dairy by far outweighs everything. Their little desert island of vegetables and fruit were actually crying, “Please…someone, anyone, just buy us and put us out of our misery!” They looked partially used and I picked the lesser used of them: oranges, apples and tomatoes. I found oatmeal for breakfast, wasn’t gonna chance the chicken, was not interested in Frances’ love of pork products or sweets. I just needed a few staples to get me through until tomorrow night.
By the time I got back home I was ready for a shower and hoped I could make it another three hours until nine or nine-thirty to finally fall asleep. Somehow I managed and when my head hit the pillow all I could think about was how we never use laundry soap with fragrance. Despite the clean sheets, the rank odor of cheap old lady perfume permeated everything. This tenderfoot was going to have a long freakin’ night…but at least it was finally lights out.