Sunday, September 19, 2010

Guess What I Saw in Paris? (Part 1)

This is the first part of my trip to Paris that I posted in my "Notes" section on Facebook before I started my blog last year. I am reposting it here to preserve it.

This was- I am very ashamed to say - my first major vacation in 15 years. That's pathetic enough. Unlike the last time, as enamored as I am of Paris now, I know enough that loving a to visit a city is not the same as trying to move there. We always hear about those expats but ya know what? The majority of them came from money. There's always other visits and I would go back in a heartbeat. I need to go back. I loved this place! But it didn't start so smoothly ...


It was a little rainy when we got there. My friends - Fernando and Sunil - were staying with their Parisian friends- Marc and Thierry- on the Rue Geoffroy Marie. At the top of their street was the Folies Bergeres. (O'Briens, ask your mom about her Folies Bergeres story!) They lived in a beautiful little apartment in a very middle working class neighborhood. Anybody ever been to Paris and been amazed by all the green neon cross pharmacies?

One of the first things we did was traverse all the amazing covered passages all the way to the Louvre. That's where I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Far from being a delicate spindle, it is actually a rather muscular structure. A man tried to sell me something, I said I didn't speak French. He asked (in English) where I was from, I said the US and he was excited. He is Kenyan so we slapped hands over Obama. I still didn't buy what he was trying to sell. We walked in the Palais Royale gardens before going back to the apartment where Marc. We were exhausted and after a rest we went up the hill to the Blvd Rochechouart and my hotel. Well, for 42 Euros a night, I shouldn't have expected much more. I knew the bathrooms would be shared but didn't know the toilet would be one floor below me. Or that the shower would be in a closet with no ventilation and a pervasive mildew scent. Bleh. Later in the week, the handle on the sink in my room came right off in my hands. The area I stayed in was right below the hill of the great Sacre Coeur. You could see the people on the upper steps from far below.

We went to Le Marais and met another Thierry for drinks are Marronier, THE place to see and be seen. I love how the cafes in Paris all have the chairs facing out so you feel as though you're performing for an audience as you walk by. From there, we walked back to where Marc had made us dinner (what a guy!) and then I went back to my hotel for a fitful sleep.


I awoke with one of the worst headaches I'd ever had. I tried in vain to find an open pharmacy but when things are closed in Paris, they're CLOSED. The guy at the front desk gave me an aspirin which helped. Thank god, because this was the day when we took the two day trip to Normandy. How cute is it to drive through those little villages and see people carrying around their baguettes? The French love their bread and boy, it's been hard to get used to the American stuff again.I was relieved to get out of the mildewy hotel and go on a road trip through the French countryside. I felt much better as the day wore on and by the time we arrived at our first stop, the town of Etretat, I was ready to scale those amazing cliffs. We walked and walked and walked. Those cliffs are STEEP and there are no protective barriers but it was wonderful. And yes, I held my own despite the steep pathways and constant climbing. there, we went to the towns of Deauville and Trouville. I loved Deauville which is the site for the climax of the great film "Bob le Flambeur." Side note: I am very grateful that you can find Diet Coke in France; it's called "Coca Cola Light" there. From there, we went to the gorgeous seaside town of Honfleur had dinner by the water. I wanted escargot but it wasn't on the menu. Thierry said "bulots" were the same thing. Thierry was wrong. Bulots were served raw in the shell with mayonnaise. I gamely ate about half of it, Fernando helped me with the rest but for the record, bulots are NOT escargot.We stayed in the most beautiful B&B I'd ever seen, with a thatched roof and delicious breakfast. I slept on a creaky, fold-out couch but unlike Elaine Benes, the bar didn't throw my back out. The next day we journeyed to the amazing Mont St. Michel and this was truly one of the highlights of the trip. An old neighbor of ours used to have a picture of it on her wall and I never could reconcile myself to such an amazing looking place on the water, but there it was, rising out of the horizon like a fairy tale. hey, the ham and cheese sandwich I bought there for lunch was swell. See, it was because of that bread again. God, that stuff is good.

Hey, know what there's a lot of in France? Steps! Mt. St. Michel is no exception. But to be there, in such an old place was almost overwhelming. After a nice, long day at Mt. St. Michel, we drove back to Paris just in time for Marc to make us another dinner. Then I grudgingly went back to my hotel room, although this time, it didn't seem as bad as it had. I passed out.


Now I've been in the country for a few days, I have seen so many things, now it's time to really be let loose in the city. We had established a routine that I would walk down the hill every morning to have breakfast with Marc, Fernando and Sunil at their place. This was a day I'd been looking forward to because this was the day I was going to see The Left Bank among other things! That included Notre Dame, the expat bookstore "Shakespeare and Company", the Rue Dante where all the comic book stores are (yay!!!), Contrescarpe where Hemingway lived during his expat years and writes about in "A Moveable Feast", the Luxembourg Gardens and most exciting for me, the Rue de Fleurus where Gertrude Stein had her famous salon and lived first with her brother Leo and then the incomparable Alice B. Toklas. I was worried I wouldn't find it but there it was, and there was a plaque out front. To think of all the art and people who came and went from that building. God. The mind reels. I didn't want to leave the front of it. There are bookstores and stamp shops everywhere in Paris. It's nice to see a city where the bookstores aren't all closing down.After that, a high end Parisian department store to use the bathrooms (and they had a bookstore and a film exhibition in the basement. Why can't we do that???)That night - Montmartre. Oh god, I talked about steps before and climbing up the steps in Montmartre to the Scare Coeur and then the streets was a task unto itself. Again, I made it and the views of Paris from up there are amazing. US schoolkids, this is also the area where "The Red Balloon" takes place. Remember that? This is where the little boy lived with the steep steps. I found the old cabaret I was looking for, Au Lapin Agile, and was amused at the beautiful plaza full of tourist gouging "artists." Really, this was like nothing I'd ever seen and I loved it. I think the only time I'd ever seen such cute streets was at a Disneyland like place which recreates everything. This was real and so amazing.

Ah, I miss it already.

No comments:

Post a Comment