Jan 18, 2010

On Being in Paris

Some observations from the past 11 days.

You may have heard that Parisians are rude.  I have yet to experience this.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  The first day I set out wandering on my own, I emerged from the Metro to street level and stood for a moment trying to get my bearings.  I pulled out the guidebook Sharif was kind enough to lend me.  As I stood there, a passerby came up and asked if I would like help.  Unlikely to happen where I come from.

You may have heard that Parisians refuse to speak anything but French with tourists.  The last time I sat in a French class was in 1984.  My accent is atrocious, my vocabulary is abysmal, and I have difficulty understanding people unless they are speaking slowly and clearly.  And yet, after the initial pleasantries are exchanged and I ask, "Parlez-vous Anglais?" the answer has usually been, "Little bit."  (Or words to that effect.) All of the people I have encountered here have patiently worked with me in trying to communicate.  Even if I can't think quickly enough to hold up my end of the conversation, I understand more than I am able to say.  Twenty Questions is a great game, as long as you have patience and a sense of humour.

Parisian drivers obey traffic signals.  This may not seem worth mentioning, but go back to my previous post and have a look at the countries I've wandered through.  Yeah.  This is pretty cool.

Parisian pedestrians do NOT obey traffic signals.  If the way is clear, they will cross against a red even with the police a stone's throw away.

A decent cup of espresso can be had for about 1 € (or maybe as high as 1,20) in most bars, cafes, or brasseries.  Fresh baguettes are available on practically every corner, and cheese really is a staple.

Parisian girls (and by this I mean, women in their twenties) almost always seem thin, elegant, and sad.

Paris is surprisingly monochromatic.  Most of the people wear black, the buildings are almost all an off-white, it's been overcast all but two days I've been here.  Apparently fall is glorious.

Art galleries.  Museums.  Exhibitions.  12th and 13th century churches with their doors open.  Free organ recitals.  If you're even remotely interested in the arts, you will not be disappointed here.  Today's concert in Saint-Eustache featured works by Liszt and Tchaikovsky transposed for organ.

The Metro is incredible.  With fourteen separate lines plus four or five lines in the urban train system the map can look a little intimidating, but everything is clearly marked.  If you don't have time to walk, this is definitely the way to go.  Hop on the RER from either of the two international airports serving Paris and you'll be downtown in under an hour.

Paris is actually a surprisingly small city.  Yeah, sounds crazy to describe an urban area with 11 million people as small, but the downtown is easy walking (if a little confusing) and even to go from one end to the other would only be a matter of a few hours.  Like many major cities, at certain times of day it may even be faster to walk than to take a bus or drive a car in the core.

When it looked as though my luggage had been permanently lost, I gave some thought to just staying here for the next month.  I could live here, at least until my money ran out.  However, if God wills, I'll be leaving for Spain on Monday, arriving at my starting point Tuesday morning, and hopefully beginning the walking part of this pilgrimage on Wednesday morning.

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