Saturday, June 23, 2007

Musing: You Got Franced!

YougotfrancedReflections from The Voyage, written by my niece Jennifer: I arrived in Paris about 10 days ago with the intent to 1) explore 2) observe and 3) recharge, and to a great extent that is exactly what I have done, with a healthy dose of reflection and hanging out with my uncle, who awarded me with the CDOP -- Complete Domination of Paris -- the first of its kind. Although most of the time Paris loved me -- the Metro trains arrived on time, the crosswalks would change, restaurants would materialize -- there were plenty of times when Paris seemed to poo-poo at us. Whenever something didn't make sense, or otherwise messed with our plan, we referred to it as "You Got Franced." I thought I would take this time to recall some instances of my experience of Paris, in no particular order but simply to get a sense of the city I wandered around in for 10 days.

1) Walking around the center of Paris was correctly compared by my uncle to a huge Disneyland. You pay with tokens (the Euro coins) for admission to the attractions (in this case being shuttled around in tour buses from monument to monument) with a camera strapped to your neck. Portions of Paris are definitely for show, to show off their history with palaces, statues, and gold-plated bridges galore. But there's another side of Paris that I experienced: the neighborhoods themselves. I would take a day to just walk through them on foot (when i wasn't out conquering the Metro system), take some wrong turns, wander into some neat looking cobble-stone alleys, walk right past historic landmarks without noticing. Paris for me was the trips to the different gardens, ordering baguette sandwiches from venders, sipping a cup of "cafe au lait" in the street watching the people go past. It was fabulous.

2) Paris follows a 30-minute work week, my uncle and I have concluded. Seriously, we couldn't figure out what they did all day. The streets are chock full of coffee-houses where you sit outside on the street at one of the small circular tables on a wicker chair for hours at a time. You could spend your whole day eating. You have to ask for the check! I would enter one of the multiple gardens and it would be full of people strolling or sitting about. I wondered at first about the presence of multiple benches, until I was awakened from a nap under a tree and asked to move by a policeman; there are designated areas for sitting on the grass apparently. I got Franced! Even my first day arriving at the airport involved me getting Franced -- the Metro system was closed due to a strike. I guess the workers wanted extra time on their coffee break.

3) Don't let the sunny skies fool you, it rains in Paris. I have been caught in countless rainstorms, where I can see sunny skies across the bridge. Take an umbrella with you so you won’t be caught like me crammed under the awning of a bus stop, sharing the space with tourists of about 5 different nationalities. Also, museums are fuller on days when it rains. Everyone wants a shelter from the storm.

4) Parisians love their dogs, but they don't clean up their messes on the sidewalks. You will be at a restaurant and look over your shoulder to see a cute little doggie face peeping out from behind someone's back seated on a chair. They sit on people's laps and drink water poured in a saucer on the table. They're everywhere on the Metro, on leashes or hiding their cute little doggie faces in the lap. Also on the Metro, be prepared to be serenaded by musicians who jump from car to car. I once encountered a violin, accordion, and clarinet. It was awesome.

5) Everything is expensive, and food is especially ridiculous. A drink averages 4 euros (~$5). And as the menus are in French, I had no idea what I was ordering (or eating) half the time. My favorite moment is one night when I ordered fish with lemon butter and my uncle ordered veal picata. The chef came out, and speaking quickly in French made it understood that they were out of my fish, but he would take care of me. Well, he comes back out with a platter of 5 different kinds of fish, but no lemon butter. My uncle ended up being served chicken and mushrooms. Once again, we got Franced.

So that was my experience, more or less. Would I do it again, yes. Would I do it differently, probably not. Did I have a great time, but of course. In the best of all possible ways: I got Franced on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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