Monday, October 17, 2011

Paris: Day 1

Our flight to Paris was pretty okay. Air France is a classy airline, with complimentary wine, yummy food, and a large selection of in-flight entertainment. So we watched some movies and did our best to sleep. That didn't go so well. Someone brought a robot baby programmed to cry the whole flight. I slept more than Jake, but he needed more. He had only slept a few hours the night before because he woke up early to get the iPhone4S. We got to Paris pretty exhausted, but I had deliberately planned a busy day to get us adapted to Paris time as quickly as possible.

My friend Pierre met us at the airport. When I was a teacher in a couple primary schools here, most of the teachers were cold and rude. I didn't have an amazing time teaching because a) I didn't know what I was doing and b) no one was very helpful and I felt unwelcome. But Pierre was the opposite, and I had a great time with his class doing all the fun activities I had planned. Other classes didn't get as much fun because their teachers thought my lesson plans were stupid. If a teacher was standing in the back of the classroom rolling her eyes because I wanted to — God forbid — sing a song in English, the class would sense the negative energy and feed off it. Pierre embraced my energy and dedication to make learning fun, even though I was young and inexperienced, and he worked with me instead of against me. So I stayed in touch with him and was happy to have a chance to spend time with him in Paris.

He helped us navigate the RER and Metro to our hotel, where we dropped our bags in our room, changed clothes, and immediately headed out to see some cool Paris stuff. We started with the Catacombs. Back in the 1800s, people in Paris were getting sick, and they blamed the cemeteries. So, they cleaned the cemeteries out and brought millions of bones to these underground quarries to contain the diseased dead. The Catacombs contain the bones of six million Parisians, which are neatly stacked for a mile or two. It's pretty creepy, but also cool. It's weird, you see the first portion of the visit, with femurs and fibulas stacked on either side of you with skulls placed on top, and it's very strange and morbid. But then you continue along the visit and see the same thing over and over, and you begin to become desensitized to it. You know these are real bones, but they kinda seem like they could be fake ones too. Pierre commented that these people probably never got that close to another human being when they were alive, but once they were dead the concept of personal space ceased to exist. Now their bones are all mixed up with other folks' bones.

After the Catacombs, we grabbed lunch at Exki, which was an inexpensive soup and sandwich place with all organic and natural foods. The atmosphere was cool; it was minimalistic and contemporary, with bamboo and plants. It was pretty yummy, and it was nice to eat some good, healthy food. The chicken and rice Air France served us was great for airplane food, but, it was airplane food.

Then, it was off to the Louvre. I was feeling pretty spent at this point, and almost wanted to skip it, but we had free tickets and Pierre had a whole folder with him with stuff about the paintings he wanted to show us. Also, it's the Louvre. Pierre is really knowledgeable about art, and had told me in advance that he would prepare a visit, but it would be best to only see one section. The Louvre is ginormous, and if you try to see it all, you won't remember anything. We saw some of the best hits (Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, some old thing of a lady smirking that some da Vinci guy painted), as well as the Italian painting wing. It was really great to have some context for what was going on in the paintings and what significance they served. Pierre doesn't speak English and Jake doesn't speak French, so I translated. I was worried it'd be difficult, but it really wasn't bad.

We would have loved to stay at the Louvre longer, but by this time it was 5 p.m., or midnight for us. I wanted to meet friends for dinner, so we had to say goodbye to Pierre and get some sleep. I slept about an hour, left Jake so he could sleep longer, and made it to Mme Shawn only 30 minutes late, which is just on time for Paris. Mme Shawn is this Thai restaurant I really like, and I had eaten there a couple times with the group of Parisians I was lucky enough to call friends. I met them through my roommate, Ina. They were really her group of friends and she shared them with me. They kinda took me under their wing and let me hang out with them and stumble through my French even though most of them speak great English. I have them to thank for a lot of slang I know. I also have them to thank for not being totally miserable and lonely my whole time in Paris.

I really like the neighborhood where the restaurant was located. Mme Shawn is on the Canal St. Martin. It's not close to the Eiffel Tower or any of the main sites, so it's more residential. The canal is a nice place to walk or have a picnic or play pétanque, the French version of Bocci ball. I also spent a lot of time running along the canal when I was training for a marathon. I was happy that my friends had picked this restaurant, because I wanted Jake to see the neighborhood.

After dinner, Jake met up with us and we went to a little bar that struck us as very French, just because it was small and rusticish with oldish decor. The bartender was kinda a d-bag, but that's okay. It didn't really bother us. Customer service is not at all a thing here in France, and it cracks me up. A lot of Americans get really angry if they have bad service, but hey, that's just how it is. For example, we ordered two pints and he kept suggesting that I order the half-sized glasses instead. Weird, right? Wouldn't he want to make more money? Also, I ordered a pint glass, so could you please give me what I ordered? He said he was out of big glasses, so I gave him the glass from my previous beer, he magically found another (even though he was out), and we got our 2 pints.

We stayed until close, and he gave us plastic cups to take the rest of our beer with us. I poured my beer into the plastic one and Jake pounded his. In America, you can't drink outside of restaurants or bars, so he didn't know that we could take our beers with us. We said goodbye to our friends, tried to find a taxi back to our hotel, failed, but then randomly ran into a couple we had met earlier in the night that was friends with one of my friends, and took a night bus with them instead. That was pretty lucky, because I'm not sure we would have found a cab, and I'm terrible at navigating bus maps and routes. Jake commented that this bus was the most attractive bus he had ever been on. I don't think Parisians are necessarily more attractive than us Americans, but they just put more time into their clothes, makeup, and accessories, so they look more attractive.

So that was our first day in Paris. I am exhausted thinking about it and now I don't have the energy to recap day 2.

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