The jungles of Paris

The original title of this post was “F*ck Paris”. But time, as always, has mellowed a painful situation and caused the good times to outshine the bad ones.

However, with all due respect to those of you who love Paris, I thought it was a sour, over-hyped, over-priced city filled with unhappy, indifferent inhabitants who seem to do nothing more than sit in cafes smoking and drinking coffee all day, then sit sit in bars smoking and drinking wine all night. And they never smile.

I am sure Paris is great if you love museums. And probably if you are in love, although Duluth is also great if you are in love.

Anyway, my sister (Paige, for those who don’t know her) and I met up on Sunday – we had rented an apartment for the week. She was tired from the flight so our first night was very low-key. We had some dinner and supremely expensive beers, and even got a chuckle out of a live band singing Depeche Mode, etc later that night.

The next day we walked all around trying to get a lay of the land – this is before we realized how big Paris really is. We hit the Eiffel Tower to get it over with. The line was short and the view was great…until the skies opened and we were completely soaked.

I should mention that it was COLD there, esp compared to Spain. I showed up in nylon travel pants, a fleece and chaco sandals. After 2 days, I broke down and bought boots, jeans, a sweater and a jacket. It was also grey, which I find (unfortunately) diminishes my enjoyment of a places, especially a city.

Paige and I both agreed we were more interested in enjoying the day to day life in Paris than we were in seeing most museums. So we tried valiently to connect with anyone who lived there. But the only people who would talk to us turned out to NOT be from Paris. I didn’t find Parisians rude, as I’d been warned, but rather completely indifferent and uninterested in helping you, much less getting to know you. I knew they prefer you try French, so I had a 2 page cheat sheet of phrases I commonly used in Spain. I really tried. And actually a good number of them responded to me in Spanish rather than English, presumeably because I was using an accent acquired in Spain.

Well, the only Parisians who had the slightest interest in chatting turned out to be men who wanted to take us home. After 3 frustrating days, we admitted that we really weren’t having a very satisfying visit. We blamed ourselves for not planning more. We accused each other of having a bad attitude. We were dazed and confused in the City of Lights. And then we met the Austrian Professor.

He was wandering down by the Louve, late one night, and upon seeing us consulting a map book, implored us to please help him find his hotel. He swore it was within 2 blocks and showed us the key with the name and address on it. I initially dismissed him, as he was pretty drunk, and told him to ask one of the many hotel concierges in the area. He snorted and explained that he had been to several hotels in the area but they had each given him different information and incorrect directions. So we helped him. And his hotel was 2 blocks away.

We were headed his way, so we walked him to the hotel. As he thanked us profusely (and snuck in a little kiss on Paige, ha ha), he told us he was a professor of Business Something Another (and of course he had worked in Texas for a few years, as half of Europe seems to have done) and that that he fancied himself to be a pretty smart and savvy guy. Yes, he said “I’ve navigated the jungles of Vietnam but I can’t find my way home on the streets of Paris…”

Something clicked. Paige and I just looked at each other and busted out laughing. At that moment, we knew he had been sent our way with this message: it’s not you – it’s Paris! So we decided to stop trying so damn hard and take Paris with a huge grain of salt! And our trip immediately improved. Thank you professor!

It was still difficult at times but we just tried to roll with it and laugh when we could. We started a list of people who were nice to us (no shit…it totalled about 10 and none were from Paris) and Paige began asking random people she saw smiling where they were from (only occasionally from Paris). The next day we went up to Sacre Coeur (one of our favorite spots) and sat in a piano bar where we met 2 sisters from the US. One was married to a diplomat working in Paris. They confirmed our findings and emotionally freed us to proceed into part 2 of our week in a guilt-free fashion.

Part 2 of the week was dominated by rugby. Brits and rugby.

Thursday, we decided a day trip out of the city was in order, so we visited Versaille. It was a real highlight for both of us. We especially loved the little village Marie Antoinette created deep inside the property, but the whole place was beautiful and thankfully quite serene. On the way back to the train station, we walked past 4 gentleman laughing and speaking English. Paige asked them where they were from (South AFrica) and they invited us to join them for a drink. We ended up spending a couple of hours talking and laughing and enjoying ourselves with them (in a Mexican restaurant which served us Doritos with our “queso”, might I add). They were in town for the quarter-final matches the next day. South Africa won. So did England.

I will insert an aside here that the first night we met some guys who claimed to be cops at a bar. The night after Versaille, we sought out a bar that Paige’s friend really liked and met half the Parisian police force partying it up. We had a good time with them – they made the “nice list” and even witnessed some table dancing (yes…it was disturbing). They were cutting lose because the entire force was on duty the next night for the France-England match.

That weekend, Paris had been invaded by Brits. Jovial, friendly, open, generous Brits. I know they have a reputation for being stuffy, but I find them to be fun as hell (especially when you add a few drinks). The next night, we walked all around our neighborhood taking pictures of the costumes and chatting with folks on the streets. I actually have a photo of some French people draped in flags and silly face paint, by the way!

As you may know, England beat France. The streets were flooded with celebrating British, all speaking English and all smiling. We bopped from bar to bar on the row of Irish/Aussie bars we found, meeting people and just having fun. Headed towards our apartment, we stopped to take a photo of a group of older gents dressed to the nines in, ummm, their rugby-attending outfits. We befriended them (and the 2 cute sons of one) and spent the rest of the night with them. It was a fantastic night — we rolled in around 6am with huge smiles on our faces. The next day we took a train to Amsterdam and we are grateful to England for sending us out of France in style.