He tells me
That, ten years ago,
Was basically untouched.
Now, it bustles
With the influence
I picture the desert,
In place of
And the peace
Of quieter days.
Today was one of the more moving days here in Paris. Well, perhaps I should be honest and say that it was one of the more moving of my life. You might wonder why, but that is why you’re here, isn’t it?
We woke up and had breakfast and went to a cemetery. I know, it is not the happy way to start a blog post, or the day for that matter, but we were actually on our way to something else! – – That’s right! Another cemetery. However, the second cemetery is very special to me.
But the first one was as nice as a cemetery can be. (Side note, the word “cemetery” is the hardest word for me to spell. After I taught myself how to spell “necessary,” I thought I had it down. No. There are no “A’s” in “Cemetery.” Stupid English!) What my mother and I noticed, apart from the fact that almost every grave was a presentation of lives, rather than remembrances, was that the cemetery itself was a great mix of religions and cultures. While we do have some cemeteries in the United States that retain this quality, on the East Coast we’ve seen most cemeteries be divided by religion affiliation, even if the grounds are filled with many. We’ve seen only two cemeteries in Paris, but both of them, sprawling and beautiful, are a melting pot of people from all varieties of life. Here are some of the memorials I thought to be the most moving and memorable. They were all true works of art.
Side note: There was a woman who was born and died on my birthday, April 6.
Let’s get to the part of the day that I found to be lifechanging. It is called Père Lachaise Cemetery and it is located close to the Philippe Auguste Metro station in the 20th arrondissement. It is over 110 acres, which is not at first obvious, but as we walked past the entrance and the first thing we saw were two, huddled lines of memorials on either side of the path, we knew this was going to be a journey.
We were there for a reason: to see some specific graves. Not of anyone we have ever met, but people everyone has heard of. People who are special to me and countless others in this world. The must-see names on my list were: Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Jim Morrison, and Édith Piaf. Finding these graves, however, was no easy feat. In fact, every map we had of the cemetery – from a travel book, as well as the maps that have been installed on the grounds every 2 billion feet or so – was confusing and inaccurate. The first one we planned to find was Jim Morrison, who seemed, according to the confusing map, to be the closest.
So we walked and walked until we reached a map, which told us basically nothing. My plan was to find one grave, and then the locations of the others would come very easily. I hoped. The map showed Jim Morrison as number “66,” which contradicted the one we had in our travel book, which said, “20.” Starting to get heated from the suddenly present sun, and annoyed from the situation of the maps, I decided to pick a direction and stick to it.
It turns out, and we had guessed this prior, that the way to find the graves is to follow the people. Kind of grim, if you think about it. But we did find Jim, lead singer of The Doors who passed away in 1971, at the age of 27, his grave huddled between several others.
The grave was protected by a gate, like the ones used to keep people inside lines at a concert, and standing by the gate was a tree, covered in bamboo. Under the bamboo were thousands and thousands of pieces of chewing gum. While a little disrespectful of Jim – and Nature – I resigned in understanding. Jim was a rockstar, one people still look toward for inspiration and hope. The flag that adorned the gate was a nice touch. It showed that people were going to use the barriers against themselves. It was a peaceful place, albeit the people who were taking selfies with the grave.
After that, we decided to look for the grave of French singer, Édith Piaf, who died in 1963. Piaf was portrayed by actress Marion Cotillard in the 2007 film Le Vie en Rose, named after one of Piaf’s most prolific songs. However, Piaf’s grave would be the last we would find for, after wandering for about an hour, my mother and I realized that we were on a course different from what we had originally planned.
I looked at the map in our travel book (which turned out to be very helpful) and started to locate other graves, namely Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein, which were located very close to one another. My mother had tired of walking for about an hour and a half already, so I told her I would meet her at the intersection at the top of a hill. I turned back, while she turned left, and I soon found myself with a group of young people in front of the grave of Oscar Wilde.
This was my favorite of the day. I know, quite odd to say about a grave. Wilde’s grave is shielded in glass, on which, I’ve seen online, people once wrote messages to the famed English author. Oscar Wilde means a lot to me, not only because I love his short stories, but because of his personal history. Wilde was persecuted for his expressions of his sexuality in his personal life and in his writing. On the lips of the Sphinx that adorns Wilde’s grave is red lipstick, while on the side of the grave, closest to the face, are lip markings from visitors. This is a sign of solidarity, a sign that people have heard his story and continue to fight for the recognition and acceptance of the LGBT community in society. It was a touching moment for me not only because I identify with Wilde in terms of sexuality, but also because I realize how truly lucky I am to live in a generation where sexuality, while still debated, is becoming part of the public discourse. If Wilde lived today, he would be celebrated, like he is now, but he would be alive to see it.
I was a bit annoyed at the group of young people who stood before his grave. It was obvious that only a few of them even knew who he was. I heard the words, “Romantic writer,” thrown around and wondered if they meant the literary term or that which is used for smut writing. Either way, they sounded completely ignorant of his work and his meaning in the battle for equality. It appeared that they were simply following a guide because I would soon see them, when I walked further down toward the next grave on my list: Gertrude Stein.
If you don’t know who or what Gertrude Stein was, think Miranda Priestly but classier, bitchier, and all the more amazing for having the opportunity to hang out with writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound. Stein was a mentor, friend, and critic to these authors, as well as a writer herself. Her grave was humble but grand, sort of like the woman herself (not her criticism, though. In Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast Stein comes off as quite the hardass). The bed of her grave was completely covered in stones, some of which had been left to form hearts. This is honor of the Jewish tradition of leaving stones on a beloved’s grave during a visit. Stein was Jewish.
Stein was also a lesbian, but never in so many words. Interestingly enough, the name of her partner, Alice B. Toklas, can be found on the reverse side of Stein’s grave, as a sentiment for their relationship. Their relationship is quite interesting. I was reading A Moveable Feast on our way to Paris, and I found that Hemingway mentions her only as Stein’s “friend.” I was already aware of the name Alice B. Toklas after having met the author of the novel The Book of Salt by Monique Truong this past semester. The novel focuses on the life of Stein’s cook, who witnesses the lives of these women and details his journey from poverty to Stein’s kitchen. While I admit I have not read The Book of Salt, meeting Truong was a treat because I admire any writer who is willing to do research in order to write. Of course, a little research is always encouraged and necessary, but when it comes to the Lost Generation, there were relationships that were formed between unlikely parties. It is part of what I love about the cities of New York and, now, Paris. These were the places for writers. Places for the creative thinkers of the 20th century to come and learn, think, and write. From reading Hemingway, I understand the appeal of Paris, the quiet streets, the quais, the chance to be heard and understood by the greatest minds of that generation. It makes me quite jealous.
All of this in mind, I was actually unaware that Toklas’ name was on the other side of the grave. I looked around at the other graves, hoping to find hers, but alas, no Toklas. I had to look it up when I got back to our cottage. I think the placement of her is nice. To me, it does not denote that she was behind or underneath (horrible choice of words here….) Stein in any social way, but rather shows how they are connected, even in death. It was a beautiful pairing they had and it makes me feel happy.
The Lost Generation is my favorite. My favorite book is Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which will play a part in a later chapter. While Wilde is a true inspiration, I am also inspired by the community that was formed between the writers of The Lost Generation.
I do not see much of that anymore, so as I was walking back to find my mother, passing a protest with mention of the French communist party, I began to get a little teary. All of these great, powerful writers, who sit on my bookshelves waiting to be read through again and again, all the way in Paris. And Fitzgerald is actually buried 30 minutes from my home in Maryland. These were lives that were experienced and shared, and we are only here to see the remains (in literature and in cemeteries). I was thankful for the experiences of my day with them.
After Stein’s grave, I stumbled upon several upsetting memorials dedicated to those who perished in the Holocaust. A moment of silence for all of those who died, and who have been memorialized.
Even being raised in a primarily Jewish household, these memorials are still horrific. World War II, like other events in history, changed the course of human society and the repercussions are still evident today. This is not the time to speak about such things but one day, perhaps I will. The memorials were dark, but fittingly so.
After reuniting with my mother at a crowded (with tourists) grave of a woman we did not know, we ventured back toward the exit of the cemetery. We stopped at the grave of Victor Noir, a famed French journalist.
After going through my pictures, I realized that Noir’s crotch had been touched quite a bit. It turns out, according to the internet, that his memorial has become a fertility symbol. I suppose this began because the crotch area on the memorial is somewhat enlarged, and some excited somebody touched it and perhaps had ten children. I, regrettably (sarcasm), did not touch Noir in unspeakable places. There. It’s online so it must be true. It is, I promise.
You might have realized that I left somebody out of the grave hunt. Edith Piaf, where are you?
We found Edith’s grave amongst many others. My mother and I were expecting something quite grand, as she is one of France’s most famous singers. Piaf was buried with her family, so her name was only mentioned on the side of the grave. However, people have adorned it with roses and lilies in a vase marked “EP” (hauntingly, my initials). It was modest, but it was still touching.
We had both decided that it was time to depart the cemetery and find lunch. Nothing like living, huh? We stopped at a little cafe and had a lovely lunch.
However, we did drink a little too much wine, and ended up going back to our cottage and literally sitting around feeling tired. It was only about 4:00 in the afternoon.
My mother, having woken up a little, decided that we were not going to just sit there and voiced her desire to see the Eiffel Tower. I agreed, although still a bit tired and, after resting a little more, made our way to the Trocadero stop, which we heard offered the best view of Le Tour Eiffel.
I was still a bit grumpy when we got there but the sight of the tower thrilled me.
A funny moment: we were going to ask a couple if they wanted us to take their picture, but as soon as we pointed to the camera the man was holding, the woman freaked out, thinking we were going to pretend to take the picture and steal the camera. What a fool. They ended up taking the picture you see to the left. She looked sheepish the entire time, it was wonderful.
One thing that never improves my already always cynical mood is the sight of hyperactive tourists. Even worse are the people who try to sell things to tourists. I am sure you are aware of selfie sticks. They are awful and if you buy one…just know if I know, the world will know, via this blog. Just kidding. I don’t hate them that much. But I do hate people who use them in public places, and in such busy public places such as The Eiffel Tower. Seriously, get over yourselves. Have someone take a picture of you. Actually, before I left for the trip, someone said to me that they actually missed the old style version of taking selfies. You know, the old do-it-yourself? Honestly, we are digging out our own grave with this added stupid technology and we are able to now dig even faster and deeper with the help of selfie sticks. I do suppose they’re alright, but when I write about Le Louvre, I will make you hate them.
We walked around the grounds of The Eiffel Tower and while the tourists were unpleasant, we were perfectly at peace. Standing under the Tower was a spectacle all itself. It is massive and what makes it even better (or worse, in my opinion, but for the purposes of remaining positive, I shall resign my thoughts to parentheticals) is the massive tennis ball advertising some company or another that hangs from the belly of the tower itself like a singular testicle. (Yes, I said it, now fix it.) I suppose it was for the French Open but overt displays of advertising are sickening to me.
We wandered around and wondered what we were going to eat for dinner. The wine had worn out and the voices of the tourists were still bouncing up and around our heads. Unfortunately, the last picture I took of the day was this:
As I said, quite unfortunate. Cute, I suppose. I hope they had and continue to have fun.
The night ended in food, most likely, and sleep. It was a busy day full of learning and thinking. I thought about the number of people buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. I thought about how many pieces of gum were actually stuck to the tree by Jim Morrison’s grave. I thought about inequality and the ways it has presented itself in various ways, at the grave of Oscar Wilde, and the memorials dedicated to those who died in the Holocaust. I thought about myself as a writer, and likened my desires to those of all writers who come to Paris or New York, looking for companionship and understanding. And I thought about you, dear reader, believing in myself a little more each time I think that someone might enjoy or be touched by what I write. I truly do appreciate your comments and likes, but I appreciate, even more, the most invisible, yet meaningful, of gifts one can truly give to writers alive and dead: one’s time.
Merci et bonne nuit.
Chapter 5 is coming tomorrow. It was our first day at a museum so I am figuring out how to document it properly and effectively. Thank you for your understanding, patience, and attention.
This marks the end of chapter four of 10 Days In Paris.
In the next chapter, Erik and his mother go to Le Musée d’Orsay, eat more food, find the real Love Lock Bridge, Sainte-Chapelle, and the famous bookstore, Shakespeare & Company.
On our second day in Paris, I fulfilled one of my childhood dreams: to go to Notre Dame. Yes, I am one of those strange people who says that you are weak for thinking that one of Disney’s best films, 1996’s (Holy merde, is it that old?) The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I classically – to my mother alone – used to call Lunchback. Why? I do not know. I also used to think that the whole demon fire kill Esmeralda thing was pretty interesting. And here we are!
My mother and I have started a little tradition before we leave the house – and it is not that we make espresso, eat croissants, quiche, and yogurt. We start our day by always going the wrong way. Our first full day in Paris, I led us across the wrong bridge (actually, we did not have to go across any bridge it turns out). I looked up at the sky and saw a tower, a single tower, and thought that it was two that looked like one (perspective, you know, all that stuff you were taught in art class years ago). We walked to it and I said, “Well, that’s not it!” My mother, already huffing at me, steered us away, as a group of police motorcycles passed us in the street.
We crossed the bridge and we saw the most Parisian woman I have ever seen.
She honestly, thinking of it now, reminds me of Mary Poppins, or – if you can remember – Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz. Anyway, she was handsome – if I may use that term, Ms. Austen – and her makeup was so dense, one could actually see where her face stopped, and her actual self began (literally at the ridge of her jaw). Perhaps my description of Mary Poppins was unwarranted. Perhaps…Marie Antoinette in Mary Poppins’ clothing.
Once we crossed the bridge and made a few more turns toward nowhere, we found ourselves in the courtyard in front of Notre Dame.
I was literally singing songs from The Hunchback of Notre Dame the entire time we were in the cathedral and when we went up in the towers. But that’s just a sidenote. The actual cathedral is wonderful. It is grand, I suppose is the best way to describe it. Stained glass is something I truly appreciate, but, while it is the most beautiful aspect of Notre Dame, it is not the most impressive. I know, throw me from les tours. The architecture alone is enough to make you want to sit there for hours (ten minutes, at the most) and take it all in: the gargoyles, the angelic Saints, and even the little words that you can’t really make out. The stone basin of (I’m assuming) Holy Water was nice as well.
There was one thing I noticed though, that I haven’t truly experienced before: the pressures of tourism. I do not like being a tourist, but I know that I am one, if we are being technical. I tour, and I ist about the city, taking in the sights, eating the food, intaking the carbs, the wine, etc. I take too many pictures, when I should be eating more, drinking more wine, perhaps reading the signs more often. However, like everything in my mental list of personal philosophies, tourism is an experience different for all persons. When I tell you about my later endeavors, I’ll let you in on a little bit of what their experiences were and how mine, experienced while watching theirs, feel much more rewarding.
We walked through the cathedral, capturing the moments and aesthetics on our phones’ cameras. It wasn’t horribly crowded and the cathedral itself was still peaceful. People gathered around several figurines, taking pictures of literally nothing, and pushing into each other for no other reason than to the pictures of literally nothing. My mother, the polite person she is, was separated from me because of a few people who just had to take a picture of the wooden figurine of Notre Dame that sat at the back of Notre Dame. Also, to the left, was a grotesque little mock-up of the initial construction of the cathedral. I say grotesque in a loving way, the same way you sometimes refer to people you don’t like as acquaintances. It was rough, but was a cute little thing, and it proved the grandeur of the work that is the cathedral.
My mother and I agreed that we were not the type that would fare well in those days. Oh! You’re confused! I mean, the days when that type of labor was absolutely necessary -not the days when art was truly refined.
Oh calm down, I’m just joking. Little Quasi is cute over there, isn’t he? But I digress, again!
After we walked around the cathedral and poked around the gift shop and remembering that we were travellers, not tourists, we stood in line for an hour to go up to the towers. While we were in line, my mother voiced her opinion to get some food (classic mother) and originally I said no. Then she came back with a sandwich in hand and I just had to get something as well.
I was still growing back into my high school French (I absolutely loathed my middle and high school French teachers – both overly strict with no real reason to be!) and offered a fair, “Bonjour” to the woman behind the little stand. I decided to order a Croque-Monsieur because it apparently looked the most fattening, and loved every bite. Bread, cheese, ham. The American Dream!
The line took a fair amount of time (what did I say earlier? An hour? Yes, too long), although I did speak to some nice girls, one of whom was wearing a shirt featuring a character from the show Parks & Recreation, which is amazing and if you don’t watch it, close this tab. They were nice, although they were really into Tumblr and cursing at odd intervals. I’m sorry, children, just where are your parents?
I suppose it is time I tell you about the exercise I attempted to achieve at Notre Dame. The stairs are something else, believe me. Small, awkward, narrow, and a little maddening, the stairs leading up to Les tours de Notre Dame are une chienne. I attempted to go at a fast pace, while my mother trailed behind. Halfway up (I thought! Actually, it was halfway up to the gift shop. Those clever, clever clergymen) I thought I had actually achieved something. But then I saw the other stairs that I would later have to climb and, a little annoyed, felt a challenge coming on. Oh, I know, I sound quite lazy, but even the most fit people in the bunch were hustling, heaving, and huffing up the stairs. It was a great time, for all of us.
The gift shop was alright and was, no surprise, the first place I saw the title The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I did not go there thinking it would be like a Hunchback ride or something, but I did appreciate this. It made me feel like I was still in a church and not the bathroom at Disneyland. It had class. Not like “classy,” but more like “classique.” I then bought a little gift for a friend (nice try, you. You don’t get to know if it’s for you or not!) and my mother bought tickets to go into the towers. Isn’t that just wonderful? You stand in line for an hour and then buy tickets. Wouldn’t that be nice for something like a concert? But alas, no. Only one of the most famous churches in the world.
We ascended the stairs once more, this time feeling confident. As the winds blew down in a spiral in the passageway, we knew we were getting close. Then, all of a sudden, we were able to see this: Isn’t that just marvelous? I felt so humbled. I have wanted to see this view for so long and I was finally able to.
Oh, and these guys:
After we took a few pictures, my mother and I turned left on the second tower, and entered the belfry. This is when I truly began to feel nostalgic. While I understand that Hunchback is far more than a Disney film, that movie was a part of my childhood, and to climb up there, where the troubled Quasimodo became a legend…it was beautiful. Here are some pictures of that
It was a bit disheartening – although oddly comforting – that there was a little, rocking bed in the corner of the room. In the picture above, you can just see the head of it. The reason it caught my attention was because it makes it seem like someone actually lived or lives up there. I suppose that in such a beautiful city, famed for its art, its history, and its culture there is no room for Disney. All I needed to know that my childhood dreams were once a reality is the bell itself and that little bed in the corner.
After we excited the belfry, we had to stand in line with people (quite pushy ones at that) to exit the towers. We had to stand in line to exit the towers. I was a little worried that something had happened, but I erased those thoughts when a man in line began to speak to my mother and I. We told him that this trip was occurring because I recently graduated college and he retorted by asking what I majored in.
Let me tell you a little something. People are truly truly ungrateful toward writers and creative people in general. For some reason – perhaps one that is perpetuated by the media – everyone believes creative people are destined for the chair. No, not that chair, but the one behind the desk, in front of a classroom, teaching. I have absolutely nothing against teaching or teachers. However, I think other people do. Every time I am asked if I want to be a teacher with my major in hand, I want to say, “Would that be so bad?” While teaching is not my first choice of a career, I have not ruled it out for the far future. I know I have the social and mental abilities to teach and would do a decent (better) job compared to the man – who ironically majored in the job-heavy philosophy – who, like countless people before him, offended me.
I’ll tell you something else. You talk badly to me, I write about it. Has no one learned anything from Taylor Swift? Perhaps they’ll learn now. Never insult an English major, because all of the English majors that I went to school with are at startup companies, going to law school, or working at publishing companies, like me. So the next time you, dear reader, choose to question what a person wants to do with their major, perhaps ask, “What are your plans?” Do not tell us what you think we should do, because we can, and apparently will, make you look like a fool. We are as accomplished as math majors and can change the world just as much as a scientist. And, my final point, who would write about these scientists if not for writers?
After we got down from the towers – we climbed a flight up to see the actual top of the right tower (it was okay…they make you move in one direction and you are squished with even more people. Also, the 360 degree view is obscured by a huge peak at the center of the tower so forget those panoramic shots!) – we walked toward the back of the cathedral and stopped at a cafe, named after the gypsy from Hunchback, Esmeralda.
After eating Here, if you go, is a little park. It has free WiFi, which is a plus. A chance to send all of my Snapchats to people, to check email, to use Google Maps to show where we’re going next.
Then, by chance perhaps, we stumbled upon a bridge. On the bridge were locks. I had heard about the Love Lock Bridge in various ways – online, Parks & Recreation, etc. – and was very excited to add my lock – for my boyfriend and me – over the Seine. Now, we went into this not knowing anything about the whole, “Anti-Love Lock” campaign, or the environmental consequences. In fact, we would find out the next day. Literally the next day. But that day, we did what we believed was the best, and the most happy. We also put one on for my sister and her boyfriend.
It was very meaningful thing for me, just as I believe it has been for other people. I am sorry that it is horrible for the environment and the bridges of Paris. It is so symbolic and I even wrote a little message on the back of the lock so that – luck permitting – when my boyfriend and I returned to the city, he could read it. It probably will not happen now, however we did find the actual Love Lock Bridge. That’s right. We went to the not-so-real bridge. Which is fine. I am content with that, for now. If it is destroyed, let it be. My mother relaxed my mind about that part and I am just happy that I was able to do it in the first place. But, here’s hoping.
It was such a beautiful day, but the days continue to get increasingly better and better. I am so happy here in Paris. So relaxed and so amazed at everything I see. I hope that is coming across.
We finished the night with crêpes – very very amazing crêpes at a place called Josselin’s, I believe. It was a hearty meal and we went away from the restaurant planning when we would return.
Thank you for being patient on this one. I am going to take a little break to eat and then return to writing.
Thank you to all of my new followers, as well as my family and friends for supporting me on this journey. I assure you, the blog will not die after the trip.
This marks the end of chapter three of 10 Days In Paris.
In the next chapter, Erik and his mother go to a few cemeteries, drink too much wine at lunch, and call it an early night.
Good evening my friends! It is midnight here in Paris (ha!) and I am finishing up a post. It is quite delayed and I apologize. The last three days have been nonstop travel and excitement and I hope you understand that with pleasure, also comes time for reflection. I write these posts not only from memory, but also from my heart and try to include as much detail as possible. So far, with the two posts I have published, I have received some much appreciated praise. With that in mind, I continue to try to make this blog enjoyable and fun. It is also a struggle pulling all of the photos together and I do hope you understand.
Coming very, very soon is Chapter 3, in which my mother and I go to Notre Dame and other places. I am nearly finished – my mom just has to send me some pictures and I will be 100% completed with it. I also have many many fun things planned for the next several entries in this little journey I’m documenting. I appreciate your patience and I do hope that you will continue to read on.
I promise you this: by 6:00 p.m. EST tomorrow, I will have published chapters 3, 4, and 5. I am going to get up in the morning and start writing as soon as possible. Also, it is taking forever for my mother’s pictures to send through the limited Paris WiFi!
Thank you for your support. I truly thank you.
P.S. If I had service in this country, or constant, free WiFi, I would be blogging on the go. My mother and I do not get home, usually, until about 5:00 p.m. Paris time. Then we have to eat, right? So we do. Then when I get back, I write. I assure you, I’ve been working!
First of all, my apologies for taking so very long with this second post. Coming soon after are the other chapters of our trip which I am finishing up now. So, where to begin?
We finally made it to Paris after sitting, sleep deprived and running off of caffeine alone, in Iceland for 7 hours. We boarded the final same plane (yes, the one that had the mechanical problem initially) at around 2:30 p.m., and while it was a short flight, we felt the pressure of the day that had just transpired. Something odd about travelling overseas: it feels as if only a few hours have passed, but then you are waiting and realize that at home, wherever you’re from, the people you care about are still asleep, or just waking up while you’ve been awake for over 20 hours.
We deboarded the plane, and walked in odd directions toward the baggage claim. The airport looked like something out of Harry Potter, which was okay by me.
It was slightly comforting (annoying) to see the people I had been seeing for the past 18 hours standing around at the baggage claim. There were not many people speaking to each other, but one particularly wordy couple (the woman of the two looked a bit peeved, as well, that her boyfriend was being so talkative) decided to strike up conversation, which would have been nice, if I didn’t want to move on from chapter one so ardently.
Our bags came pretty quickly and we ran around trying to find the train to take us into the city. We stumbled into an elevator with our bags and these two girls, who were looking for information on how to get to the Saint-Germaine area of Paris. They would have been able to receive proper instructions had they pronounced “Saint-Germaine” as “Sahn Jhurmanh” rather than their quite shocking, “Saynt Jerr-maine?” The airport employee who looked as if he wanted to help them, could not. Nor could we, for we had our own problèmes en voyage to attend to. Such as: finding the right elevator to take us to the right floor to take us to the right train to take us to the right part of the city to take us to the right street. You understand. We do hope that those girls found their way. In fact, we happened to stumble into the Saint-Germaine area and I mumbled a little something that asked for their safe travel, good fortune, and the insight to possibly invest in a map.
We stopped on the second floor, stood around, breathing in the new scents of Paris – chill air, the occasionally strong whiff of body odor – and found the ticket booth, where we asked for a carnet, which is a set of ten tickets for a reasonable price. Le Métro works how it does in cities such as New York or Washington, D.C., apart from the fact that you have to have separate tickets (in our case) for each ride. It gets a little confusing at times, especially when you have ten tickets and you have to keep them in order to transfer, on occasion. We put our tickets into the little slot, it popped up in the center of the box, we took the tickets, and walked through the doors, which are quite odd to open.
We waited for our train and figured out our possible transfers and our final destination. The train arrived surprisingly fast and this made the promise of rest all the more believable. Living in New York for the past four years, you begin to hate public transportation, not only because of its lack of cleanliness or general taste, but because sometimes, without warning, your train might be cancelled for the rest of the day, or might not be cancelled at all but still never arrive. These things happen, I understand. But – and this is something I learned to love about Paris later – the Métro stops are more common and there is only a few minutes between each train. Also, they let you know how long it will take, which is something that New York does as well, but somehow the times in Paris seem to update faster, and are surprisingly shorter than advertised. New York is a different kind of city. It moves at a similar, but different pace. There is no room for large stations, but I do not understand why New Yorkers find enjoyment out of throwing trash onto the tracks. There is almost nothing disgusting about the trains in Paris, that I have seen thus far. Oh, another plus (and this is coming from my blunt side) is that in Paris, there are signs that simply say, “Go onto the tracks, and you will die.” In New York, “Well, you might live to survive…with serious injuries.” Ah, the bright light of hope.
But enough about the trains and their wide spaces, working lights, and doors that don’t open for every stop. The train ride itself was pleasant. However, the people were still like vultures about free seats. I, personally, do not have a problem with standing on a train. It seems, to me at least, in Paris, that there is a rule that says, “All seats must be taken before anyone dares to stand up.” I tell you, they really want to sit down.
The thrill of Paris was starting to grow inside of me and I hastily waited for a view of some of the most famous monuments I have seen in film and television for years. On the way into Paris, however, there are no monuments to see, but the taste of French culture is all over the outskirts of the city: buildings, new and old, clumped together donning their individual colors in complexion, windows, and doors. An aspect of Europe that I have seen in other countries like Italy and Spain is the graffiti. I am sure my favorites were curse words, but that’s alright. C’est l’arte.
Cut to about forty-five minutes later, when we arrive at the cottage in which we are staying for the ten days of our visit. It was not entirely easy to enter, initially. We had been sent the key by the proprietors as well as the entry code. You see, our cottage is behind an apartment building. Well, actually, in between two apartment buildings. Is this a problem? Not at all. My mother and I are romantics at heart, so you say “cottage in Paris,” we hear, “Castle in Paris.” And what a divine little place it is. Like all real estate and dating websites, the actual thing was not what we’d expected, but, abnormally, the surprise was a pleasant one.
There is a little gate that secures us from the rest of Paris (and, perhaps, the residents of the apartment building!) and then a patio with a variety of plants, alive and dead, scattered around the gate and the windowsills. To the right, there is a little table, with two chairs, that I have not yet sat in, writing this post a little later than I had expected, but will do so when the weather goes from 55 degrees, this afternoon, to 75 and 80 later this week. The front door is secured by a rather temperamental lock, one that turns several more times than the average one-and-done. The floor, upon entering, is wood, save for a small rectangle actually cut into the floor, where the doormat sits comfortably.
Speaking of comfort, the place breathes it.
I am so enamoured by it, that even the commonplace glass table, and the lack of a dryer are enough to make me wish I lived here – even temporarily. I thank my mother for picking such a lovely spot for us to sleep, eat, and lounge. Speaking of lounges, I sleep on one.
I feel as if I am Gertrude Stein, waking up from a nap on a lounge fit for a Parisian writer. But I digress.
There are lamps all over the place, and plugs which we had to learn to use through experimentation. There is no need for material light during the day because there are windows that line the entire room, as well as an added source of daylight from two skylights. On the table there remains a bottle of red wine (something my mother had read online was once not included for a person’s stay, causing them to complain about their entire experience. Mon dieu, have a drink!).
Tired and ready for anything we dropped our things where they have remained since, and ventured out for a bite to eat. Originally, we stopped at a place I have already forgotten the name of, were sitting down, but had to leave immediately after they told us they only served meat – a problem to my mother, who doesn’t eat meat. I want to take this moment to say that the couple next to us – two Americans – were very rude. I hope they find this and learn from it.
We eventually sat down and enjoyed a meal at Leon’s, which, in hindsight, was a good meal, but not the best we’ve had in our time here thus far. It was delicious, I will say, however. My mother ordered mussels, and I ordered chicken, covered in sauce à la crème et le fromage, along with a carafe of wine, which we shared.
After our meal and delicious crème brûlée we decided to walk around, while also making our way back to our cottage.
And that’s all I remember from that day and night. However, I recall returning home, struggling with the locks, climbing into bed, and falling fast asleep. I messaged my boyfriend, at home in Maryland, and told him about my day. By the time I was ready for bed, he had just gotten home from work (it was about 4:00 p.m. there). But he understands, and will receive compensation for his patience in the form of presents on my return. As for my sister, she remains generally unresponsive, here and there responding to a text from me, but not my mother. There’s a shout out if I’ve ever seen one. Répondez s’il vous plaît, petit monstre.
This marks the end of chapter two of 10 Days In Paris.
In the next chapter, Erik and his mother venture into the heart of Paris, seeing sights such as Notre Dame cathedral and attractive foreigners, while drinking cappuccinos and eating French food!
Yesterday began as most travel days do: with the promise of adventure belittled by an overall sense of urgency. It was filled with last minute errands – things I had intended to do months ago, and things I was not even aware were necessary for travel (i.e. calling the bank to ensure that they know you are going to use your cards overseas and ensuring that your phone does not escape the confinements of Airplane Mode). After all of that was done, my mother and I drove for two hours, in traffic and rain, to Dulles International Airport. The past 24 hours have shown me several confusing airports.
Dulles is consistently guilty of mislabeling and neglecting to label certain areas such as the vital economy parking lots. However, once parked, we unloaded the car – two bags to be checked, three bags to serve as our carryons – and hopped onto the shuttle that would take us, finally, to the actual terminal. Once inside – and fearing the normal line I have grown accustomed to at airports such as BWI – we headed straight for Icelandair where we were greeted with smiles, and no line. I suppose I should have figured.
Then it was time to exchange some of our good old American dollars for euros. I like how Euros look. They’re colorful, which is a quality I think our money would benefit from adopting. Simply accenting the number 5 is not enough to please this creative mind. The woman at the exchange booth was nice, but not really. I gave my cash and had to pay an extra $9 for a service fee. Then my mother gave her cash and had to pay a little extra as well (3, to my 9). It was obvious we were together, but she was still charged. What a great job, to be so close to so much money and even basically making commission. Service fee. My apologies for trying to help your economy.
Once that was over with – my mood already sinking from tired-sad to walking dead – we showed our passports and boarding passes once, twice, and then three times…perhaps there was a fourth. We stopped to take a picture in front of a 3D mural of modern art. My mother loves that kind of thing. I saw a face when we looked at it, but I wonder what she saw. I can guess she saw a photo opportunity. Remember the term, “Kodak Moment?” What ever happened to the person who came up with that gem?
We found our gate but were more interested in finding something to eat. We found a version of a chain of so-called “healthy” food – I worked there, ate it all, and gained the weight to prove it – and were shocked (pleased) to see that this incarnation came with a full bar. We ordered our favorites from that place – she: a Caesar salad; I: a chicken pesto melt – and we each got a beer. We talked about life and how I was raised. Since I have graduated, several people have tried to have this conversation with me. I think, as a writer, it is my responsibility to have these conversations about myself, in the quiet of my own mind. But I do enjoy listening to the opinions of family members on my upbringing. It gives me something to think about.
After dinner we walked to our gate, A19, and sat. I had stopped and bought tea from Starbucks – green, mint, with honey – and was sipping on it while I waited for our plane to board. It did, however a little late. That’s to be expected. Travel is never 100% fun.
We boarded around 7:30 p.m. (EST) and once on the plane my mother popped a sleeping pill and went right to sleep, while I sat up, reading, listening to music, playing 2048 and other stupid games on my phone while also trying to fall asleep. It didn’t happen. I should have taken a pill too, but I was scared because of Bridesmaids. I would be that person. Just kidding. But a family did tell us about how sometimes sleeping pills can insight a person to sleepwalk.
6 hours later we landed in Iceland. Oh, Iceland. In the six hours we have been here, I have developed a love for this country. I learned that it does not have any form of military, which is quite amusing. Also, Bjork is from here so that’s a plus. There are so many attractive people here, from passengers to flight attendants. They all look happy, but serious. We’re all trying to go to the same place.
And our flight, for which we were already boarded, has been delayed five times now. We were supposed to leave at 7:40 a.m., Icelandic time. However, as we were sitting waiting to leave, something happened in the innards of the plane and we had to deboard.
I was reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast in preparation for the many things I plan to see in Paris, and when I went to the bathroom my pencil, with which I take notes in the margins, somehow disappeared. The man next to me was acting quite odd, and I am pretty sure he was reading a book called Adultery. We deboarded the plane and when we were on the little shuttle going back to the terminal – which is quiet and well designed – I noticed that my pencil was attached to the luggage tag on his backpack. I slyly attempted to nab it, annoyed, and it fell to the ground. I have it now. I was tempted to wave it in front of him as if to say, “Look what I have!” However, he probably did not steal it. If he did, as I thought when I first noticed its disappearance, he could have kept it. If a man is desperate for the tool to write, by any means, write away. Again however, it seemed to just have fallen, even if the seat pocket might not have an opening in the bottom, and I have it again. No rest for the wicked.
My mother and I are getting cranky. I was up late last last night doing laundry and packing last minute things, only to be awoken by her stressing about more last minute things at 8 in the morning. It is weird to be awake through two days and several time zones. I saw it become day, then night, then day again, shortly after.
We, grumpy and craving caffeine, walked the length of the airport, and found an entire area devoted to coffee. I am not joking. There was a coffee shop, a deli-style coffee and sandwich section, and an espresso bar, which we decided on. 510 krónafor a cappuccino the size one might find in a “baby’s first coffee maker.” Icelandic money has seafood (and dolphins) on it. Take that, Lincoln.
We drank the cappuccinos, still not feeling 100%, and are watching as the 9:45 delay is furthered to 10, and now, horrifically, to 11. (Update: it changed, and has since remained [knock on wood] at an estimated departure time of 2:00 p.m.) When will we be in Paris? I am not sure. But, until then, here we wait in Iceland, home of the wonderful advertisements with pretty people basking in hot springs, the blue water almost identical to the color of their eyes. It seems like a fun place to visit, but I am only here to move further on.