Finally! Something I could actually figure out and embrace.
Continuing my adventures in Paris…
I learned to appreciate subway transportation – and even got good at it – last May in New York, when I was there for over a week at the AMIS Meeting. Well, the Paris subway (and occasional elevated) kicks New York’s butt. It is fast, frequent, and reliable. You needn’t run when hearing a train’s approach, as I initially did like some of the commuters because if you miss one, another will be by in 3 minutes. Constantly and always. I might’ve had to wait 5 minutes once. Don’t even bother sitting down. It’s barely a minute between each stop (the alarm will sound in a few seconds and you’re off again), and you can get almost anywhere in the city in no time at all. The only thing missing was the on-train buskers so prevalent in New York – undoubtedly because there’s no way they could even get through “The Minute Waltz” before the next rush of bodies.
A few of the trains had automatic announcements of the stops; this is where I entertained myself by trying to guess the pronunciation of each as they came up. It was my best French class, as I had plenty of time to study the word, then hear it twice, with two different inflections. Alas, I remain a terrible foreign language student. The only one I could ever understand was Ourcq, which sounds exactly like it looks (and, as Dave Barry would admit, would be a great name for a rock band).
This is my well-loved Metro map and security blanket I got on my very first outing (I got an unlimited pass for the days I’d be there). There was a manned (womaned) Information booth at most of the stations, and those attendants I interacted with all spoke decent English and all were polite and helpful. Honestly, I rode it a million times and didn’t have one complaint. Just don’t forget to immediately grab onto a support rail. (I never did develop the mysterious balance muscles that enable even frail, elderly French ladies to stand perfectly upright and relaxed without any visible means of support, as I careened off poles and bodies at every start and stop of the trains.)
It was Sunday, around one in the afternoon, that I finally forced myself out of bed after 15 hours of attempted “sleep,” took a final hot shower (in a series throughout the night), and headed out to try to walk off an industrial-grade tension headache, brought on by a sort of “progressive dinner” of muscle contractions throughout my neck and shoulders for the last 24 hours. All from the stress of missing my Genoa flight (and subsequently, the entire visit) and having to improvise a new plan, due to the infamous mix-ups at the Charles de Gaulle airport. (And, no, it isn’t just me. This happened to Jaci and me on both of our previous Genoa trips, and my native French-fluent friends themselves shared similar horror stories. It is apparently a running national joke.)
But I had to let it go, and try to embrace Paris. As I mentioned in my Forum post, the best answer was to stress-shop. As it was Sunday, and I wasn’t sure what would be open, I headed (via Metro) to the nearby Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen antique market area I had read about. This turned out to be miles and miles of indoor and outdoor maze-like warrens of fun (the guidebook stated “2000 stalls,” but I’m sure they under-counted).
I quickly realized I would need more fuel. I found it in an egg and cheese crepe, made by one of the many street vendors. No, I am not a huge Nutella fan (and in fact managed to avoid ingesting it the entire trip).
I ignored the endless streets and aisles of “swap meet” vendors on the outskirts and soon found all levels of antique vendors, from marginal junk to high-end – an endless treasure hunt. If not for the high Euro-to-dollar, I would have done more than just fantasize about scheduling a ship container and sending home to Jaci all manner of cool French items, like extravagant “Compaction” armoires and spiral staircases – not to mention the fantastic Pleyel chromatic harp I stumbled upon.
I could not believe my luck, as this has been on my wish list for 30 years, and this was the first time I’d seen this style (“Egyptian” elements overlaid onto their mahogany model).
Alas, even with free freight to Los Angeles (the vendor had a container booked to go the next week!), it was beyond my means (well, my “allowance”). Maybe next trip.
I did score a couple of inexpensive treasures:
Among the many African Art dealers, I got deals on some rare items: a pluriarc harp from Gabon and trumpet from Cameroon. At left, a charming epinette des Vosges was hidden amidst piles of furniture. These would prove a challenge to get home – I took this photo in my hotel room in case they didn’t make it – but they got back safely as separate luggage.
After a couple hours on the hotel Internet, I eventually got a reasonable night’s sleep. Still jet-lagged, it was after noon when I finally headed out again. As my original Paris itinerary had been planned to start the next day (Tuesday), and unsure of what all might be open (I knew the music museum was closed on Monday), I just threw an imaginary dart at the Metro map. I soon found myself near the Bois de Vincennes, the largest park in Paris, looking first for a multi-part museum (African and Oceanic art and some sort of aquarium in the basement). This turned out to be closed (nor did I ever get back to it), as was the zoo down the street. In fact, the latter was closed entirely for a complete major renovation.
I walked the entire perimeter of the zoo (as the weather had become unexpectedly pleasant), but spotted nothing through the foliage and walls but human workmen. I am curious about the ginormous fake mountain in the center of the whole thing – will different animals possibly clamber about the outside of it, or is it enclosing some extravagant new indoor display? It was beyond anything I’ve seen in the States.
By the time I reached the lovely Lac Daumesnil (the largest of the park’s four artificial lakes, it turned out), I had removed my layers of rain/windbreaker/jackets entirely (like I said previously, so much for the weather report).
A huge amusement park appeared to be running full blast in the distance (look between the trees…I later read that it was a temporary carnival/fair, and the largest in France). You can just make outriders in the distance being flung out (in the precarious red compartments) at an unimaginably high height.
Romantic (I presume) boat-renters were beginning to appear, and it was quite the idyllic spot.
I next took the Metro to the Opera Quarter to get my bearings for the next morning, when I had the red bus tour scheduled. There’s nothing like exiting a dirty subway station, turning your head 90 degrees, and seeing something like:
Then there was the sumptuous Opera de Paris Garnier, built in 1875:
After a complete walk-around, and soaking up a bit more of the special atmosphere, I headed back to find some grub and rest up, so I could hit the ground running the next morning.
Next: Paris via Les Cars Rouges