Wednesday, July 29, 2009

First Day in Paris : Notre Dame - Monday

I set the alarm on my watch at 7 am.
First let's take a break to talk about watches, an important early part of the blog. As you may recall, the €5 was too small. I attached it to Jenny's pool bag, so she could know when to come to dinner. When she left, she was not tempted to take this fashion accessory with her and dropped it on the kitchen table. The €3 watch was bigger. Too big, said L. However, the Spanish people proved her sadly mistaken. When a watchless person needed the time, they could see mine from 100 meters away and would ask or-uh? I would show them the watch because I can't say the time in Spanish. And the large digital display communicates across cultures. An German American do-gooder with a Chinese watch bought it in Italy from a Middle-Easterner saves a Spaniard from missing siesta. An international moment that repeated itself half a dozen times. Queue "I believe the children are our future." One part of the watch has already fallen off the front. It was just an aesthetic piece that was slowing me down.Now, I have my grandfather's Rolex, a generous wedding present from my brother Brian, at home in NC, but I was afraid to bring it with all of the guidebooks warnings of pickpockets and all, so it is locked up in an undisclosed location.

So I'll go into some details which are interesting to me but may seem a tad negative. Regardless we are having a good time on the whole of it. It's just the strange tidbits that come to mind first.

Back to-I set the alarm on my watch at 7 am. This turned out to be unnecessary because the church a few meters away starts its first ringings at 7:03. And ringing and ringing, not just 7 times. We did breakfast quickly thanks to Nutella, and we got to the bus stop a little before 8 am. 20 minutes later we were at the train station in Mantes la Jolie.

At 9:10, we were in Paris St Lazare, a train and metro hub. The trip cost about €9 each. For €37, we could buy a weekly transit ticket called the Carte Orange. We knew we needed passport photos to get them, and we couldn't find them at Mantes la Jolie, so we had to pay the fare in (later I decided we could have bought the cards anyway, oh well). When in Paris, we searched and asked all over. Even at the ticket office, the agent was not very helpful or friendly, just shrugging his shoulders when asked about the photos we needed for the pass. He also didn't know when we could renew the pass for the next week - Wednesday, Friday, maybe, who knows? Some people have been helpful, but the not my problem syndrome is quite alive here.

From the movie Amelie, I got the impression that these photo booths were everywhere, but times have changed. We eventually found a photo booth for €4 each. This booth was being serviced. The photo printing booth next to the photo booth, also out of order, convinced me to just take pictures with the digital camera, about 8 feet away, cut out our heads, and affix them to the cards. Later in the day, we stopped by a jewelry store Jenny recommended. It was close to a photo store, and €1, 15 minutes, and a borrowed pair of scissors later, we had passport pictures for our metro cards. An economic victory in a very expensive town.

To deny access to one of the most basic sensitive personal necessities of life is rude, Parisian rude^. It says, visitors go back to your own houses! Bathrooms are a nightmare here. Even American stalwarts failed us. Subway charged €0.50 even we had eaten lunch there, but the WC was broken. At Starbucks, we ran up the stairs as the cashier chastised us. L told him we'd buy something afterwards because she was in a hurry. He let us proceed knowing that we would run into coded locks on the door. I ran downstairs and bought a cookie and received a receipt with a bathroom code. I ran back upstairs to give L the code. When we left, I left the code on an outside table for the next person in need.

Hey, Starbucks!
An open letter from a couple in need of restrooms in Paris:
My household has spent thousands of dollars on your overpriced goods and even many hours on the other side of the counter selling them, partly because of your ambience and comfortable atmosphere. You've made your profit off of us.

Now cut us some slack and act with more dignity than a rural West Texas rest stop with no restrooms and small cacti. You may say this is cultural, but some cultures ignore hand washing regimes and do not properly refrigerate perishable foods. Do you follow the culture then? No, you follow a higher standard and do the right thing. And the right thing is not making someone buy a small, stale cookie for $3 when they are in need. Should a place that sells $4 coffee have lower standards than a place that will sell my dad a $0.30 senior coffee?
Yours truly,
Someone planning to buy hot drinks at McDonald's in the future

The day was not all logistics. We saw Notre Dame and the Memorial for the Deported, a tribute to those taken from France during WWII, especially Jews. We toured the Left Bank. L may have more details on that later. I've worn myself out expounding the lesser details.

L's contribution- we decided to have a low key first day since we had to figure out the Carte orange and buy groceries at the larger store in Mantes la Jolie. We took the Historic Paris walk in the Rick Steves Book. We toured Notre Dame but opted not to climb the 400+ steps to the tower. As D. mentioned we also saw the French memorial after being accosted by our first rude French person in charge of letting people into the memorial. As far as I could tell our blunder was not saying "Bonjour" to her. I had read that you needed to do that in small boutique stores, but to a security guard at a national site frequented by many tourists not informed of all of the French Emily Post seems a bit touchy to me.

Alter the memorial we explored the Left Bank a bit. We saw the Church of St. Severin. It was not near as large as Notre Dame, but had some beautiful stained glass of a more abstract variety instead of some picture of an unidentifed saint. We also explored a bit of the Latin Quarter which seems more filled with kebab places these days. We also went to Shakespeare and company bookstore. It's a very compact used bookstore and free housing for struggling writers. Many famous authors called the Store home, including Ernest Hemmingway back in the days when he was catching pigeons at a nearby park for food. It was interesting for history's sake, but it was difficult to actually find a specific book so I gave up trying to find reading material.

Anne has a nice selection at the cottage, but after reading the backs of all of her novels, I noticed her tastes run towards the tragic. I did find one I am reading now that did not outright promise ultimate betrayal.After the bookstore we took in Blvd. St. Michel of the obnoxious Starbucks and place St. Michel, a favorite square of the French for rioting. In the late 60s the cobblestones were finally removed and it paved. I guess they finally decided that it was not an inalienable right to brain policemen with pulled up cobblestones.

At this point it had been raining for a while and the French were making us grumpy, so we decided to run an errand for Jenny and head home. Unfortunately, the train was so packed that we had to stand the whole ride. One nice gentleman gave up his seat for a little girl, but the rest of them spent a lot of energy giving me the stink eye and looks of disgust anytime I accidently touched one of them as the train jostled us in the aisle around. My "perdon" apparently was not good enough. By the end of the day I was ready to wash my hands of Parisians. The people we have encountered in our small village have been very nice, thankfully. That night I was too tired to crepes again, so we just stuck a premade quiche in the oven. After a bath/shower (our bathing option I'm sure will at some point make it into Ds observations) and a restorative cup of tea I decided I should give the Parisians another chance tommorrow.

^And frankly, it makes a city smell rotten in certain parts.

No comments:

Post a Comment