It ended with a warm tap on the shoulder. Remember that. I’ll come back to it.
So, yes, I found a perfectly appropos Queensryche title for last night (my first night) in Paris. There’s something cosmic going on with that. I’m sure of it.
Anyway, it starts with my apprehension about coming to Paris in the first place, since I’ve heard so many stories about how the people hate foreigners who can’t speak the language. And y’know, I just don’t have any skill there. So, when my colleague texts me to say that he’s missed the flight out of Seatac, I’m like, “This sucks . . . for me.”
I grant you that’s pretty selfish. But, I suddenly get a picture of me winding up on a Metro train to nowhere. Hold that thought, please.
Well, as soon as I land there’s a security breech at the Paris airport. Everything’s on lockdown, and there are what appear to be whipthin teenagers all over the airport carrying assault rifles–French Army. Among other things, they’re keeping a great throng in a narrow hall, where it gets hot and sweaty and . . . aromatic fast.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the stench resembled that odor that arises from a teenager who hasn’t learned yet that he needs deodorant. Then, multiply that by a bajillion. And layer on that I am already losing valuable Paris time. During which, I get another text from my colleague. He’s now being re-routed throgh Minneapolis and won’t get into Paris until Sunday. I’m on my own. Great.
Well, eventually I get untangled from security breeches and stenches and get my bag. I need to draw some Euros, and my Corporate Card isn’t working. Awesome. I manage to get some with my own credit card, which will likely mean I’ll wind up paying some of these expenses out o’ my own pocket, since receipts haven’t been flowing up in this French hizzie.
I mean, as soon as I get checked in and drink a 5-Hour Energy Drink–’cause it’s like O’dark’thirty back in Seattle–I go to catch the RER C into Paris proper. The guy behind the glass gets rather chummy. Seems he has all kinds of friends up in Tacoma and whatnot. What I realize later is that he’s all distracting me, as he swindles me out of 10 Euros.
I let that go pretty easy. ‘Cause, if you must know, I’m also the guy who buys home made rap CDs off the street in Time Square. There’s one of me born every minute, you’re prolly saying. Yeah, that about sums it up.
Despite the fits and starts, I do manage to find the Catacombs. Actually, it’d've been hard to miss them. The line must be half a kilometer. But, one of my unpublished novels has scenes down in this place. I am seeing it come hell or high . . . um, let’s not ask for trouble. Suffice to say that the balls of my feet start to scream from standing in line. The Catacombs are tres cool, though. And grim, too. So, y’know, score.
Come to that, there are a great many places in France in this unpublished thriller novel of mine. But kismit is suggesting I exercise discretion in how many of these scenes I go see. Which means–you can all be glad–this post won’t run on too long.
Well, the Catacombs exit in a different place than they enter, so, yeah, I’m lost in Paris. I wander around for a while without any data or wifi and kind of freaking out. Finally, I return to the little curio shop just outside the Catacomb exit and ask a guy for directions. He proves plenty useful, but gives me what I can only describe as a very French look when I ask if the Metro is like the subway. “No,” he says. “Subway is an English way of referring to it.” He shut his eyes in a perish-the-thought kind of way. “Metro,” he reiterates.
Good news is, his directions get me to the Cite and Notre Dame. Been wanting to see this place for ages. Now that I have, I can say with authority: It’s awesome! That said, it ranks third in my Cathedral visits. St. Paul is still my fav. Could have a little primacy factor going there; it being the first. But nah, St. Paul is top drawer. Second is Kölner Dom in Cologn, Germany. Then Our Lady of Paris.
By this time, I’m feeling pretty proud of my Parisian-ness. Why wouldn’t I? So, I get walking, thinking I’ll go take in the Eiffel Tower. That’s the next step, right? I don’t, though, quite realize how far away it is. But, I walk quite a while along the Seine, checking out some really cool street vendors selling books in collector dust wraps. Plus old photos and other assorted awesome bits.
But my feet are starting to kill. So, I find a Metro entrance. Again, I’m doing pretty good, right? Anyone would say so. I check my little map, see I have a ways to go, and the next thing I know I wake up in a train, that is at a dead stop, with its lights off, in a dark tunnel, and is completely empty.
Yep, you guessed it: I’ve fallen asleep. My 5-Hour Energy has run out, and so have I. I have to tell you . . . I’m scared as hell?
Where am I? I suddenly flash on that old film Warriors, where city gangs prowl the night and beat up laggards for fun. Well, I tear out of there like a crazed idiot, and run down an abandoned train platform. It’s like one of those dystopian novels: I wake up and I’m the last soul alive, until I find a few others who will help me fight the zombies or somesuch.
Note: I still have no idea what happened there. It’ll forever be my Paris mystery.
But I eventually find humans and a terminal to pick up another train toward the Eiffel Tower. You see, by this time it’s become more than a sightseeing trip or a tourist stop. It’s a friggin’ pilgrimage.
And I do find it. It’s hella impressive, just so you know. It’s like the first time I saw St. Paul’s or the Dom. Pictures are pale, pale, pale shadows of the real thing. Just as saying I am standing in a long Eiffel line is a pale, pale, pale shadow of the extremity of this line. After today’s Catacomb and Eiffel Tower queues, I could medal in line-standing.
And you know what, that’s just getting in, too. Once inside, there is another line to get onto a second lift to go to the top. And I’ll a’be damned if I’m not going to her “sommet” after blowing out my arches. Then, more lines to come back down. In all seriousness. That’s just insult to injury. Making a person wait to leave? Not even Disney does that. And oh, the woman who gave me info to get into that line? Yeah, the absolute snottiest woman on the planet. She oozed condescension. That’d be her Olympic medal, were it a category. Condescension.
But I survive. And at the end of all this, I’ve seen three of the things I meant to see in Paris. To celebrate, I go across the street and get some sausages and fries. The sausages are awful. The fries, that is, I say, “French” fries . . . were SUPER. No foolin’. They taste like actual potatoes, but are thin-cut, hot, liberally salted, and yummy. I chase them with, what else, a Perrier. Best Perrier I’ve ever had, too. No lie. Though, in fairness, it may have something to do with my Olympic-level line standing and the fact that I haven’t had a drop to drink all friggin’ day. Still, the Perrier was super.
Then, the tower starts to sparkle. It’s cool. But also kinda . . . I don’t know, showy. I like the orangish lights in a steady glow better. Prolly because I’m a bit traditional.
So, then, I’m thinking: Do I have time to go by the Moulin Rouge and take a picture of the windmill. It’s the kind of thing one must do. Another pilgrimage, if you will. But I have no idea where that place is, my feet are aching, and I’m starting to feel like I’m pressing my luck.
In times like these, the only intelligent thing to do is consult your map. A taxi could get me there, maybe. So, I sit down in a beautiful spot along the Seine just outside one of those cafes you think only exist in a Bogart film. I’m doing my best to read the map. I even start to wonder: Would the Tourist Bureau put a strip club on thier official map? It IS the Moulin Rouge. But it’s still a strip club. But it IS France. But it’s still a strip club. And the same map has Paris Disney on it. So, I’m wondering if a conscientious editor really tries to sell sex to family vacationers.
As it happens, I never find out. And that’s because as I’m scouring the unpronouncable names–by me, anyway–I feel a warm tap on my shoulder. My first thought is that someone has thrown something not too hard at me, like an acorn or something, just to let me know that they know I’m a damned tourist with my map on their bench in their cafe. But it doesn’t have the consistency of an acorn, and certainly couldn’t be a rock. Then, I look down at the bench at the same moment my mind hits on the awful epiphany.
There on the bench, are dozens of white and black splotches. And that’s when I understand why the tap seemed warm. A pigeon has shat on me.
I have nothing to clean it off with. So, I march up the sidewalk, into the cafe, steal some napkins, and proceed to struggle with wiping away bird poop from my awesome SxSW t-shirt. For that alone, I hate that bird, ’cause I love this shirt.
But it didn’t help me decide about my windmill picture. I couldn’t very well stand out in front of a place where people get all gussied up in their finest cabaret-attending clothes and costumes . . . in my birdcrap shirt. Could I?
In the end, I catch a cab back to the hotel. My weiners at the tower had gone in the trash, and the fries weren’t holding me over. So, I am looking forward to room service or raiding the snacks they always put out. Right? Not so, my patient reader, not so. They have none of this. So, I lumber down to the first floor in my socks, cause I am done with shoes for the day, to a corner place in the lobby where they say I can buy snacks. Let me tell you, this snack bar is an embarrassment to snacking and snackers and snacks. I wind up taking a couple of hard rolls they had out and grabbed a bag of salt and pepper chips.
So, now, I’m typing you this with a growly tummy, and wondering if, with the few hours I have tomorrow before I prep for work stuff, I can take in the Louvre or something. Do I dare? The woman at the lobby counter says a great many things are closed on Sunday, as folks like to spend it with their families. That I get. But, I could do with a chance to make things even with that pigeon.
So, yeah, last night in Paris was strange . . .