“The trains are never late in Europe,” the gent in the black brimmed-hat had said.
The train to Paris was delayed by 11 minutes, but to cry bad luck would have been unguestlike, considering the absolutely gorgeous weather that Europe had given us so far. We slumbered through a comfortable ride, and exited at Gare Du Nord, a hulk of a train station with a great window view. A French pigeon sauntered down the second floor, proud to observe its suit-wearing peons and the Asian tourists.
The Meridien was in Montparnasse, a ways south of the left bank. W advised me to get food on Rue St.Louis-en-l’ile, known for its homely atmosphere and reasonably-priced food. The thirty-minute walk gave plenty of time for smoke breaks and general banter, despite Y’s hunger-driven orders to change the leisurely walk into a force-march. At times I felt like one of the oxen in Oregon Trail when the player decides to be sadistic.
G’s ettiquete is unmatched. By that, I mean there cannot be another person alive like him since those two would enter a fight to the death and only one would remain. “I’m a simple farmer, dude,” said the legend himself, walking up the street and scaring the locals with his gait. Despite this pretense, G was responsible for some of the most acute wisdom on the trip, acquired from swimming in life instead university lectures.
“This is a nice walk, here.”
“Yeah, totally. I’m glad we’re visiting here.”
“I agree – if I lived here, I probably would not enjoy it.”
The oxen were rebellious, so by the time we arrived at the island, we were given a beautiful night view of Notre Dame. Pairs of youths encamped the sides of the river, beer in the hands and romance in the hearts.
The next morning, I woke up to an impeccable skyline. A youth in the distances came onto his balcony, but I knew my view was better – this was my city.
The plan to explore my city would start at Notre Dame, from where we would head west and try to cover as many landmarks as we could, ending at the Eiffel Tower. I stayed inside the great Church for a while, tuning myself with the haunting golden cross while P lit a candle to pay respects.
At a Haagan-Daas we grabbed smoothies to perfect English-speaking waiters (a first in France, as most people don’t like speaking English). I got an immensely refreshing “Red Dream.” Then we passed the Louvre:
West of the Louvre was a park, where the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was especially memorable. We coined it the “Arc du Bird* because a pigeon decided that P was a bathroom. Unflappable, P ran to wipe off his shirt on the nearest tree as the rest of us laughed and backed away from the Arc.
After heading west some more through a garden (stopping for a nice beer + Sprite panache), we reached the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, a majestic street full of trees and shopping leading directly to the Arc du Triomphe (not to be confused with the earlier Arc). I fell asleep during a massage at the incredibly sexy Citroen Showroom on the Avenue and lost the guys, though I eventually found them again at the Arc itself. Not having cellphones was actually kind of scary, so I reminded myself not to separate from the group again.
We went to the Luxembourg Gardens to unwind before the final stop. I was still impressed at how healthy the French seem to be – the only fat creatures there were pigeons. We discussed a range of topics, from weightlifting to the Cultural Revolution to the extremely out-of-place giant head in the Gardens.
By dark, we finally came to the obligatory landmark – the Eiffel tower! Readers may recall I have a fear of heights (this and this), so I almost died on the way up. But with Y cheering me on, I somehow made it to the second level. The third and final level was closed, though I promised myself that one day I would make it up there.
Euphoric, I talked to everyone there who weren’t making out, which was about 3 people – this really was a city for lovers. I met two more travel virgins from South Carolina and Georgia. The guy was a little wary of me but warmed up to my irresistible charms soon enough. We took pictures, shared drinks, and toasted each other good luck.
A strange thing happened after we got back on the ground involving two Japanese girls and four locals; G and I agreed after analysis that the girls (and us) almost get mugged. Regardless, we ended up in a taxi with the most amazing cabbie ever, spiced by racism, wisdom about life and the streets, and probably illegal alien-smuggling. These stories are off the record.
The next day was a doozie.
A few hours before leaving, I suddenly realized D was in town, so we elected to meet outside Luxembourg gardens and grab some drinks. This involved me separating from the group (mistake #1), but I had everything under control so I took my ticket and left. I was there a bit early, so I waited for the main gate (mistake #2). A few rowdy youths kicked a ball outside the gate, once in a while sending the ball into the knobs with a loud clash. I took the time to introspect and to write in my journal a bit. The clouds were a little gloomy, but no dark omens yet.
A cute brunette jogged by, swinging by the front gate from north-to-south, following an implied rule that nobody jogs south-to-north. I observed the eyes of a wizened gentleman behind her, whose eyes forllowed her butt as she turned. He finally resigned, turned, and spat his gum into the trash can.
A few cops pull up to deal with the kids. The oldest one, wearing a Brazilian soccer jersey, animately talk to the police with impudence. By now it was 30 minutes past the rendezvous time. I curse not having a working cellphone (mistake #0), so I walk back towards the station. Suddenly, I see D reading at the other gate. We laugh and sit down outside a nearby restaurant. I order a gin-and-tonic to accompany our discussion about what is important in life.
The most impressive difference about the French (or in general European) rhythm of life can be found in food. The French really take their food slowly – we can have two hour meals here with nobody hurrying us to take the check. The meal is a time to enjoy food, enjoy company, and to rest the soul. The outside seating is another bonus, something I don’t see much Stateside except, say, on Newbury St. in Cambridge. This concept of enjoying each moment as its own reward instead of a stepping point to the next thing on the “queue of important things” offers a stark contrast to the hurried American way of life. I really admire it, and take my time with the food and enjoy D’s company, talking about everything from France to girls in our lives.
In retrospect this was an error (mistake #3), but I do strongly believe in this singletasking, non-hurried lifestyle in general. D asks for a second round of gin. I accept (mistake #4). We part ways, promise to see each other again back in the States next year, and I head down into the Luxembourg subway stop.
The line was quite long, so I waited (mistake #5) for about 5 minutes before I get to the ticket station. I then discovered the only subway station which did not accept cash in Paris. I ran about half a mile to get to the Notre Dame stop. I made the train just in time, and counted seconds to get to Gare du Nord. I quickly realized my arrival time would be exactly 5 minutes late, which wasn’t too bad, unless… oh, the trains were never late in Eruope, were they?
At that point, reality fell on me like it did on P: I was…
…to be continued.