Oooo La Laaa!

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When I got off the plane in Paris I had one thing on my mind; finding a hotel where I could watch David Blaine hold his breath for nine minutes and escape from chains inside a water bubble. I spent about four hours on foot searching hotels near the airport and in the city, which was an hour train ride away. It started raining and my plans sank, but so did David; I couldn’t find a hotel with ABC and he lost consciousness at seven minutes. What a couple of bum magicians.


The late night walk in a Paris rain was great though. I got to use the pack cover and raincoat in a pouch I’ve been carrying around. It was dark and the streets were so silent except for the seldom whish and hum of a passing car. A bus passed through a puddle, splashing me. The water was clean and pleasant and washed the India from my boots. It got late; I got tired and had not a guidebook or map, so I ended up paying $170 for a room the first night.

What a rush into western civilization that was. I checked out by noon the next day, but not before watching some TV, sleeping in all of the bed, showering twice and pocketing all the little soaps and shampoos. I also ate the free breakfast of croissants, bread rolls, toast and tea. Between breakfast and begets, France might just be the carb capital of the world. It was months since I’d been in such a quiet place as my hotel’s breakfast room. Even during the retreat, distant sounds of India seeped through thin walls, but not there. A couple sat two tables away from me. They talked little and in whispers and we were careful not to clank our forks or tea cups. I looked at all the efforts made to organize my table. The array of utensils was good to thwart cross contamination of a salts and sweets, but how crazy it seemed. The jams were sealed with little tapes and I would have taken them too if they weren’t so heavy. I found most of my manners and put them back to work, but it was for them not for me. After spending time in the East with people who have less, I find that so much I do at home in the West is for them, not for me.

(Note: I’m sitting out in front of Shakespeare & Company typing this and a waiter opening the outdoor café next door just yelled “Ooo la laaa” into his cell phone. What up France!?!?)

At first France felt like home in contrast to India. The pull of acceleration, smell of leather and smooth ride in a Mercedes Benz taxi was strange, but relaxing. It was nice to not watch the road ahead for signs of mortality. Lots of normal things jumped out at me while walking around during the day. The smell of perfumes kept distracting my thoughts and the lack of eye contact made me uncomfortable. It’s odd, because when I first got to India, how common it was to look people in the eyes made me uncomfortable. I guess I didn’t realize I’d gotten use to it. When walking around in Paris I’ve felt everyone to be cold and closed. I don’t think any more than at home, but I’d forgotten how looking at people was so faux-pa.

The food is so good, but man it’s so heavy. It is really a challenge to find anything without bread here. You know the image of French people relaxing, smoking, drinking, enjoying life and not working too hard? Well it’s pretty legit. I’m impressed with Paris immensely. I always thought of it as just a romantic place I’d one day go with a girl, but forgot about that when I booked my ticket. Paris does definitely have that going for it however. PDA (Parisian Displays of Affection) is huge here; serious street side French kissing happens at all hours. But there’s a lot more to France than the luxurious life. The buildings are old but kept like their new. The streets are all busy, but honking is rare. When someone does honk, it’s a like a quick little toot someone did in a class of adults and everybody pretends they didn’t hear it. And the fashion! Oh man. In India my outfit stood out because I wore expensive boots and fancy shorts with lots of pockets, but when I showed up in Paris I stuck out because I wore crap covered boots and stained, faded cargo shorts. Besides the fact that I looked worse than the bums here (seriously), it was pretty cold out so shorts and a fleece just weren’t going to work. I made my way to the fashion district and found a GAP, where I bought some low rise boot cut jeans with a seven year wash and a brown zipper hoody. They gave me a kind of clean, kind of neat, but still low profile look. I also found a sneaker store, bagged my boots and walked out wearing some fashionable blue Adidas’. I’d been in three dollar flip flops or heavy hiking boots since January and it felt good to wear sneakers. Once I blended a bit with the Parisians, I was ready to hit the streets.

The cheapest hostel I found was $32/night. I stayed there four days before coming to Shakespeare & Company. Between the cost of western life and the diving worth of the US dollar, the prices in Paris are truly ten times those I was paying in India. I spent more in my first twenty hours in France than I did in the prior two weeks. It’s been a real shock to the bank, but I’m adjusting. Eating out less, buying groceries and working for a bed has been the start of it. I did however find a magician supply store, at which I dropped $130 yesterday. Yikes!

Before settling into writing, reading, practicing magic and hanging out with other literary hopefuls, I did do some sight seeing. I visited Notre Dame Cathedral, where an orchestra was playing, some people were praying and tons of tourists flashed their cameras. I think I disliked churches for awhile because they embodied so much of what I disliked about religion. After connecting with something these past few months, I found I was able to appreciate a sense of spirituality while I was in there. Besides all that, the place was beautiful. I even made a long climb up a spiral staircase to the top of the towers for a worthwhile view.

That same day I visited the catacombs with a Canadian guy I’d met at the hostel. We walked straight into the earth, down hundreds of steps and came to a maze of mineshafts, but gated so only one way was aloud. After a long while walking, the cement walls disappeared. The butts of femurs ran from the ground to head height and made their own walls that stretched and twisted for what seemed like miles. Skulls spotted these walls and the tops of the piles showed the messy collection of small bones that sat behind the femurs. It was a dark and dead place, but it didn’t feel real. Try as I might, I couldn’t imagine all of them at one time being living people. Maybe it was because these were remains of people who had died peacefully and not at that location. It was nothing like my experience at the Killing Fields in Cambodia. There was nothing horrid or scary about it. It was just quiet except for the tick of life’s clock inside my head.

The next day I visited the Musee de Louvre (The Louvre Museum). For some reason I wasn’t feeling very interested in art, so I made my way quickly through viewing of sculptures, which were massive and beautiful, then headed straight for the Mona Lisa. It was a tiny little thing, encased in thick glass and inset on a square wall two stories high. People crowded and squeezed to get a good view as if She were going somewhere. I looked for a bit, but nothing clicked. Maybe it was because I was having an off-day. Or maybe it was because She’s all hype and the story is really the thing we want to see. I went around the side of the wall and watched the people watch her. They weren’t much more interesting and I didn’t think I saw them seeing anything I didn’t see. All I could think about was how I might steal the painting. I walked straight out of the museum after that, but without the Mona Lisa. I might go back to see the thousands of other pieces of art that I missed.

In the outside square at the Louvre I sat at café and read for a while. I was tired, so I laid myself down on the side of a dried fountain and used my backpack as a pillow, then fell asleep for a good part of the afternoon. When I woke the sun was setting, so I stayed and watched it tint the glass of the pyramids and the street lanterns orange. I stayed late, into moonlight, listening to my headphones and soaking up all the France that I could.

I can honestly say that there are things about the East that I already miss, but I’m glad I’m in Europe. It’s going to be a good summer.











2 Thoughts on “Oooo La Laaa!”

  1. Kevin Says:

    updates are wonderful….i think the only place in france that is friendly is Euro Disney…..but they get paid to be so? Glad all is well.

  2. Mom Says:

    FINALLY – SOME AWESOME FRANCE PHOTOS & STORY. THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
    EVERYONE’S BEEN WAITING.

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