Monday, September 3, 2012

A Paris: Day One (Monday)

I am in Paris again, at long last.  It has been far too long--nine years--but it still feels the same, like coming home.  It's hard to express and yet remarkably easy at the same time.  I fell in love with this city the very first moment that I set foot in it.  Just walking on the streets today evoked those early memories, and I felt a wave of relief and comfort as we ambled about, looking and gathering it all in.

This part of the city is new to me, but it is not far from where Pierre, Lynda and I stayed when we were here in '03.  This is a working class neighborhood.  The shops in this quartier are, for the most part, wholesale clothing outlets.  Trucks line the street and men are out in force, loading and unloading cheap carboard boxes from China and Singapore, stuffed full to the point of bursting.  In the windows are some samples, all vaguely the same, with lots of logos and campy graphics, black leather jackets and mauve silk skirts, t-shirts and cotton dresses of every hue.

There are a lot of black people in this quartier as well.  These are Africans, so different from American blacks.  Many of the women wear colorful tribal style dresses, while the men all sport those faux-leather jackets laden with logos and graphics that we see in the windows on the street.  Along that same street, the rue Chateau d'Eau, there must have been ten hairdressers, all of them literally packed with blacks, women, men and children.  The men are getting the 'high and tight'cuts, while the women are getting weaves and the kids roll about on the floor and out onto the street.  Music comes from everywhere, and everywhere someone is smoking a cigarette.

Cigarettes have been banned from the inside of cafes, but people can and still do smoke at the tables outside on the street.  And, it seems that almost every pedestrian has a lit cigarette in their mouth.  If the French are quitting, I don't see much evidence of it.  In fact, after a few hours of this even I succumbed and bought a pack of cigs.  We sat outside at a cafe after dinner this evening and had a coffee and a smoke.  Maddie didn't smoke, but Valery had a few puffs, and I honestly enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.  I didn't even get nauseous!

So we are here and finally about to settle in.  The apartment is much smaller than I expected, and, quite frankly, it was not as clean as I would have liked.  Our 'landlord' is a young American woman who says she's working as a writer here in Paris, and she keeps house like a typical American student.  Which is to say, hardly at all.

The sheets on the bed, for example, looked as if they had not been changed.  They were not dirty or stained, but we just couldn't see if they were fresh.  No matter, as the floor was dirty enough that I had to sweep it before I could comfortably lay my suitcase out on it.  There is, of course, no other place to put our luggage, because the apartment is just barely larger than a single room.  It has a kitchen and a bathroom and even a loft, but the square feet can't be more than 600, in total.

This is a former 'chambre de bonne' or maid's quarters, and it is no bigger than either of the two tiny apartments I lived in when I was here as a student.  Still, it has some nice light from two skylights and a window that opens out into an air shaft.  From the kitchen window we get one of those amazing views of the Paris rooftops.  The sunset tonight was particularly nice this evening.

Our first stop, after unpacking a bit and a short nap, was to go have some lunch in the cafe just downstairs.  I wasn't hungry, but Valery had an omelette and Maddie had a steak with frites--long a favorite of mine, but after the long flight, I just didn't have an appetite.  Although we didn't know it at the time--as it was the first thing we'd eaten--Valery's omelette was the best of the trip.  I was just getting my feet wet speaking French again, and I was smoking cigarettes to make up for the loss of other usual habits.

After lunch, we headed out to explore the quartier a bit.  I had failed to bring the proper plug for my adapter, so we went to look for a place with plugs, etc.  It was nice just walking down the street, taking it all in. Eventually we found a Monoprix--sort of an all-purpose store--and bought an adapter and a sharp knife for paring it down to size.  We took it back to the apartment to test it out and sure enough it worked.  We had brought three transformers, but the one plug meant we'd have to trade it out every so often.

After another rest, we decided to go out to look for a place to have dinner.  It didn't take long, and we settled into a small traditional looking little French bistro.  I had some escargot and a steak, Maddie had a roasted chicken and Valery had a salad.  It was the least memorable of all our meals, perhaps because it was a bit touristy, and perhaps because we were just too tired to really enjoy it.  After dinner we found a bustling little cafe for a coffee and a cigarette, then it was home to bed.

All this combined to make a memorable day.  I know that Maddie will never be the same after this, and the first day is the best.  I am thrilled to have had this chance to show her my most beautiful and amazing city, even if it is not really 'mine' to show off.  The city of light will forever be a part of her life, and that is a great thing to know.

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