Published: July 22nd 2009July 22nd 2009
Mark, Martha, and I.
Well, finally a moment to relax and write a little more...although I'm thinking that I need to keep my posts a little shorter and care less about grammar :P That way it won't feel like a chore! Paris - June 16th - June 22nd
So, after Berlin I left for Paris to stay with the family of a friend of my Dad: Mark, Martha, and Marcus. The three of them were amazing hosts and extremely generous with both their time and space; from the moment I arrived, I felt at home. After slogging through the Paris bus and metro system for 2 hours and arriving in Clichy (a suburb just outside of Paris), I was greeted warmly and treated to the first of many delicious home-cooked meals prepared by Martha. Seeing as how it was fairly late in the evening, we called it a night after chatting for awhile and I retreated to the living room and prepared the couch for a good night's sleep.
After the wild and crazy nights (and days!) in Berlin, I decided to take it easy for my first couple of days in France. After walking through Clichy with
Mark on the way to one of his jobs teaching "business English" to bankers (I hope I'm remembering this correctly...among other things he is also a writer, horseracing handicapper, and university professor) I decided to park myself on a bench in front of the Seine and read his latest novel, Tropical Downs! Later in the day, I strolled lazily through the streets of Clichy and found a few things that I would need in the next few days: a "coiffure" for a haircut; a cellphone shop for a new SIM card (my German one was out of minutes); and various shops for food and drink.
As luck would have it, one of Mark's classes was canceled for the next day which gave us the opportunity to visit Longchamp, the local racetrack. I was amazed by the size of the track as it was bigger than any I had ever seen in the States. We arrived in time for the 5th race and, after a quick lesson on how to read the French racing form, headed to the paddock to take a look at the horses. One of them, a German shipper by the name of Stottsfield I believe, immediately
caught my eye and I decided to place a win bet on him after consulting the form. Mark and I took our seats in the grandstand near the finish line and watched as the horses left the gate and started their journey towards us from the other side of the track. The first thing that I noticed is that the horses were running in the wrong direction (well not literally, but clockwise around the track as opposed to the direction that they run in the States). Secondly, the horses were so far away that it was impossible to guage Stottsfield's position until the pack was charging down the stretch. I was elated to see that Stottsfield had the lead about 100 feet from the wire and even happier when they posted his number 4 on the toteboard as the unofficial winner after a game stretch run. I was one for one in handicapping European racing and feeling pretty good. Now, like any self-respecting gambler, I'll only talk about the races which I win, so that's the end of this story...haha. Seriously though, we skipped the next two races and focused our attention on the last race of the day which
Handicapping a race.
seemed to offer the best opportunity to make some money. We split a bet called a Multi where you have to pick the first four finishers in any order. Quite a tall order but a bet that Mark likes to make and one that he has made money on overall. We ended up picking 3 of the eventual 4 top placers which was exciting but, unfortunately, unrewarding. The day was a lot of fun though, and we were even allowed in to the press box with Mark's journalist pass by saying that I was his nephew...cool beans.
Upon returning to Clichy, I received a text from Jenny, a friend of a friend who lives in Paris. We decided to meet for dinner in Paris at a nice little place called Devez. I arrived first and requested a table on the outside patio and ordered a glass of a nice French white while I waited for Jenny (I haven’t mentioned it until yet, but it was so nice to be in a country where I could actually understand the language and communicate in the local tongue…it had been almost 20 years since I had really spoken French but I was
able to recall a surprising amount in a very short time. I think the lesson here is that everyone should put their children in a foreign language school immediately; they will thank you later!) Jenny arrived a few minutes later and we enjoyed more wine along with good conversation and foie gras for the next hour or so before our main courses arrived. In the States this length of time between courses would have been considered unacceptable, but on this evening, it felt perfect. However, I wonder what people do when they are eating in France and decide that they don’t like their dining companions; had we not got along so well, there would have been lots of uncomfortable silence! Anyway, after dinner (I’m omitting details pertaining to the main course because it was not very good…especially for a meal that set me back 100 Euros!) we strolled along a bustling Champs-Elysees ending up with a nice view of the Arc de Triomphe. Next, we made our way to the Tour d’Eiffel where we were treated to the final hourly light show of the evening. Jenny was nice enough to give me a lift back to Clichy in her little
Belle and I
Inside Les Catacombes.
Smartcar that looked absolutely ridiculous but was surprisingly spacious inside. It was my first time in one of these cars that are much more prevalent in Europe than in the U.S.
I’m not doing very good job of keeping these blogs brief, am I? 971 words already…break time!
After checking the couchsurfing message board, I found a group of people that were going to meet up on Saturday afternoon to visit Les Catacombes, where the remains of millions of Parisians have been stored since the 18th century. I met up with a one-armed Russian from Germany named Igor, a Filipina named Belle who has been living in Paris for a decade after marrying a Frenchman, and one other fellow whose name escapes me at this point. We paid our entrance fee and descended hundreds of feet down a spiral staircase to make our way through this creepy cavern (see photos). About half-way through I started to panic a little bit knowing that I was so far underground amidst millions of skeletons but I was able to push through and make it out eventually (I went much faster than the rest of the group and waited for them outside!).
We decided to go for a coffee and a crepe (my first in Paris) before heading off to check out Montparnasse. Along the way, Belle and I spoke in French and my vocabulary continued to improve. As belle told me: “The French is hidden inside of you and just waiting to come out.” Very cute! Montparnasse ended up being quite a disappointment as it was simply a skyscraper…an anomaly in Paris but still very unexciting for me. Apparently they passed some law after it was built to prevent further structures of its kind from being erected, making it an attraction as well as an eyesore (for locals anyway). Later in the evening we were invited to a party at the flat of another couchsurfer where we enjoyed good conversation, food, and drink until around midnight at which point I had to leave to catch one of the last trains back to Clichy.
It turned out that one of my friends from back home, Christina, was also in town for much of June taking a Master's course at the American University of Paris. We decided to meet up at the Tour d’Eiffel to do some sightseeing which was great for
me as I had yet to see much of the city in daylight. We strolled along the Seine and admired the amazing architecture of buildings beside its banks while Christina gave me a rather thorough oral history of the city (apparently she was paying attention in class). We stopped at many famous sites including the Notre Dame cathedral where I said a prayer for my Grandma Ginger who had recently passed away. It may have been the first time I had done such a thing but it was a fitting act considering the fact that I was in Paris and my Grandma loved to travel. Upon exiting the cathedral it began to rain pretty hard so we ducked under the awning of a street side café and enjoyed a café crema while waiting for the clouds to pass. Christina commented on how nice it was to be with someone that spoke French after stumbling through her first week in Paris with only bonjour and merci in her arsenal (maybe a slight exaggeration but her French is very limited…haha). After the skies cleared we located a supermarche where we picked up a few bottles of wine, a baguette, and some meat
How the French carry baguettes :)
and cheese. We took our little picnic to a park bench along the Seine and spent an hour or so enjoying our food and drink before walking back to Christina’s tiny apartment to rest up for the evening.
We met up with a classmate of Christina’s named Sarah later on and decided that another picnic was in order (Paris is VERY expensive and it seems that the girls planned to picnic their way through the month as a way to conserve money). After completing another round of shopping we made our way down to the Canal St. Martin, a place where both locals and tourists gather to eat, drink, chat, and even play music. We enjoyed our time along the canal despite the fact that a Fabio-looking 40-something guy from Santa Barbara who had moved to Paris was hitting on the girls (and all others that passed by) for the last hour or so of our stay. We finally shook loose of this creepy character and decided to hit up a local bar for the remainder of the evening. We picked a busy corner bar that looked like fun and were able to find a table near the entrance.
I love cheese.
There was a couple sitting down already but they said that they didn’t mind if we joined them. I asked if they spoke any English to which they replied no so I figured there wouldn’t be much conversation at the table seeing as how Sarah and Christina didn’t speak French. However, upon returning from the restroom at one point, I saw that Sarah appeared to be engaged in a rather spirited discussion with the French couple. It turns out that they actually did speak conversational English but they told us that Parisians are programmed to say no when asked to speak anything but French with foreigners. I guess it’s their way of avoiding having to talk to people that they don’t feel like talking to…haha. Anyway, we ended up having a great time until around 2AM at which point we went to Sarah’s apartment and crashed for the night. I said my goodbyes in the morning after a Croque-Monsieur and café allonge with Christina and took the metro back to Mark’s place.
I decide to spend my final day in Paris hanging out with my Mark and Martha and, as luck would have it, it was also the day
Igor, Cris, Belle, and I.
of The Fete de la Musique. Each year on this day, musicians (amateurs and professionals alike) take to the streets of France and perform for free. We saw several shows throughout the day and it was really nice for me to be able to spend some time with my hosts before leaving the following afternoon. As I mentioned earlier, I could not have had more welcoming hosts and I am very grateful for their hospitality! Thanks again for everything M, M, and M!
There are more photos below