Published: March 15th 2006March 13th 2006
It's difficult not to feel self-conscious in Paris. The city's reputation as the pinnacle of high fashion is well known: but it's more than just clothes, it's the whole attitude. A flick of the wrist to stub out a cigarette, the casual, almost lazy swagger, a nonchalant tilt of the head to express distate.
This is kind of stupid, but a few days ago, while sitting in a laundrette, waiting for my washing; I couldn't help feeling that, the cluster of students hanging around, just knew something was up. I was an outsider. They obviously sat around waiting for their laundry with so much more style than moi
All this could just be dismissed as arrogant posturing, but it's difficult to not feel at least some empathy towards the Parisians, and their disdainful attitude towards outsiders. Particuarly when their city is so overrun with tourists.
The tourists were out in numbers at the weekend. As I found, to my dismay, during a 45 minute queue in the rain for the musee D'Orsey. This probably all sounds very hypocritical, as I am a tourist myself, but it's hard not to be dissapointed when, even in the more secluded parts
of town, an american voice is heard on every street corner.
Because of this, (and because I've seen most of them before) I haven't really been hitting up the tourist sites, although I have been to a few museums due to a new found interest in art. I strode down the Champs-Elysees a record-breaking 20 minutes, (It's full of car show rooms and fast food chains anyway), and I haven't been up the Eiffel Tower yet either.
I've also been forced to reconsider my priorities due to budgetary concerns. I've had to wonder whether it's really worth those 8 Euro 50 to climb the Arc de Triomphe (I didn't), or whether I want to spend those 15 Euros on a decent restaurant meal (I did).
So I've been taking things at a slower pace; Aimlessly wandrering,as I've mentioned, but also taking the time to maybe browse in a market, or drag out a cup of coffee for 50 minutes or so ,while reading or writing. It has forced me to seek out the non-touristy cafes (I hope), because I can't afford 4 euros for a coffee, or 6 euros for a beer. I go to the same
creperie almost every day, and I've come to realise it is also a favourite of local students. (There's always a massive queue of them.
Of course I have no pretensions that I am "living like a local", or that what I'm doing is any more meaningfull than your average package tourist keen to check off all the big sites. Meaningful interactions with real Parisians have been limited and brief. I don't think I'm doing to badly though, I've been mistaken for a frenchman a number of times (before I've opened my mouth). I have even been asked directions in French a few times. Not having a companion to speak english to certainly helps in that regard. I still take a lot of photo's though, and that certainly doesn't.
Although my clothes are generally scruffy, and slightly too loose for your average Parisian, I do have the most essential item in the french fashionista's arsenal; a scarf. I defy you to find anyone in this city who does not own at least three or four scarfs. Quite literally everyone has one, and they are worn at all times, even inside. So I have taken to wearing my scarf a
lot more frequently, although I don't think it quite makes the grade, it's a bit too short and made of the wrong material. If you want to blend in though, the scarf is key. A beret is the next step, but I don't think that one's going to happen somehow.
A few mornings ago I found a little english language bookshop called shakespeare and co. It's situated in a litttle square on the banks of the seine, right across from Notre Dame. There's no buy 1 get 1 free on Dan Brown books here. it's a proper independent, old-fashioned book shop. The books are packed in tightly, ceiling to floor, on rickety wooden shelves. I think I've found my perfect job; but alas, I''m fluent french is essential.
I gave Montmarte another chance the other day, when the weather wasn't quite so miserable.
The views from the top of le butte
, the steep hill that Montmarte is built around are quite amazing. At times it seems as if the village is floating over the rest of the city, like some sort of celestial platform.
The central square, the place de tetre
, is unfortunately swarming with tourists, even
in this weather; but walk a few streets away from the hordes and it gets a lot quieter. it's easy to imagine you are wandering the backstreets of some rural french town: until you turn a corner to find the Parisian skyline splayed out in front of you. I spent the best of a day wandering round the streets, trying to dodge the wind and tourists.
I needed to get away from the central area for a bit. It's Sprink Break, or something similar, in America at the moment. Which is the cue for thousands of American college kids to descend upon Western Europe for a week. Seeing as the drinking age is sixteen in France, I think you can hazard a guess as to the nature of those trips.
So that's how I came to find myself in Japan; or I could have been, anyway. Who knew, that just down the Seine from the Eiffel tower, clustered along the left bank, is a collection of towering office blocks. Situated right in the centre of this huddle of modernity is Parc Andre-Citroen, France's first post-modern gardens. Sounds exciting doesn't it? To put it bluntly, the Park generally eschews
trees in favour of concrete. The usual layout of public gardens are rather casual; you know, a few trees here, a flower bed there, maybe a pond or two. Obviously this wasn't formal enough for Andre-Citroen's designers, who chose to build perfectly rectangular, colour-coded gardens all representative of some element or other. It's all rather odd, and it also doesn't really work, particuarly on a rainy friday morning in early march. In the central area sits a tethered hot air balloon, which is meant too rise and fall. In the midst of the mild hurricane that was currently terrorising Paris though, this wasn't really happening. Most strange, was that park was solely populated by efficient-looking, Japanese joggers. With the Eiffel tower obscured by a steel and glass incinerator shaft, there were very few signs that I was standing a few kilometres from the centre of the supposed "most romantic city in the world''. It was surprisingly refreshing really.
Meeting people isn't to difficult here. Most nights have been spent hanging round the hostel common area.There's usually someone to talk to. I'm still on my own for most of the time though, especially during the daytime, when the hostel kicks
everyone out between 11:00 and 4:00 (a good thing as it makes me get out of bed). I have a lot if time to read and write, and more importantly just think. It takes a bit of getting used to, and it was hard at first (and I'm sure it will be at other times.) But I've always been a bit of an introvert, and once I started to not feel self-conscious about the time on my own it became much easier.
I'm staying in Paris for a few more days, (there's a few more things I want to do), but I'm moving hostels. I want to try out a new area of the city.
P.S Apologies for any spelling/grammar mistakes. It's much more difficult without Microsoft to do the work for you.
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