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Published: April 26th 2005
“AM I INSANE?” That’s what I asked myself shortly after arriving in Paris. I was tired; exhausted to the bone is a better way to put it—drained. I had not slept for 24 hours—a screaming infant across the aisle from me on the eight-hour plus flight helped in that regard.
I was questioning my own sanity for leaving a beautiful, loving wife, the soon to appear fresh greenery of a Michigan spring after a horrid winter plus all the comforts of home just to feel like loose gravel raked over a dozen times into a road bed. Really, dear reader, I felt that out of it.
To regain mental acuity and reset circadian rhythms, I needed to stay up until a normal Paris bedtime, and then go to sleep. NWA had deposited me at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 11 a.m. I needed to stay awake until 11 p.m., which added another 12 hours to my sleeplessness.
Not allowing myself even a catnap, I became a mirthless zombie, wandering aimlessly through the streets of Paris. It was “Happy Hour” at all the bars and cafes in the Latin Quarter, but yours truly just passed them by like
a wraith without hope of redemption.
Now, on my fifth day in La Ville Lumiere, I’m myself again. Does “jet lag” become harder for us as we age?
Paris helped me to recover. This city forces you to function in a different culture, doing things the Parisian way. This kind of brainwork is better than doing crossword puzzles and infinitely more fun than forming anagrams to recharge a mind with its lights dimmed.
In a supermarket on the Rue de la Seine, I learned that I, not the pretty clerk at the cash register, had to weigh the produce before checking out. So back I went to the produce displays. Sure enough, each veggie or fruit sold by weight had a sign with a number: touché 82 for zucchini, 79 for carrots and so on. You take your bagged courgettes (zucchini) to a machine, place them on the scale and punch square 82 on the front panel. Out of the side of the machine comes a stamp-sized stickie with a price on it; you attach the stickie to your veggie’s baggie, hand it to the pretty, now smiling, clerk, pay and voila, you’re on your way.
Figuring out how to buy a Paris Metro (subway) ticket from a machine also helped to dredge out a couple more of the clogged up canals in my cerebral cortex. There is a rolling pin like device at hand level on these self-serve machines. You must roll it until you scroll up and down the screen in front of you to the ticket you want to buy. Once you’ve highlighted your chosen ticket, you must confirm your choice by pushing the “validate” button—duh. Then the cost comes on the screen. In my case, I wanted a simple one-way subway ticket that cost 1.40 euros (about $1.90 US). After depositing enough coins (monnaie) into the slot, out pops your ticket.
By the way, the directions for using this ticket machine are in French; imagine how many more new brain cells I could have gained if I knew no French at all and had to figure out the procedure blindly with all those strange foreign words on the screen.
A final entry from my cultural notebook: If you want to eat cheaply in Paris, sooner or later you will discover the fast food pan-Asian places. But you must be
able to decipher the lingo on the menu signs. In French: 5.80 Euros 6 vapeurs au choix avec riz cantonnais ou nouilles ou riz thailandais--OK, I know this says “with Cantonese rice or noodles or Thai rice", but what about the steamed dumplings? Does it mean there are six different kinds of dumplings to choose from; or does it mean that you get six dumplings from one, two or whatever number of varieties? Besides, eight dumplings are shown on the plate on the sign. The only way to find out is to jump right in and order it. Another cultural lesson. They all add up.
Last night, feeling better, I went down to a quay on the Seine River near Notre Dame Cathedral and watched the brightly lit Batobuses go by. I remembered that they used to be called bateaux-mouches. Being able to snap that old French term for these sightseeing boats so quickly from my mind’s archives told me that I’d recovered.
I’m alert, once more full of life and ready for more brain enhancing experiences out on the streets of Paris. And most definitely I am not insane.
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