Here's a journal entry from early 1998 when I made a brief four day visit to Paris with my friend Chris. This was my first and only time in Europe (apart from a quick visit to Germany 15 years before when I saw little). I'm not much of a photographer, and this was an early (translate: very low-res) digital camera. My apologies to those who have lived in this fantastic city, and who speak the language. I adore what I saw of Paris, but I know I've seen little enough of it to claim much grasp of it.
1/28, 10:pm, Paris time.
In room 403 of the Hotel de la Sorbonne. The hotel is a narrow little place, and feels very different--European, I suppose--compared to the ratholes I’m used to. But it’s fairly clean and in a great location.
[I had ridden over on a cockpit jumpseat on a FedEx flite from Memphis.] We got to CDG and taxied to the cargo terminal which is, like every other airport on the planet, something separate from the passenger terminal (and naturally, without a car, one can't get anywhere from the cargo side of the airport). The crew wasn’t quite sure what customs would want to do with me, but I ended up riding in a FedEx crew van to customs with the rest of them--we were all waved thru--and they got out and took a cab to their hotel, which was right close to here, I guess. I had to fend for myself with the FedEx crew van driver, who was to take me to the main terminal and didn’t speak a lick of English (or didn’t want to). Anyway, I was told quietly to give him a little something, so I gave him the smallest thing I had, which was an American $5 bill. He seemed fine by this. Inside the main terminal--or at least the train area of CDG--I took a moment to orient myself and look over the several train options before finding my train number and stop. The guy in the booth spoke English, but they couldn’t take American money, so I had to change a $20 at a machine next to him. The ticket downtown was FF47, which I think was about $8. Compared to the L in Chicago, that seems awfully high; it’s about the same distance (19m). But the train was much nicer and very quiet, and it isn’t, after all, the Metro; so maybe the RER is more comparable to Chicago’s Metra, which I’ve not ridden.
It's a new experience for me to try to navigate on my own thru a foreign city, a place where I know no one and do not speak the language and do not even have ready access to assistance should I need it. We tunneled underground in the RER--so any hope of normal orientation is gone--and I managed to find the right stop and lug my stuff off the train and up the stairs to stand blinking in the late afternoon in the middle of a strange country. Though I had studied the maps beforehand, it was still a bit of a surprise to emerge from underground and begin to orient myself in reality to the faux map I had constructed in my head.
I managed to find my way to the hotel here without too much trouble, and there’s a young college guy working the desk who speaks a bit of English. I took the lift to the 4th floor (the lift is a tiny cube which would fit only two people max) and changed clothes and then headed out for a walk. I went over to St. Etienne-du-Mont, which, I was surprised to see, is only 3 or 4 blocks from here and just past the Place du Pantheon. It’s very cool to see the actual place where Durufle spent much of his creative, working life. Tomorrow I hope to go inside. The outside looks, well, very old. It's sad to see graffiti on the exterior doors, but it sits on the edge of some very narrow, twisty streets which it will be fun to explore. Durufle’s apartment is supposed to be in the immediate vicinity (overlooking the Place du Pantheon, I remember reading) and I had to have walked past it. Perhaps Madame Durufle was inside this very evening.
I then went to find some dinner, and I'm ashamed to admit that I defaulted to McDonalds since I didn’t feel like I had the energy for anything new. It’s tough to order, though, when they give different names to your old favorites. Oh well. Then, as night fell, a walk North to the Seine and East to have a look at Notre Dame, which is as awesome a building as one can find, I think. It seems so grand and huge and ornate that it’s impossible to imagine it EVER falling into a state of disrepair; how COULDN’T you realize the value of such a place? A visit tomorrow to the inside would also be cool.
Impressions: it’s cooler here than I expected--about 20°F and humid and breezy; there are lots and lots of motorcycles parked on the streets and being ridden, many of them scooters. The larger bikes tend to be the dual-purpose things, which seems like a trend or phase. The big road bikes--BMWs, Hondas, etc--seem reserved for the “serious biker," while the others are kind of default cheap transportation; I hear a fair amount of English being spoken, and it sounds American in accent. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me to find a lot of Americans here visiting & studying; things seem a bit smaller than I thought, with distances not too great. We’ll see how this impression plays out.
It’s only about 3:30 pm my time, but I’m pretty damned tired. I slept 3-4 hours on the flite over--and it wasn’t good sleep--so I’m due for some more. God knows what time I will be inclined to wake up in the morning. Chris should be here about 8 or 9. I plan to run in the morning.
I slept well until about 3:am, and then tossed and turned until 5:30 or so. When I thought about getting up, I managed to fall soundly asleep until 8:45 or so, and then there was a knock on the door and Chris was here. It seems a bit surreal to depart from our different points in the central US and, by differing routes, end up in this place (which is not even 1/2 as big as my STP shithole). He wanted to catch a few winks, so I went for a run, heading to the Seine and west to the Eiffel Tower and back for about 6. Not a bad run, but the surfaces are varied and there are a zillion streets to cross. Traffic is pretty unrelenting, and one must be cautious. I saw only one other runner at the water’s edge, and none on the streets, which seems odd.
I passed a bunch of houseboats moored on the river’s edge. They are like barges which have been converted, and most seem 50-60’ long and would be quite spacious inside. The few uncurtained windows looked in on neat wood interiors with plants. I of course thought of Anais Nin, who lived for a while on one and wrote of it in her diaries. One wonders who gets to park where and what it costs to just tie up along the Seine in central Paris.
The whole surrounding when running is fantastic. I am reminded of New York in that every block seems to have something of note on it, but here the things of note extend back centuries, which is not a factor in New York, of course. I recognized the Louvre on the other side of the river as I ran and across from it, and on my side, the Musee d’Orsay. There are residential buildings all through this, and one wonders at the luxury of an existence here in old, central Paris.
Also, the automotive world. There are very few cars which one sees here and recognizes. I think it is because 2/3 of everything are Peugeots, Citroens, or Renaults, none of which is imported to America. I haven’t seen a single American car here, and even with familiar brands--Volvos, Mercedeses, BMWs, Toyotas, Subarus--the familiar models are slightly different or there are models not available in the US. Scooters are everywhere; they swarm thru traffic and it seems a really perilous existence to drive one. That makes me think of another comparison with New York: the streets here are almost all considerably narrower than anything in NYC, and it makes maneuvering quite a task. This is why all the cars are so tiny--a Jetta seems like a mid-size-to-large car. A truck like mine would be considerably larger than anything on the roads here except for an occasional delivery van, and our over-the-road trucks are mammoth compared to anything here. It would be nigh to impossible to park my truck here. People park on sidewalks or pathways or anywhere, and one can readily see the advantage of having a tiny car. Scooters are locked to lamp posts and fencing and anything fixed.
Today we’re headed out just anywhere. We haven’t discussed anything we need to see, but I’d like to see the insides of St. Etienne-du-Mont and Notre Dame, and I’d like to find St. Sulpice and see the inside and outside of that.