Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My trip to Paris

I'd like to say I'm over the jetlag, but the fact is I'm still waking up pretty promptly at 2-4 am since getting back from France...

Derek took this picture of me as all the Yiddish classes at the "zumerkursn fun yidisher shprakh un literatur" at the Medem Bibliotheque were slowly, slowly jostling into position on the stairs to get our group photo taken.

I'd warned him and Hannah this would take a long time but I think they found it pretty entertaining.

This trip to Paris was a lot like the last one, except I was now in the "advanced" class, and lived for two weeks with my daughter and her intended in a wonderful flat near the Pére Lachaise cemetery before moving to the same flat I rented in 2006.

One wonderful thing about staying in a real neighborhood is that it feels like a life. You know you have left the tourist zone when you stop seeing stores selling the Mona Lisa on ashtrays and keychains...

The nice Algerian man who ran the internet cafe next door smiled when I came in and sent me to the same booth each time. The baguette lady at the boulangerie grinned at my rotten attempts to give her a decent-sounding "bon jour..."

It's strange to be in a foreign country, actively trying not to learn its language. It's so easy to get your head tsemisht when you're working on a language, and the Yiddish in mayn kop is already struggling with the Spanish and Russian words in there, which helpfully offer themselves when the Yiddish doesn't spring forward immediately. Dumping some French in on top of it all seemed counter-productive.

Still, even in Paris it's pretty much a myth that "everybody speaks English." That may be true if you keep closely to the major sights and tourist locations, but even a few blocks off the most beaten path you feel like a cad and get some fairly blank looks (all right, so maybe some of them are feigned or hostile) if you try to explain something in English.

Also, you pay a high premium for good English. The cafe on the busy intersection (where the waiters speak English) charges 50% more than the little cafe a few blocks down a side street (where they don't).

After spending hours sitting on my butt in class all morning and early afternoon, I was desperate for exercise, so I put in many, many miles on my feet. I knew I'd get blisters on my soles, so I took along duct tape (wrapped on a chopstick to save packing space), but the first day things got ahead of me...

... because I got to Charles de Gaulle Airport at 6 am, having slept not a bit (after all, it was only midnight "my time"), and couldn't check into my hotel until 2 pm, so I spent six hours on my feet, walking, walking, and too dopey to put the duct tape on BEFORE I got the blisters.

Hannah, knowing I am so cheap I was reluctant to spend the money, blew more than 7 euros on these wonderful, soothing "ampoules" which are huge jelly-like blobs you can press over your huge blisters and they stay firmly in place all day and feel like heaven. Thanks, Hannah!

I thought I'd show you what the free automated street toilets look like. (You used to have to put in some coins, but not any more.) This looks like a horrible idea at first, but it's actually a lifesaver since there are not really any other public toilets anywhere and, as I mentioned, you can get into ludicrously big trouble elsewhere trying to use a bathroom without buying a $6.00 coffee...

After you leave the pod, it locks itself and there's a loud swishing sound and the whole inside is swabbed down by a robot! That's pretty cool. The only problem is, if you're at a flea market, say, and there are hundreds and hundreds of shoppers and only one of these pods, the line moves along pretty slowly and some of us, even the tough Parisians, get a bit desperate.

By the way, I've become a bit of a Squidoo addict, and I've dropped some of my pictures and etc. into some Squidoo lenses. Over there, I have a more enthusiastic, optimistic persona. I've been here too long to hide my true nature. I've written about my trip:

A frugal traveler gets ready to go
A frugal traveler sees the free sights in Paris
Mystery Ukrainian band of the Paris subways: "Cabaret Slave"
Michel Nedjar and his Purim Puppits
The "other" Paris flea markets

More to come...


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