29 June 2005

Dear Paris: by the time you read this...

I haven't decided how to conclude my reports from Paris. I will probably make a few more entries and then wrap it up. I have left Paris and am now in a holding pattern at a luxurious hotel near Roissy-CDG. I have a flight out in the morning. Will I miss Paris? I think not. I am happy to get home.

Perhaps in a week or two, I will miss my odd routine and my travels around Paris. I think I might miss walking around the city. There is no walking where I live. In fact, there are no sidewalks. Walking is not something that occurs incidentally. It is something you must do purposefully and intentionally. It becomes a "thing."

There are a few more entries to make, some photos to post, then I will come to some sort of inspiring conclusion, or just end it abruptly. I like the way Jason, a former Parisian blogger, ended his reports from the City of Light when he returned to NYC. The first line of his letter says it all.

28 June 2005

Bejeweled Metro Entrance

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Move over Metrosexuals...the Smoothies rule

Smoothies defined.

Finally the mystery is solved. Thanks to Heather Havrilesky, TV critic for Salon.com, we now have a name to go with a puzzling and not-so-new phenom. You know those guys you see that are waxed and tanned and bizarrely cleancut, even though they appear to be straight? She calls these dudes "smoothies." They are not metrosexuals, who are urban dwellers. They live everywhere else. They have their own thing going on. While Heather is clearly coining a new phrase here, she has hit the nail on the head in her article.

I recently saw about six of these guys travelling together. I think they were related, or perhaps had spent so much time together at the tanning booth that they started to look alike. They wore matching tourist t-shirts that they had purchased in Firenze. They were all about hair, tans, clothes, slapping each other on the back, and constantly fixing their bedhead hairdos. Europe has always been a haven for men who appreciate style, but the over-coiffed, over-waxed straight male is fairly new to the U.S. Even in Paris, the "smoothie" seems to be king.

27 June 2005

Down the street from Palais-Royal

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Mona Lisa, is that you?

I went to the Louvre this week. It's much like an amusement park, but with Art hanging on the walls. Thousands of people were milling about, standing in lines, and eating in the cafeteria. There is a lot of art at the Louvre. It's not possible to see all of it in a single day.

They recently moved the Mona Lisa to a new gallery to accomodate the throngs of people who make the pilgrimage to see her. She is behind protective glass and seems happy about it. She had the slightest of smiles. The crowd was several tourists deep and everyone wanted to take her picture. Without elbowing a few people it was impossible to get close to her. I decided to hang back and admire her from afar.

The Louvre is more than worthy, but can be overwhelming. For those interested in Impressionism, the Musee D'Orsay is the best bet.

Jardin des Tuileries

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The heat is on

The heat is challenging all of us. The other day I saw two fist-fights break out on the same street within minutes of each other. I don't often see adults duking it out in the street. Both cases involved delivery men who have the unenviable job of navigating Paris, finding parking spaces, wearing uniforms made of synthetic fabrics, and lugging heavy things -- while the temerature hovers in the upper 80s. I think it's 90-degrees today, but temps are measured in celcius here, which I appreciate because at least the numbers look lower on the TV news.

Several of my classmates who, weeks ago, were happy with their Paris experience are now griping about the people, the weather, etc. If it were not so hot, they probably would still have the Parisian spirit. However, it seems to have escaped some of us. We had a slight reprieve for a few hours on Sunday, but we are back to uncomfortable temps. Every breeze is appreciated. I was happy to be sitting near a woman on the bus who was fanning herself, and inadvertently those of us around her.

Scooter reclining

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Biking through Paris

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25 June 2005

Do you know who I am!?

Last week Oprah and I went to HERMES to buy a watch for Tina. We were treated poorly by those clods. Imagine that! Page Six and CNN picked up the story, so we feel a little better. If they can arrange for Tom to propose to what's-her-name at the Eiffel Tower...you'd think Oprah and I could get into HERMES for a few minutes.

Out with the old...in with the new (Prime Minister)

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The accidental pedestrian

My guide book (the one I raved about) said that the Gay Pride parade would be held tomorrow. I thought I would watch it after going to the American Cathedral at 9 a.m. I had intended to invite a couple people from my class, but this week I was out-of-sorts and the parade was not on my radar.

I was surprised to see the parade in full swing TODAY when I was over near St. Germain to visit book stores. I was happy to see the police had blocked the streets. I took advantage of the rare oppotunity to walk from point-A to point-B without fighting for sidewalk space (a new sport for me.) Stray cars showed up now and then trying to find their way out of the no-drive-zone. The pedestrians were king!

From afar, I thought there was a music festival or some such. After I couldn't find the specific bookstore I was looking for (I found others) I decided to investigate the origin of the pulsing music down the street. There I found tens-of-thousands of people (straight, gay, in between, families, kids, old folks...all of Paris) watching the end of the parade. Things had built to a fevered pitch and onlookers were falling in behind the last of the floats as they headed to the finish line at the Bastille.

I have been carrying my camera with me lately and took some pictures. Look for TEN of them them here.

I love Paris in the spring time

Paris is crawling with tourists. I had the town to myself until about mid-June. The crowds around town and near my apartment doubled overnight. The Germans were the first to arrive, then the Italians. The Brazilians are also here in force -- or perhaps they are Portugese? From time-to-time I see French tourists, here to visit their capitol. The Americans can often be heard before the are seen. Why are we such a loud people? Others use their inside voices, even outside.

Should you ever want to visit Paris...may I suggest coming between October and May? There's a reason for the line in that old song that says "I love Paris in the spring time." But...whenever you can make the trip, Paris is an endless adventure.

22 June 2005

French man without a sweater OR a scarf

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Witness the "Smart Car"

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19 June 2005

Episode No. 1: En cas d’urgence...

"That’s OK, not everyone is perfect," said the doctor of radiology as he prepped me for a sonogram. I’ve started tagging the phrase "je regrette" to the end of my "I do not speak french" claim. I appreciated the doctor’s sense of humor in a very stressful situation.

I woke up on Sunday night with a terrible pain in my back - on the left. I could tell that it was not muscular. I knew that one of my organs was involved, but my knowledge of anatomy is poor and I didn’t know which organ it was. I know how to handle most emergencies but I had no idea what to do this time around.

One thing was clear. I live on the seventh floor with no elevator. Even though I didn’t know what to do about the pain, I knew I had to get down to the ground floor. I have no telephone, no cell phone, and no connection to the outside world when I am up in my apartment. I’m like Repunzel of the Right Bank once I get home. I arrange my entire schedule around climbing the stairs and making sure that I have everything I need before going up or down. I knew I had to get down the stairs before the pain was so great that I couldn’t move. But first I had to fix my hair.

I dread the narrow spiral staircase in my building and often think about a person needing to be rescued from a building such as mine. They would be out of luck. Knowing what I know of Paris, my guess is that the Pompiers would yell up the stairs and tell whoever was in trouble that they would have to come down before aid could be rendered.

Episode No. 2: Descending a staircase...

I thought of the mental preparation necessary before I order a sandwich, and couldn’t imagine dealing with the staff of a French hospital. I remembered the American Hospital of Paris and wrote down their address. It was early and my building was quiet. On our lower floors there are some psychologists and lawyers. The upper floors are residential. I made it down the stairs with barely any trouble. Even if I could get no farther, I was happy to be down in the foyer. Should I try to make it to the American Hospital, call the paramedics, or go to the nearest hospital?

I went to the phone booth outside of my building and dialed a bunch of numbers to reach T on his cell phone. He is always the voice of reason and would know what to do. Behind his voice I could hear a crowd of people and airport announcements. It was still yesterday where he was. He was collecting his baggage at the JetPort in Portland, Maine.

I encountered his "Oh, what now!?" tone-of-voice when I told him what was happening. He was unable to help me. I was not prepared for that. Days earlier I called him, certain that I was about to have a stroke from a weeklong heat wave. (Though it is an ecologically sound choice, it never occurred to me that an entire country would willingly exist without the aid of air conditioning.) I suppose I sounded like Chicken Little with my previous phone call..and maybe the one before that. Only this time the sky was, in fact, falling. "Maybe you’re constipated?" he asked.

It was a painful taxi ride and I was thankful, for no particular reason, that I had a female taxi driver. I had never seen one before. I chose to believe she was sent by God to make the trip less stressful. There is something comforting about women. If I couldn’t have my own mother with me, I was glad that I had someone else’s mother there. She started singing along to the radio, which is what my mother would have done. A brightly painted parrot swung from her rearview mirror. She was driving slower than I expected. "J’ai malade," I said, "en toute hate!"...which I hoped meant that I was in pain and could she please drive a little faster.

The hospital was much closer than I anticipated. She let me out at the curb, which I thought was rather rude considering the main building looked to be a half mile up the driveway. Once I hobbled inside the gate, I was happy to see the emergency department a few steps away on the left.

Most of the lights were out and the security guard had to summon the clerk to check me in. "Fill out this form," she said, as I groaned, holding my side, shaking, nauseous and dripping in sweat. I put my name and address down, unable to write legibly at that point. I shoved the form back across the desk, telling her I really needed to see the doctor right away.

I thought about the will that I had planned to complete before I left the United States, then reminded myself that I have few assets: 50% of a house, a four year-old truck, and a 401k. I assumed things would get sorted out. I hoped that, after I passed, nobody would decide to publish my old journals out in the garage. They don’t contain my best work. I wished I had called my mother that morning, as I had planned. I handed the clerk my carte d’identitie from my french school and T’s business card, saying that should anything happen to me, please call this man at the telephone number circled in red ink. She didn’t respond. She pointed to a door and asked me to pee in a cup.

Episode No. 3: L’hopital confortable

A thin blonde nurse in her fifties came to fetch me. She had short and stringy blond hair and smiled cautiously. They don’t usually speak English at the American Hospital, which is a bit off-putting at first. However, they are willing to do so with patients like me, when there is no alternative. The departement d’urgence was empty, clean and quiet. I felt relieved when I was able to lay down in the huge emergency room. It had to be the largest room in France. It looked like the sort of place in which people could be saved from anything, and had all the technology and apparatus that one would expect. I was glad I had made it there – down the stairs, into the taxi, through the empty streets of Paris, past the gate, past the front desk.

The nurse drew blood and asked me questions. She told me I didn’t have a fever. It was good news because I know that many unsavory illnesses come with fever. Sans fever, I was sure that I would live. Blood appeared in my urine sample, the American doctor told me, and this probably meant that I had a kidney stone. She said that if I had an X-ray and a sonogram, they would know for sure. She seemed confident with her diagnosis and therefore so did I. Like many American women, she was neither thin nor fat. She was my age -- a fact that caused me to examine my achievements in life, or lack thereof. She had short, wavy brunette hair and looked like someone who could be trusted. She was not afraid to smile or speak casually with me. When her black loafers clicked and clacked as they carried her off, I decided that she was my new best-friend.

I knew they were painful and have heard many horror stories, but I was happy that I had a routine condition that could be easily diagnosed. A short while earlier, I was certain I had some sort of weird Legionnaires Disease or something exotic transmitted from the third world to unassuming westerners forced to ride on public transportation because they didn’t get good enough grades in school and therefore didn’t have worthy careers that provided them with enough money to take taxis everywhere they went. If I had only done better in school I would not have contracted this strange malady and would not be in excruciating pain on foreign soil. Once I knew that nothing was going to rupture, I relaxed a bit.

The nurse injected an anti-inflammatory into my back and I had to put on a hospital shirt, but was able to retain my shorts. I was impressed as the hospital’s “porters” wheeled me to departments that were actually expecting me. I was ushered into rooms where people were ready to deal with me. I hardly waited at all, possibly due to the fact that it was 5 a.m. When they were finished with me, another porter came to get me and return me to an observation room in the emergency ward. There was a system in place, and it seemed to be working. This was refreshing. I was happy to be rid of the pain, if even temporarily.

In the observation room I was able to sleep for a while. The radiology doctor would not arrive until later in the morning. I laid down on the most comfortable bed, with starched white sheets. I pulled a mustard colored blanket over me and realized that I was directly beneath an air conditioning vent. It wasn’t the weak sort of Parisian air-conditioning that they have at the cinema. It was real air that I could feel on my face. I thought about how strange it was that the hospital has been the most comfortable place I have visited in Paris.

Episode No. 4: I’ve got stones...

The daytime nurse woke me to take my vitals. She also helped me call T. She simply dialed the hospital operator and gave her T’s phone number. In a few seconds he was on the line. Earlier in the morning, after many attempts on the bedside phone, I was unable to reach an outside operator. The hospital operator told me to go to the phone booth outside. Being a half-dressed patient, I didn’t think I was allowed to do this and went to sleep instead. The day nurse was named Sylvie, the same name as my french professeur, and I took this as a good sign because I was looking for good signs. Sylvie was a young black woman and spoke very good english. She was just as nice as every one else I met.

In the time that I was in the hospital, the stone made its way from wherever it started to a place between my kidney and urethra. I saw it resting there on the sonogram. The doctor poked and prodded into my abdomen. I could see my insides on the monitor beside the bed as I contorted into various positions at his command. The stone looked to be 5 millimeters, he said. I was pleased that there was only one stone, and that it was not the large kind that need to be zapped into smaller pieces by instruments that find their way to your kidney by taking a very uncomfortable route. I was about to ask him if it was a boy or a girl, but I’ve learned not to be a smart-ass outside of my own country. It takes all of my effort.

I was wheeled back to the observation room and climbed into bed. I tried to sleep some more, but I was suddenly worried about the cost of all of these tests, the lab work, the hospital room, the phone call made through the hospital operator, and the medication I would have to get at the pharmacy. T would understand, though it would bother him nonetheless. It might come up a year from now in an argument about our finances. I hoped the hospital stay would not exceed the cost of my entire trip. I couldn’t get back to sleep but lapped up the air conditioning while it lasted. It was the one thing that came at no additional cost.

The chipper American doctor returned a while later. I was glad she was still on duty. Sylvie ordered breakfast for me, and I worried about how much that might add to my bill. The doctor said it could take as long as 9 days for the stone to pass. It seemed an obscure number that she made up on the spot. I thought it would pass much sooner and was hoping it would happen while I was in their care, close to their drugs.

I was prescribed (a) an anti-inflammatory, (b) something that helped with the side effects of the anti-inflammatory, and (c) a pain killer. Armed with these medications, I would wait for the stone to pass – something that could take place anywhere, at any time. I found this very disconcerting. The doctor told me to lay down whenever it happens. "Even if I’m on the bus?" "Even if you’re on the bus." Surely she was kidding. I was upset that in the middle of Paris, at any time, I could go into labor with a kidney stone. My french classes now seem like an afterthought to this kidney stone, and the heat wave, and the medication, and the stairs to my apartment.

The doctor had finished with me, and I thought it was very civil of her to insist I have breakfast before I dressed and went to the nurses’ station to check out. I ate a croissant and a piece of bread with butter and jam. I drank half of the strong coffee, even though it had no milk. I thought it was the polite thing to do.

Episode No. 5: The waiting...

I was sent home with all my records, labs, and even my X-rays. “This is the french way,” said the doctor. I was given a large bag with The American Hospital of Paris logo printed on the side. It looked like I had stopped by the gift shop on my way out. A different woman was working the welcome desk where I had to pay the bill and get my prescription stamped. Without the stamp, the pharmacy would not honor the script. “Be sure to get the stamp,” they all told me before I left the nurses’ station.

The hospital bill was about ten-percent of what I expected it to be. It made me question the American health system. But more importantly, I was not charged for the phone call to the U.S. The prescriptions cost less than 40-euros to fill. That’s less than what the co-pay in the U.S. would have been. Perhaps, I should stock up on pain killers before I go home.

I cabbed back to my sketchy neighborhood. It was Monday. I took advantage of my window of good health and went to the grocery store before going back up the stairs to the seventh floor. I tried to buy a phone card at La Poste, but the line was too long. I can get the same thing at my school with less hassle. It was too early to call T in Maine, so up the stairs I went with two bags of groceries, a bag of pills, and my enormous hospital gift bag.

I went to sleep for a while. It was too hot to do anything else. Smog had collected on the horizon as there was no wind to carry it off. Finally, at 6 p.m. the evening breezes came and things were more bearable. I went down to do my laundry at the laverie. It embarrasses me that I end up with a drenched wet shirt after five minutes outside. Then I have to go about my business looking a mess, while the french people look on. I called T after putting the laundry in the washer, and then went to the Australian pub for a pint of Fosters after putting the laundry in the dryer. I probably shouldn’t have had alcohol with my meds, but on a stifling hot night after a stint in the hospital, the beer tasted good...and normal.

18 June 2005

American Cathedral - Ave George V

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The American Cathedral of Paris

The American Cathedral of Paris occupies a beautiful church on avenue George V. It’s an Episcopal church, though they welcome everyone. The church itself has all the regalia you would expect of the Episcopalians. It also had the flags of all US states hanging from pillars above the pews. The people knew one another and gave a single nod to those who slid into seats near them. Visitors were sprinkled here and there. We were the ones staring at the ceiling and walls, and taking it all in.

For the first time since I arrived in Paris, people looked warm. To me, it seems the French have been blessed with perfect metabolisms. Perhaps they’re just small. Most of the french men I’ve seen here appear to weigh 160 pounds at most. Well into June, they can be seen wearing jackets and scarves while I, in shorts and a cotton shirt, sweat like a linebacker. I was surprised to see one man in church, where it was actually sort of cool, wipe his brow. I felt vindicated. Justified. When several people started fanning themselves with their church programs I was elated. It’s not just me!

The guest minister was from Washington, DC. In addition to being a clergyman, he also works with WHO and has been fighting the AIDS pandemic for more than 20 years. He was very interesting and although he had an air about him and was quick to list his lengthy credentials, he was able to deliver a relevant sermon that seemed strong and direct for this audience.

From my own experience working with NGO people and healthcare workers, I’ve noticed they do not mind making people uncomfortable to get their message across. They have looked death and disease in the face and they have a sense of urgency about them that comfortable westerners cannot fully grasp. They don’t have time to sugar-coat things. This chap was also part politician, as is anyone who works in the church. So he delivered his message gracefully, punctuated with sad and gritty illustrations of people he encountered in a world we will likely never know.

I quickly forgot whatever it was he said on Sunday morning, as I crossed the Passerelle Debilly, over the Seine, and wondered what movie I would see that day.

17 June 2005

Le Tour Eiffel - from Passerelle Debilly

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A permanent erection

The Tour Eiffel is the center of tourism in Paris. Considering it was built as a temporary structure, it’s remarkable that it has become such an icon. Having spent 116 years at the edge of the Seine, my guess is that the tower will stay in place.

I remember seeing it for the first time when I was 17, and being in total awe. What makes it so impressive is the broad and sweeping spaces that surround it. A long, rectangular footprint stretches from the Palais De Chailot, jumps the Seine, and then continues all the way to the Ecole Militaire. The tower occupies only about ten percent of the ground space, but makes its impression by reaching 324-meters into the sky.

What I like about the Eiffel Tower is that it not only draws tourists, but also locals. On the grounds of the Parc du Champ de Mars, directly below the tower, locals sit on blankets and talk to each other. Others play soccer on the lawn. There are many green lawns in Paris, but it is uncommon to find anyone lounging on them. There is often a sign posted that dissuades people from lounging on the grass. However, Parisians still treat the city as their own private garden. In fair weather, after having dinner at 8 p.m., they can often be found outside talking to each other and enjoying a mild summer breeze. Air-conditioning is almost non-existent in Paris and it remains light well after 10 p.m. Rather than sit in hot apartments, people tend to venture outdoors or to their neighborhood pub to socialize. I find it very civil.

In the United States we tend to cocoon. We put all of our money and time into making our home a comfortable and entertaining place. We buy gadgets and technology that hold the promise of escape. After a long day in the U.S., we almost always want to curl up in the safety of our own home. I suppose we miss out on the social interaction that the Parisians enjoy. However, if they had central air-conditioning, a big screen TV with 190 channels, and 2,000 square feet of space, I wonder how many people would decide to stay indoors. I’d like to think the Parisians would still chose to socialize.

At the Eiffel Tower, especially on Saturday night, the locals occupy almost every square inch of grass at the Parc, especially down towards Place Joffre where the tower can be seen clearly. They bring friends, fruit, cheese, wine, and all the things you might expect the French to have on an after-dinner picnic. Inevitably someone will have a guitar. Inevitably a small group will start singing.

Woman ascending a staircase

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16 June 2005

Losing the shades of gray

I went to the Musee d'Orsay yesterday. I started at the fifth floor (etage cinq) with the Impressionism exhibit. I spent two and a half hours there. I didn't make it to the other levels before the museum closed. I will write more about the art in the coming days. I had an awesome time there.

What really amazed me, though, was the way some people behave in a museum. I always forget about this bizarre aspect of humanity. I first noticed it in Chicago when the Monet exhibit had everyone in a frenzy, standing eight-deep in front of a lot of lilies. In Houston last year, at the Impressionism/Post-Impressionism exhibit, I saw a woman-of-a-certain-age look at one of Jackson Pollock's paintings and say to her friend, "That one's not very good." I think there was a salad in the cafe downstairs with her name on it. She didn't have time for Pollock.

I was prepared for a crowd at Musee d'Orsay, but it was not busy when I arrived at 15h30 (3:30 p.m.) The people photographing the paintings didn't surprise me, although I thought it strange. The people who shocked me were those who wanted to have their photo made while standing IN FRONT OF the paintings, as if they were standing next to Minnie Mouse at Disneyland. They couldn't be bothered with the Degas sculptures. "Boy! This guy was really hung up on dancers," one man said in his loudest stage whisper. I suppose the small sculptures don't photograph as well as a great big Manet.

A camera's flash can obviously damage the uncovered paintings...at least over time. Yet, several people ignored the posted signs and sometimes ignored the guard who asked them not to use their flash. With digital cameras being so advanced now, a flash is not even needed. I think they were upset that some of the subtle shades did not show up on their pics. "ARRANGEMENT IN GREY AND BLACK: Portrait of the Painter's Mother" (commonmy known as Whistler's Mother) didn't yield a good result for many in the camera crowd.

They seemed pre-occupied and unaware of the gravity of their surroundings. van Gogh agonized over his work, and in general, never getting recognition. Some painters spent months purging their souls onto a canvas. "I bet that one is expensive," said one man. Those with cameras didn't actually stop to take it all in. There are brush strokes and shadows that are not going to show up on the pictures they take home. There are colors that a computer monitor can't replicate.

In one hand many held handsets that told them about the art. In their other hand they had their cameras at the ready. "That one is famous" they would say, loudly. "Famous" was the word-of-the-day. Its no secret that Impressionism is over-exposed. If one can buy an apron or umbrella bearing the image of a "famous" painting, I suppose we've brought this on ourselves.

"At least they're here" I kept saying to myself. I am not a positive person by nature and often need to have these talks with myself. Not everyone was of this ilk. Half of the patrons took their time and looked with their eyes. As for the others, if d'Orsay is the only museum they visit in their lifetime (it seemed like a possibility), then at least they had a chance to see "The Bedroom" by Vincent van Gogh on something other than a tea towel, and in one of the most beautiful cities on earth.

14 June 2005

Cafe le Chat Noir

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Very public restroom

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Expel the intruders

Many international contracts are written in french, I’m told, because the language is so precise that misunderstandings are minimized. I am willing to believe this. Translated exactly many french phrases are so precise they sound abrupt.

On a couple of my homework assignments, I’ve been given a group of words. There are five or six words per line, and one of the things is not like the others. The instructions read “chassez les intrus,” which translated directly tells me to “expel the intruders.” I like that! It has a certain dramatic flair that sounds silly in english.

There are exceptions though – specifically with numbers. In written format, not all numbers take the most direct route. Seventy, for instance, is written as “soixante dix” which means sixty and ten. We’re left to do the math ourselves. The higher the number, the stranger the logic. Eighty-three is written as “quatre vingt trois” or four twenties and a three. Even though a number like 98 looks simple, it is written as “quatre vingt dix huit,” which means – four twenties, a ten and an eight.

With few exceptions french is an efficient language. Translated it can sound stilted, but in its true form it is poetic.

Metro at Place Blanche

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Vehicular manslaughter

Someone tried to kill me this afternoon. I didn’t catch his name but I can clearly describe him. He was my bus driver.

Parisian bus drivers are outfitted with some sort of antennae that tells them, to the centimeter, how much space is between their bus and .....bicyclists, cars, pedestrians, buildings, etc. They use the extra-sensory powers to maneuver through streets originally designed for horses, buggies, and later – small Citroens, like the kind Snoopy and Woodstock drove when Charlie Brown and the gang visited France. The fact that a bus can fit on some of these streets is miraculous. Add a crazed bus driver to the mix and the results could be fatal.

Today, for some reason, people kept asking the bus driver questions. I have never seen this done before. I didn’t know it was an option. It started when I boarded at boulevard Raspail. A slow-moving woman climbed aboard with her three slow-moving friends and asked the driver a question that sounded dumb – even to me – and I had no idea what she said.

Apparently the six questions he was asked by various passengers, even before he reached the Seine, agitated him and he decided to punish us – using his brake pedal. He would speed up and then make sudden stops. It wasn’t just the passengers he was angry at, he almost drove an elderly bicyclist onto the sidewalk as she happily rode her bike in the bus lane. (Oddly enough, the bike lane is shared with the bus lane.) He gave her a fright as he simultaneously honked his horn and while trying to squeeze a small delivery van back into its proper lane on the left side of the bus.

I imagine that remaining upright on an erratically moving bus is like surfing huge waves. It helps to stand sideways with one foot towards the front and one towards the back, as if the bus were a giant surfboard. Standing on the balls of your feet helps and allows you to pivot. It also helps if your waves are not equipped with brakes.

Behold the "Executive Scooter"

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13 June 2005

I am not my laptop

Good news: I was able to install the software that runs my Palm PDA. Bad news: the software apparently changed some settings for me, and I am unable to access the Internet from the school's wifi connection in the cafeteria. This caused me great frustration for an hour or two.

Then I went around the corner to the Internet cafe, where I am now...listening to Kenny Rogers sing a duet with God-knows-who. It costs 2-euro per hour, but I am happy just to connect with my email, blog, and my world. There are about 14 people here with me, typing away on the loudest keyboards in the world. The frequent usage seems to have caused all the keys to rattle. So, here we all are, filing reports from a narrow room in Paris.

I received a lot of great email over the weekend. If you don't get a response from me in the next couple of days, please be patient. It may take a day or two to get the laptop settings back where they should be. Before he left town, T did everything possible to get the laptop in working order. He even changed the time. I suppose he knew how off-kilter I could get if I could not connect to the outside world. However, I am not my laptop, and the day will go on.

09 June 2005

Tuesday night at the laverie

The laverie (laundry mat) around the corner from my apartment is the cleanest one I've ever seen. It looked like it was built minutes before I arrived. Judging from the signage advising customers on various topics, someone named Simon is the proud manager. He even lists his phone number to call in the event of a problem. In Paris this type of efficiency and accountability is rare. I'm led to believe that Simon may not be French.

The place is completely automated. You need to enter the number of your washing machine into a control pad where you also insert your bills or coins. If you punch in a 1 and a 2...washer number 12 will turn on. If you want to start the dryer, you enter the dryer's number. If you want to buy a product, such as soap or fabric softener, you look at the machine that dispenses the products and enter the product's number. All of your actions are controlled from the center of the room, on your all-powerful control pad. It's quite efficient.

This is also where I had my first conversation in French. It was with a woman who tried to advise me that dryer number 24 was bad, and that 25 was not so great either. She preferred to use numbers 26 through 29. Twenty seven was the absolute best. She was an authority because doing laundry was her profession. When I had to insert more coins to get my clothes in dryer number 24 completely dry, she was proven right, though she took no pride in the issue.

She lived quite far from this particular laverie, so I imagine it was her client who lived nearby. She is from Poland and has lived in Paris for ten years. Her emigrant status made it easier to speak in French with her. We only had to act out a few words and phrases. When she first spoke to me I automatically said "je ne parle pas Francais" (I don't speak French)...but after a few minutes she seemed surprised and said "You DO speak French a little."

It was a nice way to spend an hour. She enjoyed showing me two small potted flowers that she bought near the Metro. One was a beautiful rouge et blanc violet and the other was a plant with small flowers that were so purple they could have been powered by electricity. I have never seem such a color. She was pleased that I shared her enthusiasm for them. She said she would plant them outside of her window and would enjoy looking at them in the morning.

Champs Elysses - Gendarmerie on patrol

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photo: AFP

06 June 2005

Pictures & Archives

I have taken a few pictures of Paris. They take quite a while to post to my photo album, (scroll down if you don't see pics)...so I have not put too many on there. You can check the link in the right margin every once and a while. I don't think the album is very user friendly, but it is free. When I can get time, an internet connection, and enough electricity or battery to keep my laptop going...I will post them all to the album.

Also keep in mind that only a few blog entries will appear on this page at one time. The older entries get filed in the weekly archives, which you can find in the right hand column at the bottom of the page. My friend Lisa thinks I should be writing more. She is always right (just ask her!)...so I will try to work it out so that I can post more frequently. Getting all the logistics to align is not as easy as it is at home. My school has wifi, but no public electrical connections. At night I charge my battery, and then during the day have to race to get stuff done before my battery dies. With preparation, it should all work out.

What comes down...must go up

Yesterday I climbed the stairs to my seventh floor apartment without stopping to rest. Hooray!

In Europe the ground floor is not counted as the first floor. The floor above the ground floor (which we know as the second floor) is called the first floor in much of Europe. So I live on the eighth floor if you count American-style. Nonetheless, it’s a major achievement. Those stairs are my biggest fear. I hope to conquer them...or peacefully coexist.

Willing to be willing

From Dan Werb’s review of Lauren B. Davis’s book, The Radiant City:

“People come to Paris to work out something, to try a dream that may very well have failed at home. They believe they can either forget themselves, or find themselves...that’s the thing about Paris: you may not be changed in the way you dreamed of, but you will certainly be altered...[Paris is] a city that is both beautiful and brutal.”

Even before I arrived, I began to get the impression that my stay here would not be easy. I am not sure what my motivation was for leaving home for six weeks and leaving my partner and pets to fend for themselves...but I trust there is something to be learned. I made my plans almost a year ago, and whatever I had in mind then is not apparent to me now. If I allowed it, I could definitely be homesick. But, there is no return from those thoughts and I will not go there.

I tried to explore my environs today, and went to St. Joseph’s, an “American” Catholic church. There were many Filipinos, Sri Lankans, some Africans, a smattering of Brits and others. But, I am certain I was the only American there. It was sort of disappointing. I guess I wanted to commune with some New Englanders or something. Nothing is what you expect it to be in Paris.

Next Sunday I will try the American Cathedral on avenue George V. There seem to be opportunities for socializing. I don’t usually like to socialize. Being a stranger in a strange land has made me willing-to-be-willing.

05 June 2005

Let the games begin

The Champs Elysses was closed today. I came out of the metro at Charles de Gaulle Etoile and noticed that the Arc du Triomphe was surrounded by police. Every one of the 12 arteries that feed it with traffic were barricaded. I’ve never seen the Arc without six rings of cars and buses circling around it. There wasn’t a single car. So, naturally, I assumed there was a terror alert or a bomb threat. If the Arch had a large staff, a labor strike would have been my next guess.

The closure was actually caused by a festival promoting Paris as a site for the 2012 Olympic games. Along the wide avenue a series of events had been staged to represent the different competitions in the games. A large oblong running track had been designed. It looked authentic, but on closer inspection it was made with rust colored carpeting – and white paint to create the lanes. I hope they will use real clay to build the track should they be selected to host.

Farther down there was tennis, boxing, and weight lifting. The wrestlers were a big hit. Different weight classes battled it out a few minutes at a time in a seemingly rehearsed manner. At the end of the display participants from the crowd were allowed onto the stage to go one-on-one with the wrestlers – ostensibly to get some wrestling tips, though I don’t know when the average person would have the need to wrestle anybody.

I saw my window of opportunity open wide. If ever I was to get my arms around a handsome, fully outfitted, Olympic-caliber French wrestler THIS was the time to step up and live the dream. I realized, though, that I never had this dream and would have to let the moment pass. That said, I greatly admire their courage to wear such revealing singlets in public, especially considering the diminutive physical characteristics of those on the team.

Fortunately the presentation moved on quickly. Next, about ten children were invited onto the stage. The wrestlers leapt, tumbled and landed on the mat with a thud, pretending that the little ones had actually flipped them. Some of the kids seemed astounded by their new found strength.

Champs Elysses - Sunday's "games"

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04 June 2005

As the mill turns

The tour buses arrive at 10:30 every night. Hundreds of excited tourists hop off and form a line that often stretches from rue Lepic to ave Rachel. They’re well dressed, by tourist’s standards, and chat beneath the revolving red blades of the Moulin Rouge waiting to get inside.

Buses jam the roundabout at Place Blanche. Those not going to the Moulin Rouge climb up into the narrow streets of Montmartre, where buses could never fit. Even down below, the rectangular coaches are a poor match for the circular roundabout. Motorists often get stuck waiting for an entire bus full of tourists to enter or exit the bus. This is when the horn-honking begins.

As one of the moulin's neighbors, I am privy to this ritual every night. It's such an impressive pilgrimage that it has yet to bother me. Just as quickly as the long line builds -- and the honking horns, laughter, and shouting reach a peak -- the audience files into the building and disappears. The circle remains busy, serving as a meeting point for locals and tour groups and a photo opportunity for others.

The Moulin Rouge looks small from the street. It helps to remind yourself that this is the birthplace of that scandalous dance called the "can-can", set in a neighborhood full of glamour cabarets (and less traditional revues.) Tickets range between $100 and $200 and there are three shows each night. The 11 p.m. show seems to be the most popular.

03 June 2005

God bless Sylvie

For months I have prayed (literally) that I would get a good French teacher when I started my course. Since reading David Sedaris’ essay about his experience in french class, I have had reservations about learning french - from the French - in France. David’s teacher threw things at him and abhorred him and his language ability. Thankfully I was assigned to Sylvie’s class. She looks like a French version of my high school Art History teacher, who was also the headmaster’s wife and the soul of our small school. I find Sylvie’s resemblance comforting.

The class has about 16 people in it, but seems smaller because of the jovial atmosphere. The class represents the following countries: Poland, Egypt, Finland, United States, Cuba, Iran, Dominican Republic, Australia, Russia, Japan, Germany, Ireland, Brazil and Columbia. A few of us have dual citizenship, so that factors into the list.

We have a Cuban lifeguard, a New York novelist, a Japanese journalist, a Dominican embassy worker, an Australian UN representative from Rome, an Iranian film director, and a Russian business student. Four of the students, plus Sylvie, have law degrees or are working on one. A couple of the girls are just out of (US) high school.

The guy from the Dominican embassy looks like he could be one of T’s classmates from the Georgetown MBA program. He wears a dark business suit everyday. I assume he has to go to work when class ends. When the Cuban lifeguard, a macho sort of guy, was embarrassed because Sylvie publicly told him to work on his writing skills — the Dominican guy switched seats and sat by the Cuban to help him follow along. I thought that was big of him.

We also have two very young Polish nuns. They might be in their 20s but look like high school freshman. They come to school every day with a chaperone, an older French woman who waits outside during the entire four hour class. She may be a nun as well, I am not sure. The French term for nun is “religeuse.” When we each told the class what our profession was, one of the nuns said she was an “economist” and the other said “musician.” I suppose in addition to their regular nun duties they also need to specialize.

Notre Dame from a moving boat

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Welcome...I think

My blog is about to be linked to a webring called ParisBlog. I have installed the magic code and I am not sure what to expect now. I don't see any apparent change, visually, to my blog. The instructions were in francais, so I may have to read them again more carefully or check with the chap who serves as administrator.

I think I am also linked to a few blog directories somewhere. I have started to receive mail from people whom I don't know. It's rather interesting. I started the blog simply to post photos for friends and family to view. It has evolved into a bit more. I'm sad to discover that the computer lab at my school curiously does not have access to the Internet. Now, I am even more appreciative of T's boss for lending me a laptop. I am connecting via WiFi (the French pronounce this wee-fee...which makes it sound like some sort of cracker)in the cafeteria of the language school.

I am spending four hours a day trying to speak French, and the remainder of the day trying to navigate France. As a result, I am also losing my ability to think clearly in English. Even though I am studying journalism, I will ask you to forgive any weird language and errors that crop up.

All is well on my second day of class. I hope T got home safely. Now there is nobody here to translate television programs for me...which makes them no less entertaining. It's a bit strange being on my own here. I know my way around, but am not able to speak with anyone outside of this building. I try to make the most of exchanges such as "good morning, ma'am" and "excuse me." It's unlikely that I will develop any meaningful friendships using these two phrases. I have two days off from school and will need to get out there, keep busy, and have courage. I think I will start my museum visits this weekend. I will probably visit four this month. There are many more if I can manage it.


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