Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Paris, Il Pleut?

Here's the thing about travelling with carry-on luggage only: because you can manage it without help, you will tend to manage it without help. And independence can be tough on one's shoulders, neck, and a wide variety of other muscles. My roller case may be stowable above my airplane seat, but that does NOT make it light. And my M0851 knot bag expands to hold a surprising cache of gravity-affected items. Ditto the smaller cross-body bag I keep to hold the might-need-to-find-quickly articles while en route..

So arriving at busy Paris-Montparnasse Monday afternoon (after, of course, negotiating our way to Bordeaux's Gare St Jean with all the same haul-ables early that day) meant some serious exercise. Working our way through the crowds, trailing our cases behind us, we enjoyed the familiarity that comes from having embarked on numerous trips from this station -- indeed, I suspect I recognize some of the pigeons that swoop within its huge spaces. Less happily recognized were the flights of stairs that required hefting my case (yes, there are escalators, but I could see my husband's enthusiasm for the quicker route, and I try to be a trooper).  Finally, we push our way as politely as possible (we're Canadian, after all) through the muddle of travellers, and around the last of the kiosks offering chocolates to bring home to one's wife (or mistress), crisp new shirts and ties to render one presentable for tomorrow's meeting, or the latest thriller to speed one's time on the train.

One last hesitation at the station's long glass expanse of doors, as we all struggle to loosen our umbrellas from our luggage. We're going to need them. And we're beginning to think we probably need gumboots as well. Il pleut, and not just a little. Enough that our shoes, once we find our rental apartment, will need to be stuffed with newspaper to coax the wet out and keep the leather in its intended shape.

While many would consider this combination of rain and luggage and a 15-minute walk a clear indication of the need for a taxi, we tend to figure, in these circumstances, that taxis would be hard to find, and that, after all, 15 minutes is a short walk. Better to just get on with it. It may be that these sentiments are more my husband's than my own, but, as I mentioned, I do try to be a trouper. . . .

15 minutes later, my black low-heeled booties saturated enough that it will take them two days to dry out, my neck muscles egregiously tight from fighting against my bags' weight against them, we arrived at the prospective address to find the representative from the Apartment Rental company waiting to meet us. His warm and efficient demeanor, not to mention his excellent English, instantly reassured, and we followed him up the 3 flights of ancient stairs we'll be working out our quads on over the next week. The apartment is even smaller than we'd imagined, the kitchen too miniscule to imagine preparing even an omelette. But it's charming enough to make me feel at home, for the moment, in Paris, even reconciled to the rain outside.

Still, it's an emotional see-saw of a day, and after our young helper leaves, I pay more attention to the apartment's limitations, its lack of any view other than the dreary courtyard. After our lovely house in Bordeaux which our landlord had stocked with basic groceries for our arrival, the apartment lacked even a teapot -- and without a teapot, I can't really feel chez moi. Solution? We headed out to soak in the Paris sights (and yes, pun intended, as a literal soaking accompanied the figurative) and to stock up at our local Monoprix. Marmalade? Check. Loose-leaf breakfast tea in charming tin? Check. Teapot? Check. Baguette? Check. Shampoo? Hand lotion? Toothpaste? Check, check, check, and I was very tempted by a mustard-and-navy striped long cotton-knit skirt as well. Tout était là at the Monoprix.

So I'm at the top of the teeter-totter again, and we loll about the apartment for a while, drinking our tea, unwinding from the day's duress, and deciding where to eat -- always a delightful element of an evening in Paris. I search through my black Moleskin record of our previous visits and find the name of a restaurant just enough of a walk away to refresh us, and we pass a pleasant and restorative evening, although we get seated among some fellow English speakers and make a note that we will try to eat further out of the touristic centre  on our remaining nights here.

The addition for the meal reflects a wine that we ordered but that doesn't seem to be what we were served. I don't realize this until later, Paul having decided not to make a fuss, but it reminds me how easily one can lose any sense of belonging in Paris, being quickly relegated to a flattening identity as tourist. The teeter-totter doesn't quite crash to the ground, but the meal's mellow flavours are slightly soured.  We decide, though, to walk across the Seine and stroll around Notre Dame. A huge tent fills the plaza in front of the illuminated cathedral -- The French Culture's appreciation of bread is being celebrated, a Fête du Pain. All is shutting down for the evening, but Paul and I remember visiting the same event several years ago among hundreds of Parisians fascinated by exhibitions of bread-making. Somehow, this strikes me as a brilliant staking of a claim for quotidian French/Parisian life in the heart of the city's tourism. I like this image -- I feel somehow accepted, reassured in a small way. I can be a tourist here (although I prefer to think of myself as a traveller, a regular visitor -- when the chips are down, I'm ultimately a tourist, I suppose), and I can share in expressions of daily life. There will be barriers, but there will also be entry points. There will be those who switch immediately into their (often rather poor) English as I stammer my French requests, but there will also be long evenings with friends who tolerate our French throughout long meals and who sit on sidewalk tables with us chatting en français about film and politics and travel.

More later on how the teeter-totter crashed, finally, in response to a broken bed -- and on how even that experience was resolved in the "Likes" column of our Paris tally. For now, let's close with that image of Notre Dame looming brilliantly over the reflective Seine, as two weary travellers walk contentedly across the Pont St Michel and back up the Left Bank slope to push the door-code buttons that let them feel, momentarily, that they belong here . . .

16 comments:

  1. I find that many quotidian woes can be cured by a trip to Monoprix! (And can I admit to a teeny bit of schadenfreude on hearing that Paris isn't living up to Bordeaux standards for the moment?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Schadenfreude allowed, as long as I have my Monoprix nearby and very good memories of Bordeaux.

      Delete
  2. Soaking up the sites... Sorry. I loved reading this post of your adventures. Of course, no kitchen is complete without mustard-(and-navy striped long cotton-knit skirt)! I'd be in heaven at a bread fest. Enjoy! Enjoy! Mangez mon ami!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True enough -- I really do need mustard for the kitchen, don't I?! ;-)

      Delete
  3. In my book, never having been to Paris myself, you are definitely a seasoned traveler whether you always feel that way or not. Can't wait to hear about the broken bed. Your posts have been delightful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Broken bed post, coming up. . .

      Delete
  4. I find that moving from the peace of the countryside to a city - even to a city like Paris - can produce a reaction. And in the rain too! I hope the weather clears up for you and that after some rest you're able to revel in all that's offered and recover your sense (however transitory) of belonging.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's true, isn't it, that the narrowing of our field of vision triggers a response and cities tend to do that. We've adjusted now, and are making the most of our Paris.

      Delete
  5. Yikes this is not what I would have expected mater...
    teeter totter in Paris?
    and mending a broken bed sounds challenging.

    Until the next installment...
    Hostess
    XO

    ReplyDelete
  6. Je trouve cette métaphore de balançoire bien convenable pour exprimer les joies et les petits agacements de voyager. C'est tellement vrai qu'on peut régler la balançoire avec des activités telles comme acheter une théiere ou prendre un bon repas. Et c'est aussi vrai que sentir chez nous dans un pays étrangère, meme si bien aimé, prend plus temps que prévu.

    Mais un lit cassé! Quelle dommage! J'ai hâte d'entendre de cette expérience!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your French is (as I'd expect from you) so good, Lorrie -- your students are very lucky. I like this phrase "régler la balançoire" -- and I appreciate your experienced travellers' validation of my temporary malaise.

      Delete
  7. In your travel posts there is always a low, and I applaud your honesty in sharing them, as well as the exquisite days. Travel is not all going from one up to another. But... no teapot? Really would expect Paris Addresse to make sure such a basic was on hand!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They've certainly provided good support, but the apartment Paul chose, while very well located, is a bit below expectations. Still, many manage to live well in similar circs, so we will as well while we're here -- and the apt. now has a théière.

      Delete
  8. I did try to warn you, I do hope Paris doesn't lose the magic for you too though, I did notice a very real change in attitude towards tourists this time, and yes, we are way too polite and tolerant. I too have nearly imploded with anger but blamed myself because were I able to complain forcibly in French I would not have been in said situation.
    I choose suitcases by weight and wheels, but even with 4 wheels the 1km I was forced to walk down a very busy pavement in Istanbul last year nearly scarred me for life, I ached all over, luckily we were met with an upgrade that took the sting off that miserable experience just a little, but rain....I bet you go back for the skirt, I would! & Can't wait for the bed saga!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Part of the problem is being right in the centre -- sometimes I feel pretty sympathetic with the Parisians for having to put up with all of us. But not sympathetic when we're all tarred with the same brush . . .
    I was rescued by the same uplifting element as were you -- the art that abounds here -- we've seen some great exhibits and we've listened to some fabulous music as well. Storing up, these last few days, to last for another year. . .

    ReplyDelete
  10. We had a similar reaction the day we arrived at our tiny Montmartre apartment. Provisioning definitely helped. So sorry to hear about a broken bed.

    ReplyDelete

I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...