Europe '96: Paris

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[Sketch of a Paris street scene]

I also hit Paris for 2 nights en route, and had the best time I've ever had there. Hmmm. Let me clarify the grammatical ambiguity. This was not the best time I'd ever had, merely the best time I'd ever had in Paris.

There's a Jonathan Richman song about how if you've been to Paris and didn't like it, why don't you "give Paris one more chance," which is approximately why I was there. Enough sane people seem to like Paris to give me reason to believe there is a lot there to like.

On my previous visit to Paris, some time in the mid- 80s, I had discovered that I do far better if I begin all conversations with, "Excusez-moi messieur(/madame), je ne parlez pas Français." This makes it clear that I am under no delusion that what I am about to do qualifies as speaking French. My French is basically an amalgam of Spanish and English cognates, things I've overheard, and what I've picked up deciphering passages where some pretentious author quotes French without translating. Never studied it, my grammar is appalling, and I believe the French would say I speak like a Spanish cow. In fact, one of them once said that to my face. Still, if I start out by asserting that I don't speak French, I'm more likely to be reassured that I actually speak it pretty well than told about my linguistic resemblance to that Iberian bovine.

This time I decided to set no firm goals, wander around the city (that includes buses and Metro: I got a 2-day pass), play it by ear, do things I might find myself near, rather than head to a particular part of the city to do something. Buses have a lot of potential for this: you keep going till something looks interesting. If you make it to the end of the line without anything interesting, there's always a bus back.

Much to my amazement, I found a cheap (under US$30/night) and basically decent hotel (the Hotel du Brabant) near the Gare du Nord, which left me a lot more of a food budget than I'd planned, which was cool because otherwise I'd have ended up with two days of nothing but Tunisian food like the last time I hit Paris. Not that Tunisian food is bad, it's just not why you go to Paris.

Ironically, without any determination to do the tourist thing, I ended up finding myself near the Eiffel Tower & decided to go up. The view is everything you would expect it to be, but just as remarkable is the elevator ride itself (the lower portion is more of a funicular than an elevator) and watching all the other visitors "do" the Eiffel Tower. The architecture of the Tower itself is actually as dramatic from within as from afar, and some of the exhibits they've installed are pretty interesting, including a cinema which shows a short film which includes some pretty great clips from movies which have been set (in part) on the tower.

[Sketch of the statue of Charlemagne and Roland in front of the
Cathedral of Notre Dame] Mostly, I walked a lot, more around Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter than any other one part of the city, but I probably did a good ten miles a day of walking. I went to Montmartre for an evening, the first time I'd been there since I was a teenager, effectively a new place to me, since my memories hadn't been very concrete.

Like Prague, Paris is an amazingly beautiful city, though of course not as much of it is as old, having borne the brunt of many wars and a grand redevelopment plan (under the Second Empire) to boot. I find I have less to say about Paris than about most places I visit. It was fun, it was beautiful, it was kind of (but not desperately) expensive. It is an opulently wealthy city, and the fact that there continues to be a lot of poverty there ought to be enough to bury the trickle-down theory once and for all.

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Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 1 March 2021

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