Wednesday, July 03, 2013

We'll always have Paris

I landed at Le Grand Charles airport, grabbed my gear and caught the RER train into Chez Paris.  The train sped slowly from the outskirts to the city.  I closed my eyes, and listened to the beautiful sound of French bouncing around the car.  French is f'ing sexy.  It was a bit warm, and the car smelled of perspiring bodies.  It sounds a bit strange, but I actually like this.  The smell of what people really smell like.  I have spent too much time in places of fierce sun and lil deodorant to be bothered by the actual smell of my fellow man, and I actually find it a little comforting in a strange way.  I past the white meringue domed Sacre Couer, and I switched at St. Michel- Notre Dame to take the RER west to the 16th arrondisment.  We crossed a bridge, and I spied le tour eiffel in all her grandeur.  My weary face lit up in chat noir grin.

I came out of the train to find my new arrondisment and my heart melted like fondue.  From the cover of the wide, tree-lined Avenue Henri Martin, I spied le tour eiffel.  As I waited to meet the landlord, I stopped at a perfect Parisian cafe  called Le Flanders for lunch and to pass the time. A sea of tables and wicker chairs on the boulevard.  Tres perfect.  Finely dressed Parisians with open-collard shirts with finely-draped sweaters drank glasses of Arbor Gold and smoked intermittenly as they picked at plates of steak tartare and frittes.

It took me fifteen minutes to get a menu, tres Paris. But I was in no hurry, just a little hungry after a long trip. Given that I was in t-shirt and with gear, the waiters were perhaps a little apprehensive of my presence in their fancy cafe- until I ordered a plate of steak tartare and a glass of wine- that brought me a bit more respect.  I find that I generally forgive the Parisians for their ness because of their marvel.

Out came the plate of raw meat covered in parsley and other greens, along with a plate of frittes.  I figured the wine would kill the e coli.  The waiter brought me an amazing little crock of moutarde that was the perfect compliment to the tartare, fries and crusty French bread.  I stared out at the wrought-iron terraces of the beautiful apartment buildings lining the boulevard.  Bienvenue à Paris.

After lunch, I wandered over and realized that one of those belle apartment complexes was mine.  Mon Dieu!  I wandered the block a little longer, passing my neighbors the Embassy of Bangladesh and the OECD.  I wandered back to meet Frederique, the landlord of my new abode.

An azure-eyed Breton (de la côte) met me at the gate.  Much to my surprise, Frederique was a woman.  She took me around the building to the servant's quarters, where I would be staying.  We climbed into the tiniest elevator I have ever been in.  As in we barely both fit with my backpack in as well.  She took me down the hall to my lovely little studio.  Once a servant's quarter, now the place was a little studio that was a bit smaller than my room in Los Angeles and a bit bigger than my room in Taipei.  The studio has a fridge, hot plate and microwave, as well as a tiny shower and desk.  It just fits, and I fell in love with it.  Immediately, I started inquiring if it was possible to take it for another month.  Remember how I said the sabbatical would be just two months?  Never trust a Quichottean when La Ville-Lumière is involved...

Frederique had time to kill before she returned to Breton that evening, so she showed me around the neighborhood.  In her bio on the posting, it said she spoke Arabic so we got to chatting about the Sandbox.  She was a fascinating new friend.  "Fred" had married an Egyptian man from Alexandria, and they have two daughters.  She had converted to Islam, so we spent the afternoon sitting in a cafe, talking about her adopted faith, her distaste for her fellow converts who became more pious than the mufti, the situation of Muslims in France, the relationship to the Jewish community and the frustration over the Sunni-Shi'ite divisions.  I chatted on the phone in Arabic to her husband in Breton, and he invited me inshallah to come visit.  It was a perfect start to my sojourn.

I bade Frederique goodbye and settled in to my apartment.  Later, I wandered out into the Parisian evening.  I headed down the wide, tree-lined Avenue Mandel, taking in the belle Paris with its hidden angels in the architecture and angular juts to corner buildings.  I made my way down to Trocodero, past a giant relief to those who fell in the Great War, and there were many in France.  Past a giant statue of le grand Marshal Foch.  And unto a stunning vista of the Eiffel Tower, with the whole of Paris in the distance.  Invalides' golden dome burned resplendent in the darkening evening.  Below, the throngs walked the Champs de Mars.  Around me, tourists snapped pictures of themselves with the famous landmark, while Français Africains de l'Ouest hawked cheap Eiffel Tower souvenirs.

I spent the night wandering about, stopping for a panini of mozerella and tomato for dinner at a little sandwich shop.  I chatted in Spanish with a Mexican family from Oaxaca- we were all so pleased to be able to converse properly in a language we all understood.  Que te vaya bien, they wished me, bon voyage.

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