Sunday, June 14, 2009

Parlez-Vous Anglais?

(Paris, France -- June 2009)

Day 1:

I vividly remember watching the 1998 film version of Great Expectations and being engulfed by Robert De Niro's character when he said "Every artist must go to Paris at least once". These words have stayed with me for some time and I found myself thinking about them on the plane from Madrid to Paris. The ride to the airport had seemed almost surreal because I was (as usual) plagued by the weight of another sleepless night. That, and the fact that the taxi driver was a woman who reminded me of a scene from Pulp Fiction.

Arriving in Paris, I immediately felt powerless due to the fact that I couldn't speak the language. I know how to say a few things, but not being able to communicate is frustrating. I found myself asking the same question repeatedly, "Parlez-vous anglais?". After we found the hotel, we were informed that we couldn't check in just yet so we went to eat. Where did we go eat? A fucking McDonald's... Hello, cholesterol.

We took a train to the Eiffel Tower. I was stunned when the train exited a tunnel and to my right was that marvelous structure that I had seen so many times in films and in pictures. It was a very touching moment. I was even laughing to myself. I suppose nothing can prepare you for things like these. We headed up the endless stairs to the tower. Once up there, the sight we beheld was beyond words. It was interesting to feel the tower move a little due to the winds. The weather wasn't the best, but I didn't mind - I was in Paris.

After looking desperately for an ATM machine that would let us withdraw cash, we headed towards the Louvre Museum walking on the edge of the Seine River. One guy offered to draw me for free because he "liked my nose". I declined. Then some lady tricked me into giving her one euro. She pretended to pick up a cheap ring from the floor in front of me and then asked me if it was mine. I said it wasn't. Then she said I should keep it because she was a religious woman and didn't wear jewelry. She began to walk away and then returned to ask for some money for a cup of coffee. I gave her the euro and then heard a man saying I shouldn't give her anything because she was a thief. So I guess I was played. I kept the cheap ring, though.

We checked the prices of admittance to the Louvre and decided to go the next day. We walked back in the opposite direction using a different route to see different sights. We made it to the Arch of Triumph. Amazing. In order to take a picture with the Arch, we had to stand in the middle of the street. Not the safest thing to do considering how rude the french tend to be, but the picture was worth it.
We made it back to the hotel and checked in. The room was quite something. It had a slight vertical inclination like a small ramp. We had a sink and a television set that only showed stuff in french. The toilet and shower were located somewhere else and would be shared by everyone staying at the hotel. Not the best accommodations, but we were on a budget.

The area surrounding the hotel didn't look too welcoming after dark. It reminded me of a rough part of The Bronx or Harlem, so we bought some food and ran back to the hotel.

Day 2:

Our second day began with the commute to Père Lachaise Cemetery. Many important people are buried there but I was interested in Frédéric Chopin (the composer), Oscar Wilde (the poet) and Jim Morrison (The Doors' frontman). I knew it would be easy to find Jim's grave due to the people heading that way, but Chopin's and Wilde's would be harder. After searching for Chopin with no results, we headed towards Jim's last resting place. I'd seen this grave many times in pictures and in Oliver Stone's film but it looked very different up close. For one, the small bust wasn't there and the stone was different. The stone read 'James Douglas Morrison' instead of 'Jim Morrison'. I later learned about the changes that were made to the grave in the 90's. The sad part is that there is a small fence around the grave keeping visitors at a distance. Despite it all, it was still incredible to be there.

Next was the Louvre Museum, home to none other than Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. That place is so overwhelmingly huge, that I knew we couldn't possibly see it all. We headed towards the Mona Lisa. Many people were pushing and shoving in order to get a picture with the painting that stood a good 15-20 feet behind a small wooden fence and under bullet proof glass. I heard some girl say "I didn't feel what I thought I'd feel when I saw it." Oh, that's too bad, dear.

After the Louvre, we went to Notre Dame. It was raining incessantly and our cheap umbrellas weren't helping the cause. Somehow, don't ask me how, we got into the cathedral while a mass was taking place. A very beautiful place.

In order to camp out while the rain subsided, we went into a bar and with my broken french I ordered some beers. After a couple of rounds, the rain calmed down a bit. With our soaked shoes we walked to the nearest metro station to return to the hotel. Much to our surprise, the room that housed the front desk at the hotel was closed. After knocking, someone opened up. We later realized why the door had been locked. This cunning frenchman was watching porn, and not on his laptop, but on the large t.v. on the wall across from the desk. Ooh la la, monsieur.

And thus concluded our visit to Paris. Short and sweet. The following morning we woke up and headed to the airport for a 50 minute flight to London.

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