Thursday, November 19, 2009

How I was Charmed By Paris: A Retrospective

So I’m about to embark on my most adventurous adventure yet, but before I do I need to tell you - my dedicated readers - about a few things. Lets start with highlights from enchanting city: Paris

The Arabic Speakers:
I heard a good deal of Arabic in the streets, picking it out easily from the pretty gobbledygook that is French, but only three times did the fact that I can get farther with my Arabic than with French struck me as hilarious. The first time was at the Museé D’Orsay on our first day in Paris. We were so excited to be there, we pranced through the doors, set our stuff down to be screened, and started walking through the metal detector when the security guard says something very grave in French. I look at him, and without thinking, blurt out “Shnu!?” (“what!?” in Moroccan Arabic) and he laughed. Actually laughed, and then asked me if spoke Arabic, to which I responded “Eeya” like a good Moroccan. We stood there, making people stand in line while we discussed his Algerianness and what we were doing in Morocco…eventually he let us pass without even glancing at our bags. Turned out the grave thing he was saying was meant as a joke, which we obviously didn’t get until it was translated to Arabic.

The second time was when we were looking for the main drag of Avenue St. Germaine. We really didn’t have a clue where we were (this was before I dashed off to purchase a Lonely Planet Paris “Encounter” edition) and I heard some guys speaking Hebrew on the street. Lisa ran up to them and asked, in the proper tongue, where St. Germaine was -- the responded “At Holechet Alav” (“You’re walking on it”) and begin to walk away, which was a relief. But to their surprise and my amusement, Lisa yelled after them: “SHUKRAN!” (Arabic for “thank you”). I almost died of laughter.

The final time Arabic came in handy was when we were rushing on our way pre-Shabbat to Sarcelles, the suburb, or should I say ghetto (only blacks, Arabs, and Jews live there) for Shabbat with Baria and her daughters (yes, it was adorable. It was like having four Barias all at once.) I was nervous, as I was navigating first the metro system, then the train system (quite a disaster that was) and then the bus system, and I had three different numbers for which bus to take…so, like I said, I was nervous. In any event, I got onto one of the buses it could have been (369, I think) and just said “Albert Camus?” hoping he’d understand my meaning, which he did, and said “Oui” (which I’ve learned is the correct way to spell the pronouncement “wee”). In any case, I think it was when I was buying my ticket that he saw a dirham fall out of my change purse and said something something French something…Maroc. And I answered him abck in Arabic. I think he was more than a little stunned. Turns out he’s from a little place close to Rabat and I told him that I study there, and he was even guessed where I study (AmidEast, Agdal). We were friends after that -- and it was a long bus ride, so I was glad of it.

The Tourists:
We met some interesting people on our travels, and I think that’s actually what make traveling fun - the places themselves are nice, but its really the people you meet in the places you’re at that make the difference. Looking for directions (again before the purchase of the LP), we ran into four middle aged American women, one of whom was from Portland (originally from Seattle!) who had us take a picture of them and then took a picture of us. They were hilarious - all dressed up, carrying shopping bags, grinning from ear to ear, looking like they were just having a ball. It was a “girls trip” to Paris, it seemed, and they had done everything. They gave us some tips -- including the idea to get coffee at the clock café at the Museé D’Orsay (Which we did. It was lovely.)

The most memorable tourists we met were less “cute” and more “grimy-traveler” but definitely just as sweet. We were lost - again- and saw these two guys, one of whom was carrying - of course - his Lonely Planet guide to Paris in his hand. I was jealous. He had dreads, was wearing the same grey wool glove cut-offs and brown leather jacket as I was (weird). He and his friend were both carrying gigantic backpacks. (I had left mine at home.) But the best part was that when they opened their mouths they revealed thick Irish accents and graciously pointed us in the right direction of course with the use of their Lonely Planet. I bought one the next day.

The Funny Frenchpeople:
I wanted to buy something for our host, Greg, who had done so much for us. He, among other things, picked us up at the airport at 1am, bought us glorious kosher food (5 cheeses!), took us down the Champs Elyeése in his car (it was cold!), through the Arc d’Triumph (Napoleonic) and up the Eifel Tower (gorgeous) on Saturday night as well as up to Montmartre to see the Sacre-Coeur, and, of course, let us crash on his floor (he had a Japanese-style mattress) and me play his piano (sigh) for three nights! So I decided we should buy him something. Flowers were out, chocolate and wine were stupid (the man lives in Paris!) so I thought it would be nice to buy him some strawberries. This turned out to be an adventure. The man I wanted to buy from was just funny. Kind of a goofy-looking guy in a bright sweater, he gave me the impression that he loved what he did, selling fruit and being friendly. He had a parrot at the cash register, and a man with a Chihuahua came by and he made the two make friends. Then his friend came by - and lo and behold - started yelling at him (jokingly). The only words I understood were “Jakob” (his name, clearly) and “kippa” (!) while this other guy kept covering Jakob’s head with his hand. I got the point. Jakob was Jewish but not wearing his kippa. Oy.

The French-Moroccan Wedding:

Two words sums it all up: Singles Table. No more needs be said. Other than that there was mixed dancing at the end after the (exceptionally strict) mechitza dancing at the outset. Don't worry, I mostly danced with Baria.
Also, the old Jewish quarter of Paris is stunning sells an extrodinary amount of excellent Jewish fare.

OK well that’s enough for now - I thought I would get through more here, but Paris was just too exciting. As for me, this next week will (inchallah) include travels to Ouarzazate, the location of the sets for films including but not limited to: Star Wars, Troy, and Gladiator, then hiking the tallest peak in the Atlas Mountains known as Jebel Toubkal (lets pray for no altitude sickness!), and then a pampering weekend on the beach in Essouaira where I may (or may not) take up an invitation by one of the AmidEast language partners to join him and his family for Eid Al-Kabir. I can’t decide if it’s a good idea or not. We’ll see. Anyway, a departing song for y’all: Love Will Come Through by Travis. I’m in that sort of mood.

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