Sunday, January 17, 2010

Paris in the Rain

This is my third time in Paris. Four months ago I had never seen the Arc d'Triumph or the Eiffel Tower or the Musee D'Orsay. I had never smelled the flowers on every corner, the coffee in every cafe, or the bread in every boulangerie. But enough nostaligia -- I still have one more day in Pari!

I've been here since Thursday night. I took Malev (Hungarian) Airlines over, and it was quite interesting. I enjoyed their kosher snack-meal, and the Israelis sitting in front of me enjoyed their ham snack-sandwich more, I believe. Especially because one of them got up after and went to the back to ask if they couldn't sample the other option: a cheese snack-sandwich. I don't know why this bothered me, or even if it did bother me, but I supposed I'd put it up in the blog in either case.

When I got to Paris I knew what to do - I knew which RER line to take, I knew where to transfer to the metro 2 and I knew the codes to the inner and outer doors of my exceptionally gracious hosts' apartment. I felt like a pro. I slipped in around 11:30 pm and crashed into the same Japanese floor bed that I'd slept in a few months ago. Bliss.

On Friday I managed to do some awesome stuff despite myself. For some reason I couldn't figure out the internet in the apartment, so I went on a search for an internet cafe. I also needed a SIM card. So I went down to Les Halles area and just roamed around. I came upon the SIM card first, the internet cafe second, and when I had done all that and had two hours to kill I stumbled, quite without thinking, upon the Museum of Modern Art, which also happens to be a sort of hub for all things interesting. I didn't go in - as in I didn't pay - but I wandered around the free exhibit, peeked in the cafe, and chuckled my way through the "boutique" which had things for sale such as swim caps with brain designs, Rorschach test coasters (I almost bought those), Romeo and Julienne (Juliet in French!) cutting boards in the shape of a book which had carved in the wood "For Star Crossed Lovers of Chopped Food". Anyway, I was entertained. I met up with my friend Amelie around 4:30 at the place we would stay together for Shabbat and got to see her for the first time in what feels like a very very long time.

We met some interesting characters on Shabbat - a man who knew Amelie's grandfather from before the war, his wife who's mother is from Morocco (she at least understood my Arabic if she didn't speak it herself), a conservative thinktank historian from Switzerland who now lives half in Israel half in Paris, and - of course, since the Jewish world is tiny - I ran into one of my hostbrothers! I saw Abraham, the second or third (I can't remember) of Baria and Jakob's seven kids who live in France. He was in synagogue! I saw him from the balcony and waved. Hilarious.

Saturday night Adina and I went back to my hosts' house and couldn't figure out the TV so we just hung out, read, swapped ideas until we were tired, went to bed, and got up Sunday morning to an absolutely gorgeous (warm!) Parisian Sunday. By noon we were on a train to Versailles (somehow we never stamped our tickets, but got there anyhow) and by one we were at a beautiful outdoor market that sells everything from fresh produce to hummus (both of which we bought and consumed with scrumptious quantities of fresh artisanal bread. Tres tres bein.

And then we saw Versailles. In a way very similar to the way I wrote about the Harem of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. I can't describe it - you must go see it. Highlights, of course, were the Hall of Mirrors, the Gardens, and - because its just fun to see great artists and poets and philosophers as busts or heads - the sculpture hall. Back on the train to Paris, Amelie and I were almost fined 45 Euro for putting our feet on the benches in front of us. These guys were serious. Forty-five Euro. That's like seventy bucks! Don't worry parents, I played the ignorant foreigner and am forever chastened but did not incur the fee.

So it rained most of the time I've been here, but so what? It's been beautiful in my mind. I've been catching myself thinking things like this lately. Maybe its because I've been reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan ever since I left my Updike novel on the plane, but nigh-on-absurd hippie questions like "why can't we all just SEE each other?" and "what does achievement MEAN anyway?" have been floating through my mind in the past few days. The French way of life is really a counter-culture to the American in so many ways. But I'm still stoked that to return to America tomorrow. DC, Philly, NYC, Seattle. Rock.

I have a song for you today. I take no credit for it. Amelie who I am visiting here in Paris can have it all -- she deserves it. Here's presenting K'naan, ladies and gentlemen, "Waving Flag".