July 16, 2009

Paris, Apparently

Ch. 66

I finished school just a little while back now & thought to myself "what the hell: Since noone's hiring, I might as well just go spend money I don't really have. I thought a quick trip to new york would be fun since I loved it so much last time (yankees, late show, central park, times square, broadway, battery park, etc). But then I was going to have to justify my spending on things which I have already seen and doing things I have already done semi-recently. So I looked @ Europe. London was atrocious. I don't quite understand how the hell it could be soo much more to go to London compared to other parts of Europe. Scotland would've been kinda nice, but as Beavis and Butthead put it when they were making fun of a Proclaimers video: "Scotland - isn't that the place where everything sucks?!, hehe". Spain? Hot. I like heat. Hot, hot heat. But in summer? I dunno...wasn't totally appealing. Eastern Europe? Let's face it - I'm just not that quite adventurous. I am pretty safe and conservative in more ways than I care to admit. Places like Croatia, Turkey, Lebanon, Yugoslavia might be just fine to go check out, but I didn't really even have the time to do any more research. I just had to get away from everything here and I had to do it now.

A deal showed up where 10 nights in Paris was actually going to be about as expensive as spending that much time in New York. I was set. I even convinced myself I still knew some French. This was really very pretty short notice for a consciously cautious & conservative boy like myself. (That must be the Scottish blood in me). But then. Less than a week before my plane was to take flight, mom says to me that she's got holidays & doesn't quite know what to do with them aside from painting the fence. A few grand later, it turns out that I wasn't going to be taking this trip alone after all.

There's nothing wrong with taking trips alone. You can cover a lot of ground and have no other people to account to but yourself. But being the reasonable person that I am, I said to Mom, "sure, pack your bags, let's go!" I am also the kind of person that thinks that some of the "big" stuff a person does in his or her life is certainly more fun when they can do it with someone else. And if I have such an effing hard time trying to convince the significant people in my life coming to Warped Tours or Virgin Festivals in Calgary, for example, I didn't think spending any time trying to convince someone to spend a whack o' cash in Europe was really all that worth it .

So we were off. In 10 days you can see a lot. That's how long I stayed in NYC last time, so I kinda had some idea of the pace I would have to set for myself. I really got to get involved with the french culture. Everything from the skinny smokes and 2' long baguettes to the tiny bathrooms, cheap wine, psychotic traffic, and crowded subway cars. I immersed myself. Mom kept up. I had set a pretty rigorous schedule for the 10 days and there's not much that was left out!

Here are some of the more significant differences in Parisien culture and Edmontonian culture that weren't at all difficult to pick up on:

Everyone's skinny. Super skinny. Every body smokes. Skinny smokes. The kind you roll yourself. But not pot. I didn't see any drug culture at all actually! I guess that's gotta be saved for when I go to Amsterdam with... Marnie? I suppose that all the smoking is likely related to how everyone is so skinny. Not to mention that noone eats beef. How does an Albertan survive?

Vespas, motorbikes, mopeds and bicycles dominate the roads as they weave through the rest of the miniature compact cars that are all mildly flawed from sideswipes. They leave less than a half inch when parking these little cars along the streets. I did see one hummer though. Otherwise No Trucks. How nice! They have roundabouts (without any form of lane control) instead of intersections. This cuts down on idling/global warming/accidents/traffic gridlock.You can also jaywalk through traffic pretty reasonably. Cars stop and let hoards of people cross all the time. Even if your a little late making it through before the light changes. Here? You would die. The underground network is incredible. There are almost as many people walking through tunnels between train stops as there are people walking above ground between Brasseries and Boulangeries. The metro has a train that goes bye every 7 minutes. There's clocks on the platforms that regulate this and are never late. The trains are crowded but uber-highspeed and can get from one end of the city to the other in 10 minutes or less.

Oh! There's another thing: NOBODY SPEAKS ENGLISH. Well, I guess not "nobody" but it's not one of those things where you can just expect any given person to speak at least a little bit of English. It really is a common tongue, afterall; and if I was a French Nationalist I would probably not reduce myself to knowing English either! The "rude" attitude attributed to the French is largely due to their unwillingness to cater to anglophones which would require more work from them to understand what the hell we are trying to say.

The French are each given they're daily bread. They eat it like North Americans eat pizza! That means constantly. Anywhere you go, someone will be walking down the street carrying a long skinny baguette. If they aren't getting their bread from a boulangerie, they are in one of the hundreds of specialized market stores for their fruit, cheese, or meat. No Wal-Marts. Or Superstores.The coffee. So different! It requires a blog of its own! The cafe's are everywhere and all of them are chalk full of people eating bread/croissants and drinking coffee. But there were signs throughout the city from Starbuck's thanking the City of Paris for 5 Wonderful Years. The Starbuck's looks the same, but the "regular coffee" is still not what you would get from a North American Starbucks. (Don't do that, anyways). There are no other American restaurant chains aside from McDonald's. There were a few Subways, I saw 1 KFC and 2 Pizza Huts. They also have an IKEA and a Ritchie & Sons Machine Auction House. Wine is cheap in the corner shop, expensive in the wine shops and even more expensive in the restaurants. But it all tastes good. A 25cl (250mL) "pint" of beer can expect to cost you 4.50 euros or 7 bucks! There's also coke. No pepsi. The coke is sold in 2.50 euro 50cl (500mL) bottles or 2 euro cans 33cl (330mL) cans. Note: These are smaller than North America's FAT sizes (355mL cans, 591mL bottles). Since food is soooo expensive in restaurants, every park anywhere will have hundreds of people sitting on their blanket with a basket and a bottle of wine. Note: baskets - not plastic bags. They are somewhat uncommon.

There's no tall buildings and the entire city is pretty flat. Biking made easy. Except for that church on that hill. To see anything historical, you will be walking up a stone spiral staircase with at least 250 steps. And then down again and then most likely over one of 20 or 30 bridges that are all along the (brown) Seine River. They have no ugly concrete infrastructure. Here, everything's concrete everywhere. There is really hardly any road or building construction going on anywhere. Here, it's everywhere. The infrastructure services like power or street lights or stop lights are all very modest and don't stick out like soar thumbs as they do here. The Louvre is huge. It's stupid, really. But I saw some Rembrandt's in there which are actually pretty sweet, and of course the Mona Lisa and Venus of Milo and a couple other "famous" pieces of art. They also have a Picasso and Dali museum. And about a million others. I am a classy world citizen now.

There's no drought. When it rains in France - it pours. This is called "raining robes". I got wet once. But at least it's green everywhere instead of brown.
Police are everywhere. Like New York. Except with roller blades.
Birds are everywhere. Including in restaurants, airports. Stupid pigeons.
Tourists are everywhere. And from everywhere. I think I met 2 Canadian girls the whole time.
Everything is old - ancient.
Musicians play for tips. This includes cello chamber music outside the Louvre, flute playing in front of the church, organ grinders in the markets, accordian music on the subway platforms, saxophone, guitar, and violin playing on the trains.
Graffiti is everywhere. Thank god Stephen Mandel isn't their mayor.
Gas stations are underground.
People are everywhere.
Canadian girls are hotter.
Bikes are everywhere. No one wears helmets though. Including the motorized ones.
The public bathrooms have shared sinks between the sexes. Good times.
Nobody wears ball caps. Anywhere.
Everybody smokes. Everywhere!
I saw a girl down her wine and smoke her ciggy at the exact same time using the same hand.
The touristy/classy subway stations by where the rich roam have a sweet-smelling potpourri injected into the HVAC system while the ones by my hotel reek of stale urine.
They actually have phone booths.
60 year old eastern european ladies beg with paper espresso cups, with their heads bowed low to the ground and their arms reached out for pocket change.
They don't recycle, although there are strategically placed wine bottle collection bins.
The water is soft. People's hair shines.
There's a high population density. And there's people. Everywhere.


All I can say for sure is that after being there for that long, I really got my head around what I love and hate about both Canada (or North America) and France (or Europe). These industrialized first world nations both have soooo much to offer its people and are yet still the roots of sooo many problems in the world today. Environmental problems and unfair trade are the 2 problems that stick out to me, but I am sure there are hundreds more. This was made especially apparent after the trip when the on-flight movie for the way home was "Earth" which details the many ways our planet's species are succumbing to our negligence and closed-mindedness. What a world we live in!

One last thing. I think it is really interesting in how we find it necessary to share with people our "adventures". Personally, I don't care one way or another whether anyone knows I have been anywhere or has read any of the past thousand or so words. It is really more of a way for me to document my own thoughts and feelings and help to process some of the overload of information of what I brought in over the past 10 days. I will be posting more pictures on facebook, but it's not in order to be "show-y" or anything like that. I am doing it just for the few people out there that might be semi-interested in the goings-on of my life, or that have nothing better to do with their time. So your welcome for that!

so tired. sorry for the chaos, the rambling, and the endless words & phrases, but i am calling this done.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for documenting - and for sharing -

    I've always loved reading about people's adventures (although I do skip over most facebook albums and blog posts that have anything to do with Panama City or some all-inclusive resort in Mexico... since I've never deemed those places adventure-worthy).

    But since this is about France,

    I read it :)