Sunday, October 17, 2010

Low Country, High Society

Two weeks ago, I decided to go to Paris. Sir Edmund Hillary should really be referenced in a more noble context, but in this case, our reasoning was the same: because it's there. I've been living, in some sense of the word, in Maastricht for almost a year, and to not have been to Paris when it's literally a hop, skip, and jump away would have been criminal.

So with great excitement, I booked my Thalys tickets--for the wrong date, it turned out, which had great ramifications for my time in Paris--and my hotel (for the correct date) and showed up, expecting to see something like a bigger, more elegant version of Maastricht. What I got, though, was something dramatically different--something very, very beige:

I couldn't help but be disappointed a little: yes, there were the sidewalk cafès, and tiny little back-alley gems, tiny boulangeries selling all kinds of marvelous delicacies--but the preponderence of beige gave the city the air of a long, enormous yawn. Had everything been Parthenon-white, it might have given the city a sense of Neo-Classical timelessness, and I'm tempted to put the blame on the multitude of scooters and the massive smog. However, the city has almost no graffiti, which means that they do clean the buildings--and therefore, that it was meant to be...well, beige.

Because I ended up having to buy an entirely new set of tickets, I was broke-ass poor when I got to Paris, a fact that I didn't really appreciate until I went to the Jardins des Tuileries and took a look at the prices for eating at one of those little cafès there. I mean, I knew I wouldn't be able to go to Versailles as I'd planned, and while I'm not a penny-pincher in a way that would be approved of in my adopted country, it was quite a surprise to see just how much a bottle of water costs. Parisians like to say that the French paradox is responsible for their fantastic health statistics--I vote for "not being able to afford more than three meals a week" as a more likely cause.

Fortunately, there are several things in Paris that were free, and the art scattered through the Jardin meant that I could still experience some of the culture:

Also free to enter was the Notre Dame cathedral (if anybody knows the alt-code for that little symbol above the "e", please let me know). I've read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, so it was quite an experience to be able to see the incredible church that inspired it.

Paris is an easy city to navigate, even for the directionally handicapped. There are enough monuments and famous buildings scattered throughout the city that walking in any particular direction will amost guarantee a direct hit to something recognizable. On the other hand, walking in Paris requires nerves of steel and balls of titanium--cars don't always yield to pedestrians, and furthermore the ambiguity of traffic lights coupled with the oddly-angled intersections, complete lack of lane markings, and the speed demons that fly down the narrowest of streets gives you that adrenaline rush that the city itself fails to provide. The UnDutchables waxes eloquent on the many shortcomings of Dutch drivers, but compared to Parisian ones, Dutch drivers are the model of propriety. Dutch cyclists, on the other hand, are every bit the jerk that French drivers are, but a bike is far less lethal than a car.

Parisians are supposed to be chic and sophisticated, but they also have a sense of fun that's often missing in the nette Low Countries. For instance, the random carousel, of which there were two on my long, slow meander throughout the city. There are probably more.

And in the spirit of self-expression and contained vandalism, there is the "Bridge of Locks", actually called the Ponts des Arts, where you can attach a lock to the bridge as a sort of Kilroy-was-here signature of your trip to Paris. Many of these locks have writing on it: "so-and-so loves so-and-so", presumably meaning that their love will last as long as the lock does...I wonder what happens when the lock-cutters come at night...

If you want to see more Parisian photos, follow the link to my Photobucket.

And thus concludes this grand round of procrastination from doing my outlining for NaNoWriMo...


  1. Hhmmm... I'm going to be there for my honeymoon. Maybe I should take a lock as well :p

  2. That would be cool. But tell French Bean to keep an eye out for it :-)

  3. From Maastricht to Paris. That is the picture you get stamped in the back of your eye, is it?
    Well, if you lived some years in Athens and visited Paris, you would come back and tell everyone stories about a "Colourful, Civilised, Neat, sometimes Quiet, not so dirty, Big European City, full of respectful drivers". At least I did.

    ..and maybe, if in turn you went for a week's visit to Athens while beeing a permanent resident of say Mumbay, or Karachi, the Greek capital could make you believe is heaven on earth.. LOL :)