Those French Tomatoes
Yes, they were Corinne's family, and yes, they wouldn't dare show their own blood a bad time, but it wasn't just them. Everyone in France (save for the one cafe barista who insisted I didn't pay for my sandwich when, yes, here it is on my receipt I did), everyone was a sweetheart an absolute gem. And they all speak English. Shame on you, America.
We touched down in Charles DeGualle on Thursday night. French customs was a breeze. Gotta thank that North American passport and these cute girlish looks for letting me get into all the countries. And with entry to France came the familiar relief every time we enter a saner country the the Great, great Britain. They're driving on the right side of the road. Every car trip doesn't feel like a battle with my nerves that are not made of steel.
We had dinner with the family, wonderful Mars Bars and nutella, oh nutella. I watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle from afar, out the window in our tiny car. And an early night on Thursday. Corinne was in Venice in the morning, London in the afternoon, and Paris at night. two planes, four airports, a train and a whirlwind, and I had skipped class and spent the day lounging, lobbing hair products and too many clothes in my carry-on bag, so of course I was exhausted too.
But we were off in the morning, bright and early, our twinkling view out over Paris smiling in the sunlight. Our only sunlight. We left London and still spent three days wishing I threw in on less pair of pants and my wellies instead. Vincent took us to a street art exhibition, promising me it's be perfect as I was studying graphic design, because his friends studying the same were so excited about it. We hopped on the metro with a pack of ten trip tickets as Vincent showed off his English. WE're going to an 'underground' show, vintage, super hipster. It had a very Mary Kate and Ashley vibe. "This isn't the real Paris," he twinkled, "I'll show you the real Paris."
The line at the exhibition was an easy six hours, so we snapped pictures of the outside, and ran to keep up with Vincent as he ushered us along the Seine to the secret sights, the thrift shops and half a glance at the famous ones. We passed the Bastille, zipped along a Seine tributary crowded with houseboats and restaurants. Took a jolly jaunt in front of Notre Dam and sniffed at the line. I was absorbed. I wanted the real Paris. I'd be back with my children some day, without the wherewithall to wind down along the back streets picking through bins of second hand scarves trying to find the right one to make me look like a real fifties housewife. Notre Dam will always be there, and one day I will be back.
After some shopping, and a pop by the ATM (this is a theme of this Eurotrek; I admire so much those that can make travel dirt cheap), Vincent had to whisk off to collect his stepsister, and Corinne and I wandered until we happened upon the Louvre.
And we didn't go inside. Cue outraged gasping and insistencies that I must go back, just right now and get my nose pressed up against the face of the Mona Lisa. Plus, I had more badass pairs of leather shorts to find; because thrift shopping in Paris is actually thift shopping. Not high class, upscale vintage like the rebrand all the thrift in London. (Seriously annoying).
When you look out across Paris from the base of the pyramid, the Effiel Tower really doesn't look that it's that far away. Plus, dinner wasn't for another four hours, we had just eaten lunch--no one makes ham, cheese, butter and a baguette better than the French--and my feet were only slightly sore, with the pedometer just hitting 10,000 steps. So onward we went, with our trusty Red Map and Google-assisted GPS.
Much to the amusement of Corinne's family, we shared a bottle of screw top Rose out on the lawn in front of the tower, and laughed at a couple who didn't have the foresight to pick up a bottle opener for their own. To be fair, screw top is the norm in England, what with the supposed cork shortage and all--did a quick googling. Surprise surprise, that's just another internet myth. Screw tops are the worst! They're not sustainable.
And then, in the semi-darkness of the Parisian rain--seriously, we left London to spend all weekend in Wellies anyway, it was a joke--we ran down the main streets along the Seine into every restaurant we passed to find respite for Corinne's tiny bladder. Then, sated, we asked are way over toward the Metro, navigated ourselves east, and wandered until we stumbled upon the correct street and found the restaurant we were meeting Corinne's family for dinner that night.
Crepes in America will never taste the same. And there weren't enough French tomatoes in my salad. And don't look at me like that, family. I know Jersey Beefstakes are good. But you haven't been to Paris, so you can shut your pie holes.
On Saturday, we couldn't go up the Eiffel Tower, despite waking up super early to haul out to it's base upon opening, because some idiot (read: inexperienced) Greenpeace protester got himself up to the second level before the thing even opened, and repelled down to the space in the middle of the two lower levels with his tiny, tiny protest sign.
FREE THE ARCTI--
Yeah, so the corners weren't weighted down, and it was like a postage stamp from any reasonable viewing distance, so every time the wind blew, it went from FREE THE ARTI-- to the ever so eloquent FRE--
And the French just let this guy hang out up there as their biggest tourist attraction, on the busiest day of the year was overtaken by some incompetent too frugal to find a printer to make a legible protest sign. Sigh. After Corinne tried to ask a French bystander what was going on, and the woman answered in vocabulary a tad out of Corinne's grasp, we decided it wasn't worth it to stand their gaping around all morning giving this guy more attention that he deserved. We packed back into the metro and went early to Montmartre, where we were meeting the fam for lunch. In the foothills where Corinne's cousin lives, you get the closest approximation to NYC's East Village. But home is so, so far away.
Though France did a valiant job of bringing it slightly closer with a kickass Texas fried egg burger with bacon on top. Only thing that could have made it better is if they threw a bunch of guacamole and cheddar jack on top of it. (Instead of the egg, of course). And it was delicious, and only slightly embarrassing when I ordered and then answered "Oui!" to the question, "How do you like your burger cooked?" Points to the awkward American yet again.
Actual Monmartre is a tourist paradise. But god, when you walk past a shop with a sign taped to the door that says, "I'm out somewhere in the district, give a ring if you wanna pop in, and I'll come right over." then you gotta wonder what we're agreeing to do living in 9 to 9 ALWAYS GOING STRONG NYC. (It's the 24-hour subway system. I will never take such a thing for granted again. I love the dirt and the grime and the unclear signage. Bring it on as long as you can get me home from Bushwick at 3AM for $2.50).
We trekked up to Sacre Coeur and took a tour inside. I was at The Sagrada Familia less than a month ago, so, sorry, but color me unimpressed, yeah. (But props for making the thing free to enter, France. London can't say the same). And because we needed to round out another five miles that day before we hit our requisite fifteen, we stumbled over to the Puce, a dirtier, grimier, much scarier version of Camden Town where I watch two men and a chick get into fisticuffs and the quickest French I'd heard all weekend over a handful of knock-off Louis Vuitton handbags.
Likely not knock-offs, though, Julien and Corinne would later explain, Those ones probably 'fell off the back of the truck.' Gotcha.
Julien relinquished his apartment to us for the evening, and because Corinne wasn't feeling well--nine days of straight travel living out of a backpack waaay tinier than mine will do that to you, we convinced the burger joint to make a plate of take-away for us. And because they didn't do take-away, they were a bit confuddled as to what to do with the salad I insisted on ordering (French tomatoes, man), until the waitress unearthed a spare prep tupperware in the back. Seriously, the French are adorable. A New York City restaurant would have laughed in our faces. (But no NYC restaurant in it's right mind would ever not make take out in the first place, so...)
We had a quiet evening in, sharing fries and (SCORE) a bottle of Heinz in Julien's fridge, while the flat down the block blasted American music. Hello, Foster the People, I had missed you so very much... if I were more adventurous, I'd have ventured out to find the source of the party. But we had an early date with Tour Eiffel in the morning, And I wasn't going to come all the way to Paris to just skip the biggest attraction in the country, now was I?
Come Sunday, we hiked all the way up to the second level. My pedometer counted the steps, but honestly, I didn't look. I'm sure you could google it. So we're standing on the Eiffel Tower, looking for the ticket counter so we could go all the way up (walking up to the Summit isn't an option--and rightfully so) and there isn't a soul in sight. There is a global recession, and France has employed all of two people to work on the Eiffel Tower. One, the ticket agent apparently out to lunch, and the other, a security guard too clever for his own good ("Do you speak English?" / "I don't have to, you speak French.") who told us the ticket counter would reopen "soon." No wonder people have a beef with Americans. We're so organized and efficient, what with our opening hours and NOT SHUTTING DOWN FOR LUNCH.
We've been conditioned in New York, And let's be honest, New Jersey too, that we just don't take no for an answer. So Corinne and I bypassed the security tape to be the first on line for said ticket counter when it reopened. Between the two of us, we can manage almost three languages, so we quickly became the International Center of Do You Know What's Going on Here? Short Answer, Nope. But We Will Be Damned If We Aren't The First On The Line When We Do. By the time that counter did open, the line of people, all of whom had asked us if we knew when the counter reopened, was stretched along two sides of the tower. And guess who was first on line?
We basically ran up to the top, did a lap, took some photos. Corinne was turning 21 in a few days, didn't she want a glass of Champagne up top? There were two people working that booth, we were almost guaranteed to be served, but at 12 Euro a glass, the price was a little steep, so we declined. And we had a beautiful, clear morning, the kind you'd expect anywhere outside of London, to be honest. The wind was strong. That tower sways! And because of midmorning siesta, we were seriously late for our lunch date back home. And then Corinne and I got separated on the way down, with two non-functional cellphones, and one non-functioning French speaker. Fortunately, Corinne is a smart cookie who waited at the base of the stairs, and I was annoyed enough to give up looking for her and head down.
I tracked down my requisite souvenirs (shot glass and spinny keychain), picked up a French Vogue for Carlyn, and we were on our way home.
- Days spent in Paris: 3.5
- Visits to the Eiffel Tower: 3
- French words spoken by me: Roughly 5
- Times mistaken to be a French person: 4
- Delicious tomatoes eaten: Never enough.