(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

paris by storm ...

as mentioned, I went up Paris way for a few days. I had to visit the embassy and Jean-Yves convinced me to take a few extra days and 'profiter'!

I stayed with his mom and daughter in a suburb of Paris. I made a quite organized departure ... dogs handled, drove myself to the Perigueux train station and JY retrieved the car later that day.

Once launched, it was fairly smooth sailing. I must say, the trains are a pleasure here. Well maintained and punctual. The stations are easily accessed and I've never had a problem finding parking.

I don't think I did the best job coordinating my tickets and transfers. Unbelievably, I've not been to Paris (the city proper) since I moved here. I didn't really reflect on much, just went on line and bought the ticket that sounded right. JY had mentioned the Gare du Nord but I couldn't find a direct train there from the south so went in to Gare Montparnasse (south of Paris) and then bought the next leg (Gare du Nord to Chambly). There were 20 minutes between the arrival and departure.


Hadn't bothered to sort out the metro till I was on the train there and started looking at the metro map. Also of course forgetting I was arriving in an RER station ... not the metro ... which isn't a big deal other than walking to find your line etc.

I was rushing thinking I needed to try and make the train or buy another ticket. Of course, it was impossible to do in 20 minutes, but as I sat on the metro train for the umpteen stops between Montparnasse and Gare du Nord, I (finally) read the small print on the ticket and realized the ticket was good for two weeks, any time. phew!

It all worked out, I arrived about an hour later than I expected but that was good because then Noèmie was able to retrieve me (JY's daughter). I also now know that I can walk from the Chambly station to Madame's house if needed (for future visits!!!).

This was done on a Wednesday and my appointment at the embassy was Thursday. I planned to get going fairly early so I could have a day in my much beloved city.

I packed 2 or 3 days worth in that Thursday! I had lunch with Jennifer C of No Place Like It, drinks with another dear Parisienne, dinner with Noèmie ...

I started at Place de la Bastille, emerging from the metro station to a glorious sunny day and that wonderful Parisian electricity in the air. First stop was an internet café (erg, I know!) to retrieve some phone numbers I'd forgotten. Yes, lunch confirmed with Jennifer. Yes, I reached Lucille and drinks tonight would be perfect! Yes, dinner was on! Yes, this was where I was supposed to be at this exact moment! I left as quickly as possible and ran out to hug my favorite city on earth.

I walked to the Marais and soaked up a few quick bits ... there was the corner café opposite the fruit market where I flirted outrageously with a handsome frenchman who became a years-long friend. here was the heartachingly lovely Place des Vosges where I've sat in the sun, walked in the snow, weathered the rain as I dashed amongst the arches. Le Pick-Clops, a fun corner bar and café. Yes, the presse I've visited year-in, year-out ... still reliably there. Dashed in and bought a new Moleskine in tomato red!

Looked at my watch, screeched a bit and descended into the St. Paul metro station to make my way for lunch. I thought I was so smart with selecting my station, since I was meeting Jennifer near the Arc de Triomphe. Had time (I thought..) for a bit of a stroll up the Champs Elyseés and even snapped a photo of myself sticking out my tongue, with the Arc behind me and texted it to JY with the caption "Je suis Japonaise!" (inside joke).

But I looked and looked for the 'quiksilver' Jenn had told me was our rendez-vous point. Finally, as I was now late, I called her. Well I had it all topsy-turvy, not knowing the Parisian argot re: the Champs and which was top and which was bottom. We found each other easily after that and marched off for a tasty bistro lunch. We laughed our way through much of it and while I was debating dessert, she doublechecked her watch and informed me I wouldn't have time ... in fact, I would probably need to hustle for a 2pm appointment.

It was a treat to finally get to meet her after coming to know her through her writing and wonderful artwork. Her contagious laugh and similar wit won me over right away!

I did have to rush to make it to the embassy on time. Once there, I ran across the street what I thought was the entrance and was apprehended by 3 gendarmes with their hands up and stern expressions. No, this was not the entrance and they were not swayed by my smile. One softened ever so slightly and pointed out the correct spot. There was a phalanx of French gendarmes surrounding the perimeter. Interestingly, french cops seem to favor those same reflector-style sunglasses that american cops are so fond of. I hurried on and upon arrival and reading the long list of forbidden items ... I was once again worried. I had everything but the kitchen sink in my bag and apparently it was all wrong! Of course, I understand the Laguiole knife (I know, I know), and the cell phone and camera. But all of my make-up? My paracetimol tabs? matches, cigs, well basically I should have just handed him my purse to keep. Fortunately, my assigned guard was kind of cute and also somewhat amused by the assortment of doo-dahs. He read all the make-up labels and seemed especially amused by the Dr. Feelgood compact...

I will have to say that America is falling down on the job when it comes to good organization of bureaucracy. My visits to various French institutions (prefecture, mairie, etc.) were much better integrated. I had made an appointment for 2:00 pm and had my printout to prove it. Arriving there is a machine where one prints a ticket. Affixed to this machine was a sign stating "No ticket for the following services", one of which was mine. Instead I was directed to Window 19, which wasn't a window at all but a door leading to a small room with a glass service window. No one was installed in this window, but I waited for about 10-15 minutes, thinking they must have a camera or somesuch that alerts them that someone is waiting. Plus, when you open the door to this room, a light comes on ... which must have been noticed. Well, after nothing happening for a bit ... I picked up a phone and dialed the operator who then dialed down to find out what was what.

I was directed to another window and after waiting on line and reaching my turn, the first question was where was my ticket. I explained the series of events thus far and she clucked and tutted a bit and told me she had to manually create a ticket. Then she filled out a form and directed me to another line for payment. Before I received my 'services', I had to pay the fee. Off to that line, wait to pay and then receive a new number and told to wait some more.

Finally the 3rd person to serve me was the one who could take care of my requests. I will say he did so quite pleasantly. That done, I paused to use the 'facilities' before leaving.

There I had a truly deja vu moment. As I stepped into the bathroom, I could have been stepping into countless other public American bathrooms. or corporate bathrooms. or chain restaurant bathrooms. or airports. there, awaiting me was the same 3/4" square mosaic tile, speckled in colors of brown and beige, adorning the floor. there, awaiting me, was the same metal stall, hanging door with chrome lock...in that same nondescript shade of brown that we've seen across our great nation. the 3 stall variety, 2 regular, one handicapped accessible. foot of space below for peeking under, open a few feet from the ceiling for peering over ... as I, um... SAT there ... I had a few moments for silly Kimberlee reflection. I wanted to snap a photo for you...but my camera had been confiscated, along with my cell phone.

who was the man who invented these fixtures? when had he? did he have a patent (surely!) ... how many were there across the land. do they exist in all governmental outposts throughout the world? and military too? and why? is it to bestow some familiarity ... a stamp of Americanism along with the stars and stripes? wouldn't we be better served using local businesses and manufacturers in a sign of respect, compatriotism to the foreign land we are occupying? I'll tell you that much of the plumbing fixtures and other little details we take for granted are much more cleverly constructed in my new land, especially those meant to capitalize upon smaller spaces with efficiency. how much money has the inventor made? why the HELL haven't I or someone in my family come up with a good idea? just one?

mind then wandering further to consider lane dividers, speed bumps, traffic signals ... well all sorts of things that are similar in nature in terms of spread across lands, slightly invisible and yet invasive in their innocuity.

as I flitted down the exit path for a final flirt with my guard boy/man, I pondered these improbable topics ... until I was greeted with smile and wink ! back to la belle Paris for more interesting adventures to be sure.

wait until you see the dessert I treated myself to after all of that fol-de-rol!


amy said...

Even the rushing for trains sounds fun, having an action-packed schedule, it's all so sophisticated...I must make a Paris trip this fall!

Anonymous said...

Visiting Paris is always so exciting and stressful. I love it! Sounds like the Embassy has gone downhill.
Enjoy your stay!

cynthia in the french alps said...

Someday I'll tell you about the hellish experience at the LA French Consulate getting my visitor visa for my first year in France. I've heard a lot of hellish experiences but mine beat them all hands down, with no competition at all. When Bernard and I got married, we were able to go to the Lyon Embassy for the paperwork and meeting with the Ambassador and it was quite painless. Glad yours didnt go too badly. Cynthia

Randal Graves said...

No cameras? What, like you were going to take a a snapshot of the crappy artwork on the wall? Well, okay, the art is probably better than the junk back in the States.

Good thing you are in France. Try that wrong entrance crap here and you'd likely get tased. Hey, more photos next time, some of us are trying to experience France vicariously, thanks. ;-)

Kathleen said...

ah oui, gay Paris....your writing made me instantly think of "La Louise" and our adventures together that glorious spring...
glad you continue to have good experiences with officialdom, whether it's in Brantome or otherwise. Your bathroom adventures reminded me of a friend who while visiting one of the many men's bathrooms at Harvard University saw a quote written on the wall that said, "What are we pretending not to know?" I think there might be a book here entitled, "Reflections on the Seat" or something like that...

La Framéricaine said...

It took me all the way to the toilet to realize that you had gone to the U.S. EMBASSY!!! Gawd, I am such a dolt!

Given that I count every step, I was already crying when you had to go from train to RER...

I stood right where you took your Arc de Triomphe photo and took one for a couple, but neglected to take one of myself. Bravo!

I'm excited to hear that you met JC on the CE! Cooooollll!!!

I am typing from Le Blanc central via NeufBox! All up and cooking with gas. Yay!!!!

Riana Lagarde said...

i have peed in the first stall sooooo many times. thank you for taking me back (ps i had a knife in my purse too, i swear, it was an accident!)

have a great time, email me if you want to know a great Ethiopian resto

JChevais said...

It was so lovely to finally meet you too.

I should have told you right off that the ladies behind you were giving me "the look" every time I laughed. I suppose that I've had that look all my life and have gotten used to it.

Once, while in a busy restaurant at lunchtime, I was told to stop laughing by the person next to me. She looked shocked when I told her "Non."

Hélas. Parisians sometimes.


P.S. La Framériaine! Where in France are you right now? How long are you here? Let's meetup?