Bonjour! Comment ca va? Je suis en Paris maintenent, et c’est un ville tres jolie!
Oops….there I go speaking in French again…hate when that happens. Its been good practice for me to be here though. If you didn’t know, I speak a little French…took it for years in school, and it was actually a subject I did well in. I was able to practice it growing up during my trips to Israel, speaking with my grandmother (who didn’t speak English, only French and Hebrew, and I didn’t speak Hebrew…only English and French, so that was the common language). Those years produced a convoluted version of French for me, so my grammar is really poor, but I am able to say what I want to say. Unfortunately, I don’t always understand what French people say to me, so I feel like an “idiot!” when they reply and I have to say “Uhhhh…do you speak English?”
OK, I want to know who reads my updates. I mean, sometimes I don’t get a lot of responses, so I am curious if these have become cumbersome to some of you, or if you are still enjoying them. So, here is a request. If you read my updates, send me an email with the following subject: “Chickens Have Beaks.” And if you do not read my updates and do not enjoy them, send me an email with the following subject: “Chickens Have Lips.” In this way, I will know for certain if this is all to no avail.
So anyway, I am in Paris. Last I wrote, I was still in Amsterdam, roaming its evil streets and corridors. I decided I was a little old to be hanging around thousands of college kids getting stoned out of their minds. Seemed a little immature to me, and I was uncomfortable there, so I decided to leave the next day. It was my second time in Amsterdam anyway…I had been there two years ago on a more brief tour of London, Paris, and Amsterdam, so it was familiar territory. I would definitely say to the potential traveler that Amsterdam is a place that should be seen at least once in your life…but don’t stay for very long, lest you be ensnared by its evil charm.
I had to take a regular train to Brussels, Belgium, in order to catch the Paris Express, which was one of those fancy bullet trains that go nearly 200 miles an hour…the countryside seemed to wiz by as we made our way to Paris. The French countryside is flat and green, but not remarkable compared to all that I have seen thus far. It was five hours from Amsterdam to Paris, and we arrived around 5:00pm. Lucky for me, I had made a reservation at a youth hostel in advance, because I really didn’t care to deal with the quest to find a place to stay, starting from scratch upon arrival in Paris. But I still had to locate the hostel I reserved, so it was a bit of a quest anyway.
The train arrived at the Gare Du Nord train station, one of many stations here in Paris, receiving the trains from the North (Nord). It looked the same as it did last time, and I felt a sense of familiarity on arrival, so it wasn’t the usual “holy shit, where the hell am I?” feeling, because I had been here before and I knew what to expect from the place. I think the fact that I have been here before may be contributing to a lack of desire to really explore the city…don’t know why. Perhaps I am just tired of traveling.
Anyway, I found the hostel after walking about a mile, toting my bag behind me, par usual. When I arrived, I found out I had to carry my bags up four grande flights of stairs…that about wiped me out for the night, so I spent some time resting up for a bit. I met my roommate, a guy from California who had been traveling for a whole year. He was even more jaded than me, so we had stuff to talk about. We went out to dinner in the Latin Quarter section, to a French restaurant where we dined on salad with warm goat cheese. It was pretty good, but drenched in oil, thus killing any sense of being healthy. After dinner, we played chess in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral and called it a night.
So, I shall tell you a wee bit about Paris. This is a strikingly beautiful city. Its beauty rivals Rome in every way. The architecture is all stone and very ornate. There are magnificent buildings around every corner, as well as immense plazas sporting buildings fit for an empire – Daunting Roman architecture, ornate carvings, and statues. Even the regular buildings are lined with black iron railings that create a uniform sense of design.
The city has a very old feel. It is divided into two banks, the left and the right, split down the middle by the river Seine. The right bank is to the north and the left is to the south. In the middle of the river Seine, there is an island called Isle De La Cite. This is the most ancient portion of Paris and contains the Notre Dame Cathedral and other significant Parisian buildings.
To the south of Notre Dame, on the left bank, is the Latin Quarter, a bohemian section full of bars and restaurants, as well as universities and bookstores. To the far west of the left bank is the Eiffel Tower. No, it is not visible from every window in Paris. In fact, it’s hard to see from most of Paris, because it’s located on the edge.
To the north of the Isle De La Cite is the right bank containing the Royal Palace, its beautiful courtyards, and the Louvre, the world famous museum housing the Mona Lisa. Of course, there is much more to the city, tons of neighborhoods and little places to discover everywhere. The city is divided into 18 sections (I think) that run clockwise from the Louvre. My youth hostel is located in the 4th section and is near to the river Seine and some of the most beautiful buildings in Paris. I am not going to talk about seeing the following things: The Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, or Jim Morrison’s Grave. These are things I saw last time I was here, and while they are exciting in their own right, they are not a part of my current quest for raison d’etre. Of course, if anyone is really curious, I can add a paragraph in my next book.
One thing I missed last time I was here was Mont Martre. This is a high ground in the right bank of Paris to the far north, sporting a famous cathedral called Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart.) So, I think the French exclamation “Sacre Coeur!” is a reference to this place. Anyway, it’s a beautiful building with domes that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and around it is a medieval area containing restaurants and artist colonies. So, I trekked up yonder…took the metro.
The metro here is quite efficient and extensive. I made the climb up many flights of stairs and stood before the cathedral. Beautiful. OK let me be honest here. I am pretty Cathedral’d out. I have seen soooooo many churches, medieval cathedrals of tremendous importance, that things like this don’t really provoke much in me anymore. Maybe this is sad, or maybe it’s just overkill.
There were tons of tourists around the area, and many sketch artists looking to draw my picture. There were also many street musicians and organ grinders. I have seen many organ grinders lately….I walked around the area and perused its streets. I came upon a street drummer who was walking around with a Djumbe drum slung around his neck, and he was entertaining people sitting in the restaurants. I watched him for a while and he made faces at me. He saw that I had my guitar with me….I was looking to do a little playing myself, but the area was saturated with musicians, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s territory. I went back towards the cathedral and sat on the stairs looking out over the city. There was a guitar player there, a man with a thick Indian accent who sang a lot of classic songs in his accent…but he attracted a crowd so I sat near him to watch. He saw I had a guitar, and he invited me to play with him for a bit…we did a few tunes for the crowd, but then I got the feeling that he wanted me to leave. As soon as I packed it up, he started asking for money. Guess he didn’t want me to get a cut. Oh well, let him have it.
I left Mont Martre and began to walk back down towards the Seine, which was quite a far hike, but I felt up to it and wanted to see as much as I could. Paris starts to look the same after a while, with it’s uniform architecture all being of a similar style. After an hour of walking, I began to regret that I had set out on such a far walk. I was weary by the time I arrived on the bank of the Seine…I needed a nap.
I headed into the Royal Palace courtyard. The Royal Palace, containing the Louvre and its glass pyramid, also contains a lovely stretch of gardens and fountains that attract the lazy, such as myself. I found a chair (one of those chairs that let you recline) and I kicked it by a fountain for a few hours, wrapped my guitar case strap around my leg (so no one could steal it if I fell asleep) and snoozed the afternoon away. I awoke to some children screaming right next to me, maybe two hours later. The sun had gone down somewhat and I felt better from my rest, so I walked back to the hostel.
I was hungry and decided it was time for some hardcore French cuisine. I headed to the Latin Quarter where all the serious restaurants can be found, and searched for the one that gave me the best French aura.
I found a quaint place on one of the side streets with a roaring fire and wooded interior. I sat down and ordered up some cheese Fondue. This is typical French food at its best. They serve a boiling pot of cheese, all gooey and artery clogging, and a huge basket of bread cut up into small pieces. You take the bread and spear it with a long fork, dip it into the cheese, and eat. Pretty decadent, but had to be done. I sat there for a while reading Lord of The Rings and eating my Fondue. By the way, I am really enjoying this book…it’s fitting to read a classic fantasy travel epic while on this journey.
After dinner I headed over to the Notre Dame Cathedral, because I wanted to do a little playing. I found a spot, opened my case and let it rip. The crowd didn’t come rushing over for some reason…but I began to attract a group of Algerians who I ended up hanging out with and speaking to for the evening. Algerians have it rough in their country, and most of them would love to get out (because there is a nasty civil war and people get killed all the time), but visas are not widely available. The lucky ones get to come to France and wait for citizenship. Once they get it, they try to make it to the U.S. …. it’s the dream of so many to come to the USA. We are lucky to have the freedoms we have.
End of day.
Middle of the night, awoken by a snoring roommate who I tapped and politely asked to roll over. He replied, “Fuck you”.
Next day, I decided to go to the Chateaux De Versailles. I hope I am spelling this right. Versailles was the home to many French kings, including most of the Louis series…it was about an hour train ride to the Chateaux. This will be brief…..
Versailles is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have seen since the Vatican. It is a huge palace surrounded by extensive gardens and fountains, full of flowers and statues. The building itself is so beautifully adorned, with carvings and golden gates. It has an immense courtyard in front.
I stood in that area and admired the building from the outside. What it must take to build such structures, I could never know. But to be sure, the kings of old commissioned some pretty serious projects. I took a tour of the inside around the kings apartments and halls. It was a lot like the Vatican, each room hand painted with scenes from the bible, or political depictions, portraits of kings and queens, men of nobility. The adornments were sensory overload, and I am not really able to describe them. Suffice to say, I have had my senses overloaded so much, I am finding it hard to sense anything anymore….
So, that takes me up to the present. As you may have guessed from some of my comments, I am feeling a bit weary and de-sensitized. I suppose this is because of the shear amount of things that I have done and seen, but it’s unfortunate that I am feeling this way with nearly a whole month ahead of me. Well, perhaps when I leave Paris and this familiar sense, I will have a new feeling of exploration and discovery. At least I have been writing some songs…
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