Sunday, January 24, 2010


I was in pain right around 7:30. I had awakened - on schedule - at 3 and dutifully finished packing and got ready to meet my taxi downstairs at 4. He was a horrible driver - sudden stops, distracted manner, going painfully slow even when there was no traffic around us. Even as I decided this was like driving with Dad at his worst, I sighed as London twinkled around me in the pre-dawn moments. The Eye's blue lights glistened off a nearby building. There was twinkly lights strung near the Thames and I thought my final impression of this trip to London was appropriate. My stay there almost sparkled with delight.

I had some peppermint tea with my fruit salad once settled in Terminal 5 at Heathrow. I had selected the very last seat - 26F - on the plane as it was the only option that wasn't in the middle. I leaned heavily against the wall as I felt myself drifting into unconsciousness, every second of being awake miserably painful. My head felt light and hazy, limbs impossibly heavy and cramped as my body tried to convince me to lie down and sleep some more. Coffee, helpfully served by my friends at British Airways, slapped me awake and I sighed in gratitude.

I'd been drinking quite a bit in an attempt to keep myself awake and was rather in need of a toilet upon landing. But I easily made it through passport control and waited in line at the first available restroom near baggage claim. Seeing the line was crawling along, I peeked in and sighed when I saw only 2 stalls. Annoyed at the disorganization of it, I decided to find another place to go. After failing miserably, I rejoined the line and decided the CDG - and the people in it - seemed to lack all semblance of efficiency while peeing.

That took long enough that my suitcase emerged soon after I reached the carousel and I walked outside to join the line for taxis. Affronted when people were dawdling, I realized they were trying to steal a car from the end of the line! No, no, I wanted to exclaim! We get in line and you wait your turn! So caught up in being offended, I literally jumped when a driver began to shout at the man in charge of our line. They argued bitterly - with raised voices and waving arms - for several minutes as I stood there, wide-eyed. I continued to watch them as I showed my hotel reservation to my driver and he tucked me in the backseat and we drove away.

Pleased that was over, I tried to relax again and almost controlled a wince when we nearly hit a man who had cut us off. We swung around it, leaving me a little off balance and my mouth dropped open when my driver said something that sounded like "stupid" while he glared menacingly at the elderly man behind the wheel of the BMW that had gotten in our way. He spat out the p in stupid, was what I kept thinking, trying to be as benign a presence as possible. People from Paris are Pissy, I decided.

I remembered the beginning of my trip. My host said that my impression of the town in the north of England would have been far different had I come from a different direction. "When you go through the hills and see all the sheep and farms, you tend to think we're lovely. If someone drives through the industrial section on their way here, they tend to be much less impressed." Deciding the ride from CDG to the city was a non-ideal way to get to know Paris, I nearly closed my eyes against our aggressive driving though tunnels littered liberally with graffiti.

We made it to my hotel and I looked around with awe, certain we'd crossed into some other dimension that offered quiet and stately elegance rather the French curses and writing on walls. I obtained a receipt (even saying si vous plait in a pretty awful accent) and walked inside a hotel no less than heavenly. My room was ready, the woman at reception offered, telling me about breakfast downstairs in the mornings and internet access. A man arrived to carry my suitcase to the tiny elevator we rode to the second floor. He opened the door - one crowded with two others at the end of a tiny hallway - and I let out a coo of approval. The colors were relaxing and ceilings high. Appreciating the latter, I realized there were exposed wooden beams and felt myself smile. The bathroom gleamed bright white and there were brown toile throw pillows on the deliciously soft bed. "It's perfect," I told him and he nodded.

I set off toward Notre Dame, able to take only a few steps before stopping to take another photo. The architecture here is ridiculously stunning. The lines and curves - from the curb to the roofline - are just striking. It all seems old and elegant - both snooty and refined. Unsure if I was intimidated or infatuated, I continued to move through the rainy morning toward the Louve. There were men selling art prints and literature along the Siene. I kept wiping my glasses so I could see, thinking even the puddles were somehow superior to those elsewhere. I was positively heartbroken when my camera indicated my battery was nearly dead just after the Louve. Whimpering with dismay - I even bought this battery from Sony in Heathrow to avoid losing photographic capability - I decided I was rather tired anyway and could start heading back to the hotel. I'd get something to eat, change batteries and rest before heading off again.

I walked away from the Siene, drawn by the narrow streets and their pretty buildings, and got - quite predictably and hopelessly - lost. Learning from my mistake, I found a creperie and ordered, pleased when my waitress spoken English and brought me cider she said I should try. I frowned when she brought my plate, biting back my remark that someone seemed to have dropped a fried egg on my flat, brown thing. I looked at it, mostly befuddled, and glanced around to see that other people were eating theirs and speaking rapid French so it must be normal. Still, I poked at the yolk with my fork before cutting into the buckwheat surrounding my cheese and ham and decided that - as long as I kept scooting the egg out of the way - it was rather interesting.

Finally managing to find my way (only because I saw Notre Dame out of the corner of my eye when I was ready to turn the wrong direction), I headed back toward the hotel and was tempted enough to join the line at the bakery. Un baguette and (two fingers) tartlettes du chocolat later, I carried my items cradled in my arms and fetched my key at the desk.

So whether it's enraged drivers or poodles prancing on the end of a pink leash somewhere in the Latin Quarter, Paris is impossible to ignore. It makes an impression and I find myself complete fascinated.


Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

Oh! Paris sounds lovely! And it seems like you had a good time. I've always wanted to go to Paris. And now I want to go even more!

I'm very glad that your trip seems to be going well!

post-doc said...

Do make plans to come, Amanda - it's definitely a place I'd recommend people experience. Intense, certainly, but also amazing.

Post a Comment