Slow Down to Speed Up
Unless they’re getting exercise – maybe on rollerblades – it seems like no one in Paris is in any real hurry. Even the police max out at about 25-30 mph. Perhaps it’s because everything around them has been around for such a long time. They still call their oldest bridge “Pont Neuf,” which has translated to mean “New Bridge” for the last 500 years! That should serve as a valuable lesson to me. Those who know me can attest that I tend not to slow down. In fact, that’s a goal for this trip. I’m trying.
This morning, I went on a historical tour of the City. I was amazed at the number of significant events that have happened in Paris. The French really love a good revolution. They’ve had like 17 of them.
The tour helped me get my bearings. The Left Bank has served as the center of intellectual activity and is south of the westerly flowing Seine. The Right Bank is known for commerce and is north of the Seine. As an aside, after serving as President Pierce’s consul in Liverpool, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family stayed on the Right Bank at the Hotel du Louvre (where I’m staying) during their visit to Paris. UPDATE: Samuel Morse and Mark Twain also stayed here.
During the tour, I learned that France is known for its revolutions, its wine, and its romance. Speaking of romance, let’s talk about French Kissing, shall we? I first learned of the phenomenon sometime in the fifth or sixth grade. It would be years before I experimented. I always wondered how it got its name. Now I know. People in Paris kiss to say hello. They kiss to say goodbye. They kiss to say they’re sorry. They kiss on boats. They steal kisses while holding hands. They kiss in cars. They kiss on foot. They kiss on benches. They kiss outside shops. They kiss inside shops. This is the kissingest bunch I’ve ever seen.
Quite frankly, all this kissing is dangerous. It takes your mind off the ball. I’m lucky to be traveling alone in this regard — no chance of kissing. Constant vigilance is required to stay ahead of French pickpockets. They have a little trick. They act as though they’re picking something up in front of you and bring it quickly to your attention. “It’s a ring!” you think. And you’re right. “Would you like?” they ask. “Ummm,” you say. Only trouble is, it’s not yours. But that doesn’t stop the young person from trying to give it to you in exchange for a few Euros. At that point, he’ll likely grab your wallet and run. It’s also at that point (in my imagination) where I begin running, catch up to the bugger, and knock him out. Fortunately, I learned about this trick before I saw it play out. That means I stop it before it begins. As they’re reaching for the ground, I issue a quick, sharp, “Nein!” The German is enough to ward them off.
After brawling with Parisian pickpockets in my imagination, I stopped for a bite to eat in a café around the corner from the Musse D’Orsey. Above the din of the restaurant-goers, I could hear the waitress flitting about saying, “Bonjour” when someone entered and “Voila” when their food arrived. She was using about half of the French words I know. I can add “Merci” and “Adieu” to the list, for example.
My lack of French skills is certainly a bit gauche, but I am trying more. After eating in the café, I wandered into an art gallery with a simple façade on Rue Jacob and noticed a small painting. Based on what I read on a little placard, it was the coup de grâce for the artist. In my opinion, it was the crème de la crème of the gallery, so I asked the shopkeeper about it. I stuttered, “Par lay voo Englace?” His English was slightly better than my French. Basically, all I understood was that it was small in size and cost €10,000. “Adieu!”
I’ve already met a few people on my journey (including a couple from Toronto with family in Winston-Salem). When they find out what I’m doing, they usually ask if I’m lonely. And the answer is, “No.” Of course, I miss those closest to me and I wish all of my friends could be with me every step of the way; however, that would make this experience so much different. So, I’m enjoying everything I’m so fortunate to do and trying to meet new friends along the way.
With that said, I do wish I’d had a friend with me this afternoon. It would have been nice for someone to tell me that my fly was down as I was walking along the Champs-Elysees. Classic ugly American move.
Tomorrow, I’ll head to Versaille. But before I do, I’ll be sure to check my fly.