Armchair Travel Blog

Adventures from Paris onwards circa 2012

Month: March, 2012

I wonder how tr…

I wonder how travel affects a person. How is it that the experiences that we have define who we are as people, and how they wear on our faces. I sometimes see the Parisian women, and as beautiful as they are, there is a sadness to them. A tiredness that doensn’t leave the corner of their eyes, as if their smile is stretched a little to thinly over their teeth and their limbs hang limply from their shoulders, as if the weight of the world were pressing down on them.  It is a world weariness, or the likes of it.

I call it the city-lonliness. I’m not sure how it happens in a city as wonderful and magical as Paris. They sheer amounft of women who smoke over men, as they sit stand on the curb of their store inhaling a drag watching with city-lonely eyes as they expertly wield the rush of nicotine and tar. It makes them almost unapproachable and maybe this feeds into the cycle. I see it in men too, although theirs is a different type of tired as they fidget with the gold band on their fourth digit and their small children.

Beyond that I wonder how our experiences mark our faces, how is it that with every new adventure and every exhalation of air changes the world around us, the world has imperceptibly shifted with spacetime. I wonder if I will return to the United States essentially the same person as I left, or will I be brandishing new scars and stories and an aged face that is inconspicuous to me but shown clearly to those who haven’t shared the same space in month’s time. We never see how much we age until we look back at photos.

8 months is a long time, even if I tell myself that where has the last year gone, because the future is or has arrived and we’re all making names and histories for ourselves, and we are defined by our experiences. Winter blooms into spring and spring segues into summer; life has a rhythmic quality to it. Seasons change, life surges ever forward and the infants that I left next door will be walking and talking toddlers by the time I get back. 

I wonder what people will see in my face when I arrive, will they notice the way I wear my clothes, or how my hair has grown? Will they see the stories behind my eyes and in the corner of my mouth of the places I’ve been that has been inked into my skin and my heart? 

Revolving Doors

Life can be beautifully wonderful sometimes, and terribly strange. Sometimes our greatest moments come in times of greatest hardships and sometimes the most wonderful things can happen when you expect them the least.

I have met the most wonderful colorful people here and I only hope to continue. Sometimes I only know them for an afternoon sprawled out on the grass drinking wine and munching on crackers as we play on guitars that are out of tune, or sometimes I know them for the entire time they are in Paris. Sometimes it is only for a dinner as we are squashed in the narrow dimensions of Parisian resto’s, and we bump elbows.

Sometimes you can meet the most wonderful people in the street and for that one moment, there is a shared history. In every way every person has left a fingerprint. I cannot say that I will ever see the vast majority of them again – life is like that, sending us scattering, riding the four winds to the furthest reaches of the Earth – yet I have loved them dearly for they too have found me in a city as big and sometimes as lonesome as it gets. Sometimes I feel as if I have met a soul mate – that in the epoch of Facebook and social media I know that somehow, someday our paths will cross again because they are too special to let slip through my finer tips.

People shuffle in and people shuffle out of your life. But just like any bar that’s worth it’s salt, you’ll get the regulars who are in for the long haul. I have met some of the wost wonderfully varied people; speaking more languages that I could ever hope to learn. In a city that is as densely populated as this one is, it is easy to become the rough, rude, mean Parisian with the walls up and mechanical movements in an attempt to cordon yourself off from the tidal wave of people. This only gets worse as tourist season picks up and thousands filter through the metro lines. Huffy and hurried and blind to everything but your feet, it happens to everyone invariably who has stayed here long enough to know what it is to leave a cow town.

But sometimes, through happenstance or fortuitous circumstance people can come into your life and the effect they can have on you is profound. You go to bed dreaming of the afternoon and these strangers and who they are, and why in the moment you decided to exchange numbers and maybe you’ll see them again, as they invited you back to their place and to go out clubbing that night. It’s the sort of life that Paris can bring.

Meet people, know their stories. And I am often reminded of Pete’s people speech from the Muppet’s Take Manhattan because in some ways it is the most accurate depiction of what life in a big city is. You can find people, you can find music, and dancing, and tomatoes.

To my friends back home, across the lake impossibly far away,

Time flies by faster than I can even say. To me it was only weeks ago that there was snow on the ground and I still had my two coats on. Instead now I feel the sweat trickle down my back as the sun warms up my skin and my throat is parched replacing chapped lips. Spring is upon us and summer is set at full speed ahead and I know that I will be returning sooner home than I can blink.

Romance is in the air as the Paris air starts to smell of budding trees and occasionally cut grass as people sprawl out on bed sheets making impromptu picnics disregarding the “Do Not Sit On The Grass” signs.

Paris is a place to fall in love over and over again, a place where revolving doors constantly brings a stream of new people into your life, and on occasion, they keep coming back into your life.

A romantic notion perhaps, but can I help it? I am in Paris after all.

Spring Break In Paris

Red Robins of Spring (Or Pidgeons)

There’s been a spring in my step that hasn’t left since early last week. There is a certain levity in everything and I can’t seem to stop smiling. But why should I? Between Amsterdam, and my dear friend A arriving from home this weekend for his Spring Break, life hustles by at a rapid pace, but not so much that I can’t step outside and let the sun soak in. 

Indeed it only recently dawned on me that my birthday is in less than a month’s time, but again I find myself content. Indeed as I met with A for an afternoon rendez-vous I was surprised at how comfortable I felt showing him around the city, and even something as simple as crossing the street, I felt less like the gawking tourist and more, “Let me show you my haunts, my city”

I’m not quite sure when Paris claimed her as mine, but even with a fair dearth of grass and squirrels around the city, I feel comfortable riding the lines, and walking along the rue’s. It probably also helps that my French is coming along, especially as Phillipe has mandated that henceforth only French will be spoken in the house – not withstanding my sister’s arrival or the occasional English slip.  

Last weekend was Saint Patrick’s day and I went out to an Irish bar – yes, they exist here in Paris – and I spent the night merrily tucked away between Spanish and English nursing my drink and only later when the temperature had dropped significantly enough that we had to huddle against in other in search of warmth as we ate Kebab I realized that time was slipping away through my fingers like grains of sand and that I had to get home, lest I turn into a pumpkin. (I’m kidding about the pumpkin part, mostly) 

We kiss each other goodbye, twice, on the cheeks and promise to call for next week.

The weather can be a bit temperamental, for last Friday it was a perfect 26 degrees and sunny like you wouldn’t believe, and this week it’s dropped back to 11-13 degrees, but with a scarf and a leather jacket, the time to go out and enjoy the city – now packed with tourists from all over – has arrived.

There’s been agricultural fairs, concerts, museums, movies, impromptu moments, and going wherever our feet will lead us. 

Tonight there is a sabre practice instead of the usual epee – something formulated specifically for me – I cannot say how exited I am; and tomorrow a full day with A.

The time to set the clocks one hour forward has yet to arrive (this Sunday at 0100 hrs) but Google has a drawing of the printemps already up and – perhaps the best news yet – the chicken farmers strike ended.

Crepes abound!

I will post pictures when I can – mostly I am so wrapped up in the moment that I often forget my camera, or have others to take pictures – and I hope to convey some of the joy that life in Paris in the spring can bring.

It beats writing essay’s any day. (Although yes, I still get French homework)

The Rooster Won’t Crow

So I went to the grocery store yesterday to make the market. Among the items we needed were eggs. Curiously, there weren’t any eggs on the shelves. When we went to ask (ok Phillipe asked) why there weren’t any eggs, the man told is it’s because the chicken farmers are on strike.

Go figure. I guess this means no crepes for me this weekend.

There it is ladies and gentleman: my very first French strike. I only hope it finishes soon.

In other news, today marks the first day that only French will be spoken in the house. Eeep!

You’ve Never Seen So Many Bikes

Yes, yes, I know. I know that it’s been a week since my last update and that I leave you, dear reader on bated breath. For those that don’t follow my Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr, the reason for my extended absence was that I took a mini-vacation into Amsterdam. And I – like perhaps most or all tourists that ever have been to Amsterdam – immediately fell in love with the people, the air, the city. In a word: tranquil. The people are perhaps some of the most soft-spoken kindly giants that remind me of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Yes, there is of course the gaudy and seedy tourist attractions that come with the legalized prostitution and legal marijuana, but it is my firm impression that these are all just acts and charades for the tourists to come and get their kicks out. Instead what my impression of the true Amsterdam was that of an early starting morning business people who love to ride rusted city bikes all over the place. Indeed the bike density is higher than car density, and it seems that there are at least two bicycles per person residing in Amsterdam.

Not that the cold seems to bother them either. They were more than happy to ride around in 9 degree weather with little more than a scarf for protection against the biting wind chill. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re all in an elevated state of mind, or simply because their skin is a little thicker, but I can tell you that even in the cold spring rain of Amsterdam there were plenty of people on their bikes bustling to where ever it was that they were headed. Frankly, even attempting to cross the road can be a somewhat hazardous activity, as there are so many bikes passing in such rapid frequency that it’s a little like Frogger. It’s so many bikes, that they even have roads and stop lights dedicated for the sole purpose of the bikes. Stop lights! I’ve never seen anything like it, and I doubt that I ever will again. But such is the density of bikes in Amsterdam that there are even “No parking bikes here” stickers on the outside of some shop store fronts, in which there is a giant red half X across an image of a bicycle. Not every store has such a sticker, but plenty do.

And beyond that, is that many people don’t bother to lock up their bikes. (Granted many of the bikes aren’t worth the price of the lock, but that could just be me). Instead they’re happy to leave them most wherever, with their saddle bags attached to the back of the bike, and happily wander in and out of stores going about their errands, seemingly un-worried about weather or not someone will steal their bikes. This could also be attributed to the fact that I firmly believe that there are at least 2-3 bikes per person living in the city.

For indeed you come across some really old and rusted bikes that have the air all gone out of the wheels, and chain rusted beyond recognition. I think that people forgot them or bought a new bike at one of the hundreds of bike stores, instead of having to worry about maintenance.

It’s a bike lover’s paradise.

It’s not just the bikes either. It’s the general temperament of the people. Calm and accepting of most everyone it seems. That it doesn’t much matter what walk of life you may come from, only that you are as open-minded and calm and not intrusive on others as they are. For example, Amsterdam is famous for its coffeeshops and where you can buy legal marijuana – and certainly there are plenty of people who are in about town having the time of their lives. But of course, these people are not disruptive nor annoying, instead they are giggly and sloth like in their movements. When I went into the supermarket, there was this really tall – and I mean close to or over 2 meters – black man who was high as a kite and he saw me and giggled saying “Hello!” as he was contemplating the fruit selection.

But that would be the other thing – they all speak a perfect deliberate slow accented English that had me feeling like a sloppy rapid version of English. Where theirs was a Michelangelo english, mine felt somehow more like a Pollack. Not that they didn’t understand me, I only say that I felt my English slurred and tiny compared to these people who admittedly made me feel welcome for my brief foray into their city. Even the homeless were pleasant, if not a little crazy, and they too spoke a fine English, as I determined that somehow, someway I was going to make Amsterdam my home.

(If only the weather wasn’t so wet)

But the houses! I’ve never seen more precariously arranged houses. It’s all crooked and slanted and sloping in every which way minus straight! They were houses out of an optical illusion that somehow didn’t make sense. And people live in them! How is the furniture arranged? The houses are narrow and crooked all lining the hundreds of canals. It’s a small and walkable city, and there are hundreds of ethnicities and nationalities within the city that are not just restricted to tourists. I wonder if the furniture that they sell – IKEA for those wondering – comes as customarily designed to fit your specific crooked house needs.

During my stay I was able to visit most of what had been laid out on the hotel map, and every street, although crazily named, brought with it a different approach to life, even though in most cases many shops were closed by 6pm.

The city feels calm and quiet, which is kind of odd considering how many people go whizzing by on bicycles. Upon my arrival back to Paris, the mood felt downright dour, and the people stuffy and grumpy, as I mused aloud what exactly it was that the Parisian’s had stuck up their butts. Of course coming from Washington DC I never felt it, but the refresher that was Amsterdam had made it acutely aware that yes, people could be sourpuss and a half.

By any means, I intend to return to Amsterdam, as it was a pleasant and beautiful ville with wonderful people.

Crouch! Touch! Pause! ENGAGE!

Whoop! So the day finally arrived! The France v. Ireland Toirnee de 6 Nations rematch. The weather started out nice, but of course being the day that it was quickly turned into a sort of clammy rain that ended up with my joints protesting as we walked out of the stadium. It was a smart thing to bring the big jackets and scarves and gloves; articles of clothing that I thought I wouldn’t have needed with the impending spring.

But I digress.

The Irish men looked dapper in their Emerald green jerseys and the French men looked sharp in their dark blue jerseys. We were in the nosebleed section and even though we left the house at 2:30 for a 4pm kick off time, we barely got there with 5 minutes to spare.

The game got off to a bit of a slow start, with both teams testing the waters with each other, trying to find strengths and weaknesses. However, to me it seemed that the Irish were pumping their heart and soul into the first half, ready with the throw ins and scrums, and the French were more content to let the Irish do the work. Phillipe calls the French national team a diesel car, in that it takes a long time to get up and running.

So it didn’t come as a surprise then that after a disastrous missed penalty kick, the Irish intercepted a French pass and ran the 30 meters unhindered for the first try of the game, pushing the Irish up to 10-3. Not long after the first try, came the second one, as once again the Irish were able to break through the French defenses, and ended the half time leading a with a strong 17-6 point difference. The French looked a little perplexed as they were only able to get points at penalty kicks.

But this is something to note: while I have not been to a plethora of sporting events in my life time, I was simply amazed at how respectful and quiet the entire stadium was, both for the penalty kicks of what ever team, and generally when the ball was in play. But you’ve never seen such a crowd as that before! Easily 60,000 spectators, and it boasts that when full it can carry up to 80,000 spectators. Of course the overwhelming majority were French and/or French supporters, but there were Irish fans to be seen, as well as plenty of women and even small children. The atmosphere is definitely family friendly and there are no drunkards allowed or drinking on the premises, although smoking is permitted. Open stadium and all that.

Back to the game however. There was no jeering or booing at the Irish team when taking a penalty kick, although if the referee didn’t make a call that the spectators were happy with, the ensuring boos of disapproval were deafening. I’m talking vuvuzela levels of loud and annoying and whistling that leaves your ears ringing for the better part of a minute.

After halftime it seemed that the French team was more ready to get their head in the game and sure enough they were quick to tie up the game that would stall at 17-17. A missed conversion after the second try lost the victory for the French.

A total of three trys for the course of the game and by the end the Irish were exhausted so even in the short over time, there would have been a fourth French try but the referee called the game before they could and it ended in a line out. The game had switched towards an Irish defense that the French were slow to get around and so, in what I see as a fitting, albeit little uninteresting finish, a tie. No one leaves happy, but no one leaves sad.

All in all, even with the rain and windchill making it more unpleasant that it otherwise could have been, the energy and good mood of the spectators as well as what arguably is one of the most difficult sports around, I would say it was a pleasant experience. And I would recommend that if given the opportunity to go watch a live rugby game because these are the sorts of things that are always infinitely more pleasant viewed live.

Today is the bi…

Today is the big day of the rugby France vs. Ireland rematch!! Will post about it with pictures after the game (as I’m probably waiting for my laundry to finish)