We’ve been back from Paris for two-and-a-half weeks, and I think that’s adequate time to recall the things I like better about the United States versus Paris. It’s a rather short list. But in the interest of balanced reporting, I felt obliged to represent the opposing view to this post.
Toilet-seat covers. These handy, hygienic things are very helpful if you’re a woman who finds herself in need of a public toilet. When I went to Thailand and Ethiopia, I adjusted my expectations regarding public restrooms. But when I’m in France (or Canada, for that matter), I’d rather appreciate a little paper barrier between my bum and everyone who’s gone before me.
Large bathrooms. This time, I’m actually referring to the bathrooms that people have in their apartments in Paris. Or, at least, the apartments we looked to rent while visiting Paris. We looked at a ton, on Airbnb, New York Habitat and Paris Perfect, and the bathrooms were bitty. Showers fit for hobbits. Counter space to fit a toothbrush, and possibly your toothpaste. (I did like the electric towel dryers, though.)
Beds for tall people. I’m not sure how European couples manage to sleep an entire night together, but there’s no way in hell Steve and I could have managed a week in Paris in a double bed. We did that shit when we were dating, but when you’re 43 years old and an insomniac, you need at least a queen.
English. I crammed for Paris with Pimsleur’s Conversational French CDs, and while I was there, I actually got into the French-speaking groove. It’s just that when you ask a question of a French person in reasonably convincing French, they will answer you in French. Rapid-fire French.
My family lives in the U.S. My child was in Redmond with my parents while Steve and I were gallivanting in Paris, and though I am happy to have experienced the city without him, I did want to reunite with him eventually. And then there’s the rest of my family. They all reside here. Steve’s family too. We’d miss them. But, there are airplanes.
Before we get going with this little river-non-voyage tale, I want to say a few things, in our defense.
Steve and I are not “ugly Americans.” At least, I don’t think so. I mean, look at that picture, up there. We’re adorable. And also, we took seriously the reputation that Americans have in Paris, of being loud, of being demanding. We’ve traveled a fair bit, and we’ve seen this reputation in action. So here, we took extra care to “do as the natives do.” We said “bonjour” or “bonsoir” at every establishment we entered. I conversed in French every opportunity that I could, because I’d been told that the French appreciate that. And if I couldn’t, I’d resort to “Parlez-vous l’anglais?” and earnest hand gestures, always with plenty of “s’il vous plaits” and “mercis.” In other words, we tried really hard. And everyone, without exception, has been extremely pleasant.
I remember traveling in Spain by myself, and calling my dad a couple of time because I was lonely. During one conversation, I told him about the gypsies that tended to congregate around major tourist sights. At the Seville Cathedral, I even saw a guy with a monkey, dancing to a street organ.
“Stay away from them,” my dad almost yelled. “Do you hear me? They’re thieves, all of them. Stay away from them!”
My dad lived in Milan for a few months, when the Italian government requested his help with upgrading their national air traffic system. He contends that most people didn’t get to work until 10, and they took off from noon to 3 p.m., so it was impossible to have meetings, but that’s an aside.
My dad gets animated about a lot of things, but he was worried about his baby daughter, knocking around Spain by herself and possibly being overwhelmed by a band of gypsies. It was a legitimate fear.
What was interesting to me then, and still is now, is that the gypsies have long been a reviled population. Hitler exterminated them during World War II. They were persecuted in Eastern Europe — women were forcibly sterilized in Czechoslovakia starting in the mid-1970s. In July 2008, Italian beachgoers seemed indifferent to the bodies of two dead Roma girls laid out in front of them.
This will piss off the Art History majors of the world, but I was sort of dreading our Louvre visit. I knew the place was enormous, I knew it got crowded. But I think actually visiting the Louvre for the first time is akin to becoming a parent for the first time: You have no idea what you’re in for until you’re there.
First of all, it was the final day of Fashion Week, which happens at the Carrousel du Louvre, so as we crossed the Pont des Arts at 10 a.m. we saw loads of paparazzi, fleets of black Mercedes and painfully thin people dressed in elaborate costumes. This is haute couture, not street style. And we had blundered into the middle of it. Steve got some pictures.
When we finally got ’round to the entrance, we had walked about a mile and we were sweaty. It’s warm in Paris. We brought all the wrong clothes. Anyway, we duck under an arch, to the Museum Pass entrance, and there we are, in the immense square with the famed glass pyramid. And a huge line to get in. Unless you have a Museum Pass. Again, $50 for a four-day pass. So we sauntered right past the line, and into the Louvre, toute de suite. C’est magnifique.